[Can't wait to play Fallout 4? Neither can we. Check out the mod's we'd most like to see while you wait.]
Nuclear explosions have a number of inconvenient consequences for the environment. They throw up a lot of dust, for one. And they tend to knock chairs over, throw books off shelves and collapse skyscrapers into disorderly piles of rubble. "What a state", I thought as I ambled through the capital wasteland of Fallout 3. For all the powerful ramshackle weapons I was carrying, all I wanted was a broom.
Fallout 4 gives you a lot more than that. Select plots throughout the wasteland can be rebuilt to your specification. By placing and stacking a selection of room segments you can build a fortress, fill it with furniture and wire it up with custom lighting arrays, signs and fireworks. You can link multiple settlements with Brahmin caravans, entice traders to set up shops and outfit your perimeter with turrets and traps.
As Todd Howard show the system at Bethesda's E3 conference, I was reminded of Skyrim's so-so Hearthfire expansion. That gave you a customisable homestead of sorts (though you couldn't really change the architecture), but the available options were meagre in comparison to Fallout 4's fortress system. Hearthfire now looks like an early prototype—one that needed needed a more complex world building toolset to realise the fantasy. Now we've got it.
Technology aside, the system is a much better thematic fit for the Fallout universe. Claiming a portion of Skyrim's wilderness is a matter of expansion, but reassembling the rubble of a dead town is an act of reclamation. It aims to satisfy that hard-coded behavioural urge to tidy up, and is a poignant way of dealing with the loss of your home during the nuclear blast.
Also you can glue customised diso panels to your house. This is important.
As with any Bethesda RPG, when a new feature is announced you're considering the feature in both its naked original form and its ascended post-modding final form. Bethesda believe so much in modding that they seem to have bludgeoned Microsoft into allowing Fallout 4 mods on Xbox One, so continued support seems assured. It's easy to imagine the building system thriving with the addition of new building segments and furniture pieces, and when you consider what Minecraft players have done with redstone and a few switches, Fallout 4's programmable network of lights and power-lines sings with potential. The first modders that let me build a New Vegas style casino in Fallout 4 will win my heart.
The rest of the game also looks rather good. You can skip to the part of the Bethesda conference when Todd Howard demos the building tools, or watch the whole Fallout 4 segment below. For more Fallout 4, a bunch of new screenshots were released this week, and the release date was confirmed for November.