Fallout 4 is an incredible accomplishment in gaming pure and simple. From November 10th, 2015 until February 21st, 2106, I spent over 400 hours playing this game. Believe it or not, there are still areas I have never seen and quests I haven't done. This game has been reviewed to death, so rather than a point-by-point review or walkthrough-like review, I'm going to review what I found exciting, surprising, enjoyable and even a few disappointing points about the game.
My assumption is by now, everyone who really, really loved Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas has finished Fallout 4 (DLC notwithstanding). I mean - over 400 hours! - really!?! That's what Steam claims anyway. Who does that besides me? (Let's ignore the 300+ hours I spent in Fallout: New Vegas with the original content plus all the DLC for that.) Even so, I'm going to make a conscious effort to put spoilers in a spoiler tag like the one below. The tag doesn't support a "level" for the spoiler, so I'll put (Light), (Normal) and (Heavy) before them somewhere to give an idea of how much will be spoiled.
Not a real spoiler. (Light)
[spoiler]If this had been an actual spoiler, you may just have learned a little bit you didn't want to know.[/spoiler]
With that warning, on with the show!
I'm not sure why anyone would read this unless they were already interested in and familiar with the game, but just in case, here's the game in a nutshell. You start the game by picking a character - male or female - and then edit your body and facial features. Some people spend hours right there. Then some events transpire that cause you to seek shelter in a Vault-Tec vault that preserves the human race in the event of a ... um, an unspecified global disaster. No surprise there; you start out in a vault in pretty much every Fallout game. In this one, you start outside, but you enter the vault very shortly after the intro. (See, more or less no spoilers.) Time passes, your son is stolen from you, and you set out from the vault to get him back. And that's the setup.
What happens after you leave the vault is very much up to you. You need to explore to try to figure out where your son was taken, but you can pretty much take all the time you want to do that. There is a main storyline set of quests to answer that burning question, but also dozens - or perhaps hundreds of side quests as well. When exploring, you can be bold and brash - a regular member of Balls and Bayonets Brigade as it were (to steal a line from the TV series Firefly) - or quiet and stealthy like a ninja. Both ways and everything in between can work. You can try to make lots of friends or enemies - and most likely, some of each. Eventually, you progress through the game to find out what became of your son.
If you have played Fallout 3 or Fallout: New Vegas, then you probably have a pretty good idea of how you progress. You exit the vault with pretty much just the clothes on your back and maybe a decent pistol and a bit of ammo. You explore, discover interesting locations, find friends and make enemies. Your friends ask you to help them or tell you how to progress along the path to finding out what happened to your son. From exploring, demolishing the previously-mentioned enemies and completing quests, you get to level up and gain new skills. You will also find, be rewarded with or trade for better guns, armor, information, etc. So how does one spend as much time as I did at this? Well, for one thing ....
It's hard to overstate how big this game is. It's a decent-sized map just to traverse. I walked to (or ran to) every shiny object that looked remotely interesting. Even near the end of the main story quest, I would occasionally open what looked to be an unremarkable door or hatch and find a detailed, fully-fleshed-out level (or set of levels) inside or underneath. Some of those were 10-15 minute distractions. Others were hour-long excursions with their own self-contained story. What astonishes me is that Bethesda is perfectly willing to allow players to skip large areas of the map and still finish the game. If you spend as much time as I have in the game, you are probably getting carried away. On the other hand, if you finish the main quest line in less than 40 hours, I would bet you saw less than 1/3 of the areas in the game. It's your money.
The map is a bit deceptive somehow, though. Just as they were in Fallout 3, locations in the game are tightly packed together. Even on foot, traveling from one location to another that seems far away doesn't seem to take as long as expected (assuming one can resist all the other shiny objects along the way). It's as if they stole a lesson on dimensional transcendentalism from Dr. Who. Clicking on the icon below will expand the map showing what locations I had discovered. I grabbed this just after "finishing" the game. (Sorry for having to stitch it together from pieces.)
As a thumbnail, the map isn't a spoiler. However, the larger view(s) is (are) a light to medium spoiler - especially if you view the high-resolution map.
If you look closely at the map, you'll notice an island on the lower right-hand side that I've not investigated. Oh, well. It's a good bet that there's something to discover in just about any of the areas on the map that look suspiciously open. I watched a few Fallout 4 videos on YouTube since I finished, and I definitely missed a whole lot of places. Luckily, once a landmark is discovered, you can fast travel from there to any other discovered landmark. The size of the map doesn't become tedious to navigate. Without fast travel .. I shudder.