The value of those materials comes from their use in the fantastic equipment upgrades, which give most guns you pick up extraordinary potential for flexibility and longevity. Stopping at a crafting bench with the right components in hand can turn a pistol into a short-range, pray-and-spray automatic or a scoped sniper with a long barrel for accuracy and a big stock to reduce recoil. A few tweaks to a standard-issue laser rifle can add burning damage over time, or split the beam into a shotgun-like spread. The best part is that those changes aren’t just tweaked numbers in the stats; nearly every modification you make is reflected in the look of your gun as well, creating an extremely varied selection of weapons both for you and for enemies.
Likewise, the new armor system lets you piece together six chunks of gear – helmet, chest plate, and each individual arm and leg – on top of your clothes to form cobbled-together, asymmetrical outfits that feel like exactly what someone who assembled their wardrobe by scavenging the wasteland should wear. The suit my character wears now has at least one piece from each major faction, reflecting both his allegiances and his victories over foes. And of course, armor can be upgraded using collected materials as well, though it sadly doesn’t have as dramatic a cosmetic effect as with weapons.
The armor system suffers from some inconsistency: several times I was a little bit heartbroken to find a new outfit like a tuxedo or a Halloween costume, but couldn’t use them as the foundation of a new custom-built look. Only certain jumpsuits can have pauldrons and shin guards strapped onto them, it seems, and no distinction is made in the item description.
Another major change to personal protection is that Fallout’s distinctive power armor behaves almost like a walking tank that you climb into and out of (with a great Iron Man-style animation as it closes around you) instead of wearing like clothes, and its fuel is a limited resource you have to find in the world. It’s a bold design move that makes these hulks’ appearance on the battlefield feel like a big event. However, since it’s always just a fast-travel away, in practice, having to run and grab it when the going got tough became more of an inconvenience than anything – two loading screens between you and resuming the fight. It also forces you to use fast-travel to conserve fuel, which would mess with a no-fast-travel play style. But I do love how every piece of the armor can be individually damaged, repaired, upgraded, customized, or even swapped out for other models.
All those upgrades are a great way to keep a favorite piece of gear useful long after its original weak stats would’ve led you to sell it off to a junk dealer for a handful of caps. Letting you name those items yourself is a great touch, too – I have fond memories of my adventures with my trusty long double-barrel shotgun, Ol’ Shooty.
On top of that, loot has been punched up in a very Diablo-style way: even better than the typical spoils of battle and foraging, every so often you’ll come across a Legendary enemy who will drop a uniquely named special weapon or item with a modifier. You might get a pistol that refreshes your action points when executing a critical hit, an arm piece that makes lockpicking easier, a flamethrower that deals extra radiation damage, or any of dozens of others. I found it difficult to part with these – they’re so full of potential, and I found I changed my playstyle to take advantage of the bonuses they offer, and sacrificing superior protection to keep them. And of course, all of these items are just as customizable as anything else (except you can’t break them down for parts).