'Fallout 4'

"Fallout 4" takes place in the Commonwealth, a post-apocalyptic Boston.

Bethesda Softworks

I am on my last legs. A Super Mutant suicide bomber rushes at me during a midnight ambush, armed with a miniaturized nuclear warhead.

My ammunition is low after a previous scrum. I check my sniper rifle: A few shots, maybe enough. The Super Mutant howls nonsensical noises and snarls. It's closing in — fast.

Such is life in "Fallout 4."

Instinctively, I throw up V.A.T.S. — the in-game aim assistant. Time slows down, but doesn't stop.

No, this isn't "Fallout 3," where using V.A.T.S. froze enemies in place to give you time to assess your options. V.A.T.S. also isn't the crutch it was in the past: In "3," shooting enemies without an aim assist could be a frustrating affair, especially early on in the game.

"Fallout 4" is so much more of a pure first-person shooting experience. Coupled with the aspects of a wide variety of gun modifications, a player is mostly in control of their aim when encountering the denizens of a post-apocalyptic Boston, including Radstags, mutated crabs, crazed raiders and... oh, right. The Super Mutant.

As the Super Mutant lumbers forward, the probability of hitting any muscly appendage fluctuates thanks to my technology. I like the odds to hit the torso, but I see I can use a critical shot: The reward for enough hits with V.A.T.S. is one perfectly aimed, super-effective strike.

The head it is, then.

I make up my mind and ready the critical. I try to designate the target.

My V.A.T.S. says no. I don't have enough ability points after sprinting around and holding my breath to better aim my sniper rifle earlier in the encounter.

With a dejected sigh, I disengage V.A.T.S. The Super Mutant explodes into a giant mushroom cloud, and I become tiny, meaty bits waiting for a loading screen.

But like much of my experience with "4," the fight was engaging, if not a bit thrilling. The game's combat has forced me to rely on my own skills over the sometimes unreliable V.A.T.S., a welcome change from its predecessor.

Then again, developer Bethesda isn't a stranger to such changes.

I am a huge fan of "The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion." I particularly enjoyed the arena combat where my Redguard fighter squared off against more than a handful of opponents in a coliseum setting.

It sounds like this would have been much more difficult in the prequel to "Oblivion," "The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind." I've never played it, but I have heard the stories: The combat system is defined mostly by mathematical probabilities involving stats that dictate whether an attack hits or misses.

With "Oblivion," however, an attack hit if you aimed right, which helped make for many Game of the Year distinctions and — combined with Bethesda's penchant for open-world role-playing experiences and epic story — many, many hours logged that I will never get back (worth it).

I imagine "Fallout 4" will be the same way, and I'm just 20 hours in on my Xbox One.

That's not to say "4" is without its faults. My initial thoughts on "4's" new elements range from tedious (constructing houses: where your foundation always seems to be just a bit off, resulting in a complete redo) to indifference (building settlements seems nice, but a whole world to explore and a lack of a top-down user-friendly perspective gives me pause for now).

Nevertheless, intuitive combat, an expansive in-game culture, beautiful scenery and no level-cap restriction have made my experience, so far, a blast.

Pun intended.

Staff writer Greg Mason can be reached at (315) 282-2239 or greg.mason@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @CitizenMason.