Continuing the vein of series firsts: your player-created character has a voice. Their appearance is still malleable, customisable via a sliderless sculpting screen, and you’re able to play as either a male or female. Whichever you choose, you’ll see both genders admiring themselves in the mirror while you sculpt and mould – the character you don’t choose to play as becomes your partner, and the game interpolates both characters’ physical traits to create your baby. D’aww. He’s got his daddy’s cold, murderous eyes.We’re still in ‘unprecedented for the series’ territory – get comfy. For the briefest of introductory tutorial sequences, you get the chance to see the world before the bomb drops (New Vegas’ VR simulations notwithstanding). A world of post-war suburban Americana with sci-fi trappings that perfectly summons the kitsch sitcoms and ‘homes of the future’ ads of the 1950s. It’s also a world, like our own at the time, living in the shadow of impending nuclear conflict. Unlike our world, the bombs drop here before folk can even retreat to their vaults.Here’s where the narrative becomes unclear – you can see the mushroom cloud on the horizon as you and your family stand on a hillside with other denizens who signed up to the safety of Vault 111. Though the blast knocks you unconscious, somehow you survive and – after about 200 long years – mergefrom Vault 111 very much alive. Your wife/husband and child, though? They’re nowhere in sight. Are we in for another family reunion quest line?Whether or not your loved ones burned at a million degrees in the wave of the atomic blast, you won’t be short of company. Further cementing the truism that the presence of a German Shepherd or similar mutt in your game ensures an almost limitless outpouring of enthusiasm and goodwill from fans, Fallout 4 gives you a new and improved canine sidekick. It’ll fetch things for you, scope out an area, or simply go anywhere you tell them. Because it’s a dog. What other pressing matters does it have to tend to?Encountering other folks in the world, you’ll notice that dialogue can now be acted out from the familiar first-person perspective, or via a more cinematic third-person view. Conversations are dynamic though, Howard stresses at the game’s E3 2015 reveal conference – you can walk away from a chat at any point or, “shoot them in the face if you want to.” The mute, locked-in dialogue arrangement from previous Elder Scrolls and Fallout games was looking a bit long in the tooth…Fallout 4’s biggest surprise doesn’t come from any of its fresh approaches to existing mechanics, welcome though they are. Instead, it drops a bomb of Megaton proportions by introducing a powerful, Minecraft-esque new crafting element. We’re not talking about collecting lolly sticks and tying them together with elastic bands to make a +1 Forehead Stinger here – we’re talking about building entire settlements of furnished houses, farms, water supplies and power grids, which can be used to juice anything from lights to weapon emplacements.It looks amazing, and immediately adds depth, novelty and potential to what might otherwise have been something of a known quantity. By including base-building, Bethesda shrewdly taps into an item on the burgeoning wishlist of every survival sim player, and keeps you scanning environments for salvageable materials to use back at base. Collecting steel, wood, screws and the like lets you construct buildings, which can be furnished and house NPCs.Build enough of these to form a settlement and you’ll attract greater numbers of NPCs, including traders. Build multiple settlements across the many compatible locations throughout the game world, and you’ll even be able to send Brahmin caravans between them – all your NPCs need food and water, don’t forget. Before you know it, you’ll have built large parts of Fallout 4.Of course, if there’s one thing raiders and mutants love, it’s destroying all you hold dear. Much of your crafting will be geared towards keeping miscreants out, and as such you’re able to deploy machine gun turrets, trip mines, flame throwers, and what appears to be heavy artillery, all in the name of preserving your fledgling community. Well, it certainly makes a change from rifling through motorhomes full of skeletons for loose change.That endless tinkering applies to your weapons and power armour, also. There are over fifty weapons and over seven hundred mods in total, built using salvaged parts such as duct tape, alarm clocks, wrenches – wait, back to that motor home for supplies! Every item has a purpose now.We’ve saved the single most exciting aspect of Fallout 4 for last – it’s out 10 November. This November. Bethesda’s obviously been taking notes from Apple, because in the games industry that’s a heck of a short lead time. A smart move, too – any murmuring of the graphics or animation being a bit underwhelming was quickly silenced when people grasped that this is a game we’ll be playing in months, not years. You don’t have long to prepare, then – Bethesda’s going to set the world on fire once again with this one.