I’ll start this review in a rather… unorthodox manner. Literally 5 minutes into Bethesda’s latest entry in the Fallout franchise, I took the following screenshot:
Realizing that time is money and that some people might not have the courage to thoroughly delve into a subject as painful as a Bethesda Fallout title, this screenshot alone might provide enough information regarding what one could expect of Fallout 76: pretty much similar shooting and resource collecting as in Fallout 4, but with wandering “Arniesauruses” in white underpants instead of NPCs, and with the Appalachian mountains in the state of West Virginia as the new field of action. And, of course, with bugs (this is a Bethesda title, after all) – it might not show in the screenshot, but this particular Arniesaurus was frozen and firmly rooted in place, probably as a result of something going horribly wrong with the instancing during my game’s early stages.
So there you have it. If the above summary satisfied you, feel free to close this browser tab while you still can. Thank you for your attention, and be seeing you.
If, on the other hand, you’re having masochistic tendencies and feel like testing your tolerance for pain, join me in further discussing this secondary autopsy that is the review of Fallout 76 (the primary autopsy being, of course, the Fallout 4 review).
It’s true that, as I had also stated during my review for Mass Effect: Andromeda, this game has already been bashed and ridiculed across the web (as a result of the hilarity caused by its Beta testing events) even before its actual release, to such an extent that perhaps merely reproducing the grief and irony that has already spread like wildfire and passing it as an original review would be an “easy and lazy way out” of sorts. However, it is also true that, even as I attempt to approach this game as well-meaning and objectively as possible, just going through the notes I took during my playthrough makes me feel compelled to refill my glass in order to drown my sorrows and mitigate the damage caused by the things I’ve experienced while playing Fallout 76 for the past couple of days.
Oh well. Bottoms up.
Fallout 76 could be considered as a “prequel” of sorts to the Fallout series, as it takes place in the year 2102 (the eldest entry so far, Fallout 1, starts in 2161). It is marketed by its developers as a “softcore multiplayer/co-op Survival game” (exactly the type of game that comes to mind when hearing the word “Fallout”), and this short characterization is rather accurate since, at least on its surface, one could roughly describe it as “Multiplayer Fallout 4 in West Virginia”. Let’s take a quick look into these three “pillars” of the game:
–“Multiplayer…”: The game is “always online” and runs through Bethesda’s own launcher (meaning that it’s impossible to run in any sort of Offline Mode). The Multiplayer aspect is implemented via worlds/instances that can host as many as 24 players, while co-op teams can consist of 4 people max. However, it is fully viable to just go solo without interacting with any other players. Regarding the most common concern in such games (“what’s the deal with the loot?), any loot found in containers is fully instanced and level-scaled to our character, so for example if a team of players leveled 20, 30 and 45 respectively tries to open a chest, then each character would find different loot depending on his level/stats/perks (more on stats and perks later). I’ve come to understand that enemy bodies don’t really count as containers so the loot they are carrying is up for grabs only by whomever gets to it first. There is also some basic – and rather pointless in its present implementation – PVP system (which involves shooting someone to challenge him, and him shooting back to accept the challenge – a work of genious, truly) as well as a bounty and “revenge” system, but it’s true that the players I’ve met so far have been surprisingly “peaceful” in their dealings with others. It should also be noted that dying in PVP (or in PVE for that matter) has no truly serious consequences other than a bag with our junk items falling on the ground at the spot of our death, a bag which we can reclaim after we select where to respawn on the world map. Finally, Bethesda have stated their intention to incorporate mods and private $erver$ in the future.
–“…Fallout 4…”: In regards to both gameplay mechanics and the audio-visual elements, Fallout 76 is pretty much “one of the same” as Fallout 4 (with some important differences that will be analyzed onwards). Same style of world exploration, same relentless plundering of every item that isn’t nailed down and then transforming it into crafting materials, mostly identical crafting and base-building segments… all with the necessary changes/additions brought on by the Multiplayer factor, of course. Obviously, the similarities with Fallout 4 mean that 76 also includes bugs also encountered in 4. Which included bugs also encountered in Skyrim. Which included bugs also encountered in Fallout 3. Which included bugs also encountered in Oblivion. Which included bugs also encountered in Morrowind. Which included bugs also encountered in. ..
–“…in West Virginia”: After DC and Massachusetts, 76 continues Bethesda’s eastern orientation and takes place in the nearby state of West Virginia, with the game’s world being “4 times the size of Fallout 4” according to a known untrustworthy spokesperson that goes by the name “Todd”. This part of the world doesn’t seem much affected by the nuclear holocaust, with the natural splendour of the Appalachians remaining pretty much intact, and this results in the “greener” Fallout game we’ve seen to date. As expected, places and various landmarks of the “real” West Virginia have been implemented and can be encountered in-game, as well as some local “urban legends” like the mysterious “Mothman“.
One important difference compared to f4 is the skill system, which could almost be described as a… trading card game. Every time we level up we can assign one point to a SPECIAL stat as usual, but at the same time we unlock and equip a series of Perk Cards, unique for each SPECIAL stat, that offer all sorts of bonuses. We can combine copies of the same card and transform them into more powerful versions of that card, while the number of cards we can equip depends on the points we’ve spent on their corresponding SPECIAL stat (for example, having a Strength stat of 6 means we can equip two “level 3” strength-related perk cards, or six “level 1” cards, or any other valid combination). Interestingly, there’s also the option to share cards with our friends.
With the opening statement of my Fallout 4 review (that as far as the “old” fans are concerned, the Fallout franchise as we know it is now a rotten corpse locked in a freezer down some Bethesda dev’s basement) being a given, and the most welcome mirth and positive outlook brought on by the consumption of sweet, sweet alcohol, I can now read all of the above mentioned as elements of a new Fallout game without falling into spiraling and crippling depression. However, one of the most impressive conclusions I reached during my Fallout 76 adventures is that it manages to achieve something that I never expected: to be even LESS FUN than Fallout 4. A decisive factor for this outcome is the COMPLETE LACK OF NPCs in the game (this was a deliberate decision on the devs’ part, who wanted the players to be the only “humans” in the game) which results in the weight of narration and story progression falling exclusively on pre-recorded radio messages, Robots, and… holotapes.
We bemoaned Fallout 4’s oversimplistic and uninspired dialog system (and rightly so), and Bethesda listened and tried to remedy this by… completely removing dialog as a feature of this game. Now the only speech we can hear during our travels is produced by Holotapes found around the world (in which various old inhabitants of the world go on 5-minute overdramatic and over-acted rants on how miserable their lives are, which I assume the devs thought for some reason it adds depth to the world) as well as by radio messages or by Robot characters with whom we can’t have any sort of interaction other than stand there and listen to their drivel.
Of course, the above often leads to mega-cringeworthy instances. Like for example listening to a message on the radio that says “please come to me, I need help”, which naturally makes us assume that the broadcaster is either dead or a robot, and after we reach the source of the broadcast we do find a robot that says “HAHAAA, I AM IN FACT A ROBOT! I GOT YOU, DIDN’T I? BOY MUST YOU BE SURPRISED”..
Please, merciful Jack Daniels, old friend, make the cringe stop, MAKE IT STOP.
As an obvious result of the above, quests and other various events in the game don’t offer any sort of choices during their course (of course, how could you affect the outcome of a quest when you can’t even talk to quest givers because THEY’RE ALL HOLOTAPES?) nor do they have any real consequences in the world. Taking this constricting context into account, it comes as no surprise that the general design philosophy behind virtually every quest in the game is so bland and repetitive that it manages to make even Fallout 4 stand out as a marvel of literature and RPG quest design (maybe that was their goal all along).
Here’s an example of what I mean. During the course of the “main story” (which can be summed up as ” we exit our vault and find red ghouls, and this is bad because reasons – this is LITERALLY the game’s plot, we must defeat a red variety of Ghouls that acts just like any other feral Ghoul in the world) we undertake the following quest chain:
-Person X has vital intel on the red ghouls. We go to place Y to find him. The door is locked, and a voice on the radio tells us “bring me item Z from place Y1 and I will let you in”.
-We go to place Y1, kill ghouls, find a terminal that says item Z requires items Z1-2-3-4 in order to be unlocked.
-We exit place Y1, travel around the world to find items Z1-2-3-4, killing ghouls in the process.
-We return to place Y1, kill ghouls, go to the terminal, get item Z.
-We return to place Y, the door is unlocked, inside we find the lifeless body of person X and it turns out that the voice who let us in is in fact a robot (WHAT A TOTAL SURPRISE) that is willing to provide us with person X’s info if we bring it items Z5-6-7-8.
-We travel around the world, kill ghouls, find items Z5-6-7-8, return to the robot.
-The robot tells us that items Z5-6-7-8 are part of a special key, that also needs parts Z9-10-11-12 to be reassembled.
-We travel around the world, kill ghouls, find items Z9-10-11-12, return to the robot.
-The robot sends us to place Y2 where we can assemble the key.
-We go to place Y2, kill ghouls, assemble the key, return to the robot.
– The robot sends us to location Y3 to unlock an area that contains what person X considered vital intel.
-We go to place Y3, kill ghouls, unlock the area, find the vital item Z13, which is broken.
-In order to fix the broken item Z13, the robot tells us to go to place Y4 on the other side of the map and talk to person X2…
PLEASE GOD, MAKE IT STOP. JIMMY BEAM, MR JAMESON, SOMEONE DELIVER ME FROM THIS NIGHTMARE.
It becomes abundantly clear that the game’s “single-player aspect” (meaning the existence of a main story and traditional questing) are there strictly as a secondary feature, just so that the marketing department would be able to say “if you wish, you can play this solo just like all the other Fallouts”. It’s obvious that the only reason Fallout 76 came to be is because someone wanted to make a Multiplayer Fallout game (and make moneyz selling furniture, emotes and cosmetics through the in-game store, since this seemed to work in ESO). So, if we wish to be fair, we should judge the game primarily as a multiplayer spin-off and not as a typical RPG – after all, if the co-op is solid, exploration is interesting and base-building is as fun as (I’ve heard people claim it is) in Fallout 4, then this should be consideted a succesful experiment, right?
Unfortunately, Fallout 76 is lacking even in that regard. As “pretty” as the world might be (which is rather relative, since its graphics are somehow even worse than Fallout 4’s and remind of a 2007 game even on Ultra settings) it eventually comes up as too empty and soulless. Yes, there are points of interest, towns, villages, factories, lush forests and barren mountains etc etc, but the complete lack of NPCs, a remotely interesting main plot, faction interplay, meaningful questing and lore development (the random mountaineer heard dramatically describing how he milked his goats pre-war in “SURVIVOR’S HOLOTAPE #5” does NOT count as world and lore development) ultimately make every area in the game just another place where we can kill ghouls and loot duct tape, and soon the exploration itself becomes rather tiresome and pointless.
This, combined with the fact that 24 players is too low a number for such a large map (I guess that the decades-old game engine couldn’t support more players) and so we rarely ever meet other players outside of the starting areas, plus the rough and ultimately pointless implementation of PVP, make Fallout 76 a Multiplayer Fallout title that doesn’t really offer the thrills of a “Multiplayer” game (meaning interaction and competition with other “live” players) nor the benefits of a “Bethesda Fallout” game (meaning the joy of exploration mainly, since the deeper philosophical and socio-economic questions past Fallout titles attempted to raise are not something Bethesda is really interested in adding to their interpretations of the Fallout franchise).
But there’s also Co-op, right? Why do we need anything else when we can just goof around with some friends, kill stuff, use emotes and build our dream bases? I guess that those who are satisfied with the above features are the only ones who MIGHT have some measure of fun with this game – after all, the devs have said that their aim was for players to “make their own personal stories” in the game, and this was a solid enough excuse to completely gut traditional questing and dialog from the game. However, even those players will have to deal with the typical menace of Bethesda games: the constant bugs and glitches. And we’re not even talking about some minor bug or “cute” glitch (“it’s not a bug, it is a FEATURE” as is sometimes stated) – we have crashes to desktop, disconnects, and gamebreaking bugs that sometimes prevent even parts of the main story from being completed. What’s even more frustrating is that some, if not most, of these issues were already encountered and reported during the game’s Beta, but remained unresolved in the final version.
In general, the state this game was released in – limited variety of content, lacking story, bugs – reminds me more of an Early Access game rather than a complete product (some have drawn parallels to the No Man’s Sky fiasco, but at least nobody marketed Fallout 76 as “the game that will change the course of the gaming industry). The issue of course is that we’re not talking about some indie studio but about a multi-billion dollar company that had a game under development for at least three years, a game which also happens to share 90% of the assets and mechanics of Fallout 4, and yet manages to be released in this sorry state.
To sum up, we have a “Bethesda Fallout” game that won’t satisfy fans of Bethesda Fallout games (let alone fans of the old Fallouts), a Multiplayer/co-op game that will only satisfy multiplayer/co-op fans that are willing to compromise and endure a lot of flaws, a game that is buggy as hell despite being in development for over three years and being mostly based on a game that had already been released, a game with a big but soulless world, a game with worse graphics than the 3-years-old game it is based on… and yet another Bethesda game whose “end-game boss”… is a dragon. I can’t believe I forgot to mention this – as a final insult and a testament to laziness and non-inspiration, the game’s “main story” ends with the players fighting a flying SCORCHBEAST QUEEN, which looks and moves EXACTLY like a Skyrim Dragon.
Maybe in some other instance I would have been more lenient towards a game like Fallout 76, in regards to both its bugs and the amount of fun someone could draw from it – after all, the game’s nature is not aimed at the audience that would “traditionally” play games like the company’s previous Fallouts. However, we’re dealing with a company that has REPEATEDLY acted like it is deliberately trying to determine how much it can fool its audience without affecting its sales income. It’s high-time we put our foot down, in the hopes that they will get it together and do some SERIOUS rethinking in regards to their future endeavours (it is a MINIMUM request that they finally get rid of that wretched, decades-old game engine while working on Starfield and the next Elder Scrolls game).
Since in its current state of release it is nothing more than a soulless, lazy and half-assed cash-grab, the only score we could give Fallout 76 is…