I had a very simple but strict plan for last Saturday: play Fallout 76 for the final time. Put a few more hours under my belt, make a few more screenshots. All in all, prepare for the upcoming article. Just, finish the job…
And I couldn’t do it. I would say, I even had… fun in my play session… But after taking a break and then logging back in, the game glitched and instead of loading my base(which I had spend 30-40 minutes building earlier today) it only loaded like a third of it, just separate parts and structures floating here and there, cruelly reminding me what I’m actually playing. It is the newest title from Bethesda, the company that has brought us such amazing titles as Morrowind, Skyrim, Fallout 3. And it sucks, it sucks massively. The lowest playtime I have on a Bethesda game is in Fallout 4(my least favorite Beth game, up until now) and is about 300 hours. In every other title I have times equals that playtime. I have around 25-ish hours in Fallout 76 and I don’t have any desire to play it anymore.
Fallout 76 is an old game, and I’m not referring (only) to the engine. It is morally old. It’s like an actor that can only play himself and has done this in every movie he has ever been in. You toss him in a new environment and it’s the same guy you used to like a decade ago. Only this time it’s not funny anymore and you feel he is only doing it for the money. In the same vein, Fallout 76 tries to marry two ideas: the original Bethesda games style, incorporated in an always online environment. Somehow, by doing this, it manages to take the worst parts of both worlds, creating one of the most tedious and simultaneously frustrating experiences I have ever had in a video game.
The core concept of F76 is interesting enough: you and up to 23 other players are tossed into a Fallout setting, the largest ever at that, and are then free to do whatever you want. It is quite the alluring prospect and is something many fans have wanted for years. This was what everyone hoped The Elder Scrolls online to be initially. This is why projects like Tamriel Online and OpenMW exist. Problem is, if you had hoped for a proper Bethesda game, but with friends, this ain’t the one. It is essentially a looter shooter with other people. Ask yourself this: did you enjoy the junk gathering and weapons crafting in Fallout 4? Did you enjoy making a base? If you answered yes to the above questions, you might find some enjoyment in the game, as this is almost everything there is to do. Gone are the layered and sometimes morally gray stories. Gone are the interesting NPCs. Quests are technically still here, but I would be ashamed to to call what’s in the game “a quest”, as they are the most basic fetch/kill/press a button tasks there can ever be. Most of the time you will be walking from point to point only to read a entry in a terminal or listen to a audio log, then “the quest” would be completed and you will automatically receive the rewards out of thin air. How is it that you magically get stuff added to your inventory: is it an automated system that was built by the task giver in order to ensure whoever helped him will be rewarded? Is it aliens? Is it Todd Howard himself pushing a button every time someone completes “a quest”? Who knows…
Also, the whole “no NPC” part… As mentioned in my preview, this simply does not work. NPCs were a mean to help you get to know the world around you better. They would also help you feel what’s it like to live in a post-nuclear land and make you care more about the place. In Fallout 76, though? Well, they are all dead anyways, why should you care about anything? Why should you give a damn about these world-ending threats, when everyone is already gone and the Scorchbeasts(the main baddies) doesn’t seem to bother you much at all? What also irritated me was that I didn’t understand the story justification for this. Everyone seemed to be doing fine, but juuuust before you exited the vault shit went down with the Sorchbeast plague. Umm, isn’t this the post-war wasteland supposed to be this really though place where everyone is struggling to survive? Why didn’t the developers make everyone die to the atomic blasts? The main point is, whatever the reasons, the world still feels unreasonably empty. And it is a huge world, mind you. Never before have I gotten so tired only by the thought that I need to make a, say, 10 minutes walk from one location to another as I knew that nothing would happen. At most, I would stumble upon some enemies or some random event(if I am lucky). The events themselves are straight up lifted from Guild Wars 2, except they are all variations of horde mode. They wield good rewards, but as all in this game, they get boring really quickly.
The setting also does not fit, lore-wise. It is too green, too… cheerful, given the fact that nukes have rained down from the sky merely 25 years before. Also, there are so many creatures that does not make sense here. Super mutants(again)? Hermit crabs and fog crawlers that should be native to Far Harbor? Also, why are there ghouls and what’s the need to have them if we have the scorched, which are more or less the same? The biggest problem is that those monsters are not fun to fight, as they are brain dead and this is not exaggeration as all they do is to stand in place and shoot you or charge at you. Fight them you will, though, since this is one of the only ways to level up in the game.
Fallout 76 is reusing so many ideas from its predecessor, but it only gets the bare minimum. It feels like the skeleton of Fallout 4 and even looks like it. Almost every asset is the same. Many of the enemies are reused. The basic loop of F4 is reused. I swear, there are parts of the game that look like the tundra in Skyrim. Not to mention that the endgame boss is essentially an irradiated dragon.
One might say that the crafting system was good in Fallout 4. Well, in this game it is heavily weighted down by the limited carry weight you have. See, in you have to collect junk in order to be able to repair your stuff and to build new one. In the same time, you need to scrap weapons and armor in order to learn unlock new upgrades. Trying to manage the limited free space you have quickly becomes a hell on its own as you will be encumbered much of the time in an attempt to get somewhere in the (initially extremely empty) upgrade tree.
Roleplaying and character builds are also more or less gone. The skill system you have seems good at first: every time you level up, you put one point to one of your S.P.E.C.I.A.L stats and you get perk cards which you can assign to the corresponding stat. Problem is, there is no way to plan a build ahead. In other RPG’s you are able to see what skills each tree has. Here, you will find no such information ingame. And even if you know what skills you want, you get perk cards at random. Add to that the fact that you can swap cards at random and you rarely will strive for specific build, rather will play whatever suits the current situation best, which to me, can rob you of any sense of progression.
Let’s get to the other half of the equation: the online. Truth be told, I can see many of the gameplay and technical sacrifices being made just for the sake of multiplayer. It is too bad that it, like all other things doesn’t quite work. You will barely see anyone. During my 20 or so hours I met with like 20 people and I wouldn’t say it was anything worth remembering. We either joined some random events or just walked by. Almost none had a microphone, one spoke in Russian and one in German and one had a mechanical keyboard louder than my hysterical neighbor. The fact that there is no chat does not help one bit, nor does the lack of gestures in the game. Well, unless you go and buy some from the cash shop, that is.
Every time you log into the game, you are put in a new server. This means you will never get to know the people that you play with, unless you add them as friends. Any concept of rivalry of just knowing the personas that inhabit your server is automatically lost. Oh, and you can also change appearance and gender at any time, so whea, “roleplay”.
What else highlights the online component are mostly server disconnects, lag, random enemy spawns, or in other words, all the negative sides that an online game can have.
I haven’t even touched upon the myriad of bugs, the outdated graphics, but I think you can already see the picture. Fallout 76 tries to be a new thing, but not really. It somehow manages to borrow from different games and genres, but in the same time misses what actually made them any good. It isn’t the junk collecting(what a shocker!), it isn’t just going aimlessly from place to place that makes Fallout and Skyrim great. I was about living in those worlds, being part of their mythos. I wasn’t “just” playing with other people what makes Warframe or World of Warcraft great. It is the sense of community, the way a group of friends can enhance each other and together face interesting challenges. It isn’t just about clicking on the food and drink icons in order to fill a meter or building a shelter that will disappear the minute you log out what makes games like Ark or DayZ great. It’s about the constant struggle with the elements, about making it big, despite all the odds.
This is what irritates and angers me the most. It’s the nagging feeling that Bethesda are stuck in a strange moment in the past. Every problem Fallout 4 had, it is still here and there are many on top of it. What happened to all player feedback, all the criticism? After Fallout 4 people expected something far more. Instead we got a decaying version of that game and got an upgrade of the “beloved” Creation Club, now with even more expensive items.
The strange things is that every now and then, the Fallout 76 shows glimmers of that former Bethesda glory. The worldbuilding is once again great and there are some very interesting locations you can explore. Sound design is again top notch and is the only thing I would say is near perfect. I was truly touched by the recording of a young boy, asking his dad to return to him, promising that it will be good. Or laughed out loud on the audio log of a man, high as a kite, that had somehow gotten to a lighthouse and being genuinely shocked by that fact.
Soundtrack is also awesome, having some new great addition as well as some of the well known hits of games past.
Only… I still wish there were actual people that I talked to, and without a DJ (he’s dead, remember?) the music can get tiresome really fast.
Fallout 76 will go down in history and not in a good way. It is a failed experiment done more out of greed, than in the name of innovation. Maybe Bethesda will manage to improve the game over time. I really hope so, to be honest. I just kind of wish they finally remember what makes their fans love them and their games so much.
There is fun to be had in Fallout 76, but be aware, it is a shell of a game, an early access title. If you still want to try it, I would recommend to wait until it is about half the price AND at least six months have passed since the release. Until then, there are far superior games that have the same features as Fallout 76, only they realize them far better.