When one thinks of Bethesda, chances are good that the words “multiplayer” and “always online” do not enter the mind. Naturally, it was quite the surprise when Bethesda Softworks unveiled Fallout 76. A game built with those terms in mind. After the announcement, glee spread throughout all of my work and friend circles. For the first time, friends would be able to explore the world of Fallout together. Alas, those dreams were smashed the moment the game released.
Bethesda promised a full-fledged Fallout experience for Fallout 76. One complete with story and plot twists, and loot and building – pretty much everything fans had come to expect from the studio. Only this time, there would be no human non-playable characters. The story would be delivered via computers and robots, and monsters would be reduced to bullet-sponge dumpster fires. In this Fallout 76 review, I go over just how much Bethesda has let fans down.
Wasted wasteland [Story]
First thing’s first, it should be noted that Fallout 76 is a 2018 title. It is also a multiplayer only title. While it is advertised as a Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) game, it really plays more like an instanced multiplayer title. This means it competes directly with Destiny 2 and The Division in terms of how it is structured and what it has to offer. A contrast to what was expected, something more like World of Warcraft or Guild Wars 2. Unfortunately for Fallout 76, the two titles that it competes with have so much more to offer the player than it will seemingly ever have.
Like other massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG) from the late 2000s and early 2010s, story in Fallout 76 takes a bit of a step back in favour of lots of content and gameplay. This is not a huge issue in and of itself, considering some of my favourite titles have little to no story. However, when the likes of 2014’s Destiny has more to offer than a game that stems from a studio lauded for their exceptionally crafted singleplayer stories, something feels awry.
The game starts out as one would expect. You start by customising your vault dweller, then get a short cutscene and introduction on the goings on of the world around you. In this case, you wake up from what I assume to be a huge night of celebrations, and learn that the rest of your vault has already left for the surface. See, Vault 76 is the first vault to open since the bombs fell that ended the war. “Reclamation Day”, as your eerily “absent” fellow vault dwellers call it, is upon you. This means that the door has opened and it is time to see what is left of West Virginia.
As you make your way out, the vault Overseer makes an announcement over the intercom. Remember, other human NPCs do not exist. Any human player in this game is an actual human. You are then fed a bunch of notes, magazines, and other “world building” features that explain the lore, as it were, of the current day situation.
The rest of the game persists in this way. Barring any and all contact from actual NPCs that would seem crucial to pretty much any narrative, the player is left wandering the wastes. Every so often, the player is pointed in vague directions by audio tapes, notes, and messages left on terminals. All used to uncover the mysteries of the post-war world. The problem is that neither the audio tapes nor the messages that come in different forms, make the player feel anything. There is no sense of urgency, and when urgency is conveyed through a message, there is literally no incentive to hurry along to see what it is about.
Throughout my experience with the game, I came across a particular audio tape about a girl who cried about her family being killed by mutants. Did I care? Not one bit. Why? It was given to me in the most impersonal way possible – even for a game… and I suppose that is the biggest issue with this game: it is too impersonal.
Ultimately, the story tries to set the player on a path to rebuild the world. It is up to the player and his posse to build camps, clear mutants from areas, and slowly repopulate West Virginia. A seemingly impossible task considering how *there are no other humans in the game*.
Something feels awry… [Gameplay]
This review would have been a lot more positive if the story was the only real issue. Alas, that is not the case. Like all Fallout titles before it, Fallout 76 lets you create a vault dweller with a set number of points that go into your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. categories. From there, you gain perk cards as you explore and level up, and read cool-looking magazines that are strewn around all over West Virginia.
I will not lie, the first few hours of Fallout 76 was actually pretty cool. However, as I continued to make progress on what little story there was, and as I slowly uncovered more of the pretty generous map (perhaps the game’s only saving grace), the bigger issues started to seep through the cool-looking, Instagram-filtered cracks.
The first thing I noticed was how the volume of loot, combined with the strange lack of storage, kept me from exploring further than I could spit. Furthermore, the strange perk system is unlike any other game in the series. Here, it acts a lot more like what you would expect from a mobile game. Complete with cards that enhance your character’s stats. The game’s weird obsession with holotapes – be they audiotape, or just messages – was also quite unusual, and frankly, very annoying. It is as if the crew at Bethesda sat down, read about what people liked about Fallout 76, and slapped a huge multiplayer sticker on it, complete with multiplayer baggage.
Beyond the tapes, and the stupid encumbrance issues, and strange perk system, the biggest issue of them all was the fact that I could not go to an NPC to sell my junk, get my quests from, or even just interact with. Instead, the other “humans” in the game relied on actual human beings also playing the game. While they were way less of an issue than I thought they would be, it bothered me how empty it made the game feel.
My first thought was that the game has been made specifically with groups in mind. As such, I jumped on the Xbox’s LFG tool and grouped up with a few people. They were welcoming, and we spoke quite a bit. We even went on a few adventures, looted a bunch of places, and killed a few deathclaws. It was a decent experience. Not because the game was fun, but because the people I met were genuinely cool. As a result, I thought that meant the game was cool. I was wrong.
Afterwards, I returned to the game on my own. I thought that my experience would feel different. In the sense that “playing with friends” was how it was meant to be played. It did not change my perception of the game. Regardless of whether or not I played with other people, the game felt fundamentally broken. This led me to the conclusion that the game just does not work, at all. The gameplay experience in Fallout 76 is so lacking, that it is baffling how this game made it through Quality Assurance in the first place. Well, at least you can build camps.
The camp building, however, is nothing like it was in Fallout 4. This time around, you are not locked into rebuilding set areas and outposts. Rather, Fallout 76 lets you set up a camp pretty much anywhere you would like. The building process is easy enough to understand, and not an issue at all. Where the issues start to show face is when you pack up for the day and log off. Return, and you might just find that the entire area where you decided to set up camp has been nuked. Now there is nothing left but irradiated deathclaws.
Alternatively, you might log in and find that someone else has setup camp right on your spot (because logging off removes your camp from the server), and you cannot get your spot back. The biggest issue, however, is the fact that half the junk you collect in Fallout 76 has nothing to do with camping or crafting at all. In Fallout 4, anything you carried with you helped with building in some way or another. In Fallout 76, this feature is reduced to a grind-fest where you have to make sure to collect only the correct items or risk becoming encumbered.
The fact is that everything seems to be lacking. It is as if Fallout 76 was a means to gain the upper hand as the “official multiplayer” version before modders finally crack the code and manage to get people to play Fallout 4 with their friends. Let us be honest, that would be so much better. The feel of the gameplay aside, I have to mention that I did enjoy the sights of West Virginia.
Howdy West Virginia [Performance & Visuals]
Fallout 76 looks pretty much like Fallout 4, but now with an added Instagram filter and “noise” for that weird old-school film effect. I have to mention that I did enjoy the sights of West Virginia. The setting is beautiful, if not spectacular in most cases, and good looking even when it was not meant to be.
I feel that Bethesda nailed down the design of West Virginia long before the executives decided to inject a B-class multiplayer game into it. Bethesda has always been good at recreating real-world areas in strange post-apocalyptic situations. The world, therefore, enhances the gameplay when you enjoy the sights around you. It is also worth mentioning that in Bethesda titles, the world is half the story and gameplay. Never have I played a Bethesda title and felt that the design of the world had nothing to do with the quests it involved.
I also have to reiterate that West Virginia is a phenomenal locale, especially the way in which Bethesda recreated it, complete with Post Apocalypse aesthetic. However, at the end of the day, it must be noted that the game breaks no records when it comes to design. The game is literally Fallout 4 with all the added filters I mentioned above. It also runs on Bethesda’s dated Creation Engine – the same engine that ran The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, obviously with a few timely upgrades.
Considering the fact that the game runs on the Creation Engine, and that it features the same models and assets featured in Fallout 4, the game runs like a dream. Loading times are short, and there was a single crash during my gameplay – it happened right at the start. I did not experience any other game breaking bugs.
An empty husk of a game [Conclusion]
Bethesda tried something with Fallout 76. I just cannot pinpoint what that something is and whether they succeeded or not. Was it to get a head start over all the multiplayer mods still in development? Was it to gauge how well a multiplayer game like this would be received? If those are the cases, they certainly failed miserably.
As I played the first few hours, I had quite a bit of hype built up over what the rest of the game would offer. However, as more and more things started to fall apart, and as more failed and half-assed segments started to show face, I continually asked myself what this studio was trying to accomplish. Now, as I am writing this, I can safely say that they did not accomplish much. In fact, Fallout 76 is nothing but an empty irradiated husk of a once popular and innovative franchise.
|Time Played||10+ hours|
|Acquisition||Review copy courtesy of Bethesda Softworks|