Set in a retro-futuristic post-apocalyptic wasteland version of America, Fallout has always been known for its excellent world building. From its isometric roots in the 90s, this role-playing game bloomed into an excellent first-person experience from Bethesda, that leaves fans hungry for more. An online multi-player Fallout was revealed at E3 2018 to many a mixed reaction, offering a world that was four times the size of Fallout 4, the last game in the series. A wasteland experience you can share with other people, a radical departure from the single-player-only experience the series is known for. Now, Fallout 76 is finally out and it sure has an identity crisis.
What’s it about?
Before the bombs fell, all the brightest and best in America were sent to a special underground Vault 76 in Appalachia, an alternate version of West Virginia. Built to withstand the nuclear onslaught that ravaged the land. Twenty-five years later, you play one of those vault dwellers, on what they term as ‘Reclamation Day’. Setting the stage for the great multi-player game where humanity ventures forth into this battered new world to reclaim it by building settlements together. Except you find the land taken over by a whole lot of mutated monstrosities.
Fallout 76 is set before all those Fallout games, which does explain the lack of settlements or any NPCs. Which were the best parts of the past Fallout games, meeting new irradiated people in the breakdown of society. Instead, you get a story that unfolds as a series of recorded messages you have to chase around the map. Making this a lonely jaunt through the wasteland, occasionally meeting another human-controlled player, going through the same process as you. A fantastic opportunity of rebuilding civilisation squandered away in favour of you running around the wasteland in a threadbare plot, following logs of dead people.
Granted, they’re well-written, and it’s expected because creating compelling worlds is what Bethesda is all about. From those little stories told in the dead, frozen in whatever they were doing when the shockwaves hit. Things are so lonely out there that some players have taken to dressing up and behaving as NPCs themselves.
How does it play?
There are several games that Fallout 76 wants to be, a multi-player shooting experience like Destiny or The Division. A co-operative monster hunting game like Monster Hunter. A tower defence base-building game. There’s a lot of different gameplay elements here that never seem to quite embrace each other. Then, to top it off, it wants to be a core Fallout game. So it’s settled down for a comfortable mediocrity in a game world that was built for potential.
Let’s start with what’s good about Fallout 76. Exploration is a lot of fun and at times really feels like you’re in a Fallout game. Finding ruins of a fun alternate world that’s gone by, it feels nice hearing that drum roll sound cue telling you that you’ve discovered something. Now the gameplay mechanics seem to use this as a way to chain you down. The quests are extremely mundane and serve just to propel you from point to point doing boring stuff. At the end of it, you get loot that’s mostly junk and raw material for building, or if you get any cool weapon, it’s almost always at a few levels higher than what you have. Which means you have to grind more to get it.
Grinding is fun, the feel of melee combat is visceral and the guns have punch. It would have been perfect if there weren’t so many bugs. Bethesda games are notoriously buggy at launch, but Fallout 76 takes the cake; even after a 43GB patch on PS4, the game is still buggy. Especially in combat, as frames keep skipping and enemies who are far enough for you to easily shoot are suddenly right next to you and you’re already losing health.
Then come the survival elements, as you have to balance thirst and hunger with scavenging for food and making it fit for consumption. Which is not fun at all with bugs; my character always seems thirsty and my gameplay time goes in boiling water.
Setting up your C.A.M.P portable building unit anywhere to set up your base is a neat touch, but it’s more for personal camps. It would have been fun to help add on to someone’s already-created settlement or create settlements together so that you can defend them together. Here, you build your settlements and then defend it against waves of attackers, that’s it. The building options seem to be directly lifted from Fallout 4, which made it more fun to build settlements to attract people.
There’s literally so much to do in Fallout 76, but it is almost always at odds with itself. Like finding nuclear codes to launch nukes, which create large radiation zones, with tougher enemies which drop better loot, which you can’t use until you grind more or build. Fallout 76 is designed to chain you to that controller and grind. Even the limited time events that show up during the game for you and your team to participate, is drudgery at its finest.
Sure, there is the multi-player component, but each game world is capable of supporting only 24 players in each game, and while having a team or a wingman to explore is cool in theory, sometimes it’s just boring to have someone along.Considering the game looks like Fallout 4 with minor graphical improvements, it should not have any performance issues. The game does retain that charm though, with animated images of its mascot Pip, the adorable blonde-haired, blue suit-wearing cartoon. The humour is there too, as is the charm of seeing familiar in-game brands, like Nuka Cola. The best way to have fun in Fallout 76 is to forget those quest markers and just carve your own path through the game with your friends and discover the world the way you want to see it.
Should you get it?
Given time, all bugs will be fixed, but Fallout 76 has problems that run much deeper. At heart it’s got a great world out there for you to explore. All it needs is a lot of tweaking. Right now, it’s recommended you wait and watch, to see how Bethesda supports the game and words to address not only bugs but also tweak the gameplay to make jumping into this game worth your time.
The writer is a tech and gaming enthusiast who hopes to one day finish his sci-fi novel