When a long-established series, whether it be video games or any other form of media moves in on a new direction, the target base gets divided into two groups. One group of purists who want the subject in question to stick to its roots while the other one is open to new pastures and ideas. Making everyone happy in such a situation is nigh-impossible. But as long as the final product ends up being enjoyable, the damage can be controlled to an extent. Fallout, one of the most prolific RPG series of all time has reached this conjecture with the announcement of Fallout 76, a significant departure from the series’ traditional story-driven RPG roots and focusing more on the social aspects of multiplayer. As one can imagine, the decision to turn the next game in the series into an online-only survival-RPG has split the fanbase into the aforementioned two groups. But, the question at hand is how good of a game is Fallout 76? Well, the 15+ hours we spent in the Fallout 76 B.E.T.A should bring some closure into this million dollar question.
War, War Has Changed
In case you have been living under a rock, you must have heard about the disaster that was the initial Fallout 76 B.ET.A session for the PC. Yes, we too had 50 gigabytes of our pre-load files deleted right before the beta had begun and had to redownload them like a madman before the session came to a close. This event has been discussed so many times that there is no point in pondering further on the subject. With the elephant in the room promptly sent to sleep, let’s move on to more important things.
Despite all the new changes, Fallout 76 still feels like a Fallout game at heart. Well, technically at least. It’s still a massive open-world RPG where you once again play as a resident of one of the many nuclear shelters aptly called Vault Dwellers. Except that this time, your post-nuclear playground is the state of West Virginia, an area relatively untouched by the atomic fallout, resulting in a much more vibrant and diverse environment. Fallout 76 still looks and feels like the last entry in the series, Fallout 4. At times, it looks a bit too similar due to the game using more or less the same technology and assets. That means that Fallout 76, brings with it, the good, the bad and the ugly side of the Creation Engine, something which has been ridiculed throughout the years. Anyone familiar with Fallout 3, New Vegas or Fallout 4 will feel right at home.
What has changed, however, is the way you perceive the world. You are no longer the lone wanderer. This time around, there are plenty of real-life chosen ones to aid or hinder your progress. It’s just a fancy way of saying that the server will be populated by people like you and me. To presumably honour the timeline and setting, there are no NPCs whatsoever in the game world (unless you count robots as NPCs). Bethesda wants the player base and the interaction between them to fill the void left behind by the lack of NPCs. No longer will you able to find struggling settlements waiting for the arrival of a lone hero to rid them of their worries. In return, you receive quests and lore notes from automated terminals and broadcasts left behind by dead people. The idea is as terrible as the execution. While the servers might be buzzing with activity at launch, what will happen when the game crosses the year mark when the hype has died down and playerbase has moved on to newer games? Sure, Bethesda may have a long-time roadmap laid ahead for the game, but let’s be real. The player count isn’t going to remain at peak always. If you think the game feels lifeless now, imagine jumping into a server several years from now, only to find a player count of single-digits wandering around in small pockets of the huge map. Not saying that it will happen, but that is a serious issue to keep in mind.
Go There, Kill X
While we did run into a couple of interesting and outright crazy quests and encounters including a weird romantic angle between two handy bots and a military camp full of robots gearing up to take the fight to communists, most of the quests bog down to the generic MMO kill or find X structure. The amount of generic fetch quests is just too much and we really ended up missing the detailed questlines with multiple solutions and interesting outcomes from the previous games. While this is a multiplayer game geared towards groups of wanderers trying to secure food, water and shelter and investigate Vault 76 and its secrets after the War, there is no reason to dilute the interesting side-quests which Fallout 3 and New Vegas (especially New Vegas) were famous for. Fallout 76 feels like a Fallout game with all the exciting bits cut out.
If you have played any of the older Fallouts, especially Fallout 1, 2, 3 or New Vegas, you’ll know the emphasis laid on the storyline. Storytelling also was a feature which made the Fallout series famous. Fallout 76 does have a main story, but the storytelling has been diluted so much that players can barely feel attached to the lore or the setting. The voice acting is so bad that an hour of screams from a Metal band performing in the vicinity of your home actually sounds better. An hour of the Overseer’s lifeless voice droning on about how humanity’s petty arguments led to the War, along with some boring fetch quests and you start questioning your life choices and your existence. Also, it’s really sad how the game’s lore has been modified to fit in with the setting (*ahem* the Brotherhood of Steel *ahem*)
Stuck in an Uncanny Valley
Bethesda has effectively tried to work out a compromise so that all players can enjoy the game. The end result was an atrocity that neither plays like an MMO, nor like a survival game, nor like a single player game with online coop features. It just excels at being a “multiplayer Fallout game” and nothing else. NPCs or quest givers, as well as huge raids where squads of players take on big enemies, is lacking. Even the survival options added, including base building and hunger and thirst management, seem to be more of a hindrance than a boon, and feels like a forced addition for the sake of initiating “new features” rather than making players actually utilize it for improving their gameplay experience. Base building is tedious and needs a lot of raw materials, which are a chore to carry since the weight you can carry is extremely limited. Also, another possible deterrent is that the game never properly encourages base building.
Post-War Dog Days
Let’s talk about the PvP aspect of the game now. The game actively discourages PvP with a lack of reward and a notoriety system put in place. But that doesn’t stop people from teaming up with other players and ambushing solo players while they are crafting or gathering resources. The rewards in actively participating in PvP is just not worth it. Not to mention the fact that you become wanted if you kill players that don’t fire back at you. In short, unless you’re a jerk who just wants to go around maiming other players, there is no real incentive to taking part in PvP. This could have been rectified by having a separate zone in the map for PvP (much like the Dark Zone from The Division) or having separate PvP and PvE servers. Yet, there are no such things, let alone private servers.
Even if you are willing to compromise on the storytelling and quest structure, the biggest problem here is the graphics engine itself. The atrociously low field of view, game physics tied to the frames per second, overdone depth of field, performance hiccups, horrible animations and the numerous bugs and glitches plaguing Fallout 76 made an ugly stain in our first impression. We can’t count the times we ran into enemies stuck in T-pose, items and enemies spawning one foot in front of our character and hits refusing to register. The Creation Engine has long overdue its welcome and drags down whatever the potential the game has.
There are a lot more to be said about Fallout 76. *Cough* half-baked microtransactions *cough* But to keep this impression article rather short and on point, we’d much rather not get into it. Fallout 76 is priced at $60. Yet, it carries with it a plethora of issues and bad design decisions found in $15 Early Access survival games. Such a shame really, because underneath all the mess, there exists some reasonably good ideas and concepts well suited for an online Fallout experience. With just mere days before launch, the thought of most of these problems being fixed is thrown right out the window. We’re not just saying this out of frustration. Hell, I’ve been a fan of Fallout for nearly 20 years and the more you love something, the harder your criticisms will be. Call it tough love.
It’s easy to say that you can have fun with Fallout 76 when played together with a group of friends. But that is an entirely subjective opinion. Let’s face it; a couple of buddies make even the most terrible of films bearable. But the real question remains- Are you willing to pay $60 for such an experience?