Review written by Stephen Deck; originally posted 2/6/2019 on Teacher By Day – Gamer By Night
Fallout 76 is a divisive game, to say the least. In a time when compelling single player games with deep lore and world building are increasingly scarce, Bethesda has long been a beacon of light in a dark cavern of multiplayer garbage with its Elder Scrolls and Fallout series. Elder Scrolls Online was sort of to be expected because it’s basically just Bethesda’s version of World of Warcraft, but Fallout 76 was a game that could easily have been amazing or disastrous depending on execution. It’s the first online Fallout game, and that’s a hard thing to get right; you don’t want a straight up empty world, but it’s not very in keeping with Fallout if there are thousands of people in one settlement. Unfortunately, on the spectrum between success and disaster, Fallout 76 falls a bit right of center.
Fallout 76 manages to strike a pretty good balance with the world population. There are something like a dozen and half max per world which, while still leaving the world feel pretty desolate and empty, keeps running into other players from being a rare occurrence even if it’s not exactly common. The post-nuclear world of West Virginia is also extremely well done and possibly one of the best and most interesting worlds to appear in a Fallout game yet. Unfortunately, that’s about all that Fallout 76 gets right. The rest of the game more or less varies between “disappointing” and “what the hell, dude?”
Let’s start with the story. There isn’t much. The overarching “main” quest line involves following in the footsteps of Vault 76’s overseer as she tries to evaluate the damage Appalachia suffered in China’s nuclear barrage and to secure the nuclear weapons still unlaunched in the region. These quests are basically just a scavenger hunt; it’s just going from place to place and stumbling upon the supply boxes and holotapes she left behind. There are four “categories” of quests in Fallout 76 – “Main” quests which include the overseer quests and a handful of other major lore-establishing quests, “Side” quests which shed life on what happened in West Virginia in the 25 years between the falling of the bombs and the day that Vault 76 opened, “Daily” quests which are relatively short and simple quests that can be repeated every day, and “Event” quests which are tied to specific regions like restoring a power plant or repairing a food processing facility.
Because Fallout 76 is an online game, Bethesda wanted to encourage interaction between players. To achieve this, they decided not to include any human NPCs whatsoever. Anyone you encounter is either a player character, a robot, or a mutated horror that’s trying to kill you. On the one hand, I can somewhat understand it. It’s only been a couple of decades since the bombs fell, so most folks are either dead or ghouls. On the other hand, we know from holotapes and notes found during side quests that there WERE people who survived the bombs and were alive fairly recently (since you can find mostly undecomposed bodies around). Not only that, but we know that that there were people long after the bombs because we’ve all played the older games (shame on you if you haven’t), so when you really start to think about it, it’s just bizarre that the ONLY living people are suddenly vault dwellers when there had been survivors not long before the vault opened.
Let’s turn now to the mechanics and gameplay. Can someone please explain to me why the hell a game that came out four months ago is built on an engine that’s old enough to have a Bachelor’s degree? Oh, sure, it’s gone through “revisions” and “major updates,” but at the end of the day, Bethesda is still using Gamebryo, and that engine has been around since 1997. You should not release a full retail price game that’s built with an engine that’s old enough to drink in the United States. It shows, too, that they’re using an ancient engine and that Bethesda still hasn’t learned what the phrase “quality assurance” means. When the game launched, it was a buggy mess. Some quests couldn’t be completed because you couldn’t interact with certain objects, items were unobtainable because the model would spawn but without any actual hitbox or item linked to the model, perks were broken, enemies would randomly regenerate, achievements didn’t always trigger….it was atrocious. I was a hardcore apologist at the time, too. “Oh, it’s not THAT bad. No worse than their other games!” No, it was worse than their other games.
When they released the first “patch” to fix some of the bugs, they broke more than they fixed. Suddenly spawn rates were broken so you’d have literally dozens if not hundreds of robots spawning in one location under certain conditions. This put a ton of strain on servers that already clearly hadn’t been stress tested and resulted in my spending a solid month, maybe a month a half, literally unable to play because I would consistently get disconnected every ten to fifteen minutes. Every little subsequent patch and “hotfix” has been a damn carousel of nerfs and buffs to the point where hardly anyone has any idea what weapons do what damage this week. That doesn’t even begin to touch on the Atomic Shop. It’s their “totally not pay to win” microtransaction system, and while technically it’s not pay to win (yet), it’s stupid overpriced. An emote – just a damn 5-second gesture – will cost something like 500 atoms. A costume skin will cost 1800. You know what 1800 atoms translate to in real world money? 18 damn US dollars! For the price of three armor skins, you could buy a brand new copy of the game at launch day price. I’m all for cosmetic microtransactions, but when they’re exorbitant like that, I have a problem with it, and when they stop being purely cosmetic, I have a HUGE problem with it. They aren’t (yet) outright selling weapons or caps or whatever, but they have started doing things like “from this day until this day, this $15 costume will give you +15 damage resistance!” and crap like that. It’s just trying to be sneaky about dipping their toes into the pay to win waters.
Lastly, I need to vent about the carry limit. I understand that for balance purposes as well as server stress purposes, you need to limit how much weight a player can carry in their inventory. However, if food has weight, bobby pins have weight, ammo has weight, fully broken down resources have weight, that adds up FAST. But that’s fine because you can put it in your stash, right? Well, maybe. Most players have, I’d say, about 200 carry weight on average. The stash can hold 600 (it could only hold 400 at launch). That fills up FAST especially when some of the powerful weapons that you probably save for Scorchbeasts and Mirelurk Queens weight like 30 or 40. I understand that server stability – or stability with anything really – isn’t Bethesda’s strong suit, but the whole game is pretty much an exercise in being ALMOST overencumbered.
Fallout 76 is a massive exercise in missed opportunity and botched efforts. For the plethora of complaints I addressed above plus the fact that entire factions’ traders are limited to 200 caps per day (not individual trader robots) which I didn’t even mention, Fallout 76 is a depressingly disappointing game that highlights what happens proper time for bug testing and bug fixing isn’t allowed. Now to be fair, I have still had a lot of fun with this game, and I’ve had some great experience with impromptu groups. The base building has been DRAMATICALLY improved from Fallout 4, and the diversity in the locations in the game keep your adventure for looking the same constantly. Unfortunately, despite the fact that it is a lot of fun to play if you manage to avoid the major bugs (or are very patient with them), it’s just not a very well made game when you get down to the details and stability. That’s a shame, too, because this could have been an absolutely incredible game. As the president of the United States would say, SAD.