Bethesda Game Studios are no strangers when it comes to open world role playing games. 2008’s Fallout 3 revolutionised the Fallout franchise and is still widely loved by many fans to this day. Now in Fallout 76, Bethesda have given the fans what they’ve been asking for for years. The ability to play in their vast open worlds online and cooperatively with their friends. It’s online centric design has once again changed how we view the Fallout universe and it’s safe to say this entry in the series is definitely not for everyone. Does it have it’s problems? Absolutely. But I’d be lying if I said I haven’t had a lot of fun adventuring through Bethesda’s newest wasteland.
Moments after using the game’s character creator to customise your own vault dweller you’ll be making your way out of Vault 76. And right off the bat the world is completely open for you to explore. While you can go anywhere and pretty much do anything right away, the game does encourage you to learn it’s systems and the methods you’ll need to use in order to survive in it’s handful of initial quests. Here you’ll learn how to craft items and repair weapons, create a cooking area to cook food and prepare water and how to set up and build your own C.A.M.P. These systems are some of the most important to be familiar with if you want to survive in Fallout 76 for long. Unlike the previous Fallout games where you were primarily fighting against the various types of enemies and growing radiation levels, in Fallout 76 you’ll also be keeping your own thirst and hunger under control. And that itself is a constant battle.
One aspect of the game that I found refreshing was that in Fallout 76 you don’t play as some prophecised special character or are a key part of a grand quest. You’re not the Dragonborn. You haven’t miraculously survived a 200 year deep freeze. You’re just a seemingly regular inhabitant of Vault 76. It’s was nice to feel like an everyday person that was just part of control Vault 76 tasked with reclaiming the world and readying it for re-population. Especially when there are other real players running around the same instance of West Virginia’s Appalachia as you that are in the same predicament and have the same goals as you. It was one of my issues with the shared world design of Destiny, if every player is told they are the ‘special’ one then no one really is.
If you have played any of Bethesda Game Studios’ Fallout games in the past the biggest key difference you’ll notice in Fallout 76 is that there are no NPC’s around to converse with or receive new quests from. In this game new quests and objectives are gained by speaking to the various robots in the world, searching through computer terminals, reading documents found in houses and dungeons, tuning into certain radio frequencies and you’ll often stumble into them naturally when travelling into new areas on the map. While quite a few of the missions follow a similar structure, I never found myself short of something to do while playing Fallout 76. There’s enough here to keep you entertained for a long time. With a heap of main, side and daily quests as well as live events and plenty of great moments you’ll stumble across on your journey organically.
Fallout 76 has had no shortage of criticisms from the fans and other critics, with much of it stemming from the pre-release experience of the B.E.T.A. One of the key negatives I’ve seen mentioned quite often is it’s lack of a narrative driven story. While Fallout 76 doesn’t have a large overarching story like previous Fallout titles have had, saying it has no story is far from true. Due to it not having any NPC interactions you do have to go looking a little more for the story elements which are often revealed by reading documents, terminal logs or diaries you stumble across while traveling the wasteland. Reading these often lead to their own micro stories that help flesh out the characters that once lived in Appalachia and the story of the world itself.
Previous Fallout games also had documents you could find and terminals containing logs you could read. Although they only rarely activated quests or had any substantial information within them which I think caused people to mostly overlook them and focus on the game. Going into Fallout 76 with the same mindset will limit your enjoyment of the game, especially when it comes to it’s lore and could be the reason behind the statements claiming the game has no story. It’s quite the opposite, it’s actually filled with tons of smaller stories.
Character progression in Fallout 76 has seen a new change-up as well. You still earn your perk points when you level up that you can spend on your SP.E.C.I.A.L attributes but you’ll often also unlock perk card packs. These packs contain randomised cards that each fall into one of the S.P.E.C.I.A.L’s and offer additional perks that fit that theme, such as junk weighing 20% less or water consumption going down 40% slower when partied up in a group. The perks of these cards can stack as well so equipping multiples of the same card does provide a boosted benefit. And unlike previous Fallout games the way you decide to level up your attributes isn’t permanent. You can remove, re-evaluate and equip new cards as you see fit to shape your character for various situations if you need to.
I did find Fallout 76 to be more fun if I was partied up with others, completing quests with one or more other people was a lot of fun. Especially the event missions that pop up from time to time and allow any players on the server to come together to complete an objective as a group. Even though there are other players running around in the same world as you, the server is limited to 24 live players per instance of the game world allowing the game to still have the same sense of loneliness and possible danger lurking around every corner that I enjoy in my Fallout games.
Fallout 76 also allows for PVP combat. You don’t need to engage in this aspect of the game if you choose not to as it is based on an opt-in system. If another player decides to start shooting you you’ll take minimal damage until you decide to shoot back. Then it’s on.
Purposefully killing other players that haven’t engaged you in PVP or destroying other players’ property can cause you to become wanted. Alerting the other characters on the server of your status. Allowing them to come and try to take you out to claim your cap bounty for themselves.
While this review so far has primarily focused on what I enjoyed in Fallout 76 it certainly has it’s fair share of problems and bugs that need to be addressed too.
I often ran into framerate drops while playing, primarily when dealing with many enemies on screen at once in a small area. These normally only lasted a second or two and would occur randomly. However I was hit with a 2-3 second freeze any time I tried to open my map when I first started playing the game. The patch released last week did reduce this freezing to about a second but I still get the hiccup just about every time I open the map.
The game also looks and feels quite dated too. Bethesda Game Studios’ titles haven’t really been on the cutting edge of visual fidelity for a long time, especially when compared to other large scale open world experiences I’ve played in recent years but the flat and muddy textures of the ground and rocks shows how much the Fallout series needs a visual upgrade.
I was hoping that the movement and character animation systems may have received an overhaul after Fallout 4 but unfortunately 76 still has the same floaty jumping and firm collision detection. There is no climbing or vaulting mechanic to get over things that are of knee height or are just above the jumping height. Causing me to often get stuck on small rocks, logs or sticks.
I have to commend Bethesda for attempting to give fans an online open world experience that they have been wanting for a long time. But it seems the constraints of doing so, such as having no NPC’s has taken away the key thing people wanted out of the experience. But major props for trying it out. It could have been all too easy to throw the idea into the ‘too hard’ basket but instead they decided to attempt the game anyway. Using a design approach where they wouldn’t have to worry about what part of the quest certain players in the world were up to or have to track which NPC’s were alive in each persons’ game world. And setting the game just 25 years after the bombs dropped allows them to cleverly explain why there are no NPC characters or civilisations around.
While Fallout 76 has had a bit of a rough launch and certainly has some glaring issues, I have enjoyed my time with the game. There is the framework here for something really solid. Many of the game’s issues can be addressed and patched, with Bethesda already starting to do so. The core game underneath here is really fun so hopefully Bethesda keep working on it and continue to evolve what Fallout 76 is so that it can eventually become the online Fallout experience everyone wanted.
A PS4 review copy was provided by Bethesda Australia for the purpose of this review.