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Game Review: Fallout 76
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Fallout 76 Live-Action Trailer

Fallout 76
XBOX | PS4 | PC
DEVELOPER: Bethesda Game Studios
PUBLISHER: Bethesda Softworks
RELEASE DATE: November 14, 2018

I waited a long time to play Fallout 76. And when I say that, I don’t mean that I waited a long time for the game to be released so that I could finally play. I mean that instead of diving right in when the game was released, I waited and waited, at least a couple of weeks, before finally loading it up with eyes closed and breath held.

This, of course, is due to the response people have had toward the game. Beginning with the Beta and continuing into the final product’s release, the response has been overwhelmingly negative. So negative, in fact, that it’s been…well, shocking, to say the least. How could a game set in such a beloved world and made by such a beloved developer be so aggressively loathed?

But I couldn’t ignore Fallout 76 forever—as much as I sometimes wished I could (if I don’t play it, it won’t let me down)—so it was time for me wander cautiously into a new wasteland and see for myself what kind of devastation lie waiting for me on the other side.

Like with many other online multiplayer games I review, I’m here to offer my thoughts on playing this meant-to-be-played-with-friends game all alone. Which is actually pretty fitting here. This is the apocalypse, ladies and gentlemen. Your friends are all dead.

I’ll get right to the one question those of you who happens to be reading this are likely seeking an answer to: is Fallout 76 the national tragedy many people are making it out to be? No, it’s not. I think the general response has been a bit over-dramatic. It’s not that bad. The hate is due in large part to the massively high expectations folks have for a Bethesda game, which is completely understandable.

But that’s just me personally. I tend to have no trouble finding some entertainment value in most video games. Some are far better than others, of course, but I still enjoy my time in plenty of games that others would call mediocre or even bad. For example I enjoyed Sea of Thieves just for how cool it was to sail around the open seas, and there was less to do in that one the last time I played it than there is in this game.

Fallout 76 does, however, have its fair share of problems. There’s no denying that fact. One of the biggest early issues has been glitches, bugs, that whole mess. And even waiting as long as I did to play, I’ve still encountered some of these. It hasn’t been as bad as I feared, thanks to a patch or two. Most glitches are harmless, sometimes even amusing. But there have been a few instances where the server will completely crap out on me, forcing me to restart the game. Incredibly frustrating, especially when you realize you have to cover a bunch of ground you’ve already covered and deal with enemies you’ve already dealt with all over again.

The game is set earlier than any of the previous games in the series, just 25 years after a nuclear war changed everything. You wake up in Vault 76—one of the Vault-Tec Corporation vaults that wasn’t secretly an extremely f’d up experiment—after a night celebrating Reclamation Day with your fellow survivors. But now the celebrating is over, and the time has come for everyone to venture out into the wasteland and begin the long process of rebuilding the world.

As far as story goes, that’s pretty much it. This isn’t an RPG like the other Fallout games. There aren’t a bunch of NPCs in the world you can meet, talk to, receive quests from, etc. Going in I wasn’t even sure there would be anything to really do aside from explore and collect items, but thankfully that wasn’t the case. There are plenty of objectives to complete, which give you something to focus on and work toward as you navigate the massive map.

These objectives do often involve NPC characters, but don’t expect to meet them. In most cases they’re dead or missing. Instead, Bethesda opted for holotapes on which these characters recorded their stories, notes, computer terminals, and so on to add or update objectives. These definitely add some much-needed substance to the game, though I’m not sure it’s enough. The objectives are basically just tasks and not all that interesting, and while the holotapes/notes/terminals do make the experience more enjoyable, there’s only so much you can do with them.

A significant chunk of the role-playing elements fans are used to have been replaced in Fallout 76 with survival elements some players may not be so used to depending on the difficulty they usually play on. In addition to your health and radiation level, you also need to worry about your hunger and thirst. On top of that, food will spoil if you don’t use it soon enough. And radiation is harder to avoid as even cooking meat or boiling water you collect doesn’t remove all of the rads. But as you progress, you can unlock perk cards which will help ease the difficulties you’re dealing with in your game.

Ammo and caps aren’t so easy to come by either, so use sparingly in the early hours of the game and have various weapons favorited, including a melee weapon, so you’re always prepared for a fight. I ran out of ammo multiple times early, and had to resort to the slap-and-run strategy in order to survive.

What I haven’t encountered much of, surprisingly, is combat with other players. You might assume in a game like this that every other player you cross paths with is going to try to murder you. And while a few no doubt will attack, it’s not as common as I expected. At least not yet. Most players I encounter stop for a moment (probably because I’m currently running around dressed like a Vault Boy mascot wearing an Uncle Sam outfit, and look like the killer in a horror flick) before carrying on with whatever they were doing. Some will follow for a bit. Some might invite you to play with them. But player-on-player violence has been rare for me so far.

Who this game is most for, if you ask me, is the explorers, hoarders, and crafters. It’s a massive world—so big it would be an impressive feat just to see it all—with endless things to scavenge and put into your virtual crafting hobby. The graphics are a step down from Fallout 4, which will bother some, but that’s expected when making a map four times larger than the previous game’s map in just a few years.

Especially comfortable in the Appalachian Wasteland will be those who spent countless hours playing Fallout 4, collecting everything they could get their hands on while on their adventures, and then using those things to build up the various settlements, craft and mod weapons and armor, and more. Fallout 76 is different in some aspects, but still quite familiar. Everything you find is useful for acquiring crafting materials, so you can collect everything in sight and be overencumbered within an hour if you’re like me.

One great new feature is the ability to convert all junk at a workbench. So instead of carrying around hundreds of pounds of junk and eating and drinking just to lose weight (a first!), you can now instantly turn all of that junk into crafting materials and ease the load you’re hauling around. One thing I hope makes it into future games or even better, an update to Fallout 4.

But there is a significant difference between Fallout 76 and Fallout 4—at least when it comes to the crafting and building. In Fallout 4 you had multiple settlements to maintain. And as you cleaned each up and built various things to make each unique to your game, these settlements would grow and sometimes thrive as new survivors would arrive and make it their new homes, take on a job, contribute to the community. It actually felt like you were helping to rebuild civilization. That’s what your character is supposed to be doing in Fallout 76, but it doesn’t really feel like it.

You have something called a C.A.M.P, which stands for Construction and Assembly Mobile Platform. Once you place your C.A.M.P. somewhere in the world, you have yourself an area in which to build. Early on when supplies are low it’s best to start small with a sleeping bag, a cooking stove, maybe a stash box and workbench. As you move through the world, progress, and find new places you think would make a good home, you add to your C.A.M.P. as you see fit. But that appears to be your one place to build. You don’t have multiple settlements to help build up. And since there are no NPCs, you’re not going to have a budding settlement anytime soon. You can build your own personal home, but no more. It’s a bummer, and pretty confusing considering how much the game feels like it would be most enjoyed by those who truly loved building up settlements in Fallout 4.

It should be pointed out that you can move your C.A.M.P. around. It’s not permanently placed the first time you deploy it. But that’s another thing I’m not a fan of: things like moving your C.A.M.P. and even fast travel can cost you some precious caps in this game. Again, caps are hard to come by. And selling items will get you only a fraction of what the item you’re selling is worth. So why does it cost caps to do these things? Who the hell are you even paying?!

You might think that the reason for having to pay caps to move your C.A.M.P. or fast travel has something to do with microtransactions. And there are microtransactions in Fallout 76, of course. Let’s not candy coat things: this game was made, above all other reasons, to create another ongoing stream of income. But from what I’ve seen these microtransactions have nothing to do with caps. They’re called Atoms, and you can use them to purchase various skins, outfits, etc. And believe it or not, you don’t even have to pay real money to earn them.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that you can earn Atoms by completing in-game challenges. You don’t get a lot. It will take a little time grinding to earn enough to get whatever you have your eye on. But you can earn them if you don’t want to purchase them with real coin. The easiest game to compare this one to is of course The Elder Scrolls Online, an online multiplayer game set in the world of Bethesda’s other massive franchise. And while ESO is better in my opinion—both because I’m more of an Elder Scrolls fan, despite adoring both game series, and because it still has NPCs that greatly help it to feel like the main games—you cannot earn ESO‘s microtransaction currency just by playing the game. So that’s a big plus here.

I was understandably nervous heading into Fallout 76 due to the general response. But I’ll admit I feel a little bit better having now played it for myself. It’s by no means perfect, but the game is nowhere near as bad as so many people are on a mission to have you believe.

That said, I can’t tell you that I’m happy with the game either. In all honesty, more than anything else, Fallout 76 makes me feel a little bit sad.

Sad that Bethesda Game Studios decided to abandon doing what they do better than anyone else—massive open-world single-player RPGs you can truly get lost in without worrying about what other players are doing or how your internet connection is—to make a game that, while not as awful as people are saying, feels wholly unnecessary. If it was developed by someone else, like The Elder Scrolls Online was, and just published by Bethesda, I don’t think the response would have been quite so brutal.

Sad for fans of The Elder Scrolls, who have already been waiting over seven years for a new entry in the main series since Skyrim was released, and still have years to wait until The Elder Scrolls VI arrives due to this game (and, to a lesser extent, The Elder Scrolls Online). We already know that the next game after 76 is something new, Starfield, and then only after that has come and gone can we begin the final stretch of waiting for the next Elder Scrolls game. That means that no new game in the series will be released this console generation. The excruciating wait for The Elder Scrolls VI will skip an entire generation. That is rough, my friends. We can only hope that a lot of the work on 76 has been (or will be moving forward) handled by BattleCry Studios, recently re-branded Bethesda Game Studios Austin, so that Starfield can be completed and released sooner than the three years or longer many are anticipating.

And yes, even sad for fans of the Fallout series. I personally have friends who prefer the Fallout games, and they were of course excited to discover yet another new entry in the series was on the way. Something I can admit I was a little jealous of. In the past ten years there’s been two Elder Scrolls games including Online, but four Fallout games including 76. Now, however…now it’s been over three years already since the last real Fallout game. And who knows how long those fans will have to wait before another main game in the series is released. A decade maybe? Hurts the heart just to think about.

I’ll continue to play Fallout 76 and enjoy it for what it is: a decent online multiplayer game set in the Fallout universe. But I don’t know if I see myself putting all that much time into it, unfortunately. Looking at the game strictly from the perspective of someone who usually plays solo, I think I’d rather just dive back into Fallout 4 and bask happily in its lonely post-apocalyptic glory.

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