Fallout 76 has given me a few memorable moments with friends and random players. Whether watching a nuclear bomb explode from just outside the blast radius or dumping all my unwanted legendary gear on a lower-ranked player who could use it, being able to show others what makes Fallout a great series has been wonderful after years of trying to explain it. Unfortunately, a strong heart hasn’t been enough to hide Fallout 76’s brittle bones.
Exiting the Vault
Whether or not Fallout 76 has a story will be open to interpretation. For those that are looking for a linear experience where the narrative is handed out in cinematic form, there’s no story here. However, Fallout 76 maintains what I consider the series’ biggest attribute: its environmental storytelling. Those who are into reading terminals and notes, listening to Holotapes, or just taking a moment to study the layout of the room they’re in will be in for a treat. Almost every inch of the map and its interiors has been carefully planned out with set pieces that tell stories ranging from heartbreaking to hilarious. As I exited the vault to begin my journey with my friends, our goal was to seek out my Overseer’s C.A.M.P., the beginning of a long line of quests that has players following in the Overseer's shoes.
More quests unlocked as we continued to follow the Overseer’s path, and by default Fallout 76 dominates the right side of the heads-up display (HUD) with a list those which are active. This can get confusing, but I was able to untrack most of them through the Pip-Boy. These quests gave a bit of story and introduced some characters, but they also taught me important mechanics to improve my chances of survival. As we spent dozens of hours questing in Fallout 76, my group and I were engaged in every single one, but there was one glaring flaw. In Fallout 76, most quests aren’t really completed in groups. Players can join up and complete objectives at the same time, but each player must complete the objective on their own. One person can’t push the button, all players must do that individually. In one instance, my buddy hacked a terminal and unleashed a wave of robots we had to survive for about five minutes. We spent every Stimpak and grenade we had. When it was done, my waypoint was still the terminal. He was given credit for the quest, but I was not. I had to load it up again and try it without the benefit of any healing items explosives.
War Never Changes
Those that played Fallout 4 will recognize a lot of the gameplay mechanics in Fallout 76. For the most part, character models, weapons, armor, general loot, perks, and countless assets are brought over from the Commonwealth, as is the inventory system via the Pip-Boy, the crafting system to build weapons and armor, base building basics, and the feel of a hybrid first- and third-person combat system. Even V.A.T.S. is back, but it feels rather shallow without the ability to slow time due to the online nature of the game. While the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system returns for character building, players can now unlock, upgrade, and swap perk cards in and out. Points need to be pumped into the seven categories to create each person’s ideal character, similar to Fallout 4.
New aspects to Fallout 76 include the daily quests and events, which can be a nice way to get some XP or loot. They vary in depth and difficulty, and it’s one of the few ways that I found meaningful interaction with random players. I could talk to my friends on Discord, but I was never able to get my mic working in-game, seriously limiting my ability to engage in core systems of Fallout 76: PvP and role playing.
Fallout 76 uses survival elements, requiring the player to eat and drink to restore hunger, thirst, and their health. Players will need to scour the map for Plans and Recipes in order to craft items to meet their needs. Purified Water and Stimpaks are difficult to come by without a reliable way to craft them on a regular basis. The intent here is for each player to build a base, expanding it over time and upgrading its functionality. Ideally, players would have the means to craft their own Purified Water, Stimpaks, and other useful items. Overall, though, I found it easier to just stay on the move and loot, never really setting up a base besides placing the C.A.M.P. item whenever I needed access to various workbenches. Maintaining a base proved to be more material gathering than I was willing to do, given how interested I was in questing and exploring.
The Hard Life
I’ve had two noteworthy PvP moments in Fallout 76. The first was when I arrived at my Overseer’s C.A.M.P. fresh out of the vault. A player chased me in circles trying to hit me. When I became too much work, they moved on to my pals. A moment later a much higher-level random player showed up and took out the troll, which I thought was great. The second scenario involved a random squad with awful mics insisting that my companion and I buy their drugs. Since my mic didn’t work, this was taken as reason to troll my friend and I. The random player chased us, chipping at our health until we finally opted to fast travel to my C.A.M.P. I’m a big believer in role playing and interaction in online games such as this, and felt robbed of an opportunity to try and talk my way out knowing full well these players were a much higher level than I was.
Perhaps my biggest issue with Fallout 76 is that it’s not a good-looking PC game. I don’t mean things are generally run down because of nuclear war, but rather that the visual performance is poor. The field of view (FOV) is locked (for now), and there is a forced motion blur that makes everything beyond throwing distance indistinguishable. I once stopped and scoped in on an interesting-looking object across the road only to realize it was a tree stump.
The problems don’t end there. Fallout 76 has an economy imbalance. For starters, ammunition cannot be sold or dismantled, so it must be traded or discarded to avoid inventory cap issues. Legendary gear can be sold, but it feels like when Gamestop gives $3 for a game they’re going to turn around and sell for $30. I opted to give my unwanted legendary gear to other players in hopes they’d find something of value. The Junk-loot economy suffers as well, though. Adhesive, Aluminum, and other resources are rare and highly sought after, mostly because weapons and armor are always deteriorating. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have something in need of repair. The same problem exists with maintaining a base, which is why I opted to just make my base the little C.A.M.P. device, able to toss it down just about anywhere and place my Workbenches when required.
The remaining bugs are so many that I’m not sure I could compile a list of them all, but they include heavy server lag, frequent game crashes and server disconnects, rendering problems, numerous progression-halting quest bugs, mic problems, sound glitches, bases that can’t be properly repaired, bases that disappear, and the game freezing when trying to exit. Not a single play session has gone by where I didn’t have one or more of these to deal with, and this put a strain on my experience. It’s hard to fall in love with the lore provided by a Holotape when it sounds like a .50 caliber rifle is going off in my ear, except it’s just a sound bug and nothing’s there. In fairness, though, the soundtrack is on point with that classic ‘50s style music as one would expect with a Fallout title.
Time to Rebuild
Fallout 76 is a bit of a disaster, which is a shame because there are good ideas and good bits of content here. There wasn’t a single play session where I didn’t have a lot of fun, but there also wasn’t a session where something ridiculous didn’t cause frustration. It feels like it should have been released into early access as a work in progress for the next several months, thus alleviating some of the frustration from poor performance, bugs, and balancing issues. However, Bethesda opted to release Fallout 76 in a broken state, and this time I’m not laughing along about the bugs simply because we’ve come to accept them as a part of the Fallout franchise. How does Fallout 4 look infinitely better than Fallout 76, with the former coming out in 2015, more than three years ago? Fallout 76 is a decent game, but all the good is being crushed by the plethora of problems that just shouldn’t be problems.
This review is based on a PC download code provided by the publisher. Fallout 76 available in retail and digital stores on November 14 for $59.99. The game has been rated M for Mature by the ESRB.
- Great environmental storytelling
- Questing is fun and worthwhile
- Playing Fallout with friends is fantastic
- Countless bugs and performance issues
- Not a visually pleasing experience
- Cap and loot economy isn't balanced well
- Mic issues prevent most role playing options
- PvP suffers from voice communication problems
Bill Lavoy posted a new article, Fallout 76 review: Tough times in Appalachia