I thought about naming this review “Fallout 76: The Adventures of Buck Frexit” but settled for a more meaningful title.
Political spoonerisms aside, I’ve enjoyed my first weekend in the wasteland of West Virginia. I’ve attempted solo play as well as joining my good buddy “Throgok” for some public events and team based tomfoolery.
Full disclosure though: I can be a rabid fanboy over certain things. I railed against Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings for example; I am absolutely “that guy” when it comes to “I read the book before the film/series” and hating on things before they are released.
With Fallout 76, I’ve tried my best to avoid the negativity clouding actual experience. I’m trying to be a better person. It is my intention to be balanced in this review and I apologise in advance if it comes across as negative or whiny.
Originally, I wasn’t going to bother with Fallout 76. The negativity had started to get to me and, honestly, I’d have ignored the game if I didn’t have friends playing it.
I first came across Fallout through Fallout 3. I didn’t really get into the first 2 games as they just weren’t my kind of game back in the day. Fallout 3, New Vegas and Fallout 4 all appealed to my inner dystopian and I’ve enjoyed the way each new game has built upon the success of the last.
Fallout 76 is a side-step to that. I’m neophilic enough to recognise the overall good in these changes and deep down I know this isn’t Fallout 5. This is Bethesda’s way of diversifying to a new market while they potentially undertake the decade long process of creating a new single player behemoth.
Having said that, I do worry that this may be it. In the same way that Elder Scrolls Online (longer in the tooth, settled and far larger than Fallout 76) could have killed off any hope of The Elder Scrolls 6, it is possible that Fallout 76 is the knell that spells doom for Fallout 5. I’ve never really forgiven Blizzard for allowing World of Warcraft to kill of Starcraft: Ghost… and those scars twinge when I think about future Bethesda titles.
All that aside, I spent the weekend exploring the newly released Appalachian wasteland. My only exposure to the beta had been through the experiences of other players, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect… and overall, I’m quite satisfied with the experience.
Firstly, the game is beautiful. Even on my day one edition Xbox One, without any kind of 4k graphics, the environment is stunning. Yes there is a lot of repetition in the doodads and items making up the scenery but there’s a subtle dynamism at play that help to keep you distracted enough to think “Wow! Check out that sunrise”.
I’m also pleased that Bethesda have put efforts into limiting “griefing” at this early stage. Each server holds a maximum of 24 players, you see the other 23 as pale dots on the map.
Players who have attempted to murder other players’ characters show up as a red “wanted” dot on the map (as well as targeted enemies when you meet them face to face); you can hunt and kill these player’s characters to receive a bounty. Furthermore, these “wanted” players cannot see where any other players are on the map.
The only problem with this is that you can accidentally pick up “wanted” status by accidentally hitting a team mate mid combat. This happened to my buddy Throgok as I was shanking feral ghouls.
This accidental blue-on-blue did nothing to detract from the team-play experience. Eventually, Throgok was sniped by a player twice his level and his “wanted” status was gone when he respawned.
Playing with someone else was a good laugh, pretty much like any other multiplayer game… it’s the company that makes it fun, rather than the game itself.
The solo game had its own enjoyment, mainly in the sense of bleak isolation inherent in the Fallout universe. There are only ever 23 or less other people on your server and the map is huge. I have played for hours without meeting another player and at other times have fought side by side with 3 or 4 others as we take down swarms of Protectrons or other baddies.
That isolation is a key part of playing fallout. The Elder Scrolls Online often felt flooded with people all trying to gather the same 10 resources for some easily-forgotten NPC, Fallout 76 definitely feels like its you (or you and a few of your friends) against the world alone.
This isolation can work against you however, many of the public events and higher level critters definitely need more than you and a few buddies to take them on and win. With only 24 players per server, it’s very rare to see everyone on one server flocked to the same event and the fact you have to pay to fast travel puts players off jumping across the map on the off chance of diving into a public event.
Outside of the public events, there isn’t a great deal to do except explore, take down baddies and slowly grind through the myriad “challenges” set for you within the game. Hopefully these will expand as time goes on… there were points during the weekend that I would have described gameplay as “Dull”; thankfully not many.
I’m not sure why Bethesda chose to exclude meaningful NPCs from Fallout 76. Every quest seems to be triggered by robot, terminal, note or holo-tape. We do see NPCs in the form of corpses but so far the game has no living person to interact with, other than fellow players.
I think the worst point was when server lag or some other glitch locked us out of a public event for a good 5 minutes or so – not great on a timed event.
Team play did highlight a couple of other issues that I hope are addressed in future patches. The fact that team mates can attack each other and trigger unwanted PvP attention is made worse by the fact that players can Ninja each other for loot and kills.
Loot in containers is random for everyone. If I loot a trashcan and find a stimpak, my team mates may find dog food or chems. But if I pick up a roll of duct tape (precious precious duct tape) from a table, that duct tape is gone… no longer available for anyone else unless I trade it or drop it.
I’m not sure if the game shares XP on kills either. I found a few times that Throgok or I would accidentally steal kills from each other. I think this deserves further research however.
One final thing that I’m struggling with are the “survival” mechanisms. I never played the previous Fallout games on survival mode, it’s just not something I’m interested in. I think I could get used to it if the hunger, thirst and item degradation rates slowed down but at the moment they feel like a real barrier.
I remember having to eat and drink in the good old Ultima Underworld series of games. Food would spoil and you could die from hunger or thirst if ignored. I get it, I really do but Fallout 76 seems to have taken the Atic Atac approach to survival and I seem to spend more time cooking up grills, soups and juices than I do repairing my weaponry and hunting Wasteland creatures. If any one thing is likely to put me off playing it is this constant reliance on eating and drinking in the game.
The survival element does have a plus side though. The comedy of contracting “Swamp Itch” or “Dysentery” from a dodgy sleeping bag is only made better by the genius of “Mutations”.
With a high enough radiation level you can mutate to a new you and benefit from some weird side effects. The “Marsupial” mutation I picked up gave me a boost to my maximum carry weight and maximum jump height but knocked my “Intelligence” attribute down by -4 points. It also meant half my health bar was taken up by radiation.
I recorded myself jumping around and then decided to record some more as I spotted some weird luminous track marks on the floor. I’m not sure if they were meant to be there or not.
All in all, I’m looking forward to dropping back into the Wasteland and carrying on the adventures of Buck Frexit (and friends).
I genuinely believe that Bethesda will make improvements over the coming weeks. There’s a server patch on the afternoon of Monday 19th (9am EST, which is 2pm GMT I think) and the game is bound to evolve as time goes on.
I’m also hoping that there will be more exciting contents brought to the Atom store. I’m not really fussed for the cosmetic side of games like this but I’d save Atoms for decent outfits or more LOL-worthy emotes.
Maybe I’ll see some of you in the wasteland?