Fallout 76 Review
Sony PlayStation 4Also available on PC and Microsoft Xbox One
I love the Fallout series! My infatuation with the franchise began in the wasteland of Fallout 3 a decade ago, and continued with the world of Fallout: New Vegas. Fallout 4 may not have been the game I had hoped for, but I still enjoyed my time in post-apocalyptic Boston, so you can imagine my excitement when Fallout 76 was revealed earlier this year. Sadly, my enthusiasm soon waned after learning that Fallout 76 was online-only, and my worst fears have certainly come to fruition; Fallout 76 is broken mess of a game that, in its current state, feels nothing more than a unfinished cash-grab, and it breaks my heart.
Fallout 76 begins, like the previous entries, inside a vault designed to protect its inhabitants from the dangers of the post-apocalyptic wasteland outside. After spending a good thirty minutes moulding my character’s appearance, I picked up a tape from the Overseer and set out from Vault 76 to re-colonise the wasteland. Sadly, this is pretty much all there is to the story, and we learned this in the reveal trailer back in June. The story consists of nothing more than going from terminal to terminal across Appalachia, listening to dead character’s stories at each point. If you’re expecting a good story, you’re set for disappointment - the story is so half-assed it’s embarrassing.
Unfortunately, the side-missions scattered across the wasteland don’t offer a better alternative, as most are nothing more than boring fetch quests. Gone are the exciting and well-written missions found in previous entries, replaced by standard, go here, kill enemy, return to computer and receive reward. Other than a few Mr Handys and Protectrons, the game features no NPCs whatsoever, which makes the wander through Appalachia very isolated, and simply boring. I had no emotional drive to complete missions. The feeling of isolation is only exacerbated by the fact that the game map is huge and can only feature 24 other players. It’s a extremely bold move by Bethesda to remove NPCs and expect real players to fill the void - and it’s a bold move that has failed spectacularly.
On the rare occasion I did come across another player, 90% of them were not interested in joining forces to complete quests, or even trade. Most appeared to be playing the game as a single player experience, which is ironic given the direction Bethesda felt the series needed to take. The PVP system is also staggeringly broken; shooting other players takes little to no health from them, and other players can decide whether to fight back. I used 60 rounds of shotguns shells on a actual player and took no more than ¼ of their health off! Even if I did manage to initiate a duel, I ended up with a wanted level, meaning a higher-level foe soon arrived and wiped me out, and often at the most inopportune time.
Sadly, the game can’t even rely on solid gameplay to overcome the extreme levels of isolation and boredom. The series’ iconic VATS system returns, but, due to the game’s online nature, doesn’t slow time down. You can still use it to target enemies, but it doesn’t result in the gloriously-gory killcams from previous entries. Without the ability to slow time down, I found myself trying to play the game like a typical FPS, and it just didn’t work. Yes, the guns sound great, but I just couldn’t aim at the hordes of Feral Ghouls and Scorched quickly enough.
If you’ve played the Beta, you’ll know that Fallout 76 introduces a new food and water meter, which slowly drain, and need to be continuously topped up during your journey. Let them get too low and you’ll suffer from a lack of Action Points, seriously reducing your ability to enter VATS, or jump and move. I actually quite liked the new survival elements introduced, and enjoyed scavenging for the necessary ingredients to craft food. However, ff you don’t enjoy scavenging, then look away, as it’s huge in Fallout 76. You’ll need to pick up everything in order to gather enough materials to upgrade and mod weapons or armour, or build your camp; a feature that returns from Fallout 4, and can be, if you’re dedicated enough, a full game in itself.
Fallout 76 also updates the way you level up your SPECIAL attributes, by giving you perk cards which you can use to update certain skills or increase damage reduction etc. You can also upgrade perk cards if you have more than one of the same, but unfortunately, the perk packs you receive for levelling up generate random drops, which means you could end up without the required cards to pick locks or hack computers later in the game, regardless of level. These perk cards also feel rife for monetisation, something Bethesda has said won’t happen, but we’ve all heard that chestnut before.
Sadly, these errors pale in comparison to the Pip-Boy, which works just as it did in Fallout 3 and 4. However, in the previous entries, opening the Pip-Boy paused the game, giving you the time to find what you need. In Fallout 76, the Pip-Boy doesn’t pause the game, which meant I often found myself clumsily searching for a purified water while a Super Mutant unloaded a full clip of .308 rounds into my back. It is such an oversight that the Pip-Boy menus weren’t updated to take in consideration the online elements of the game, and once again point at a game rushed out of the door as quickly as possible.
Fans of the Fallout and Elder Scrolls series will be accustomed to Bethesda’s Creation Engine. The engine has been in use for a while now, and it really shows here. While Appalachia is certainly a varied and occasionally-beautiful landscape, Fallout 76 looks noticeably last-gen when compared to some of recent releases like Red Dead Redemption 2, Marvel’s Spider-Man, and Sony’s God of War. I really did enjoy the varying locations in Appalachia, from the beautiful Forest with its autumnal yellows and reds, to the alien-like Cranberry bog, but sadly the same can’t be said for interiors. Most caves, hospitals, office buildings etc.have been shamefully lifted straight from Fallout 4 and only tweaked ever-so slightly - it’s not even subtle and feels insulting to paying players. I’m not sure if Bethesda simply couldn’t be bothered to create new assets, or whether the engine won't allow it, but the time has arrived for Bethesda to ditch the Creation Engine, not only from just a visual perspective, but a technical one too.
As you would expect from a Bethesda release, Fallout 76 is filled to the brim with bugs and glitches, and this time it hasn’t got solid gameplay or an intriguing story to fall back on. During my time in West Virginia, I experienced everything from enemies falling through floors, to game-breaking glitches where key items would often disappear and not reappear without quitting and reloading. I’m tired of Bethesda treating paying players as testers, and releasing games that aren’t finished. Fallout 76 feels months, even years away from a final product, and it’s staggering that Bethesda keeps getting away with it. These bugs may be ironed out over the next 12 months, but it is simply not acceptable for a £50 game to launch in this state.
In fact, the only aspect of Fallout 76 that worked perfectly out of the box is the Atom Shop, where you can spend atoms that are gathered from completing challenges or from spending real-world money on useless junk like hats, new outfits and items for your base. I can’t say I’m surprised that Bethesda managed to get the Atom Shop working perfectly, given how it rinses its fanbase of their hard-earned cash, in addition to the staggering full RRP. Fallout 76 perfectly epitomises what’s wrong in the gaming industry today, and if Bethesda had put as much effort into creating a great gaming experience as they had monetising it, the Fallout reputation may be in better shape.
If you have a group of friends all working together towards the same goal, then Fallout 76 works quite well as an online survival RPG and is actually quite enjoyable at times, but sadly, if you’re playing alone, the game is a terrible entry in the iconic franchise. The game feels nothing like a Fallout title, and its lack of NPCs, coupled with its endless glitches and shameful monetisation mean it’s a truly boring, infuriating and lacklustre experience, which is a real shame as Appalachia is arguably the best landscape in the series thanks to its diverse landscapes and wealth of new and exciting enemies to take down. Fallout is one of gaming’s most-loved series, but thanks to Bethesda’s greed, laziness or poor market research, it’s got a long road ahead if it is to come back from this, boring, buggy mess.