It’s become kind of ‘cool’ to bash Fallout 76. Whilst its release has been by no means “smooth” one could argue it’s been no rougher than any to come from Bethesda. In fact most of their games are lauded for their janky demeanour and are hilariously abundant with quirks, so why then has everyone been so quick to turn on this particular one and even more puzzling why am I enjoying it so much more?
Fallout 76 is unlike any Fallout before it. An online only, (somewhat) massively multiplayer online (MMO) game, most of the people you’ll encounter are other real-life players. You’ll see these other people, interact with them and help and/or hinder – all of which feels very different from a regular Fallout game, which can be a little jarring at first.
That said, it very much feels like a Fallout game. It’s built using the same, very old, very quirky “Creation Engine“, its world is a gigantic open vista begging to be explored and it attempts to incorporate some of the series’ signature mechanics like VATS, albeit half heartedly so.
It starts in a similar fashion too. You begin the game in a vault, an underground bunker built to withstand a nuclear war, and after spending an hour or six playing with the character customisation options, are ready to head up to the surface and leave vault 76 behind for good. As you emerge, after likely skipping through the tutorials you should’ve read but didn’t, you’re thrown into the vast, post-apocalyptical wasteland of what used to be West Virginia.
It’s become kind of ‘cool’ to bash Fallout 76.
From here the game offers up a loose (and I use that word very lightly) storyline to follow, trailing the vault’s “Overseer” who left the nest earlier that you can now follow. In true Fallout form you can ignore that entirely, should you wish, and begin exploring the world doing as you please and what you choose the only difference being you’re not alone this time around.
I chose to follow the breadcrumbs left for me, trailing the Overseer into the remnants of a former town where you’re introduced to the world’s basic quest, combat and crafting mechanics. The majority of this will feel similar for a seasoned Bethesda player, but as 76’s VATS mechanic is now nothing more than a probability indicator, combat in particular does sway more heavily towards your typical shooter. Looting, trading and quests work in an almost identical manner to Fallout 4 however with a scarcity of NPCs quests are often obtained via computer terminal screens or the most monotone of robots. The majority of these early quests involve you going off and collecting something from somewhere and returning them – “fetch quests” as they’re referred to in MMO land. They’re relatively basic and centred around the town, giving you the lay of the land and serving as your training ground. As you complete them you’re rewarded with experience points that level your character up coinciding with explanations of the game’s perk system as well as introducing its new health and communication mechanics.
Communication between yourself and other players can be as simple as talking out loud where anything you say is broadcast to players nearby and an icon displayed above your character’s head whilst doing so. There’s also a new quick-access click wheel to perform certain emotes that others will quickly recognise and be able to understand such as a simple “follow me” gesture or a wave.
The new health mechanic requires you to constantly manage your character’s hunger and hydration or, if left unattended, result in health slowly being drained. It’s annoying and frankly it kills a lot of the game’s enjoyment, especially in the beginning, as you feel like you’re constantly scrounging for supplies and eating or drinking them as quickly as you find them. Its need for constant attention is such a buzz kill and it feels as if it was just sort of chucked in there for hardcore fans but just hinders exploration and fun more than anything for me.
Once you’re out of town you’ll also be well on your way to having enough experience points to hit level five where the real game begins. Undergoing a metamorphosis you transform from being a protected, delicate “Player versus Environment” (PvE) flower into a blossoming “Player versus Player versus Environment” (PvPvE) target, which I found out the hard way through an altercation with an impatient player. You see another of the game’s little quirks is that a merchant can only be used by one person at a time, which means that often in crowded areas like the game’s starting zone there’s essentially a queue to interact with them.
…the sooner you stop thinking of Fallout 76 as a Fallout game, the sooner you’ll start enjoying it.
Apparently I was taking too long because whilst I was selling off a bunch of junk a level 15 was repeatedly hitting me wanting me to get off. Thankfully I was level 4 at the time and took no damage, which I presume they knew, but as I finished my transaction I levelled up and gave the griefer a friendly nudge, which it seems, they did not appreciate. Retaliating (and now doing damage) they chased me for a good ten minutes until finally catching me and beating the virtual shit out of me until I died. It didn’t really matter though, death lasts all of twenty seconds before being respawned at a nearby checkpoint and in true MMO fashion allows you the risk/reward opportunity to reclaim your belongings by defiling your corpse should you be able to reach it without dying again.
Thankfully not everyone is a complete asshole. In fact most aren’t, or haven’t been so far, and I feel like a lot of that’s a credit to Bethesda’s community and fans more than anything. It reminded me a lot of the early days of WoW or Destiny with people working things out and being selfless as you clearly flounder your way about trying to figure out what the hell is going on. It could also be that as the game progresses and that breadcrumb trail of a storyline begins to disappear, helping others is something people have started doing to keep themselves occupied. You can either do that, be a dick and annoy people or build your base (or CAMP as it’s called), which is a persistent, customisable and interesting idea that frankly offers as little appeal as it did in Fallout 4, sorry.
Where the game goes and what you do after those early levels is a decision largely left to the player. A fact that is both to 76’s charm and detriment. If you’re someone who prefers to be led, who enjoys a quest and reward laid out in detail with clear objectives, then that seems to peter out quite quickly. On the other hand if you’re a person who can make their own fun in what is really just a giant sandbox set in a Fallout universe, well then boy do I have a quirky game for you. Twenty plus hours in I’m enjoying that there is no heavy-handed story arc, constantly pulling at my sweater, dragging me back to a preordained path at every turn, but that’s what suits my easily distracted “squirrel” personality.
I don’t think you’ll find anyone arguing that Fallout 76 isn’t without its problems and that includes Bethesda themselves. It is, to date, the only PS4 game to ever completely crash my console (multiple times) for instance and yet it’s broad and often isolating landscape is one that I find appealing to just wander aimlessly through.
It might seem funny to say but the sooner you stop thinking of Fallout 76 as a Fallout game, the sooner you’ll start enjoying it. Despite its milieu, Fallout 76 is a grand departure from its predecessors and when fully realised represents Bethesda’s attempt to eat a slice of that “games as a service” pie that Bungie & Blizzard have gorged on for years.
Now, with a clearer picture of what to expect, you can put what’s “missing” or different from other Fallouts out of your mind and start enjoying it for what it is on its own. Or not, if shared world shooters with survival mechanics aren’t your thing.
Fallout 76 is available now for PS4, Xbox One and PC.
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