Not The Game I Wanted But One I Enjoyed
When Bethesda announced that the new installment to the Fallout franchise would be a multiplayer experience, many people — myself included — had their doubts. How will they pull this off when all other games have been so defined through a single-player, story-driven narrative? Fallout 76, rather than having a major plot like finding your lost son in Fallout 4, instead focuses on you being one of the first to leave Vault 76 and rebuild society. This leaves a lot of space open for players to tell their own story and build a community outside of the vault. But is that what we really needed from the Fallout franchise? Seeing the current state of the game, perhaps not, but the framework it has does paint a promising picture for the future.
Let’s start by stating that regardless of where I think the game could go, this review is for the game we have now. I have participated in both the beta, as well as played since the game launched on November 14th.
The minute you walk out of the vault you will start to notice that there is a lack of human NPCs. Because this game takes place so much earlier than previous titles, there is very little of society out there. This means we have far less populated towns and a whole lot more enemies. A big weak point is the fact that there are few to no NPC characters as there have been in the past. Instead, there are only enemies and robots. So many Mr. Gutsys!
Now, I won’t say the lack of NPCs breaks the game completely, but it does put a damper on the way I usually play a Fallout game. I normally go deep into the “Charisma” talents to try and persuade the characters around me. Fallout 76, however, branches away from dialogue trees and contains very little communication with active NPCs in the world. The most back and forth you will have with an NPC is when you are selling to a vendor. Otherwise, most of the NPCs simply talk to you so that you gain or complete a quest.
It is a bummer that there is less interaction but the game still does a good job of upholding a narrative through the environment around you. This has always been present in Fallout games, but many aspects can be overlooked by those who don’t dive into every nook and cranny. For example, in a certain part of the map, I noticed three gnomes on top of a trailer and thought “wow, what a strange arrangement” but walked by. A few minutes later while looking at some notes in another building I saw one that read “The Gnomes have the key”. I ran back and lo and behold the three gnomes were huddled around the key I needed! Little things like this can make playing the game menial.
It’s also super tough to enjoy those minor elements and storytelling when I’m supposed to pay attention to whatever my party is shooting at the moment. I admit that I am guilty of doing the same thing I did when playing Borderlands with friends where I turn my brain on autopilot for a quest and instead just play to run in and blow up the next baddie that comes along. Is that bad though? I don’t think so. In fact, it builds a platform to play in any way you want. Are you someone who wants to play the game for just the story and read all the text on every terminal? Nothing will force you to party up and you have every ability to take as much time as you need. Likewise, those who just want to hop into a post-apocalyptic world and blow up some ghouls with a friend can play the same game but have a much different experience. That being said, if you are someone who only wants to play this as a single-player game, this might feel more like a watered down version of Fallout 4 in its current state.
This is a Bethesda game so of course, there are some strange bugs. Stepping into a power armor will sometimes lock your character to look like a demon man in his undies — which is probably one of my favorites! Unfortunately, there are other ones that are not quite as funny. Certain quests just seem to glitch out where you can’t complete them, playing holotapes (audio logs) can sometimes just play static and a lot of dropped frames can lead up to some frustration over time. This game has a lot of great elements and fun moments, but it’s a lot of small things that can leave a bad taste in your mouth. Bethesda has mentioned ongoing support for this game and has already started within the first week to drop patches that help stabilize some of these concerns so there’s a silver lining.
One of the things I can definitely commend this game on is the element of distraction and interest in exploration. I spend the majority of my time saying that I need to complete a quest, only to then spend an extra hour wandering and exploring other locations on the map along the way. There is a sense of wonder and excitement with staring at that map and watching a new marker light up when another landmark is discovered. Running through high-level areas to see what is out there. Screaming at the top of my lungs while running away from a Scorched Beast because I went too far for comfort. It really brings you into the mindset of being that ex-vault dweller and wanting to know what has happened to the world. You even have a nifty photo mode in the game to take snapshots of your adventure that will display randomly as your loading screen.
I also enjoy that regardless of your play style, you will be rewarded and able to keep expanding your level and abilities. Interested in staying focused and just finishing quests, crafting, building your base or just exploring like me? All of them will help you level up, so you can play the way that you enjoy and still get to the same end result. Each of these will reward you with experience so you can level up your characteristics or “S.P.E.C.I.A.L.” points and unlock perk cards to change the way you play. This new card system is very different from the old leveling mechanic. It allows for a new depth of changing cards (perks) based on what you need at the time and adds some variability in what type of build you will play based on what loot is dropping or what cards you get when leveling up.
I wasn’t thrilled at first when I saw that this game forces a survival aspect on you, requiring you to monitor your thirst and hunger levels. However, for those like me who hate that part of survival games, there are a number of perks out there that decrease the concern. Perks that make items quench your thirst or fill you up more, make it easier when struggling to find enough consumables at the start. In fact, as time went on, I even enjoyed this system more because it forced me to craft and use more food/drink combinations that had added effects to make me stronger and better prepared to take on the wasteland.
The main problem is that all food and water (as well as everything else in the game) have a weight value. You can only carry so much at a time before you have to drop things or sell them — all of which has been present in Fallout previously. However, the issue with this game is that your stash has a limit as well, meaning you will have to start scrapping and selling a lot of things. Bethesda has responded that this is capped due to memory concerns but is working with some concepts to help. However, for now, it ends up with me having to just say goodbye to many things I don’t want to (A hoarders nightmare!).
If this was just a single player game, I would probably be less interested, but where it really shines is having that quick ability to team up and play with friends or random people in your world. The system can be a little wonky at times but for the most part, it has been very seamless to jump into a party of people and start playing. Just about every night, I have spent hours playing with a group of friends and have loved every second of it. Back when Fallout 4 came out, we all did the same thing but on our own. Now that I can actually see and fight alongside them is great! The battles can get pretty intense but I also enjoyed how the game does try to make you feel like you are banding together to take on the dangerous unknown. Things like being able to build bases together to make something badass or even little touches like having the radio playing the same song for each person was such a nice aspect that made you feel connected as a team.
Building your base feels like a step up from what I remember in Fallout 4 but not by much. A big plus is that you can build your base and then move it at any time (for a fee of course). Your base, when moved, will be stored as an object that you can place down easily if you can find a spot that allows for the shape you initially created that is. I do enjoy that with a team, as mentioned previously, everyone can help each other out to build up all bases and scatter them throughout the map. However, I find myself often disappointed due to the items having a high material cost to build or that I don’t have the blueprints to actually create them. This would be fine if there was a way to track those blueprints down other than just random exploration. Luckily, if your buddies find the plan then they can build it in your base instead.
The world can feel empty at times but that’s what the story was going for since you are the very first Vault to open. Bethesda could have done quite a lot more with it and can still implement a lot of quality of life things to the game. That being said, I am having a lot of fun in this world. I have spent just about every night since the release playing the game and I always leave wanting more. This is not an amazing game by any means, but it is a damn enjoyable one and has the potential to be something that grows to be even better. I would love to see them constantly change the world around the players and continue that story of society rebuilding itself, put more community events to cause players to flock to one area, inspire others to make that story for themselves with some actual dialogue choices or NPCs, and at the very least put some new songs on the damn radio!