So, Fallout 76. After a beta that I avoided for fear of spoiling the game, I was itching to get back into the Fallout world, rubbing my gaming rosary that it wouldn’t be a typical Bethesda launch.
For a while, it looked like I was destined to be disappointed, as the game crashed my Xbox One X every time there was the chance to level up a character or even play a holotape, causing worrying messages to appear about the console overheating. A glance on the Bethesda forums showed that I wasn’t alone. Luckily, and we really must give Bethesda their due, very quickly a patch was released that cured these issues. A not inconsiderable patch that was nigh on the same size as the initial game download – 48Gb. So, With a freshly patched Appalachia at my feet, I sprang forth from the Vault and set forth into a brave new world.
Fallout 76 immediately feels familiar, and if you’ve played the earlier games in the series, you’ll feel right at home. The look, and the environment you walk around in, is much lusher than those that have come before it, mostly in the form of forests and mountains. The vistas that open up as you emerge into this world are truly breathtaking, with sight lines clear across the valley to the brooding hills, and as in all Fallout games, a little exploration can lead you to a better place. Either that or it can lead you to an early death as you run into creatures that you aren’t equipped to deal with.
As is standard, coming out of the Vault, you are equipped only with your wits, your fists and some choice words to survive the wilderness. The big difference this time round though comes in the inclusion of other people. See, as you wander the landscape, it won’t be too long until you come across another live player, even though with a maximum of 24 players per instance, and the game map around 16 square miles, it is entirely possible to avoid them if you wish. They are easy to spot: normally jumping and spinning about the place, dressed in Power Armour or Uncle Sam suits – more often than not shooting at you.
Fallout 76 has an interesting method of dealing with PvP confrontations, which is that the aggressor will do reduced damage until you reach the point where you can’t stand it anymore and retaliate. After that it’s on like Donkey Kong, and the guy or girl with the best armour and weapons usually wins. However, if a player keeps killing others, he or she will eventually become wanted, appearing on the map as a blood red dot. It’s open season on wanted characters, and they can be taken down with no penalties. The only thing to consider is that to be wanted, they have to have taken out multiple gamers already, so going up against them may not be the best idea. Of course, it is possible to team up with strangers, either for missions or to to hunt miscreants, so having a team around you could be the answer.
There are also public events that kick off every now and then, and these are another opportunity to play nicely with others and work toward a common goal. An example is repairing a power station to restore electricity, seeing you having to clear out various bad guys before restoring power. I have completed this mission alone and it took me a good 30 minutes, so having a group of trusty Vault Dwellers at your back will make life a lot easier. More guns usually equals an easier life, as video games have taught us since the year dot!
One of the many things that is very different with Fallout 76 is that the characters you come across are either robots or AI; I haven’t come across any living characters to interact with yet. Most of the missions are given by holotapes, or by finding clues to locations, and it is jarring to not be able to talk to NPCs. I can see why Bethesda have done it; if there was a quest giver that got fragged by a rogue player five minutes before you found them, what would happen if it was a main quest? Still, being trained to join the army by a robot is a little weird, but with the history of the world and its lore presented through terminal logs, it’s always worth hunting out the back-stories.
If there is a dearth of live NPCs that you can interact with, there’s certainly no shortage of enemies to meet and greet. Joining the established Super Mutants and Feral Ghouls this time around are the Scorched, who seem to be suffering from a Scorched Plague, causing them to mutate into creatures that look like Ghouls, but still have enough intelligence left to talk and also use firearms. There are also much nastier beasts, with the feared Deathclaws present and correct, whilst many Mutated forest creatures also make their presence felt; from the disgusting Ticks all the way up to Radstags, via Stingwings, Mole Rats and wolves. Rarely does five minutes go by without some kind of fight taking place.
Another change to the combat is in the V.A.T.S. system, which no longer freezes the enemy in place to give you a breathing space. Now, clearly in a PvP fight V.A.T.S. would never work, but the system now is almost like an aiming system with a percentage chance of hitting your target. The only caveat seems to be that you have sufficient AP to make the shot. As the enemies don’t slow down, the chances of landing a hit on an individual limb are very slim. The best use of the system is to see if any enemies are in dark areas, as it will highlight them. Other than that it’s pretty useless.
The heart and soul of Fallout games has always been the strong story and side missions that you can follow, and in Fallout 76 the story is exactly the same. As you leave the Vault, you’re tasked with tracking down Vault 76’s Overseer, who has wandered off. As we track her down, it seems like she’s always one step ahead, leaving us caches of items and holotapes to find and collect. But the joy of Fallout, for me, has always been its free form approach. You start off with a main story quest, but after a tad of exploring you’ll have more missions than you can shake a stick at. But it is here where an issue rears its ugly head.
See, as you find missions, either by listening to the radio or reading terminals, they are automatically set active and listed on the right hand side of the screen. In addition, their markers are placed on the compass at the bottom, with the result being that soon you have map markers popping up like mushrooms, and the entire right hand side of the screen is covered in text. This makes it almost impossible to track an individual mission, and the only cure is to go into the Pip Boy, moving to the Data tab and then deselecting all the missions that you don’t want to do. This seems backwards to me, and surely turning missions on when you want to track them would be a more efficient way of doing it. However, the missions themselves are well thought out and always seem to be building towards a climax. They do largely consist of “Go here, shoot that, collect this and return”, which can get old, and even though the particulars of the missions, the locales and the adversaries are different, I can’t escape the feeling that I’m largely just playing a glorified fetch quest, over and over again. I don’t remember this being a problem in Fallout 3 or 4, so whether it’s a by product of including multiplayer I’m not sure, but being brutally honest, I am feeling a little short changed.
You can add to this by mentioning that because there are no living characters to interact with, the morality mechanic has gone the way of the dodo, stripping away another layer of complexity. Thankfully though it has been added in other ways.
Now you have to eat and drink to stay healthy, a feature that was only available in the Hardcore difficulties of the previous games, but you’ll need to be careful to ensure that food is cooked and water boiled. If you allow yourself to get irradiated, either from the environment or from drinking dirty water, you can also gain mutations, which can have good and bad effects. They can be cured by using RadAway, as you’d suspect, but the diseases are harder get rid off. Cures can be crafted, but require plans to be found and ingredients to be gathered, along with a Chem station to either be found or built.
Fallout 76 wouldn’t be a Bethesda game without some weird graphical glitches, and luckily (or not, depending on your point of view) they are all present and correct; weird colour flashes, enemies clipping through walls, enemies teleporting and sliding around as you try to aim at them, and most damning of all, mission markers not being in the correct place. The worst thing however is in regards the dying and respawning mechanic, particularly if you are wearing Power Armour. Obviously, in Power Armour you can carry more than if you aren’t, but when you die, the game seems to forget that you had this equipped, telling you you are overburdened and refuses to let you spawn anywhere except at Vault 76. The only way to rock back up where you wish to be is to quit out to the main menu and log in again, which then puts you back where you were before dying. However, by doing so, all the enemies you took out are alive again, and you find yourself left in a cycle of dying and spawning until you’re ready to throw the pad across the room. It isn’t all bad mind, the game is still a Fallout game, with all the depth and back-story that that implies, and the world is hugely immersive if you submerge yourself in it.
Fallout 76 is a deep, huge game with a lot to do and many missions to complete. It’s not in any way perfect but there is certainly fun to be had. PvP is a weird thing to get used to in a Fallout experience, but largely works well, and there have been some fun times teaming up with others to kill hordes of Super Mutants – but it only takes one idiot to spoil the fun. With glitches galore to look at and deal with, a lack of variety in the missions and having to pay for fast travel, it’s Fallout Jim, but not as we know it. However, if you can persevere with it, will find a lot of fun in a game that has huge potential – and that’s what I’m looking for. Bethesda have already patched game breaking bugs and are usually good at fixing issues, so I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they will make it good in the end; much like they have with all the other games.
It’s not perfect, but look beyond the bugs and there is a deeply rewarding game to be found in Fallout 76.