When Bethesda finally announced that players would be able to return to the world of Fallout, fans around the world rejoiced. Even when Bethesda revealed that the game wouldn’t be a conventional Fallout title, people were generally excited. Now, Fallout 76 is out for all to experience, but does the game’s decision to forgo the typical Fallout structure pay off? While the answer is most decidedly no, it’s a bit trickier than that, as there are some genuinely fun things to experience as you wander the West Virginian wasteland.
For anyone that’s played through a Fallout game, the story hasn’t changed too much. You start off exiting a Vault with directions from your Vault Overseer (who serves as your guiding hand throughout the game) to explore “Appalachia,” or what is left of it anyway. As you make your way through the wasteland, you’ll find out that most of this game feels a lot like Fallout 4, only without many NPCs that have filled past Fallout titles. Instead, all you’ll find as you make your way through various quests are holo tapes (audio diaries) that people have left behind for you.
Part of what makes the Fallout series so good is the stories and people you meet along the way, and while the voice acting and quests found in 76 are all top notch, the lack of NPCs and other non-player characters in general often make you feel like something is missing. Besides the various mechanical beings that populate the area and the other players in the game, things feel surprisingly bare, almost too bare for a game that takes place in an apocalyptic wasteland. Still, quests and storylines do manage to feel like they matter at times, and there are some really neat easter eggs and plot twists that some of the stories manage to tell.
As far as leveling up goes, Fallout 76 actually manages to implement a pretty clever system. Instead of the normal skill points that you can dump into your character, players are allowed to choose one of seven categories (Luck, Intelligence, Strength, etc etc) and are given booster packs that feature cards. Different cards contain different perks, and by mixing and matching cards, you’re allowed to tweak your character to exactly the kind of scavenger you’d like to be. Cards can be merged to level up to, so a card that may only give you a 20% buff can be leveled up to something much better if you keep finding it. It’s not a perfect system (cards only drop every couple of levels, and sometimes too many duplicates drop), but in a game that focuses so much on character choices, it’s a nice touch.
Building mechanics make a return in Fallout 76, and much like Fallout 4, players are encouraged to craft any and everything that they want. Camps in Fallout 76 are mobile, meaning that at any point, you can pack things up and leave, which does add to the feeling of exploration that the game is trying to capture. Much like in Fallout 4, players are free to decorate their crafted camps with anything they find, and you can find schematics and blueprints for furniture, defensive measures, and more out on your journeys.
It wouldn’t be a Fallout title without post-apocalyptic imagery, and Fallout 76 continues the trend of making some bad things look hauntingly beautiful. Cliffs that overlook toxic lakes, crashed wreckages of planes, and abandoned stores and towns are just some of what you’ll see in the game, and while things do feel empty, they always look great. The photo mode that’s included in the game (cleverly implanted through the use of an actual camera that players can use) is also a great tool and gives players some extra incentives to check out areas that they might not have otherwise in an effort to discover what their next beautiful snapshot might be.
As noted above, there are tons of things that Fallout 76 manages to get right, and gameplay is even one of them, for a bit. Unfortunately, things do start to fall apart once you get deeper into the game. For one, the in-game shops that exist all seem connected (albeit by various factions) and so the gear you can find and buy isn’t as deep as you’d hope. Players that sell stuff to in-game shops can have their wares bought by other players, which is a great concept, but falls apart when you factor in just how high the prices are across the game.
The multiplayer component of Fallout 76 was something that Bethesda stressed heavily in its promotion of the game, but the product seems to fall incredibly short once you’re in the game. Don’t get me wrong, playing with friends is a great experience and likely the one thing that will keep me coming back to the game, but too often things feel like they simply do not matter in a game that was marketed as all about player choice. When players drop into and out of games, their servers often change, meaning that things you did (and built, at times) in one world are gone forever. This seems to fly in the face of the idea behind the game, where players all work together to shape the world around them.
Perhaps it’s the shockingly small amount of people that often occupy a server, but Fallout 76 never manages to feel fully populated. If you’re playing alone, you’re bound to run into some people, but whether or not they care to befriend you or even acknowledge you is too much of a crapshoot to make the game ever feel truly cooperative. Even the PvP aspect of the game, something many and were looking forward to, is a bit watered down. Instead of being able to trigger duels with players you come across, attacking players instead do very minimal damage on their targets. The victims, meanwhile, can either choose to respond (which initiates a full-fledged player vs. player situation) or simply…do nothing. Mechanics like this seem to contradict nearly everything that Bethesda was aiming to do, which is a shame, considering how much promise Fallout 76 does hold.
As far as glitches are concerned, I didn’t experience many, but it wouldn’t be a Bethesda game without them. Tons of players have reported both critical glitches and smaller bugs that led to poor animations. The only thing I can speak to is the insane loading times the game suffers from, which usually will end with me sitting for about five minutes as I get put into a server. Smaller problems like clothes not rendering, music not playing, and disconnects have also been reported, but I luckily never experienced any.
Despite the huge amount of issues that Fallout 76 has, I often find myself drawn back into playing it. When you have a dedicated group of people to play with, it is a legitimately good time and not at all hard to sink many hours into. Unfortunately, once your friends leave, or you’re forced to play alone, the many problems of Fallout 76 rear their ugly head. In trying to craft an excellent, multiplayer version of Fallout, it seems that the company might have forgotten just what makes the series so entertaining. Despite the repetitive quests and the general feeling that my choices had no real impact on what was happening, Fallout 76 is still a pretty good time, and if you have some friends to play, it might just be a great way to spend a few nights.
This review was based on a digital review code of Fallout 76 for the PC, provided by Bethesda.