Fallout 76 Review: Good news and bad for Bethesda’s perfect storm
Fallout 76 has a future if Bethesda can refine their work (Image: BETHESDA)
For a game that wants players to create their own stories in a new, online environment, things can get pretty lonely.
Fallout 76 feels like it should have been a sideways step for the beloved single-player franchise into new territory.
While purists were never going to be happy with the online direction, Bethesda Studios seemed to have solid goals for their game.
This included creating a fun new experience for players, based on the template of Fallout 4’s success while providing something never done before in the franchise.
But while some of this has been achieved, Fallout 76 doesn’t feel like its own game.
For an online-only title to thrive, it needs to offer something new that captures an audience.
The current market is stuffed full of different gaming experiences which offer differing degrees of adventure mixed with survival.
But while many try to do thing differently, Fallout 76 feels too familiar, to the point where you fill like this could be a Fallout 4 DLC.
In all fairness, many fans probably knew that this new project was going to share a lot of DNA with Fallout 4.
But in its current state, Fallout 76 doesn’t provide enough new online features to warrant its hyped release.
Many of the elements you know, love or hate, from Fallout 4 can be found in Fallout 76.
It combines to offer a mixed single-player, multiplayer experience that doesn’t do enough in either category to warrant a strong focus in vision.
There’s no question that the current hybrid experience on offer needs refinement and polish if only to give it a more exact purpose.
This is only one aspect in which Bethesda seems to have stumbled, with others shining a hard light on what the exact purpose of Fallout 76 is.
For those who were hoping for an upgrade from Fallout 4, this new game from Bethesda Studios may not have improved as much as hoped.
While the development team promised changes in certain areas over the previous titles, Fallout 76 can lose its shine pretty quick in places.
Graphics have never been the franchise’s strong suit and isn’t something that bothers me much.
Yes, players wanted to see something that could compete with other open-world games that are being released right now.
And when it comes to this area, Fallout 76 has been beaten by many in the field.
The textures used within the game feel identical to those found in Fallout 4 and help to make it feel like an obvious extension.
The way in which the world has been put together provides varied areas to explore, but I doubt that there will be many visual surprises for fans.
The good news is that while the game looks pretty samey, Bethesda has done an excellent job when it comes to the map and locations to explore in it.
MAP AND EXPLORATION
This has to be one of Fallout 76’s strongest suits and is something that all the most recent Fallout games have at excelled in too.
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The map is enormous and filled with interesting places to explore and loot through.
Many are populated by monsters and ghouls who are not happy with guests, not to mention the leftover robots who can create a big mess.
The sheer size of the map makes you want to go travelling straight away, promising a significant number of places to wander through and loot.
But while there are plenty of locales to visit and sneak around, something is missing.
The fear factor of exploring this world is spoilt somewhat by the enemy A.I.
This will overlap with the stories you might have heard about the game’s bug problems and the things you face don’t seem to have a very high IQ.
You can’t imagine mutated irradiated beasts would have a lot of brains but the way in which core
combat mechanics thread together leaves a lot to be desired.
The mystery of the map can be ruined by the things found dwelling in the eeriest nooks and crannies.
The fact you can be walking through a room and find it suddenly filled up with ghouls can be an annoying problem.
Enemies springing up from the ground would be terrifying if they didn’t have such a hard time locking onto you.
The amount of time you have to react is all over the place, sometimes the enemies run around in circles and take a while to get their bearings.
Other times they spawn so near they literally smack you out of nowhere and leave you thoroughly confused.
However, the biggest problem can be when you will walk through an area and find enemies frozen in silly poses, leaving you to put them out of their misery.
Battling your way through a horde can be fun if you don’t find any bugs hampering your experience, but to then see the toughest enemy frozen in place can take the wind out of your sails.
Bethesda launched Fallout 76 earlier this year (Image: BETHESDA)
Combat in Fallout 76 hasn’t improved an awful lot from previous games, with the gunplay still feeling pretty underwhelming.
V.A.T.S is no longer an option for online play, as there is no way to accommodate the slow-motion head-shooting fun.
V.A.T.S would normally slow down time and let you pick which limb to fire at, based on the percentiles of success.
This has been changed to a system in real-time that allows you to target an enemy, with the percentages of success flying around wildly.
It’s basically a system that allows you to lock on to your enemy quickly and fire off shots, hoping for good luck.
These changes make it a feature that no longer helps prop-up the previous shooting mechanics.
STORY AND MISSIONS
As you might expect, the story in Fallout 76 isn’t the main focal point of the gameplay and is therefore weaker.
The world has ended, and you are part of the first wave who need to head out and reconquer it.
The initial quest line is good enough, and there are others that will help you try and delve into the lore of the Appalachian Wastelands.
But here is where problems Fallout 76 suffers from pop up in full force.
Fallout 76 does not include any human NPCs, with missions provided through consoles, holotapes and robots.
This looks to have been a major misstep on the point of Bethesda, who apparently have avoided to include these elements in Fallout 76.
Without characters to anchor these storylines and quests, it makes it very difficult to get involved.
Missions sometimes boil down to a shopping list which is coming from people who are no longer with us.
Fallout 76 has seen a number of updates since launch (Image: BETHESDA)
It makes sense within the context of the time period that we wouldn’t have bustling cities and outposts, but the lack of a human touch reduces Fallout significantly.
A lot of this is down to the idea of other players providing that element online, an idea that doesn’t seem to work well in reality.
It should also be noted that even if you do find some buddies to team up with, quest objective completion isn’t shared, meaning longer wait times for everyone.
And while Fallout 76 is an online game which is supposed to see players overlap with others across the map, it doesn’t seem to work much like this in reality.
Ironically, the multiplayer element of Fallout 76 feels like the weakest right now.
If you have friends to adventure with, the game instantly feels more alive and better to journey through.
Going solo is still an option, but the complete lack of multiplayer interaction feels like a glaring error.
There isn’t much to draw players together in Fallout 76, even if Bethesda has provided localised events to help do just this.
Other players feel more like ghosts on the map which only pop up every so often and don’t make a massive impact.
It’s great to be in a firefight and then suddenly be joined by other online survivors.
But this feeling is usually fleeting, with your online compatriots wandering off moments later to do their own stuff.
Even when you spot another player, it doesn’t change much and leaves you with the feeling that something is missing.
PvP does exist, but it’s so hamstrung by the process in which Bethesda has placed it in that it is practically not existent.
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To find yourself in a firefight with another player, you both have to agree to it.
You can shoot and kill players without this, but it’s so difficult to pull off that it isn’t really an option for many.
There is probably a good portion of players who back this as a good system, especially if they have played other survival games.
Online players who don’t have rules stopping them usually will do the worst stuff for their own enjoyment.
So I understand why having this system removes so many problems for Bethesda, both now and in the future.
However, it also removes one of the most exciting elements of online play which can be found in rival games.
Instead of feeling the anxiety of running into another player and having to weigh up whether to flee or stand your ground, you usually end up doing nothing.
Robbing players of these tense interactions seem to dull the whole experience, although, this is only in my opinion.
Plenty will prefer the PvE vibe found in Fallout 76 because of these rules.
But for me, this is an area that I think will need to be changed in some way.
PvP-only servers seem like the easiest way to alleviate these issues, which isn’t something that Bethesda has mentioned to be in the works.
Factions can be found in the game that you can join, but they’re primarily used so that you can unlock the best gear.
If players had the chance of joining a group, perhaps even a rival Vault, it would at least give players a reason to team up with individual players, and attack others.
Right now, player-to-player interactions feel like they need something more than what is currently on offer.
This is an area where Fallout 76 needed more ideas and features, rather than what we have right now.
It can’t just be Fallout Online; it needs something that makes it stand out and make it worth your time.
Right now, Fallout 76 has no NPCs to anchor you, nor any creative ways for you to interact with other players.
Fallout 76 is out now on PS4, Xbox One and PC (Image: BETHESDA)
We’re not going to see tribes of players ganging together to rule the wastelands, which seems like a lost opportunity.
Having enemy NPCs in the game would certainly help provide more focus when it comes to just battling monsters too.
Fallout 76 does offer refinement in some areas too, such as the new perks system, which works well to drive players to try different things.
It functions as a fresh change for the franchise, which is important when you realise a lot of alternative ways of completing missions have been removed.
So, providing a system that’s more streamlined help players make the right choice for life online.
Base building is back and allows players to move their operations around the map with ease.
Blueprints can be saved for those who want to keep the same layout, something that comes in handy when shifting to a higher level.
The good news is that Bethesda can make changes to how Fallout 76 works in the future.
Due to it being an ongoing project, the development team have the chance to recreate parts of the game based on fan feedback.
They have the numbers playing online to make it worth the effort and is something that many games have done in the past.
Unfortunately, many of these were part of early access programs and usually cost less.
Fallout 76, meanwhile, is supposed to be full-blooded experience with more to come.
Bethesda has confirmed that they have more content in the works for Fallout 76, which will only improve the current.
The only problem with this is that the game probably should have come with some of this on day one.
Fallout 76 fails to live up to the lofty expectation placed on it before launch and is need of refinement and change.
Players deserved a far more polished experience on day one and probably weren’t expecting it to feel so much like early access.
This goes beyond the lack of real online features that make the game standout past the point of it being a Fallout game with multiplayer.
The bugs are a huge problem that keeps players from being fully immersed in this vast world.
Instead of feeling fear and horror when they run into gangs of enemies, they find themselves laughing at what they are doing.
These elements can and will improve, but the sheer amount of issues makes it hard going for Bethesda right now.
In the end, while Fallout 76 enjoys elements of single-player and multiplayer experiences, neither excel.
The game feels like it’s actually held back due to its single-player pedigree and isn’t allowed to fulfil its destiny as an online experience.
The good news is that there is plenty of time for Bethesda to fill up the vast, somewhat lonely world of Fallout 76.
But right now, players will want to know what the ultimate endgame for Fallout 76 is and how long they will have to wait to see it.