Fallout 76 takes the elements of Fallout 4 that were the least fun to play and smashes them into an aggressively average multiplayer survival game that’s more fun with friends in the same way that having a mate perform open heart surgery on you makes that experience slightly more tolerable.
You have no idea if they know what they’re doing, but neither do you, so you both just kind of go with it.
To be clear upfront, I was personally all for the idea of a multiplayer Fallout game. While it might have sounded like a bad concept on paper to many – and those gamers were super vocal about it – I thought there was potential in getting to explore a classic Bethesda world with mates in tow.
Unfortunately the execution leaves a hell of a lot to be desired, and we’re left with exactly what the game’s cynics expected: A hollow experience in a lifeless, empty world that recalls absolutely none of the charm of Bethesda’s earlier open world epics.
I think this might be my biggest problem with Fallout 76 – the fact that I was essentially expecting a traditional Fallout game with a cool new twist. Instead of navigating a dangerous world full of interesting characters, strange towns, and engaging quests, I was thrown into a world utterly devoid of life or personality of any kind.
After a brief introduction where you create your character, gear up, and leave the vault, the occasional friendly robot is all you get in terms of NPCs.
You’ll step out into a promisingly massive open world, and the first few hours are spent wandering between quest markers and picking up items, with the odd terminal thrown in for some very half hearted world building.
It felt like I’d arrived a few hours after the real game had finished and I was simply cleaning up after a more interesting story that I’d missed. The radio stations are still great though, and it’s always nice to hear The Beach Boys. That’s something.
The further I got into the game, the more I realised – with creeping dread – that this really is all there is to Fallout 76 in terms of missions: An endless parade of fetch quests, with absolutely no reason to care about why I’m doing what I’m doing.
There’s the occasional change of pace – like an obstacle course, or one memorable quest where I got to shoot a rabbit with a mind reading dart, but it’s usually not much more than go over here and pick up that thing.
In between missions you’ll be doing that thing you either hated or loved in Fallout 4 – picking up every bottle, and bit of junk or scrap metal you can feasibly carry so that you can upgrade your weapons and gear, and craft fancy new bases. I personally never enjoyed this aspect of Fallout 4, but I’m aware some people embraced their inner womble and really got in to harvesting scraps.
Oh, there’s also the standard hunger and thirst meters to look after, because even in 2018 we apparently can’t agree that including this feature in a video game is not fun and is very, very, very rarely done well enough to justify inclusion.
In Fallout 76, it’s just another bar to watch. Look at it. Look at it creeping down. Don’t let it go down. Good. It’s gone back up again. Now repeat until the last recorded syllable of time.
Without the rich, engaging world, characters, or quests behind it, without the complex moral choices and branching paths, the game’s flaws become that much more obvious. For a start, it doesn’t look anything like as good as an open world game should look in 2018, and the experience is absolutely riddled with bugs.
Yes, games like Skyrim and Fallout 4 were buggy – but this was something we could often overlook and even laugh about because the experience was so immersive, so detailed, and so grand that bugs very rarely impacted the overall experience.
Here, whenever there’s a frame rate drop, or the screen freezes, or I literally drop dead for no reason at all, I’m a lot less willing to laugh it off because I’m just not having fun.
So what of the multiplayer? It’s clear at every turn that this was a game Bethesda only ever wanted you to play in with others regardless of what the studio might’ve said about its potential as a single player game, but it simply comes across as if they expected you to make your own damn fun in a barebones sandbox. It’s up to you to make Fallout 76 enjoyable, essentially – but if you can’t, that’s a failing of the game, not of you.
The multiplayer can, on occasion, be anywhere between just okay and kind of fun, depending on who you’re playing with. Building bases and fighting enemies with a squad isn’t awful, but this kind of thing is simply done much better in so many other games.
In some instances, coming across complete strangers and tagging along with them for a while can be more engaging than playing with genuine friends.
For example, I spent a good hour with a random player I found out in the wasteland. Our time together broke up the monotony of the game as we ran around Super Mutant country, armed with nothing but our wits and some machetes. It made the world feel much less lonely, and it was heart-wrenching when fate (and a laser rifle) finally separated us.
My issue is that these moments are too few and far between, and the novelty of doing the same stuff with other players can start to wear off unless something genuinely interesting happens, which too often it doesn’t, thanks to the game’s rigid, lifeless world. Just because you’re shovelling muck with a friend, doesn’t mean you’re not still basically shovelling muck.
While Bethesda certainly intended this game to focus on jolly cooperation, PVP is present. The problem is that, once again, it’s just not as interesting as it could be thanks to rubbish combat and a real time VATS system that is borderline broken.
In a usual Fallout game, the excellent VATS is arguably the only redeemable quality of those games’ usually iffy first person combat. Without it, the flaws of Fallout 76 are once more exposed – and truly awful enemy AI doesn’t do much to help matters.
As more players approach the endgame and unlock the nuclear launch codes, it’ll be interesting to see just how much the world of the game can be shaken up, and whether it’s enough to keep players invested.
It’s not all bad. I firmly believe the idea of a multiplayer Fallout does have a lot of potential, and I think Bethesda really are capable of delivering a number of updates and improvements that make the game more engaging, and closer to what I – and many others – hoped it could be.
What we have right now though, is a plodding, uninspired shadow of Fallout’s former self, one that might improve as more approach the endgame, but given just how boring the path to the end is, I doubt many people will stick with it for that long.