Bethesda had high ambitions with Fallout 76. Bringing everyone’s favourite wasteland survival series online, players are free to roam the wasteland alone or together as they explore, build and nuke their way to the top.
It’s worth noting that Fallout 76 didn’t launch in a completed state, with Bethesda releasing an open letter to fans pre-warning them of bugs as well as various other issues come reclamation day. While I feel that bugs and such should be fully exterminated prior to launch, I understand the massive undertaking that Bethesda has taken on, and I applaud their honesty in the matter. With this in mind, I’ve taken the game at face value and will be writing about my own experiences – either good or bad – in order to establish what I think about Fallout 76.
Fallout 76 is a prequel of sorts to the series. Vault 76 is named to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the founding of the United States in the year 2076 and it’s the first vault to be completed. In the game’s lore, the bombs fell only a year later forcing humans underground to survive the fallout and horrors of an apocalyptic future. The game picks up on the eve of Reclamation day, twenty-five years after the nuclear war that decimated the landscape, and humans are once again ready to return to the surface.
Beginning the game will great you with a character customisation screen – as with most Fallout games – where you can edit and alter the features of your vault dweller. You can choose from a number of pre-rendered bodies and modify them to your liking a little or a lot. Fallout 3 was the last title I played in the series so the departure from the usual sliders was a bit odd for me. By hovering over an aspect of your avatar’s body you’re then able to sculpt the area using the analogue sticks and d-pad. Once completed your newly created wasteland wanderer is able to pose for a photo-ID card and you’re ready to leave the vault. Almost.
Leaving the vault for the first time felt, and I imagine it was the same for my online counterpart, a little overwhelming. With little to no idea of which direction to travel in, I resorted to destroying and looting the few robots I could find while following the direction marker for the only active quest: “Find the Overseer” – Deja Vu anyone? By making your way towards the Overseer’s camp you’re able to take in the vast surrounding of the wasteland. Though this may not be the right term to use. Instead of the expected palette of grey, brown and rust, West Virginia is populated with trees of oranges, yellows and green. A bright and vibrant forest instead of the cold and desolate wilderness of previous titles. This, however, doesn’t prevent the graphical inconsistencies and low-res textures.
The game is running on the Creation Engine, the same system behind Skyrim and Fallout 4, and while it’s a huge step up from Fallout 3’s Gamebryo engine, I can’t help be feel the visuals are beginning to show their age – Skyrim was, after all, released in 2011. There have been many situations where the image feels pixelated and compressed; compared to games like God of War and Monster Hunter: World where we’ve been spoilt with stunning vistas I can’t help but feel a little disappointed. There are moments where it looks great: usually from a distance. But get up close and personal and it just doesn’t hold up to modern expectations.
Combat feels a bit of a mess. While VATS is still there it works differently in Fallout 76. In previous entries the system would allow players to stop time and pick out various appendages to attack, expanding AP in the process. Successful hits would reward the player with a slow-mo gore fest which made it worth it, sort of. In 76’s persistant online environment pausing time just isn’t possible and neither are the explosions of slow-motion blood and offal; instead, VATS is more like an automatic targeting system. When it works. Instead, I found myself sticking to old fashion manual aiming. Though even this was more chore than fun. Random framerate drops and teleporting Feral Ghouls caused their fair number of issues.
Perhaps this explains where all of the NPCs have gone? Scared by the Ghouls they’ve hidden in some part of the map I’ve yet to discover? While deep down I know this is unlikely, with each new area I still hope to bump into at least one computer-controlled character. Apart from the eleven or so players that could potentially populate the server, Appalachia is void of human life. I get the idea that Vault 76 is the first to open, but surely there would be a few humans wandering around the place? Instead, the world is populated by robots, but even these speak very little. Acting more as quest dispensers the robots do little to breathe life into the vast and empty world.
And quests themselves are nothing to write home about. Go there, kill this, collect that. The quests feel repetitive and unimaginative, and not to mention a bit glitchy. Spending time and effort clearing an area of beasts means nothing if another player wanders into the area. To allow enough kills to go around, the game respawns everything you’ve despatched – regardless if you’re ready for it or not. A couple of times I’ve been caught out looting a few corpses when everything pops back into existence due to another human player stumbling into the same area.
The lack of any sort of central hub makes Fallout 76 feel disorganised. Unless you’ve built certain amenities you may be wandering around for some time before you happen across a workbench or somewhere to craft extra equipment. Of course, you’re able to move your base around at will but I found the game had difficulties in registering my base in some areas; possibly due to the dips and holes in the surrounding areas. This issue is often frustrating and I really hope this can be patched in a future update.
Fallout 76 is ambitious and on paper sounds like a great idea. Regrettably, the execution is not as flawless as I’d have hoped. While I certainly hope Bethesda can do more to improve it over time, right now I just don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. Perhaps I would have been better off staying in the vault to start with?