Due to the nature of Fallout 76 as a live, shared-world game, we will be providing a rolling Fallout 76 review as we play through the game.
These impressions are from my time spent with the game after three days. Stay tuned as we add more.
The first part of my Fallout 76 review ignored the single-player aspects of the game, in favour of playing with friends. After all, to have my Fallout 76 review ignore the multiplayer features would be odd, especially considering that Bethesda is insisting Fallout 76 is a multiplayer experience.
Except that it’s not. And it shouldn’t be. Every inclusion of a feature designed to service multiplayer only succeeds in making Fallout 76 ignorant of what fans like about the series.
In short, playing Fallout 76 solo is a vastly improved experience, however, the game itself is still an unfortunate mess and a bore. There are some bright spots to be had, but thus far, whether played solo or in a group, Fallout 76 is a wildly disappointing game from a studio that simply should have known better.
Fallout 76 Review Ignoring Other Players
Playing Fallout 76 ignorant of other players gives you an experience far closer to modern Fallout titles than when played with friends. Exploring Appalachia freely and basking in the beautiful, decaying world is immensely enjoyable, at least for a while.
Stumbling upon a new location and uncovering the lore through text logs, journals and holotapes is every bit as good as anything you’ll find in Fallout 3 or Fallout 4. The same can be said of the base building if you’re a fan of it. I’m not, but that’s a different discussion.
However, it’s not long before the world starts to reveal just how overwhelmingly empty it is. Without NPCs to add lore, flavour or even simple distractions, Fallout 76 is left with just its gameplay to support it. Let’s face it, gameplay has always been a secondary reason to play Fallout or at best, on equal footing with the storytelling.
Fallout 76 Ignorant of History
In Fallout 76 there’s little storytelling as far as I’m able to tell. Sure, you can learn about the events that unfolded at any given situation by reading about it, but that’s not the same as learning about it as it happens, with the people who live there.
There is a main quest line and tonnes of side quests and dailies too, but I honestly still have no idea what is supposed to drive my character. Following the Overseer doesn’t seem like much of a quest and as for everything else, well I’d have to relisten to the mountain of holotapes I’ve collected to work that out.
And I have absolutely no intention of doing that.
Being forced to listen to holotape after holotape isn’t any better when you’re playing alone than it is when playing with friends. Besides, without the ability to pause, the holotapes usually autoplay when I’m in the middle of combat, so even if I did care, I’ve missed what was said.
Lonely, Empty Boredom
Without NPCs to help make this world feel real, lived in and full of personal history, Fallout 76’s myriad bugs and shortcomings are all the more visible. The inclusion of multiplayer elements only serves to heighten them, especially when playing alone.
Unfortunately, in Fallout 76 ignoring combat in favour of a narrative is impossible. Worse still, combat has been moved right to the very forefront of the experience. Combat is, and always has been, the worst part about modern Fallout games.
Aiming and shooting have always been janky and unwieldy, but thankfully that was balanced by the use of VATS. The ability to pause gameplay when you entered your Pip-Boy was also essential to the Fallout experience.
Navigating those menus was never the most intuitive, but I honestly hadn’t realised just how cumbersome the Pip-Boy was until I was using it in real-time. Forget trying to heal mid-combat or using any stat buff you haven’t mapped as a favourite. If you enter your Pip-Boy, the enemies are just going to keep wailing on you.
Fallout absolutely relied on these pauses and breaks in gameplay in order to provide players with the opportunity to survive, in spite of the clunkiness. Now, without any ability to slow down or pause the gameplay playing Fallout 76 ignites any goodwill previous games generated and watches it burn.
I have had some great moments while playing Fallout 76, but these have been few and far between. Moreover, most, if not all, of the best things that happen are immediately undermined by the overarching design philosophy and the emphasis on multiplayer.
Take the perk system for example. This has been receiving some praise and in light of Fallout 76 being a multiplayer game, I can see why. But trying to actually role-play in Fallout 76 is a joke. No matter what perks you choose, it can all be undone in an instant as you’re able to totally re-spec on a whim.
For example, I like to keep an Intelligence perk active that makes my weapons break less frequently. However, I don’t have enough Intelligence points to also keep my Hacker perk active. So, when I need to hack a terminal, I simply swap the perk cards, hack the terminal, swap them back and be on my merry way.
What is the point of that system? Why bother playing in a group if everyone can theoretically do everything? The answer is clear. It again comes down to Fallout 76 trying to cater to the solo and multiplayer crowd. There are compromises like this at every turn. It’s equal parts disappointing and annoying.
Why bother to give your character a personality and backstory when you can change their entire ‘class’ as you need. And the same goes for their appearance. At any point, while playing Fallout 76 you can completely change your character. You can change their hair, their face, skin colour, gender and everything else.
Your character, their class, their story and everything they do is temporary and disposable. Nothing in Fallout 76, not even the players who inhabit the game are treated as permanent fixtures. It’s this anchorless feeling that really makes Fallout 76 uninteresting to play.
If nothing you do really matters, then why bother.
You can move your C.A.M.P. whenever you and wherever you want. If you claim a Settlement, it only remains yours for as long as you stay on the server or until another player takes it from you. Enemies respawn at locations incredibly quickly and you’re forced to fight the same groups over and over and over.
Sadly, Fallout 76 has no interest in making players feel like they’re making progress. Instead, your time is spent on busy work with no end in sight.
I’m yet to enter the end game or join in on any end-game activities, but I’m not sure even more difficult combat and forced multiplayer is going to improve Fallout 76. As I said, it’s better played alone, but it’s still not good.
The simple fact that a game touted as multiplayer is better played alone is a stunning indictment.
Stay tuned for more.
Fallout 76 is being played on PS4 with multiple copies provided to PowerUp! by Bethesda.
Game Title: Fallout 76