Fallout 76 – Is a return to the Wasteland worth the trip?

Fallout 76 is unlike the franchise’s core beliefs about war. Fallout 76 has undergone plenty of…changes. Released towards the end of 2018, it’s fair to say it was not met with a wave of positivity.

Released as Bethesda’s take on a persistently online, survival game it was stuck somewhere between a multiplayer and single-player experience. It was buggy, broken, frustrating and overwhelmingly boring. Not to mention the issues plaguing it outside the game.

Canvas bags, banned accounts, hackers, cheaters and mixed-messaging. It was all somewhat of a radioactive disaster. Even as it was floundering in a sea of negative PR and wrathful gamers, commentators wondered if Bethesda could pull a No Man’s Sky or Sea of Thieves.

Was Fallout 76 able to be improved enough to turn its fortunes around in the same way Hello Games and Rare had done?

Nearly two years on, Fallout 76 is in much better shape than when it launched. Has it managed to achieve the seemingly impossible feat of rising like a phoenix? That’s difficult to say but it’s certainly a far better experience than it was initially, though many of the issues prevalant at launch linger to this day.

Fallout 76

Right out of the gate, let me say, Fallout 76 is still a pretty pitiful multiplayer experience. Actually, let me clarify, it’s a pitiful multiplayer experience if you’re keen on playing the campaign with a group of friends. The very same problems players encountered at launch persist. Each player still needs to complete each part of each quest and the host player is still the one driving the show.

As it was initially, Fallout 76 is much better played as a single-player experience with occasional multiplayer moments.

For example, events that occur throughout the Wasteland can be tense, exciting affairs if you stumble across one at the same time as other players. These brief co-operative moments serve to remind you that you’re in a shared world, populated by other ex-Vault Dwellers, working to rebuild and repopulate. They give Fallout 76 an air of a real, proper lived-in world before you move on, as a lone wanderer following the main questline without the hindrance of others.

Endgame content and battles within the high radiation areas also benefit from multiplayer but again, these are best treated as ‘multiplayer events’, like those found in The Elder Scrolls Online, Destiny and other persistently, online shared world games. They can, of course, be planned but unlike a Raid or other form of curated content, the endgame in Fallout 76 is solely about combat and looting. There aren’t missions to work through, nor bosses, nor a setlist of objectives.

If you have a group of friends who play and want to go for some high tier loot, by all means, work together to trigger the nuke but that’s about as far as playing co-operatively in a structured sense can take you.

Being wedged somewhere between a single and multiplayer game isn’t a problem unique to Fallout 76, however, it is a game that handles it far more poorly than others in the genre. The nature of Fallout 76 prevents it from taking an approach similar to Destiny where individual missions are replayable ad nauseam and similarly, as it’s not quite a fully-fledged MMO, it is unable to transition to a system like The Elder Scrolls Online, World of Warcraft or Final Fantasy 14. It remains in an odd middle-ground, unable to offer a true, co-op Fallout experience nor a single-player one akin to Fallout 3 or Fallout 4.

However, two years on and with the addition of NPCs, tonnes of fixes and plenty of new content, Fallout 76 is closer to being a ‘real’ Fallout than ever before.

And that’s great news.

In revisiting Fallout 76, I decided to do away with my original character and start fresh. Thanks to Bethesda, I was given access to Fallout 1st which enabled me to play in a private world, making the experience as close to a single-player one as it could be and in my opinion, should be. And while I don’t believe Fallout 1st is absolutely necessary to fully enjoy the game, it certainly greatly improves things. That being said, it’s an expensive subscription for what amounts to some cosmetics, the Scrapbox and access to private worlds. You can achieve a similar result by turning Pacifist mode on, though I’m not sure I could go back to playing without the Scrapbox.

More on that later.

The opening moments of Fallout 76 haven’t changed at all, which is a shame. The beginning is really one of the weakest elements of the game. As I wrote in my original review;

In Fallout 3, New Vegas and 4 leaving the Vault was a momentous occasion. It was built up to and was an epic moment of humanity reentering the world. Remember that feeling you had when you first left Vault 101 in Fallout 3? The bright sun burning your eyes as they gradually adjusted to the world around you?

Bethesda built up your exit of the Vault to an almost mythic status. Even in Fallout 4 leaving the Vault was an event. Not so in Fallout 76. Instead, your character simply wakes up hungover from the Reclamation Day celebrations to find that everyone else has already left without you.

As you wander through Vault 76 you’ll find that you’re unable to interact with almost everything, except that which relates to you hurrying up and getting out of the Vault. And when you do leave the Vault, it’s not with a bang, but a whimper.

This remains identical in Fallout 76 today, though what happens next serves to quickly and drasticallly improve things.

Now, on leaving Vault 76 you are greeted by two Wastelanders. Immediately, Fallout 76 feels like Fallout. The simple addition of NPCs has had an enormous impact on the way the game feels. You are still able to follow the Overseer and play through the original questline, but why you would want to isn’t something I understand. After you speak with the Wastelanders and choose your dialogue responses (YAY!), you begin what feels like a proper Fallout quest by speaking with the proprietor of a nearby pub — The Wayward — who’s been having trouble with a group of nearby Raiders. Yes, that’s right, RAIDERS!

Their presence isn’t restricted to armour or notes any longer, actual human enemies are in the game. And it doesn’t stop there. Within the missions you take on, you’re able to choose from a number of responses, branching the mission into a variety of interesting and differing paths. Do you kill the Raiders’ leader to stop Duchess at the Wayward being hassled? Do you agree to work with the Raiders or, do you simply threaten them into leaving Duchess and her watering hole alone? The choices are yours (if you have the stats) and in these moments you forget you’re playing “Fallout 76″ and instead feel as though you’re playing “FALLOUT” 76. The difference is subtle, but it’s also an enormous shift that vastly changes and improves upon the original experience.

And let’s not forget Jason Mewes as the unforgettable Ghoul, Mordecai McCoy.

Something else I’ve noticed while giving Fallout 76 a second chance is just how incredible (aesthetically speaking) the world of post-nuclear Appalachia actually is. Sure, it’s not the prettiest game ever released but Fallout 76 is easily the best looking Fallout title by far. At least by modern Fallout standards. Being able to appreciate this world is due in part to me playing within a Private World, but also simply because I’d gone in with a much more open mind.

The negative feelings I’d associated with Fallout 76 have long since faded and having seen and spoken to NPCs, I was feeling much more positive about the game in general. Being in this headspace allowed me to stop and take in the game world on a deeper broader level. Bethesda has crafted a gorgeous, yet dangerous, place that is truly up there amongst some of the greatest open-worlds created for players.

I’d often stop and simply look around to enjoy the virtual goodness on offer. Off in the distance I could see structures and buildings poking through the dense forest. Valleys and mountains would give way to rivers and the derelict remains of humanity. And honeslty, the only way to describe some of the views in Fallout 76 is breathtaking. Sadly, getting up close tends to break the illusion as Bethesda’s engine really shows its age. However, from afar, looking over the Appalachian Wasteland is awe inspiring.

The audio in Fallout 76 goes hand-in-hand with the visuals and I was frequently blown away while playing. Mostly during quiet moments of exploration due to ambient sounds. Playing with a headset or with surround sound puts players right inside the Appalachian Wasteland and during the moments I stopped to admire the view I was also anjoying and admiring the audio. Insects buzzing, trees rustling, water bubbling and Feral Ghouls gurgling, it all comes together to create the soundtrack of Appalachia.

In these moments, the times I stopped to enjoy the view and listen to the sounds of the Wasteland, I appreciated Fallout 76 a lot more than I ever had before. While it’s a survival game littered with corpses, monsters and the remains of human civilisation, it’s also heartbreakingly beautiful and a wonderful reminder of how videogames can transport us to places we’ll never actually be able to visit.

And that’s the true power of Fallout 76.

One big difference in my recent playtime when compared to a majority of other players is the access I’ve had to Fallout 1st. A lot of players will be playing without the subscription and won’t enjoy the benefits of private worlds and the Scrapbox, Fallout 1st’s big selling points.

Private Worlds’ obvious benefits come from not having to play with any other players you don’t want to. Having access to Private Worlds does actually allow players to enjoy a much better multiplayer experience. Not that I’d recommend actually teaming up to complete missions, instead, eight players can play within the same Private World and go about their own merry way, without concern for griefers and the like.

Players are freer to take control of Workbenches, complete Daily Events, collect resources and simply explore Appalachia when in a Private World and it makes for a much better, friendlier and enjoyable experience. Again, you can play similarly in regular servers with Pacifist mode enabled but you’re far more likely to run into other players so PvP(ish) gameplay is more common. Private Worlds aren’t an absolute necessity but they’re a vast improvement for players who want to treat Fallout 76 as a single-player game.

The Scrapbox is the other major benefit of a Fallout 1st membership and it’s a hard one not to recommend. Like the Craft Bag in The Elder Scrolls Online, the Scrapbox has unlimited capacity and stores only junk and scrap. It’s hard not to overstate just how good the Scrapbox is and how much of a difference it makes to the game, especially if you’re a player who enjoys crafting and building. Being able to store unlimited junk means being an absolute pack rat hoarder won’t ever really compromise your ability to move and encumbrance should become a thing of the past.

All that being said, while Fallout 1st is an excellent addition for those players who live and breathe Fallout 76, it’s quite an expensive outlay for those who play casually. If Fallout 76 is your main game, Fallout 1st might be a no-brainer, for everyone else, maybe try it out for a month and see how you go.

The big question here is, ‘Is Fallout 76 worth playing two years on from launch?”

I’d have to emphatically say yes. While I’m still quite negative on the multiplayer aspects of the title, playing Fallout 76 as a mostly single-player game with some multiplayer moments is the way to go.

It has vastly improved since launch and now feels much closer to the quality Bethesda is known for. I’d even argue that on release, Fallout 76 was an early access title masquerading as a finished product, which could also be said of No Man’s Sky, Sea of Thieves, Destiny and number of other titles in the same or similar genre. I’d be willing to bet that if Fallout 76 had been labelled as early access it wouldn’t have been received much less negatively. However, console gamers are far less likely to embrace early access given it’s a more PC-centric idea and due to many early access games fizzling before full release, players may be wary of the notion altogether.

It’s a difficult position for any developer/publisher to be in and while Fallout 76 may have had an incredibly rocky start, it’s certainly starting to come into its own. If Bethesda can continue to improve and add to the game, the future looks very bright.

Bethesda provided access to Fallout 76 and Fallout 1st in support of this article.

Leo Stevenson
Leo Stevensonhttps://powerup-gaming.com/
I've been playing games for the past 27 years and have been writing for almost as long. Combining two passions in the way I'm able is a true privilege. PowerUp! is a labour of love and one I am so excited to share.

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