Fallout 76 offers a fascinating world that is constantly challenged by conflicting game designs and technical flaws.
In this Fallout 76 Bruce searches for answers to the questions: Was Fallout 76 a successful experiment and what about the technical side of the story?
Of all the Bethesda franchises, Fallout is perhaps the one you least expect from a multiplayer game. The character you play in Fallout 3 is even literally called the Lone Wanderer. On the one hand, the multiplayer seems to contradict the sense of loneliness the series is known for, but on the other hand, the prospect of exploring the post-apocalyptic Appalachians with friends is also exciting. Ultimately, multiplayer is Fallout 76’s biggest curse and blessing.
But above all, it is important to remedy technical faults. This review is based on the PC version of Fallout 76. It is the least buggy version and especially on consoles the game suffers from performance problems. But while Fallout 76 plays smoothly on the PC, there are still too many bugs. Crashes and ‘breakthrough bugs’ usually stay out, but you’ll run into other classics all the time: enemies that don’t react, enemies that get stuck, graphics that go wild, perks that don’t work only half the time, structures that are not functioning connect with each other, etc. While Bethesda Games Studio is known to deliver “buggy” and incomplete games, Fallout 76’s technical condition on the day of its release marks a new low for the studio.
But Fallout 76 makes up for a lot because it also features snippets of the developer’s best work. The Appalachian game world appeals to the imagination and begs to be explored. The West Virginia-based map is riddled with abandoned settlements, factories, dilapidated mega-structures, and even nuclear silos. Take the Dark Ash Pile, for example. Under the thick layer of poisonous ash, you’ll uncover a tale of dirty business games and a ruthlessly crushed labor movement. Interesting material, especially in the shade of the gigantic mining machines which dominate you. For a clear, cohesive story you’ve come to the wrong place, but if you dig up all the holo notes and tapes left behind and fantasize about your own story, Fallout 76 is sure to please.
In and of itself, the holo bands and clues in the area are a great way to tell a story. However, that becomes a problem if this is the only way a game world works for you. Fallout 76 has a chronic lack of NPCs who immerse you in the game’s story. Due to this lack of “human” interaction, you still feel like an archaeologist, a passive spectator of a desolate world. Your influence on the ins and outs of Appalachia is virtually nonexistent. Thematically, of course, it fits the idea of a dead and desolate world, but it keeps you from feeling any meaningful involvement.
Bethesda Games Studios chose a few NPCs for each living character to meet a different player. It is a double-edged sword. For every friendly, helpful and even fun gamer you meet, a multitude of uninterested friends who prefer to be alone will pass by. There’s a lack of a neutral hub for socializing or selling things together, which means Fallout 76 for most of its playtime offers just too little reason to hang out with other players.
The times you go out with a group are often the funniest. It’s fun to brave the great stranger with a friend. But these shared adventures have put our nose in the game’s biggest problem. Fallout 76 fails to harmoniously connect its two extremes. If you are playing in a group, you will miss the subtle story the environment wants to tell you. And when you play alone, you fail to get involved in the world and its characters. As a result, the game falls into a strange niche between single player and multiplayer games.
Additionally, this unbalanced design is found throughout Fallout 76. The Camp. for example, is a great creative outlet to make your mark on the Appalachians, but you have to be prepared for awkward controls. For every interesting faction or story quest, you’ll find at least one thing that doesn’t make sense and is boring. Crafting and customizing your own weapons is a good incentive, but you also have to struggle with limited storage space and a clunky menu. The PvP system offers a good solution to grieving (because both parties have to agree), but at the same time, there is simply too little reason to fight other players. The new enemy types are exciting, but that tension disappears as soon as they struggle to walk around a chair. Nothing in the game is finished perfectly, and the combination of all the elements lacks harmony.
Fallout 76 is without a doubt the roughest diamond ever released by Bethesda Games Studio. Conflicting game design and technical flaws constantly reduce the game’s enormous potential. A fascinating world awaits you in the Appalachians. But before it materializes, there is still a lot of work to be done.
For this Fallout 76 review, Bruce played the PC version.