Bethesda Game Studios needs little introduction. Based in Rockville, Maryland, the mainstream game developer is the author of major popular franchises such as The Elder Scrolls and the Fallout series. Before Fallout 76 was released, Bethesda announced that there would be no single-player campaign or non-playable characters in the game. This sparked outcry from the fan base, causing them to gather thousands of signatures for a main story add-on. Despite the opposition, Fallout 76 remained unchanged and released to mediocre sales.
Now, the game has a ten dollar markdown and continues to meet with high criticism. With so many transitions and differences between Fallout 4 and this game, it is plain to see why many fans are disappointed. But when taken at face value, is Fallout 76 really that big of a wreck or has the fan base itself become toxic?
Violence: Fallout games have always been violent and this one does not disappoint, if you like the violence that is. Expect gore, enemy heads flying off of their bodies, and lots of blood. Often times, you will be able to find dismembered limbs from the various super mutants, animals, or scorched, infected humans you face. Due to the radiation, enemies now are grotesquely mutated. In other words, you’ll be grossed out.
Unfortunately, Fallout does tend to dive into dark territory and will show just how insane humanity can get when it survives thermonuclear war. Raiders and other enemies seem to have lost all concept of value to human life and the player will find various graphic things that many would deem exceedingly inappropriate for children.
Drug/Alcohol Use: One of the main mechanics of Fallout is survival, and Fallout 76 utilizes drug and alcohol consumption as a method of survival. Vodka, whiskey, rum and various other heavy alcohols litter the wasteland. Drinking these beverages will give you a boost of some sort, but also serve as a good way to parch your thirst, which you will need to keep an eye on. Drugs are imperative to one’s survival, as it becomes necessary to take RadAway to reduce your character’s radiation poisoning. Other drugs can also be taken to boost one’s attack, defense, radiation resistance, action points, perception, and so on. Packs of cigarettes can be found throughout the wasteland as well.
Language: F*ck, sh*t, d*mn, and various other obscenities can be read on notes and heard on recordings of journals found during scavenging. Profanity is not heard much from enemies you face.
Sexual Content: There are no graphic scenes or nudity in the game. Small talk and quick references to sexual activity can be found on some recorded journals and writings.
While the Fallout franchise has a long and storied history going back to the late 1990s, its current form owes much to 2008’s Fallout 3, which established the 3D open world action that fans have come to expect. When Fallout 4 was released in 2015, it introduced new gameplay mechanics like crafting, encampment improvement, and a brand new character creator that allowed the player to shape virtually any face imaginable. Now, enter Fallout 76: a game that takes all of those mechanics, subtracts a few big ones, and adds online play.
Fallout 76 is a prequel and takes place in the year 2102, twenty-five years after the bombs have fallen and 175 years before the events of Fallout 3. The player begins as a fellow resident of Vault 76 and emerges on Reclamation Day, the day designated for reclaiming the devastated land. Before leaving, it’s required to search the Overseer’s office as part of the first main story mission, and you discover that the Overseer is attempting to secure missile silos.
Unfortunately, curiosity is the only driving factor to uncover the Overseer’s story; it’s not as compelling a premise as Fallout 3’s quest of finding your father. When exiting the vault, the story still feels very…trackless. I ended up asking myself, “well, what now?” The first few objectives in the search for the Overseer are mostly tutorial-based and show how to setup the C.A.M.P, how to store items, craft weapons and armor, and cook food. They’re helpful, but fail to alleviate that empty world feeling.
After the short respite, the mission takes you to—you guessed it—another area that feels empty. Most every place explored will feel the same: a desolate, abandoned area whose population recently either evacuated or died. It will always feel like you’re arriving too late or like you’re the only living being for miles. Occasionally, another player will pop in and run by, but not much happens when alone.
But this game wasn’t meant to be played alone. When playing with friends, the entertainment rises exponentially. Our group had some fun moments accidentally blowing up cars, running to save each other, and trying to figure out how to heal random diseases like swamp itch. When running around, workshops and bases can be claimed by players, kind of like establishing settlements and defending them. Enemies will launch attacks on your base and it must be defended or else lost. But, again, there is not much motivation to even have a base, especially since every time one logs off, all bases claimed are reset. That’s one of the biggest downsides of having similar mechanics to Fallout 4: if bases don’t stay claimed, what’s the point of building them up? It ends up being a waste of resources and junk that can be used for more useful things like weapons and armor.
On top of the pointlessness of claiming bases, plenty of bugs take away from the general experience. The main bug that prevented a lot of quality time with friends makes it impossible to accept invites to be on a team. All players are forced to log out, restart the game, and log back in, hoping that perhaps this time the invite will work. Most of the time it did not. To add to the frustration, the game would periodically kick players out of the world, resetting spawn points and settlements claimed. Fortunately, it still keeps teams together, but having to regain bearings is annoying.
In this new round of post-apocalyptic survival, the player is now required to watch their hunger and thirst levels. Over time, these meters decrease and food and drink must be consumed, otherwise the vault dweller’s actions points will gradually dwindle down over time. While Fallout 76 boasts a large map—four times as big as Fallout 4‘s map—it feels like a beautiful empty expanse of trees and buildings with occasional patches of enemies here and there. Random groups of protectrons, rabid animals, weird mole miners, and other unique enemies populate the expanse of Appalachia, providing some form of distraction from the bleak surroundings. But what I’ve always enjoyed in games is lore and things to read or listen to. One of the things Fallout 76 does best is the implementation of story told through notes or recordings left behind by deceased individuals. It is fun to find these and listen to them, but they’re best listened to when alone, rather than with a group of friends.
Combat has not changed much from Fallout 4, with only a few new weapon groups, like pipe weapons, including the pipe pistol and rifle. VATS is now real-time, making it a pointless mechanic. VATS was incredibly useful before because it would pause battle and help the player devise a strategy. Now, when running into enemies, using VATS will only lower action points faster, so it is best just to use a melee weapon for swift enemies and a gun for slower ones.
Speaking of enemies, there are new groups to report. The main group that has much to do with the main mission is called the Scorched. These character models look and sound exactly like ghouls, but instead, they play a much bigger role in the story. Along for the ride are new mutated animals, such as the freaky three-headed possum. Super mutants, protectrons, and deathclaws are basically the flagships poster boys of the franchise and are back as their usual selves this adventure. The only other new enemy group I could find was the mole miners: mysterious enemies that looks like giant moles dressed in heavy trenchcoats. They look like they’re a sort of evolved or mutated mole.
Leveling is different as well. Now, when leveling up, the player chooses an attribute point to add to the seven usual categories: strength, perception, endurance, charisma, intelligence, agility, and luck. Through that, you then choose a perk card and these cards will have a number at the top right. That means it needs that many attribute points in that particular attribute to be equipped. I actually find this new system to be very simple and I enjoyed it. I like that it is all laid out in a way that anyone can understand how it works and what to equip. I also appreciate the fact that you can equip and unequip perks at will. If you have a perk that allows for hacking and a perk that allows for lockpicking, you can always swap them out to be able to pick a lock on a door or safe or hack into a computer at will.
As I mentioned earlier, the story consists of tracking down the Overseer of Vault 76. She has been charged with the task of securing missile silos, but has no idea why. As the player follows her path, they can find journals she has left behind. The only way the game tells a story is through these, since there are no NPCs around. There are also side missions that can be activated by simply reading a note lying around an abandoned house—it’s that easy. The game also hosts events, which will usually activate once the player arrives in the vicinity of the event. A few events my friends and I participated in included having to destroy some farm bots—since they had reverted to using humans as fertilizer—and having to defend a city from a scorched invasion. These events repeat themselves and are usually nigh impossible to complete by themselves; they’re meant for a group of players. Completing missions and events is rewarding as the loot received will usually end up being quality weapons, armor, crafting materials, and blueprints for structures.
Speaking of blueprints, crafting makes a comeback from Fallout 4. Crafting houses is possible again, since floors, walls, stairs, and various other structural items are available to make. These things can only be made once the C.A.M.P is set down, allowing for whatever you built to go wherever you decide to move your C.A.M.P. It’s a convenient mechanic and allows for scouting safely, as it only costs five to eight caps or so to move it. To craft, you will need to gather junk and useful materials from things lying around like lamps, metal scraps, paper, pencils, tins, and various other otherwise useless items. Structures can only be made once the blueprints are found, so be sure to search every nook and cranny you come across. At times, crafting can feel tedious and redundant, since the same items will be found over and over. The only useful redeeming factor in the mechanic is the ability to turn a search on for a specific item you want to craft. Flipping this option on will place a magnifying glass next to any junk you need for crafting a specific item, making it easier to locate what you need while scavenging.
The environments are absolutely beautiful and stunning, if you’re into West Virginian forests, autumn landscapes, and rivers running through lumber mills. It feels like the great outdoors when walking around this nuclear wasteland. While Fallout 3 was more of a somber, devastated land and Fallout 4 was a more established area, Fallout 76 feels like life was happening only moments before you exited the vault. Trees are orange and yellow, rivers are blue, and grass is green, but it’s still a dangerous place.
The soundtrack complements the countryside, sounding folk-like while keeping its Fallout roots. The games have always had an adventurous tone while also sounding ominous and somber. I’ll never forget wandering around the windy terrain of Fallout 3 and listening to the grim tones of a forgotten land. Fallout 76 has more hope in its music and more adventure. The main theme is catchy enough, but my personal favorite is You Must Rebuild.
In this Fallout adventure, player versus player is introduced. The player is immune to any opposing player fire, but once they reach level 5, all bets are called off. If one is wandering around and is above level 5, any other player of equal or higher level can shoot-to-kill and steal all of their dropped junk. The player who was killed retains their weapons, armor, and chems, but loses their junk and a small percentage of caps. Once a player dies, a small paper bag is left at the place of death, of which they can return to retrieve their valuables, if there are any left. If a player is shot dead by someone and never returned fire, the player who attacked is labeled a murderer, a bounty is placed on his head and he is revealed to all on the world map.
In my personal experience, I suited up any armor I had, grabbed the strongest weapons I had stored, and headed to war. The first person I found was a level 9, of which all of my shots seemed to go straight through him. The player I was shooting even sent me a question mark emoji. I looked up support forums, searching for this particular issue, but found none. I tried again, this time with a level 111. This was obviously a mistake going in, but even the wisest person jumps into the most foolish of circumstances. Not surprisingly, I died, being killed by one melee hit of his rocket-powered bat. Once you die, you can choose to call for help or bleed out to respawn more quickly.
Fallout 76 is a troubling game. While it has solid mechanics found in its level up system, crafting, and even survival, it primarily suffered greatly from consistent bugs at first launch and continues to lack a decent player base. Even though it has a mediocre story and the VATS system is all but gone, the game should be able to stay afloat by its missions and events alone. What really broke Fallout 76 was its extremely buggy launch. At the moment, it seems like Bethesda has fixed many of the major aforementioned bugs, although their negative effect on the player base remains. As it currently stands, the bug that prevents players from accepting each other’s team invites seems to be fixed; also, after the major recent update, I noticed that I spent an hour in the game world and was not arbitrarily kicked out as had happened in past sessions. Overall, it’s not a terrible game. It will definitely scratch that Fallout itch and provide some good times, but it’s not exactly worth what you’ll pay for it. Perhaps you should wait for this one to go down in price a little more before buying.
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The Bottom Line
While Fallout 76 has some things it does right, it is too buggy and has much too low of a player base to truly enjoy. While it will scratch that Fallout itch, it's not worth it at its current price. Wait for a sale.