You know, I really wanted to like Fallout 76, and I need to be clear – I don’t hate the idea of an MMOFPS Fallout spin-off. Being able to regularly play and have fun in a Fallout-themed world with my friends, which still somehow manages to remain lore-compliant? Hell yes, I want that. But Fallout 76 is absolutely absurd, both as an entry to the Fallout franchise and as a game in its own right. I tried to be optimistic about the game after my time with the B.E.T.A., and that even carried into my playthrough of the game. At first. The reality, however, is that it’s fraught with technical issues, pushing a confused and self-defeating design, online connectivity issues, and so many more problems besides. It is hands down both the worst Fallout game and one of the worst games Bethesda has ever released, period.
It’s no wonder the “B.E.T.A.” was so limited.
Fallout games are predicated on deep narrative and player choice, and it would have been fine for Fallout 76, as a spin-off, to abandon those ideas if it hadn’t been styled exactly like a mainline entry of the series. There is no player choice involved; as a former vault dweller of Vault 76, you’re following in the very recent footsteps of your former Overseer. She’ll have shocking discoveries to make, personal dramas to endure, none of it particularly interesting, and, of course, it’s the main story thread, so it’s scattered wide across the map. As the player, you get to passively listen to her describe it all via audio logs for as long as you can take such a thing. There’s no branching path to decide which story you follow, you don’t get to somehow indirectly affect the Overseer’s journey. There’s no call to adventure, no desire for vengeance or love, you don’t even personally know the Overseer herself – you’re literally just following your bosses orders. You’re a voyeur to one of the most lifeless stories ever to grace the franchise.
There is another issue with the story in general, which is that almost all of it is built to be experienced like single-player quests but in a multiplayer game. Because NPCs have been removed, story elements are entirely conveyed via audio logs, written notes, or terminal entries. If you want to have any idea of what’s going on, you have to deal with these logs, and I don’t know about any of you, but I’m not playing video games with my friends so we can sit in silence and read half the time. And sure, you can play the game single-player, I did that a lot, but for reasons I’ll get into later, this is not a single-player game. It’s the same as saying World of Warcraft, or Eve are single-player games. You can play it that way but it’s not really what the game’s core design is aimed at, nor is it really fun.
Oh boy, another terminal! I wonder if this will lead to another robot?
You’re able to team up with other players the moment you leave the vault, which quickly goes from being a neat feature to an outright necessity. See, Fallout 76 has a pretty simple gameplay loop: you need to craft stuff, so you go out to quest, which means you have to kill things, and to be able to kill things easier you need to craft items. With this in mind, the game’s design can be broken down into three major pillars: crafting, quests, and combat. As individual components of the game and as combined parts of the gameplay loop, these don’t even pass the sniff test. As mentioned, the quests as they’re designed don’t gel well with multiplayer, and with no NPCs, the world isn’t appealing to explore on your own. There are the Event quests, but these can all be boiled down to, “Kill X many Ys” or “Protect X while killing Ys.”
Then we come to crafting, which is a hellish experience if you do what the game wants you to do. Picking up every piece of scrap and trash like an unchecked hoarder isn’t just encouraged but a damn-near essential part of the design. That means that, despite still using inventory screens that are functionally the same as Fallout 4, NV and 3, inventory management is now the most critical part of crafting. Yet trying to sift through and figure out what is and isn’t important is a painful task in itself, nevermind the fact that actually useful resources are in painfully limited supply. This is on top of the fact that the weight of most items makes your personal carrying weight and your base stash prohibitively small for what you need it to accomplish.
And then the stairs bug out so that you can’t scrap or even move them – the whole thing is just a mess.
The flip-side of crafting is the base-building, one of Fallout 4’s neat but not fantastically implemented features that’s now somehow far, far worse in Fallout 76. The budget for your base, just the same as your inventory and stash size, is incredibly small. You’ll be forced to decide between something that looks nice and something that’s functional, and this is meant to be one of the main draws of the game. It’s so restrictive, I just don’t understand why they would do this. Building a base with your friends was meant to be a fun, cooperative part of the game but I can barely put anything decent together for myself, let alone if I let other players do anything in there.
So if the questing is terrible, and crafting is difficult at best with base building barely being worth the effort, surely that means there must have been an increased focus on combat, right? Well, no, because fighting stuff is fun for all of about five minutes before you realise that the combat isn’t simple just because you’re at the beginning of the game. On a scale of “dumb” to “smart,” the enemy AI consistently drops through the floor and lands at a level around “wood.” If it doesn’t bug out completely, rendering whatever you’re fighting motionless while you pepper its head with bullets, then a Ghoul barely acts any different to a Deathclaw. Fallout 76’s idea of scaling difficulty is to increase the number of enemies and make them even more spongey for damage.
Flip-side: There are no more NPCs, so cannablism is A-OK. Bon appétit, everybody!
This other part of why the game basically demands you play it multiplayer, or die more than you might while playing Dark Souls, is because the gunplay is the worst. Your own character controls like an arthritic geriatric in a fight, weapons break almost as fast as they do in Breath of the Wild, this is before you get into how the technical bugs and glitches effect gameplay. And VATS! Poor VATS, once a foundation for the entire combat system of the first two games, now reduced to being little more than a terribly implemented aimbot. You need other players because of how squishy you are in the face of a design whose entire concept of “challenging” is to just up the monsters’ stat numbers to ludicrous levels.
Even the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system, already perverted and broken in Fallout 4, has been brought to all new lows in Fallout 76. Not content with just being able to sink points into any stat as an option, that’s now a mandatory part of levelling, each stat representing a “pool” of points to spend. Instead of then being able to spend those pool points on a set list of abilities, you receive randomised “perk card packs,” and yes – yes that does sound sinister and insidious. In the RPG genre, where selectively and carefully building your character is a core part of any design, I wonder what purpose introducing a randomised element to levelling would serve?
And the bugs, good lord, the bugs! Bethesda, for our sake and yours – abandon this God-forsaken engine. It’s been at least fifteen years and a half-dozen releases, and not only are the same issues occurring, but you’ve also inexplicably created new ones. The game hard crashed on me eight times throughout my playthrough, and randomly disconnected me fifteen times besides. This isn’t even your first online game, Bethesda – Elder Scrolls Online is four years old, you should know how to do this by now. And no, I wouldn’t accept the excuse that they’re using different engines since Bethesda should know by now that Gamebryo needs to be taken out back and shot. I mean come on, even just switching from speakers to headphones will cause the game sound to cut out entirely on all audio channels. How does that even happen?
Enemies would occasionally fall through the world and re-emerge invisible. Enemies, myself, and inanimate objects would frequently clip into each other and the surrounding environment. Inventory and item boxes would regularly have problems opening if they appeared at all. During a Nuke event, the server crashed completely from the strain. Despite being fully armoured, I would show up half-naked on my friends’ screens, or on occasion as a disembodied, floating helmet and chest piece. Sometimes guns wouldn’t fire. Sometimes guns wouldn’t appear at all. My character would regularly T-Pose his way through the side of a closed suit of power armour. After logging back in from being disconnected, I wouldn’t be able to see my friends’ names or markers. Quests would simply not exist on the map, or in my Pip-Boy, and refused to reappear until I logged out and back in again. In fact, re-logging or restarting the game was a common activity for me while encouraging the game to cooperate. Believe it or not, these are just a few of the issues encountered. There is so much more but only so much space in this article, after all.
Oh yeah, and then the majority of my screenshots turned out like this – a totally black background with a HUD. I assume it’s because I was in power armor and the game didn’t like that. And yet, this is still a step up from the B.E.T.A., which didn’t save my screenshots at all.
Fallout 76 is broken, not just on a technical level but by its very nature. It doesn’t challenge its players as they work towards their goals, it actively hinders them with bad design. It took the worst elements of Fallout 4 and even a few of the good ones that it diluted into their most basic forms and made an entire game around them. It wanted to have its cake and eat it too, being built like one of the single-player RPGs but with a veneer of multiplayer design and ended up being atrocious in either capacity. And then yes, it’s technically broken in the literal sense, boasting not just the “classic” Bethesda bugs, but an entire swathe of new issues that make the game borderline unplayable. This wouldn’t just take a bunch of patching to fix, it would take a Final Fantasy XIV style rebuild to salvage this game. It is, without a doubt, the worst Fallout game to date – and I say that having played Brotherhood of Steel. No, not that one. That one. Yeah.