Fallout 76 Review
"Take me home, country roads" by John Denver is the first thing that every person should hear in their head when strapping in to play Fallout 76. Though the song may be a little ironic in comparison. I am not certain Fallout 76 makes me feel at home or the place I belong. "Appalachia" or the representation of West Virginia is where Bethesda is taking us in the latest installment of the series. Starting 25 years after the nuclear war, this is the earliest in Fallout history our players/vault dwellers have seen. For some perspective, 76 takes place about 200 years before Fallout 3 long before any true settlements have been established. In previous games most of the vaults were experimental while Vault 76 inhabitants are some of the brightest and for good reason. Their mission is to explore, weigh the damage and effects of the war, and ultimately recolonize, which is a very tall order.
At the start of 76 you can already sense a difference in the air, it's quiet...a little too quiet. Instead of being spoon-fed a history of your life in the vault you are quickly escorted out by the intercom system with a tutorial and the helping hands of Mr. Handy robots on item use, the perk system, and newly-added sustenance management. Nothing says post-apocalyptic survival like maintaining food and water. More on that later. The most beautiful and dramatic part of the intro is walking out of the vault. Stepping out and seeing the vibrant mountainous world is breathtaking. The best part of the view is knowing that you can literally go everywhere you can see and knowing that there is more beyond to explore.
The exploration doesn't begin just yet, though, as there is one more major introduction and tutorial for camping. A small established camp is provided for you early on to help you to understand the basics of cooking, scrapping, and crafting. Literally everything you pick up in game now has purpose. Items can be scrapped for materials to be turned into something useful such as ammo, food, water, armor, or weapons. The crafting mechanic isn't really new, but the camping aspect is - your camp is your domain, your home. Much like a real home, your camp is something that you must manage and maintain on top of general survival in Appalachia, but you can build and customize it to your liking. Much like the sustenance feature I am not a fan of building structures, so I kept mine super simple and with just the basics, but you can get very elaborate and creative. To start you can't build everything right away, but there are plans in the world you will discover unlocking the ability to create more. The best and worst feature of your camp is that you only get one. Thankfully it doesn't have to stay in one place. Using in-game currency called Caps (bottle caps) that you find in game you can move your camp anywhere. This is great when you are in the middle of nowhere and need a place to scrap your items or rest up. You can also use it as a free fast travel location, so keep that in mind for camp placement later in the game. One last negative is that your camp can be destroyed by either creatures or other players. Yup, I said other players. Camp get destroyed? No worries, the materials will be returned to your inventory and you can rebuild or you can also set a blueprint of your structures and deploy a quick camp using the blueprint. That is nice and all, but to me a real pain to deal with, yet another unnecessary distraction.
Don't worry, I haven't forgot about the shock of other players. Appalachia is a very desolate place. Thankfully 76 is the first open world multiplayer game in the series. Only problem is there isn't much of an introduction on how it works or the impacts of other players in the game. In a nutshell you can either choose to team up with others on the server instance, which seems to be a limit of 20 or so people, or you can be aggressive and kill them PvP style. I am thankful that I have only been on the team building side of the new PvPvE style. That's mostly because I haven't run into too many people to team up with, but also because I don't really think there is a need or a want from others. When you do team up it's best to do so on the same questline or else you end up being a third wheel and just gaining experience. When teaming up on identical quests the multiplayer experience can be more enjoyable than by yourself. It can also cut down on the occasional swarm of enemies. It's always better to have a distraction. As long as you can run faster than the other person you will always survive.
Since Appalachia is devoid of human interaction Bethesda had to come up with creative ways to issue quests and trigger progression. One method is through the robots that are wandering around and can interact with. Another way is through holotapes which are recorded logs of prior survivors who have since passed. The holotapes tell a story in their own right but also serve as a guide to new areas to explore. Installed on your Pip-Boy is a radio which is activated when in range of a signal. Listen in on the signal and new quests will appear. Early-on quests come in at a slower pace but once you get to around mid-game the floodgates open and can get a little out of control. You can limit what is active and quests are differentiated between side and main which is helpful. Since this is an online open world there are also event quests in certain areas that will give experience and item rewards if completed. Some tougher than others which encourages people to band together to victory, but I haven't had much success with comradery. Overall I understand wanting to give us a sense of isolation but I definitely miss the immersion and character building of other NPCs. The PvPvE aspect feels like an incomplete concept and an excuse to not have to build in-game NPCs.
Leveling hasn't changed much in this Fallout as we still have the SPECIAL perk system. Each letter in SPECIAL focuses on passive boosts of your character from weapon specialization, increased carry weight, multiplayer bonuses, to sustenance mitigation. These perks are issued as cards. Some cards have multiple tiers and using duplicates can boost the effects. Be mindful before boosting because it is incremental and you must have enough available points in the cards respective SPECIAL letter in order to equip it. It's a game of numbers and yet another manageable aspect of the game. Luckily you can swap out perks at any time and aren't completely locked into a poor decision.
Speaking of poor decisions Bethesda thought it would apparently be funny if your weapons and armor broke over time, and if any food and water intake could potentially give you diseases. Again, it seems like a great idea on paper because it introduces a sense of survival, but Bethesda shines with storytelling and character building which both are missing. Weapons and armor require materials to repair or to build, meaning you are constantly heading back to camp or trying to find a workbench to scrap or fix something. Sure, you can find plans and recipes to make better and more efficient items, armor, or weapons, but that is not a game I want to play. I want to be surprised and rewarded for my hard work at completing quests, not keeping an eye out for plans to craft or upgrade. I can honestly tell you I have over 20 modifications and upgrades to items that I cannot even build because I don't have the prerequisite, essentially making it useless.
Identically, you have to constantly repair your body maintaining thirst and hunger but at the risk of contracting diseases. Eating certain foods and drinking unpurified water comes at a risk. Contract a disease and it will have a negative impact on your character such as lowered stats or increased thirst and hunger. Yet another distracting mechanic - let me enjoy Appalachia instead of playing a game in a menu system half the time. Which brings me to item management. Your character is limited to how much they can carry. Nearly all items have a weight value associated with them. With the added survival mechanics every item you see has a purpose. Due to weapon and armor breaks you should always carry secondaries or at least the parts needed to make a repair. All of these items add up quickly which can be a struggle. You will always be fighting the carry weight and making on the fly decisions on what to keep and what to drop. You do have access to a stash which holds way more than your character can, but it will fill up just as fast. A game of organization is no fun for me.
I hate to do it, but let's talk about performance. Bethesda is notorious for releasing buggy games and 76 is no exception. I am talking bugged quests that cannot be completed, incomplete graphic renders which look flat and fuzzy unless you get close enough or wait long enough for the render to complete, enemies spawning out of nowhere or even being triggered at a distance and all of a sudden popping up in your face, to severe latency if more than one enemy appears on screen. This was by far the worst performing Bethesda game I have played. Thankfully a patch was released a week later, a 47GB patch! That is almost as large as the game itself which was 52GB. Basically a near replacement on the PS4. When I loaded up the patch it was like night and day performance-wise and some of the quests were fixed as well. I can't say I am bug or performance free but it is a huge improvement environmentally and I hope they keep striving for perfection.
Fallout 76 feels like a dart board and each dart being thrown is an idea they wanted to try. The reception of the players will ultimately determine where the dart lands on the scoreboard. Each concept that scores high will more than likely end up in the next iteration as a finely tuned feature. Multiplayer, camping/building, and sustenance management to me are all neat concepts, but feel incomplete or forced. There are plenty of survival games where sustenance is an option. I am seeking immersion in the sense of storytelling and character building, not the monotony of sifting through a menu system, interacting with robots, diaries, or building camps. In the end, fans of the series will still find Appalachia worth exploring, but not the game of choice for newcomers.
Final Rating: 69% - Fallout falls flat.
Note: A review code for this game was provided by the publisher.