…a game that feels profoundly undercooked…
Conceptually Fallout 76 had a lot of potential. The idea of taking Bethesda’s popular post-apocalyptic RPG franchise and making it available as an online world could, if executed well, be a fascinating and intriguing evolution of the series. Imagine spending hours getting lost in byzantine quests with surprising outcomes, all the while sharing your shock and amazement with a group of up to three mates. What a premise! Sadly, however, what Fallout 76 actually delivers at time of writing is a baffling misstep, seemingly avoiding everything cool or interesting about the concept.
The plot is solid enough. The year is 2102 and it’s twenty five years since a nuclear war destroyed most of the earth. You, the player, are a dweller from Vault 76 – an underground bunker in West Virginia – and are now tasked with heading out into the wasteland, fixing what you can and making steps to repopulate the treacherous landscape.
Quite honestly, the first few hours of Fallout 76 are a good deal of fun. You leave the vault and basically need to scavenge weapons, armour and food just to stay alive. You’ll also complete simple, but effective, quests to level up and slowly learn more about the massive open world you’ve wandered into. There’s a genuine sense of discovery and excitement in those early hours, particularly when playing with friends, and you can’t wait until the proper quests begin and you can embark on the real adventure. The problem? The real adventure never arrives. The early hours are basically exactly the same as the later hours, with bigger, scarier monsters but no mission variety.
A major conceit in the game is that everyone is dead. All the humans were killed, so it means that every quest you go on involves schlepping to a place, having a look around, finding a skeleton and then listening to a long holotape and/or reading green text on black on an inexplicably intact computer monitor. This sort of environmental storytelling has worked in Fallout games before, because you can find extra information about the world and dig into the lore if you so wish. However, in Fallout 76 this isn’t the extra spice that makes it nice, this is the whole of the story. Every bastard has carked it which means there are no NPCs, no characters to engage with, no meaningful resolutions to narrative threads and no real point in getting emotionally invested. Even the few quest-giving robots that exist are shallow as hell because there are zero dialogue options and no way of having a discussion with them.
Combine this genuinely baffling storytelling decision from a company known for good stories with janky, unresponsive shooting made worse by turning VATS (a system whereby you could slow time and take enemies down with strategy in previous titles) into a barely functional auto-aim and a legion of bugs, crashes, glitches, frame rate issues and legitimately broken mission objectives and you’ve got a game that feels profoundly undercooked and likely about eighteen months away from being ready to release.
That’s not to say that there aren’t fun moments with friends. You can team up with mates and bumble through the wasteland, getting into fights with monsters and other players (although the PvP is deeply tedious and should probably be ignored) but if shooting shit with your mates is the goal there are better, and much cheaper, games out there! It’s genuinely staggering that a AAA game company thought releasing this shallow, borderline broken title in this state was acceptable and yet here we are.
Look, it’s not all doom and gloom. Perhaps in twelve months Bethesda will have patched this to an acceptable state, because the shooting/looting/crafting loop can be fine, if a tad simplistic, but we simply can’t recommend this game in its current incarnation. Every year one game seems to stand out as the big disappointment of that release period. In times past we’ve had No Man’s Sky, Mass Effect: Andromeda and, unfortunately, this year’s bummer is Fallout 76. “War never changes,” or so the quote goes, but Fallout apparently does and sadly this time it was not a change for the better.