Let’s start with pointing out that Fallout 76 IS a Fallout game, and an Excellent Game, just perhaps not really an Excellent Fallout Game.
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We’ve been playing Fallout 76 on various platforms, but this piece is specific to G who played the game on a standard Playstation 4.
An issue of identity
The core gameplay loop of Fallout 76 mimics that of most Survival MMOs: Gather material, construct or upgrade items, gather better material. The items you construct or upgrade are your weapons and armor, but also your base, survival resources like food and water, and, well, decorative bits.
All of this of course set in a well-nuked North America slathered in retro-future americana stylings and inhabited 50-50 by preppers and pollyannes.
The game goes all in on the survival bits with having you drink every 10 minutes, and eat food a bit less frequently, and weapons that fall apart the 3rd time someone sneezes nearby. It does make survival fairly easy though, as you can build a farm that gets you clean water, vegetables etc, much like Fallout 4, and as long as your turrets keep it protected you have all the carrot soup you need, and some adhesives.
You’re also encouraged to scrap most things you find, as this is part of how you learn how to make better stuff, and it gets you an ample supply of crap you soon enough realize you don’t need and is just filling up your “Stash” at the local Red Rocket gas-station. Actually, somehow filling up your stash at EVERY Red Rocket.
The other way you learn how to make things is through rewards for remarkably inane missions.
The main difference between recent Fallout games, and Fallout 76 is active Story Telling – this now all falls on you and your team, and all the other survivors through so-called Emergent Gameplay, while past Fallout games had a main, branching story-line, and NPCs telling their stories through interactions and missions. In 76, not so much, due to the absence of NPCs.
This at first doesn’t seem to be much of a headache; So what if you only interact with robots of questionable capability, and listen to a metric bork-ton of holo-tapes? Passive Story Telling, environmental Story Telling, lore that isn’t dictated at you by scripted companions, is all over the mountsides, in true Bethesda, and Fallout style.
However, it does tend to skew missions towards a repetitive pattern, and you kinda get the feeling the writers might have a fair bit less hair now than when they started.
But the Emergent Gameplay is also where the game shines! Someone is roleplaying Preston Garvey from Fallout 4, others act as Newbie Greeters, and some set up supply stations that they host in-character. You, your friends, the weird stranger in undies, partial armor, and a party hat all get to do your thing in a giant sandbox with an equally giant bat-thing flying around. This of course spills outside of the game, where players make websites, tools, and pool their resources to “hacking” the nuclear launch codes in the game.
The Overseer story line, the Firebreathers and all the other stuff is there as scaffolding for the game and the setting, but real, actual Story Telling is on you the player. Yes, certain older Fallout games gave you a VERY wide range of options for your character’s behaviour, but the MMO mechanics takes this much further, even if the depopulated Appalachias slightly restrict your options.
There’s plenty in Fallout 76 to keep you entertained if you’re into survival games, into base-building, into roleplaying, into horde-mode multiplayer, and into interacting with other players. If you’re not into any of those things, skip this game and please stand by for Fallout 5.
This Is Not A Pipe
Now, if this was a review, I would be bringing out a set of scores, but frankly the game is just not in a reviewable state. Bugs, critical, game-breaking bugs litter the game, ranging from multi-second freezes, to controls failing to respond to anything but movement, to failing to load into building, all makes Fallout 76 less an experiment in making a Fallout MMO, and more about how far Bethesda could push the concept of Fit For Purpose.
The constant frame-rate drops and mini-freezes alone are evidence that Sony has given up on their certification process, and playing with team-mates constantly screaming to use V.A.T.S. to at least be able to hit enemies tells me I’m probably not alone in being unable to hit enemies when the game goes into the single-digit frame-rate.
Weirdly enough, talking to players on PC and XBox has given me the impression that it IS worse on the old Playstation, and more-so on the regular PS4 than the Pro. This is open to interpretation, but I’ll leave that to others and instead see if I can get a comment from Bethesda somehow. Doubtful, seeing as players reporting bugs don’t get actual responses until things blow up on Reddit.
Wrap It Up
So Fallout 76 is a Fallout game, in the Fallout universe, with gameplay mechanics based on Fallout 3 and 4, and most of the gameplay loops from 3 and 4. It replaces companion elements with Real Life people, while ditching companion quests. It makes the new MMO aspects central, growing the world of Fallout and opening it up to new players unfamiliar with The Great War of 2077 which is something hopefully all fans can appreciate.
It doesn’t have, need, or want a single-player mode, but you can play it alone, surrounded by other players; Just expect a very incomplete experience. At least with zero cross-play functionality, you can opt to play on whichever is the least-populated platform.
Lore-wise it’s questionable at times, retrofitting some elements from later in the time-line into 2102, making excuses in order to keep things familiar, and some diehard lore-fans will be (and are) irritated, but this is clearly just Bethesda stretching things to keep it comfortable for the majority.
PvP is a thing, but like trading, it’s a mess and hopefully the developers are realizing that some components just aren’t working. If you are looking to engage in PvP, or specifically want to avoid it, might want to hold off on 76 for a bit, but you can work around. For trading, just only really trade with people you trust.
So there’s a game here, that can be a Good Game if you’re into Survival MMOs, goofing around with your friends, and the Fallout universe. At the recent more-than-50% discounts it’s even a decent game if you’re not quite that into it, but you could also try to hold out for when it hits a 76% discount.
A note though: If I was giving it a score at this point, it would be below the 5.0 we consider average, primarily due to the glitches and the 60 GBP price on PSN.
Responsible for many of the day-to-day operations, for messing up website code, and generally for whipping the rest of the team into an odd shape, G took on the Evil Overlord title because the rest ran around like headless chicken. He doubles as the other main host on Rated-R, when actually around and awake.