I really wish I didn’t have to write this. I’ve put it off for weeks, constantly cutting and editing and redrafting in the hope that, if I stall long enough, I won’t have to say all of the things I’m going to.
I first played Fallout back in 2009, when I had a life-changing time with Fallout 3. I’ve written about that before, and you can read it here. New Vegas followed, and cemented my love of the universe, leading to my getting my first tattoo, the Brotherhood of Steel insignia. I went through the original Fallout, 2, and Tactics, and even though it was a totally different style, I loved them. This is also why I recently bought Wasteland 2 on Switch, because these games are linked in so many ways I can’t easily summarise without rambling more than I already am.
Fallout 4 was disappointing. I enjoyed it well enough, but the magic of the other entries just wasn’t there. But you can’t stop a fanboy, so you can bet I played the hell out of it, and of course I sided with the Brotherhood in my main playthrough.
Fallout 76 was announced, and the world was sceptical. But after attending E3, and hearing what was being proposed, I still thought it would be done well. After all, it’s Bethesda Game Studios, one of my favourite developers, making a Fallout game, my favourite franchise. How bad could it be?
Well, this is radio free wasteland and we’re bringing you the truth; no matter how bad it hurts.
Fallout 76 is an online multiplayer version of Fallout 4, except with no NPCs, no interesting interactions, and more walls of text than the Japanese visual novel you DEFINITELY only play for the ‘plot’.
The problem isn’t that it’s empty-ish, or that the other players don’t wanna hang, or that the game doesn’t look spectacular. All that is true, but I don’t care about that. The problem is that it’s broken beyond any form of enjoyable playability. On a scale of one to ten, I’d say it’s a “shut the fuck up and fix it.”
Fallout 76 is a game best described through a number of anecdotes, chronicling my highs and lows in the hours I spent in West Virginia. So let’s get into it.
Stretch it to the limit
Look, if you tell me there’s a place called the Mothman Museum, I’m gonna go there, and as soon as I possibly can. So almost immediately after leaving Vault 76, I made a beeline for Point Pleasant. I placed my C.A.M.P., took out my shiny 10mm pistol, and headed into the town.
I was immediately swarmed by Scorched. What are Scorched? Well, they’re not quite ghouls, they’re not quite Raiders, but man… so to answer your question I don’t know.
To say the AI isn’t great is an understatement. The AI simply doesn’t work. I was nose to nose with some enemies and they just stared at me, holding a gun in the wrong direction, hissing. Creepy, yes. Challenging, no.
The real fun started when I got back to my C.A.M.P. and came across this abomination.
Jesus tapdancing Christ Bethesda, what is that?
A couple of Scorched looked like they’d lost a fight with that computer that mutilates people in ‘I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream’. I don’t understand why this happened, only that it is hilarious.
See, these kinds of bugs you expect in a BGS game. Charming,weird, inconsequential glitches that really just add flavour to the experience.This is the sort of thing that gets them a free pass for technical issues, but enemies simply not being enemies is not.
Abandon all Quests, Ye Who Enter
Skip forward to Level 12, and I’ve got my feet under me, even if I am getting more frustrated. I’ve experienced more texture issues, as well as an intensely irritating issue where I had to respawn at Vault 76 after my first death (I got swarmed by Feral Ghouls, and without timestop VATS I couldn’t deal). My C.A.M.P. was a 45 second walk away from the factory I was at;the Vault was 20 minutes. As it turns out, this has since been fixed, so I don’t want to harp on about it. But I entered the building eventually, to find the dude I was meant to kill, well, already dead.
I chucked a couple grenades at him for good measure, but the quest marker stubbornly stayed put. I groaned, shrugged, and decided to abandon the main quest it was attached to for now.
That shouldn’t be a thing.
Any (air)Port in a Storm
Ah, finally broke Level 20; now the fun can begin, right? I can start making energy weapons, my preferred weapon class, and start playing my way.
I arrived at a Boston Airport, found some Super Mutants, and decided to claim the public workshop. I had to kill the muties first; easier said than done, as my Perception is terrible and I had no idea where the bounds of this place were. About ten minutes of wandering ensued, until I finally cleared them all. I went to the marker for the workshop; empty space. Hmmm. More searching followed, until I finally spotted the telltale red bench. Excellent, I thought,finally.
Then all the Super Mutants respawned in front of me. Yikes.
I drew my only good weapon, a modded legendary .44 pistol,and frantically shot mutated heads until they stopped grunting at me. I looted everything and shambled over to the bench. At last, the airport was mine. I installed some benches to scrap my loot, and was maybe halfway through when the game told me I was under attack. What, already? OK. Throw up a few turrets and wait.
Two Protectrons and a Mr. Handy. That’s it. Took about 3 seconds.
I continue making the Airport my own, scrapping anything I can,removing big debris, and trying to find where to put the big powered resource collectors. Five minutes pass, and I’m under attack again; this time it’s four Mole Rats. I kill two myself, but the other two go for the turrets, which do…nothing. They don’t shoot them. So I do, and as I kill the second one, the game crashes.
I reboot the PS4, to find that I’ve been moved to a different server, where someone else owns the workshop, and everything I’ve just done was for naught. I closed Fallout 76. I haven’t opened it since.
Let me make something clear; I played about 5 full games of New Vegas on PS3. Same with Skyrim. I can handle instability and bugs, and I have never been frustrated enough by an experience to actually stop playing a game in a franchise I love. I didn’t leave work hoping to play Fallout 76; I dreaded it.
There are moments of joy, brief glimpses at a game that might have been. A Super Mutant colony in a dry lake, made of buses and boxcars and full of twists and turns. A raider cinema, which would be an amazing idea if there were, ya know, actual Raiders in the game. The Firebreathers quest is great, and enemies like the Scorchbeast and Grafton Monster are indicative of real creativity behind the scenes.
So what the actual fuck happened?
Old World Blues
There is an expression in the Wasteland: “Old World Blues.” It refers to those so obsessed with the past they can’t see the present, much less the future, for what it is. And so we have to look at Fallout 76 in the light of the present,and the future. I cannot believe that Bethesda would release something this broken, this boring, this BAD, if they had any artistic stake in it. It’s cynical to assume Fallout 76 is a cash grab, but the alternative is so much worse to me, an absolute fanboy, that I can’t accept it.
Fallout 76 is very likely here to make a ton of money with as little effort as possible, allowing for more funding and staff to work on Starfield and Elder Scrolls 6. And you know what? I’m mostly OK with that. I just want it to be playable.
Fallout 76 looks OK, sounds good, feels bad, and runs terrible. What else can I say?
My score is preliminary, as I want this to do a No Man’s Sky and turn out good. I truly do. Until then, the only advice I can give is to avoid this wreck of a game, at least until it’s out of this bizarre everlasting BETA.
Apparently, my friends, war sometimes changes. And not for the better.
Brian received a PlayStation 4 review code for Fallout 76 from Bethesda PR.