Being the console scrub that I am, I was pretty late to the Bethesda party. It wasn’t until I saw the rich and inviting fantasy world of The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion that I sat up and took notice of the studio. Needless to say, I sank countless hours into Fallout 3 shortly after, all the while thinking about how amazing it would be to scour the post-apocalyptic badlands with a friend. Well, after ten long years and a few other core entries into the series, we were finally given a chance to don our blue jumpsuits, strap on our Pip-boys and venture out together in Fallout 76.
Unless you’ve been living in a vault for the last few weeks, you will have undoubtedly heard that Fallout 76 is currently being nuked from orbit by both critics and consumers alike, with many people feeling like the latest entry into the series is an actual bombed-out wasteland that is devoid of all joy. I want to be pretty upfront with this review and say that although I completely understand a lot of grievances that people have, and even agree with most of them, I’m actually having a pretty good time with it. I don’t know if it’s because I play a few games that have a similar experience, like Ark: Survival Evolved and Conan Exiles but I’m pretty happy making my own fun.
Me checking Fallout 76’s Metacritic score
In some strange way, Fallout 76 plays very similarly to the previous games, but also completely differently. If you’ve played a Fallout game before, you’ll be familiar with the gameplay loop of fighting mutated enemies, looting burnt-out buildings, finding better gear and levelling up your character by completing various quests. There are, of course, a few updated systems that you will need to get used to in order to survive, but at its core, it’s still a great first person (or third person) shooter RPG, filled with that good old Fallout charm and all new survival/crafting mechanics.
The biggest and most exciting change is that the post-nuclear landscape of America is now a shared world, one that you can explore with your best friends or even complete strangers. Bethesda has made it super easy to drop in with your pals and start blowing away some feral ghouls or scouring the land for some power armour. Adventuring with buds is a tonne of fun and cruising around together in a radiation storm to the tune of ‘Take me home, Country Roads’ is an awesome experience, one that I’ve been waiting for since Fallout 3, all those years ago.
There’s always one friend who makes photo mode difficult
If your friends list is a little sparse, you can easily team up or trade with any players that you come across in the world. When you join another player, you can share things like resources, abilities and experience or simply help each other take down a giant Deathclaw or Scorch Beast and share in the spoils. Of course, not everyone you come across will be friendly, and much like other online survival/crafting games, you can engage in player vs. player combat, albeit in a much more forgiving and deliberate way. Fallout 76 is more structured towards a cooperative multiplayer experience so don’t expect to have a good time if you’re more about hunting down other players.
In Fallout games, your abilities, skills and character bonuses are known as perks and the new card-based perk selection is likely to be one of the biggest changes that returning fans will notice. Each time you level up in 76 you are given the option of putting a point in one of your seven character attributes and assigning a perk card to that trait. These cards determine things like your ability to pick locks, how much damage your weapons do and how much junk you can carry with you. It definitely takes some getting used to, but this new system allows for a more dynamic character experience and one that you can tailor based on what your current task is.
Looting, scrapping and crafting is back in a big way for Fallout 76 and one of your primary tasks will be to pick up everything that isn’t nailed down in order to build up your ‘C.A.M.P’, which is essentially your forward operating base. Unlike the settlements that Preston Garvey had you rushing around to in Fallout 4, your camp is a portable base that you can pack up and move around at will. Building a shelter is one of the best parts of survival/crafting games and doing so will give you a place to rest, recuperate and replenish your stocks of food and drink, which are vital in keeping you alive as you explore the wasteland. Although I’m not really a huge fan of the restrictive ‘budget’ system, which limits how much you can build based on your level, I do enjoy finding blueprints for things in the world and then pimping out my little corner of West Virginia.
Country Roooooaaads, Take Me Hooooooome!
Here’s where things start to feel a little irradiated. One of the best parts of the Fallout series is the rich and engaging world that it’s set in. Weird and wacky characters populate strange locations and drive along a solid story, breathing life into the desolate wasteland they find themselves in. Fallout 76, however, is almost completely devoid of NPCs, except the odd robot that provides limited interaction. Sure, there are audio journals and documents from past inhabitants that provide some context for the otherwise arbitrary quests, but overall the world feels quite lonely. This has been a huge (and understandable) point of contention for a lot of fans, but as I mentioned earlier, having played similar games like Ark and Conan, I don’t feel that the loneliness is a deal breaker for me. That being said though, I definitely would have liked to have seen a bit more in the way of engagement because there are some great story beats in the game, just not a lot of motivation to pursue them.
Bethesda games and bugs often go hand in hand, and Fallout 76 is no exception. There are the usual glitches that we seem to expect from a game like this, but also some pretty devastating and progress-halting bugs that can really ruin a player’s experience. Despite two massive 45GB+ patches since it launched last week, I still find myself occasionally having to quit to the main menu and start a quest again due to some part of it not triggering correctly. Not to mention enemies not loading in until they are right next to you and gear not displaying on your character properly. While I understand that creating a massive shared multiplayer experience will undoubtedly come with some unexpected challenges, I feel like there could have been a bit more effort into making the game stable. Perhaps the Beta test should have much, much earlier.
A lot of fans are also quite upset at how average the graphical presentation of the game is, with many pointing out that it actually has worse visuals than its predecessors. I’ve never really been someone that cares about the latest and greatest graphics, but I can definitely see where they are coming from since the world is a lot less detailed than Fallout 4. Although, I do like that 76 gives us a much more dynamic and varied map, with many different biomes and a colour palette that is more than brown and gun-metal grey.
Tase the irradiated rainbow
Fallout 76 also has the atomic shop, which is a microtransaction marketplace where you can purchase cosmetic items like paint jobs for your gear or better-looking furniture for your camp. I was a little worried when I saw it pop up in the beta phase, but thankfully it’s pretty unobtrusive and only really there if you want it. Also, you can actually earn atoms by completing in-game challenges, rather than spending real-world money.
I spent a lot of time wrestling with my feelings about Fallout 76. While I can understand and agree with a lot of the criticisms raised against it, I still continue to have a really good time playing it. I don’t see it being something that I’ll keep coming back to though, so unless a steady stream of content updates and bug fixes supports it in the coming months, it will probably be short-lived fun. My biggest piece of advice with this game would be to manage your expectations. This is not the Fallout that you know and love, but it is still worth checking it out and can deliver those awesome personal moments that you’d find in the previous games, this time with friends too!
Reviewed on PS4 Pro // Review code supplied by publisher