Fallout’s first online multiplayer foray is bold but often boring
When we first heard about a persistently online multiplayer version of Fallout, we were excited. There were some concerns, but we had faith if only because the MMO version of the publishers’ fantasy counterpart, The Elder Scrolls, is so good. Surely, we reasoned, Bethesda would invest its apocalypse with at the very least the things that work so well in Tamriel? We were wrong, and as huge Fallout fans, that makes us particularly sad.
The conceit of Fallout 76 is that you and the 23 other players in your instance are the first humans out of the Vaults, 25 years after nuclear armageddon – so you won’t find any other human NPCs to interact with. The idea being that this ramps up the drama and survival imperative, as well as making you play with other real humans to rebuild the world and make your own personal stories.
At best, this is inconsistent, at worst, Bethesda is kind of cheating. So there are none of the familiar raider gangs that used to provide ready target practice, caps and gear in
Fallouts 3-4. But there are something called The Scorched – ghouls that can use guns. So, the difference from Raiders is only that they don’t talk as much. There are no human NPC vendors to trade with. But there are robots who have shops. So the difference from human NPC traders is… they don’t talk as much. Ditto, quest givers – robots, not humans. Still NPCs, but now lacking back stories and personality.
And there were human survivors outside the Vaults, because there are quests gleaned from letters and holotapes that will lead you to corpses. There’s evidence of raider gangs, and people surviving for years after the apocalypse. What happened to them? Why is there nobody left? All that this odd constraint the developers have put on themselves does, is to make Appalachia the most lonely, soulless place ever created for a videogame. Okay, so we get that the post-apocalypse wouldn’t be much fun. But by taking away all of the series’ rich character – from the human survivors in Megaton to the sentient ghouls of Goodneighbour – the Fallout universe is left hollow.
If Bethesda believes that players would band together and create their own human stories, it is overestimating its audience. Or
underestimating them. By creating instances of only 24 players with a map the size of Appalachia, they’ve created a world that’s emptier than a politician’s promises. Most players seem to want to just play the game like they would the previous singleplayer entries in the series, and be left alone to explore and discover the world at their own pace, untroubled
by randoms. And since the map is massive, you could play for hours and never see a soul.
While you can definitely play solo, it’s also really difficult to play alone. Caps are hard to come by, ammo is super-scarce, and most enemies are hard to kill – ghouls and Scorched attack in numbers, which can make it tough. Other wandering creatures like Radscorpions, Charred Feral Ghouls or Glowing Ones are impossible to face alone, at a low level at least, without enough ammo or armour.
Fallout’s VATS targeting system cannot, by the nature of this game being a persistently online real-time experience, work in the same slow-mo or time-freezing way as the previous games. So all that happens is you ‘target’ in real time, which is only any good for irritatingly small creatures. At point blank range, your bullets often don’t even hit – and feral ghouls run straight at you the minute they see you. Without VATS, combat in Fallout games is simply not all that great.
Most of the time you’ll be walking, and walking, and walking, and reading letters from dead people. Without a sense of any timely mission imperative, it can feel… boring.
Worst of all though is the constant, miserable drain on your character. You’re forever dehydrated and you need to chug a bottle of water roughly every two minutes of game time. Even after going to the trouble of boiling the water, you still get radiation poisoning, but if you don’t drink, you lose all your action points. You need to eat constantly too. You need to cook the food before it spoils, which it does very quickly, and it gives you diseases. It’s all a part of the ‘survival’ element of the game, but we’re finding it a drain not just on our character’s AP and health, but of our enjoyment. So tedious does this ‘reality’ become that it’s a wonder the game doesn’t make you regularly defecate, or have to fill in tax forms, or watch the paint dry on your camp structures.
Hope springs eternal
It’s not all bad, though. Appalachia looks great, the map is impressively huge, and the world is rich with detail for you to find, and quests to follow that will lead you to uncover snippets of Fallout lore. There are stories told through letters, terminals and holotapes that, with a bit of patience and persistence (and quite a lot of reading), can turn into rewarding quests. At its brightest moments, finding and following threads of story that reveal interesting if failed human endeavours to survive the post-apocalypse, the game is still recognisably Fallout. The series has always been excellent at
world-building and environmental storytelling, and Appalachia is no exception. Even playing solo, it’s engaging – but then every time we start to get into the game, we realise we’re desperately wanting this game to be Fallout 5, or a meaty expansion to Fallout 4 – but it’s not.
The game still feels like a work in progress, though. And already, we get a sense that the aforementioned lack of characters may be being addressed. Since we started playing, we’ve met a wandering trader, a friendly supermutant called Grahm – a talking, non-robot NPC. Additionally some of the human corpses we’re starting to find are… fresher. We would not be surprised to find some living human NPCs starting to crop up in Appalachia. Actually, please make it so, Bethesda.
As with Sea Of Thieves, the game is best played multiplayer with friends, even one friend. Working together to explore, trade, craft and take on some of the Events (necessary to level up and get caps and other rewards) and more hostile areas of the map, brings a whole other, less lonely, dimension to the game. It’s not so good teaming up with strangers, though. While everyone’s biggest fear before launch seems to have been griefing, it’s working out quite the opposite. So effective is the game’s punitive anti- griefing measures, that it would seem players are actively avoiding each other, just in case.
To give it its due, the ‘murder’ idea is a great one. To stop players being dicks in PVP and ruining the game, if you keep shooting a player who doesn’t retaliate, until you kill them, you become a wanted murderer, visible as such and available for other players to kill and claim the bounty. When we spotted a nearby murderer, it did provide a little excitement. Shooting the miscreant dead gave us a reward, an achievement and a little bit of momentary schadenfreude. But for the most part, it seems that players are so afraid of PvP interactions that everyone is avoiding other players like they’re diseased. Which they may be.
Fallout 76 uses the same Creation engine as Fallout 4 – it plays the same, it looks the same (maybe a little more polished), as that three-year-old game. But for what Fallout 76 lacks by comparison, if you haven’t yet played, or completed, Fallout 4 and all of its wonderful DLC, we’d recommend that over 76. For now, at least.
The score we give below should almost be our usual ‘B’ reserved for games that are still in Beta – Fallout
76, to be as kind as we can to it, is ongoing. The game and its world deserves more, and so do we. Those solid ideas that have already been put in the game are a decent foundation – there just needs to be more to the wasteland. We’re holding out a lot of hope for things like community-made mods, as we saw in Fallout 4, and fixes, patches and improvements over time. In a year’s time, this may even be the best Fallout game ever.
In the meantime though, we’re going back to Fallout 4, because frankly it’s just more human.
“The game is best played multiplayer with friends, even one friend”
above Finding a Power Armor shell is a big deal, but you still have to craft the individual armour pieces to go on it.
Left Your portable C.A.M.P. lets you set up a base with crafting workbenches.
left There are robots in the world still who will sell you stuff and give you quests.far left You can team up with, trade with or fight the other humans you meet.