Game Reviews

FALLOUT 76 Is More Salvageable Than People Think


Let’s get one thing out of the way right now: the cover of John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” recorded for FALLOUT 76 fucking slaps and I won’t hear otherwise. According to Bethesda games’ SVP Pete Hines, the cover was recorded by a New York-based doo wop group named Spank, and it is a goddamn banger. Every time it comes on while playing I get beyond hyped to be exploring the world of FALLOUT 76’s Appalachia, no matter how many enemies are rushing me while T-posing. Such is my complicated relationship with Bethesda’s newest attempt at an MMO and the latest iteration of the Fallout franchise.

When 76 was announced at E3 this year, the crowd may have erupted into cheers, but as time wore on, that reaction became a resounding “Hmmm.” Fans simply didn’t know what to make of a multiplayer Fallout, an admittedly strange move on the part of Bethesda. With the “Break-it Early Test Application” being held so close to the game’s launch, FALLOUT 76’s developers seemed to admit that they knew the game was full of bugs; the game wasn’t perfect, but damn it all, this thing was getting released on November 14th one way or the other.

This attitude served to further put players off, as few people would want to drop $60 on a broken game, let alone pre-order one. No one wants to drop $200 on a special edition that was supposed to include a sick canvas bag if they knew it was actually going to be made of cheap nylon either, but we’ll get to that later. Outside of a handful of Fallout diehards, including myself, who I’d describe as more of a Fallout die-medium, faith in 76 leading up to the release was hard to come by. That faith would only decline after the game launched.

Whereas Bethesda’s previous foray into MMO territory, THE ELDER SCROLLS ONLINE, wove a tale of transdimensional demons and factional power struggles, FALLOUT 76 only offers its expansive map and the great unknown to beckon players forward, with the promise of loot filling the void of an actual call to action. To 76’s credit, there is a lot of loot to be found. While players do have the option to immediately sprint to the map’s far-flung corners to visit the Mothman museum or the remains of the Charleston Capitol building, after two weeks of playing I still haven’t strayed much farther than the starting Forest area. To be honest, I haven’t felt the need just yet.

Fallout '76

Also, I’m terrified I’ll run into one of these assholes

Whether the allure of the wide-open world is enough to draw players in and keep them coming back is where the rubber meets the crafting table for 76, because another striking difference between it and the rest of the Fallout entries is the absence of human NPCs that can be interacted with. Bethesda has explained that due to 76’s place in the canon (of which they’ve been playing fast and loose with), there’s just not a lot of human characters wandering around the wasteland, giving the game a rather lonely vibe. Any given piece of lore or backstory is told solely through tapes, notes, or computers, and the only interactable characters that are given more than one line are friendly robots and certain enemies.

Press releases have stated that stumbling upon someone else in the game should be an event, and in this sense, 76 succeeds; I was once shot in the head by someone trying to get my attention so they could trade with me, and another time I helped pick off a pack of ghouls that were chasing another player. But most of the time I’m so engrossed in what I’m trying to accomplish that I don’t really want to deal with other people and their quests.

Fallout '76 mask

#Relatable, am I right fellow millennials?

FALLOUT 76 does indeed contain the “spectacular bugs” mentioned in Bethesda’s pre-BETA message, and the horror stories coming from players are not wrong. Textures pop in and out at their leisure, sometimes with dazzling effect. Animations don’t play out properly and can get a little too herky-jerky as well, and sometimes the game will just up and crash.

This isn’t a good look for a AAA studio, even if spectacular bugs are Bethesda’s calling card. Of course there was a Day One PatchTM to address the BETA concerns, but even after that there was another major “stability patch” intended to remedy most of the horrifying bugs still present at release. While things like animations and menus now function smoother, in this current build there are still things that have proven more difficult to iron out, specifically the texture issues and occasionally some quest line glitches. And while many of these issues I haven’t been able to nail down as being the fault of the game or the fault of my apartment’s lackluster internet connection, by and large it seems that the glitches that have affected me also affect other players and seem to be due to unresolved issues with the game’s stability.

With all that being said, it should be noted that other survival sims like ARK and RUST were in Early Access/Beta for 2-5 years. 76’s developers have spoken about the intended longevity of the game, implying that as it goes on things should be brought under control. It’s also important to note that upon NEW VEGAS’ release it was also a bugged-out, glitchy mess, but as the bugs were crushed and the modding community got involved, it’s now often touted as the best in the series. The developers have confirmed that private server will eventually be supported, and it remains to be seen how modders will further fine-tune the game.

Fallout 76 Mothman

The Mothman definitely makes an appearance, but word is Richard Gere drops better loot

Despite all the bugs, the bungled launch, and PR disasters regarding collectible bags, there was never anything about my time playing 76 that struck me as fundamentally “broken.” There’s nothing wrong with the game that can’t be fixed with a patch or quick content update. There are bugs, no doubt, but for me there were never moments where I had to ask myself if I was having fun playing the game.

I’m interested to see how Bethesda develops 76 further, as right now I’m at my happiest playing alone and exploring the game at my own pace. There’s a sense of immersion the game wants to shoot for, but is ultimately foiled by other users or even your friends that don’t really want to sit and hear a three-minute tape about the importance of water filtration. I’m still drawn in by the interest of seeing what’s on the horizon, what’s in the next area, and what happens once I get there.

FALLOUT 76 is a service game in the vein of Destiny, one that is guaranteed to change with time to meet the demands of players, and it’s that potential for growth that prevents me from writing it off. As someone who legitimately enjoys the gameplay, my hopes for the future are pretty basic: fix the game-breaking bugs and I’ll be happy. There’s a fairly prominent bug at the end of one of the main quests that involves killing a ghoul named Evan. On most servers, odds are that he’s already been killed by another player, so the fact that he doesn’t respawn for other players makes finishing the quest impossible unless a player logs in and out of servers hoping to find one where he’s still alive.

Fallout 76 ghoul

Truly the most elusive prey in the game

These are the things I want fixed. As long as I can pull out my gun fully assembled, textures load in where they’re supposed to be, and I can finally kill Evan, I’ll be satisfied. Not unlike paying a large sum of money for a nice canvas bag, only to be given a garbage liner at delivery, the FALLOUT 76 that exists now falls far short of the bar we should be setting for the franchise. But if I was promised by the bag seller that, over time, a tailor would periodically swing by and patch up my bag with real cloth, that would be something else. I’d still be upset, but I’d also eventually end up with the bag that I ordered.

Among the rubble of FALLOUT 76, there is definitely a Fallout game, a game that focuses on the player navigating a world ruined by the hubris of man and doing their best to pick up the pieces and move forward with it. It’s difficult to say whether the game hindered or saved itself by coming out right before the online component to the much-lauded RED DEAD REDEMPTION 2, possibly hoping to Alvin and the Chipmunks their way through under the cover of weather-sensitive horse testicles and rootin’ tootin’ bear fights. To be clear, 76 will never be RED DEAD 2, but maybe with time it can at least become a game that Fallout fans can be proud of. Now, about that bag . . .

Steven Porfiri
Steven Porfiri is a Merry-Go-Round contributor that grew up on the dusty streets of Bakersfield, California with nothing but a dream and horrible anxiety. He hasn't seen a movie from the current year since 2008 and hasn't played a new game since 2012. You should trust his opinions. You can also find him over at Hard Drive.

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