Fallout 76 takes the popular post-apocalyptic role-playing game series and places it in an online world.
Like their Elder Scrolls series, Bethesda’s Fallout games carry the hallmark of quality single-player narrative adventures. The player is the hero, the game world revolves around and exists only to service the player’s story.
Take a game online and suddenly your hero is surrounded by other characters, jumping, dancing and running about like lunatics. It all, somewhat, breaks the atmosphere.
There’s also no pausing, the world keeps on going, even though you’ve just disappeared to the toilet. That Super-Mutant that was just out of view when you called toilet-break will continue to bear down on you and attack you even though you are still washing your hands.
Those of us that don’t have the time to form online friendships or form a group to go exploring together for hours don’t really suit the usual massively multiplayer online gaming model.
Where it not for the success (and excellence) of The Elder Scrolls Online, I would question the viability of turning such a rich single-player focused game franchise into a multiplayer game.
Bethesda though, do things a bit differently. With their first foray into the persistent online gaming business, with The Elder Scrolls Online, they managed to craft a game as happy with players wanting to go it alone as it is with them playing together.
Fallout 76 is exactly the same in that regard.
Whilst Fallout 76 has been developed by Bethesda Game Studios (the team that designed the recent Fallout games and Skyrim) and The Elder Scrolls Online developed by Bethesda subsidiary, Zenimax Online Studios, it’s clear that they share notes.
The game starts on Reclamation Day, twenty-five years after the nuclear war that ravaged the Earth. Players are citizens of Vault 76, the brightest and the best, charged with re-populating the post-apocalyptic West Virginia.
This positions the game as a prequel to the previous games, in world yet to adjust to the ravages of nuclear holocaust. This also make the world a bit emptier that in previous games. Fallout 76 is more about survival and crafting than story. More player verses environment than against human NPCs.
Players are faced with an interesting and surprisingly lush landscape considering the bombs when off only twenty-five years ago. It’s a far cry from the charred landscape of the previous Fallout games.
Bethesda really want players to carve out their own stories, at the expense of any meaningful narrative in the game. The complete absence of people, other than your fellow Vault 76 survivors, makes for a lonely adventure.
Having been released from a nuclear bunker that’s all you’ve known for most of your life, would you really carry out tasks based on instructions for people who could, in truth, be long dead? Having a plot propelled by audio recordings and messages doesn’t really do it for me.
The visuals seem to have been given a shot in the arm since Fallout 4, but the absence of other humans means that you don’t see many unintentionally fugly faces- I’m looking at you Skyrim, Fallout 4 and every other Bethesda game.
If you like exploring, gathering loot, crafting, shooting robots, zombies and mutants you are in for a treat. If you want purpose and a riveting narrative that holds your hand, you not going to get it with Fallout 76.
The online nature of the game means that the V.A.T.S. targeting system, one of the pillars of the recent Fallout games, is shamefully nurtured. Instead of exciting, slow-mo, RPG-like combat, it just highlights a body part and phew, phew, phew.
It’s clear that Bethesda have spent a lot of time crafting the game, but I expect a lot better from them. With the inclusion of micro-transactions, Bethesda have managed to even outdo their previous low-point of Skyrim’s infamous premium DLC horse armour and managed to cheapen the Fallout franchise as well.
It’s a shame as, apart from asking for real cash, the Ultimate Team-style trading card-based S.P.E.C.I.A.L. perks system is a fun idea. Using a variety of different attribute-based cards players can fine-tune their character according to their play-style.
Fallout 76 is big on crafting. From your portable camp on one of the many workbenches out in the world you can break down objects that you find and turn them into useful items. You also need to boil you water and you can cook your food.
Fans of survival games such as Arc Survival, Age of Conan and even Minecraft will be familiar with the need to craft all your stuff. Thankfully, Fallout 76 doesn’t feature the grind of some of its peers, but you may still find yourself searching for that illusive ingredient.
I find the general idea of Fallout 76 interesting, being the first wave of survivors in a post-apocalyptic world. Playing it certainly reminded me of how much I love Fallout 4, but this isn’t Fallout 4, even though I really wish it was.
Regardless of how I feel Fallout 76 should be, it was nice to return to the Fallout universe. The 50s art-deco inspired alternate future has been well realised in the game. The ironic, smart Fallout humour is all there. The game certainly fits with the other games in the series.
As we saw with The Elder Scrolls Online, Bethesda are in for the long haul. Whilst at the moment to the game is OK, I wouldn’t be surprised if the veteran developer is pulling out all the stops to make Fallout 76 the game that it deserves to be.
Taking the game at face value, as it is right now, if you’ve not played a Fallout game before, play Fallout 4, instead. If you enjoyed Fallout 4, you’ll like this, not as much, but you’ll like it. It just deserves to be a better game than it is.