There's always that giddy feeling when you jump into a new Fallout game. The introduction is usually one of the most exciting parts. Seeing life in a normal vault in Fallout 3, experiencing the moments right before the bombs dropped in Fallout 4, these moments captivate me. By contrast, Fallout 76's introduction feels uninteresting and uninspired, much like the rest of the game.
You start out by waking up in Vault 76 and creating your character. This plays out similarly to Fallout 4, which just so happened to have the best character creator in the series. The rest of the introduction is dull, empty and devoid of life. You'll pick up a quest from the Overseer who wants you to go to their campsite in the wilderness of West Virginia. Then, you'll take a walk through your vault, picking up various items to help you survive, and out you go. There's no buildup, and there's nothing to excite you about the journey you're about to take.
I should mention that my time with Fallout 76 so far has been as a lone wanderer. Even so, you eventually encounter players on your journies. One would think that a multiplayer Fallout would focus on player interaction. In lieu of human NPCs, Fallout 76 has 23 players and you on a map. I suspect Bethesda thought that players would provide said human interaction, but everyone I've come across either had no interest in helping me, or stuck around for a few minutes and then went on their way.
Not a single person seemed aggressive towards me, and I didn't intend on fighting them either. One problem with this system? It almost forces you to be a good guy in a world gone bad. The only way to initiate PVP is to shoot a player, and for them to reciprocate. If they don't shoot back, it's nigh impossible to kill them because of how little damage you do to innocent players. You have to tune into the Hunted/Hunted radio station and hope other players are doing the same, so it acts like matchmaking. The thing is, no one wants to do PVP, as there's no real incentive or reward.
Bethesda's efforts at creating a beautiful world were about as unsuccessful as their attempts to encourage player interaction. The huge, empty world splits into six zones, each one as ugly as the next. I had high hopes that there would have some sort of graphical improvements over its predecessor. Even Todd Howard boasted about beautiful Appalachia at the Bethesda E3 Conference. The first zone, The Forest, features trees and shrubs with dated textures, and bland, cut-and-paste rural areas and some larger towns. Games that came out half a decade ago look better than this.
Other areas, like the Toxic Valley, are truly an eyesore. I can't understand how a game could look so bad in 2018. At first, the graphics appear as though they're trying to render the whole time. Soon, I realized that this is how it's supposed to look. There were times when Fallout 76 did struggle to render zones, so you can understand my confusion.
Not only is it ugly, but it's the least optimized console game I've ever played by far. I did play on a base Xbox One, but after playing Red Dead Redemption 2 without any issues, Fallout 76 has no valid excuse to run as it does. Less than an hour after leaving the Vault, I hit a larger town with plenty of buildings and ghouls crawling everywhere. The frame rate dipped almost constantly and the areas around me struggled to render. This not only had an impact on my sanity but the entire experience as a whole.
I'll admit that I did enjoy exploring in Fallout 76. Like other Fallout games, there's plenty of unique locations that tell stories without relying on living NPCs. In the golden-tipped Charleston Capital Building, the governor's lectern has the words "lie" painted on it. Wavy Willard's Water Park in The Toxic Valley is a drained water park with a lazy river and even a giant crocodile slide. Bethesda's "show, don't tell" attitude towards crafting their world pays off again.
Then there's the combat. I enjoyed Fallout 4's combat. Gunplay in 76 is similar if a bit clunkier and slower. I think the lag and frame rate is to blame, and it's especially terrible in environments with lots of buildings and droves of enemies. Luckily, I enjoy the variation in weapons. The hunting rifle has always been a favorite of mine, and it's been my best friend throughout my Fallout 76 playthrough. It's accurate and does a lot of damage, although the accuracy is contingent on if you're experiencing the crippling lag or not. You'll likely find your favorite weapon type from past entries in Fallout 76 alongside some new inclusions like black powder weapons.
Melee is useful in this entry since you're reliant on conserving ammo due to the focus on survival. The problem, at least for me, lies with hit detection. I'd swing my spiked baseball bat and expect a hit on the enemy, but it wouldn't happen. It was like trying to whack at ghouls with a twig rather than a proper baseball bat. I'd have to rely on VATS most of the time if I really wanted to assure I hit the target.
VATS comes with changes. VATS doesn't slow down time at all due to the online nature of Fallout 76. You have to be quick to choose limbs as enemies move and hit percentages constantly change. While I understand that it's impossible to slow down time in an online game, the mechanic just feels wrong. Choosing different targets in VATS makes you vulnerable, and picking specific limbs doesn't seem worth it since everything dies relatively quickly. Tougher enemies are usually bigger, so you shouldn't have a problem targeting them without the aid of VATS, thereby rendering it useless.
The enemy AI is another incredibly annoying issue in Fallout 76. You have the typical ghouls, super mutants and mutated beasts. Then there're the Scorched, which are humanoid, ghoul-like enemies afflicted with a terrible disease. It seemed to me like they act as replacements for raiders, as they are always aggressive and come armed with guns and melee weapons. I found that no matter who you were fighting, the AI is dumb as rocks.
I sometimes see Scorched standing still in the middle of a hallway with their back towards me. This all while their friends shoot at me. One time, I even found a ghoul in a t-pose that wouldn't move until I attacked it. Most annoying of all was whenever I walk into a building, it seems like every single enemy in the area runs at me all at once. I sat in a room for a solid five minutes hitting ghouls with my trusty spiked bat while they continued to pool into the room. When you explore a building after experiencing waves of enemies, you might encounter a few stragglers, but they're completely empty most of the time.
Even more disappointing are the cryptids. There are various monsters that take inspiration from West Virginia folklore, like the Mothman or the Grafton Monster. I've encountered this eyeless, hunched beast called a snallygaster. I was able to hop on top of a destroyed building and plink away its health with no harm done to me while the AI shuffled confusingly around the perimeter.
At this point, it would seem I've forgotten about quests. That would be ironic since the quests are just that - forgettable. The main quest is about as uninteresting as Skyrim's bear pelt collecting. You follow the adventures of Vault 76's Overseer, who you conveniently never see and only know of her through the holotapes she leaves behind. You then start a journey to collect those tapes and listen to uninteresting stories of life before the bombs dropped.
Another quest had me join a group called The Fire Breathers. I took a few tests on a terminal and ran a short distance between checkpoints before finally heading into a Scorched-infested mine. The only interaction was through terminals and robots, and it was hard for me to even care about them at all. I would never interact with any actual members of this group, so why should I be invested? At least there's a narratively convenient excuse to explain why West Virginia has a population of capable robots. From what I gather, a voting measure passed which completely automated the area. The town of Grafton even has a robot mayor.
Despite what it may seem, I don't outright hate Fallout 76. In fact, each time I jumped in, I was looking forward to what I might find next. This is in part due to the world design, which might be ugly, but as I mentioned earlier, it has no shortage of interesting areas. I also enjoyed building my own camp.
You can design your own little base, almost exactly like you could in Fallout 4. I think that this game is perfect for it since you're on your own. You don't have settlements you can live in because there is no established civilization, so you have to make your own safe space. You can place your Construction and Assembly Mobile Platform (C.A.M.P.) almost anywhere, so you can make your own little slice of heaven. The building pieces snapped together easily enough, and there were plenty of options. Unfortunately, there are so many schematics to unlock before you can create a real masterpiece. For the time being, I made a raised shack with a bed and storage for all my unneeded loot. I look forward to expanding my small building into a post-apocalyptic mansion.
Your base becomes especially useful when considering the survival mechanics. In Fallout 76, there is a thirst and hunger meter that constantly diminishes as you play. If you don't hydrate or feed yourself, you receive negative effects like decreased health. By creating a water purifier or somewhere to cook at camp, you can stock up for your journey. Otherwise, you'll have to rely on scavenging the ruins of Appalachia. The survival mechanics add some variation to gameplay in an otherwise dull game.
Another survival mechanic to think about is radiation. Sometimes you become so irradiated that you contract a mutation. These can have gameplay-changing effects like increasing your speed at the expense of increased thirst and hunger. I actually liked this inclusion, because it shows that while you have to watch how much radiation you have, it might not be bad to mess around with it and get a possible good side-effect.
Something else I enjoyed every time I booted up Fallout 76 was the prospect of getting more loot. I'll admit, I'm a loot junkie who loves getting new weapons and gear. The first time I found a power armor frame, I was giddy as a school girl to try it out. I'm now gradually finding more pieces to complete my set, and I'm excited at the thought of getting a full suit. Guns with new mods attached or an increase in damage were something I enjoyed seeing in previous titles, and this is no different.
Lastly, I think the progression is a nice take on the series. You level up like any other Fallout game, and the SPECIAL system still remains. The thing that is different is choosing perks. This time around, you'll have perk cards, which you gain from every level up and every so often you get a booster pack of perk cards.
These cards might increase your melee damage, or have drinks quench your thirst 25 percent more than it regularly would. You get to choose how you play and build the way you like. Making your selection of cards randomized adds to my excitement, especially since there are so many to see. Perk cards can even upgrade up to three stars, the weakest being one star. You'll start out with cards with one star. As you get duplicates, you can combine them and make them stronger. You still get the feeling that you're getting more powerful as you level up.
Bethesda could have easily tied perk cards to microtransactions, but thankfully the only microtransactions are cosmetic. I don't mind this practice as long as it's purely cosmetic and it's a free game. However, they're charging $60 for outfits that should be standard. At least you can earn the currency in-game, but that doesn't excuse the fact that they're trying to monetize this broken game even more.
In Fallout lore, ghouls are hideous husks of their former selves. Mutated beyond recognition due to radiation, these shambling messes have a horrible, ugly appearance. They can't operate like their old bodies used to because of decay and irradiation. Yet, there is still a small ounce of what they once were within them. Fallout 76 is a feral ghoul.
TechRaptor reviewed Fallout 76 on Xbox One with a copy purchased by the reviewer. The game is also available on PlayStation 4 and PC via Bethesda.net
Fallout 76 is a total mess. It's filled with bugs, terrible AI and ugly graphics. Worst of all, it feels like there's a good game deep down in there, but it's limited by technical faults. Still, there's some fun to be had if you like the Fallout setting or progression.
- Interesting Setting and Locations
- Plenty of Loot to be Had
- Perk Cards are a Good Fit
- Dated and Ugly Graphics
- Terrible AI and Bugs Galore
- No Incentive for PVP or Player Interaction
- Lack of Human NPCs Creates a Lifeless world
- Uninteresting, Uninspired Quests