Fallout 76 is a lonely place. Emerging from your vault, two decades after nuclear war has devastated the Earth, your task to reclaim the ashes of what’s left is an inglorious one. There is no one to celebrate your toil, no one to commemorate you as a hero. Bethesda’s prequel to its Fallout series has taken the increasingly popular route of the online multiplayer – the irony is just how isolating an experience that can be.
Each map hosts a maximum of 24 people, which means chance encounters with other settlers are a rarity. Even with several hours invested both into the game and its beta release, I crossed paths with a handful of them at most, and all were friendly. Most of the time, you just give eachother a wave using the game’s emote system and carry on your merry way. PvP does exist, but no one seemed interested, since there’s not a huge amount to be gained from it outside of a little extra loot.
Plus, combat only works when both players agree to it, with a hefty wanted badge slapped on your character if you kill someone who didn’t retaliate. It’s a great idea to help prevent the harassment of players (otherwise known as griefing), but it also makes PvP seem like more effort than it’s worth.
Furthermore, because you have to complete each quest individually, even if you’re working together as a team, there’s not a huge amount of encouragement from Fallout 76 to actually take advantage of the multiplayer system, either by bringing in friends or trying to team up with strangers. I, quite simply, didn’t feel the need to do so in the end. And I imagine a lot of players will be in a similar position.
Although solo questing has its difficulties – it’s easy to find yourself outnumbered and overwhelmed by hordes of enemies many levels above you – it’s entirely feasible.
That is, if you’re not bothered by all the isolation. The most controversial decision of Fallout 76 is the complete lack of NPCs, with the only humans you’ll encounter being other players. It, arguably, fits the post-apocalypse theme perfectly and makes for an occasionally haunting, oppressive playing experience.
But, on the downside, it dramatically impacts the flow of its storytelling, as every direction and narrative beat must be delivered by tape, radio signal, computer, or robot. You’re robbed of dialogue trees or moral choices, and of the feeling like you have any real, discernable impact on the world you’ve entered into.
Elsewhere, Fallout 76 is very much a copy of its predecessor, Fallout 4; albeit a copy that’s swapped the dreary, endless wastelands of Massachusetts for a verdant West Virginian landscape. It’s worth the occasional pause in your travels to take it all in, especially as the sun starts to pierce the through the fog, and you see how far the region’s rolling hills really stretch. It’s an undeniably beautiful game, reminding you this is, after all, the same publisher that produced Skyrim.
The mechanics of Fallout 4 are improved upon in some ways, devalued in others. The VATS system, which used to pause the game and allow you to target certain body parts on enemies, is now essentially useless. Without the ability to slow time in a multiplayer game, all VATS offers is a one-off hit based on a wildly alternating percentage.
When it comes to the widely discussed bugs, I may have been quite lucky. Playing on PS4, I was largely saved from any absurdity, outside of a few buildings failing to load and some enemies with bizarre patterns of movement. More frustrating were the regular dips in framerate, combined with random freezes and complete crashes, the latter resulting in lost progress.
On the brighter side, the perk cards are a major improvement, making it much easier to decide on the priorities for your character. You can choose to develop lethal melee skills or simply lighten the load you’re carrying. The C.A.M.P. – or Construction and Assembly Mobile Platform – is very similar in design to Fallout 4’s settlements, but smoothes the process by giving you your own personal base you can set up anywhere on the map and move with ease.
I also, admittedly, quite enjoyed the new emphasis on survival mechanics, thanks to the introduction of both a thirst and hunger bar, if only as a way to aid in the post-apocalyptic immersion. The only major issue is that it divides your inventory between your survival essentials and your armoury.
Combine that with the junk you’re driven to collect for crafting purposes, and you’ll constantly be dealing with being over encumbered. It’s a frustrating issue that can often leave you feeling discouraged from exploring the ruins and searching for new loot.
Playing Fallout 76, as a fan of the Fallout series, forces you into a small conflict of self. You’re left to weigh its bugs, its disappointments, and its frustrations against the steady promise this vast, beautiful landscape holds over you. It’s not bad enough to move you to put the controller down, and I already know that I’ll continue to play it and explore its possibilities, but there are moments when your duty to rebuild society feels a little more like a task than a glorious adventure.
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