Fallout 76, the online multiplayer action role-playing game by Bethesda Game Studios, came out a little over two weeks ago, and it’s not what most fans were expecting, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
76 is the first in the Fallout franchise to be adapted into an online setting, taking place only 25 years after the bombs dropped in the Fallout universe. This story takes place in Appalachia, which is the post-nuclear area of West Virginia, and you are a member of Vault 76, whose task it is to help rebuild and create a future for America.
Emerging from the vault on “Reclamation Day”, your first step is to follow in the footsteps of the overseer of Vault 76, tracking her across Appalachia, going from empty town to empty town (maybe not so much empty as full of a variety of enemies), only to find her holotapes and a small ration of supplies to keep you going. Through the holotapes, you learn that Appalachia wasn’t what anyone was expecting, and a prominent enemy group, known as the Scorched, has taken over a lot of the locations on the map. At best, the Scorched can be described as a more cohesive, intelligent group of ghouls that were once humans, banding together to attack anything unlike them. As you travel to each location, the overseer uncovers a little more about the plague that inflicts the Scorched. Your mission then becomes clear, and that is that tackling the Scorched and the infamous Scorchbeast problem might mean utilising the same nuclear weapons that created the creatures.
While having some sort of storyline to guide players through Appalachia, the game feels very lonely at times, as each quest leads you to a dead end, a dead body, or leaves you with only whispers of the past, when you’re supposed to be “building a future”. Loneliness certainly isn’t an entirely new concept to the Fallout franchise; it’s inevitable that you’re going to feel lonely, when most of the world’s inhabitants are trying to kill you, and you aren’t always sure with NPCs you can trust, but it’s a different kind of loneliness in 76. The lack of NPCs in the game, and the abundance of robot characters, creates a sort of underwhelming experience, unlike the single-player Fallout games, which thrive on character interactions. In my experience, most other players, who are the only “humans” you interact with in the game, often want to be left to their own devices.
Every so often, though, I found a few other online players who wanted to divulge from this style of playing, to help conquer some of the many events that pop up across the completely colourised map (which happens to be one of my favourite features of the game). A lot of the events seem to best be accomplished when working with other players on the map. I walked into an empty location, and the event called “The Path to Enlightenment” began. The task was to kill 50 fireflies, in order to harvest and use their bioluminescent fluid to light the lighthouse, and the event is timed. Knowing there was no way I’d be able to complete this task by myself, I started to wander off, until I saw two other players approach. Without talking to one another, we kept killing the fireflies until we hit the 50 mark, and summoned the “Wise Mothman”, a docile creature. Using the game’s “photo mode” feature, we all took a group picture with Mothman, and went on our way. It was a small moment in my play-through of the game, but it definitely brought the sense of community that I believe Bethesda was trying to build when creating an online Fallout game.
The game is also rife with survival tactics, making it a little more difficult to freely travel through Appalachia. You’re constantly having to make sure you have enough water and food to travel around, and caps are hard to come by, which makes it hard to buy stimpaks and other healing meds. Early on, I found I was having a hard time staying alive, as someone who likes to play alone, because I was trying to do quests, while constantly running out of ammo, stimpaks, and patience. On top of this, gun and armour maintenance are incredibly important to pay attention to (I learned this the hard way with my short hunting rifle and a hoard of ghouls). I decided to take my time, collecting water, avoiding combat situations, picking up every piece of junk I could find, but that amount of attentiveness can be boring, especially when there are events and quests to do, and places to explore, which are almost always crawling with enemies.
As someone that likes to play alone, and someone who enjoys the single-player Fallout games, this game can both reward and punish this. I’m a fan of the S.P.E.C.I.A.L perk card system, which allows you to choose perk cards and put them under a particular S.P.E.C.I.A.L category (strength, perception, endurance, charisma, intelligence, agility, and luck), and some of these cards, like the Lone Wanderer card which lets players take ten percent less damage and gain ten percent AP regeneration when adventuring alone, help players who prefer no company when playing the game. On the other hand, I felt a lot of the events, especially the timed ones, that players can participate in were overwhelming if done alone. A lot of the areas I’ve tried to enter and explore felt very overrun with enemies, like Feral Ghouls, Scorched, or even Mole Miners, which are a new enemy in 76. Taking things slower, and utilising stealth has helped this problem, but for the more dangerous, higher-level areas, it can be hard if you’re playing solo.
Exploration has always been my favorite aspect of the Fallout franchise though, and with a game that has no NPCs to talk to, I think Fallout 76 does a great job in keeping the area alive through the hidden holotapes, terminal entries, and notes that you can pick up. I think a lot of the story, which is definitely lacking in 76, is told through these items that you find, which help piece together what was happening before the bombs dropped. I especially like the incorporation of West Virginia folklore, including the Wendigo, which you can find holotapes about while going through Uncanny Caverns, in the Savage Divide. In this instance, I recall just how spooky it felt stealthily wandering through these caverns while listening to a radio serial about the origins of the Wendigo, while looking out for enemies. This aspect is very prevalent in Fallout 76, and it has to be, because there is no one left alive to tell these stories, but it helps to ease the loneliness that the game inevitably creates.
76 has also run pretty smooth (I’ve been playing on Xbox One), with only a handful of server crashes in the last two weeks I’ve been playing. There were a few times that the lag made the game unplayable, especially in areas that had a lot of enemy movement (Word to the wise: do not lead a level 62 Albino Deathclaw to the robots at The Whitespring Resort). Apart from these small issues, stability of the game has been fine for me. One complaint I do have, that other players seem to share, is that the amount your stash box can hold (400 units) seems low, especially when you want to collect junk pieces for armour/weapon/C.A.M.P upgrades, or even stow away higher level weapons/armour pieces you can’t use yet. Speaking of the C.A.M.P, I shared an issue that other players seemed to have, where my C.A.M.P would disappear when entering into the world. I mostly used mine for quick, accessible crafting/cooking stations, but it was still frustrating having to find a new location and set up again. Both of these issues, though, were addressed by Bethesda in a post on Reddit, and will be resolved in future patches of the game.
To summarize, Fallout 76 can be a lot of fun, but that can mean having to be very patient at times, because the game can also be very frustrating, and sometimes even lonely. It’s not like former games of the Fallout franchise, and it’s not supposed to be either. 76 is something almost entirely new, so it’s understandable that fans, including myself, might be having a difficult time adapting to the online setting. The story seems vague and incomplete without present characters helping to push it along, but the holotapes, hidden terminal entries, and notes scattered across Appalachia help to make up for at least a portion of it. It can be a hard game to play on your own, even with the added perks you can apply to your character, but it certainly isn’t impossible either.
The premise of this game is the quest to rebuild America, starting in Appalachia, and it felt like this critical aspect fell short. Sure, it’s realised soon after leaving the vault that the world isn’t as it was expected to be, as you follow the overseer from location to location, but there isn’t a real feeling that you’re changing anything. Your mission to rebuild becomes more of a pipe dream the more you play. Fallout 76 isn’t a terrible game, but it doesn’t feel complete either. With that being said, I feel like down the line, with what Bethesda has planned for the game, 76 could be something different, and something more worth playing. For now, though, I can’t lie: I’ve been having fun.