Fallout 76 – The First 15
Trying to review a game like Fallout 76, especially this close to launch, is almost impossible. Online games such as this change on an almost daily basis and quite often, just like a fine wine, they need to settle before consumption. So instead of a traditional review, I felt the best approach was to give something of a running journal of my time with the game so far and how I am currently feeling about this departure from the normal Fallout we all know and love.
Initially, I had a rough time of it. My first few hours or so with the game was marred by a couple of hard crashes and a frame rate the made the game look like a stop-motion production. Playing on the One X, frame rate issues especially shouldn’t be a problem, after all it isn’t like a Fallout game is going to win any awards for how it looks. In fact, 12 hours or so in, I am still having issues with both framerate and crashes. They aren’t as frequent as the first day, but there is no escaping that they are there. It feels like the game is probably a couple of patches from where it should be. Like I said these are my experiences on the Xbox, but I hear that the PC and PS4 versions are having similar issues.
Technical challenges aside, I am enjoying this new style of Fallout experience… I think. You see there is something immensely appealing about this playground that Bethesda have created, starting with the setting. West Virginia is not exactly a well-known location here in Australia so exploring this version of it feels like something fresh and exciting. New countryside, new locations and new factions are all present and discovering all of these is a joy. There is a real difference in the architecture that is immediately apparent and it is clear that Bethesda has done more than reuse textures from the previous titles (something I think Fallout 4 was guilty of on occasion), they have truly thought about the location and its unique features.
The real puzzler I have with the game so far is that the game is based around this concept of community play, yet at the same time it feels like an immensely lonely experience. It is a strange dichotomy to have in a game such as this, but there is no denying it is there. I think that it predominantly comes from Bethesda’s choice to remove human NPCs from the game. This, despite clever use of recordings, robots and environmental storytelling, gives the game a real “last man on earth” feel. Which I really dig, it creates a sense that the world is one big mystery, just waiting for me to unravel it.
But then that illusion is shattered when a group of power armour wearing lunatics come raging around the corner, shooting up the place like a scene from a Spaghetti Western. It is jarring, especially when, for so many hours I have felt like the lone survivor of the apocalypse. Once that shock to the system is worn off, I often find myself joining the crowd of rowdies and having a blast doing so. Team communication is great within the game and so far I have found the community to be blissfully free of douchebags. From my time, there is a real sense of “we are in this together” which is wonderful, because that is so very rarely the case in the online world.
So while I appreciate both the solo and social sides to the game there is some disconnect between the two, something that just feels a little off to me. It is hard to explain it and hard to pinpoint exactly what could be done to smooth the transition between the two, but it is undeniable that there is a break in the flow there. At times the game feels like an online survival title like Conan Exiles or SCUM and at others, it feels like a more traditional RPG but it never seems to wholly decide what it wants to be and that lack of direction hurts it a little.
One thing that I have found early on is that the questing is fantastic. When I started the game I was given my first quest, to find the Overseer of Vault 76, but it wasn’t long before my quest log was filling up in a wonderfully natural way. Paying attention to the environment is key to starting new quest chains. Noticing something slightly odd and investigating, peeking into a computer system or simply exploring a particular building can lead to a new, multi-stage mission to distract from the main questline. For example, I noticed a body slumped over a railing, upon investigation I found a note about mysteries and a tattered veil. This discovery leads to joining a new faction, multiple questlines and a whole bunch of nice rewards. I can’t help but think how easy it would have been to miss that one clue, the lady slumped in a weird position, and never get the chance to experience this part of the game. It also makes me wonder exactly how much I may have missed already and marvel at the potential this game has for those that explore every nook and cranny.
I am now at level 15 and these are just my early thoughts and I can’t deny that they are mixed. That said, I am keen to keep going because I feel like this game has a lot to offer and that the early teething tech issues will be sorted out soon enough. Stay tuned for my follow up feelings in a week or so and in the meantime you can check out Fallout 76 in action in a special episode of Player 2 Plays.