Fallout 76 is an online-only exploration and survival role playing shooter game quite unlike any other. This spin-off title was developed by BattleCry Studios (which was folded into Bethesda Game Studios in March 2018), and while the release has been marred by various controversies surrounding leaks, the game’s launch, and the handling of customer relations, this review will seek to discuss the actual game itself after an extensive amount of gameplay and deep dive on what this live experience has to offer for those who are still interested in playing.
This is my first 76 hours reviewed with the majority of game time spent on versions 1.01 (launch version after day-one patch) and version 1.02 as well as some time spent seeing the improvements and changes that came from the version 1.03 update. Subsequent articles will cover evaluating future changes to the game. For more on that, head over to our Fallout 76 Section and catch the latest. Now that we’ve got that out the vault, on to our full review.
STORY / CHARACTERS
The Fallout series is set in an alternate timeline where tech advancements occurred without the invention of the semi-conductor and the United States secretly masters Nuclear Fusion. Because of the way that tech advanced in this version of the world, many machines are highly advanced yet lack the benefit of modern electronics and appear bulky as well as overly mechanical-based. Fallout 76 takes place after a worldwide nuclear disaster called The Great War which mainly saw the United States (alongside Canada, which was taken over as part of USA during the war) and China face off in the ultimate conflict nearly ending all civilization.
A shadowy super-corporation with perhaps more secrets than even the most corrupt governments, called Vault-Tec, is responsible for deep underground bases housing the final survivors of mankind (although many were subject to terrible experiments once trapped within the vaults that were promised to keep them safe from the outside apocalypse). In Fallout 76, players experience the world after nuclear war as one of the very first vaults that wasn’t a social experiments (Vault 76) opens up and they embark on Reclamation Day, a day for reclaiming West Virginia.
However, upon leaving Vault 76 players discover that not all is well in West Virginia. While following the path of the overseer of Vault 76 and listening to HoloTapes left behind by her, you will learn about the people who lived in the wasteland while you were in the vault. Since the game takes place only 25 years after the war (during the year 2102) the overseer’s discovery of conditions in America is drastic and research commences immediately on how to combat the various threats facing humanity. Many of these aspects will already be well known by players of this game series, but there is also a threat that hasn’t existed before in other Fallout titles, Scorched.
The Scorched are a new faction of enemies which were once human but developed a strange disease that seems to take control over them while leaving much of their biology as still human. The player will discover a way to inoculate themselves against the disease and can usually make short work of any Scorched combatants, finding more difficulty against Mole Men, Super Mutants, Mirelurk Queens, Wendigos, and Deathclaws, but there’s a bigger issue with the Scorched… they are being controlled by a higher intelligence!
Scorchbeasts and Scorchbeast Queens are incredibly powerful enemies which blast radiation every time they flap their wings, launch energy attacks, and have deadly physical abilities as well. In this early version of the game they serve as end-game boss enemies although their role will likely shift as expansions are released for Fallout 76. The ultimate end-goal for dealing with this new threat is decided upon reluctantly by the overseer who instructs players with her last wishes, to activate the remaining nukes in West Virginia for use against the Scorched plague. However, this backfires and instead spawns a massive amount of extremely high-level monsters in an incredibly high radiation area where only well equipped players can survive and will be rewarded for running raids through great loot.
There are also a great number of side stories told in Fallout 76 through the existence of robotic A.I. units, some of which appearing to house a human intelligence from passed on raiders, survivors, and scientists, while others are totally robotic. Beyond that, snooping around terminals and finding notes as well as HoloTapes will lead to a great understanding of many events taking place in the recent past leading up to Fallout 76’s timeline. Hours upon hours of story exist in this game, in fact this game has story everywhere. It’s surprisingly compelling, though not without its critics, and does well to give the game meaning and purpose for players enjoying the gameplay.
Heading out to the wasteland is exciting as so many opportunities await. There’s a massive open world map full of areas which each hold their own histories, missions, enemies, and loot. Players set up their own C.A.M.P. (Construction and Assembly Mobile Platform) wherever they want and after setting up some defenses will be able to use workbenches, farm, and produce purified water in them as well as access their stash to store loot. Gathering resources out in the world and discovering new points of interest then returning to camp (or paying to move it) is one of the core gameplay loops and satisfies a particularly addicting itch that only Fallout can scratch.
Special weapons and armor are found in addition to an extensive crafting system. Power Armor can be found all over the place but different attachments can be more or less rare as well as require certain levels to be used. Fusion Cores are also required to power the armor, and if you’re thinking about heading into a recently nuked area you better have plenty! Weapons can be assigned to hotkeys on a weapon wheel system as well as grenades, throwing knives, mines, and even chems / food items, or Bobbleheads (which are consumable in Fallout 76 rather than collectible, providing 1 hour bonuses to a particular trait or attribute).
Stimpaks are much more rare in this game but not to the point of insanity. They can be diluted with a 50% mix of Purified Water to provide weaker shots that can be used more often in the heat of battle without wastage. Healing Salves and many food items will also restore health but only the Stimpak supply is mapped to a hotkey (on the right arrow of the d-pad for PS4) for quick action use during battle. Beyond this, players must also eat food and drink water or risk reduction in health generation, action points regeneration, etc. although the system is not too harsh and easy to contend with.
Perk Cards are equipped and unequipped based on the situation and the amount of perk cards that can be used in any given skill depend on the points in that skill. These can also be upgraded. So for example a character with Level 5 Strength could equip one rank 3 perk and two rank 1 perks or switch the two lower level cards out for a rank 2 perk at any given time. Perk Card packs are also given through some level ups but every level up is guaranteed one new perk card in the skill of your choice (which you also add 1 point to), up until level 50 at which the character continues to level up but may choose between a new perk card or re-assignment of a skill point.
One major point of contention for a lot of players is the limitation on how powerful one player can be. This is by design as Fallout 76 is intended to be a game in which players co-operate and survive together. No one player will have enough skills or inventory space to own everything, be good at everything, etc. so instead players will need to choose their favorite weapons, level up their skills in their preferred play-styles, and give away, sell, or toss things they don’t really need. This actually causes each character to have more identity and meaning as well as reduces a lot of the aimless actions a lot of previous titles contained, which didn’t really lead anywhere.
Some improvements made to the game in recent patches include upgraded stash capacity, the ability to change a S.P.E.C.I.A.L. point (Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, Luck) or obtain a new Perk Card for each level up after level 50, and the upcoming addition of a Bulldozer to remove natural obstructions from the area of a camp which sometimes get in the way of building. The game contains many glitches which can sometimes lead to items being lost, AI malfunctioning, frame rate performance taking a nose dive momentarily, or freezes and crashes requiring application or system reboots.
The currency of the game is once again caps, with atoms being a cosmetic-only microtransaction currency that is awarded through daily challenges, weekly challenges, character challenges, and other various achievements such as leveling up or playing for an extended amount of time. So far, none of the items being offered by this system affect the game itself other than for aesthetic purposes, but it is possible that could change in the future. Fast travel costs caps but players can team up with others and fast travel to them for free as well as their own camps and the camps of teammates. This encourages exploration and the risk / reward system of hauling loot around.
Player versus player is limited to consensual battles for the most part. At the point of death at the end of an agreed upon duel, players will choose whether to help a player back up or end their life. Rogues can still take out another player through dealing light damage to an unwilling participant until they die. In either scenario completely killing a player and taking their loot will result in a bounty which is paid from the caps of the player when killed by another. There are also bounties issued for lock-picking a container or device that another player owns, which isn’t always apparent right away so be careful out there. However, death is not as major in Fallout 76 as in past games since the only items dropped are Junk materials used to craft with. No longer needing to worry about saving and loading the game constantly is a very gratifying improvement as well.
GRAPHICS / FRAME RATE PERFORMANCE
Visually the game has a totally new color pallet and benefits from higher quality enemy animations. Pixel density will look a little bit better in 1080P but most may not notice the improvement. Playing in 4K is another story. The game takes full advantage of the powerful Xbox One X and PlayStation 4 Pro’s ability to render better looking gameplay. Unfortunately issues still exist with the Creation Engine preventing any amazing frame rate from being achieved, and there will be an annoying amount of hitches and hiccups as objects load in the background and frame rates drop drastically. This is nothing game-breaking but certainly beyond many folks’ tolerance levels. Just because the game is very enjoyable for the right type of player doesn’t make this acceptable by any means, and although patches have been proven by Digital Foundry to improve the performance of problem areas in the game, issues still persist in this area.
This is the area where Fallout 76 shines. There are so many interesting stories, items, and other people to play around with in this exploration-heavy game with great crafting and combat aspects to it. The variety of enemies has never been so well done in a Fallout game. There is something to say about the craving to keep jumping back into the game for more. Multiple characters could even be made if you manage to max out the possibilities of one play-through before expansions are added to the game, with another player acting as the middle man to help you mule items between the two. Launching nukes and commencing high level raids is very gratifying. Discovering missile installments to battle Scorchbeasts was a nice surprise as well. The game just seems to constantly throw new things at you to experiment with and collect, forcing you to choose what really matters the most to your character and giving them life. I can see myself playing this game for a long time to come and look forward to reporting on its evolution as time goes on.
While many players are approaching this game with all of the wrong attitudes, it’s not single player, it’s not dialogue-choice based, instead I applaud Bethesda for taking a chance on experimenting with something new. This title is the perfect mix of survival open world online gaming with tried and true gameplay design set in a universe we already know and love. While it’s still ever evolving, and has the gaming community so widely divided, I can’t think of a score to give this game. However, I must say that while it may not be for everyone, there are a lot of merits to enjoying Fallout 76 in 2018.
It is likely that the future holds more improvements, expansions, and a greater acceptance from Fallout fans as time goes on. Much like with The Elder Scrolls Online, this game is an experiment in how to evolve the Bethesda formula which provides endless hours of fun gaming for those who can appreciate it for what it is.