Fallout 76 might be one of the most disastrous game launches in recent history. And it didn’t seem like it would be either. When the game was unveiled, it seemed like a pretty solid idea. My friends and I had been hungry for a multiplayer Fallout game for years when it was announced.
But nothing could prepare us for what we were given. Even for a Bethesda game, and they typically are plagued with bugs, Fallout 76 was the worst case so far. The game didn’t just feel unfinished, it felt raw. Like some aborted fetus thrust out into the world far, FAR too soon.
You gotta understand that at the time Fallout 76 released, we had no idea how bad it would be. Fallout 4 wasn’t a good Fallout game, sure, but it was still a good game. It was fun and picturing something like that multiplayer wasn’t too bad. But then it came and nothing was ever the same again.
So in this review, we will talk about how the game was on launch, and how it plays now following the release of the free Wastelanders expansion. We will also discuss whether the game is worth paying for at this point or not.
Good Idea, Bad Execution
The idea behind Fallout 76 isn’t bad. The concept is to put players in the earliest time of the Fallout timeline thus far. Taking place in Appalachia, Fallout 76 puts you in the shoes of the first settlers to leave the vaults.
Fallout 76 gets its name from Vault 76, the place you begin. You wake up a bit late and find your overseer has disappeared. The game centers around following in your overseer’s footsteps and reclaim the world on “Reclamation day”. In short terms, your task is to rebuild and settle the post-apocalypse.
The main flaw behind this idea was obvious as soon as we started playing. Without NPCs, the game felt strangely empty. The idea was that players themselves would make up the new settlers and raiders of the world. However, the inherent flaw in that idea is that players aren’t NPCs by nature, and thus cannot fill the same role.
A Huge Improvement
It just didn’t feel like you were playing a Fallout game. So that’s obviously the biggest hole that Wastelanders fixes. By adding NPCs to the game, and a speech system, the game is instantly more recognizable as a Fallout game.
Most impressively, the speech system they added is even better than the one in Fallout 4. Rather than having four choices, you have a full list of dialogue options. And the dialogue system has complete skill checks as well. And surprisingly, a high Luck skill can be useful in conversations now, allowing you to guess what the truth is and be correct. It might be the best speech system since Fallout New Vegas.
And the writing is surprisingly funny and decent. Not at all what you would expect given how the game launched. Most of the quests used to be given to you via terminals, notes, and audio logs. So to have some actually good writing and actual NPCs to deliver quests to you changes up the game massively. I would say it borders on making the game actually feel like a proper game.
The main issue with Fallout 76 was the fact it didn’t make me want to keep playing. Due to the fact the story was so lacking and put in the background, the only thing you really had left was the settlement. And the settlement itself was insanely broken on release and still is. You’re given a camp which you can place, but you’re very restricted as to where you can place it.
It should preferably be on flat terrain and away from structures. The issue is that Appalachia isn’t flat. It’s probably the most vertical environment the game has had so far. Which makes finding a place for your camp very difficult.
And when you do find a camp, chances are you’ll lose the entire camp when you log off the server. So putting a lot of work into building a huge camp seems almost pointless when taken into account the fact it might be gone the next time you log on.
Usually, your best bet is to place a camp down to just have a few workbenches and access to your stash. Which itself has limited space. But since you’re not building anything substantial, it’s not a big deal if it disappears.
It’s time we discuss the elephant in the room. And that is monetization and microtransactions. Despite the game costing full price, and deluxe editions of the game demanding around $100 on release, the game has a storefront. While most of it is cosmetic, the whole storefront has always felt a bit scummy.
Charging people extra for content in a full-price game is pretty disgusting. And that’s not even taking into account the shady practices Bethesda has been doing. One prime example was seasonal items that were sold as being “on sale”, despite not being available offseason, and thus never had an actual full price.
But nothing about the storefront can compare to the utter betrayal that is Fallout 1st. Okay, so since launch players have been begging for private servers and unlimited stash space. The stash, by default, is limited to 800 items. Which may sound like a lot, but when you’ve played for a while, you’re going to find that isn’t a whole lot.
They have never really explained why the player stash is so limited. It may be a server sync thing, or the engine not dealing well with a lot of items. But then… Fallout 1st came around and just proved that yes, the stash CAN have unlimited space. But you have to pay for it.
And then comes the fact you have to pay a subscription for not only that but also private servers. And instead of, you know, giving players actual private servers, players are instead just renting server space. So essentially you’re not even given your own server. You’re paying Bethesda to play on an unpopulated server.
Fallout 1st is the biggest slap in the face to the community that has supported this game, small as it already was. It basically ended up causing a class war in-game since anyone buying a Fallout 1st subscription would get unique items to wear. And anyone seen wearing these items would instantly be targeted by players who didn’t have Fallout 1st.
In short, Fallout 1st is an absolute insult. They should not be charging a subscription for features that in any other MMO would be included with the game by default. This is a full-price game, it’s not free to play. So paying a subscription on top of that is just adding salt to the wound.
That being said, in my experience playing on private servers might be preferable if you don’t like dealing with random strangers. But I’ll leave it up to you if you think that’s worth $100 a year or not.
A huge bulk of Fallout 76 follows the traditional Fallout gameplay loop. If you’ve played any of the Bethesda Fallout games from Fallout 3 to Fallout 4, you should be familiar with it. This is the kind of game where the majority of it is spent exploring, killing enemies and looting. Since you need resources for everything from crafting to fixing your gear, looting becomes pretty much what you do most of the time.
You can also complete quests which are the biggest sources of XP rewards and good loot. Fallout 76 also has events happening that you can participate in. And even minor contributions are still rewarded, so there’s usually not much reason to not get involved unless you’re completely defenseless.
Fallout 76 is a pretty good game to play casually with friends while chatting about stuff. I’ve had the most fun just wandering around, exploring Appalachia, and looting locations with my friends. The game makes it very easy to create teams and find players to play with. And since the game has a small but dedicated community, most people you come across are typically friendly.
And even if someone isn’t, PVP actually requires some will to instigate. If someone shoots at you, you can only instigate PVP by shooting back at them. If they keep shooting at you without provocation or you retaliating, they are labeled a player killer and will have a bounty on them that the whole server can see. The game will thus punish players who play unfairly.
Kicking Ass And Chewing Gum
The SPECIAL system in Fallout 76 is pretty unique as well. It takes the form of collectible cards that come in random packs. Each card gives you a unique perk and if you have multiples of the same card, you can combine them to level up that perk to a stronger version. Each perk fits into a particular SPECIAL category like in Fallout 4.
But you can only have a limited number of perk cards. The perk cards’ total rating cannot be higher than the respective SPECIAL skill. So if you have Strength 2, you can either have 2 level 1 cards or 1 level 2 card.
Whenever you level up, you pick which SPECIAL skill to upgrade and also occasionally receive a pack of random cards. Complete with a bad joke that I don’t think anyone I know finds funny.
There are several problems with this system. For one, the fact you’re given random perks makes it impossible to pick a build to go for until you’ve gained a significant amount of card packs. You’re pretty much limited to random chance, so unlike Fallout 4 where you at least had the opportunity to plan ahead somewhat, in Fallout 76 that goes out the window right away.
The fact you also cannot allocate any SPECIAL points on character creation but instead level them up as you play means your character starts out frustratingly weak. So you spend a lot of the game just grinding levels to get more perks and level up your stats. If the game instead allowed you to get specific perks, it would’ve been a much better system in my opinion.
Fun, Until It Isn’t
There’s constantly stuff holding the game back from being truly fun in fact. A big example is vendor prices. For some reason, while in other games bottle caps were extremely easy to amass, they are extremely limited in Fallout 76. Not helped by the fact vendor prices are absurdly high even for basic supplies. So early on you’ll find yourself scrounging for caps.
You also have the fact that stuff is a lot heavier than in other games. Stimpaks for instance used to not take up any weight in Fallout 4, yet in Fallout 76 they take up a whole unit of weight. So you find yourself over-encumbered just because you’re carrying too many Stimpaks. Which, to remind you, is what you need to heal during combat.
And you also have the fact that most cosmetic items are hidden behind the paywall that is the Atomic Shop, the game’s storefront. So there is a huge lack of clothing items to find in the game. You can’t loot clothes off corpses easily like in earlier games, and crafting now requires plans and recipes to learn before you can even make something.
It makes everything feel really tedious for no other reason than wasting your time more. Instead, they should have had plans and recipes for legendary stuff or unique stuff, and basic stuff and upgrades should’ve been available to players who had the correct ingredients.
And vendor prices shouldn’t be something that holds players back from using the vendors. When you actively avoid using a game feature because the game is so stingy, it makes the game a lot less fun. And the amount of loot also tends to be on the extremely minuscule side, with a lot of corpses and containers often being completely empty.
Fallout 76 has become infamous for the absolute unfinished state it’s been in for well over a year. And even now after the release of Wastelanders, the game still has a ton of bugs and still feels like the jankiest game Bethesda has ever released. It’s insane how a game in this state can be sold for full price.
During my playthrough I’ve come across pretty much every major bug you could think of. I have lost gear permanently, had my body malformed, seen buildings floating above the ground. And that’s only the minor stuff.
I’ve talked to vendors that crash the game, used crafting tables that crash the game, taken a wrong turn somewhere and it has crashed the game. I have even found legendary items and then crashed the game for NO GOOD REASON! This is the most fundamentally broken game I’ve played in a long time. It’s been absolutely rage-inducing. And even a year later, MOST OF IT IS STILL NOT FIXED!
It’s common to call games undercooked or unpolished. Fallout 76 isn’t even that. It’s beyond broken. And even the devs admitted that trying to get a multiplayer game working within the engine they were using for Fallout 4 was an enormous challenge. Hey geniuses, maybe you should’ve stopped when you realized you were using a Bethesda engine that was already held together by cheap duct tape and Todd Howard’s wonder glue?
Fallout 76 is also remarkably ugly. A lot of the game has this plastic sheen to everything that you also saw in Fallout 4. Character models look like they were made out of clay, and environments tend to look like they’re crafted from plastic.
The only saving grace is the environments that in the right lighting can look pretty damn good. And it is nice to see a Fallout game with some actual color in it and not just a bunch of tinting like in earlier games. But even the lighting can glitch out at times, causing huge issues like sunlight going through roofs, or light flickering on the ground for no apparent reason.
I also noticed females in this game are extremely flat-chested. I know a lot of games tend to get a bit unrealistic with female proportions, but what you end up with is every female and male in the game having pretty much identical bodies. There isn’t enough variation in the body types to really give a broad spectrum. It makes me sorely miss the CBBE mod from Fallout 4.
I do enjoy the fact you can alter your appearance anywhere in the game though. So altering yourself no longer requires a special NPC or caps.
And the game also suffers from poor optimization with stuttering and framerate drops even with lower settings. This is a typical problem with Bethesda games, and this game has it much worse than Fallout 4 even which itself was notorious for it.
The Sound Of Fallout
The game at least succeeds in one place. The sound design is pretty good. Voice actors also do a fairly decent job at delivery, especially during the new Wastelanders missions.
The music is pretty good too. The music selection has a much broader range of songs, with some country music in there to expand it beyond the jazz and rock’n’roll that we’ve seen so far. Stuff like Beach Boys is even on the soundtrack, giving it a more varied feel compared to earlier games.
The weapon sounds are also decent, with each weapon sounding like it should. The weapons even feel decently powerful. And the sound design, in general, is spot on. So props for that.
Close, But No Cigar
Fallout 76 is getting there with the Wastelanders expansion. It gets the game so close to being actually good. The game is still held back by so many things though. So even if the new dialogue system and NPC quests make the game a lot more enjoyable, it’s still hard to recommend this game.
Fallout 76 is fundamentally a misguided attempt at getting into the “games as a service” market. It is painfully obvious that Bethesda pushed the game out the door so they could monetize it and have a cash cow. They even sold merchandise that was nothing like how they marketed it, souring Bethesda’s reputation and customer relations. Fallout 1st is even further proof that Bethesda sees the game as nothing but an opportunity to milk money from the small player base they have.
And the fact they are now adding NPCs to the game is further proof of how rushed the game was. They could easily have waited another year and released the game in this state. Sure, it would still be broken, but it would be a lot closer to what people wanted from the game. And it wouldn’t have soured their reputation as much with consumers who couldn’t even get a refund when they bought a product that was sold as a full game but ended up being a public alpha release.
But hey. For what it’s worth, Fallout 76 at least isn’t a bad game anymore. It’s just okay now. Which is far better than what we had a year ago.
Thanks to my friend Kira for providing some screenshots.
Fallout 76: Wastelanders
Fallout 76: Wastelanders makes Fallout 76 a mediocre game with moments of brilliance. The game, however, is still suffering from being held back by monetization, restrictive gameplay elements, and an abundance of bugs, some of which crash the game.
- Well written dialogue
- Dialogue system that makes great use of specific skills
- Great game for casual sessions
- Incentivizes co-op
- Numerous bugs and glitches that can crash the game and make you lose progress
- Frequent disconnections and server issues
- Restrictive gameplay mechanics
- Blatant monetization in a full priced product
- Private servers and unlimited stash space locked behind subscription
- Ugly graphics and a lot of reused assets from Fallout 4
- Resources are limited, which makes looting not worth it in a lot of cases.