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Fallout 76’s Identity Issue

The Fallout 76 B.E.T.A. concluded this weekend, and players got to spend quite a bit of time with it. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what Bethesda’s multiplayer spin-off is meant to be. It feels like it’s trying to be everything at once, but it ends up being lackluster in every regard. Fallout 76 is a game that’s full of potential, potential that is ultimately stretched way too thin among the game’s core pillars.

Fallout 76 takes a traditionally single-player narrative-focused RPG series and attempts to transform it into a multiplayer survival game. While this isn’t an inherently negative change, it does make the game suffer because it won’t commit to the idea fully. The storytelling, quest design, and world suffer at the hands of the multiplayer component, and the multiplayer doesn’t reach its full potential because the game still tries to somewhat resemble a traditional Fallout game. The result is a game that is sorely lacking in direction and one that I find myself losing motivation to play.

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In a core Fallout entry, the player is typically given a reason to leave the Vault and brave the unknown wasteland. Fallout 3 tasked the player with finding their father, New Vegas saw players tracking down their would-be killer, and Fallout 4 asked players to find their son. Fallout 76 follows in the footsteps of its predecessors by having the player – or players in this case – locate the Overseer of Vault 76. The problem with that is that there’s no real rush to find her. She’s dead. So is everyone else. And that’s the central problem with Fallout 76’s brand of storytelling.

Fallout 76 has no human NPCs. The only other living people you’ll come across are other players. What would be a colorful cast of characters and companions in any other Fallout game are rotting corpses in Fallout 76, and because this is a Bethesda game, every corpse has a holotape or a note next to it. You leave the Vault and head to the Overseer’s initial camp. Holotape. You’re directed to sign up for the Responders, a group of survivors dedicated to helping those affected by the bombs in a nearby town. Terminal. Your next quest is to find missing people listed in the terminal directory. They’re all dead, and each one has, you guessed it, a holotape. You get a quest marker sending you to the airport. Holotape and Terminal. The tape guides you in the direction of the fire station. Terminal. This how all the quests play out in Fallout 76. You’re sent to find someone. They’re dead. Listen to a recording. Quest complete.

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This wouldn’t be a problem if the tapes were actually interesting. All but a few of 76’s holotapes drag, but there are a few standouts. I found myself on the roof of a church and noticed a skeleton at what appeared to be a lookout post with a holotape on a table nearby. I put the tape in my Pip-Boy and what followed was a surprisingly heavy audio log.

“My name is Colonel, and I’m 13 years old.
I just wanted to say I’m sorry. I’m sorry for everything… um… the bombs and the messed up people and the cows with two heads. All of it.”

This poor boy went on for almost five minutes apologizing for his misdeeds.

“I was bad… just bad. I cheated on my spelling test, I kicked Chip Wilkins in the shins until he cried, I pushed Rosie McCloy down the stairs…”

The voice acting was stellar and I found myself getting absorbed in this boy’s story, even though I knew how it ended. I felt for him and I looked out at the desolate, abandoned town, realizing that every skeleton, every scorched body frozen in place due to the nuclear blast, was a human being once.

“And um… I just wanted to say I’m sorry about everything… because my dad said if I wasn’t this way that bad things wouldn’t happen…”

This poor kid blamed himself for the nuclear apocalypse. His dad was nowhere to be found either, presumably because he was lost to the blast, and the boy begs for him to come back. Listening to that tape was an unexpectedly solemn experience in an otherwise silly game, but the mood was quickly ruined before I even finished the tape. My friends were asking me where to find certain materials or how to craft certain weapons, people in jumpsuits and party hats were jumping on tables and emoting in the streets below, I couldn’t focus on the story I was being told. It was like trying to watch a serious scene in a TV show only to have your living room filled with a bunch of people messing around. Unfortunately, most of Fallout 76’s holotapes are not as interesting as Colonel’s story, and they’re usually a lot longer. The Overseer’s logs, which you’ll run into as you progress through the main questline, are upwards of 10 minutes each, and they’re just boring. I felt no connection to her and I felt in no rush to find her, even if she was alive, and I already knew she wasn’t because of the whole “No human NPCs” thing. Any chance this game had of telling a compelling story is gone because of immersion breaking moments like these.

Technically the game is a mess. Fallout 76 uses a heavily modified version of the Creation Engine, the very same engine Bethesda has been using for their open-world RPGs for over a decade at this point. It was buggy and broken for single-player games, so for a multiplayer game like Fallout 76, it’s even worse. I know the game is in beta, but this is really just a server stress test because it’s only open for certain times and it’s the full game with progress carrying over to next week’s release. Don’t let anyone fool you, this is practically the full release, and it’s unacceptable for a game to be releasing in this technical state in 2018. Framerate rarely stays at the target 30 FPS. Performance is not great, even on a PlayStation 4 Pro. The game has beautiful art direction but graphically it’s still basically Fallout 4, which didn’t look too hot on its release 3 years ago. Load times are atrocious and my game crashed on me multiple times. Enemies have spawned in the floor, in walls, didn’t have their animations load, attacked me while T-posing, and more. The base building system is buggy and doesn’t work like it should sometimes (no Bethesda, this wall isn’t floating it’s clearly attached to the foundation just let me place it down PLEASE), and sometimes textures just don’t load. An entire river was missing one time. Like the whole river. I could see below the map. I stared down into the abyss, and believe me, it stared right back.

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Fallout 76’s gameplay fares better, but not by much. Playing with a group is a blast. Shooting, looting, and exploring are all a great time if you’ve got friends coming out of the Vault with you. West Virginia’s locations and creatures are all incredibly interesting. My friends and I found a ropes course that we spent upwards of an hour trying to complete. In the end, I was the only one able to clear it, and I was rewarded with supplies, a Vault-Tec bobblehead, and bragging rights. Later we found ourselves in a dark, dank mine, flooded with both water and radiation. One of my party members popped a Rad-X and swam through a secret passage where they found some rare weapons. We spent hours searching for the elusive Mothman and even had a spooky run in with the elusive Flatwoods Monster. After spending so much time with the B.E.T.A., we had reached a high enough level to start using power armor, and hunting for missing pieces and components alongside the search for better weapons while also keeping ourselves fed and hydrated provided a satisfying enough gameplay loop to keep us entertained for hours. Playing solo isn’t as fun, but there’s still some enjoyment to be had. At least then you can enjoy the holotapes in peace.

Multiplayer isn’t perfect, though. Thanks to the incredibly weak narrative offerings of Fallout 76, my group often found ourselves wondering why we were doing what we were doing. Sure, we had a a main questline to work our way through and a bunch of side quests, but we all knew how they would play out. At the end of every quest was a corpse and a note, and none of us cared particularly enough to find them. PvP is also not as much of a focus as Bethesda initially implied. You don’t do full damage to other players unless they fight back, so it’s nearly impossible to kill someone unless it’s a mutual engagement. My group of three found a solo player without much armor and half health remaining, so we jumped him, firing at him with our best weapons. He got away. Think Borderlands duels as opposed to The Division’s Dark Zone. Even if you do kill someone, they spawn nearby anyway, and they can choose to get revenge on you, spawning them in PvP mode so they can get the jump on you. The reward for revenge is small, something like 5-10 caps, and if they do get you, you can do the same, trapping you both in an endless cycle of pointless PvP. Defending workshops is where PvP is meant to go down, but the resources provided by these workshops can be acquired elsewhere. PvP doesn’t have much meaning overall.

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Because of all this, Fallout 76 is in a weird spot. I do want to play more, but I don’t know if I’ll be putting as much time into this as I would another Fallout game, which is strange considering this is a multiplayer title designed to be a time sink. As someone who really enjoys Fallout’s narratives, I don’t see myself caring that much about the story Fallout 76 is trying to tell. The gameplay doesn’t hold up that well either, being lifted directly from Fallout 4, which had dated shooting even back in 2015. It’s fun with friends, but even then I can see my interest waning quickly. The only truly compelling thing about Fallout 76 is finding new gear to take on new monsters and craft new things, but for what purpose? There’s only so many times I can kill the Grafton Monster and get a leather left leg with some mods on it before it gets old. The game is still in beta and some people are already getting tired of it. With other, stronger multiplayer offerings out there like Fortnite, Black Ops 4, and the upcoming Red Dead Online, I don’t see Fallout 76 having much longevity after its release. It wants to keep its single player roots while fully embracing online connectivity. It’s just a shame the game suffers for that exact reason.

Have you been enjoying Fallout 76 so far? Be sure to let us know down below, and keep it here at Circle Square Games for all things Fallout.

 

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