Fallout 76 has been out for over a year now. Before it was released, I played it during the beta period. During that week-long play “test” I determined that there was no conceivable improvement that they could make that would render the game worth the purchase price and service cost. This past weekend has been a “free” weekend — during which I played the game again. That opinion has not changed.
Fallout 76 was in a state that should have prevented it’s release when it was released. Bethesda took a lot on the chin for that, and, at least partially, has owned that. The fact that Fallout 76 still soldiers on perplexes me a little. There must be at least a few people who enjoy it, I suppose. That-all-said, playing it this weekend … I think I encountered 2 … maybe 3 people… not what I look for in a multiplayer experience.
At this point, Fallout 76 has released their update with people… other people, that is NPC people… in the game. Does this improve the game. In short, “no.”
Bethesda’s PASS is No Longer Valid
Many little things are wrong with Fallout 76. Still. You can still get stuck on little bits of terrain (especially in a firefight). It still takes ages to go between the “world” and an indoor “private” space. Interactions with NPCs are still freakishly awkward (doubly so now that some of them have faces).
For many of it’s titles, Bethesda got a “pass” from gamers. The games they produced were so over-the-top complex that some bugs were expected. A strong modding community often fixed many of the bugs by themselves (<insert game name>-unofficial-patch). This is not an excuse, but an example of how truly the community loved the games.
No Replay Value
One thing that struck me as I was playing was the utter lack of replay value. One large portion of the value proposition of a Bethesda game is that I’d be playing it 10 or 15 years later — and what the incredible community of modders would have come up with by then.
The good games… the really good games … like Oblivion and Half Life are more like tech demos of what’s possible than games. From their sandboxes come all kinds of things. Contributions from the community … to the community. This has an outsized value that compensates for the bugginess of the games Bethesda releases.
There is no such compensation in Fallout 76. In fact, when it becomes unprofitable to run the Fallout 76 servers, there will be no more Fallout 76. I would use this moment to point out that new content was released this year for Half Life. Think about that.
Not Really Caring is the Problem
Both in my original play test and in this weekend’s play test, not really caring is an issue. It’s difficult to press on when you don’t care. If a game is “not fun” then why am I playing it (even for free)?
The waking up in the vault hasn’t changed. It’s somewhat disappointing to me. Yes, it guides you to tables of things you need and provides a couple of data dumps on terminals, but there seems to be tonnes of loot … almost too much to carry out … but none of it that you can take.
Immediately after leaving the vault, now you meet the first two “new” NPCs. They think there is some “treasure” in the vault (in fact, considering the piles of junk in the vault, there really is “treasure” … but…). They’re from out of state. After you just tell them that there’s nothing, they relent and “offer” (in the most clunky data-dump way possible) to tell you things.
While that introduction to NPCs isn’t great by any measure, it goes downhill from there. As short jog later, we find “The Wayward” which introduces our first quest with NPCs — to deal with other bothersome NPCs at the lumber mill. Now, I’m starting to care less about this review, never mind Fallout 76, so I won’t go into great detail about this quest, except that it’s optional parts involve a speech quest that you couldn’t possibly pass at this level and/or a monster that is easily 3 or 4 times your level. And then an obvious solution (you find a recording with a password) doesn’t lead to a dialog option to use the password to gain access to the area.
… and so another death and another long walk back.
What is this Game, Anyways
Why is Fallout 76 an online multiplayer game, anyways. At best, it’s a game to play with friends … like Borderlands or the new Just Cause. There is literally no justification for it being an online-server game. Can thousands of people occupy the same server? No. Does the economy of the game require large numbers of people? No. In fact that would break it.
When you look at massive online game design … and I’m talking about the EVE’s or the WOW’s… you have a game design that is massively multiplayer from the get-go. Other online humans are not rare and the reasons to fight them are not uncommon. Would EVE work as a non-online game? No. Not even close. Would WOW? Well… not like it is, for sure. It would be more like a Bethesda game.
Part of my thesis in this section is that like any other “engineering” decision, there are tradeoffs to being massively online. An online game is necessarily more grindy (especially at the lower levels) than an offline one — you need this to have a sane economy. In Fallout 76, you can see this in the fact that vendors sell you back items at 40x the value that they buy them (not say 2x or 1.5x).
Another staple of online games is encounters that require a group. Fallout 76 seems to try this every so often, but it also fails hard. It wants to say that you can do this on your own. This statement is in conflict with the need for group activities. This might not be so hard if there were dozens of players queuing up around tough encounters, but this is not my experience (on a weekend when lots of new people should be attempting these level 1 quests).
In the end, I would advise Bethesda to look at the “Borderlands” model — mutiplayer local servers with matchmaking. They can even save on running servers as “Steam” will happily do that for them.
I’m not buying it. I’m not even that interested in trying to maximize my weekend playing time. Primary complaints are:
- It shouldn’t be an online game:
- The economy is very grindy
- There aren’t enough people
- The game is still not designed to be an online game
- It’s still seriously buggy
- The writing is still bad (even for Bethesda’s standards)