Fallout 76: Still Not Worth It

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Bethesda’s PASS is No Longer Valid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.

Conclusion

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)
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