DISCLAIMER: If you are only interested in a verdict of the game, please jump to the last summary paragraph.
It's November 14. Fallout 76 was launched way earlier than most folks anticipated, for certain regions. I was able to get right into it at around 5:30pm on November 13 on the US East Coast and was able to play it all night - I think someone at Bethesda dropped the ball on when the game would actually be available to play. I was actually building up some anticipation towards playing the game all night, as I work in a big-box retail store now and was watching folks come by to pick up Fallout 76 game packages throughout the day. Now that I've gotten to playing it fully, without fear of the game being shut down due to the ludicrous (and honestly, poorly-planned) B.E.T.A. and I'm ready to give some sort of an honest first-impressions look at the game.
It's, frankly, a game that one would only enjoy if they prefer exploration and playing with friends. That's not a surprise, though, right? Bethesda had been marketing this game towards that type of demographic. We all knew what it was going to be from the start. The main story questline isn't really all that intuitive (and you have to find breadcrumb trails rather than having the quests be given to you). The game's major focus is developing your own stories by yourself, and with your friends - and the wasteland of the mountainous Appalachia provides plenty of ground for one to do so.
Yet there's a ton of backlash against the game for being exactly what it was advertised as. I suppose, looking at the criticism, it's more the principle that Fallout 76 kind of destroys the foundations of what makes a Fallout game and became its own thing.
I don't understand why that's such a bad thing, though.
I have my own personal criticisms of Fallout 4. I felt like the inclusion of a fully-voiced protagonist ruined what was otherwise a good game by stripping away its elements of choice and player personality, railroading players into being one of two people - a paragon of virtue, or a sarcastic asshole that helps everyone anyway. They thankfully did away with all of that in Fallout 76 by taking away the need for player interaction with NPCs - you now interact with other players, former residents of Vault 76 (or whatever you might want to do once you've built your character up enough) who went out into the wide world to try and reestablish some form of society. The bombs have long been dropped, it's been over thirty years. The world is empty, and desolate. Vault 76 is one of the first vaults to open following the Great War. Their job is to rebuild a broken world. The only NPC interaction that exists is done through the various robots floating around, and through the discovery of holo-tapes and letters peppered throughout the setting. Those who survived the bombs while not being in the vaults, themselves, have slowly been dying out. It falls to the inhabitants of Vault 76 to pick up the pieces.
This, frankly, makes complete and logical sense for a multiplayer Fallout game to take hold, because it falls on you to create the world around you, yourself. It's the same deal with games like Rust and Conan Exiles - in fact, it's more like Conan Exiles, where you're an exiled warrior sent into a desolate wasteland to build your own life.
Personal opinions aside, how is the game? Well, honestly, it isn't as bad as a lot of folks say it is. I only played the BETA once for a few hours so I had some expectations going into the game, proper. Rather than continuing my character progress from the beta, however, I decided to create a new one as I felt as though I could have made certain choices better with a fresh play through.
On release, the exclusion of a push-to-talk mode for voice communications is, frankly, one of the more damning things about the game. I have run into situations where folks would be playing with excessive background noises that we, frankly, shouldn't hear (I think I even ran into one who was watching porn on full blast - whether that was just them taking advantage of the system in an attempt to ruin others' immersions remains to be seen). This doesn't necessarily break the game as most would have you believe, but it's seriously worrying that Bethesda would exclude something as important as that for a multiplayer game.
PC settings are pretty much the same as they have been for the PC platform when it comes to Bethesda and their engine. I'm honestly hoping they develop something new from the ground up for the next generation of Elder Scrolls and Fallout games, and that's all I really want to say on the matter.
It handles as well as Fallout 4 did, but feels a little bit more weird now that we're worrying about netcode. The biggest change is the VATS system. Accuracy percentages are still taken into consideration, but it doesn't slow down the combat (or stop it entirely, as in Fallout 3 and New Vegas). The more out in the open, or the closer, an enemy is the better. Each time VATS is used, it drains your AP (Action Points). This kind of does make up for the fact that sometimes shots are still so incredibly RNG-based - I've had multiple instances where my crosshairs were directly placed on a target, but shooting at them causes me to miss. Can't even remotely explain it.
There's plenty to explore, and plenty to build from - and that's a big, important factor in this game. The building system from Fallout 4 makes a return. It's a bit more intuitive than it was, but whatever issues you might have had with Fallout 4's building system makes a return here. Crafting is a bit better this time around as weapons and armor can be built from scratch, and modifications to each can be obtained from scrapping them from random loot. The only issue that I have with this is that earning mods from scrapping items is heavily RNG-based - I'm still struggling to try and find a proper stock for my hunting rifle. Compared to Fallout 4 I'm thoroughly enjoying crafting way more than I thought I would.
Leveling also sees a massive change with the Perk Cards system. Rather than choosing perks when you level a-la Fallout 4, you choose a stat to increase per level and then you choose a perk card to add to that stat if you have it. If you have multiple cards of the same Perk, you can use those to increase its tier - increasing its tier increases the amount of points it takes up when you assign it to a stat. Your stat number determines how many points of these Perk Cards you can allot. Frankly, I think this system is a lot better than Fallout 4, because it allows you full and complete customization of your character, to build them as you see fit by choosing what perks you want to slot in rather than having all of the perks at your fingertips. There are many different unique perk cards that you can get throughout the game, and by level 55 you have just about all of them anyway - all that's left is the matter of choosing which perk cards would best suit your character and how you want to play them.
So far, from what I've seen, enemies are not scaled to your level. There are many different locations I've run into so far where enemies that I outleveled considerably, but as you progress further out into the map you'll run into newer enemies, or higher-leveled versions of the Scorched, Super Mutants, Feral Ghouls, and certain mutated animals. As you get further along in the story (or if you travel out far enough) you'll end up running into a deadly Scorchbeast or two, which I've yet to personally encounter. Yeah, enemy variation in this game in the early levels is pretty spotty, but I can't really have too much judgement on it as I've not gotten very far, myself.
The biggest threats to your existence will, of course, be other players but after experimenting with the PvP system Bethesda has basically made sure that players who want to play solo, can continue playing solo without a whole lot of fear. Damage to players is reduced until they retaliate against you, at which point PvP is fully enabled and only the best shot wins. Then, of course, you can group up with your friends, or just complete events with randoms without inviting them to groups (everyone participating earns rewards regardless of their contributions, which is a bit of an oversight). There's also a Pacifist mode you can enable again after hitting Level 5 to make sure you're nevered attacked by another player. Once a player gains enough notoriety (by killing other players consecutively) they become Wanted, which provides a bonus Caps reward for the player who kills them.
The story itself...Well, there's not much to say from the time I've played it. You follow a breadcrumb trail left by your Overseer. You pick up different side quests in the various locations you walk into. You continue following the trail. Frankly I'm not far enough into the game to make a proper determination on how the story is - maybe I'll update this article when I feel confident enough to be able to do so.
Bugs galore; it's not a Bethesda game without some serious bugs - and honestly, the same bugs that existed in the engine since Fallout 4 are still prevalent here, only some of them might have actually ended up to be worse. Enemy NPCs T-Pose to establish their dominance frequently, whether they're still alive or dead. Ragdoll physics still get a little wonky. The engine was hard-locked to a maximum of 60 frames per second because it just simply breaks if it goes any higher than that - a disappointing fact of the engine, but one that's...manageable, I guess? Don't try to unlock your frames through altering settings, as all that is handled client-side and will absolutely break your game.
So what are my final thoughts on the game? Well, it's not as complicated as you might think - it's a game that's marketed towards a specific demographic, and that's those who enjoy survival sandbox games. If you don't enjoy sandbox survival games that you can play with your friends, then you won't really enjoy this. Sure, there's plenty to do by yourself - you'll be able to run around this massive world finding loot wherever you go in true Bestheda Fallout fashion - but the game's enjoyment is amplified with the inclusion of having friends to play with - that's just a matter of fact. Social butterflies will find great enjoyment out of this as Bethesda has included tools to help you get more friends, and play with others, better - but that isn't to say that was their focus. Bugs aside, I'm still having a lot of fun with this game.
I'm not going to tell you to just go out and buy it yourself to see how it is because that would be grossly anti-consumer, but I'm hoping that this unbiased looked at the game will help sway opinions to get more people into it. It's a fun, decent game with plenty to do even if there's no story. It's a new Fallout. It's an experiment. Look at it as its own thing rather than a Fallout game and I guarantee you'll find greater enjoyment out of it. If you can be creative enough to try and make your own story out of it, then I can promise you'll have a lot more fun out of this entry into the series than most folks would have you believe.
Verdict: Fallout 76 isn't a game for everyone, but it's pretty accessible for what it is. Count on having friends to play with if running around solo gets too boring for you. Combat is not much better than Fallout 4, but it's not any worse, either. Crafting saw stellar improvements by allowing players to craft weapons and armor from scratch, and unlocking mods through breaking down items found in the world is a decent change. Story isn't much to write home about. World is vast, varied. Variety of enemies to fight against aside from other players. Multiplayer is a bit iffy but I've never felt alone in an empty world. It's a fun game if you're interested in what it has to offer.