First impressions of Fallout 76: The confusion that binds all gamers together

Its target audience is everybody and nobody, but it has enormous potential.

    
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When something looks familiar and seems familiar yet is slightly and significantly different, it can really break your stride and cause you to stumble. Going through the first week of Fallout 76 felt like this to me — I was stumbling all over the place, frustrated with a game that looked quite similar to previous Fallout titles yet operated under a different set of rules.

On the surface, Fallout 76 is the game that I, an MMO fan, have desired: an online Fallout with an ongoing, persistent world that offers unparalleled exploration and achievement. I also have to applaud a studio stepping outside of its comfort zone with this franchise and taking interesting risks. But the problem is that, at least initially, none of these risks seems to pay off and we’re left with a half-and-half experience that seems to be throwing everyone — MMO player, solo player, Fallout player — off of their respective games.

Late to the party

Fallout 76’s start may be one of the cheeriest that the series has ever seen. Gone is the grim wasteland and the harrowing escape to the vault; here is a happy celebration followed by survivors racing out into a gorgeous mountain countryside to repopulate the world. The player character wakes up, somehow being left behind the rush of the group, and staggers out of the vault to find others, explore the world, and occasionally follow the main Overseer storyline.

My first problem is that in the desire to get players out in the same game space, Fallout 76 rushes the whole starting experience. The character creation is still staggeringly difficult to work with and make anything but horrible abominations. There are scant tutorials as you’re running through the vault on the way out (I botched my first perk card pick because I had no idea what was going on). And the initial thought that I had when I got outside was, “OK, so, what now?” I wasn’t tied to any strong narrative — heck, I didn’t even have a weapon.

I’ll admit that my second thought was that this might well be one of the most visually inviting Fallout worlds to date. That may be a good or a bad thing, depending on how grim and post-apocalypticy you like these kinds of games, but West Virginia in the fall is a great idea that takes us away from settings we’ve seen plenty of times before. I could envision spending hundreds of hours poking my way through the brush and between golden-leafed trees to discover what else lay in these woods.

Unfortunately, getting a handle on the core gameplay loop proved to be more problematic than in prior games. For starters, the menus are just trash for the PC user. Everything takes a step longer than it should, and there is no way that a game in 2018 should require me to hit “M” then “Z” then select another option just to exit the game. That’s right: The two-“Esc” standard isn’t present here.

And while navigating, exploring, and looting are pretty much the same fun that they were in Fallout 4, combat is a whole different ballgame. You see, the last three Fallout games featured a slowed down or stopped action when you activated your VATS in a fight. This allowed for a breather as you decided on moves, accessed healing items, and aimed for specific body parts. But since that can’t exist in a multiplayer environment, now everything is real-time and VATS only sort-of works as an auto-aiming system.

I found that sometimes there was so much visual information with the environment and clutter that singling out enemies and dealing with moving targets was taxing and not nearly as enjoyable as it was in other games. Perhaps if you’re more used to twitch-based gaming and shooters, it’s no big deal, but I was dying to super mutants because I couldn’t pause to use my stimpacks and slow down time to aim for headshots with my hunting rifle.

The human factor

Again, let me reiterate that I am a supporter of the idea of a massively multiplayer — or even persistently multiplayer — Fallout game. I think it’s a really good step for the series. But I’m shaking my head at this careless implementation that’s going on here. The human factor of having other people running around with you isn’t nearly the draw or the appeal that it should be.

For whatever reason — perhaps to shift the focus more on PvP — Bethesda eschewed any sort of zone or world text chat. Players from the start feel isolated from others because they are isolated, physically and socially. While they can see others on the map moving around (your PvPer’s target chart), players have to be in close proximity to engage in either emotes or (shudder) voice chat. Voice chat. Again, it’s like Bethesda only thinks with its consoles and remembers PCs as an afterthought.

This doesn’t work for so many reasons. There is no easy system to bring players together or facilitate conversation and coordination over long distances. There’s no community bonding going on unless you’re right up in someone’s face. There are people who hate, have no access to, or decline voice chat. And online structures like guilds are conspicuously absent here.

So — and excuse the all-caps text that is incoming here — WHY HAVE OTHER PLAYERS AT ALL? Especially when you’ve ditched human NPCs in favor of focusing on the human factor? As an MMO player, I feel like I have my hands tied behind my back when it comes to dealing with others. On the first day, I didn’t see anyone. On the second, a few of us ended up bumping to each other at a camp and we kind of stared each other down with our harrowing lumpy faces while one guy made the most awkward voice introduction that I’ve ever heard. All this made me want to do was run away from people, especially knowing that one might decide to gank me for my wood chips and flowers.

luls

Other complaints

While I see the muddled focus of the game as its primary issue, there are plenty of other problems plaguing Fallout 76. The inventory system is (thanks to the console format) abysmal to work with — and work with it you shall because you’ll be doing so much inventory maintenance in this game your eyes will cross.

The CAMP housing/base system is functional but very awkward and fiddly to build. I eventually gave up making any sort of shack and just put functional items around a campfire and called it a day. And that’s coming from someone who loves his player housing.

Then there’s the myriad of server and client issues — bugs, lag, crashes, the usual Bethesda parade of follies — that suggest this title needed a lot more time in the oven.

Hope emerges from the ruins

However, I do want to be fair here because I think it’s far too easy to bag on Fallout 76 and not acknowledge its virtues. And yes, it has some, and they do give me hope that there’s something worth salvaging here.

Bethesda is quite good at making virtual worlds that you want to explore, and with all of the territory that this game covers, I’m delighted to think of how many hours I can put into exploring every nook and cranny without growing bored. When I’m out simply exploring and looting and sight-seeing, the aforementioned problems often melt away and I’m left with a pretty fun experience.

I also think that a survival game route was a good course to take with Fallout 76. As a friend said, once you think of this title in the vein of ARK or H1Z1 (the MMO), it starts to click. A post-apocalyptic setting is perfect for challenging players to survive in harsh conditions.

The perk system — which now uses swappable cards — is vastly better than the terrible screen that Fallout 4 used. The retro-futuristic set pieces, the dark humor, the strange weapons, and the mutated enemies continue to be a delight. Add to that another fantastic score by Inon Zur, and it is hard to fault Fallout 76 for its environment.

A key question

I think that the key question for Fallout 76 is: Who was the target audience for this game? Is it for the console player or the PC gamer? Is it for the MMO fan or the survival aficionado? Is it for the PvPer or the base builder? Is it for the follower of the franchise or the fan of the online gaming genre?

The answer to all of these is about the same: I guess? Yes? Sort of? It’s indicative of the confusion that the studio has had to deal with ever since Fallout 76’s initial announcement earlier this year. If Bethesda couldn’t easily wrap up the game in an easy-to-understand soundbite, then chances are that it didn’t even fully understand what it wanted to do with this game and to whom it wanted to target.

At least that confusion seems to bind all us players together. No matter what you’re looking for in this game, chances are that some of it befuddles you while other parts amuse you. Fallout 76 is an explorer’s dream, with a game map that boggles the mind in its scope. It also mixes in more elements of survival games (with food and water as necessities), player housing (with the portable C.A.M.P.s), MMOs (with other players roaming about the world), PvP titles (with sort-of-but-not-completely-optional conflict and nuclear launches), and so on. But while I’m all for a diverse array of options and design elements, it doesn’t quite congeal in the way that I think Bethesda was hoping.

It very well may turn into an excellent game, given more development and attention. I think that it could, should the studio choose, be transformed into a fun MMO. But as it stands, Fallout 76 may be a little too off-putting to keep a mass crowd engaged for the long haul.

Massively Overpowered skips scored reviews; they’re outdated in a genre whose games evolve daily. Instead, our veteran reporters immerse themselves in MMOs to present their experiences as hands-on articles, impressions pieces, and previews of games yet to come. First impressions matter, but MMOs change, so why shouldn’t our opinions?

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IronSalamander8 .

Man this thing has been getting torn apart in every review I’ve seen and watching some videos on it, I see why. What on Earth were they thinking with this thing? Glad I was going to give it a pass anyway, but a couple of friends were thinking about getting it so I might have but then they waited and were glad they didn’t! One has been wanting to play a MP fallout game for years so he’s really disappointed.

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kalech

“I think that the key question for Fallout 76 is: Who was the target audience for this game? Is it for the console player or the PC gamer? Is it for the MMO fan or the survival aficionado? Is it for the PvPer or the base builder? Is it for the follower of the franchise or the fan of the online gaming genre?”

They straddle the fence so much that it’s an equally unsatisfying experience for everyone. No private servers for people who want to be alone. No pvp servers for people who want open pvp (and lets be honest, that’s a huge chunk of the survival playerbase). You can’t share workstations so its not for people who dislike making their own base. And its not for the base builder because when you log out, your base logs out with you and if someone else builds in that spot you have to relocate your base the next time you log in… Nearly impossible because of how fiddly the bases are with interacting with the ground.
The voice-chat only is not for people who dislike voice chat. And its not for people who want to be social, because it only works when you are right next to someone.
The survival aspect is not very good, nor is there enough story to satisfy a big fallout fan. And no mods (yet), so it can’t even be saved by the usual plethora of talented modders that normally come with Bethesda games.

Perhaps it appeals to the Explorer, although the game also runs quite badly fps-wise. Such a strange thing. I have no love for Bethesda, but I’m honestly very surprised. I generally think their games are kinda crap, but they’re better than this. They released it so soon after first announcing it, and only 2 weeks after “beta”. Why the rush? Surely they had the time to put in more work on this.

Bizarre. With a 60$ price tag as well. I never would’ve expected it to be this bad.

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Eric Dinosa

Great read, thanks for writing this. However:
Quote: “I also have to applaud a studio stepping outside of its comfort zone with this franchise and taking interesting risks.”

Well, ok, the genre might not be something that Bethesda is known for, so I am ok with the comfort zone. But what risk?
To me, from the get-go, this looked like the most unimaginative concept in a long time. Right now, we have SO many games from just that genre, with all those concepts and elements. Yes, there are variations, but how many survival, build a base, gather resources, team up sometimes kind of games have we had?
All that’s missing here is zombies and a full battle royale.

I feel that that market in particular is oversaturated, and even though Bethesda claimed “they had dreamed of this for years”, it felt like a cheap attempt to cash in on a currently popular genre by taking all these FO4 assets, removing NPCs and hoping all those people playing all the other survival base building explore gather resources type players would go “OMG, the same game I have played for 3 years with a FO theme to it!”

This feels pretty much just as unimaginative as the MGS survival game.

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Joe Seabreeze

I hope this isn’t the end of Fallout. The game is terrible! I feel like they’re going to lose a lot of fans because of this. Maybe fire the lead designers and key decision makers and hire some people over at Rockstar as consultants to teach them how to make a good game.

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Blake

I’ve had fun with the game, in bursts, and have had a lot of annoying moments as well. Justin laid out most of them — interface is horrid, voice-chat always on or off are you only options (off for me, after listening to someone screaming at their wife/kids (not sure) I turned it off), clunky client, stash issues, base building bugs, etc. — and even with them there does feel like there’s a good game hidden underneath the unfinished console based game they ported to PC.

However, I do wish I just held off and saved my money and revisited it six months from now when/if they fixed most of those issues. Heck I probably would have saved $20-30 and some headaches.

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Sean Barfoot

My problem with Fallout 4 was that it felt like it limited the ways you could interact with the world and the characters. I enjoyed the base building as a fun diversion, but almost every quest boiled down to visiting a location and clearing it of enemies. Sometimes you might also have to pick something up.

The idea of playing a Fallout game with even less motivation and interactivity doesn’t make we want to buy this at all. It sounds like it’s just walking around and shooting things, picking up loot till you can’t hold anymore.

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Alex Willis

The chat piece is super weird and I cannot imagine they won’t patch in a fix for this eventually. I am definitely one of those people who does not love to use voice chat — family life makes this very awkward (do not awaken Those Who Sleep) — so that part is kind of a deal-breaker for me.

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MikeInTheLab

No game is perfect for everyone.
The things i enjoy; Crafting! the way i need to be tactical in my combat, the exploration, the breadcrumb story quests that are also part tutorials.
Things i don’t enjoy; menu system, PvP, need more people around. Why IS there PvP? We’re all supposed to be from the same Vault with the same goals why are gonna be trying to kill each other? If there HAS to be PvP maybe it should be in certain areas or start at a level later than 5. Also, i wish they would put more people together in the world, there seems to be so few of players around. I don’t know how they configured their servers or the population limits but something seems off. There’s a lot to build on here and i am enjoying myself. I plan on sticking with the game and it gives me an urge to go back to Conan Exiles and do a few things differently and feel less frustrated when I’m not “progressing” how I’d like. I’ll likely make that jump when i feel bored with 76.

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xpsync

I don’t mind the pvp element and i’ve never been a fan of pvp.

What i like about it is,

first it’s so rare that anyone even bothers to try and pvp, it’s not out of control that’s good

second is that feeling of you never know if you’re going to be attacked or that brief moment you hear a gunshot, you’re hit, where that come from, is it another player, no pop up saying that, so you’re ok. Even during a battle on a rare occasion someone might come along and again, will they help or hinder, it’s always help but still you never know.

The worst pvp i had so far is i was crossing a field and i hear a gun go off and the ground impact near me, then again, and again but this one hits, i’m level 10 this guy was 33. Turns out he was only taking pot shots at me, and that was it.

I think most Fallout players enjoy the rarity you run into other players.

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Sorenthaz

If there HAS to be PvP maybe it should be in certain areas or start at a level later than 5.

I guess they wanted a basic morality concept in the game, since right now the only way to commit any sort of crime is to murder other players or steal from them (lockpick anything they locked, like water purifiers; can’t actually steal from stashes thankfully).

Also the plan from what I understand is that there will be structured PvP such as faction-based PvP. Supposedly one of the things datamined was a Civil War reenactment where it’s essentially a Team Deathmatch of players acting as the Union and Confederate.

Also there is a PvP opt-in radio station, but it requires at least 5 players to tune into the station,and then essentially it becomes like what Assassin’s Creed multiplayer did ages ago where you get a target to hunt down but you’re also the target of someone else at the same time.

Alyn
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Alyn

“I think that the key question for Fallout 76 is: Who was the target audience for this game? Is it for the console player or the PC gamer? Is it for the MMO fan or the survival aficionado? Is it for the PvPer or the base builder? Is it for the follower of the franchise or the fan of the online gaming genre?”

As Justin said here, what did the creators intend with this version of Fallout? As I recall, they weren’t even all that sure what to define the game as back when they first introduced it to the masses.

Could this be an example of a company rushing to get the product out before it has truly been tested and bugs corrected? I do not play but from the number of videos showing game play I am glad my curiosity didn’t get the best of me.

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Rolan Storm

That’s two different games we played. :D

Yeah, ESC putting you into map each time is vastly counter-intuitive. But that not ‘M’ then ‘Z’. TAB as cancelling key is not really genius move either. They clearly had consoles prior in mind. But keybind is possible – or so I hear.

You can bind anything to hotkey. Weapon. Stimpack. Food. No need to switch manually while you are eaten. Game combat pace is between generic shooter and simulator. You do not have to shoot target with rain of bullets, but you don’t one-shot anything either (at least at the beginning, later you start to kill things with one good shot). And vice versa: few things kill you with two strikes. Usually big, mean ones. You can see mile away what will happen to you if you attack.

Yeah, no global chat, only voice chat. Does not mean you cannot work with other players on events. Things are pretty simple when you get the same objectives.

24 people on the map are implied Vault 76 inhabitants. That’s it. You don’t want them – they don’t bother you much. PvP system is brilliant. Not only you can hunt down PKer once he showed his colors by killing someone – you can avoid him all you want. Any PKer is big red dot on map for everyone to see and snipe if need be.

This stash thing again. I don’t know, maybe prioritize? A bit? Seriously, why players take everything they see? And if it’s impossible to help yourself… well, decon. Decon and stash resources. Stashes boxes are frequent enough, travel once in a while to dump resources there. Also, stop collecting weapons. You don’t need so many and every time you decon worst simpliest pistol there is chance to learn improvement.

Target audience are sandbox crowd, people who don’t mind fighting but crafters at heart and explorers (this last part was really good for me personally). In case anyone thinks you just left alone (well, with 23 other loners exactly) in cold, harsh post-apocalyptic world: overseer main quest takes your hand and pulls you through whole thing there.

Don’t know why y’all hate this game so much. Maybe stop expecting this and that from it and just play it for what it is? It’s not really hard, just a bit glitchy (what game ain’t?) and if you like to explore environment, game system and gear (my favorite find was “invisibility” pauldron) – you’ll love it. Just be logical about your exploration: when you are level 5 50th level big mean bat is probably end of the road if you try to kill it.

hurbster
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hurbster

It’s just a mess of asset re-use and an engine that needs to be taken to the woodshed and not what a lot of people want from a game that has the name ‘Fallout’ on the title.

Also for a ‘AAA’ title to be released in this state is beyond a joke. I’m glad people are finally slamming Bethseda for this rather than giving them the usual free pass whenever they release a buggy mess of a game.

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Rolan Storm

You know… I could answer with a wall of text to this, but I already wrote one.

I got only one question for you: have you played FO76 yourself?

hurbster
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hurbster

Yes, I played the Beta. Gave it a good go and cancelled my pre-order.

So yeah, played it and was immensely saddened by the state of it.

Might take another look in a year when we have more and private servers, might not.

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Rolan Storm

Too bad. At some point (6-8th level I think) I felt bored. But decided to go further and wasn’t disappointed. But you made up your mind and stated your opinion, so I guess nothing further to discuss.

Alex Js.
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Alex Js.

PvP system is brilliant.

Nah, you’re objectively wrong here. Currently anyone you kill can keep respawning next to you and attacking you until you leave the server, and you can do absolutely nothing against it. You might try using “block” feature, only it is useless because there is already a FREE cheat which allows you to see nearby players (as well as every other object) no matter what they do. There’s also no “report this player” function (to report obvious cheaters, who for example can exploit bugs that allow them to take no damage) and no “avoid this player” function (so that player won’t be put on same server as you are after you switch the servers).

I know about this because I’ve seen this happen in game (and on videos on certain cheater’s forums). The PvP system should be removed completely until Bethesda will fix all the bugs and exploits related to it, as well as allow people to simply prevent ANY damage to them and to their buildings through legitimate ways if they don’t want to participate in PvP.

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Rolan Storm

“Objectively”. Yeah.

– attack from any player does not do much damage until other player respond – killing someone will take a lot of time and victim should stand still all the time;
– PK’s bounty taken from Pk’s wallet when they are offed, so it gets ugly quick for them;
– people having trouble keeping tabs on each other for the sake of connecting and playing together – that’s the problem, not the other way around.

You can just relog if someone persistent enough to chase you giving you a bad time. I never saw the same player twice. Also there are ways to make PK’s life so miserable if he decides to stalk you – it’s really fun. Like cover of defense turrets and cannons – for example.

These are my arguments – unless you have a video where you successfully stalk someone, of course.