Here’s the thing about criticism: It isn’t mutually exclusive with appreciation. You can like something that you also criticize — and your head won’t explode, nor will you be burned at the stake for a hypocrite. I don’t know where this “one or the other” approach settled into modern fandom, but it’s childish and I’m done with it.
So yeah, there’s tons to criticize about Fallout 76. I’ve done my fair share of it myself. Yet I’m not ashamed to say that it’s also a fun game with a lot of good qualities, and one of the frustrating parts of being a player here is seeing the good of the game held back by unfortunate design and business decisions. There’s a solid gameplay core here that has potential, which is why I feel like giving it some honest praise today.
Ergo, we’re going to be wading into the wasteland to find hope, promise, and enjoyment — and I’m not going to feel bad for saying so!
The tone strikes a good balance
Now I’m probably going to alienate a lot of die-hard Fallout fans right now, but as someone who has played — extensively — the Interplay era, Obsidian’s entry, and the Bethesda era of the franchise, I have to say that I actually like Bethesda’s approach to world-building the best. It’s less outright depressing than Interplay’s vision and is more committed to the retro-futuristic tone of the former world (also called Zeerust), which is charming to me. There can be some pretty dark moments, don’t get me wrong, but I adore the cheeky posters and other signs of alternate history 1950s in the buildings we explore.
The scavenging-exploring-crafting loop is compelling
I’m not normally one for survival MMOs (which is why I’m glad that Fallout 76 will be toning down these already-mild elements in a future update). But the Fallout games have always stressed careful and extensive exploration of the world in order to find every last item to help the player survive. That fits well with Fallout 76, which features areas that can be infinitely combed over as players build up reservoirs of ammo, weapons, and building materials.
I can’t seem to turn off the radio
I think I’ve heard “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” “It’s All Over but the Crying,” and the other 46 songs on Appalachia Radio a thousand times at this point… but I usually keep the radio on, even still. The old timey songs fit perfectly with exploring this world, and I’ve become a big fan of Julie, the very chipper DJ who has become my audio companion throughout my adventures.
The perks are pretty useful
There aren’t really classes in Fallout 76, nor are there an array of activated skills as we know them in most MMOs, so instead what we have is a shooter that places character growth in weapon selection (and modification), passive skills, and perk choices. I really dig how perks work in this game, because it gives me a LOT of flexibility to build my character the way I want to play. While these perks either offer passive bonuses, the ability to interact with certain objects, or actions that proc under certain situations, they enhance my experience and are welcome. For example, I like having a perk that auto-injects me with a stimpack when I get seriously hurt, and a new perk that eliminates radiation poisoning while swimming is a great quality-of-life enhancement.
Wastelanders continues to impress
I was glad to see that my expectations that the Wastelanders expansion would vastly improve the game were, for the most part, met. Not only does West Virginia feel more populated and alive now, but the NPCs are genuinely interesting and the dialogue is a cut or two above what we normally get with cut-and-dry MMO questgivers.
The quests actually have a lot of story in them
Putting aside the rather shallow daily and weekly quests, the “real” missions are almost always worth doing for the story and rewards. Just as in Elder Scrolls Online, Fallout 76’s quests involve a journey that may have surprising twists and turns and leave a memorable impression. I particularly liked one mission that had me stumbling upon a hidden base for superhero wanna-bes and then joining their order long after the fact.
It’s a good game for an itchy trigger finger
After playing so many sword-and-sorcery MMOs, it’s a great change of pace to jump into Fallout 76’s world and blast things away with submachine guns, plasma pistols, and rocket launchers. Sure, you can smack stuff with sledgehammers and shovels, but I don’t leave home without my trusty modified shotgun. I call it, “The Pain.”
There’s more player housing here than in many MMOs
Aside from the infurating created-for-console user interface, player housing is actually pretty great in Fallout 76. I love that you can find a spot in the world to claim as your own, making a little refuge that is tailored to your style and needs. And I do find building a house and decorating it works well once you get used to the wonky controls. Every gaming session begins and ends with me at my base, and I’m glad I got to make it from scratch.
And it’s a lot of fun to check out what others have built, and I think that the player vending machines are a terrific idea that is well suited to this setting.
It’s easier on the eyes
I might have to turn in my Fallout fan club card by saying that I really do like the lush foliage and more colorful settings of Fallout 76, especially in The Forest region. There are plenty of bombed and burned areas for those craving that “authentic” wasteland experience, but at least we’re not getting all greys and browns all the time as in Fallout 3. It makes for a better environment for long-term gaming.
Fallout 76 has made great strides since launch
Again, I’m not going to the mat for this game. Bethesda and Fallout 76 have made so many facepalming decisions over the past two years that I’d be laughed out of here if I did so. But I think we also need to recognize that the game is way, way better than it was at launch, and Bethesda seems to be learning from its mistakes and rectifying some of its more dire errors. It’s a game that I genuinely like more now and don’t feel ashamed to suggest to friends. And that is something.