It just struck me over this past weekend that we post-apocalyptic fans are now blessed with two solid and intriguing online RPGs to enjoy. As a fan of both Fallout 76 and Fallen Earth, I love that I have this expanded option to jump between these worlds rather than being solely confined to one to get my post-apoc needs (putting aside outliers like Xsyon and Crossout).
As I’ve been putting in a lot of hours into Fallen Earth Classic this past month, my mind’s gone to that geeky place of compare-and-contrast with Bethesda’s own vision of the end of the world. Rather than keep this bottled up in my head, I figured I’d spill it out in a column to help any newcomers to one or both games decide which one is right for them.
So let’s take a look at Fallen Earth vs. Fallout 76 — their strengths, their weaknesses, and their appeal.
Released a few years ago, Fallout 76 is the more youthful and spry option that takes players to a reshaped West Virginia. Initially, this title was buggy and lacking many core features, and while not all is as it should be, Bethesda’s done a ton of work to flesh out the game and make it far more engaging than it was back at launch.
You play as a Vault Dweller who’s popped up to the surface several years after the bombs fell. Making your way through the wasteland (which can be surprisingly lush), you’ll help out various NPC factions, craft your own C.A.M.P., explore a lot of fun questlines, and even engage in some fierce PvP (if that’s your thing).
Fallout 76 is, for better or worse, a Bethesda Fallout game, so you’re in for more color and quirkiness than the original Interplay entries. I’d say that the story and exploration are the biggest selling features, with a dense hand-crafted world that features many cool locations. The title now scales the difficulty to your level, keeping you on your toes without throwing you into the deep end if you happened to cross a zone border.
The exploration-scavenge-craft loop is at the core of Fallout 76. While it’s entirely possible not to craft at all, it’s a whole lot of fun to make your own weapons and housing items. Speaking of this last part, the C.A.M.P.s and Shelters offer genuine open world player housing with unparalleled freedom to create. Players can also set up automated vendors to sell their own goods to other gamers from their houses.
The action combat is fine but not spectacular, and many players have bemoaned the change to V.A.T.S. that traded the pause-mode of the other Fallout titles for a sort of “auto-hit” feature here.
There are also several different game modes to experience if you don’t like the standard world, although some of them require subscription. It also works in seasonal progression where you can earn rewards for playing — but, of course, can pay to bypass the efforts and outright purchase progression.
Fallout 76 has been heavily criticized for its business model, which pushes a sub and cash shop sales rather extensively. My biggest issues with the game are its lack of social features (including text chat and guilds) and its made-for-consoles-first-and-PCs-as-an-afterthought UI design.
In a comparison against Fallen Earth, Fallout 76 has the edge in graphics (obviously), active development, a more fully-fleshed out PvE experience, player housing, and cosmetics. It’s a lot better than it used to be and worthy of a second look if you wrote this off years ago.
Little Orbit’s recent decision to revive this MMO as a “classic” version has given fans a playground while the studio presumably continues with plans to fully revamp the game. I won’t bet on this last part ever happening, but at least we have a functional — if buggy — older version back to enjoy.
Fallen Earth Classic currently doesn’t have a functional market (auction house), and other features — such as blackjack and wardrobe — aren’t active either. This is literally a game stuck in time, with absolutely no promises of development, patches, fixes, or events.
That said, it’s also completely free and quite worth your time to check out. Fallen Earth may look long in the tooth, but I’ve always liked its old school visuals. What it does the best in the graphics department is give us a sense of breathtaking scale of the American Southwest with wide-open vistas, deep canyons, and gorgeous sunsets.
I think this is what I’d lead with: Fallen Earth feels much more like the after-apocalypse than Fallout 76. It’s a world that’s messed up, decayed, and lost its connection with the culture before the fall. If you liked the older Interplay Fallouts, this title shares a lot of that DNA.
One of its major strengths as a point of comparison is the fact that Fallen Earth is a full-fledged MMORPG. You’ll see others out in the world, talk to them via the always-busy chat, and be able to join clans (guilds) to tighten those social bonds. There are open world dungeons and PvP, six complex and deeply weird factions, and level progression.
Fallen Earth pushes deep into the scavenging-crafting-exploration loop as you’ll be able to make most all items in the game if you find the recipes for them. It’s satisfying to make your own gear and ammo, especially how this crafting works in real time as you continue your adventures.
There’s also a lot of flexibility to make the kind of character you want, thanks to investing Advancement Points into skills that interest you. It’s a little tricky to get the hang of out of the gate, but once you do, you’ll appreciate the freedom of the character build.
Combat is a little janky, as you have to switch into combat mode to attack then out of that mode to loot, but it’s functional. Unlike Fallout 76, you have skills and abilities that can be used to navigate tricky encounters.
My main criticisms of Fallen Earth is that we’re dealing with a creaky older title with no active development, a smaller playerbase, and not the best combat.
In comparison against Fallout 76, this game gains the edge due to its genuine MMORPG state, funnier humor (in my opinion), better post-apocalyptic feel, and superior crafting.
As I said, I say that both games are worth checking out at least once. Both approach the genre differently and offer a completely unique feel and function.