The Soapbox: Fallout 76 absolutely needs better social tools to thrive

    
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Unpopular opinion time: I have to say that Fallout 76… is kind of a great game right now. I know that the launch and ensuing year(s) of disastrous responses on the part of Bethesda burned all sorts of bridges with players, and I get why some people will never give this title another chance. Even with the improvements of the past four years, Fallout 76’s flaws are well-known and valid targets for criticism.

Yet if we’re to criticize, we should be fair to acknowledge where the online RPG has improved. Bugs have been squashed, NPCs added, quality-of-life features abound, and corpses highlighted (hey, it’s an amazing feature, don’t buck it). The housing system is quite flexible, there are a lot of ways to progress in the endgame, and the dev team continues to add content at an acceptable rate.

Loack? Lode?

From where I’m sitting, Fallout 76 hits the spot in so many ways. What I like best about it is the flexibility to pursue a variety of objectives depending on what mood I am that evening. Do I want to do some questing? Bounce around to different events? Join a team for an operation or two? Explore unknown points on the map? Or maybe just hunker down in my shelter to mod weapons and decorate a few rooms?

I like how I can build up my character to fit my playstyle. Silly as it may be to admit, the perk cards are a really fun way to kit out a character. They allow me to mix-and-match desired perks to enhance what I’m already doing.

And while I’m not the biggest proponent (nor critic) of seasonal pass-type reward tracks, I have to admit that Fallout 76’s is actually pretty enjoyable if approached from a casual angle. The daily and weekly challenges get me out of my comfort zone, and the theming and rewards of the board are quite attractive.

Yet there is one area of the game that’s frustrated me the most — and prompted me to consider how important it is to the MMO space at large. And that area is socialization. Fallout 76 may not be massively multiplayer, but it is quite actively multiplayer in many of its systems. It wants you to visit other players’ camps, team up for group content, and overall be aware that there are more people than just yourself adventuring in the wasteland.

However, for reasons that are beyond my ken, Bethesda’s refused to truly support a social environment in Fallout 76. I’ve had the opportunity to interview the developers twice, and both times I pressed them on why this game lacks standard social tools such as text chat and guilds. I pointed out to the leads how this title wants you to team up but then, apart from proximity voice chat and a very limited emote system, fails to provide ways to communicate with said team.

Both times I’ve asked, the devs hemmed and hawed on the subject without giving clear answers. From where I’m sitting, this was a stunning lack of foresight and stubborn lack of correction that showcases how Bethesda has this “one foot in the single player sphere and one foot in the multiplayer without fully committing to either” approach. I also suspect that the devs consider the PC edition a very distant second to the consoles, where they assume that players won’t want or use anything other than their headset mics to communicate.

HOORAY

In any case, the end result is an online title that, by design, mutes social interaction. It allows you to “play alone together” but slaps duct tape over most players’ mouths. There’s no long-distance coordination, no map chat, no way except for third-party apps to foster long-running social connections.

I feel this every time I’m near other players. The other day I saw one run into his caveside bunker, and I followed to check out the goofy setup therein. We emoted like crazy at each other without clearly communicating anything, and eventually I drifted away from the encounter without learning anything about the person or having the ability to hold a conversation.

If nothing else, Fallout 76 has truly made me appreciate anew the tools that form the social framework of MMOs. I may want to adventure by myself in most games at most times, but I always love being able to chat with my friends and speak to those I encounter on my journeys.

While I don’t hold high hopes that Bethesda will ever change course on this — or even see it as a priority (which it well should) — I’ll use it as a learning moment that puts other games in perspective.

But, seriously Bethsoft: Add text chat and guilds to Fallout 76. Don’t wait on it. That’s going to benefit your title over the long haul more than you’ll ever realize.

Everyone has opinions, and The Soapbox is how we indulge ours. Join the Massively OP writers as we take turns atop our very own soapbox to deliver unfettered editorials a bit outside our normal purviews (and not necessarily shared across the staff). Think we’re spot on — or out of our minds? Let us know in the comments!
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