Fallout 76 vs Fallout 4: Which is better to play in 2024?


Growing up as a computer gaming geek, I’ve been quite the Fallout nerd since 1997 (and, arguably, since Wasteland in 1988). Other than Tactics, I’ve played through every installment in this franchise, from Interplay to Obsidian to Bethesda. And now with the recent success of the Amazon Prime TV show, there’s been an uptick of interest in Bethesda’s catalogue of Fallout games.

But with Fallout 5 still on the distant horizon, which of Bethesda’s two most recent titles are better for you? Is it 2015’s single-player Fallout 4 or 2018’s multiplayer Fallout 76? As I’ve played both recently and extensively, I thought I’d share the strengths of each game to help with any potential decision-making.

What is Fallout 4‘s key strength?

Being nearly a decade old, Fallout 4 is starting to show creaky signs of age, but it’s still a remarkably solid CRPG that offers plenty of adventures in a post-nuclear Boston. Between the core game and three DLC story packs, there’s a couple hundred potential hours of play here.

Almost certainly the greatest strength of Fallout 4 is its combat system with bullet time VATS. This system allows you to slow down time (but not stop it entirely) so that you can target a range of enemies and body parts and then see all of that action play out in cinematic slow-mo. It’s a whole lot of fun and offers on-the-fly strategic choices that, owing to the multiplayer nature of Fallout 76, the latter game could not offer. You can also completely pause time in the middle of combat to go into your inventory to use healing items and swap out weapons.

Fallout 4 also allows for plenty of save scumming and modding, both of which are excluded from Fallout 76 for obvious reasons. I really liked the more linear leveling progression that took me through an increasingly difficult open world while making me feel as though I was growing more powerful. No other players means no griefing, and if you start to feel lonely, you can select one of the many great companions (such as the synth detective Nick Valentine) to accompany you.

Where does Fallout 76 excell?

While there’s a lot to be said for the single-player Fallout 4, I’d argue that Fallout 76 in its current form boasts an equal number of strengths. Starting off, I find the world of F76 to be more attractive and interesting, especially in the more lush “Forest” starting areas. It’s got a real camping trip vibe — with backpacks and CAMPs! — that its more urban-based predecessors lacked.

While this game was built off of the Fallout 4 engine, Bethesda has used the years to make many improvements. I greatly prefer the speech interface here when talking with NPCs, and Fallout 76’s perk cards are a whole lot more fun for character builds. Another slight improvement is in the base building, which this title expanded and improved pretty much every option from Fallout 4 (and you get to show it off to other players).

There’s multiplayer, yes, and while you can’t talk to others except via voice chat, you still don’t feel as alone in the world. You can join groups for bonuses, do co-op events, see other players on the map, visit others’ CAMPs, and even lob a nuke or two each other’s way.

While I could mention some other improvements — easier vendoring, better cosmetics, a more engaging radio station — I would argue that Fallout 76’s greatest strength is and has been its ongoing development. Fallout 4 is complete and finished at this point, barring occasional next-gen stirrings, but six years on and Fallout 76 is still getting major new content and systems. It’s allowed Bethesda to take a laughably buggy and incomplete game and shape it up into something quite respectable. Players right now are looking forward to a major map addition coming this summer.

This waste was made by you and me.

Where do both games earn praise?

The meat-and-potatoes of Bethesda’s Fallout games has always been a combination of setting and story, and it’s with these that both Fallout 4 and Fallout 76 tie. Either game you choose, you’ll be treated to some black humor, bizarre quests, and retro sci-fi twists.

It’s not as if you have to pick one or the other, either! Because both of these games are a little older, you usually can pick them up for cheap — and cheaper still if you wait for a sale.

But what about an MMO?

If a Fallout vibe in a full-fledged MMORPG is what you want, you really only have one option, and that’s Fallen Earth. Obviously, this is not part of the Fallout universe and has its own setting and backstory, but the MMO is clearly inspired by the Interplay Fallout games in its tone, UI, and setting.

Here you can get your wasteland fix in a true MMO, one with guilds, chat windows, groups, and dungeons. It’s got a bit of a learning curve and isn’t always the prettiest game on the eyes, but I’ve always adored its black humor, robust crafting system, and huge western-style world.

‘What’s the best MMO ever?’ is a ridiculous question; we’re not going to tell you that. Instead, we’re going to pit two MMOs against one another, point by point, line by line. Two games enter, and… well, they both leave, but one gets declared the victor. It’s Epic MMO Battles of History, and while it may not actually decide any long-term debates, it’s at least fun along the way, right?
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