One thing first: This review is also a personal text, because regardless of my position as “editor” at IKYG, I have been an absolute fan of the Fallout series for almost 20 years now. I’ve really played every part several times. I’ve dragged carloads of waterchips to Vault 13, fisted millions of wheel scorpions in the temple of Arroyo, searched for my lost father in Wasteland, searched for my lost son in Wasteland, searched for my lost package in Wasteland, and even at moderate spin-offs like Brotherhood of Steel and Fallout Tactics I haven’t flinched. Oh, I even liked to be shot in the face by some lunatics at Fallout Online when entering the cities, only to do it hours later with other newcomers and I always had my fun with it all these years.
That has changed this year and I’d like to say that I’ve never been so bitterly disappointed by a Fallout as I’ve been by Fallout 76. Below I’ll do my best to explain to you why.
Chronologically, Fallout 76 plays at the beginning of the franchise. It is the year 2102 and 25 years have passed since the great nuclear war of the superpowers. The survivors, who were able to retreat to safe underground Vaults in the run-up to the nuclear catastrophe, now open their doors for the first time, weighing tons, and set out to repopulate the world. You are one of those pioneers who now flock in droves from Vault 76 to repopulate war-torn West Virginia. What the former Vault inhabitants still euphorically celebrate as “Reconquest Day” soon turns out to be a euphemism, for the devastations are almost limitless. There is also no trace of any other survivors and the warden of your Vault is on her own mission somewhere in the contaminated West Virginia. This is where you come in. Actually, with the construction of a new civilization it’s not only a matter of gaining a foothold in the post-apocalypse, but also of exploring what the disappearance of all people in West Virginia is all about.
But before all this happens, I create a character for myself.
As I pull the various sliders, adjust the cheekbones and rethink the color of my hair, I suddenly hear the noise. Then a television: “French news?” I think and suddenly it booms in nasal English: “You guys can all suck d**ks!” followed by hectic keyboard hammers. What had happened? Open microphones all the time. So while I was building my character in silent devotion, the above sentence was really the first thing I heard in the multiplayer world of Fallout 76. I’ve never muted any voice transmission so quickly and haven’t turned it on again yet. So there I was in the Vault.
All by myself. So you wake up alone in a completely abandoned Vault 76 and except for a few robots, confetti and signs, all the residents have left the safe house. Already here I felt incredibly lonely, because while I was on my way to the exit I lacked the immersive Fallout feeling. Otherwise, when you left the Vault, it was always a very special moment. Just remember the escape from Vault 101 in Fallout 3. That was just absolutely brilliant, because you had already played the life of a Vault inhabitant over several stages in advance and really fevered along with the characters. In Fallout 76, just a stupid robot stands in front of the lock, says “Goodbye” and then a loading screen appears.
After immediately leaving the Vault I was still quite positive, because the world that was building up in front of me looked quite good at first sight. West Virginia didn’t suffer as much in the nuclear war as Capitol Wasteland of Fallout 3, for example. A difference that can be clearly seen in the intact flora and fauna.
As long as you don’t really look closely, the dense flora and the wind scurrying through the leaves can distract you from the muddy textures. Especially on longer distances the scenery degenerates to pulp and why Fallout 76 still uses a bored variant of the Gamebryo engine is an absolute mystery to me. The engine is so old, Elder Scrolls III – Morrowind was made with it. So it’s not surprising that in 2018 such an engine, regardless of its adaptation, is simply considered outdated. But why it was decided to do so should only become clear to me at a later stage. But until then, I stomped from quest to quest and didn’t bother much about the muddy graphics. After all, older Fallout titles weren’t high-flyers either. On the other hand, they didn’t really have to be, because a lively game world, interesting NPCs and the very own Fallout humor were enough to more than compensate for graphical flaws.
An aspect that Fallout 76 cannot fall back on. The world of Fallout 76 has no NPCs. Instead of organic characters, all quest givers, or any metamorphic life at all, were replaced by two different types of robots, computer terminals, and holotapes. Quests often look like this: “Meet X in City Y”, “Oh, X is dead, but there is a holotape with instructions next to it”, “Go to Terminal A after listening to the holotape”, “Say after using the terminal with robot R” and you ey. What’s that all about? After exactly two quests at the latest, you’ve given up any hope that you’ll talk to anyone other than a terminal or robot at some point. Instead, your inventory is flooded with holotapes. At some point you’ll lose track of which you’ve heard and which you haven’t, and because you can’t pause or fast-forward or rewind these things, listening to these audio books will make you feel like being attacked by a rat or a mangy mutt, and you’ll only hear half of them between growling and banging. I just gave it up because I don’t want to read through 17 diary entries at a computer terminal or click through a tower of holotapes, which only remind me that there is no living NPC soul in West Virginia. Whereby, there is just one exception I can think of.
The game world in Fallout 76 is huge, so really huge and that’s something I really like about the game. On the other hand, there can only seem to be 20 players per game world, and in such a vast world, coupled with a level system that scales well above level 50, there are really very few overlaps with other players. Most of the time you’ll just run around alone. The only exception – you bring friends into the world of Fallout 76.
Whoever runs through the world in Fallout 76 alone will be bored. But if you bring friends, things will look a little different. I deliberately say “something”, because the added value of the experience is not necessarily contributed by the game. So I brought Illi (who looks at my streams every now and then, will know Illi) to me in the world and we went together on exploring tour. I can’t deny it – I also had my fun with Fallout 76. Experiencing things together is just more interesting and seeing Illi screaming running away from a death claw is just always good. I think that’s what many Fallout fans really wanted. A good multiplayer experience. The emphasis is on “neat”. How nice it would have been if you could have experienced a campaign like Fallout: New Vegas in twos.
With dialogues in which both characters can play their part, with talent samples in which you can help each other out, and generally with a new interpretation of what everyone loves about co-Op and how AAA studios like Bethesda could actually deliver. Instead, I’m getting myself into the wool with Illi at terminals and workbenches, because they can only be used by one person at a time, and even if collectable objects in containers and drawers can be individually plumbed, they’re not usable objects in the game world. Desired bits and pieces, such as telephones, glue and cogwheels, always wander into the inventory of a single player. If you play with four players, then three players inevitably end up empty-handed. So if you’re thinking about building a more complex base or more complex weapon modifications, you won’t be able to get around the independent farming of said items.
Apropos base. As in Fallout 4, you can also build buildings in Fallout 76. This is done here using the so-called C.A.M.P. kit. This is basically a kind of construction station, with which you can take a certain amount of land and then build on it. You simply throw all your collected resources into the C.A.M.P. and build your dream house piece by piece. This works quite well with the exception of the terrible user interface. I don’t like to imagine finger acrobatics, which you have to develop with a gamepad to rotate objects, zoom in and adjust exactly. What I really liked here was another innovation. Everywhere on the world map you can find different deposits of resources. For example, you might come across a vein of ore, occupy it with an extractor next to your base, and collect rare ores from time to time – just like that.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t avoid frustration when it came to building my own house. Once I had found such a place and built on it, I had to wonder when I logged in again. My base was gone and there where my house stood, suddenly the house of “DogDog1994″. What I didn’t know and what no human (and no robot) tells you: Your bases disappear after the logout. If you then join a session in which someone else has already built a house at exactly your construction site, then your house will simply be moved as a blueprint to the inventory and you can build your hut elsewhere. Which doesn’t sound too bad, but it turned out to be a complete nuisance. In my case I had built a nice Klumphaus in the dimensions 3×3 and found for it one of the rare flat surfaces. Now I stood there and DogDog1994 had robbed me of my homeland.
So I walked through the world with the huge blueprint, which I pushed in front of me as a banner, and desperately looked for a place where I could set my house anew. “Oh, you can’t build here. You are too close to a city’, ‘Oh, you are not allowed to build here. An object has a clipping error”, “Oh, you’re not allowed to build here, because a small branch in the side of your window…”. Friends, my frown line was immeasurable. And the very best thing about it is and I hope that I can save you a lot of frustration here: Besides the extractors, the game seems to save only the areas you built on foundation. My farm, my generators and everything that wasn’t on foundation was sent to the nimbus with the appearance of DogDog1994. Even though I welcome the basic idea of relocating the base, because after all Fallout 76 is a game where you’re on the move a lot, the implementation of the same is just a misery in front of the Lord. It’s also impossible to build something together with your friends, because you can’t just place two C.A.M.P.s next to each other to connect your building areas. No, no. Fallout 76 is more orderly than any petty bourgeois Schräbergarten settlement. Everyone must build their own base, and everyone can only use their own C.A.M.P. resources. So anyone who thought they could create great things together will be in for a nasty surprise.
My biggest personal disappointment, however, is the PvP system in Fallout 76, so when they created the game they decided that it was possible to attack other players. “Okay,” I thought to myself. “This is going to be exciting.” I’ve played Rust, Ark, Project Zomboid, 7Days2Die and dozens of other Survival MMOs to guess that a full-fledged PvP would lead to murder and manslaughter. I was looking forward to it! Then I read that players only take a fraction of the normal damage as long as they don’t attack potential attackers as well. My smile disappeared. “All right, then I can still bomb their place! And if that doesn’t work, then I’ll shoot them down and steal all their stuff!
I don’t care if I have to meet them ten times more then! That’s not possible either, because except for the collected scrap and five crown corks you lose nothing. Probably someone at Bethesda must have met someone like me at Rust or a similar game at some point to design a “PvP” system in his rage about it that has nothing to do with PvP. I can’t say it any other way, and I don’t really want to say it any other way, but PvP is a bad joke in Fallout 76. There will never be big battles for huge bases, because there wouldn’t be big bases and they just disappear when you log out. There are no fights of players against players either, because there is absolutely nothing to win there. In my opinion, attacks only occur when one player accidentally runs into the other’s target path.
Then the aggressor gets a bounty of 10 crown corks, is sawed to pieces five minutes later by someone who is 30 levels higher and there is again yawning boredom. Only the new workshops could help. These are points on the map, such as a scrap yard, which you can take. Once you’ve earned the point and haven’t been shot by other players, you’ll get access to a variety of bonuses, such as veins of ore or even a supply of power cells. To collect them, however, you’ll need to build extractors, generators, and a few turrets for defense.
These, in turn, cost quite a bit of rare scrap parts and only encourage you to work more overtime collecting stuff alone. And don’t forget: After a logout you can collect all the stuff again!
Bethesda was always told that their games were never bug-free and with regard to Fallout 76 I can only confirm that. I’ve found countless bugs, glitches and some really annoying bugs in this game, that it’s still enough for ten such paragraphs. Many of the flaws found were rather amusing, such as some Ragdolls that tried to establish their own laws of physics in the game world. Elsewhere I also had bugs that I was well aware of. Like, for example, a rat digging under the foundation of my house just to hang there and permanently bite into my towers and damage them. I then had to remove parts of the house completely to scrape this stupid rat out of my flooring. Seriously, I’ve never seen so many glitches in one game as in Fallout 76. Opponents plopping in my face in T position, an opponent AI that’s hard to distinguish from a comatose pheasant without legs, and ghouls carrying their shotguns as a bunch of pieces across my chest everywhere. And these are just the technical aspects! Because with certain design decisions it only looks imperceptibly better. For example, all your containers share an inventory in your base. The same is limited to a weight of 400 units for reasons of server performance. For comparison: Your character usually carries around about 200 units as upper limit. So you have only twice the storage space for all your stuff. To be fair, Bethesda has already said something about this and announced some improvements soon. From that point on there are things like level restrictions on items. You find a cool rocket launcher? Yes, too bad! You’re not even level 30 yet, as if you can’t use the rocket launcher and have to put it in your inventory, which is very tight with 400 units. Found a cool armor? Too bad again!
You are not allowed to put on the leather armor, because with level 7 you do not yet understand how to wear a level 10 armor. While I could well imagine such restrictions in the real world on Camp David or Ed Hardy clothes, in Fallout 76 they’re just a horror. The game forces you to stay in the midst of the currently available weapons, and anyone who has the idea of messing with stronger ones or even exploring distant areas to be rewarded for doing so can remove their makeup directly. And there aren’t any stronger ones, because 95% of the enemies I’ve met so far (~at about Lv. 25 at the time of the review) are trivial. I can get shot thirty times in the face with a shotgun from a level 20 Ghoul and lose no life energy. Except for the one death claw I once hit, enemies don’t really do any damage and are therefore no danger, but rather annoying. Rats scurrying on the ground outside your narrow field of vision are usually more dangerous than a Super Mutant with a big gun. And have I already told you about the V.A.T.S. in Fallout 76?
The Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System was used in earlier Fallout parts, which initially had turn-based battles, to support targeted attacks. The fight was interrupted and you could then easily choose a target for the attack between the different hit zones of your opponent. Well, what worked well in singleplayer doesn’t work in multiplayer. Stopping the time for 20 players when one of the players is in combat is certainly not such a good idea. Instead, the Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System in Fallout 76 is more of a “hit or no hit” thing.
Initially, you can’t even target specific hit zones, but simply see a percentage chance of hitting, calculated from your distance from the enemy, the Perception attribute, and Black Magic. Then click on the left mouse button and either you hit or you don’t hit. It doesn’t matter if you stand with your back to the enemy. The orbs will find their target or they won’t find it. However, this has nothing to do with the original concept of the V.A.T.S. anymore. And now I realize that I haven’t even spoken about the new S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system yet! I don’t want to go into much detail, but basically you can now distribute one attribute point per level up to level 50 and get a set of different talent cards for each attribute point distributed, which replace the previously known Perks unique selling points of your character and can be varied as needed. Unfortunately, there’s a certain chance that you’ll get the talent cards you want when you want them, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ll soon be able to find them in Bethesda’s real money shop, along with cosmetic items.
Fallout 76: A courageous, but inevitably failed experiment
“Is that still Fallout?” I asked myself and whenever I came back with Illi from Höcksken to Stöcksken and rather explored a nearby cave than doing the main quest, I thought, “Yes, that’s how it always felt in Fallout.” However, when I then rummage through a list of 700 items for any particular item, or when my base has disappeared back into nirvana, words that might conjure up some infernal demon will cross my lips. From a technical perspective, Fallout 76 is a burning wreck that should never have seen the light of day like this. A customer can expect more from an AAA studio like Bethesda, especially if it is such an established title with a price tag of 60.00 EUR. The use of an almost 20-year-old engine, which you inevitably have to know inside out, should not still produce the same bugs and glitches it has been producing for years. In any case, entire assets from earlier parts were integrated into the game world of Fallout 76 and those who are already a bit further along will quickly notice that certain animations from Skyrim can also be found 1:1. Rather, it seems to me that the aspect of “We have to bring in the multiplayer mode” has been at the forefront of everything else and the price paid for it is too high in my opinion. Even though the world of Fallout 76 is probably the most beautiful of all Fallout worlds, it is also the most empty and lifeless. A world in which a Vault in West Virginia spits out souls condemned to loneliness, which are only reminded by an almost infinite number of cassettes that there must have been people here once.