An apocalypse shared is an apocalypse halved, as the old saying goes. Well whoever said that was wrong. The apocalypse of Fallout 76 is truly something to behold, and while many hands may make light work, they don’t make the job anymore interesting.
Fallout 76 is a multiplayer survival RPG where you’re tasked with simply staying alive and exploring the vast empty spaces. Bethesda want you and your friends to journey around and make your own stories; really create those water-cooler moments with each other and with the game itself. You have to look after things like your hunger, thirst, and try not to become an irradiated monster, but outside of that you have free reign to do what you want.
I have already written about my initial experience with the game, going into the mechanics themselves. Way back in the middle of this week, I was still young, full of hopes and dreams, but now I’m grizzled and jaded. You see, things didn’t get any better after the first half dozen, and the more hours that have been spent roaming West Virginia, the more the cracks in the game appear. I don’t know if the smorgasbord of bugs that plague this game are meant to be there – maybe they’re a clever meta commentary on how an apocalypse would feel? – but good lord are they annoying.
Let’s get this bug report out of the way shall we? The first and most persistent issue is the frame rate. Playing on an original PS4, simply changing weapons can cause the frame rate to plummet into a fiery hole in the ground. It’s woefully inconsistent at the best of times, so you’ll often find yourself hitting a button repeatedly because it won’t register, only for every press to register simultaneously. This nearly derailed the game completely when I got locked into a loop at a terminal that lasted five minutes.
Less serious bugs crop up with the enemies. At one point I had a Ghoul sliding along the floor as if by magic, but shooting him was nearly impossible as he was actually being obscured by the floor itself. There is also an odd one where your aiming reticule will tell you that you’ve got an enemy in your sights, except you don’t. This occurs randomly, though more often after entering a building. Sure, it doesn’t hurt any, but it does make you a little jumpy in a game that isn’t meant to be a psychological horror.
There is a chance that any enemy you kill will end up frozen in place, and one of the Scorched ended up dabbing as a final act, frozen in time, about six inches off of the ground. The animations don’t work correctly either, so most enemies will shoot at you with their guns aimed at the floor, or hit you with a melee weapon while not even moving.
A weird visual glitch can occur with certain interactions. The best example of this was with a flamethrower trap which is part of a quest. Whenever it fired, the screen effectively killed the pixels where they hit the handrail on the other side, creating a blank spot in the dreary decrepit building in which it was set. Of course, this glitch requires all the textures and scenery to actually load in, which isn’t a guarantee.
The game crashes a fair amount. It can be anything from simply loading the game up, to being attacked by too many enemies at once that causes it. Being booted back to your home screen would be fine, except that this is a multiplayer game, so you really need things to be stable. It’s more troubling when getting kicked during certain quests then also wipes out any progress you have made during it. This is irksome, but not the end of the world in a game where the quests are full of character and heart.
To the quest design then, which has traditionally been pretty good in Bethesda games. The quests here face two main issues, the first of which is the complete lack of human NPCs. Without actual people giving you quests, everything feels pointless. You might be following a quest where you are following a human voice, but it’ll end up being a robot or a pre-recorded tape. It’s something that really saps the meaning from every quest line.
The second issue is the repetition. Nearly every quest is a fetch quest to get an item that happens to be on the other side of the map. Once you have journeyed from A to B, you will then have to go back to A, to get sent to C, to go back to A, to get sent to Z, to go back to A. If reading that sentence hurt, then you already have a good idea of how doing the quests will actually feel.
One of the quests has you trying to get an ID, to do this you need to get an the papers signed, hand them in, change who you are handing them in to, wait in a queue, go and find some junk mail, talk to a different robot, go and get your form stamped, then finally finish the quest. It was at this point I started to feel like the game was actively angry at me, like it was making me suffer on purpose for some slight against it that I had yet to make. Bureaucracy isn’t fun unless you’re the one dishing it out.
Quests should be interesting, character driven affairs that give the world meaning, and give your avatar a purpose. The quests in Fallout 76 do none of these things. Every robot you meet is a throwaway cliché who does nothing more than spew out barely audible dialogue to justify you spending an extra hour travelling from one place to another. The best you can hope for is some loot that you’ll probably dismantle for parts.
While we are on the subject of inventory management, shall we do a deeper dive into these not-so-deep pockets? The amount you can carry on your person can be improved by upping your strength, but it doesn’t make a dent when compared to the unending number of things there are to pick up. Thankfully you have a stash which nobody else can access, one that can be accessed from wherever your CAMP is. Unfortunately, this has a limit too and will soon be bursting at the seams. I get that inventory management is part of the survival experience, but why put such a restrictive limit on a magic teleporting box?
It would be possible to look past many of these things if the game was fun to play. The combat is still very much the slightly rigid feeling Fallout combat that has already been. The gunplay lacks finesse and the melee combat lack impact, but while the series’ iconic VATS returns, it’s nowhere near as effective when it doesn’t slow or pause the game. When playing with other people the enemies ahead of you die so quickly that you’ll find yourself wondering why they were even there. The enemy design itself is very much quantity over quality. Killing hordes of the same stupid enemies who charge toward you as you cut them down isn’t fun, it’s just tedious.
While playing with other people is novel, there isn’t any great incentive to do so. Things are certainly more entertaining with mates, but it doesn’t the fact that one of you could crash out of the game entirely and that the quests are dull no matter how many people there are. Maybe things will be better once everything actually works and as Bethesda add things like factional PvP into the game, but as it stands this game is a mess.
Fallout 76 had a lot to say when it was revealed. It was multiplayer, it had the largest world of any Fallout, it was going to be fun. The trouble is that it just doesn’t work, the world is too big and empty, and the quest design as uninspired as it gets. If the only way for a game to be entertaining is by having your friends make jokes about it as you journey together, then it has failed at one of the things that most games should be. It has failed at being fun, it has failed at being entertaining in its own right. If you want to hang out with some friends in an a post-apocalypse, then just go to a pub and watch the news.
Version Tested: PS4 – Also available for Xbox One and PC