Fallout 76 - First Impressions
This will serve as a kind of early-review for Fallout 76, before a follow-up review is posted later (if we decide to do so, obviously). For context, Eric and I have both (separately) spent about 50+ hours in the game so far.
So originally, this introduction segment was very long. I realised that I’d spent almost 50% of the review, discussing the politics and reception of the game instead of the game itself. That’s the problem with Fallout 76. There’s so much drama going on around the game, that it’s hard to even begin discussing it without treading onto the controversy surrounding it. What do I think about Fallout 76 generally however? In a word; Fine. In 2 words? Somewhat fine. In a sentence? Somewhat fine, considering the mess it’s created for itself.
So what is Fallout 76 for the uninitiated? Basically you are from Vault 76, one of the control vaults (vaults with no special conditions or experiments being conducted on them) released into the post-apocalyptic, nuclear fallout world of America. There are no other NPC humans around to talk or interact with, only other players from the same vault. There are neutral/friendly robots you occasionally stumble into, but otherwise you only have mutants and animals to deal with (as well as enemy robots). That’s kind of it. It’s mostly ghouls inside buildings, and then some super mutants here and there, and if it isn’t them, it’s animals or robots. I don’t see the problem here, there’s enough variety to keep me entertained. Could there be more variety? Yes. Does that stop it being a good game? No. Moving on.
Guns and items. There’s tons of crafting to be done in 76. You can modify weapons a lot, and change their stats with a fair amount of impact to your play-style. There’re tons of clothing to find and wear, and it’s fun to dress up creatively as a miner with big round goggles and a dinky little hat. I find that the less seriously you take the game and the more you revel in its humour, the better time there is to be had running around with your friends. The items, weapons, and clothing do transition into my first major complaint however, which is carrying capacity.
It seems that to do most things in 76 such as repairing equipment, crafting bullets and items, building bases etc., you need to carry a lot of junk items to get it all done. Whilst scouring out these items is fun and will take up a decent chunk of your playtime percentage, the menial task of constantly having to search for a personal storage box to store them in, is not fun at all. Most of my exploration has been mired by slowly running around over-encumbered, because areas don’t have enough universal storage boxes to deposit your recent findings into. It breaks up the flow of exploration, and has you micro-managing regularly throughout your travels. It can also be interesting to make those decisions between keeping a heavy piece of weaponry you just acquired, or switching it for a chunk full of building materials. They make for difficult and interesting moments, but they occur too much and needlessly. Weapon variety is nice, and accommodates many play-styles by the way.
A few people have complained about the S.P.E.C.I.A.L system, that awards you random perk cards to level-up. The main complaint has been the inability to customise your characters stats early on, as you rely mostly on what cards you get at the beginning randomly. I think it’s a good system for a post-apocalyptic game of this type. I find myself trying to make good of a bad situation, and how best to utilise the cards I do have, instead of optimising and breaking a system by stacking broken perk cards in an order I found recommended online on some gaming forum. It’s more improvisational, and feels more like a survival-style situation. It’s more appropriate for this kind of experience I think, so I like it.
Locations are the highlight of the experience, and should be considered to be the main game-play loop. This will be both good and bad, because it’s a very unique experience that only the best games in the RPG genre manage such as Dark Souls, where the story is told through the world and not directly through expositionary dialogue. Roaming around the wastelands, I find dozens of little stories dotted around each town. Raiders on a rooftop where a last stand took place. A man and a woman cradling each other on a plastic chair, with bottles of wine around them. A man strapped to a chair with a shotgun on the floor. A circle of teddy bears surrounding a skeleton. That last one was true by the way. My point is, I feel that exploration is the main purpose and reward of the game. Whilst some have criticised the game-play loop of “Run around exploring and collecting stuff, so you can upgrade items or find better ones so that you can find more stuff to explore even more with”, I think it’s a little unfair to label it with such a dismissive description.
Could you not say the same of an MMO? Constantly finding new gear to… find new gear? Could you not also say that criticising the aspect of exploring areas to essentially just lead to exploring more areas, could dismiss and describe whole other genres of gaming. I will say in critics’ defence however, that I fail to see what 76 will have to offer once I’ve reached a high level and have pretty much filled my inventory with high level armour and weapons. Whereas MMOs will have high-level challenges and raids, weekly events etc., 76 doesn’t have anything worthwhile in the end-game from what I’ve read online.
That’s not a problem however, as long as you don’t expect 76 to persist beyond its collective 30-50 hour play-through (which I think is reasonable). Eric and I have been taking our time, exploring everything, looting more-or-less every house, and taking in the sights and decorative storytelling around us. It took us a dozen or so hours just to reach a level in the double digits. Already, both Eric and I have agreed that our money is already well-spent. After a few more days, we will have spent 50 hours in this game together, and only scratched the first 50% of content it has to offer. We’ve only covered the south area of the vault (tutorial area kind of place), pushed further east to the mountains, and explored a bit of Morgantown further-up North. That area spans less than half the map horizontally, and even less vertically. We’ve not seen half of the map yet. Once we do see everything, and have finished exploring everywhere, I’d wager we will have accrued anywhere from 70-100 hours in the game before we can say that we’re finished or even satisfied. A warning however, we’ve been playing the game very casually and at a slower pace than the average player (we enjoy exploring), so your mileage may vary. Easily 50 hours+ though with the building mechanics.
Essentially, 76 is just an online theme park that you walk around, with occasional mobs and events to take part in and some challenges to undergo. Take in the sights, enjoy your stay, and in that time you might have built a few bases or similar. I really don’t see the problem. I’m having more fun than I did playing Destiny 1 and 2, not that that’s saying a lot (and that game has also had similar criticisms in different ways). I think what 76 boils down to is expectations, and the abundance of them. Too many people have placed too much expectation on how great this would be as an online Fallout. Probably expecting something closer to an MMO, and not just an online Fallout game sans story and anything complex. Bugs can be fixed, and systems can be patched or modified, but the experience on offer here currently is adequate I would say. Enough for a full AAA price tag? I don’t think so either. I’m in agreement with everyone that they shouldn’t have released the game in this state for the price they’re asking. If they want that AAA price, they should have released it in early-access form first (my personal recommendation), and upgraded the price later after making some additions. If they want to release with that price, I think a lot more content and work was needed first.
However, I don’t want to go back into the politics of it all. It’s fine, go buy it if you like this sort of thing. If you aren’t expecting this game to go upwards of 100 hours, and you just want a nice RPG to run around and shoot things with friends, go for it. If you’re a single-player gamer who wants another story-based Fallout experience, this is not for you. This is a social experience with friends at its core. Whilst it can be enjoyed alone (don’t let me tell you how to enjoy your game!), I really do see it best when played with a friend or at least a group of some kind. My expectations for this game were terribly low after seeing the reception it had from gamers. After paying around half-price for the game however out of curiosity with Eric, I can say with confidence that this is a decent/average game. Certainly not amazing nor great, but decent. $60 for this on Day 1? I would have been annoyed. Not angry though, just annoyed. Had I bought a higher-costing edition as a big fan of the series? Yes, I completely see where the hate has stemmed from, and I point to Final Fantasy XV as my experience of that kind of remorse. For the average gamer though, who just wants to run around and shoot things with some light RPG elements in it, it’s a good theme park experience that will last you upwards of 30, if not 50 hours should you find its game-play loop fun. A lot of gamers including myself have on more than one occasion, payed upwards of $60 for experiences that barely last 10 hours, and don’t complain this much. Just buy it on sale.
[Update] Bethesda have also released a roadmap recently to layout their plans for the future. It’s nothing to get too excited about but it looks interesting nonetheless, and I’ll probably re-install the game at some point next year when they’ve all come out.
Images Taken From: https://fallout.bethesda.net/en/games/fallout-76