Fallout 76 Review – Xbox One

I didn’t get into the Fallout series until Fallout 3, and even then, it was because I’d played The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and figured that a post-apocalyptic version with guns sounded like a great idea. As it turns out, the Fallout series is far deeper and richer than that description implied, as I realized as I devoured Fallout 3 and its subsequent DLC, and then did the same with both New Vegas and Fallout 4. When Fallout 76 was announced, I was more than a little apprehensive: it felt like a typical approach of bringing a single-player experience unnecessarily online, and I hadn’t especially enjoyed what had been done with The Elder Scrolls Online, where I felt like the soul of the experience had been taken out, and it was expected that it would be filled by the presence of other players.

Despite my worries, I entered Fallout 76 with a sense of hope, and the first few hours hit the marks that I’ve come to recognize and enjoy from the series: you wake up in a vault, get a brief explanation of what you’re supposed to be doing, and then you emerge into a brand-new slice of world, full of possibility and mystery. The premise of Fallout 76 is relatively simple: you’re one of the first to emerge from any of the series’ famous vaults, and your task is to establish the state of the world and figure out how to rebuild it into some sort of livable state. Unfortunately, the premise of rebuilding the world, as promised in the game’s marketing, is more than a little overblown, and much of your time with the game will be spent tracking down holotapes and records, rather than getting busy building and repairing.

You do have the chance to build your own camp, in a similar fashion to the building and crafting mechanics introduced in Fallout 4, and it’s a welcome touch that, for a small fee, you can move your camp around the world map, meaning that you’ll have a relatively local base wherever you are. I found the actual ability to move your camp a little fiddly, however, as you can’t place it too close to already established buildings, and it can be a little tough to find areas that are level enough to place foundations while also being free of rocks and tress that prevent you from building. Moving your camp isn’t perfect either, as the game seemed to (seemingly at random) sometimes allow me to transfer my camp in a fully built state, and other times it would come along piecemeal, and I’d have to rebuild it there and then from its individual components. For the stage of the game where I’m at, where I have a small cabin with minimal components, it’s an inconvenience more than anything else, but when you get to later stages of the game, with larger and larger dwellings, it would be nice to have an idea of how much work you’ll have to put in to move your home.

In its current state, Fallout 76 seems to contain a lot of these kinds of inconsistencies, some of which seem to be design choices, and some of which seem to be mechanical errors. For example, I’ve had occasions where I’ve loaded up the game and half of the quests I was working through previously didn’t load up, only to reappear later in the day when I started the game up again. I’ve had my Xbox One X crash to the home screen multiple times, and even shut-down completely once (something I’ve never experienced before on a console), and the game is full of framerate drops and stuttering which go beyond the typical lag you might experience in an online experience such as this. Even the enemies are unpredictable, in that sometimes they will be completely unaware of your presence until you literally shoot them in the face, while in other instances the slightest noise will seemingly alert every creature in the surrounding area and have them all swarm you at once. I’ve also found enemy leveling to be incredibly inconsistent, with certain areas having high-level enemies at one time, and then enemies at level one the next time I wander through, which makes exploring the map and knowing where is safe and where isn’t quite difficult to judge.

In terms of design decisions, Fallout 76 feels a lot like it’s giving the player too many plates to spin at one time, and because of this it’s inevitable that you’ll have at least one crashing to the ground at any one time. In a similar move to the Survival modes present in previous Fallout games, you have to manage your avatar’s hunger and thirst by finding food and drink, which will then likely affect your radiation level, which brings down your health bar if your rads get too high. If you get hungry and thirsty, your ability points drop, allowing you to run for less time and use V.A.T.S. less often. On top of this, your weapons and armor have durability meters, and will break entirely if this drops too low. However, you can’t carry too many items to repair your equipment, as your carry weight only allows you to bring so many things with you. Also, you can get diseases that impact your stats, radiation poisoning that can alter your abilities, and of course, with the mix-and-match enemy levels, you can suddenly get hit of nowhere by a creature who is much stronger than you’re equipped to face. It’s a lot to manage and be aware of at any one time, and it feels like you’re concentrating on these aspects more than you are on actually enjoying the game.

It’s a shame, because underneath the annoyances, there’s a lot to like about Fallout 76. The world is the best looking of any Fallout game to date, and because of the time period that it is set in, there’s a lot more color present, and some truly unique things to see. There’s a wide range of environments to explore, and the map itself is huge, with a lot of individual points of interest to uncover. I’ve already had some great moments in terms of emergent narrative, both by myself and when playing with others, and some of the areas that I’ve explored easily match some of the more popular areas from Fallout 3 and New Vegas. The world of Fallout 76 seems to be geared more towards giving you the opportunity to create your own stories, rather than the game giving them to you on a plate, and though this may upset some players, it’s a lot of fun when playing with a group of friends, or even as a pairing.

Some of my best moments have come from the events that populate the map, and occur at fairly regular intervals. Essentially, an icon will appear on the world map, and you’ll be given a relatively simple task, such as defending an area or repairing a series of items. One of my favorite examples of these was being given the job of setting up the country club of a golf course for a party, all while being attacked by super mutants. It’s quite common to see player markers gravitate towards these events, and it’s a great feeling to have other players come and give you a hand, especially if you’re struggling.

Outside of these events, I have to mention that I didn’t encounter other players too often, and when I did, it was usually just in passing. It would usually be someone working their way through the same questline as myself, and we’d both carry on with our business and move on. For single-player fans worried about other players, there’s really no need to be concerned, as the map is so large, and the number of players in each world so small, that you’ll only run into someone else if you’re really trying to. With the lack of friendly NPCs, this can make the world feel quite empty, but in terms of the game’s setting, it makes sense within the narrative.  You’ll received a lot of the story through voice recordings and holotapes, and honestly, I didn’t find this to be a whole lot different than standing in front of a character model and hearing the same lines.

Fallout 76 is a strange game for me, as being a fan of the series, and of the base mechanics, I really want to like it. I started off feeling great about the experience, loving the new world and being excited to discover what lay over each horizon. However, the more I’ve played, the more difficult I find it to encourage myself to continue. It’s frustrating, as every now and then I’ll get a pang of excitement or curiosity, and I’ll remember why I enjoy the Fallout games so much. An interesting looking building, a quest that seems particularly enticing, or even a new gun will remind me how much fun these games can be, but then I’ll run into a bug, or my water or food will run out, or my gun will break, and I’ll have to trudge back to camp to repair it, or hope that at some point in the next few minutes I’ll find some screws or some adhesive to repair it. It’s a weird type of pendulum game in that for five minutes I can be having a great time, and then five minutes later I’ll be so frustrated or annoyed that I’ll want to turn the game off.

For any game like this, where it exists as much as a live service as Fallout 76 does, it’s difficult to give a truly definitive opinion, as within a few weeks, the game could present a completely different experience. Bethesda is already working on a patch to change up a few things, and as such, my opinion here is very much an evaluation on a snapshot of the game in its current state. Even then, I’m not entirely sure how to feel about it. It does some things well, some things poorly, and some things really well, and similarly some things really poorly. It’s definitely a game that I will return to, and I’ll be keeping a close eye on any changes and patch notes, as I truly believe that this is an experience that isn’t that far from being great. With a few tweaks and changes here and there, and perhaps some balance adjustments, Fallout 76 could easily be a game that I can see myself losing hours to. As it is, a truly great online Fallout experience is in the game somewhere; it just needs to find itself.

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