Scouting the Appalachian Wasteland and Bringing Back the Intel
Two things before we get started:
- First, this review has minor spoilers for the first five hours of the BETA. However, if you’ve read anything online about the game you’ll already know most of this stuff.
- Second, I’m playing this game on an XBOX One S.
So, as has been mentioned for months in the geek-related press, Bethesda is releasing the next iteration of its Fallout franchise, Fallout 76. For those of you who already know the basics, or simply want to know whether you should play the game, skip to the next heading. I’ll provide a brief introduction for those of you who have missed the 4,243,500 other articles that have been written about Fallout 76 thus far.
Essentially, Fallout 76 is Bethesda’s first shot at making the Fallout world multiplayer. At this point, I won’t judge whether that was a good idea or not, I’ll just stick to providing the basic information. This game is the earliest in the Fallout timeline, taking place in 2102, Reclamation Day. In this game, it’s your job to leave the vault, located in the hills of West Virginia, and get the world up and running again. As far as story goes, that’s about all you know to start. You also learn that the overseer of the vault (that you hear, but never see), has left the vault with a mission of her own; tracking her down is a side quest.
So, that’s about all the introduction you need…now on to the real question:
Is This Game Worth Playing?
The short answer to the question is, “That depends.”
The slightly longer answer to the question is, “That depends on what aspects of Fallout you like the most.”
The rest of this review provides the really long answer to the question.
I’d like to start this review by qualifying myself as a reviewer. I picked up the series starting with Fallout 3 and have played Fallout: New Vegas and Fallout 4. I think I would’ve enjoyed the first two (non-console) versions of the game, but never managed to try them. As it stands, if it wasn’t so buggy (and it really is cripplingly buggy), Fallout: New Vegas would’ve been my favorite of the three I’ve played. The amount of choice you have, and the way the story changes based on those choices, is pretty incredible. The fact that your character build can completely change the way you approach missions is good for an old fart like me who relies on VATS to hit my targets (when I can’t talk, bribe, or hack my way around them). Fallout 3 was also a great entry in the series, and Fallout 4 was the weakest, with an over reliance on gun play and picking up garbage. Oddly, the companion relationships in Fallout 4 were actually quite good; Nick Valentine might be the best of any Fallout console game companion.
So, if you’ve read the preceding qualifications, you can probably figure out what I like the most about the Fallout franchise. I’m a fan of story, choice, and character development. While I don’t hate the running and gunning, I like to have the choice to avoid it at times. Based on that, if you’re like me, be prepared to not be pleased with Fallout 76 (as it currently exists).
I did my due diligence and read up on the Fallout 76 experience. The talking heads, reps, and developers all seemed to be sort of vague while trying to allay the fears of Fallout fans who were worried that the shift to multiplayer would make the game less Fallout-esque. I, too, was worried that the game would continue to trend the way Fallout 4 did, with less emphasis on story, character development, and creative problem solving and more emphasis on shooting and trash collecting. In interviews and articles, red flags started going up as phrases like, “no human NPCs,” and“environmental storytelling,” got tossed around. I was worried, but not totally ready to give up. I decided to pre-order the game and get the BETA code to see if I could try out the game before I plunked down $60 on a game that Bethesda wasn’t doing a great job selling me.
So, I got the code and spent about four hours (could’ve been longer…I just let it sit after a while) downloading the game file. I was ready to head back into the world of Fallout!
You start the game waking up from a night of partying. It’s Reclamation Day and the vault is open. You’re the last person to leave (aside from the overly happy Mr. Handy robots). Your first order of business is to create your character and take your name tag picture. As with Fallout 4, the character-creation options are pretty robust. The first minor annoyance came in the fact that there weren’t sliders for adjusting facial features…you simply had to keep turning your character’s head and eyeballing it; I like to keep all my values average, shave my character bald (like me) and plop a beard on him. I snapped my picture and I was off.
As you walk through the halls of the vault, you stop at cardboard displays that provide “helpful” hints about surviving in the wasteland, along with supplies such as bottled water and Stimpaks. This is where I hit my first, “not happy with this game,” moment. In Fallout games past, there was a reason you were heading into the wasteland with nothing. In Fallout 3, you had to leave in a hurry, scavenging what you could on the way out. In New Vegas, you were left for dead in a hole. In this game, you’re supposed to be the wasteland’s best hope for survival and Vault-Tec can’t even spare a pistol, some body armor, or a few MREs?!? Seriously, the fact that I had to pry a pipe pistol out of a dead guy’s hands as I was being attacked by rogue robots is kinda ridiculous.
Anyway, I managed to fight off a gaggle of robots with the pistol that was 0-1 in keeping its users alive and a machete I managed to find, and head to the overseer’s first camp.
Oh yeah, before I continue, I forgot to mention the new way perks are handled in this game. One of the things you receive on your way out of the vault (instead of a weapon or body armor of any sort) is a pack of perk cards. These cards (along with leveling up) are the way you’ll develop your character in Fallout 76. Instead of assigning yourself SPECIAL points from a pool at the beginning, you start with zero points. Unlike in previous iterations, where an intelligence of zero meant you were too stupid to understand what anyone’s saying, in this game you’re semi-capable to start; perks are just that…perks. You’ll get cards with SPECIAL-trait-specific perks and you’ll be able to use them if you have enough points invested in that trait. So, for example, I took my first point in the Strength trait, so I could use the card I got in my first pack that gave me +10% damage with one-handed melee weapons. If you get duplicates of cards, you can stack them for more powerful versions of the same perk. Of course, picking the Strength point also raised my carrying capacity, which you’ll quickly learn is more important than in games passed…more on that to come.
So, with my more powerful machete in hand, I headed to the overseer’s first camp. On the way, I spotted an abandoned building and decided to check it out (since I didn’t have any armor, food, or weapons that were worth a crap). I scavenged what I could, and that’s when I got in my second scuffle. This time, wild dogs came after me. Unlike the first fight, however, where I fought two or three robots, the dogs just kept coming. By the time the fight was over, a dozen dogs laid at my feet. I basically stood at the door of the house and they kept coming. Nothing’s more fun than wailing on the attack button for three straight minutes. I think because of the fact that multiple people inhabit this game world, enemies have to respawn, and in this game, they respawn a lot.
So, I finally got to the overseer’s camp and learned a little about camping (or CAMPing, because CAMP stands for something…I’m too lazy to look up what that is), which is a huge part of this game. As a matter of fact, “surviving” is a large part of this game. However, the mechanics are truly obnoxious. If you didn’t turn on survival mode in the previous versions of Fallout because it didn’t sound appealing…get ready to play a game that REALLY isn’t appealing. I get people who want to play realistic survival-type games, but that’s not really why I played Fallout games in the past. I get having to eat, drink, sleep, and avoid radiation, but let me lay out some of the rules and guidelines for survival in the game and let you be the judge as to whether they’re a bit much.
- You have to eat and drink, but if you eat food that isn’t cooked or water that isn’t boiled, you could get a disease (like dysentery, fun!). On top of that, even if you boil water, it’s still radioactive unless you have a water filter. Even cooked food is still radioactive, just less so. Raw food is super-likely to give you stat-crippling diseases and disease cures are hard to come by out of the gate.
- Oh, yeah, as always, you have to watch out for your radiation level. Keep that in mind! Because in this game, radiation cuts down on your maximum hit points.
- In this game, drugs like Buffout also affect your thirst level. You have to read the description of every food, drink, and drug to make sure they don’t hurt you in ways that are fatal. Fancy Lad Snack Cakes could kill you!
- Also, when you sleep, if you sleep in sleeping bags, you can get diseases…because you’re sleeping on the ground. You have to sleep in beds to heal without threat of disease. That happened to me the second time I tried to sleep…oops.
- Oh yeah, and since this game takes place in real time, you can’t pause to inject stimpaks or eat, so if you’re reading the 12 different effects of Yum Yum Deviled Eggs and you get attacked, you’re shit out of luck.
- Plus, you can only carry so much, and everything has weight, so you have to figure out how to carry weapons, ammo, food, drink, healing stuff, and all of that garbage you need to build homes, repair weapons, and put nails in your baseball bat.
- However, Bethesda was nice enough to give you stash boxes, so you’d think you’re okay…you can keep visiting your stash box to dump your junk, right? NO! Stash boxes, for some inexplicable reason, have a weight limit of 400 pounds, which you should fill up in about three hours of playing. Fun!
So, with all of that in mind, I continued to the first town. This town was inhabited by a group called the Responders, but since Bethesda’s super lazy, all of them are dead (no spoiler…Bethesda has pretty much said that there won’t be any human NPCs in this game). You can join the Responders by signing up at a kiosk and then going around to the computers of the dead Responder members and learning the lessons (such as how to boil water, cook, and camp) to become a full-fledged member of the group.
At first, I didn’t know how I’d feel about the “no human NPCs” thing. I didn’t think I’d be thrilled, since story and character development are pretty high on my list of importance. And while most people would argue that the recordings and written messages tell a story, as well, I would argue that it’s a pretty friggin’ depressing way to tell a story. By the fifteenth holotape (no exaggeration, I’m in the 20s now), that storytelling method is getting kinda’ lame. It’s especially lame when one story line has you searching for the mayor of a town that’s broadcasting for help…when you KNOW HE’S DEAD BECAUSE BETHESDA SAID THERE WOULD BE NO HUMAN NPCS!
The fact that there are no humans around also doesn’t make sense from a story line and logic perspective. In Fallout 3, which is waaaaaaay later on the timeline, the people in and around Washington D.C. survived a nuclear attack, and not one person in West Virginia managed to make it this far? First of all, what foreign power would be stupid enough to drop a nuke anywhere near West Virginia? I guess D.C. is kinda’ close, but come on.
I guess since I’m talking about a lack of people, I should take this opportunity to mention the other human players in the world. I can only speak on this minimally, because I only teamed up once, and the people I teamed up with ran off before I could even get my bearings. Oddly enough, though, I kept getting rewards for them finishing missions, which I wasn’t even attempting. I was trying to get my level up and build some weapons and armor first. Surprisingly, no one has been a jackass so far…but it’s a pain to have to wait to use a mission-critical terminal because someone’s already on it. It’s also awesome to have to wait for brahmin to respawn because a guy killed them to make brahmin steak for a mission and I’m trying to complete that same mission…fun!
Now, on the flip side, Bethesda’s taking some precautions to make sure you don’t act like a douche bag in the wasteland. While you’re a level one to four character, you can’t even take part in PvP. Once you hit level five, you can take part in PvP, but only if you want to. If someone attacks you and you don’t attack back, they’ll only inflict minimal damage. If they manage to be persistent enough to kill you, they’ll become wanted until someone kills them (and collects the bounty that the douche player has to pay).
Well, that logic seemed pretty solid to me until I stumbled upon a building with some turrets around it. Not wanting to get killed, I shot and blew up one of the turrets. Little did I know, that building belonged to a human player, and destroying his or her stuff got me a wanted status. That meant that I couldn’t see pursuers on the map, but I was a big red star. I lasted about 10 minutes before someone killed me and I lost 10 caps. Unfortunately, in this game, caps are a lot rarer (at least at first) and that hurt more than it seemed. So, I basically lost time and money because I accidentally shot at a turret. I guess since the shopkeepers in Skyrim call the guards if you steal a plate off a counter on accident, I should expect equally harsh treatment in this game world.
So, after a while, I managed to get comfortable with the game. I got some decent guns, a fair amount of food, and some upgraded leather armor, and I felt like the king of the world. However, I was a king without a castle, so I decided to build one. I picked a spot and set down my CAMP doodad and built a little one-room shack. I also built a bed (because I didn’t want to get scurvy, rickets, carbuncles, or some damn thing by putting a sleeping bag on the floor), some workbenches, and a campfire to cook outside. I was set.
Oh, yeah, there were some issues with the house building. As I mentioned before, you can only keep 400 pounds of stuff in the stash box, and everything (including bullets and healing items) has weight, so it’s tough to build a lot at first. Also, you have to find plans to build almost anything, so you won’t have a lot of options at first. The cherry on the sundae is that people and bad guys can assault your building, even when you’re not there! The best part for me is that my house disappeared for some reason…I think I might’ve packed it up, but I don’t really know if I did it on purpose or not. One plus is that you can create a blueprint of your building/camp and recreate it again if you like it enough.
The last aspect of the game I should talk about is the actual combat, since (unlike the other games in the franchise) there really isn’t any way to avoid it in this game. I’m not great at games where quick reflexes are a necessity. I don’t do badly aiming at unsuspecting ghouls from the shadows, but once enemies swarm me (and they WILL swarm you in this game), I’m in trouble. Since other humans are in this game, VATS as we know it isn’t possible. Instead, VATS is sort of like aim assist now. Depending on how close you are and how many points and perks you’ve invested in gun-play, you’ll be given a percentage of likelihood to hit. Even if your gun’s not pointed directly at an enemy, you’ll hit if the percentage is high enough. I used VATS in this game more to find enemies in the dark instead of actually shooting them. It’s funny and ironic that the aspect of Fallout I like the least (gun-play) is what I think is the “okayest” thing about Fallout 76….shooting isn’t too difficult, except for the fact that bullets are far more rare in this game than in games past.
Before I conclude, I would quickly like to say that the music is probably the best thing about this game. The soundtrack on the radio is perhaps the best yet in a Fallout console game…except, of course, that there’s not a DJ like Three Dog or Mr. New Vegas.
So, that was a really long way of saying that if you like the freedom to approach missions in different ways, deep story lines, complex worlds, and deep characters of the Fallout world and dislike the meter maintaining, garbage collecting, and gun-play of recent entries, you’re probably not going to be in love with Fallout 76. The crazy part of the beta is that the things I was expecting to find, like annoying seven-year-olds cursing at me for taking the last can of Cram, glitches galore, and bugs aplenty, were all absent. The things I didn’t like were more worrisome. I can’t imagine Bethesda is going to walk back on not having human NPCs. They might make the stash boxes a little more generous or the hunger and thirst meters a little more forgiving, but I don’t know if that’ll be enough for me. I don’t know if a journey through a pretty-but-empty wasteland interacting with robots and dead people’s holotapes is going to be enough to get me to invest in the full version of this game. Really, the game doesn’t even feel like a journey…it feels more like a bunch of scavenging runs cobbled together like a crappy pipe pistol. Chasing after the overseer, who we KNOW is dead (because no NPCs!), isn’t really piquing my interest, so I’ve spent my time searching buildings for empty bottles and tin cans so I can improve my house a little bit more. Even after five hours, that’s getting old…especially since I’m over-encumbered 80 percent of the time now and my stash box is full. I spend 15 minutes at a clip building on to my house because I don’t want to throw anything out. Is that really what I want to pay $60 for…resource management?
So, if you feel like me, you might want to pop in your copy of one of the old Fallout games instead of investing in this new iteration of the Fallout series (or wait until the next, proper, title). If you hate reading and love survival mode and/or the base building of Fallout 4 and were a staunch supporter of the Minutemen, you might love this game. Keep in mind, however, that all the Minutemen in this game will be dead because there aren’t any people in West Virginia.
If I had to grade this game on a scale of 1 to 5, I would have to give it a 2. Keep in mind, this IS my review of a BETA, and I didn’t take advantage of all the features…so my review is based on five hours of average play.
- The music is really good.
- West Virginia is beautiful and diverse visually.
- The gun-play isn’t horrible.
- Other humans aren’t complete dicks…yet.
- Customization options are plentiful.
- For a game that touts that I’m supposed to save mankind, I’m awfully ill prepared.
- For a game that wants me to rebuild society, that’s hard to do with a 400-pound weight limit.
- “Realism” is annoying. If I’m thirsty, I’d like to remedy that by drinking…not having to worry about giving myself consumption, break bone, or leprosy.
- The people of West Virginia sure got wiped out quickly…that makes for a crappy world.
- I can’t get enthused about saving a world with no people in it.
I’m sure there are things I missed in this review. If you have questions, feel free to leave comments and I’ll try to answer them. Hopefully, my scouting mission to the hills of West Virginia will do you some good. Maybe, since Bethesda didn’t put any people in their world, I can save some of the people in the real world from making a $60 mistake.