After more than 50 hours plundering the irradiated wasteland of Fallout 76, the greatest mystery still lingering is who this mutated take on Fallout is intended for. Like many of Vault-Tec’s underground bunkers, Bethesda’s multiplayer riff on its post-nuclear RPG series is an experiment gone awry. There are bright spots entangled in this mass of frustratingly buggy and sometimes conflicting systems, but what fun I was able to salvage from the expansive but underpopulated West Virginia map was consistently overshadowed by the monotony of its gathering and crafting treadmill.
On the surface, Fallout 76 is another dose of Bethesda’s tried-and-true open-world RPG formula on a larger-than-ever map that’s begging to be explored. As you emerge from Vault 76 you’ll start in a relatively peaceful forest and venture out into more dangerous pockets of the irradiated wasteland. My favorite is traveling the lengths of the Cranberry Bog, where the pinkish-red fields are seemingly inviting from afar but turn out to be full of a snaking system of trenches and alien forests that hide the worst horrors of the wasteland, but there are many more.
But while the lighting and art direction of these different regions are great at setting the eerie mood and tone of a destroyed Appalachia, the actual objects like trees, shrubs, buildings, cars, and more somehow look flatter and less detailed than those in Fallout 4 did three years ago. Coupling that with Bethesda’s still-unimpressive character animations, Fallout 76 isn’t a good-looking game except when viewed from the exact right angles.
When you look closer, it becomes obvious that Bethesda’s ambitious idea to replace all human NPCs with other players results in a lack of meaningful interaction with the world. Other than 20-something other players spread so thinly over a massive map that chance encounters are rare outside of quest locations, just about the only voices you’ll hear are recordings of long-dead questgivers, robots, and AI constructs who simply deliver information at you. Where past Fallout games have more than made up for some of their frustrations with brow-furrowing questions like whether to destroy the town of Megaton or what should become of the New Vegas Strip, there’s no opportunity for the morally tricky decision-making in Fallout 76 because no one talking to you can hear you.
Because of that, the so-called main story quests to track down and eliminate the source of a spreading plague boil down to obediently following a breadcrumb trail of journals and notes. With the exception of some occasional goofy and creative tasks, it all feels like chasing ghosts. And though later missions mask the shallowness with some cool large-scale battles and events, they’re fleeting moments.
Wandering the diverse wasteland of Appalachia does reveal one of Bethesda’s great strengths: environmental storytelling. Discovering a goofy teddy bear playing pots-and-pans drums in a shack in the middle of nowhere tells me someone was here for a time, and so very bored. A skeleton holding flowers, a bottle of wine, and a stuffed animal reveals that someone was about to take the plunge and profess their admiration when the world burst into flame. A half-sunken church with tunnels leading into a deeper, icicle light-adorned cavern has me wondering who reclaimed this place? Was it a sanctum? A place to hide from everything outside?
All of these little moments and so many more are dotted across the landscape of West Virginia, and though they’re such small things, they speak volumes about the diverse variety of lives that were led before the bombs fell and in the times shortly thereafter. But really, it just made me want to meet some of them.
By now this shouldn’t be news to anyone, but: a new Fallout game has bugs. Yet even by the notorious standards of a Bethesda open-world game, Fallout 76 is technically shaky, and unlike the radiation-soaked radroaches and bloatflys you encounter these annoying bugs can’t be resolved by incinerating them with a laser pistol. Technical problems occupy the spectrum of severity. Some can be endearing: I’ve casually shot the head off a feral ghoul, sending both parts cartwheeling into the air at hilarious speed, and watched a hulking crustacean get caught in a small patch of trees, unable to free itself from what, to it, should’ve been a tiny weed. That’s not ideal, but in dour moments they can add an absurdist sense of humor to the otherwise-dreary wasteland environment.
I’m far less amused, however, by the hive of deeply frustrating bugs that’s infested virtually all of Fallout 76’s systems. There are noticeable framerate dips and freezes for several seconds at a time that sometimes recover and sometimes crash the application, and these are as common as the rising and setting sun.There are quests that can’t be completed – some of which were addressed with a ridiculously large post-launch patch, but others have not – and I’ve had quest targets already dead upon arrival, forcing me to jump from server to server (not easy to do because there’s no server browser – you’re automatically assigned one on every login) until I found one where it was still alive. I’m looking at you, Evan. I’ve seen whole sections of my camp suddenly disappear, or load in 30 seconds after I’d fast-traveled to it, or duplicate all the materials for no reason, forcing me to delete the entire blueprint and rebuild piece by piece. I’ve been stuck on never-ending loading screens. I’ve watched wasteland cows glitch 30 feet into the air, and back down, over and over. I’ve stared in disbelief as power armor turned player characters into long-appendaged vaguely humanoid monsters (Okay, maybe that one should be in the funny category) or cause players to go invisible. One of my cohorts’ characters became stuck for a full day and couldn’t play at all.
The list goes on and on and on. But despite their frequency and severity, most are corrected when you quit the application and relaunch – but because you can’t declare one server your home and find it again on demand, that means any server-specific things you do, like taking over workshop camps and building resource generators, are left behind and become casualties of Fallout 76’s rampant issues. Bethesda’s open-world games have always had a touch of random instability, but at least everything was usually as we left it when we restarted and came back. I imagine the fact that Fallout 76 is an online game has ratcheted all the usual problems up quite a bit.
rest of article at https://au.ign.com/articles/2018/11/22/fallout-76-review