I’ve spent a lot of time in Fallout 76’s Appalachia. There has been something extremely absorbing about Bethesda’s latest entry into the long running series. It’s the buggiest AAA release I’ve ever played, and yet I still find myself spending hours exploring the wasteland. Its promise of a grand multiplayer experience aside, Fallout 76 remains a pretty fun Fallout game first, and since Bethesda has the reins, that means bugs.
Fallout 76’s wasteland isn’t the Fallout wasteland we’ve ever been in before. Taking place 25 years after the bombs fell, your character, an inhabitant of Vault 76, is finally released from the safe confines of their bomb proof shelter into the harsh “wastes” of Appalachia. While not pristine, Appalachia seems mostly untouched by bombs, but still it’s brimming with radioactively mutated flora and fauna. While some are familiar to fans of the Fallout series, there are many new enemies to smash with your Super Sledge.
Bethesda has done much to make Fallout theirs while respecting the lore that came before it. While there are some things that might trouble diehard fans, much of it is actually quite plausible. As someone who has read every terminal they have come across since the original Fallout, I can stomach these retcons and oversights. Most people will happily play with little to no knowledge of them, anyway.
The story itself centers around you, a dweller of Vault 76, emerging 25 years after the bombs fell on the United States and collapsed civilization. It’s a pretty grim setting, that is tonally tongue-in-cheek and aesthetically 50s. It’s an alternate universe where radiation damage can be reversed, and therefore powers most everything—even used as an additive to beverages. You are among the best and the brightest in America, sealed away to ride out the fallout and emerge to rebuild Appalachia.
Usually in a Fallout game you would encounter numerous different factions of humans, and other-than humans who give you quests, tasks, or are intractable in other ways. When I first heard that Fallout 76 was eschewing all of this in favor of only human to human interaction, I was disappointed. This, surprisingly, was not a problem for me. I loved the characters you would encounter in previous Fallout games, and enjoyed learning about their backstories. But what I always had the most fun doing in Fallout was exploring the wasteland.
And what a joy it is to explore. I’ve played for over 76 hours now and I still have yet to uncover every location. The world is incredibly detailed and full of lore to discover, and tidbits to read about. Despite the lack of human NPCs, there are still characters with dialogue and some non-humans to interact with—though they are rare. Gone are the dialogue trees and non-player character interactions of the past, beyond “talk to “and (even more rarely) “turn-in.” These NPCs don’t really have personality further than being a button to press.
It seems as though each entry in the Fallout series does something to disappoint or outright anger the fan base, with the most common complaint being that the newest entry isn’t enough of a “true” role-playing game. That’s an argument for another time, but I can unequivocally say that Fallout 76 is a role-playing game—it just requires you to roleplay with other people, a sort of roleplay that—ironically—gamers don’t partake in much anymore.
There is lots to do—you can’t enter an area without running into a quest, whether it is given by a voice acted robotic NPC or whether it pops up when entering an area. Some quests are simply “explore the location you just found” but often evolve into more complicated, often multi-stepped adventures that lead to more locations and more quests. And despite all my time spent with Fallout 76, my quest log is still quite full.
If you’ve played Fallout 4, you’ll be familiar with Fallout 76—for the most part. It’s been a little bit since I played Fallout 4, and it took me a while to get reacquainted with the Pip-Boy, etc. But it wasn’t long before I felt right at home. I was so familiar; in fact, I quickly realized that multiplayer didn’t seem to really change that much toward the negative. Instead, it gave me a chance to share one of my favorite franchises with friends who haven’t played a single other Fallout game before. I had a great time guiding my multiplayer partners through the wasteland. I felt like a seasoned wasteland warrior, giving advice on what components to look out for and what to leave behind.
Fallout 76, like Fallout 4, has a pretty robust crafting system. You can craft weapons, armor, and/or modify them in several ways. This can allow you to turn mundane weapons into seriously powerful—and fun—tools of survival and/or destruction. Crafting is also the way some Power Armor sets are created, and even how you create the items purchased from the Atomic Shop—Fallout 76’s microtransaction shop.
The components needed for crafting are most often found in the junk scattered throughout the places you’ll explore, and they’re in addition to stuff you’ll be picking up like weapons, armor, ammo, clothing etc. All these things have weight attached to them, and it feels like you really can’t ever carry enough. To make it worse, the C.A.M.P. stash—your primary player storage– is woefully small, and notoriously so; something Bethesda says it will address in a future patch.
Your C.A.M.P. is an integral part of your Appalachia experience, but not in the way you might expect. It’s a great, surefire place to find work benches (if you put them there) and a free fast travel node. Travelling around the map in Fallout 76 costs caps, but it doesn’t cost anything to travel to your C.A.M.P., which you can move as easily as pressing a button. Your buildings will be stored, and you can just plop them right back down—in theory. It doesn’t always work that way. In fact, nothing really works the way it seems like it should when it comes to the C.A.M.P. system.
The base building, again, is much like Fallout 4—except you can build your base in most locations throughout the game. You can really carve out your little slice of Appalachia with a myriad of building options—most of which are unlocked by finding plans during regular gameplay. When I say “little slice of Appalachia” I mean it, though. The area you can build in is relatively tiny, and the “budget” that allows you to place items in that tiny area is quite restrictive. And while there are options to put locks on doors, much in the same way Rust or ARK handles security, it seems like it doesn’t really matter too much.
Your mileage may vary, but I have yet to be griefed or attacked by another player. When you think of sandbox-type survival games, you might think of DayZ, Rust, ARK, etc. but Fallout 76 does not feel like those games. It feels like a Fallout game first, and a survival game as a distant second.
That said, there are mechanics in place that many survival games have (and even Fallout 4 had in survival mode) like hunger and thirst, etc. You can get radiation sickness and an assortment of harmful or (rarely) beneficial mutations from being exposed to radiation for too long. Swimming in water without Power Armor on, breathing in bad air, or eating food (among other things) risks disease. Some diseases are far more annoying than others
Fallout 76 seems deliberately set up to avoid non-consensual PvP—though that doesn’t mean it can’t happen. While you can still be killed by players attacking you, you take reduced damage unless you attack back. There are PvP systems in-place, including explicit player versus player events and zones, but I have yet to see those populated and active in a meaningful way. It seems most people are content exploring by themselves or with friends.
Despite the sandbox nature, and the ability to build C.A.M.P.S., there is no real permanence: things respawn, including loot, and you can move your entire C.A.M.P. to different locations for the cost of a few caps, etc. Even after players drop nukes, nothing seems so drastically different. Or, when you log back in you’ll be on a new server—a different version of the one you were just in. I used to love hunting for Power Armor in Fallout 4, but being able to just fast travel back and forth to known spawn locations takes away some of the thrill of spontaneously finding them—something I shamefully admit I did when I couldn’t get RNGesus to bless me with a T-60 left arm. But as with many massively multiplayer online games I’ve played, it feels more like a theme park than a living, breathing world.
Fallout 76 feels like it’s held together by scotch tape and hope. Things break constantly. Playing with your friends is sometimes easy, but is more often unreliable and frustrating. Bethesda has had a reputation for buggy games, but Fallout 76 exposes their nature to a different audience, and in ways that are made more egregious by being an open world multiplayer game. In Fallout 76, you can’t load an autosave to undo a glitch, or access the console to spawn in a missing quest item. You just have to re-login and hope for the best, and that is extremely tedious and not fun.
Base building seems especially rife with bugs as simply trying to place items can be frustratingly inconsistent. And if you have supremely bad luck (like myself) you will lose your C.A.M.P. altogether and have to rebuild or relocate and rebuild. Luckily, your structures can be saved in blueprint from and (if you’re lucky) can be placed again. I have actually lost quite a few C.A.M.P.S and hours to suddenly disappearing bases. Though this isn’t something my companions suffered from, so again, your mileage may vary.
Dressing up is a surprisingly important part of Fallout 76, making it something to be sought after. I found myself hoarding clothes so I could have the options to dress the way I wanted in Appalachia. Much of your cosmetic customization options have to be found in game—and that means either doing events or quests, or meticulously searching locations (or reading guides to where items are—but that’s no fun!).
The Atomic Shop is the microtransaction store and only way to spend the Atomic points that are accumulated through doing challenges. While spending money is the fast track to getting the points you want, challenges are a way to get them without spending the money. There is a set list of challenges, each with a assigned value—but there are also daily and weekly challenges that can be complete for those seeking out even more. While you can save up and eventually get what you want, it would take a good amount of time.
Player dropped Nukes are the endgame option for Fallout 76. Nukes create bigger and badder enemies to fight than you would normally encounter—and they yield the best gear. But that isn’t the end of the road as far as content is concerned. In the future Bethesda plans on opening the other, currently sealed Vault-Tec Vaults that can be found as well as having other unannounced plans. And while extremely buggy, Bethesda has already released patches to address some of the concerns players had, with promises of more fixes to come in the future.
Like I’ve said: I’ve spent a lot time playing Fallout 76—both during the B.E.T.A. and since release. It’s fun solo—either completely alone or spontaneously joining other players. It’s also extremely fun to play with friends, though the constant need to baby loot does make the gameplay feel slow. But when there is action, it feels great, and is fun. The world is amazingly detailed, and extremely fun to explore. If you liked Fallout 4, and are aware of the inherent bugginess that Bethesda games possess, there is a lot of fun to be had. I love Fallout 76, but it’s broken, and frustrating in ways that shouldn’t be in a game this high profile. Your mileage may vary, but I’ve been having a blast in Appalachia. Even if the glitches and bugginess are more deadly than the Deathclaws.
Fallout 76 is available now on Windows, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
We played the Windows version of Fallout 76 for the purpose of this review.
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