Fallout 76 Review (PS4)
Will reinventing Fallout as an online survival game be a decision that blows up in Bethesda's face?
OverviewHow many times have you thought to yourself while playing a Fallout game, 'gee, I really wish this was multiplayer?' If, like us and so many other long-standing fans of the series, the answer is somewhere around the zero mark, then you've probably been sceptical of 76 since it was announced. The franchise has always thrived on delivering a sense of loneliness and isolation in a broken world – hell, the protagonist of Fallout 3, the game that established the template for the series' modern incarnation, was even called the Lone Wanderer – and multiplayer just sits completely at odds with this. Even though the relatively low player count of just 24 maximum survivors per sprawling world means you can realistically go entire sessions without bumping into another human, the online focus has required a complete overhaul of many other series staples. VATS, for example (the system that has long let you slow down time to target specific enemy body parts), couldn't function in an always-online environment, and has had to be rejigged to work (or not...) as little more than a glorified auto-aim system that seems less effective than simply pointing your gun and pulling the trigger yourself in most cases.
You can just ignore the new VATS system if you want, though, but you can't ignore the global changes to game design and structure. Fallout's worlds have always been places of mystery and intrigue, each new location discovered ready to surprise – for better or worse – the moment you open the door. 76's Appalachia, conversely, doesn't have the tools to do this any more. As far as we can tell, there are no other surviving people in the game world besides the other players, and that strips away so much of what used to make Fallout so good. No branching narrative based on conversation choices with other characters, no interesting NPC-filled settlements to stumble upon, no sense of mystery when every location can only ever be a) packed with monsters or b) totally deserted... the almost total lack of non-robot NPCs and reliance on text and audio logs to relay to players stories that have already happened is going to be a tough hurdle for many returning fans to get over.
First ImpressionsWhile the general structure still feels off after a good few hours with the game, it has to be said that there are a handful of standout missions which manage to entertain even within the new constraints of an online world. Maybe it's the relief of not just having to do another fetch quest for a robot or maybe it the fact that the data log entries can still offer interesting and amusing windows onto the past, but quests like picking up the pieces to complete a scientist's lifelong work or solving a case that has been cold for decades can be genuinely interesting, particularly if you take the time to check all the logs and terminals that surround them to get the full picture. That being said, the survival angle isn't really conducive to letting players read every single data log they find – all the while you're poring over pages of text, your hunger and thirst meters will still be ticking down, meaning you effectively have to spend more valuable resources if you want to actually follow what it is that you're doing and why a lot of the time.
A complete overhaul of many series staples
On a technical level, Fallout 76 is, to put it politely, a bloody mess. Visuals are generally pretty rough, with pop-in and clipping galore; performance is shocking much of the time, seeing frequent extended dives in framerate, full-on freezes and crashes, and server disconnections that can cost progress; quests have a habit of not functioning correctly, whether in the form of waypoints leading to the wrong place or mission-critical items failing to spawn... if you take on too many quests, your on-screen to-do list will actually extend to obscure the hunger and thirst meters, which are sort of two of the most important things to keep track of in the game. For all its clear and present problems, the much-touted multiplayer side of things does manage to redeem things at least a little.
Beside the basic fact that everything is more fun in co-op, griefing is thankfully rare due to a combination of other players taking vastly reduced damage until they choose to fight back and a bounty system that slap a permanent price on the heads of wrongdoers until someone brings them to justice. Well-prepared villains can actually make decent money just by defending themselves from others trying to bring them to justice – after an extended spree of naughtiness (for science, of course), we managed to survive for hours with a huge price on our heads, fending off countless would-be bounty hunters (even coordinated groups) and making a lot of Caps in the process until we simply decided to let ourselves be killed in order to lose the bounty so we could stop being marked on the map as a threat and get on with playing the game. The bounty system needs a rework, for sure, but encounters with other players are typically entertaining however they play out.
Now it just remains for us to grind out a bunch more levels and complete those outstanding quests to see whether the endgame – which seems like it will take the form of intentionally setting off additional nukes in order to brave even deadlier foes for shinier loot – is worth battling through so many bugs (literal and technical) and monsters (literal and figurative) to get to...
In-Depth AnalysisWell, after over 100 hours in Appalachia, dozens of crashes, hundreds of bugs and glitches, and a patch almost the size of the game itself that didn't really seem to do a whole lot, we're finally ready to call it: Fallout 76 isn't a bad game. It's a bad piece of software, sure, but that's an important distinction to make – beneath its myriad technical issues lies a genuinely captivating survival experience, if one that demands a lot of player patience and forgiveness for its oh-so-many faults. Despite being largely empty, the world is one of the best Bethesda has ever created, which becomes especially clear as your exploration takes you to its outer reaches.
The mire in the east and the volcano-like mining area to the far south are two highlights, and exploring either at night or during nuclear storms can almost make these feel like alien planets, awash with unnatural colours and lighting and teeming with mutated flora and fauna that defy reason. Enemy variety too improves wildly as you make progress into these more distant parts of the land. The Scorched – effectively the game's replacement for raiders in a world bereft of non-player human life – are the low-level fodder that populate most early areas, barely a challenge and about as much fun to fight as any other zombies-with-guns enemy type you might care to name (read: not especially).
But once you start running into huge toads, giant hermit crabs that live in old buses, series staple 'boss' monsters like Deathclaws and Yao Guai, things get way more interesting. There's a fantastic unpredictability to the outer reaches of the map should you dare brave them, and usually stacks of loot behind those freakish guardians as well.
Performance is shocking much of the time
While the main storyline involves following in the footsteps of Vault 76's Overseer all across the land, the endgame instead sees you foolishly repeating the mistakes that got humanity into this mess in the first place and playing around with nuclear weapons.
Sadly, the journey is way more entertaining than the destination here – the mission chain of having to track down launch keys and codes, decipher the encrypted code, then infiltrate one of three high security bunkers and fight through waves of automated opposition to eventually fire off your missile is fantastic, as is the panic of seeing someone else in your world push the button and mark a huge area for catastrophic damage.
The finale of this sees you venture into the highly irradiated blast zone where there are all kinds of nuke-exclusive goodies to round up, as well as scores or powerful enemies to put your gear to the test. It's thrilling at first but loses its charm extremely quickly, not least because the main enemies here are the ever-annoying Scorchbeasts, bat-like dragons whose design seems intentionally frustrating. They stay airborne for the most part, unleashing strings of tracking sonic blasts that wreak havoc on visibility and framerate alike, not to mention shredding all but the strongest armour.
The endgame quarry simply isn't fun to fight and while the gear you get is usually worth the trip, it's a weak ending to what should be one of the game's most prominent mission types, especially since you need to do repeat runs into blast zones to actually make the most out of a lot of the stuff you gather there.
There's a fantastic unpredictability to the outer reaches
- Massive, varied world to explore
- Some fantastic writing and quest lines
- Extremely engrossing once you get past its flaws
- Plagued with technical problems
- World can feel lifeless
- PvP is pretty broken right now
Fallout 76 Review (PS4)There are several notable barriers to entry that trouble Fallout 76, firstly its clear departure from the usual Fallout template followed by an absolute assault course of technical hurdles that must be overcome or overlooked to garner any enjoyment from the game. But there is a decent game buried beneath all that mess, and one that is being slowly unearthed as Bethesda continues to patch Fallout into a more acceptable state.
Those who enjoyed the exploration and world/lore in previous Fallout games might actually find that the change of direction does little to harm these aspects and both are still strong, but those who like their games to feel polished and complete will only find themselves disgusted that a full-price game could even be released in such a state. That the game is getting such stick for this is entirely justified, although as we say, anyone willing to wade through the mess may find that they actually end up quite enjoying survival-flavoured Fallout.
Emergent moments with both the world itself and with other players make for great little tales of their own, with these peppered around the hand-crafted stories that Fallout has always done so well. The leap from solo adventuring to full online multiplayer was clearly an overly ambitious one, but hopefully Bethesda will continue to update and improve the game across the board to eventually pull it in line with its potential, just as we've seen from the likes of No Man's Sky and The Division already this generation.
What's there right now is decent so long as you can look past all the framerate nosedives, frustrating bugs and accidentally hilarious glitches, but there's clearly room for it to grow into something good, great even, if Bethesda can bump out all the dents in this banged-up suit of power armour.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £49.99
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