This title was reviewed on Xbox One, but is also available on PC and PS4.
I love the Fallout series, having played every entry, including the ‘bad’ Brotherhood of Steel spin-offs. Oddly enough though, the Bethesda produced Fallout 3 and 4 aren’t my go-to games, as I much prefer New Vegas, 1, and 2. Now though, Bethesda has come out with their next Fallout title, this time being Fallout 76. As the first of the First-Person Fallout era to be multiplayer (Tactics and Brotherhood of Steel had multiplayer in the classic era), is Fallout 76 a Bethesda Fallout that I’ll enjoy over New Vegas or the Interplay titles? Let’s find out.
Right away, the graphics do not give Fallout 76 a good impression. This is mainly because it looks almost exactly like Fallout 4. From the textures, models and even weapon animations, the game just feels like an asset flip. While Fallout 4 does look somewhat decent still, I’d rather Fallout 76 actually built its own identity, as it instead ends up looking like a multiplayer mod for Fallout 4. What is a bigger kick in the teeth though, is that despite looking exactly the same as Fallout 4, it somehow runs much worse. I’ve had dropped frames constantly during my time with the game, and even had the game lock up for a full five seconds when I got slapped by a Scorcher. It’s inexcusable to have a game run this bad when it’s using the exact same graphics from the previous entry in the series.
The story in Fallout 76 immediately gets off on the wrong foot too. While previous entries, hell even Bethesda’s Fallouts, had great build-up in the game’s opening hours, that’s all lost in this one. In Fallout 3 for example, you experience your character growing up from birth to adolescence before escaping the vault, and Fallout 4 had you sprinting to the vault as the bombs drop. Even the fan-made Fallout New California had an armed coup in the vault. What I’m saying is that the Fallout games are supposed to have dramatic starts and reasons for going to the outside world. Here though, there’s none of that. The game has you wake up, get told it’s Reclamation Day (where the inhabitants of Vault 76 head to the outside world to rebuild it), and leave the vault with basically no fanfare. After that, the game has you basically walking from point A to point B searching for your Overseer, and it isn’t fun. Even the way the story is delivered is flawed, often being told through holotapes, while previous titles showed you what to do instead of telling you.
I’m actually going to pay a compliment to Fallout 76 now, and that’s because the gunplay is solid. As it inherits Fallout 4’s basic gameplay, it ends up having some of the most visceral and actually enjoyable gunplay in the series, with satisfying animations, sounds, and smooth controls. That is, when it actually works. The A.I in the game is completely brain-dead 90% of the time, with enemies often standing in one place letting you take pot shots at them. When the A.I does move, there’s still a good chance that they forget to animate too, so you get an absolutely horrifying scenario where you’ll have a Scorcher sprinting at you, but standing completely still as they do.
While the basic gameplay is the same, Fallout 76 adds a bunch of new mechanics to fit in with the multiplayer focus. The construction mechanics from Fallout 4 return somewhat in the form of the C.A.M.P, allowing you to deploy a camp, build different buildings and utilities like crafting tables for it, and then pack it up when you’re done and take it to a new location. It adds to this game’s increased survival gameplay. In-game you have hunger and thirst meters which you need to fill up by eating and drinking, and being able to deploy your C.A.M.P in a location when you’re nowhere near a marked location and using the C.A.M.P’s facilities to heal and stock up is a somewhat enjoyable gameplay loop. You can craft armour and weapons in your C.A.M.P and other crafting tables around the world as well.
While the survival elements are decently done, the actual main part of any Bethesda RPG, the quests, suck. They basically amount to boring fetch quests where you talk to this computer, go to this area for an item or series of items, and go back. The lack of human NPCs adds to this problem too, largely because the game still tries to tease the existence of human NPCs by having you find a holotape or message from a human telling you to meet them at a location, only for them to be dead when you get there, leading to another holotape to another location. The quests here just aren’t fun, which makes it even worse when you consider that they are the main bulk of the game. There are also public events, and when they work they’re somewhat enjoyable, but they don’t save the game.
The S.P.E.C.I.A.L system has also seen changes for the worse. Now, when you level up you get to choose a category in the S.P.E.C.I.A.L, and each category has a perk card (such as the classic lead belly) that is dependent on your level. While this does work somewhat, the main problem comes from the card packs. You get these every couple of levels, and they give you a random assortment of cards to equip on your character. These don’t even end up stacking to your level however, as my first card pack ended up giving me cards that were twice my level, so I just had a bunch of cards sitting there doing nothing until I levelled up enough to use them. The RNG around card packs like this is always a problem.
The sound here is sadly the best part of the game. The gun sounds are taken from Fallout 4 as to be expected, but that means that the weapon sounds feel solid overall. Voice acting is hit or miss, but some of the human NPCs are decent enough. The best part of the audio has to be the music however. The music matches the Fallout atmosphere perfectly, managing to be both relaxing and menacing at the same time.
Fallout 76 is a mess on all fronts. The majority of the assets are flipped straight from Fallout 4, with graphics that look exactly the same, yet it somehow runs much worse. The story lacks anything that makes the past Fallout games enjoyable. While the survival elements are somewhat decent, the quests in the game world are just boring fetch quests, and even combat isn’t very enjoyable because of the brain-dead A.I. The card packs in the new S.P.E.C.I.A.L system have the problematic RNG that I criticize in every game that has card packs. The best part of the game has to be the music, but that isn’t enough to save the game. The main positive is that now I can unironically enjoy Brotherhood of Steel on the PS2 as it’s no longer the worst Fallout.