I pre-ordered Fallout 76 in 2018 as someone that seemed to be the minority of Fallout fans who were excited by the notion of what was essentially Fallout 4 – only multiplayer. I’m sure some of you are still making a face reading that, but having an infinitely extendable Fallout game that I could play with friends and with the considerably improved gameplay of Fallout 4? Sign me up! Or so I thought.
Live service games, particularly ones in the survival genre, are fraught with early issues and even Bethesda warned that things would be a bit rough at launch for Fallout 76. Unfortunately, the situation ended up being worse than even my personal tolerance could handle. The game was a hot mess and the nightmare seemingly never ended as players discovered insane new bugs weeks and months after launch. If there was a redemption arc for Fallout 76 in the cards, it was nowhere in sight. I refunded the game early on and didn’t expect to ever look back.
Aside from being a broken mess, Fallout 76 was disappointing in another particular area: the complete lack of NPCs. The game’s story content consisted of basically nothing but robots and holotapes, a weird departure for a series famed for its deep interactions with rich and interesting characters. That all changed at E3 2019 when Bethesda announced Wastelanders, a massive update coming to Fallout 76 that would fill the world with NPCs, deeper dialogue choices, and so on.
With Wastelanders now out, I decided to give the game another shot. Is Fallout 76 finally worth playing? The short answer is...sort of.
First of all, the game isn't as buggy as it used to be, but it’s still plenty buggy. In fact, Bethesda recently had to turn vendors and display cases off due to a bug and as of this writing there are some pretty serious bugs going on where players are losing weapons to NPCs who are looting them off of their corpses when they die and possibly losing other items in a couple different ways. These are indeed the serious sorts of bugs that put me off from the entire experience in the first place, but wildly enough, this is still a considerable improvement from the way things once were.
Provided Bethesda stamps out these new issues quickly, the game is otherwise in a playable place right now. Most of the bugs I’ve encountered have been the fairly minor sort that’s become part and parcel of the sort of jank we expect when playing the single player Elder Scrolls and Fallout titles. I’m not excusing the bugs, but it would be odd to single Fallout 76 for some of these smaller issues.
I’ve also been largely enjoying my time playing the Wastelanders content. The original main story arc is weaved in between the new content, so you still have to do it, and it’s still not very interesting. But the game is littered with new NPCs to interact with, lots of random events that can occur as you travel the world, and it just feels so much more alive. Oddly enough, it’s actually a step up from Fallout 4 due to the return of the pre-F4 dialogue system, replete with skill checks and all.
I haven’t gotten far enough to see what sorts of effects my choices in the story may have, but I feel like I’m actually roleplaying in a way that Fallout 4 just didn’t allow me to do and it’s nice to have that again.
Combat is largely the same as Fallout 4, so if you enjoyed it there as I did, you should be right at home in Fallout 76. There are balance issues with items (ex. Energy weapons are pretty bad), but the Wastelanders update made a ton of positive changes there and Bethesda has some big plans for the game’s overall balance this year, including what sounds like a massive overhaul along the lines of Elder Scrolls Online’s One Tamriel update.
I know level scaling isn’t generally popular, but I tend to prefer it, especially since the current implementation is something I consider to be one of the game’s major pain points. The short of it is when a player enters an area the enemies scale to that player unless he clears out the enemies, at which point they will scale to the next player who enters when they respawn. This works fine on a private server if you’re playing by yourself, but it’s a huge mess in your typical public F76 experience. Most of my frustrating deaths are to creatures or NPCs that are dozens of levels above me. It’s just not fun to be level 20 and find yourself killed by level 62 Feral Ghouls hanging around your quest NPC. I actually had to train some higher level creatures into a high level quest target to get them to fight each other and hopefully kill it for me because I couldn’t complete the quest on my own. Blech.
Another issue I have with the game is the sort of double edged sword of its SPECIAL and perks system. In Fallout 76, you unlock perks as cards for each SPECIAL attribute and you can assemble them in a sort of loadout to create a build suited to whatever you’re doing. Going to be crafting for a while? Equip a bunch of crafting related perks. Going back out to adventure? Switch them out for combat perks.
It’s a decently flexible system, but it’s also a bit unforgiving of mistakes or changes of heart. You earn a certain amount of SPECIAL points up to level 50, but then each level after that you can choose to move a point over to another attribute. That’s your only means of respecing in the game. Depending on how dramatic a change you’re looking to make, it can make more sense to just level a new character than try and reshuffle things around.
I don’t want Fallout 76 to be a game where your choices in your progression don’t matter or where you can do pretty much everything on a single character like you can in Fallout 4, but the system could stand to be a bit more forgiving. Why not use the game’s mutation system to give players a way to acquire a mutation that resets all of their SPECIAL points? Tie it to some piece of content that players can do once in a while for a full reset if needed. I’m not attached to any particular implementation here, but there should definitely be some way for players to reset their characters and leave the current system as a means to make smaller changes.
Finally, Fallout 1st, the game’s subscription system is still a bit of an issue. There’s a sort of two tier society in Fallout 76: those who have Fallout 1st and those who don’t. I decided to sub for a month to see how the other side lives and now I don’t know how I could live without it. The 1650 Atoms you get each month are a great value if you are someone who wants to spend Atoms on the game, but what really makes Fallout 1st is the survival tent and the Scrapbox. The survival tent is a sort of smaller C.A.M.P. you can place in the world without having to move your main base. It comes with a cooking pot, a bedroll, a playable banjo for the Well Tuned buff, and most importantly a stash and a scrapbox. As its name would imply, the scrapbox lets you store all of your scrap. And it has an infinite capacity. It’s kind of like ESO’s crafting bag. Players without Fallout 1st have to balance the 800lb limit in their stash between crafting materials and loot and it’s a huge drag. Now, I just plop my tent down outside of wherever I'll be spelunking next and pick up everything since I can just pop outside and dump it all into my scrapbox or stash with ease.
Private servers that come with your Fallout 1st subscription also allow you to dodge the aforementioned level scaling issues on public servers, not have to compete for any resources or resource nodes, and even capture and utilize Workshops, which open you up to PvP (even in Pacifist mode) without fear of death.
So to circle back to the beginning, Fallout 76 is now in a much better place than it was at launch, but there are some legacy issues that still plague the experience despite all the good the Wastelanders update has done for the game. If you were curious or even eager to play the game but were put off by the lack of story content and the messy state of things, I’d say it’s mostly safe to dip your toe in the water right now, especially if you can find the game on sale. Just keep in mind that some of the big pain points of the past still remain, at least for now.
Are you playing Fallout 76? What’s your take on the current state of the game and the Wastelanders update? Share your thoughts in the comments below!