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Fallout 76: Uninstalled

By Red Thomas on December 06, 2018 | Columns | Comments

Fallout 76: Uninstalled

Fallout 76 has worn on me a bit.  I was ready to punch out and try something new a while back, but let’s face it...   Everyone loves standing around to watch a good dumpster fire, especially when the occasional zealot tries to convince the crowd that trash makes for excellent weenie-roasting.


To be fair to my editor, I really did give him the choice of FO76 or moving on, and even after he asked for another Fallout article, I could have easily turned in something else and I doubt he would have been that upset with me.  But readers love a poke at the establishment, and I guess this is the sort of article that should start off with a sense of dread and a flourish of dramatic flair.

Warning!  Pull Up!

If we’re honest, this has been a disaster in so many ways for Bethesda.  My list of reasons for uninstalling could easily constitute the entire article, but I’m going to focus on a few key frustrations.

The first and most egregious of the technical concerns to me is that my client crashes more often now than when FO76 first launched.   I had some crashing in the beta, but it had seemed to stabilize by launch.  That could be purely coincidental as we know the “beta” client wasn’t much different from the launch client.  Either way, the fact that the game has at best not improved in its stability, and potentially gotten worse, is a pretty big problem for me.

Ah, that first day when everything was still possible. That young man has seen too much to ever be the same again.

That’s not even getting into the strange graphical glitches that have been popping up.  Bethesda has always been known for their beautiful sky boxes, but the multi-colored mess that made its blocky appearance across my screen the other day was clearly not intentional.  Another technical problem that’s developed since launch.

The next issue is really just one example of similar problems I’ve seen with the other missions, but I can’t find a blasted shovel anywhere.  I’m supposed to bury the remains of this notional Civil War soldier, but I can’t find the blasted shovel.  I’ve heard it’s supposed to be around the grave, but I’ve looked and it’s not there.   I did see a small object bouncing into multi-hued orbit as I was walking up to do the quest, so I’m guessing that was it and it’s now a shovel in spaaaace!

One of the most controversial aspects of the game is the lack of NPCs.  On one hand, I can kind of understand that the lack of humans is a component in the overall plot, but it’s not a particularly successful one.  Every Fallout game to this point has had nonrobotic NPCs to interact with, and Fallout 76 doesn’t really fall in a place timeline-wise for there to be any reason that wouldn’t be true here, too.

Instead of feeling steeped in mystery and wondering what happened to everyone, it honestly comes across just feeling unfinished.  The random Mr. Handy floating around to deliver their message to a dilapidated house was funny the first time, but has sense grown very tiresome.  It’s compounded by finding all the holotapes and notes left by the people that had been in the area, not to mention finding the occasional corpse.  So, while humans had been around, they suddenly all got killed?  That’s not very likely, and certainly not in keeping with in Fallout norms.

It feels like a game that the developers had intended to better populate with interactable NPCs, but they were never implemented.  The truly sad part about it is that story is the primary thing Bethesda is known for executing successfully on.  They took their key strength in a competitive market and apparently chose to intentionally gut their ability to execute on it.

While it doesn’t impact me personally, because for once I didn’t go for the stupidly overpriced collector edition, I was pretty unhappy with Bethesda’s response regarding the promised bags.  This was a final straw moment for me because it was so poorly managed overall.  For a company with their experience to promise a specific product that they’d not totally locked down yet, and then continue to sell on that promise, that’s a very big problem for me. 

Bethesda deleted their first ill-considered tweet, which pointed out the cost difference between canvas and nylon.

I don’t care that they couldn’t do canvas and decided to switch to nylon bags.  I do care that long after they made that decision, they were still using the pictures with the nylon bags to sell their collector edition and failed to notify customers of the change.  Then they’re solution to make it all better was to give $5-worth of in-game credit to impacted customers.  It takes at least a yard of fabric to make a canvas bag.  Nylon is maybe $6-10/yard and nylon runs for $20/yard and more.  I completely get that canvas was too expensive, but their solution was less than the difference in their cost of just the fabric, much less the sale value.

The Black-Box

Those who read my articles know I stay clear of negativity as much as possible, and I’d like to reach the end of this article with that in mind.  Bethesda has made a whole lot of mistakes here, but there are some successes to be pulled from the conflagration, as well.

If nothing else, Fallout 76 really highlights the fact that Bethesda really isn’t a game developer.  I know it’s crazy but hold with me a little here.  Every game in the Fallout and Elder Scrolls franchises are pretty simple steps forward and only in a very few cases did the mechanics of any game really change much from the game before it.  Until now there have only been two large pivots in either franchise, Elder Scrolls Online that was developed by Zenimax under license and Fallout Shelter that we now know was also outsourced to another company thanks in part to a recent lawsuit.  To me, that says that Bethesda is first and foremost a story-teller.

There have been some historical attempts at technical innovation, which were never that successful, but otherwise changes between games has been mostly cosmetic.  Bethesda has undeniable mastery at creating compelling stories and setting them in amazingly detailed environments.  Every few games they introduce a new mechanic or two, and that’s usually successful.  The full pivot towards an online experience was just too much for a company full of artists, writers, and world designers.

FO76 is their wakeup call and a reminder of what they’re good at, and it’s given them a few interesting new paths forward that they could explore.  Cooperative play in semi-persistent worlds is easily within their grasp, despite the licks they took in getting there.  With some extra time spent cleaning up the bugs, FO76 introduced cool mechanics through the Perks system that would make playing with friends a lot of fun.

Landscape-changing nukes are another well-executed mechanic with a major flaw – If you get disconnected, you can’t get back to the server you just irradiated. No one thought about that?

The dynamic mission generation created by owning a workshop is a good step, as well.  Leveraging that same system and creating harder missions that require teamwork to succeed, along with allowing players to host friends on their own servers, would be a great direction for Fallout to expand into.  They need to back up and take it one step at a time, though.  Taking a step back and allowing players to host each other on a smaller scale would help Bethesda to work out their net code issues and fix their stability problems.

Bethesda was also really successful at telling a number of stories in Fallout 76, despite handicapping themselves with the lack of NPCs.  The Mistress of Mystery and Brotherhood of Steel quests have stories that I found incredibly interesting.  Creating dynamic missions around supporting factions like the Brotherhood and Enclave would be world-building right in line with what Bethesda is great at.

The developers also spent a lot of time creating a world where the environment tells its own story, and they were very successful in that as well.  Nearly every inch of Appalachia has those tiny details that tell you just a bit more about the lives of those who lived there.   A lot of thought and work went into the world-design, and it was very well executed.

The missions are so well done, and the historical story so well executed, but Fallout 76 is a game about what happened before you left the Vault, rather than a game about what you’re going to do afterwards.

Ruled Pilot Error

Bethesda stepped outside their comfort zone and swung for the fences, and I respect that.  What I’m less enthused about is that they stepped away from some of their core competencies at the same time.  They then doubled-down on poor development choices through incredibly short-sighted customer service engagements.  Those aren’t mistakes I expect from a studio as seasoned and professional as Bethesda.

That frustration isn’t helped as I wander the unpopulated landscape that forces me to read every story, rather than have a conversation with an NPC and learn it first-hand.  As a tool for telling a specific story, the lack of population is effective, but it gets really old when it’s true of the entire game.  Instead of creating suspense and drama, it now just feels unfinished.

It’s not the experience I’d hoped for.  Bethesda has not behaved as the company I thought they were.  I can’t pick my server or the people I’d like to play with, and I can’t even speak with those I’d like because there’s no push-to-talk key.  The game is buggier and has more problems today than the day I installed it.  All the friends I wanted to play with have moved on to other games or back to older ones.

That’s why I’m uninstalling Fallout 76.

Red Thomas / A veteran of the US Army, raging geek, and avid gamer, Red Thomas is that cool uncle all the kids in the family like to spend their summers with. Red lives in San Antonio with his wife where he runs his company and works with the city government to promote geek culture. Follow him on Twitter:
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