Fallout 76 is served as a prequel to the previous games in the series. One that throws players into the role of a customized character that resides in Vault 76; a fallout shelter located in West Virginia, built to retain and preserve America’s best. Players exit the vault on a day that’s known as Reclamation Day, set just twenty-five years after the bombs fell. To the game’s credit, it’s a very accessible installation that’s clearly trying to appeal to both returning fans and newcomers alike. The problem, however, is that after several hours of play, it’s clear to me that Fallout 76 isn’t a game that I can comfortably recommend to you.
Despite the interesting premise hooking me from the get-go, I ran into a number of technical issues early in. Now, I was fully prepared for the problems that I encountered, I mean, it’s to be expected when we take the game’s core structure into account. Nevertheless, I waded on and endured the faults, oftentimes telling myself that the few problems were not all that significant; delayed rendering, minor framerates and the occasional bug that saw me stuck in a wall. Several hours later, I began to see far too many problems. The shame in all of this is that underneath the mess, sits a pretty decent game.
Though, let’s take this from the top. Upon creating your character from a wide range of options and exiting the vault, the game does a good job at feeding you into the basics of play. You’ll frequently be told where to go, what to do next, and how to do it. If you’ve never played a Fallout game before, rest assured, Fallout 76 is a great place to start. Though, you would do well to wait until the developer has ironed out the many, many wrinkles. Whatever the case, the game will initially guide you through a series of events before leaving you to do whatever it is that you want to do. It’s open, I’ll give it that much.
Pulling up the world map will instantly show you that there’s plenty of locations, activities and other players within. I must have run past twenty individual players during just my first hour alone. Safe to say, and as to be expected, there’s no issues whatsoever with the game’s online population, nor indeed with its content depth. With this being an online experience, it’s important to keep in mind that when you pause the game or interact with your trusty Pip Boy, you’re wide open for attack. Thankfully, the game’s UI and menus are well laid-out and decently structured, giving you swift access to your tools and necessities.
Fallout 76 is designed in such a way that you can either play as a lone wolf, or in a small group with your friends. Despite the polarizing PvP elements of the game, I have to say that I rather enjoyed the balanced structure here. You see, if you attack another player, you’ll do very minimal damage until they retaliate. Once they do that, damage output will then correctly scale so that you and your opposition can battle for supremacy. That said, and I can attest, it’s entirely possible to be killed without instigating conflict with another player, or in my case, a group of players. Still, I cant say that I didn’t enjoy these devious moments.
On the way to one of my side missions, I encountered a workbench that was teasing me to claim it. Naturally, I did just that. Not too long after this, a band of three other players came sniffing out a nearby public event. I participated in the event, because, well, loot. Though once the event was over, these three individuals started to claim my workbench for their own. Unwilling to open fire, knowing the ass kicking I would get, I jumped up and down on the spot in defiance. Undeterred, they shot at me anyway, eventually resulting in my death – which equates to little more than the loss of some junk and the choice to spawn nearby.
There’s a wanted notification that appears on the world map when you begin to kill other players or destroy their equipment, but again, this is all entirely optional. You’re never truly forced into the game’s PvP aspects. The combat in Fallout 76 remains fluid as far as firefights are concerned, though when it comes to melee, due to the technical issues outlined below, it’s a tough beast to tame. Throughout your journey in the game, you’ll obtain countless items of varying use. This goes towards crafting a number of goods; weapons, camp items, and much, much more.
Crafting itself is as straightforward as it needs to be, though I question why multiple people cannot craft at once at the same station. Dotted throughout the map rests a number of varying crafting stations that you can use collectively to create your desired items. You can also make your own crafting stations, should you have the materials at hand. Blueprints are required to make the bulk of the game’s items, and until you start finding them, you’ll be limited to the available base items. It’s important to pick up anything and everything, even junk, seeing as it can be broken down to give you its raw materials. That said, and as far as weaponry is concerned, you’ll find no shortage of low-end weapons out in the field.
There’s several materials that you’ll stumble across that need care and attention before use, which feeds into the likes of the chemistry stations. Here, you’ll need to smelt these select materials before you can apply them elsewhere, and much like the overarching crafting elements of the game, this is all very easy to accomplish once you gel with the mechanics. The general rule of thumb in all of this? Grab everything of importance that you can carry and store as much of it as you can in your stash box. The game does a stellar job at explaining how to utilize these stations and how to craft items through a mixture of both side activities and additional guided help.
The crux of play remains largely the same throughout. You’ll take on a mission or a side mission and follow its thread until you conclude it. That’s not to say that all of these missions are well designed, because in honesty, some of them are so fucking lazy that I almost found a new method to cure my insomnia. Yes, escort missions, I’m looking right at you. Both missions and public events tend to rely on killing (albeit, a wide variation of) enemies, guarding ground, fetch-questing and like-minded activities. To be fair to the game, I quite enjoyed this simplistic concept when I wasn’t engaged in the odd sequence that had me near-sleeping.
Each new mission has a habit of sending you to places that you have yet to travel to, constantly treating you to new sights and deadly new enemies as a result. You’ll need to ensure that you’re adequately equipped to deal with the game’s well set difficulty curve through upping your gear, weaponry, leveling and perks. The latter two feed into one another fluidly. Whenever you level up, you’ll be granted the ability to equip a perk of varying attributes; Strength, Perception, Charisma, Endurance, Intelligence, Luck and Agility. This is largely achieved through the use of perk cards that you’ll earn on a frequent basis.
Perk cards will aid your character with a range of useful traits, such as increased drop rates, decreased rate of hunger, additional damage output and so forth. These cards can be upgraded if you own more than one of the same. Indeed, it can be tiresome when you’re not getting the cards that you want, but it does allow for a lot of freedom to create unique character builds. This, through and through, is the formula that drives Fallout 76 forward. If, like me, you appreciate this gameplay loop and can overlook the occasional grind, you’ll likely enjoy the core experience for what it is, issues aside.
There’s something surprisingly alluring about slowly earning the capability of upgrading not only your character, but your camp. Throughout my time with the game, I’ve seen some terrific camps that make my camp look like a back-alley home. This alone encourages me to plod onward, seek out new blueprints, and achieve the greatness that other players are currently enjoying. There’s some additional tools that can speed up the process too, such as mining tools that will extract resources and minerals from the map’s terrain, and more. When all is said and done, Fallout 76 is a game of patience; one that rewards both time and effort put in.
Most of the game’s systems feed into one another, meaning that there’s quite a degree of backtracking and perseverance to be mindful of. Thankfully, a fast-travel system allows you to move to and from place to place (that you’ve visited) at the expense of a few caps. This removes a considerable amount of needless traversal, which leads me onto the matter of sustenance. In Fallout 76, you need to keep your character well fed and well hydrated. If you don’t, your character’s stamina capacity will begin to suffer, preventing you from running for more than a few seconds at a time. Personally, I think the game could do with dropping this.
Whilst I fully appreciate that this is Fallout at its core, it can become massively frustrating when you’re out of food, drink and caps, and you’ve then got to spend the best part of the next thirty minutes trying to alleviate issues with your stats. I wont hold this against the game in the final score, but it would be nice to see the developer at least balancing this specific system in the near future. Perhaps it would feel more in place and better suited if it wasn’t for the game’s technical faults, as well as its, at times, tedious foundation. Speaking more intimately about Fallout 76’s map, I can only credit the game for being diverse here.
There’s no denying that there’s a lack of polish overall, but something I feel that Fallout 76 does right, is its world. I spent the best part of my time with the game exploring new areas and checking out new buildings. The game does a good job at scaling enemies to your level, many of which are fairly unique – or at least more frequent – to specific areas. The same can be said about resources, encounters and events. Touching up again on the game’s activities, you’ll find no shortage of assignments and side missions if you take the time to explore Fallout 76’s sprawling, well padded map. It’s just a shame there’s a lack of mission variety.
As alluded to above, much of your time will consist of picking up a holotape, listening to its task, and then setting off to complete it. I found little reason to spend much time listening to the constant rambling, simply due to how much of a bore it can often be. Had the developer focused more effort on actively engaging the player with interesting treks, or indeed activities that are at least story-intriguing, the outcome would have been much more compelling. Instead, you’ll move from A to B, B to C, C to D, and so on, with next to no incentive to pay attention to anything other than your objective markers, over the dialogue.
It makes sense that there’s no real NPCs present, but it does hurt the already bare story-flow nonetheless. Speaking of objective markers, these are broken. I came across one story mission that required me to locate a T-Fuse. The marker took me to house in the middle of the map, and then further took me to the basement of that house. Once in the basement, I noticed a small tunnel that the marker was asking me to proceed through. However, halfway through the tunnel, the marker then asked me to go back through the way I came. I would do that, only to find that the marker would then ask me to go back through the tunnel.
It did this time and time again, despite me rebooting the console and then re-loading the game. It turned out that the T-Fuse was nowhere near the marker, in fact, it was in a building next to the one that I was situated in. I wish I could report that this marker issue was isolated to that mission, but it’s not. The markers tend to take you on a wild goose chase throughout the entirety of play. This problem only gets worse when the game confuses you with two missions at once, both of which are tied to one another but serve as separate objectives. It makes for a convoluted affair that has you infrequently questioning where you should be focusing your attention. Safe to say, these waypoints need to be made more consistent.
Now for the elephant in the room. The game’s bug ridden mess and its technical faults. Let me reiterate. Fallout 76 should not have been released in the state that it’s in. I’ve already highlighted the initial issues that I was somewhat willing to endure, but several hours into the game, I began to see a running theme. The game seems to struggle to maintain a steady framerate when there’s even a moderate amount of action on-screen. Let me tell you, there’s nothing at all fun about trying to hit a foe with a melee weapon when the hit-box left the screen five seconds beforehand. It’s undeniably frustrating to say the very, very least.
In fact, it makes melee combat pretty much pointless altogether at moments like this. That is, unless you like the idea of losing most of your health whilst the game attempts to catch itself up. Given that you have to administer food, drink and meds to maintain your stats, and taking into account that when using the Pip Boy you’re leaving yourself wide open for attack, you may as well put down the pad and take the beatings. This is only made all the more irritating when entering a building. Several times did I die before the screen fully loaded, due to taking heavy attacks from enemies that spawned in a lot faster than I did.
I can only describe Fallout 76 as a slideshow when the action really picks up, and although these issues are frequent and not constant, there’s absolutely no forgiving the developer for releasing a game with issues like this. Delayed rendering is much easier to forgive, but that’s no excuse. The same can be said about the occasional bug that sees you stuck in the environment, or, my personal favorite, enemies that appear to be doing the limbo in a disfigured state. Fallout 76 only gets technically worse the further in that you get, with invisible enemies to deal with, map markers failing to load at all, console crashing, and more.
Amidst all of that, I can safely give a thumbs up to the game’s sharp audio design, for whatever that’s worth. I want to make it clear. Fallout 76 isn’t a hopeless game, it’s a fairly decent experience that, although basic and simplistically structured, provides much fun when it wants to. It has the potential to be something great, but until the developer can address the game’s several problems, I cant possibly recommend it in good faith. If you’re on the fence, my advice would be to wait until fixes have been applied. Technically speaking, this is on-par with the likes of Ark: Survival Evolved during Game Preview. Make of that what you will.
Fallout 76 is akin to Ark: Survival Evolved, being that much of its potential is lost in the midst of its many technical faults. To be clear, at its core, this isn’t a bad game, in fact, there’s a lot of fun to be had in its padded world if you enjoy this type of gameplay loop. It’s a shame that in its current form, most of that fun is frequently interrupted by horrendous framerate, countless bugs, delayed rendering, and shoddy design choices.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.