When Fallout 76 is good, it is really good but when it is bad, it is a disaster and unfortunately, the game suffers from some serious issues both in performance and game mechanics that make it feel like an empty shell of a once-great series. Some sessions with the game had me intrigued for hours on end while others left me with a headache as I tried to wrap my mind around the abysmal plot and why was I running around an open world trying to find holotapes to piece together all this nonsense of a story.
Fallout 76 takes place in 2102, twenty-five years after a nuclear war that basically destroyed Earth. You take on the role of a member of Vault 76 who has now emerged from the bunker on “Reclamation Day”. The idea of the main plot is that you are meant to re-colonize the Wasteland along with your fellow Vault 76 brothers and bring back humanity to the world. Unfortunately, everything turns to dirt thanks to Fallout 76’s complete lack of story direction. Most of the game revolves around you trying to hunt down the Vault 76 Overseer by tracking her last location down using holotapes she left behind her for you to listen to. Along the way, you will find new quests, players, and come into contact with public events that relate to the world around you in some way or another.
Fallout 76’s lack of NPC is the first strike in taking away that great RPG experience. Instead of the game featuring characters to meet and partner with, the quests and entire story are given out through holotapes and just random radio signals broadcast throughout the Wasteland. While the game tries hard to keep you interested in the world and its happenings, there is definitely a lack of player-to-game connection thanks to this system. I had a dozen quests in my log at one stage with no idea why I was doing what and for who. After a while, you just end up running around the world completing quests like a mindless Farmhand because the game is telling you to.
It is a shame as, for the most part, the opening hours of Fallout 76 has a great sense of depth when it comes to the story and side missions. While there are no people in the game to meet and talk to, if you do pay attention to why you are doing what you are doing, the level of detail given through the terminal diaries and holotapes adds a great sense of discovery to the overall plot in the game. But you have to be dedicated to the cause to pay attention and as I said before, after a while it becomes a chore. Some quests saw me venture into an abandoned water park to turn on the water while fending off Scorched. Another took me across the land to try to find a child who was presumed to be kidnapped all those years ago and his last location was found by using a KidTracker device he had with him.
Even the lore behind Fallout 76’s enemies has been done brilliantly. The Scorched, for example, are undead-like zombies that want to rip your head off and the more you play the game, the more you discover their origins and how these creatures came to be. Again, this requires you to pay attention to audio logs and terminals you find throughout the world, something that is harder than it sounds. In general, Fallout 76 has a great number of layered story themes under its hood but they have a very little impact on you and the lack of NPCs give you no reason to actually care. You just run around doing MMO-like quests because the game is telling you to.
Fallout 76 takes place in Appalachia, West Virginia and the world you explore is beautiful. Sure, the game is created on Bethesda’s outdated Creation Engine but it does a great job bringing the most diverse biomes we have seen in the series to life. From the swamps to the forest hills and even to the interiors of buildings that have a great amount of detail. The world is the best Fallout world to date and its enemy variety and locations merge together to deliver a great post-apocalyptic survival experience that is both immersive and beautiful. Unfortunately, the world is wasted on a game that has some serious performance issues. This is most likely the buggiest and most badly optimized Bethesda game I have ever played. We are talking constant game crashes, serious frame rate drops and bugs galore.
Not one playthrough of the game went smoothly. Enemies spawned into the world in T-Shape and chased me with no animations at all kicking in. The game kept crashing on me and at one stage it did not even boot up on my PS4. Probably the biggest gripe has to be the performance. The frame rate dropped to the point where the game would freeze for a few seconds in mid-battle while fighting a group of Scorched. These issues greatly affected gameplay as accuracy while shooting became hard to master and enemies had the upper hand as they had the game freezes and jitters on their side. I thought ping would be the biggest problem in an online-only video game but it seems as if we have bigger issues to worry about. It is an abysmal mess and everything good Fallout 76 had going for it was affected by these terrible bugs and issues.
Just walking through the world would see the frame rate bug out to 20/25 FPS and it would stay choppy for no reason. I would have had to go into my menu and out to get it back to 30FPS. Something like this would be forgivable a few years ago but when you open worlds with the beauty and polish of the like of Red Dead Redemption 2 and Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, there is no forgiving the hot mess that is Fallout 76’s engine bugs. It comes across rushed and half-baked and we should not stand for it. One of the later parts of my adventure took me to a giant factory which I could claim for myself.
This meant I had to fend off waves of enemies while the factory powered up. The mechanic is a great feature that involves heavy combat and turret building to survive. If only it was that simple as the game simply could not keep up with the oncoming enemies, players fighting them and the turrets trying to mow them down at the same time. It was a frustrating battle that led to some rage on my part as I missed shots, could not control my character and could not even heal up as the game would not pick up my commands amidst the performance disaster. It was just hard to play.
Fallout 76 brings back the acclaimed building system from Fallout 4 that saw us create the best settlement with all the bells and whistles you can ask for. But like much of the game, it does not work. Instead of owning a set settlement, you now own a CAMP which you can pick up and move anywhere around the world. You can build things like a stove and weapon crafting bench and even kit out you camp with generators, water purifiers and a lot more. There are some catches though. Exit the game and your camp deletes itself and stores everything you have built in a separate crafting tab for you to now go and place down all over again.
Yes, this means you spend a few hours building and placing objects just to do it every time you log back into the game. Because of this, I just never even bothered investing time into creating something cool. I had a block with a weapon bench to scrap my junk, a stove to cook food and a stash to store all the junk in. This CAMP system then affects how you play the game too as instead of finding all the materials you need to craft that radio clock, you cannot be bothered with the goods because why build something when it is just going to delete itself when you need to go to bed?
The CAMP is basically just a place to fast travel to and store junk which is a pity as in concept, it sounds so great but it is executed terribly. It is even worse with friends as you cannot help each other build and contribute to one camp system. You can use each other’s crafting stations and they could drop resources to help you build but its a solo base building system here which is a disappointment.
On that note of co-op, Fallout 76 boasts its online gameplay and the entire experience is online only. You cannot play the game without internet and when you launch the game you are put into a server with other players. Most of the time these players are doing their own thing and the rare chance of you coming into contact with them normally results in a quick tea-bag gesture by crouching and them moving on. I did meet some players that wandered into my camp to use my stove, dropped a bag of mutton chops and left. Another player gestured to trade which I did. He gave me a load of Stimpacks and some weapons and moved on with his life. For the majority of my experience with the game, players were really kind and decent.
That is to say, there is a bad side to the game’s online features too. You can shoot an enemy and duel them to death but it is a long and painstaking process of you trying to kill the player, the player trying to kill you and you healing up while he does the same. It is a long rinse and repeat process which is best forgotten. You can kill other players, but it is a chore and they don’t die. If you do cause problems in the world you will get a bounty on your head but the chances of other players actually coming to hunt you down for that bounty are next to none.
Fallout 76 may sound like an MMO with its public events, but the limited players mean the chances of another player being in that area while you are trying to solo a wave-based attack are extremely slim. It never happens and most of the time, unless you are playing with a group of friends, you will be flying solo. I would have prefered to see the game load instances of a server where events are taking place to always guarantee someone being present to help with a tough objective.
Fallout 76 also has a new level system in place, As you gain XP you level up and unlock perk cards which you then equip into your SPECIAL slots. If you spend three levels levelling up Strength then you will be able to equip three level 1 “S” perks or 1 level 3. Two of the same perk cards can be combined together to create a higher-levelled perk or you can equip multiple perk types into one category. Honestly, other than lock picking and terminal-hacking perks, I never felt like anything I unlocked and equipped throughout my time with the game benefitted my character at all. The random perks also mean that you are going to have a hard time building that perfect character build you love doing in Fallout games because you will probably never get that perk you need.
While Fallout 76 may be shockingly bad in a lot of areas, its gameplay is true to the Fallout nature. Exploring the world, killing a bunch of new enemy types, collecting loot, making it better and doing it all again is what we love in a Fallout game and 76 does that very well. I was pulled into the game world for hours on end doing everything I loved doing in Fallout 4. You never have to build a CAMP, you never have to play with other people and you can discover the game’s story roots if you go looking for them. This is where Fallout 76’s biggest flaws become forgivable as they can be overlooked – bar the performance issues. When you wash away all the unnecessary gunk, Fallout 76 is a hardcore Fallout experience with a great world to explore. It may not look like it is for everyone but if Bethesda is dedicated to improving the experience then I am on board to see where it is going.
For those of you who absolutely love Fallout games, 76 is a decent entry. Just know you will be battling through some nasty bugs and overlooking some core mechanics that seem like a waste of time. But underneath it all, there is a Fallout game here to enjoy.
This review is based on a review copy sent to us by Bethesda
Available On: PS4, Xbox One, PC | Reviewed On: PS4 Pro | Release Date: 14 November 2018 | Price: R999