Fallout is one of the most anticipated and beloved franchises over the past decade and serves as one of the major staples in Bethesda’s offerings to us, the gamer. It comes as no surprise still however that the announcement of Fallout 76 was met with mixed responses, an always online, multiplayer game strays from the typical experience we have usually received. Personally, this is the kind of game I yearned for, a massive Bethesda world that I can play with others. But does the risk pay off or is it a mis-step?
What is absolutely clear from the get-go is that story is at the heart of this open-world RPG but it doesn’t out-right take center stage. Throughout my time in West Virginia, I purposely tried to focus my time in the main quests and lore but often became distracted in the side missions, events and in general, mucking about with friends. Whilst the main storyline could be seen as lacking I take the glass half full approach in saying and believing the rest of the content packs out this adventure in a meaningful way. There is no shortage of things to do, sights to see and enemies to kill.
Typically, side quests have a negative connotation of being a waste of time and adding little to no value. I believe that just isn’t the case here, I found myself invested in each one, to the point of seeking out all the possible details that can be discovered by searching the surroundings. Whether it was training to become a fire breather or trying to solve the case of the missing boy it all felt worthwhile.
It isn’t just what the story is, but how it is delivered too, and I feel the series has done a fantastic job in delivering information through sound, something 76 follows up on in a much more aggressive way. There are few friendly NPC’s and no human allied ones other than the voices you can hear through the many holotapes you will collect along the way. This way of storytelling accentuates the feeling of being alone but still being able to convey the objectives to the player.
Marmite, I can tell I confused you with that, what I want to get across is that the gameplay of Fallout can be referred to as ‘marmite’, you either love it or hate it. Unfortunately for this venture, the same issues arise and if that wasn’t bad enough you have to contend with the bugs that can at times make playing, such a chore. The movement is janky, the menus are cluttered, and combat is lacking in fun.
Frequently, traversing the terrain has resulted in either getting stuck or falling, and that isn’t down to my poor awareness either, it just doesn’t feel natural. Combine that with trying to fight something and I just constantly got caught against something and completely ruined by a swarm of enemies. When that happens time after time it becomes irritating.
As it was stated during the Bethesda E3 2018 press conference, you play with dozens of players, not hundreds or thousands, because it’s the apocalypse, not an amusement park. It completely makes sense in theory, but in execution it has resulted in a world that feels a little empty, especially when playing alone. It isn’t just the number of players that make the wasteland feel bare, but also how many buildings you can explore, there are far too many structures that are blocked from entry, this makes this vast world seem just a tad smaller.
Going solo in West Virginia is a burden, to stand a chance it’s imperative to grind to get the best possible weapons, apparel, aids and stats. I don’t exactly have the best patience when it comes to grinding, some games get it right and others make it feel like a chore because of either the time it takes to level or what you must do in order to gain experience. Discovering places, killing enemies and completing quests are the ways to gain XP, you can get better percentages through use of certain perk cards, items and joining with team-mates, your incentivised to be in a group and almost penalised to be a lone wolf. Fighting a horde of enemies whilst with some buddy’s is pretty easy, alone, it’s tough, of course depending on levels etc.
Something I love are the random encounters I faced, be it game scripted or player based. I remember one of the scariest moments, I had cleared out a couple of buildings and proceeded to loot the corpses. What followed was a pip-boy stop to scour through my well-earned winnings and all was fine, all quiet etc. What followed was a loud “CONGRATULATIONS!” it was almost enough for a bowel movement, just something so unexpected it caught me off guard. I laugh about it now, but Mr. Prize-Bot is still out there, taunting me. When it comes to player interactions it could be something as simple as being given a helping hand against some enemies followed by the thumbs up emote and going on our separate ways. It might however look something like six players getting together going emote crazy and taking on waves of enemies, either way it brings a smile. Those moments I cherish in games.
S.P.E.C.I.A.L and perks serve as the core RPG elements that go hand in hand with levelling up and becoming a stronger player. There are seven stats and with each level you can choose which to increase by 1, simple enough really. In reality it’s more complicated as each increase in a particular stat you get an extra perk slot for that specific category, be it Strength, Luck etc. Equip perk cards that you accumulate that can give numerous different benefits. This is where a bit of forward thinking is really needed to know where you want to be and how you are going to get there. I toyed with the system ad nauseam and always found new and interesting combinations.
Now this is technically a survival game and as such there are a few meters you need to be aware of at all times, food, water and HP/Rads. It’s another layer to the game that drew me in, keeping me on my toes and was one of the deciding factors in a lot of my perk choices. I went for perks that gave me the most benefits and bonuses from consuming item to ensure my character was in tip top shape.
Base-building is back and was absolutely a much-welcomed addition in the previous game, it solidified the message that the player is the last hope for rebuilding a fallen community. It is also a blinking beacon that signals everyone to have at it and build whatever crazy things you can. This kind of freedom is just refreshing to see, being able to almost change the game world and add your own flare.
Visual fidelity has never come across as a priority in Bethesda titles, instead opting for design as opposed to fine detail. The graphics seem a little three years ago almost as if the same settings were copied and pasted from Fallout 4. That being said, there are some technical features that stand out and make this world come alive, just things like proper lighting, shadow effects and wind effects go a long way in building an atmosphere. West Virginia has undergone a drastic transformation and it truly does look that way, in terms of the level and the characters, everything has been designed superbly and puts across to the player how horrifying a post-apocalyptic earth could be.
The soundtrack of Fallout 76 is often subtle but can escalate into these ‘epic’ feeling moments. When at its quietest, you know the music is still there floating about, creating tension and when combat begins the pace is matched by the background tune, becoming hectic. Voice acting plays a big role in the immersion building process, be it the grunts and roars from hostiles, a casual chat with a robot or listening to a holotape. The performances vary with some standouts such as The Overseer voiced by Adrienne Barbeau and Mr. Fluffy, my favourite robot in a videogame.
It is with a little regret that I admit I never managed to launch a nuclear missile due to lack of friends available at the same times. This kind of proves a point that some content, like the atomic strike is cut off to those playing on their own unless you keep at it and grind to the max, something not all are willing to do.
OVERALL: 7.2/10 – GOOD
Fallout 76 is a flawed game, by any stretch of the imagination, but be damned there is also something so endearing about it. The deep survival role-playing mechanics go hand in hand with the over-arching theme of Fallout, to survive and rebuild. Its bugs are face-palm inducing and should have no place in a somewhat fully released product in 2018. I fully believe player-choice has been one of the core reasons for me to stay the course and enjoy my time playing, I got frustrated but I also smiled and laughed at the same time, gaming, am I right?
Reviewed by Rhys Baldwin.
(Disclaimer: Jester Says received a review copy of Fallout 76, however this does not in any way affect the scoring of a game or our thoughts on the game itself. We believe in total honesty and being transparent with you.)