The latest entry in the Fallout franchise, Fallout 76, has gotten off to a rough start. But, if it is a disappointing game, it is only because it feels unfinished.
Immediately prior to starting this piece, I wanted to boot the game up one last time to confirm something. What should have been an easy task, however,
was marred by the fact that the game would not load prior to downloading and installing an exceptionally large update. This update took two hours, and while that is, for some reason, part and parcel with playing games these days, when Fallout 76 finally did boot, a graphical error left my player’s head and hands visible while the rest of his body was see-thru. A minute or so later, perhaps when the game was finished actually loading the graphics, the rest of the body appeared.
This is less acceptable in a game where bad guys spring up all over and which cannot be paused. What if, rather than my character being invisible, one of the vile creatures out to kill me was invisible? How would I have killed him? This task is already at times exceptionally difficult as there is something distinctly weird about targeting people/things in Fallout 76—someone can be standing right in front of you and you might still miss them when pulling the trigger—making it harder by having the baddies invisible feels over the top.
Combat is, simply put, not all that exciting. This is partially because aiming is awkward, but only partially. Fallout 76plays out relatively slowly and getting used to the control scheme is cumbersome, so a lot of fights find someone like me slowly moving backwards and firing at folks as they run at me. That gets old fast, but the combat issues don’t end there. The radar on the bottom of the screen shows where bad guys are, but only sometimes. If you haven’t seen the baddie, they’re more than likely to not show up (and they shouldn’t), but they might anyway. If you have seen them, they’re more than likely to appear (and they should), but they might not anyway.
Hearing the sounds of an enemy is a good hint that you ought to start looking for them, but too often those sounds aren’t really directional even everything in the game indicates they ought to be. Consequently, just because you hear someone behind you, it doesn’t actually mean they’re behind you. Then, the game sometimes will decide to pump up the intensity of the music if there’s a baddie chasing you, which is okay if you have an idea that the baddie is there and an unfair advantage if you’re clueless.
A lot has been made of Fallout 76‘s being an online multiplayer game and the inadequacies of the title in that respect (no NPC humans, only very few online other people in your game, and the lack of thrill in multiplayer missions). This is all true, but I think there’s something enjoyable about traveling around this relatively empty world. This is a game about a post-apocalyptic world and it kind of makes sense that there wouldn’t be very many folks around. How you choose to work that into the larger Fallout franchise story is up to you (Fallout 76 is a prequel).
Perhaps though the lack of NPCs does lead to a diminishment the missions as well. Although these can be deep, the options at the point I’ve gotten to in the game are mostly around whether you want to do the missions or not as opposed to choosing between outcomes.
While all of those negatives hurt the game, there is still something hugely entertaining at its core. This might me a less than great entry in the franchise, but opening up the Pip-Boy and exploring this post-apocalyptic Appalachia still has something going for it.
Fallout 76 is fun, I’ve enjoyed my time playing it even if it is no Fallout 4 (despite the similarities in look and feel). Consequently, it feels like something of a step backwards for the franchise. I am not, however, convinced it will stay that way. The game may change, and change significantly with updates. Only time will tell.