Fallout 76 is out and the verdict seems to be a public lynching
The first time I learned of Fallout 76’s existence was a week before its release when I started seeing reviews of its beta. To say I wasn’t really interested would be an understatement. I haven’t touched the series since Fallout: New Vegas which I bought at a bargain price, played a few hours then uninstalled.
I have found the Fallout series, in particular under the Bethesda banner, to be a messy, buggy, visually outdated, clunky games whose stories lacked agency and interest. The real interesting stories were often buried under terrible UI design and scattered in empty brown sandboxes. The shooting mechanics were terrible for a first person shooter and the character mechanics were too dumb for any serious role playing game. The worst of two worlds is the way I often viewed the series.
As disclaimers go, its quite long but I hope you readers get the message: I don’t like the Fallout game series. However, I can’t deny their cultural importance or the place they hold in mainstream gaming. Thus I just turn a blind eye to them and focus on more interesting aspects of gaming. For that reason, I had no interest in Fallout 4, only taking notice of its mixed reception the same way a passenger on a train takes interest in the landscape flowing past their window. Yet Fallout 76 seems to have done something quite extraordinary for me to not be able to ignore it: It made Fallout fans angry.
While I admit there is some satisfaction in seeing an enraged fanbase of what I view as mediocre game series turn on its creators, I have to try and think on WHY it happened. Why did this game offend so many in the Fallout community as to review bomb the game, have news outlets damn it and give it scores so low, lower in fact than Kane and Lynch, a game so terrible that it only warranted a 6(!) on Gamestop. Like a witness to a trainwreck, I feel compelled to watch and try to decipher the mess.
Watching the many reviews online, I personally don’t get the hate. Visually the game is indistinguishable from Fallout 4: Ugly. Bethesda games were always quite graphically impaired, filled with clunky character animations, horrible shooting mechanics and copy pasted interiors. Not much has changed on that front in Fallout 76. Next is the story or lack of. People complain about the fact there are no NPC characters to give life to the wasteland but in all my experiences with Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas that is an upgrade. Bethesda’s Fallout series never had much life in it and what NPCs you could interact with would often stare at you lifelessly or repeat their pre-programed routine, making you feel as though you were wandering in an animatronic theme park.
Next comes the bugs, but as infuriating and game crashing as Fallout 76’s bugs are, how do they differ from all the previous incarnations in the series? Bethesda has a reputation, A REPUTATION, as a shoddy game developer that pushes half baked products on store shelves, does only the minimal bug fixing and often relying on the community to debug its games. Those that bought the newest game have no right to be outraged in that regard.
Gameplay then, is the last aspect to explore as to the cause of the outrage. That said, there is little change on that front. It is still the same horrible shooting mechanics and lack of meaningful character progression. This time though, instead of choosing perks every few levels you get ability cards that help customize your character and perhaps supply an opening for another avenue of microtransactions. Not much change from Fallout 4. There is still the stupid looting and building mechanics that add very little to the game. The only two major changes in my eyes are the survival aspects (needing to manage your food and water) and the VATS system.
The survival aspects themselves are almost token, and don’t seem to intrude much on the overall Fallout experience while the VATS system change is, well, dumb. In the past, VATS was a nice pause button or a free “Get Out of Jail” card if things got hectic in a shootout. You could take time to pick targets, choose what organs to shoot for maximum success\damage then see it unfold in slow motion. Since Fallout 76 is an online multiplayer game, you can’t really pause the server for every individual so VATS was changed to basically an aimbot. No, I am not kidding. It is literally an aimbot, allowing you to target an enemy and lock onto them with your weapons with hardly any player input.
Did I forget to say Fallout 76 is an online multiplayer game? Yeah, I guess we found the reason for the outrage. The biggest problem for Fallout 76 is its multiplayer aspect. Not because the experience itself is horrible, after all as I demonstrated, there is little deviation from the games that came before it. That said, by making it a multiplayer game, Bethesda has pretty much shot itself in the foot.
The problem with making it a multiplayer game is that what little immersion there was in the game is basically ruined. Not only are the people in the server total strangers who may dress in wacky outfits and make rude gestures at the player, they also queue to the same events and stories, meaning they hinder quest completion as well as the immersion itself. After all, part of the “Charm” (With the biggest quotation marks possible) was the solo exploration aspect.
Don’t get me wrong, players had been clamoring for a cooperative Fallout experience (The sadists!) but not one populated by a myriad of strangers who keep running around, knocking things over and just reinforcing the emptiness of the world. In a way, Bethesda managed to expose the cheapness of the Fallout experience by shedding light on it with multiplayer gameplay.
Of course, this isn’t the only reason why Fallout 76 is receiving such pillorying. The multiplayer only aspect was merely the catalyst that lit the powder keg. The real explosive powder was the fanbase’s expectations of the game. While Bethesda marketed the game with an emphasis on multiplayer and survival, they did try to have it both ways by either being evasive on the singleplayer aspect, (You know, the thing that made the series popular) or claiming the multiplayer aspect won’t hinder it (Which it doesn’t, until you get disconnected from the server and lose all your progress). Of course, they also lied about performance and graphics but that is small potatoes compared to the main selling point of the game – Exploration.
After all, Fallout games (and Elder Scrolls games for that matter) are all about the exploration. You can yell “Story” from the top of mount Everest for all you like, but all Bethesda main stories (and many side stories) are total rubbish. Playing more than two hundred hours of Skyrim I didn’t feel once the urge to continue the main plotline. It was the lore and exploration which drove the game for me. The same is true for Fallout. The game series is good in spite of its stories, not because of them. However Fallout 76 doesn’t even have that good an exploration drive. After all its not the player exploring an unknown wasteland, its a bunch of players doing it. With the spell of crafting a unique experience broken, all the faults that have existed in the series since Fallout 3 came to bite its studio in the ass.
Yes, there is nothing new in the complaints of the Fallout fanbase. Bethesda continued to dilute the series, dumbing it down for mass appeal. It seems that this time they simply crossed a line that allowed the rubes to realize they were robbed. The degradation of the series was there for all to see, but I guess you only become aware of it with a crowd, with open mics running around an event and killing the boss before you can get your chance.
I feel like a lot of the outrage comes from waking up. The army of fans who really liked the series and deluded themselves into thinking a messy, buggy game that somehow gets worse with each iteration is worth it for the experience. When that experience was cheapened by the addition of the online component, they woke up to see they’ve been living in a slum catching fire and the landlord doesn’t give a damn saying instead “It just works!”. Yeah, I guess I’d be angry too.
That said, the only recourse those fans have is either try to force a refund (Which is a tad problematic since Bethesda made their own launcher and sold it outside of Steam for what I believe could be this very reason) or boycott Bethesda products. Don’t buy the new Starfield and Elder Scrolls VI. That said, we all know that fans often like to forgive abusive game companies because they liked previous games of theirs and they hold franchises to ransom. I don’t like to make allusions to battered spouses, but it sure feels that way. Would Fallout 76’s outrage live long enough to make gamers ditch Bethesda? I feel a tad cynical in saying “I don’t think so” because like every battered spouse they’d go back after a promise of “We are sorry” and “We will change and take your feedback into account”. After all, they made Skyrim! (and how many years has it been since Skyrim?). Todd wouldn’t lie (narrator’s voice: Todd always lies).
Bethesda, Bethesda never changes.