Before we start a quick disclaimer. This review is based on the game build at the time of publication. Bethesda has already laid out a timeline starting in early December to address many of the issues that are impacting the game experience. Several updates to stash size, boss loots along with issues of respawning while encumbered, the C.A.M.P. will be addressed at that time. Since we don’t know if the updates will provide relief from these issues,Bethesda has acknowledged the issues and is working through the issues to try to make the game better.
Let’s get this out of the way immediately: Fallout 76 isn’t your daddy’s Fallout. Hell, it isn’t even your Fallout from a mere three years ago with Fallout 4. This is is a risky direction change for the beloved franchise as Bethesda has moved it to to an online-only RPG.
As for the game’s setting, it is the prequel of all prequels, taking place in the series before any other Fallout's main storyline, 25 years after the bombs fell. As you start the game, you wake up in a mostly empty Vault 76 and make your way through a pseudo tutorial, picking up some supplies for the journey ahead. Once you actually emerge from the vault, it starts to get real as you find yourself in a very lush Appalachian landscape in West Virginia. The game gives you quests to direct your journey around the expansive map with danger literally around every corner.
As you play through the first several hours and make progress on quests and upgrade your character's S.P.E.C.I.A.L. abilities, the first inkling that there is something not quite right with Fallout 76 starts to seep in. The volume of loot combined with the lack of storage, perk system, the nonexistence of NPCs, holotapes everywhere, the randos running around sometimes helping sometimes being jerks—it's all...different. While it took me a bit longer to put my finger on it, as I was playing with friends initially, I finally realized what the issue was once I started playing solo: the game doesn’t play well, regardless your adventuring method.
Whether you decide to play solo, multiplayer, or attempt PvP, the game doesn't really deliver a quality experience for any of those play methods. If you were expecting an Elder Scrolls or Fallout single-player campaign, you will certainly be able to try to play the game that way, but it will be a lot different than what you are used to. The game is frustrating and boring while playing alone.
As you progress through quests or just explore, you get tired of looting stuff and taking on waves of enemies that are obviously meant for multiple players to tackle, burning through all your resources, all being driven by listening to holotapes that have completely replaced interactions with NPCs in previous games. You can shut the tapes off and still get the quest, or listen to it in the background, but the interactions just aren’t the same as with an NPC. In addition, the underlying issues with the game lead to some frustrating moments that are really magnified when playing solo. So, even though Fallout 76 may have been touted as capable of going it alone, it most certainly was developed with the intent of the more the merrier in your adventuring party.
The PvP is sub-optimal in it's current state and should have been held back until it was a bit more complete. It should also be a separate gameplay option on the main menu. You can't damage anyone unless they fight back, despite bounties being placed on your head. It is much more of an annoyance to those trying to complete quests, craft stuff, or offload items in their stash than start an actual PvP battle. Feels like this was kind of shoehorned to regulate friendly fire instead of actually taking the time to capitalize on the Battle Royale craze, or have it developed as a true standalone PvP experience. Regardless, if it was properly developed, it would keep the PvP players in their own space and eliminate the griefers from the main game area.
While I dislike the solo adventuring experience and hate the PvP, the saving grace for Fallout 76 is its multiplayer, but even that comes with the caveat of playing with a trusted group of friends. Although I personally am not a fan of online play with people I don’t know (online morons going back 20+ years to Age of Empires and Diablo Hellfire days), Fallout 76 almost forces you to find help to work your way through the game. My solution has always been to not interact with randos if I can help it, and I muted in-game chat immediately in the vault due to some idiot spewing nonsense. Yet I have been pleasantly surprised by most of the encounters in Fallout 76 with random people of the server. I think everyone realizes that we need to help each other out and PC generally has a more mature player base than console. I have heard of people setting up their C.A.M.P. around the game to interact and essentially fill the NPC void that exists.
Personally, people have jumped in with my quests and encounters just because they happened by. While there have been a couple of idiots, there haven't been too many, and it's nothing a private server for PC wouldn't solve. Regardless, playing with friends while on private audio chat like Discord is simply the best way to play the game. You can coordinate during encounters, help each other out with gear and finding things, as well as working together to complete quests and loot the heck out of stuff. I imagine this is what Bethesda envisioned when they went this route with Fallout 76, so that part works pretty well. Really wish they would have included for PC the ability to use private servers, as this would have allowed the players to eliminate some of my issues with the game.
There are many things to like. In addition to playing with friends, there's plentiful loot, the beautiful Appalachian countryside, and no shortage of points of interest. These are hallmarks of Bethesda titles such as Fallout 4 and The Elder Scrolls. However, there are also just as many things to dislike, including the complete lack of storage both on your person and in your cache, the luck-of-the-draw perk system, and how the level scaling works in for pretty much everything.
As mentioned earlier, there are many frustrations you encounter that are amplified by playing solo, but are still there to a degree while in multiplayer. The most glaring example is the way Fallout 76 uses scaling in-game. This shows up in the quantity and level of the encounters with enemies along with the carry and stash capacity.
The enemy encounters are particularly an issue when soloing, as several times now I have ventured into the woods or a building and just been decimated by a not-so-fair fight. One time I had five Super Mutants that decided to stroll through my camp and mortally wound me with just five hits. Of course I didn’t have any backup and no one to hook me up while I bled out. I also did a quest where I was able to hold off the wave of enemies, but that was at the expense of severe weapon degradation and using up most of my ammo. In hindsight, the battle would still have been tough, but more fair and without expending all of my assets if there were two or three of us completing the quest. While these are just a couple of specific examples, as I kept progressing and my character leveled up, the enemies' levels and quantities felt like they went up expecting a party of three or four adventurers at that level, instead of a dude running around solo without any Power Armor. This is a problem. For a game that bills itself as capable of playing alone or venturing in a group, you have to think that it would be able to scale the encounters to the party size. Otherwise, you are forcing people to play together whether they like it or not.
Another scaling issue appears to be the huge disconnect between the volume of loot in relation to your carrying capacity and your stash allotment. There is junk everywhere, and for those that are huge into looting, crafting, and scrapping, this is a bad thing when the loot-to-storage ratio is not scaled properly. Weapons are a perfect example, as some of the more powerful weapons in the game are significantly heavier than low-grade weapons, meaning you may have to commit five to seven percent of your basic 200 lbs. of storage space to a single weapon. And while ammo is plentiful, you really need to carry one weapon that uses each ammo type: both melee weapons and ranged weapons to make sure you aren't caught in a battle without a way to defend yourself. As for the stash, Bethesda plans to address it in December with a stash limit increase from 400 to 600 lbs. with plans to increase further once it is determined to be stable, but it still doesn't eliminate the issue of only being able to craft a single stash site and have limited on-character storage.
Other problems include the use of the aging Creation Engine designed for single-player, which has always had issues from the previously mentioned lack of push-to-talk and the usual game physics and mechanics issues that traditionally plague Bethesda titles. It is also plagued with lengthy load times simply entering and exiting doors, and a slight pause (one to two seconds) after you finally get through the door before you regain control of your character. The whole C.A.M.P. deployment was not well thought out. I have on several occasions had my C.A.M.P. packed up neatly when I logged on, with someone else on the server having their C.A.M.P. set up on the exact spot I was at. The first time was not a surprise since it was a quest campsite, but this also happened at subsequent locations which I thought were completely random and off the beaten path. My understanding is that this is one of the announced adjustments to the game that is scheduled for December.
This C.A.M.P. issue highlights the need for players to be able to host private servers. This would essentially eliminate the C.A.M.P. overlay issue as everyone would be in sync with one other, and if there were someone on your site, chances are you'd know them personally. Private servers would also eliminate the griefers and give players control over the quality and connection of their hosted server.
I was also not a fan of the new Perk system, as it is left entirely up to chance how to build your characters S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats based on what random cards you get in a pack. In Fallout 4 and Skyrim, while not unlocked, the entire skill tree was visible so you could plan ahead on how to spend points to unlock deeper skills to get your character built the way you want. While the perk system isn't a total deal breaker, it does require you to build up your characters stats more on the fly than you are accustomed to.
While I applaud Bethesda’s efforts to try something different with one of their popular franchises, and the game is fun with friends, it feels like they implemented what they wanted and not what the fans were hoping for or expecting. Although I was eager to play Fallout 76, there are way too many times I am reminded that you simply cannot go it alone. Once you get past the first couple of quests and reach about level nine, you find yourself getting encumbered by the sheer amount of loot and getting destroyed in basic encounters because the scaling expects a group and not a single player. Adventuring solo gets boring quick and progress is hard to make, as the game doesn’t appear to scale down the major quest encounters just because you are by yourself. This leads to a major reliance on healing, ammo, and having to loot and scrap items just to move onto the next storyline quest. To enjoy the game as it sits today, you better grab a random player strolling by or a friend so they can watch your back and help you progress.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Like many gamers in their 40's, I developed my love of gaming from my Commodore 64 after we wore out our Intellivision. I spent countless hours wandering around the streets of Skara Brae, as my life was immersed in The Bard's Tale series on the C-64, D&D Titles and any/all Epyx titles (California Summer and Winter Games) and sports titles. After taking the early 90's off from gaming (college years) minus the occasional Bill Walsh College Football on Sega, I was re-introduced to PC games in the mid 1990's with a couple of little games called DOOM II and Diablo. I went all-in with the last generation of consoles, getting an Xbox 360 on launch weekend as well as adding a PS3 and Wii in subsequent years. I now am into the current-generation (latest?) of consoles with the WiiU and Xbox One. Recently, I was able to get back into PC gaming and have enjoyed it very much, spending most of my time going solo or playing with my fellow GamingNexus staffers in controlled multiplayer action.
While my byline is on many reviews, articles and countless news stories, I have a passion for and spent the last several years at GamingNexus focusing on audio & video and accessories as they relate to gaming. Having over 20 years of Home Theater consulting and sales under my belt, it is quite enjoyable to spend some of my time viewing gaming through the A/V perspective. While I haven't yet made it to one of the major gaming conventions (PAX or E3), I have represented GamingNexus at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in nine of the last ten years.
Personally, I have been a staff member at GamingNexus since 2006 and am in my third tour of duty after taking off the last year and a half.