Fallout 76 Review PC
key review info
- Game: Fallout 76
- Platform: PC
- Gamepad support: Yes
- Reviewed on:
- Show system requirements
War, war never changes. But the Fallout franchise which made these words so memorable is quite the opposite. The series may have begun as a pretty niche role-playing game for lone wolves but now, especially under the ownership of Bethesda, it’s grown into a more mainstream experience.
After the major Fallout 4 installment, which introduced quite a few new things to the classic recipe, it’s time for the biggest shift yet in the RPG series - Fallout 76. While most of the same mechanics from 4 are returning, there is one major new addition: multiplayer.
Taking place right after the nuclear apocalypse but way before the action of previous games in the franchise, Fallout 76 lets you and your friends rip through the Appalachian region in North America, while still enjoying that classic vibe that made recent titles stand out from the crowd.
Is this major turn in the general direction of the series a fateful one or should this experience be nuked from existence? Let’s find out.
Games that stand out with their stories often use a “show, don’t tell” approach. Fallout 76, unfortunately, employs a whole lot of the “tell” strategy as almost all of its story is delivered through audio diaries (holo tapes). From the adventure your Vault Overseer has throughout Appalachia, to the “Survivor Stories” that are scattered through the region and tell, as their name suggests, the stories of different people right after the nuclear bombs dropped.
The voice acting is, as heard in the last few games, quite good, but you aren’t given a reprieve to actually pay attention to them. Usually, you have to deal with enemies, environmental hazards, survival tasks, or actual human players causing havoc around you. All these distractions, combined with the passive nature of just hearing someone talk at you, instead of to you like in a normal dialog, make the stories forgettable.
While the world boasts the same memorable design that made previous games so unique, the fact that there are no humans around, with the exception of a few robots, and the only voices you hear are just recordings, makes the region feel eerie.
There are some pretty well thought out quest chains that tie neatly into the exploration you’re already doing, but many, when examined more closely, tend to feel rather useless. You’re not really involved in the whole “re-colonization” effort because the game doesn’t give you that many incentives, except your own survival. As such, things like purifying water for future humans don’t feel that interesting.
Of course, you can create memorable experiences with other players but, given the server limit of 25 and the huge map, you won’t run into that many human-controlled characters. As such, you’re left feeling like you wondered into an abandoned automated theme park with robots and triggered exposition through audio tapes.
Gameplay and Multiplayer
Fallout 76’s gameplay can be neatly summarized as just Fallout 4 with other players around you. At least in the very first days, almost everyone is doing their own thing so the whole experience harks back to the first days spent in the previous game, with the only exception being that the only people around you are other players that run around and barely interact with you.
Most of the mechanics from 4 make a comeback, albeit with slight upgrades that emphasize variety. You have more weapons, more items to collect and turn into scrap parts, as well as a bigger emphasis on crafting which, if you want to survive, is almost essential.
However, some mechanics have received downgrades, chief among which is the VATS system, which should in theory help targeting enemies. This time around, instead of freezing time, like in Fallout 3, or slowing it down, like 4, it keeps the action real time. As you can imagine, this doesn’t work in practice but, due to the wonky aiming, it’s practically your only way of hitting enemies more accurately.
Instead of building settlements like in Fallout 4, you have your own CAMP (Construction and Assembly Mobile Platform), which can be deployed in a variety of places to let you feel like you’re taking back the wilderness. Unfortunately, every time you pack up camp, all the different things you’ve constructed get disassembled so there’s not that big of a reward for creating sprawling structures or fortifications.
Survival is a key goal in 76, as you need to eat and drink in order to stay alive and in shape. If you don’t get these precious resources, then you won’t be able to fight that well and you’ll lose action points. If you do die, you will respawn in the vicinity and a bag will be dropped with the various crafting resources and scrap items you had. Your weapons and survival essentials, thankfully, stay with you.
The game does shine in terms of enemy variety. While you no longer have the human raiders from past titles, you do have the Scorched, which somewhat take their place, as well as an assortment of new mutated animals, such as huge frogs and possums, not to mention the classic Ghouls or Supermutants.
Fighting feels a bit more sluggish than in Fallout 4 and, because of its multiplayer nature, you’ll feel pretty overwhelmed in early skirmishes due to a lack of resources and weapons. This can lead to some frustration, especially since leveling up doesn’t really feel like a big increase in power.
Instead of giving you points that you can pour in your skills or your SPECIAL stats, the game takes a randomized approach, giving you the 7 SPECIAL categories and letting you select one in which you receive a randomized perk. Every few levels you’ll receive booster packs with multiple perks and, if you have duplicates, you can fuse them together to create better versions.
This whole system feels unintuitive at first and pretty exploitative as you keep progressing. Throw in the in-game shop that lets you buy various cosmetic items and Fallout 76 has the markings of a free-to-play experience. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing but Bethesda is asking full price for the title, so it leaves a bitter taste.
Speaking of multiplayer, the game does have specific limited-time events that are supposed to promote teamwork for players that are in the same general area. Unfortunately, seeing as how the title puts around 20 people on a single “server” and coupling that with the huge map, and you won’t really see that many players, let alone be able to team up with them. As such, these events, which specifically throw at you many enemies and tougher odds of victory are a pain, unless you have friends that specifically stick together. Perhaps, as time goes on, Fallout 76 players will become more sociable but, at least for now, cooperative activities feel like a waste of time.
There is also a competitive player-versus-player mechanic in this game but, like with the cooperative one, it feels a bit weird. You can trigger fights with other players by dealing damage. However, the damage you do is minimal. The opponent gets a notification that they have been challenged and, if they do damage to you, the fight will begin. However, while the challenger deals a slight amount of damage, the person accepting the duel will deal the normal amount, thereby leaving the person who triggered the fight at a big disadvantage. Unless you have a lot of health, don’t start fights you can’t win.
Being a Bethesda game, of course we encountered some glitches. There were a few game breaking ones, such as computer terminals that did not load, instead showing you an endless booting animation. There were also some peculiar ones, such as not being able to hear any radio, not to mention various physics problems related to dead bodies, clothes, and other such things. I also had some server issues, with the game randomly disconnecting a few times.
Graphics and Sound
Fallout 76 brings a few improvements in terms of visuals over the last game. Appalachia is much more varied and colorful than the Commonwealth of Fallout 4 and the whole design, from the interface to the animations show improvements.
I did see some texture and object pop-in on PC but, overall, there weren’t that many graphical issues, besides the glitches mentioned above. One thing in particular that bothered me was the lack of field-of-view adjustment. By default, Fallout 76 has a very narrow view and, depending on your sensitivity to this aspect, you may end up feeling sick. Couple this with the pretty wonky movement system and fighting in close quarters becomes a nightmare.
The sound design, fortunately, is superb. The audio cues are clear and the atmospheric music really immerses you into the world. The radio stations are also quite good, bringing back classics from previous games while adding new ones, including a great rendition of Country Roads.
One downside in terms of audio, however, relates to the fact that voice chat among other players is enabled by default. As such, if you have people who left their microphones on, you will hear them. You can mute them in the Social menu but, unless they’re in the immediate vicinity on the map, you can’t tell who is speaking, so you may have to mute everyone to make sure you’ve silenced the distraction.
- Huge world with many things to do
- Great retro-themed visual design
- Cooperative activities can be quite fun with friends
- Story relayed only through audio tapes
- Shooting feels slow and reworked VATS feels weird
- Competitive fights are unbalanced
- Progression is uneven due to multiplayer
With some more time and more inspired gameplay design, it could have been a much better experience. Right now, unfortunately, its great world feels like a missed opportunity that’s mostly not fun, only in very few scenarios and for very few people. Bethesda proved with The Elder Scrolls Online that it can turn things around but 76 may require some sweeping changes until it’s ready to be recommended to others.