I’m a huge fan of the Fallout franchise; I have been since I first played Fallout 3 way back in 2009. The staggeringly-huge worlds, the diverse storylines, the intuitive combat and survival systems… Perfection. It’s a fair chance that if a video game features a post-apocalyptic setting, RPG elements, and the air of freedom, I’ll be foaming at the mouth to play it. Fallout 4 remains one of my most-played games ever, with close to 800 hours of playing time across both the PS4 and Xbox One.
So why did it take me more than six months to pick up Fallout 76?
As you might be aware, Fallout 76 performed… less-than-desirably at launch. Bethesda took an industry-leading single player epic and twisted it into what then appeared to be a mutilated multiplayer monstrosity, complete with microtransactions, skins, online-only requirements and – the biggest shock of all – no real story. The franchise almost imploded overnight, and the title received extremely poor ratings: a bang average 5/10 from IGN, a meagre 4/10 from GameSpot, and as low as a 49% rating on Metacritic to this day.
To put this into a more damning perspective, Fallout 4 (the predecessor, with whom Fallout 76 shares the same engine) received glowing praise: a 9.5/10 from IGN, a 9/10 from GameSpot, and highs of 88% on Metacritic.
Sadly, Fallout 76 became something of a joke topic, ridiculed by internet memes and by aficionados of the industry far and wide. This – twinned with my strong disapproval of MMO games – led to me avoiding the game for over half a year. In that time however, Bethesda made valiant efforts to inject some semblance of order into the bug-riddled travesty that was 76, despite the price plummeting. I was able to secure two copies for a tidy £10 apiece – nice.
As this article suggests, I eventually caved. I decided that if I were to continue labelling myself as a diehard Fallout fan, I couldn’t miss 76 forever.
Was it the best decision I ever made?
Well, no. But was it a good decision?
I won’t beat around the bush – from the word ‘go’, I was hooked on Fallout 76. I couldn’t for a moment see why the title had received such stark hate at launch, but maybe I had stars in my eyes. I settled in and eventually racked up around 40 hours of play, both solo and as a partnership with my fiancée. I considered the honeymoon period over, but was I enjoying the title any less now I had covered a fair whack of content? Nope!
Fallout 76 began to tick all the boxes: fun gameplay, an engine that I recognised and loved instantly, graphics that were pleasing enough, and a world with bags full of exploration opportunities. At first, I was afraid that the player aspect would be a problem – I hate playing with other people in any capacity where they have the opportunity to ‘spoil my fun’. However, every interaction I’ve had with other players in Fallout 76 has been amicable. One super-high levelled player took the time to stop and offer me sacks of ammunition, in exchange for nothing but a cheery wave!
It truly was surreal. I was playing Fallout, another chapter in the journey I’d spent ten years on, but this time I could play with real people. It’s still something I find incredible. What I thought would be detestable, is one of the best additions to the franchise. When you play with a friend, it just boosts the enjoyment of the sprawling open-world: you can tackle tougher enemies, build better bases, take on riskier quests, and push away a sense of loneliness that does come with single-player gaming.
Of course, it’s not without its flaws. Fallout 76 does unfortunately experience a range of bugs and glitches, but I’ll be honest and say: that’s Bethesda. There can be server instability, with sudden kicks and server resets occurring, but re-logging is almost seamless. There are painfully sharp difficulty curves, as crossing one invisible border can suddenly pit you against a level 100 super-monster-beast, whereas twenty paces the other direction launches level 15 feral ghouls at you. And yes, no conventional story. There are no NPCs, no human traders, and quests are obtained by discovering discarded notes, holotapes or simply by stumbling across something.
On the subject of flaws, let’s discuss the elephant in the room: the microtransactions. I understand, it’s an MMO: people want to differentiate themselves from the other players. You can purchase all manner of clothing, skins and building options from the “Atomic Shop”, as well as quick-fix kits, gestures and cosmetics. I myself am fond of the ‘repair kits’ – little wonders that allow insta-fixes of any weapon or armour. These are probably one of the more niggly aspects of the game – if you don’t want to buy ‘Atomic Shop Atoms’ outright, you can earn them through challenges that are updated in-game every day. A little ‘grindy’, but not impossible.
Have any of these flaws stopped me having a great time? No, they haven’t. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all of the changes Bethesda made to the Fallout 4 formula, from real-time VATS, to an intuitive ‘SPECIAL card system’, as opposed to the traditional levelling system. I now have the ability to call home wherever I lay my hat, and build a C.A.M.P where I see fit. I can adventure alone, or with friends, and there’s a whole host of events, challenges and quests for us to go gallivanting on.
I understand the bad press, really I do. I just can’t see it myself. Bethesda are making strides to improve the game, adding in a ‘hardcore mode’, as well as the Nuclear Winter battle royale mode. They’re constantly updating it and have tonnes of space for expansion, including the arrival of NPCs in a future update (confirmed).
In the words of nineties pop icon D:ream, “things can only get better.”