Bethesda's latest major release, Fallout 76, has been plagued with drama and controversy since it was announced. The multiplayer open-world take on the Fallout universe aims to do things a little differently by placing an emphasis on crafting and survival, instead of on decision-making and structured open-world narrative. Unfortunately, the results aren't going to please everyone.
It shouldn't come as a major surprise that Fallout 76 lives up to the franchise reputation of launching with a laundry list of bugs that range from comical and endearing to game-breaking and frustrating. The combination of typical Bethesda bugs with an always online, multiplayer game is a bit deadly and led to more than a handful of problems that required a game reboot to resolve during our dozens of hours in the West Virginia wasteland. That said, a massive 40+ GB patch released a week after the game's launch that did help resolve a large number of these problems. The game clearly still has a lot of growing pains to work through, but it seems like Bethesda is hard at work on updating the title with improvements on a steady basis.
Even when the bugs aren't forcing us to close and restart the game, the experience still leaves a bit to be desired. As expected, Fallout 76 puts a major emphasis on survival and exploration. Half of that equation delivers incredibly well and the other half ends up feeling more like a list of chores than an engrossing mechanic. The game's version of post-apocalyptic West Virginia is truly stunning. Sure, the graphics suffer from many of the same problems that existed in Fallout 4, but that doesn't stop the Appalachian scenery from being any less eerily beautiful and vast. There are some very cool locations and quests to stumble on in the deserted landscape and this exploration is likely enough motivation to drive many players close to the endgame content. The main narrative mostly just involves listening to journals and running from one location to the next on a scavenger hunt, but luckily the sights found along the way keep things interesting.
The other side of the coin is the game's survival mechanics. The need to stay hydrated, fed, and disease-free may appeal to some portion of players, but it doesn't seem to be a great fit for players who still want something resembling the core Fallout titles. Far too often we found ourselves having to abandon an interesting area or take a break in the middle of a chain of quests to go boil some fresh water or hunt our next meal. These challenges felt more like an annoyance that stand in the way of the game's best features, rather than something that added on to the game's tension and immersion.
That's not to say that all of the gathering and crafting was a bad thing, though. Fallout 76 still offers players the chance to collect resources all over the wasteland to improve their armor, weapons, and base of operations. These mechanics still function incredibly well and even make some interesting improvements from Fallout 4. The ability to pick up our base and drop it down in a new region is incredibly convenient and makes some of the survival mechanics a little bit more bearable (thanks to constructing cooking stations and wells in the movable base).
A discussion of Fallout 76 obviously wouldn't be complete without acknowledging the game's multiplayer component. Like with most multiplayer games, Fallout 76's features shine the brightest when playing with an established group of friends. Teaming up and taking on enemies or events is a ton of fun and seems to be clearly where the multiplayer features want to go. PvP on the other hand hardly seems worth the effort. It's incredibly difficult to injure another player if they don't want to fight (which is by design) and there is little reward in acting as an agent of mayhem in the wasteland. Considering these drawbacks to player versus player violence, it seems like Fallout 76 would have felt a bit more natural if it didn't even include PvP as an option, or perhaps if it limited player violence to designated servers and removed the nerf on instigator violence.
With the emphasis on human to human interaction, Fallout 76 removed many living NPCs in favor of journals, AI, and radio broadcasts to fill the void. Although this makes sense for a game that is meant to concentrate on multiplayer, it certainly seems to have made the wasteland feel a bit more empty and lonely. That said, we've seen many online games bounce back from a rocky launch with a series of patches that address user feedback and problems. If Bethesda stays dedicated to patching in fixes and making tweaks to Fallout 76, this could be a very different game a year down the road. Unfortunately, that might be what it would take to get us to log back in at this point.
Fallout 76 is currently available on PC, PS4, and Xbox One. Game Rant was provided an Xbox One code for this review.