Fallout 76 marks Bethesda’s second attempt at bringing a beloved and mainly single player oriented franchise to the online multiplayer domain, after The Elder Scrolls Online. As with Elder Scrolls, the game is out for PS4, Xbox One and PC – we tested it on the latter.
The Fallout name is much more closely associated with core gameplay changes than the Elder Scrolls franchise is, so its venture into the online multiplayer realm isn’t too surprising. What struck me as surprising, however, is that Fallout 76 lacks the kind of polish that has always partly defined the series for me – dating back to the isometric days of the first games and definitely applying to Fallout 3, New Vegas and Fallout 4. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Despite the online focus, Fallout 76 starts off in a relatively similar fashion to the previous games – with you emerging from a vault, ready to explore the world around you. A world that, in this case, feels oddly lifeless. For a game that’s so focused on ‘multiplayer’, it’s strange to not encounter any other (computer controlled) humans while not in combat – it’s a world of machines and robots out there in Fallout 76.
Because of this, while Fallout 76 looks quite similar to Fallout 4 (and New Vegas), the world doesn’t feel as vibrant and alive as it did in those more tightly designed single player games. It may also have to do with the fact that we’re three years past the release of Fallout 4 at this point, but I wasn’t wowed by the game’s visuals and locations as much in Fallout 76.
Staying with the comparison to Fallout 4, there is much less of an RPG-like experience to be had this time around. While Elder Scrolls Online mostly stuck to the RPG formula, Fallout 76 heavily emphasized shooting (and looting) as you traverse through the world. Since I tend to prefer action over hardcore RPG this wasn’t a choice I was too worried about, but it’s not implemented as well as it could have been. Enemy AI is lacking when compared to proper shooters, and the “hit chance” mechanic that VATS offers (a nudge to the older games) is kind of useless most of the time as straight up shooting tends to work just as well (unless characters are further away or hiding, and you have the chance to line up a shot).
Fallout 76 can be played as a single player game from beginning to end, but you’ll quickly start running into players and can join forces with them if you want to. Obviously, this works best if you play with a few actual friends, as there is relatively little incentive from a narrative standpoint to engage in multiplayer action. This changes slightly in the later stages of the game though, when you have a couple of people to play with it and have leveled up your character enough. Assaulting and defending strategic spots together is more fun than when taken on solo, but it doesn’t feel like it’s the meat of the game and doesn’t come into play until later.
Fallout 76, as a whole, feels like a less engaging experience than the last few titles did. The narrative is mostly delivered through notes and audios tapes that were left behind, making for a pretty “dry” delivery. The fact that the game also introduces survival elements as an important mechanic doesn’t help either, as this means you can’t stay on point and have to make sure you scavenge for food and supplies just to stay alive. It’s something that’s worked well in other games, but feels at odds with Fallout 76.
As such, Fallout 76 removes too many of the things that made Fallout 4 so enjoyable to directly appeal to fans of the last three games. The multiplayer works and there are some excellent multiplayer scenarios you can run into later on, but there isn’t enough of an immediate draw to start engaging with it right away. As such, Fallout 76 feels kind of stuck between two worlds and will likely have fans yearning for a Fallout 5 before too long.