Fallout 76: A Wasteland Review

Puttering along with my development, I’ve decided that in addition to dev-blog posts and occasional tutorials, I’d also share some reviews with folk.  And what better way to kick that out than the very polarizing beast that is Fallout 76.  Please bear with me for my first few reviews as I work out some format ideas.

TL;DR

Each review is likely to start with a TL;DR section that just gives the briefest blurb and score.  While most reviews put the score at the bottom, in hopes you’ll read the whole thing first, I know that a lot of us skip to the bottom first anyway.  I only want to read reviews for 90+/100 games or games that do so poorly their scores are barely numeric.  That being said, Fallout gets:

8/10

Yes, that’s a lot higher than the current average MetaCritic score of 51/100 (user score: 3/10), and I know that critics and gamers alike have been deriding the game fairly steadily since its launch, but hear me out.  There’s a lot of game to be had for $60 (or less), and a lot more than meets the eye.  It’s not without bugs that are currently annoying, sure, however it’s worth venturing into post-war Appalachia.

Shortcomings

In another plot twist, I’m going to lay out the negatives of a game first.  It’s like getting the bad news before the good news – that’s what everyone chooses, right?

The game certainly has a lengthy backlog of bugs to resolve at this point, and many of those really should’ve been caught in QA, or at least the B.E.T.A. phase of the game.  Many of them are minor annoyances like attached wires at your C.A.M.P. not aligning with your generators, or corpses despawning right after death (preventing looting).  Some are large, like being stuck in your Power Armor, or having your C.A.M.P. despawn improperly.

But these are largely technical issues that will be resolved with patches over time (there was a post-launch, very large patch already, another due any time now, and a third scheduled in December).  I’ve been lucky enough to not really run into any game-obliterating issues, but I do know they’re out there and respect that folk have been agitated by this.

Lastly, there are quite a few opinion-based criticisms of the game.  Some feel that the lack of human NPCs and the 24-PC limit in an instance makes the game feel empty or devoid of interaction. Lots of folk (including myself) dislike the 400WT limit to the stash, though that’s being upped to 600 in the next patch. I’ve seen complaints about a lack of a social hub.  So many complaints, some valid, some pedantic, some strictly one opinion versus another.

But, I like it…

But despite the flaws, I like the game on nearly every level, and actually disagree with many of the criticisms.  Here’s why:

Empty / Devoid of Interaction:  Looks, it’s the apocalypse, right?  I always felt it was a bit strange (despite always loving the Fallout franchise), that there were SO MANY people around.  It’s certainly plausible that a lot of folk would survive and the population would start to rebuild.  But I don’t think the scenario painted in FO76 is any more or less plausible.  Interaction with other players sort of makes sense the way it is – there are a handful of them, but not a ton, most of the post-war population that lived outside of the vaults have been killed off or died, and the few players in your instance are out and about learning the new world and surviving.  They aren’t at some social hub, flossing and throwing salt at each other. The sense of loneliness and desolation, in my opinion, is perfect for a Fallout game.

There’s not much to do after level x: Well, I mean, this seems to fall in line with complaints about virtually every persistent world game these days, and frankly I just don’t get it.  If you’re at max level two weeks after the game came out, and have done every side quest and explored every nook and cranny of the very large map, I’m not sure what you expect.  The kicker with this argument is that it’s a no-win for developers.  You could spend eternity making a game that lasts forever, in which case it would never launch, you could be baking extra content that releases a month or two after launch, in which case people would say it should’ve been in the base game and it was all a big money grab, or you just launch the game, and folk are mad because they “beat the whole thing” too quickly.  Seriously people, what’s a developer to do?  My ideas for Labyrintheer are partly designed to curb this, but the best way to do that is with roughly infinite content creation done programmatically and pseudo-randomly.  But that also means that much of the content is “weaker” compared to a fully realized and static game.

Here, though, there is a LOT to do.  Get absorbed by the environment.  Find the little nuggets of life before (and just after) the war.  If you’re willing to look below the surface, it’s an incredibly deep and rich world, and sometimes even the most mundane or humble building holds within it the story of a whole person.  I get the feeling that a lot of gamers today aren’t big on nuance, and that’s a real bummer.  Fallout games have always been as much about story as they’ve been about blasting super mutants into oblivion.  This game has as much or more of that than any previous installation, but some of it just isn’t spoon-fed to the player… and that isn’t a bad thing.

Why do devs release garbage with so many bugs? Why don’t we hold them accountable? This has become a bigger and bigger issue in the gaming community over the past decade, and the complaint isn’t without basis, exactly.  But there’s also a very large gap between what developers can do (technically) and what players think they can do (in a perfect world). Games and software have always had bugs, and they probably always will.  Sometimes they’re large, sometimes they’re small, sometimes they’re just funny, but they always exist.  It’s not just games, either.  But the issue is that at some point, people started expecting perfect software.

Yeah, “we don’t expect perfect, but this bug makes the game unplayable.”  Does it?  Because many of us have been playing it just fine for weeks.  Sometimes even with load testing (the beta), big issues aren’t going to wash out in QA or testing.  Sometimes the scale of a production, live, released environment is the only place you’ll find issues.  Sometimes even really big bugs.  I work in software development, in QA in fact.  Even a professional software company sometimes releases well-tested products that have major, major issues.  And the software we write has a far larger impact than someone not being able to play a game.  But it still happens.

Bugs will happen, and no matter how major they are, I’m not likely to get mad unless the developer simply doesn’t care or doesn’t try to fix them.  Because software without bugs is a pipe dream.  And trust me, game developers want no bugs far, far more than players do.  But it isn’t going to happen.  Some games may not have bugs that impact you, but all games have bugs that impact someone, and how the developer handles that after the fact is a far more crucial measure of their success.

A laundry list of wishful thinking: I do have numerous things I think could’ve been done better, implemented more sanely, or should have existed from the get-go.  That’s also true for many games I play, but anything with a persistent world is more likely going to be the target of my thinking “why the heck didn’t they add this?”  Still, persistent games also usually have development for much longer lifecycles post-release.  I’m sure many of those things will be seen as time goes on.  There’s a lot of room for FO76 to grow and improve, but despite that, I’ve had a lot of fun playing it.  Isn’t that the primary measure of a good game?  Is it fun?

Final Thoughts

Critical thinking is a skill I wish was applied more in gaming these days.  Sometimes the “critical” part does mean voicing your unhappiness with a game – absolutely.  I’m not saying that there’s nothing wrong with FO76, or that people who are upset about them don’t have valid concerns.  But I see so many threads about people demanding a response from Bethesda “today”, that it’s clear many folk just can’t grasp things outside of their own feelings on something.  Does Bethesda have the resources to respond to all of the hundreds of disparate “right now” requests for answers?  Of course not.  Speak your bit and move on.

If you like the game, keep playing it.  Yeah, some stuff isn’t as good as it could be, but there’s just so much to see and do.

If you don’t like the game, that’s cool, too.  Tell Bethesda why you think it was a waste of money, then move on.  Just as there’s a ton to do in FO76, there are even more games out there with lifetimes worth of gameplay, too.

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