Let me preface everything I’m going to say with this: I have really enjoyed all of the 3D Fallout games. The first two games released after I’d moved out of my parents house but before I had a pot to piss in so I didn’t play those until after Fallout 3 but Fallout 3, New Vegas and Fallout 4 offer an almost completely unique gameplay experience. An open world RPG with RPG not just being 3 letters to use in marketing. Those games are a strange blend of console action shooter and deep PC role playing game. A rich, detailed open world filled with interesting characters, unique choices and dynamic emergent gameplay. The games are so unique that Bethesda open world game is it’s own genre in the way Souls borne is it’s own genre except nobody has even tried to copy Bethesda yet.
And even with some of the streamlining and changes to Fallout 4 the game has remained an RPG. With interesting builds, unique characters, and a dynamic world of choices and consequences Fallout has always felt like a game for people who love games. I still remember the moment that made me love the series. One of my most memorable gaming moments was stumbling on to the Republic of Dave and talking to everyone before stealing votes from the ballot box.
After counting the votes and seeing that Rosie had somehow been elected President Dave stormed out and left. And I figured that was the end of a really great, funny, well written quest. But later on as I was following the main quest into Old Olney I discovered Dave’s body in the street. For some reason finding his body took the quest from great to truly memorable. It made the world feel real. It made my actions feel like they mattered. On my next play through, after electing Rosie I followed Dave and killed everything in his path before he was killed. And later when I came back I found him sitting in an alley saying “This is the new Republic of Dave.” The quest was so different from anything else I’d played and so interesting and imaginative that I think I’ll always remember it. The fact that you can prevent Dave from being killed and that the developers considered that possibility and programmed in dialogue for him is what Fallout is all about for me.
So, yes. Fallout games are flawed and janky. Yes the shooting is, at it’s best, sub par. Yes there have been problems with the plot of all them and especially with the endings of 3 and 4. Yes Fallout 4's story and dialogue system were deeply disappointing. Yet Fallout is also a completely unique gameplay experience. It’s like nothing else. The games have, above all else, always felt AMBITIOUS. They’ve felt huge and inscrutable and amazing. They’ve felt like its impossible to see everything and talk to everyone.
Now let’s get to this new Bethesda game that has a Fallout skin on it.
First off let me say this. I feel legitimately mislead and taken advantage of with the Beta thing. It’s not some huge deal but it needs to be at least addressed I think. I very rarely pre order a game. Only if I’m COMPLETELY positive I’m going to play a bunch of it. But then there was the whole “get beta access a full week early” campaign and...I figured I was definitely buying this at some point anyway so....
But three little windows of a couple of hours each? Had I known this was the deal I STILL would have pre ordered but my expectations would have been set properly and I wouldn’t feel like I was tricked. Now I feel like information was knowingly withheld in order to drive pre orders on the xbox. I don’t care if this came from marketing or Zenimax or whatever. It sucks and it’s shitty.
Moving on to the actual game? I think this was a terrible idea, executed badly and I hope it fails. That might seem harsh considering I’ve only played it for six or seven hours but it only takes a few minutes to realize just how poorly the words online multiplayer and Fallout go together.
They go together so badly that I don’t think there’s a worse match possible. Let’s demonstrate how badly they go together with two anecdotes that happened to me in my short time. One involving a player and one involving non player enemies.
Very shortly in to the game you’ll arrive at the first little town and have to do some quests that teach the basic survival mechanics on offer here. As a quick aside they are basically the Fallout 4 survival mode mechanics except toned down so much that they are nothing but very annoying busywork with almost no actual gameplay value. Fallout 4's survival mode works because food, water, beds and rad away are scarce and saving is rare so the difficulty is ramped considerably up. I don’t particularly enjoy the survival mode but I see it’s purpose but If food and water are everywhere and I can make a bed wherever the fuck I want the whole purpose of survival mechanics go out the window.
I did the first of the games seemingly endless supply of shallow fetch quests and was turning it in at a computer... Oh yeah you turn quests in at a computer because, there are no people, no dialogue and no actual meaningful choices...you know...Fallout! So I’m trying to read what passes for story in Fallout 76, a text log at a computer terminal in a main quest hub when a player starts shooting me. The game’s anti griefing system means when players attack you they do almost no damage until you decide to shoot back. I’m not interested in shooting back right now. Because I’m reading. In the quest hub. At the computer terminal.
I kept reading trying to ignore the gunfire but this player kept shooting me. For about a minute I was having to read while my controller shook and I had gunfire in my headphones. This makes reading harder than you’d think and it quickly started to actively piss me off. It wasn’t just that it was distracting (it was) it’s that it was almost the definition of immersion breaking.
He/she eventually got bored and left and I noticed that the game was insisting I sleep. OK, well the game is always online so now you have to sleep...in real time. Yes, it’s only 20 seconds or so but still, you literally have to watch your character lay down in a bed and sleep. While I was laying in the bed, watching my character sleep in the little shack I had made the same player from before opens the door and proceeds to throw Molotov cocktails on me. One after another. Over and over. They threw about 10 or 15 Molotov cocktails on me and my sleeping bag before getting bored again and wandering off. What a waste of Molotov cocktails.
Let’s examine everything wrong here. First of all it’s annoying. Second of all Fallout’s combat is, at very best, not so bad that it breaks the game. And this game is not Fallout’s combat at it’s best as we’ll get to shortly. And finally I can’t help but think how stupid this is.
Isn’t that other player... you know... a vault dweller from Vault 76? Haven’t we just BOTH left the vault about a day ago? Wouldn’t we know each other? Wouldn’t we have spent the last several decades knowing each other?
And now they are throwing Molotov cocktails on me as I sleep for no particular reason other than the lolz. Fallout has pretty much been a game ABOUT immersion in a real world with real consequences. It’s been an RPG. Everything you did mattered. The game did everyting it could to maintain a sense of realism while still being fantastical and funny. It would be one thing if the game allowed players to choose to be raiders or scorched or...whatever. But that obviously would have required an entire other story line. Instead they are on the exact same quest as me except, for some reason, they’ve instantly gone from fellow resident to Molotov flinging enemy. For no reason at all.
Why would two people who have just left the same vault be trying to kill each other? Again, immersion breaking. I suddenly don’t feel like the vault dweller out in the world trying to survive. I don’t feel like one of humanities last struggling along trying to help people where I can and fight people when I must. Now I feel like me, Pliny the cranky old guy, being annoyed by Tanghunter69.
Other players absolutely ruin any semblance of role playing in this game. They don’t add anything and they don’t make sense narratively. It actively breaks huge core aspects of what makes Fallout great and trades it for...what? An online pvp shooter that isn’t in the top 100 best online pvp shooters?
Now I will admit that with most people I met we either happily ignored each other or briefly cooperated because the game clearly seems balanced for more than one player in a group. And I’m assuming most players ignored each other because most people play Fallout to be alone in a Fallout world but even just seeing other people altered how the game feels to play.
On the second day of the beta I saw that most people on the server were doing the next parts of the main quest off near the airport. So I went the other direction and found a pharmaceutical company. It’s a classic fallout building, dilapidated and creepy. And for about 15 minutes the game was firing on all cylinders again. I cased the outside of the place. Took care of a few hounds. Scouted the entrance and stealth head shotted a few scorched on the ground floor. The enemies were several levels above me so I had to be careful. I hacked a terminal and tuned on the turrets to have them kill some enemies. Then I went upstairs fighting scorched as I went looting bodies and boxes. I picked a lock. It was the classic Fallout gameplay loop that’s carried me through hundreds and hundreds of hours across multiple playthroughs of all 3 games.
I thought I’d cleared the entire third floor when I came to another computer terminal. I opened it up and started reading some interesting lore about nefarious experiments that had happened here. You know, FALLOUT!
Now audio and text logs are THE only story telling you get in this game so when I came across them I wanted to carefully read them and get a feel for what had happened here. This is where much of the immersion and world building happens in any fallout game. And when you’re doing stuff like this it feels like Fallout. Until I started getting attacked while reading. It appears I’d taken too long and enemies had begun to respawn or maybe I just missed two. But either way, half way through a text log I’m being shot so I’ve got to slowly back out throughthree screens (because that’s how Fallout handles terminals) all the while taking damage. I finally get back out and see that I’m very low on health, fire a couple of shots and get killed.
The game, because it’s online, doesn’t pause when you’re using a terminal. Or when you’re listening to an audio log, or when you’re reading a note, or sorting your inventory, or ever. And you’ll be finding audio logs and notes while fighting and shooting is happening all the time. In the very first area I was trying to read the journal of a dead Pastor. It was classic fallout stuff, touching and sad but I couldn’t even finish because I kept getting distracted as other players ran in and out of the room and fired their guns outside the window while ghouls continually re spawned on the street. The feeling of being in control of the game, of slowly working things out, of being alone in a desolate wasteland: it’s just not here.
And before we move on let me just say I simply do not understand why there aren’t NPC’s in this game. I originally thought it was a matter of not wanting players to kill NPC quest givers but that can’t be the reason. Fallout has had unkillable NPC’s before. So why are there none here? Why not have a solution like all NPCs are instanced in certain area’s that only you and your group can enter? That way attacking them doesn’t affect other people? Or just do what the game has always done with essential NPCs and make them unable to be killed. I can only assume it’s because NPC’s and dialogue and story cost money and take time and they just thought they weren’t essential. But they ARE essential. For a Fallout game. Not having them just totally neuters the ability to tell a story. Nothing matters, nothing you do changes anything because everyone is dead. Why am I doing quests for dead people again? What the hell?
One of the biggest gripes with Fallout 4 was the dialogue system. People rightly complained about how poorly it was implemented and how shallow it was compared to the previous games. But the solution to that was not the elimination of dialogue. It was simply going back to the old system OR making an even better system. A fallout game without dialogue is like playing Destiny with no supers or grenades. It’s like half of what makes the game unique and interesting. Sigh. Moving on.
The lack of pausing interacts with the normal fallout gameplay in other, really shitty ways. The over encumbered mechanic is still here although slightly toned down but, as always, you will constantly be over encumbered because the entire purpose of the game seems to be collecting junk to craft shit. Anyone who has played fallout knows that a significant amount of time, and I mean, SIGNIFICANT amount, is spent in menus trying to figure out what to drop on the floor so that you can accomplish what the game calls running but what is actually simply walking at a normal human pace.
This has always been an annoying but somewhat necessary and certainly important part of the gameplay. But now you can’t pause, so if you’re going through a dungeon and you go over your weight limit you’ve got to figure out what to drop while potentially being attacked. It’s not something that’s theoretical. It happened to me over and over in my 7 hours or so. And Fallout’s menus are actually pretty fucking bad. In a regular Fallout game the menus being annoying doesn’t really matter because you’ve got all the time in the world. But when there are enemies all around you and you need to dump weight so you can do...anything, it’s beyond annoying. It’s infuriating.
The menus in Fallout have always been less than ideal and the lack of any improvements has been dissapointing. In a single player game where the menu’s paused the game dissapointing and inconvenient was all it was. In a multiplayer always online game it’s a serious problem. You can’t sort so, as always, your “Aid” section is a total mess of 50 items. Your armor and weapons are an unorganized horror. If Bethesda had wanted this game to basically be fallout with other players they needed to change less. If they wanted this to be Rust with Fallout elements they needed to change FAR more. As it stands now it’s just a disastrous mish mash of dated single player systems stuffed awkwardly into a very poor multiplayer shooter.
Let’s talk about how the games ABYSMAL performance interacts with it’s online gameplay to make Fallout’s already only adequate combat downright bad. Fallout 3 introduced the VATS system not only as a way to counteract the dodgy and basic FPS combat but also as a way to still retain real RPG roots in an FPS game. VATS was more effective that regular shooting and because VATS accuracy was basically a really cool form of the old isometric dice rolls it just worked perfectly. When you add in the awesome slow motion kill cam aspect Vats was a nearly perfect system for blending a shooter with a turn based RPG. Basically it was a stroke of genius actually.
The new real time VATS is very bad. It’s so disorienting that the gun doesn’t aim at the enemy you are locked on to. It just juts out aiming at a wall. It looks bad. And it plays worse. First of all targeting limbs is a fucking nightmare. The visual feedback is terrible because unlike in the previous games the limb doesn’t blink. Only the small percentage chance number moving to the limb lets you know you’ve targeted it. This is such bad visual feedback that for almost an hour I thought it was actually broken. But even after I realized how it works it’s terrible. Because the actual targeting is wonky and annoying. You know how in Fallout 3 or 4 sometimes it’s a huge pain in the ass to actually target the limb you want? Like you’ll push down to target the leg but it wont move and then you’ll push again and it will target the right arm instead and then you’ll get annoyed and push really hard down and to the left and it will finally snap to the limb you want. Remember that? Yeah that’s still a thing but now it’s in real time. Which means that the inability to quickly target the limb you want goes from an annoying inconvenience to causing your death.
Now VATS is still actually useful because the combat remains wonky and having an auto aim button helps. Strangely in 76 it’s actually much more useful for melee but Vats used to be functional AND fun. It gave the shooting an RPG feel. It felt strategic and it let you feel like your build really mattered. It was fun and rewarding to stop time and decide your course of action. First I’ll shoot that gun out of the raiders hands then I’ll cripple that ghouls legs and then I’ll finish them off in real time. Now it’s just a crutch that lets you overcome the fact that the shooting here actually feels worse than FO 4 and that games shooting was only good for a Fallout game to begin with. Compared to the shooting in actual shooters? Compare FO4's shooting to Destiny or CoD or Battlefield or Titanfall and it’s laughably bad.
How can the shooting here be worse than in FO4 you might ask? Easy, it’s worse, at least in the beta, because connectivity and frame rate issues mean that not only are enemies teleportation all over the place Lining your gun up dead center on their chest doesn’t mean you’ll do any damage. Hit detection, at least here in the beta, is a fucking mess. I had many times where I shot an enemy and nothing happened. OR 3 seconds later it would register and they’d fall down dead. Bethesda does not have this right. Which isn’t all that surprising considering where the studios expertise lies. I understand that connection issues are to be expected in a beta. But the performance here is so bad that it feels like this game should be months away from releasing. Destiny 2's beta showcased all the problems with that game and it was also only a few weeks from release. But performance was rock solid and the game felt finished and ready to go even if I hated all the changes that had been made I couldn’t argue that the game worked and felt ready for release. This game feels like it should be releasing in March. Not 2 and a half weeks from now.
So was there anything good? Of course there were lots of good things. The world is shockingly beautiful for a BGS game. I’m actually quite impressed with how it looks. Enemy models and animations are much improved from Fallout 4. The Rad Roaches, Possums, Blood flies and robots all look really fantastic. It’s a big step up. And the resolution on the Xbox one X was impressive even if the frame rate and pop in were embarrassingly bad. Lighting is fantastic and the game can actually be a real looker. Although there are lots of times when the game just shits the bed visually. It’s about as consistent and buggy as your average Bethesda game. And I don’t see why we should assume that THIS Bethesda game, it’s first ever ONLINE game, would be any better. In fact I think we should assume it will be significantly worse.
I actually was quite surprised to really like the card pack system. I was super skeptical of it before playing and while I don’t like it as much as the FO3 or NV system I think I like it better than FO 4's system. The 50% of the time you’re creeping through a building alone looking at the environments and listening to audio logs feels as good as it ever does. Except that here the audio logs are less satisfying than
But basically all my fears are validated now. The game has only the barest thread of narrative. The quests? Imagine an entire fallout game that is only Preston Garvey’s radiant settlement in need quests. It’s some of the laziest mmoiest fetchiest shit ever. It feels particularly empty and barren and that’s usually broken up by n00bslayer93 jumping up and down and shooting you while you’re trying to listen to an audio log. I don’t understand the need for this game. Id don’t understand why this simply isn’t Fallout 5. Everything is here for a really great fallout game. A gorgeous tremendous map. Their best art, animation and design work yet. A really fun progression and crafting system. A reasonably improved base building system making junk useful. But the lack of NPC’s and dialogue and the presence of n00bslayer93 and tanghunter69 jumping up and down and emoting at me as I try to stealth around a town just make this a game that doesn’t work. If this game is meant to be a competitor to GTA online or Destiny or The Division it wont work. It simply doesn’t have the gameplay chops those games have.
It’s as clunky and janky as ever. Which could be charming when it was offset by everything else BGS’s games do. But when you strip out all those things, conversations, finding interesting characters and talking to them to get their back story, companions and their quests, choosing a faction and making an actual impact in the world, listening as 3 dog recounted your exploits for all the Capital Wasteland to hear. Without those things you’re kind of just left with an open world shooter with really bad shooting.
Will this game be fun to play with friends? I imagine. If I had friends? Yeah. Checkers is fucking fun to play with friends. Rolling dice against a curb for dollars is fun with friends. That doesn’t mean its a particularly compelling game. It means that doing things with your friends is fun. I have fun sitting and doing nothing with my friends. But I don’t charge them $60 for that.
This simply isn’t fallout. I don’t see the hook. I don’t understand why this game was made And I don’t see people playing this game for as long as they play other fallout games. The entire replayabliity of Fallout games was dependent on seeing all the different interactions, playing with the Karma and faction systems. None of that seems to be here. At least the first 8 hours of gameplay don’t feature any of that. I’ll give it a fair shake when it launches, hopefully in a much more functional state than it currently is. Maybe there actually are NPC’s somewhere. Maybe the story and quest design drastically improves later in the game. I mean, I kind of doubt it seeing as how most games stack their best quests up front to hook you in but...maybe? I want to like this game. For all of their obvious flaws Fallout games have been some of my very favorites. Even Fallout 4 which had the worst story, dialogue and quests was still an excellent game that I played for well over a hundred hours.
But my impressions now are that the game is exactly what I thought. A way to squeeze another fallout game out the door this generation by reusing most assets and not having to bother with things like quest design and writing and plot. Basically a Fallout with all of the nuance and complexity leached out. A way to see if they could cash in on the games as service thing. We’ve lost dialogue options, conversations, speech checks, romance options, companions and their quests, Karma, factions, story, replay-ability and a world that you can change and it was replaced by...what? What did we trade all those things for?, What did we trade the very things that make fallout what it is for? It’s been traded for being able to shoot n00bslayer? Or silently quest with tanghunter? Why? When I want to shoot n00bslayer I’ll shoot him in games that are made for shooting him. Games like Battlefield, Titanfall, Destiny, Overwatch. And if I want to quest with tanghunter I’ll do that in games that are designed form the ground up just for that. Like Destiny, Anthem, The Division, World Of Warcraft.
When I play fallout it’s because I want to play what Fallout does. Conversations, quests with branching possibilities, , deep immersion and getting lost in a huge world where my actions have an effect on the people I meet and the story I’m engaging with. I just don’t understand this game. BGS has great artists and writers. The world design is as good, fuck maybe better than ever so,yeah, it has it’s moments. Basically whenever the game feels like Fallout it’s good. But it only feels like fallout rarely. So why would I play this instead of....you know....Fallout? The gameplay, as always with Bethesda games here simply isn’t polished enough to stand on it’s own and I don’t think the world of fallout fits for this type of game. Fallout is a single player game. The player character is called the Lone Wanderer for Christs sake. I don’t like it. I don’t see why anyone needed this game. And it makes me annoyed that they didn’t just use all this and take another year or two to make it the next REAL fallout game. That’s what I kept thinking as I played. I’d come over a hill and see a gorgeous sunrise filtering through the trees and illuminating a far off power plant and I’d think. “Fuck. I wish this was actually a fallout game. This is so cool, I wonder whats in that Power Plant”. But then I’d turn around and see n00bslayer and tanghunter69 punching each other in the face and jumping up and down and it’d be gone.
I suspect that after the game launches and everyone is in different areas that it will be possible to only rarely see other people. But once that happens it will only further cement how empty it feels to have no towns, no settlements, no NPCs to talk to. Having other players around sucks. But not having other players around will also suck because the world has been designed with the idea of having other players around. I’ll give it a fair shake and I’ve had games surprise me before. But as of now I’m more skeptical of this game than I was before I played the Beta.
I’ll have final thoughts when I finish the game. But right now? This doesn’t seem like it’s really for me and I’d probably be better served simply replaying New Vegas.