Fallout 76 Review

Wasteland not, want not: A retrospective review of Fallout 76.

Upon its initial reveal and announcement, the concept of Fallout 76 seemed to grant something to Fallout players that they didn’t even know they wanted.

It emerged as somewhat surprising, catching the majority of the gaming community and fanbase off guard (mostly as we patiently waited then as we still do now), ready instead to pounce upon news of the next Elder Scrolls title.

Todd Howard unveiled the game at Bethesda’s E3 presentation in 2018, hyping the game as bigger and better than the (relatively young at that point) Fallout 4.

The crowd whooped and cheered, but many watching at home I’m sure, gazed upon the footage with an air of skepticism and cynicism in equal measure, for even Bethesda themselves have openly mocked the bountiful glitches in their titles (which I’m not sure is a good or a bad thing that they’re aware of how broken their games are in specific areas).

Watching his speech back in hindsight, I personally find it smacks of one Michael Scott of Dunder Mifflin, ad-libbing and improvising his way through his latest meeting, miraculously coming up with the exact right things to say to the jubilation of his audience.

Not that there haven’t been other games before it that were plagued with a litany of problems; morbidly bloated husks haphazardly stuffed beneath a carapace of “next-gen graphics” and “immersive gameplay” that’s “never the same twice”.

Fallout 76 Bunker Jumpsuit

Fallout 76  however was something of a precursor to the realization that no developer, publisher, or company is exempt from the persistent issues of industry-wide crunch or immutable release deadlines, seen most evidently and heartbreakingly in CDPR’s Cyberpunk 2077 and Rockstar’s Definitive Edition of the GTA Trilogy.

Emergence day

The actual idea of the game was a solid one; a shared open-world of a Wasteland (this time in the mountainous region of West Virginia) where players could establish their own settlements, customs, and ways of life.

Vault 76 Exit
Exiting Vault 76

Yet after stepping foot onto the freshly irradiated soil of the rural American state, radroaches were the least offensive bugs to be found scuttling around…

Players were turning invisible when equipping certain gear, inventories being wiped clean, settlements just disappearing after hours of meticulous work, enemies clipping through objects and roaming around in a vicious (and dominant) T-pose; these were just some of the horrendous eye-opening errors that initial Fallout 76 players had to endure.

The disastrous “Reclamation Day” of Fallout 76 has been pretty well documented almost everywhere on the internet, so I shan’t dwell too long on that as there’s no sense in beating a dead horse.

I would like to go on record however and say that I believe Bethesda seemed to pick the worse option when it came to every decision around the game, from letting the game that was “four times the size of Fallout 4” be done by a less-experienced development team (no disrespect to those people and/or smaller dev teams) to flailing around its post-launch Banhammer like it was in a Halo 3 FFA and demanding essays on morality from “cheaters”.

The more pertinent and relevant question I believe is: is Fallout 76 worth playing three years later? Has the proverbial phoenix risen from the ashes of the feral ghouls and power armor to make it worthy of any time in 2022?

Chasing ghosts

As much as a game might improve after an initially disappointing launch (and in this case, a very disappointing launch), sometimes the burns and scars from the serrated words of news reports and the roaring fires of PR coverage can amount to wounds that never truly heal.

Astounding to most gamers’ ears, it was announced at the end of 2021 that F76 had managed to surpass over eleven million players. Now, this was probably helped in large part by its incorporation into Xbox’s Game Pass subscription service, but this alone would not have led to such a landmark figure being reached.

One of the biggest obstacles that limited its gameplay and, therefore, its appeal and success were paradoxically one of its most advertised features; other human players.

Fallout 76 Nuke visible in the distance
Player initiated nuke is seen in the distance

While this was to be the lynchpin that 76 hung its Raider Helmet on, it meant the dev team had put all the focus into player encounters, leaving the actual environment of the world itself barren, bland, and neglected. This juxtaposed with almost every other Bethesda title where the game’s setting was poised just as much center stage as the Lone Wanderer, Courier Six, or the Dragonborn.

Since the Wastelanders update in 2020, the scarce population of West Virginia has been upgraded from Holotapes and hand-written notes to actual interactable NPCs, with unique factions like the well-known Raiders and the morally ambiguous Enclave having a presence in the game.

This brings a well-needed lease of life into the game that displays just how empty the world was before. Naturally, these groups come with their own quests and rewards, the main course of a game like Fallout 76, which was a vast improvement overall.

The good, the bad, and the buggy

Filling the Appalachian Mountains with more characters and lore was an objectively good thing that benefitted the game itself and, by proxy, all players associated with it. However, despite a considerable step up in the population, bugs and faults present when the game launched still protrude their mutated face even today.

A wandering Orc trader
A wandering Orc trader visiting the Vault 76 entrance

The AI seems to operate on singular digit brain cells, and the hit detection on melee weapons is frustratingly inconsistent, with server latency issues compounding the problem even more.

Settlement building seems far more at home in this title and is easier and more intuitive to manage than in Fallout 4. Still, I’m suspicious that the reason it was present in Fallout 4 was as an induction of sorts for players to become acquainted with the system before 76 was released. The removal of the Survival system also makes the game far more palatable to a broader audience, as does the more generous Inventory mechanic. 

The PvE action is the shining gem of the game, but after this is exhausted, the game turns into a relatively small gameplay loop of grinding for the illustrious Treasury Notes and Gold Bullion. 

Don’t get me wrong, since the inception of the Wastelanders update and the subsequent content packages, the muscle that makes up the Fallout experience has been added to beef up the brittle skeletal frame present at the launch. That said, in my humble opinion, not enough has been fixed in either quality or quantity, and 76 suffers from an ideological problem far more detrimental than its physical flaws.

The road to hell

Fallout 76 Map
View of the Fallout 76 Map

After seeing what it’s become after three long years, it feels that Fallout 76 was seen as a low-risk, high-reward experiment by Bethesda.

The majority of the tech and assets were lifted from Fallout 4, which were (from what I understand) designed by the company’s primary development team, then handed over to a smaller and less experienced team, whose primary concerns were environment design quality assurance, and server stability.

The game would then serve as a virtual cash cow, evident by the lecherous economic vacuum that is Fallout 1st and the Atomic Shop/Atom in-game currency.

If it succeeded; fantastic. Bethesda just created their version of EA’s FIFA Ultimate Team. Fail, and the game quietly recedes into itself, meandering along until the next big Fallout game arrives and has its servers quietly retired not long after.

I believe this attitude behind the game’s existence inevitably led to its horrendous debut and cataclysmic downfall.

Fallout 76 today, shall we begin again?

From the start of this piece, the question still is yet to be answered; is Fallout 76 worth your time and money today?

An injured character on his knees.
Critically injured by surrounding raider NPCs

Two answers are context-dependent. If you already have access to Xbox Game Pass, this game is ready and waiting for you, and considering it’s part of the subscription you’re already paying for, it’s certainly worth a try if you’re an RPG and/or a Fallout fan.

But is it worth parting with your hard-earned money for?

Perhaps harshly, I would have to say that this game’s value should land somewhere between £5/$5 – £10/$10. Paying any more than this figure may leave you with a bitter taste in your mouth akin to old Brahmin meat that can’t be banished with a stiff shot of Olde Royale whiskey.

The game, to my eternal sadness as an avid Fallout fan, is a doppelganger of the newer Fallout games.

It looks like Fallout. It sounds like Fallout. But this…this is not the game you fell in love with…

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About Digital Ghost

Dg is the founder and co-owner of Corrosion Hour, a niche gaming community established in 2016 focusing on the survival game RUST. He is an active and contributing member of numerous other RUST communities. As a community leader and server owner for over 15 years, he spends much of his time researching and writing guides about survival games, covering topics such as server administration, game mechanics, and community growth.

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