GAMING POINT OF LOU – FALLOUT 76
When Bethesda’s Todd Howard took the stage at E3 2018 and unveiled Fallout 76, Bethesda’s maiden voyage into the online only space of the world, he made a lot of promises. These were things such as “Dedicated Servers that will support the game now and for years to come”, and “an experience that is unique from other online games”, and after having spent a lot of time roaming around the Appalachian countryside, I can safely say “Promise” is the word that sums this game up the best. While Fallout certainly offers up an experience completely unique to it’s lineage, it certainly is a work in progress.
Much like Bethesda’s other juggernaut franchise The Elder Scrolls, Fallout has always been firmly rooted in the single player experience. Richly detailed worlds populated with a plethora of memorable NPC’s (Non Player Characters) for the player to interact with over the course of thousands of hours. This is where players will first notice the stark contrasts of Fallout 76 as the world (for the most part) is devoid of those NPC’s. This does have an explanation which makes sense in the context of the game (which I will refrain from spoiling here). However, it still feels like a massive step in the wrong direction. On the plus side, the world itself is an absolute thing of beauty. Sporting a map that Bethesda states is 4 times larger than the one in Fallout 4, and containing 6 distinct zones each with their own feel, it serves as a fantastic backdrop for a sandbox game such as this one. I can’t tell you how many times I climbed to the top of a hill to just watch the sunrise over the tops of trees, or wandered into a shelled out city and was overwhelmed with the amount of detail that went into each and every one of the burned out buildings. Bethesda was also wise enough to include a fun Photo Mode into the game that players have already taken great advantage of, showcasing fantastic pictures of their in game avatars and shots of the West Virginia landscape that absolutely floor me.
On top of that, Bethesda didn’t just use the West Virginia Landscape as the backdrop of the game, they also dove deep into the Folklore of The Appalachian Mountain region and repurposed some of their greatest myths. Such as The Flatwoods Monster and Mothman to act as in game enemies (albeit mutated) alongside newcomers “The Scorched” and long time series staples such as Radroaches, and Super Mutants.
Behind the controller (or keyboard) the game plays much like it’s predecessors. Players can still select from either a third person over the shoulder view or a first person view. V.A.T.S. (Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System) makes it’s return but in an updated way. You can still eventually target individual limbs (once you unlock the P.E.R.K. for it) but instead of slowing down time as in the games previous installments, it now happens in real time. Once you activate V.A.T.S., a quick flick of the right analog stick will cycle between the various areas available to target along with their percentages for hitting.
I’ve always found the first person mechanics in both Fallout and Elder Scrolls Series a bit lacking, they have always felt clunky and sluggish to me, and while I know that these games are not pure shooters in the vein of Destiny, (say what you will about the games, but Bungie still knows how to code gunplay better than anyone) it still works well enough in the low intensity combat world of Fallout 76. I hope that someday Bethesda may be able to smooth out the rough edges, but seeing as how every version of Skyrim still plays the same after 7 years I seriously doubt it will happen.
The Crafting system from Fallout 4 has been brought back wholesale with some tweaks to how you learn the recipes / blueprints to create everything from Silt Bean Soup all the way to your own Homestead or Power Armor Mods. It is this crafting system that is at the heart of the Fallout 76 experience, as one of the core progression loops of the game is adventuring in to the wild to acquire the aforementioned recipe’s and blueprints to craft bigger and better things to help you survive. Within only a few hours I was able to create a small shack to keep me safe from the dangers of the outside world, but as I progressed my shack became a multi story compound complete with automated defense turrets, concrete pylons, full crafting stations, water reclamation, power generation for lights, and a garden to provide food for myself. I was able to build full armor sets, and various weapons all crafted to my specifications. This to me is the showpiece of the game, and where I spent the most time. Thankfully you can blueprint your entire base and take it with you wherever you decide to go on the map. So you won’t always have to travel back as you progress further into the game. Players also wont have to worry about their base coming under attack (which does happen) if they aren’t online, as your base disappears when you log off, and will re-instance when you next log on.
The other new core progression system in Fallout 76 is the introduction of “Perk Cards” to the already established S.P.E.C.I.A.L. (Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, and Luck) system. Basically the system works like this: As you level up, you gain points that you can portion into whatever stat category you like. This will determine the amount of Perk Cards you can put in that slot. The Perk Cards are both upgradeable and transferrable between teammates, and can be swapped out at any time. It’s an extremely flexible system, and allows for some pretty specific builds depending on the situation at hand, from close quarters melee combat, to a pure scavenger, crafter or survivalist. There is a Perk Card setup that will fit your needs. My only real gripe is the lack of saveable builds that you can switch between on the fly. As the game plays currently, it is rather cumbersome if you want to switch between different specialties on the fly.
If all this wasn’t enough rewriting of the standard Fallout formula, Bethesda also took it a step further and included PVP (Player Vs. Player) into the Fallout 76 experience. Now if you know anything about me, I’m not a massive fan of PVP, I prefer to stick to PVE (Player Vs. Environment). Wisely, Bethesda has instituted a number of controls into the PVP experience of 76 to avoid the massive griefing that can occur in games of these types , here are just a couple of the protective systems:
1) Aggressive level balancing – Lets say a level 50 attacks a level 10, well that level 10 will still stand a chance of winning the fight, of course a higher leveled player will still have advantages due to perks, and attributes, but that level 50 won’t be able to 1 shot.
2) A system known as the “Murder System”. In this instance, lets say you are minding your own business and a rogue player stumbles upon you and shoots you, until you return fire (if you so choose) you will take substantially reduced damage. If the attacking player doubles down and murders you even though you did not return fire. They are marked on the world map as a Murderer, a bounty is placed on them (which will we paid out of their pocket), and they are fair game for anyone in the world.
3) There is also a system called the “Pacifist System” this option can be toggled on or off at any time prior to level 5, it will protect them against all PVP damage and allow them to get their legs in the world. At level 5, the system disables permanently.
All in all, I feel that Bethesda has done a pretty decent job of keeping PVP fair and balanced, but still allow for those moments of uncertainty when you run into someone you don’t know out in the wild. With that said, most everyone I have run into has instead been rather helpful, with many even having set up their camps as rest stops for the wayward traveller to do some crafting, and catch a quick break.
In the short time that 76 has been released, it has garnered it’s fair share of criticism from longtime Fallout fans, along with it’s fair share of negative reviews and publicity.(it’s currently sitting between a 49 and 54 on Metacritic depending on platform) I’m not going to pile on, I will say however, I understand why. 76 is a far cry from what fans of the series have come to expect, and it lacks the SOUL of what made the previous games so damn fun. I can’t help but draw some pretty serious comparisons to “No Man’s Sky” and “Sea of Thieves” with this game. It was hugely hyped, but seriously disappointing upon release. With that said, I have found a fair amount of enjoyment with the game. I seriously hope that Bethesda puts the negative press aside, and put their not inconsiderable resources into fixing and updating the game, so that the promises that Todd Howard made at E3 will have the chance to come to fruition. In it’s current state though I find it hard to give the game anything higher than a C.
Until Next Time Everyone,
Be Good To Your Fellow Nerd,