I hit level 50 in Fallout 76 recently, so I finally feel ready to write about the game. I’ve explored the world and seen most, but not all, it has to offer. Fallout 76 has been a buggy mess since release, but I’m not going to focus on that. Despite the obvious fact that a game should be as solid as possible upon release, bugs can be fixed and I’m sure Bethesda will get to them all eventually. This write up will be about the game as a whole, so there’s going to be some good as well as some bad.
I was worried when the game was announced, you can even read my initial impressions back here, but this trailer was the major red flag. The lighthearted, “fun” tone is totally at odds with what Fallout has always been about. Well, with what it was originally about. On one of my many Twitter rants, I likened it to the frog in boiling water. Fallout has been changing ever so slightly since Bethesda took over and it’s only now that we can see how far it’s drifted away from its original course. Gone are the days of bleak, gallows humor about the worlds end - now it’s all about the carefree romp through the wasteland with your friends.
Fallout 76 is fun, I’ve played it long enough to get to level 50 and I’ll likely continue to play it, but it’s a kids version of Fallout. Remember when you were a kid and you’d play with whatever toys you had on hand? Leonardo would team up with Cobra Commando to take on Funshine Bear and his legion of Bratz dolls. It was your own version of Toy Story. Well, that’s what Fallout has become. It’s a world that’s pretending to be Fallout, and although it’s got all the right bits it doesn’t make any sense. I’m going to have to tap into some serious lore-snobbery here, but it’ll pay off so just indulge me.
First off, the setting. Fallout 76 has some beautiful looking environments, and they’re all very different from one another. You know when you’re standing in Cranberry Bog as opposed to the Toxic Valley, they’ve each got their own character and it really shows. Appalachia as a whole is a diverse environment and it’s great to explore, the only problem is that it was never hit with a nuclear weapon. For a series about a post-nuclear Armageddon, that’s kind of important. The rest of the world, and every other fallout game, is a radioactive desert due to direct nuclear strikes but Appalachia is lush and vibrant and only received some secondary radiation at worst. Why would you make a game about post-nuclear war, and then set it in the one location that wasn’t nuked?
Originally, the Brotherhood of Steel didn’t even know that Super Mutants existed until 2161 but in Fallout 76 they’re fighting them in 2102. It sounds trivial, but it’s a discrepancy of 59 years. It’d be similar to a historical fiction story about Australia getting involved in the American Revolutionary War, or Israel fighting in World War 2. Sure, all parties are technically around, in one form or another, but it’s a pretty big stretch for them to meet at said points in time. Fallout 76 has had to bend over backwards to try to explain why all these groups and monsters are present when it doesn’t really make sense for them to be.
The Brotherhood of Steel had a chapter in Appalachia who joined via satellite, even though the Brotherhood were traitors who went through some serious character altering shit. Never mind the fact that no loyal military unit would join traitors, why would the Brotherhood want to bring in people who hadn’t been through the same ordeals as them? Ever tried to get into a military bar when you’ve never served? Those motherfuckers are so cliquey they make high school cheerleaders look open and inviting.
Super Mutants are present, but they were created before the war because a company decided to test out the Forced Evolutionary Virus on a town. This totally breaks canon because the FEV was taken from them a year before the Great War, and that’s all tied in with the Brotherhood of Steels origins. Similarly, Deathclaws are this mythological nightmare that’s whispered about around campfires in 2161, but decades earlier in Fallout 76 they’re common as mud. How did they even get there? The Enclave are present, and they’re probably the only pre-existing faction that has an honest reason to be present.
But then it doesn’t matter anyway, because all humans and ghouls are dead. Which is the next major issue with Fallout 76, the fact that there are only robot NPC’s. Bethesda came up with a contrived pretext as to why they didn’t need to include human or ghoul NPC’s and it’s weak as piss. A plague killed them all, juuuust before you came out of the vault. The big moral of the story is that the different groups didn’t work together and so they got wiped out one by one - so you should learn to play nice with your fellow Vault Dwellers and develop some teamwork skills.
We could have come out of Vault 76 at the height of the Scorch Plague - with all the different groups at each others throats while trying to survive or solve the situation. Towns could be getting overrun with refugees, with Responders and the Free-States helping out where they could. The Brotherhood could’ve been fighting Scorchbeasts head on and the Enclave could’ve been trying to help out and profit from the shadows. Hell, even the Raiders could’ve been convinced that it was in their best interests to help out against the larger threat. We could’ve been the unifying element that worked with all of them and saved Appalachia… but instead we walk into a dead world and we save a dead world.
Who gives a shit?
As someone who has written an epistolary novel, check it out here if you feel like, I can tell you that this style of storytelling has some serious limitations. It’s great to find letters and recordings of characters scattered about the world, it can certainly add depth to a setting, but overall it can get real old. The mere fact of the document already existing in the world, means that someone had to make it which means it’s a past tense document that can only ever really deal with the past. Bethesda had to do some narrative acrobatics to have dead characters recording instructions on how to complete missions. But even then, these characters aren’t talking to you - they’re talking to a recorder in the hope that someone, someday, will listen and opt to follow the instructions of a dead person.
Prerecorded Holotape - “Feral Ghouls have overrun the town, go kill them!”
Me - “Why? Nobody lives here…”
Prerecorded Holotape - *No answer because it’s a prerecorded holotape*
The thing is that all these epistolary documents give Fallout 76 a pretty amazing backstory, but that’s not the same thing as a story. The backstory is part of the setting, it’s the worlds history and it’s what grounds the story and gives events and your own actions some weight. Story is what actually happens through the game and although the world of Fallout 76 (despite its inconsistencies) is pretty damn detailed, the story is severely lacking.
Basically, you run around and join all these factions that have been wiped out and you pick up their individual pieces of the puzzle and combine them to “save” Appalachia. Never mind the fact that Taggerdy’s Thunder, a unit of Army Rangers, shouldn’t have joined the Brotherhood of Steel, you can then go and join the Brotherhood of Steel through them. There’s no connection to the original faction 3000 miles to the west, because the satellites went down ages ago, and everyone in Appalachia is dead. But, somehow, you can still call yourself a part of the Brotherhood of Steel. Cool, in that case, can I be a Viking? They’re all dead, and I’m in Taiwan, but apparently time and distance don’t really matter for membership these days.
The thing is that the bones of a great game are here, they’re just buried under this weird mutant flesh that doesn’t look right. The Scorched are a kinda cool faction… they’re basically just feral ghouls who can use weapons, but over all the idea is pretty good when you take into account the fact that the plague can affect other creatures too. And Scorchbeasts are awesome, as long as you look past the fact that they’re basically just bat versions of Skyrim’s dragons. The automation that Appalachia was going through before the Great War makes for a great setting. Not only are there still robots buzzing around the dead world, but you can explore what was happening as miners were losing their jobs left and right to robots.
Not only that, but there was political upheaval on a grander scale as well, and that’s why we had the Free States - a group of secessionist survivalists who built bunkers and fled from the world. Also, the Responders were a great faction, they were emergency services personnel who banded together to help people and they kept helping them long after the Great War ended. Even the Raiders had a cool twist from the usual bottom feeders who raid out of necessity. They were the rich elite who were just a bunch of dicks, raiding Appalachia from a luxury resort in the mountains because they felt entitled to what everyone else had. Then there’s the Mole Miners - miners who were trapped underground during the Great War. They’ve mutated into hunched over freaks who need breathing apparatus just to survive, and they’ve got some weird connection with Mole Rats. The makings of a great game are here, Bethesda just didn’t follow through with it.
It’s pretty obvious that Fallout 76 was a cash grab, rather than a true attempt to make something creatively original or worthwhile. You can see it in the reused assets from Fallout 4, the factions and creatures included for brand recognition at the cost of lore integrity, players replacing NPC’s as a way to get out of having to pay people to write and voice NPC dialogue, you can see it in the repetitively mundane and inane fetch quests and you can certainly see it in the micro-transactions. This is surface level Fallout, a shallow attempt to cash in on the brand name and I’m honestly glad it’s failed so spectacularly. If a company as large as Bethesda can fuck up this bad, and have fans turn on them so readily, it should serve as a warning to others to take their series’ more seriously.
For the most part, the game is passably fun. The core mechanics of Fallout 4 are there, with a lot of varied biomes and great gun play. I personally love running around as a survivalist, collecting scrap and working on my base camp. Because Fallout 76, more so than any other modern Fallout game, is a sandbox. You run around and play make believe, and it’s a fun way to kill a few hours. Try not to worry about the fact that the world doesn’t make sense, just enjoy your time there. I’ll keep it, but Far Cry New Dawn just got announced and so I’m already thinking of picking up Far Cry 5 in preparation for that. I’m someone who has played the Fallout series since the late 90’s, and Fallout 76 is already falling off my radar… that’s not good.
There’s a bunch of other titles in the Fallout series that generally aren’t considered canon; Fallout Brotherhood of Steel 1 & 2 and Fallout Tactics. I think Fallout 76 will end up being considered like them. It’s fun, the bugs will be fixed, but overall it weakens the series as a whole and should probably be kept at a distance. I seriously hope that Bethesda learn from their mistakes and try harder, instead of just shelving the series to let things cool off. Because I always want more Fallout, most of us do, but that doesn’t mean that I’m willing to accept shit just to get it.