Scaffold

Official reviews are coming in regarding Fallout 76, and almost all of them are universally bad. Like, real bad. In reading them though, it’s very clear that Bethesda did not live up to games these people invented in their head:

The collision of Fallout and multiplayer sparks all sorts of exciting ideas in my mind, most of which have to do with post-apocalyptic role-playing. What if I ran a town, hosting elections and keeping the peace? What if I opened a shop, selling exotic items to other players in a desperate bid to raise enough caps to survive the harsh wasteland? What if I worked behind a bar, serving drinks to other players, passing on gossip and words of wisdom? What if I was the head honcho of a group of raiders, ordering other players to attack camps and loot the corpses of our enemies? What if I founded my own faction, something like Caesar’s Legion from Fallout New Vegas, perhaps? What if I wanted to infiltrate a player-run faction I didn’t get on with, befriending their leader before stabbing them in the back?

Unfortunately, Fallout 76 does not facilitate any of those fantasies. What it does instead is facilitate boredom, frustration and game-breaking bugs.

Like, what the shit, Eurogamer? “Bethesda didn’t make EVE/Star Wars Galaxy mashup, 0/10 stars.”

The rest of that review is slightly less ridiculous. There are complaints about the tutorial quests that ask you to boil water and pick up bottles:

Most missions are little more than fetch quests. Go here, get the thing, bring it back, interact with a robot, job done. It’s mind-numbing in the extreme. It’s Fallout at its worst: basic, monotonous and lacking nuance.

Of course, that had me trying to reach back and remember the quests in Fallout 4, New Vegas, 3, and so on. Replace “interact with a robot” with “talk with an NPC” and… does that not describe basically everything, in any game? A lot of people post memes about how Fallout 3 was finding your daddy and Fallout 4 was about finding your son, and yet here we are lamenting about being free from such mundane burdens.

To an extent, that’s an unfair comparison. Fallout’s best stories were always side-quests, with the main narrative basically acting as a vehicle to drive you around the wasteland looking for them. While holo tapes can be poignant, they just aren’t the same when you can never affect the world.

At the same time… I don’t know that I miss any of that.

I want you to remember all the things you did in Fallout 3, New Vegas, and Fallout 4. Think about what was fun for you. Was it…

  • Striking out and going wherever you wanted to go
  • Exploring ruins, caves, and cities
  • Collecting junk to craft gear
  • Leveling up skills, getting Perks
  • Shooting things in the face
  • Solving moral dilemmas among various NPC groups

Hey, what do you know, Fallout 76 has five out of those six things! And arguably does those five better than any Fallout has before.

I am not trying to denigrate story and narrative here. I’m just saying that I don’t miss it in Fallout 76. In fact, the whole thing is making me question the cohesiveness of the prior games. For example, how much does the ability to strike out and roam around really improve, say, New Vegas’ narrative? Back when I played, I didn’t give two shits about finding Benny beyond the fact that I had a quest entry that wouldn’t go away otherwise. As I wrote back in 2013:

But the overarching narrative of revenge never felt personally compelling, and the coming clash between NCR and Caesar’s Legion seemed a digression. This game was Fallout when I was just wandering around, eager to scavenge what I can out of crumbling ruins I see just on the horizon. When I was the Courier just trying to make a final delivery for no particular reason? Not so much. […] I wasn’t protecting my home, my family, nor was I my own person. I was… the Courier, a stranger in familiar skin, following a past everyone knows about but me.

This is the same problem I had with Witcher 3 – the setting and the story were at complete odds at each other. Your motivation is to find Ciri before the Wild Hunt can, but oh hey, look, there are 40 hours of sidequests you can do over here first. All of which are a hundred times more interesting and immersive than the main, ostensibly racing against time one.

I appreciate the fact that you could kill just about anyone in New Vegas. Or kill next to no one. It is fairly uncommon in gaming to be able to resolve conflict in many different ways. But you don’t need the Fallout scaffolding to do that. By which I mean the wandering around, the looting abandoned buildings, the Power Armor, the Fast Travel ferrying of dozens of pipe rifles to sell to vendors for Caps to buy new shit. I was not “the Courier” when I was hunting for Wonderglue in a half-collapsed shack. I did that for gameplay reasons and because it physically felt good to do so.

So when I hear people say things like this:

To be fair what the hell is Fallout without the story and the player options/personalised quests/interesting world side of things beyond a clunky shooter.

…I feel like I’m going crazy. Open the map, walk over there, kill something along the way in an alternative-history post-apocalyptic 1950s. THAT’S FALLOUT (since 2008). You sure as shit aren’t playing New Vegas for 300+ hours for the storyline alone, son. You play it for that long because it’s fun walking around in that world, fun interacting with things, fun immersing yourself in the wasteland life.

Fallout 76 has systemic problems. The main one being the random server system, from which all other problems follow. All that glorious made-up shit Eurogamer was pining for could become a reality if there is a Moonguard-esque server that people specifically sought out and congregated on. Always-on PvP servers could also be a thing, with forced respawn areas and such. Pretty much everything is solved with servers, actually.

But all these people talking about the gunplay and the “emptiness” of the world? Clunky compared to what? New Vegas? Empty compared to what? Human NPCs with relatable human stories are fantastic, I agree. I just don’t need them to push me over the horizon and into the ruins – the hunt for Gears and Ballistic Fiber is motivation enough. There is still map to see, still ever-stronger enemies to face, and more guns to shoot them in the face with.

Fallout 76 is like when you finish (or ignore) the main story in a Fallout game but you just keep playing anyway. If you don’t do that sort of thing, then yeah, this game is not for you.

Posted on November 21, 2018, in Fallout, Philosophy and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. I hadn’t thought about this.. but what would a person like me (who only played Fallout 1 & 2 more than 15 years ago see here? Maybe Fallout 1 and 4 don’t have much in common game play wise and just the setting?

    Sure, I’ve read my fair share of reviews and blog posts about all the newer titles (3, New Vegas, 4, etc), but I’m honestly surprised about this split. Some people finding it awesome and a lot absolutely trashing it (yeah, that’s often the case, but hardly did I find it so surprising)

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    • It’s difficult to say what you’d get out of it, having missed all the 3D/1st person iterations. I was one of the people who thought, conceptually, that Fallout 3 was going to be a travesty, having played the hell out of Fallout 1 & 2 and Fallout Tactics (which I enjoyed for the combat system). Coming out of the Vault for the 1st time though in Fallout 3… that moment will stay with me until I die. Just knowing that I could immediately go wherever I wanted and do whatever I wanted. Pure bliss.

      As for the reviews, yeah, Bethesda did themselves no favors by not playing up the Survival angle more. But even then, the best way I have to describe Fallout 76 is: it’s Fallout after you complete the main quest. That is, there’s no “reason” to keep playing beyond the fact that you enjoy the combat system and enjoy finding all the places you missed on the map.

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      • Hehe, I guess I wouldn’t like it. I want either MMOs (when I want freedom) or checkboxes to tick off (for single-player games) – I don’t mean railroading, I like a campaign to follow and maybe sidequests. I think Fallout 3/NV/4 had that, but I think Skyrim is already too free-form for me. Anyway, I think I like Fallout as a world, but it’s not something I’m eager to sink so many hours in – I didn’t love 1&2 enough for that.

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  2. To give you an idea of why Fallout 76 is polarizing, there is a group of players who have Immersion as a motivation, as described by Nick Yee as “Immersion: This factor measures the desire to become immersed in a make-believe construct. Players who score high on this factor enjoy being immersed in a fantasy world they can wander and explore. They tend to role-play their characters, and use their characters to try out new personalities and roles“

    The Eurogamer review is clearly coming from a player of that subset. When I played Fallout (and Skyrim for that matter), I do the same thing. I construct a character with its own personality and explore the wasteland as that character, interacting with NPCs and the story quests and making choices that support or lets me join one faction or another. I do not scavenge for the sake of scavenging and leveling up to feel powerful.

    One look at Fallout 76 and I knew it wasn’t for me. How do you maintain immersion in a make believe world when you have real world players intruding on your make believe mental construct with their heavy breathing and forever open mic, running around in diapers and clown masks, acting like it’s Payday? Not happening, fourth wall broken for good. (I’d watch it on stream though, where the fourth wall is always broken.)

    At the same time, it’s instructive to realize that other players play Fallout like a game of roaming and exploring to scavenge and cobble stuff together like Macgyver. It does seem like the present design decision to limit the stash and inventory might be a tide restrictive to such gameplay styles, but I suppose they may fix that down the line.

    The other motivations covered by Nick Yee like Relationship (relationships with other players, like supportive friendships), Achievement (become powerful within the construct of a game), and possibly even Leadership (if you’re the sort to drag some friends along like some streamers do) are indeed supported by Fallout 76. How well is debatable and seems to depend on a player’s tolerance for currently glitchy things that would probably/hopefully get fixed at some point in the future.

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  3. I think the disconnect is you are in the minority on why you like Fallout, so while 76 fits what you like (roaming and hoarding), most Fallout fans like it for all the things 76 doesn’t have, hence the poor reviews and rage. Call the game Retro-Rust or Nuke-ARK and you get a lot less rage, call it Fallout and most people expect a certain thing.

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    • I mean… if I’m “in the minority” for liking the bits that you spend 80% of the time doing in every Fallout game for the last decade, then what does that really say about the people raging?

      But, yeah, Todd did no favors by downplaying the survival angle.

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      • Because the 20% is the most important part for most. The 80% can’t suck, and in Fallout doesn’t, but that 80% on its own without anything else (F76) isn’t the kind of game Fallout fans want or expect. Exploring ruins and gearing up is fun in Fallout, but its fun because then you take all that and channel it into interesting quests, and progress further into the story/world (all modern Fallouts get harder/dangerous due to a story event midway in, which is again further motivation/reason to explore and gear up).

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      • I’m sure a lot of people would not enjoy the 80% without the story behind it. I personally need the story motivation to enjoy doing things. I quite enjoy having a storyline send me to a mansion to solve a mystery. I would not care at all about that mansion without the backstory, even if the contents (monsters/loot) are identical. The framing of the setting is a massive part of how the fallout experience feels for many people, and in 76 you lack that.

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  4. I disagree you mocking that first review. Fallout 76 was an MMO, not a single player game. One can rightfully expect MMO-stuff in it. Sure not everything, but some.

    Do you see any reason why Fallout 76 should be an MMO? Would the player lose anything if he’d play all alone in his own server? Then why F76 is not a normal, single player game like all previous Fallouts?

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    • The first M in MMO is “Massively.” I do not consider ~30 people per server to be Massively Multiplayer. Do you consider ARK or Rust to be MMOs? This is besides the point that the imaginary MMO the reviewer wrote about doesn’t really even exist anywhere else in the first place. You’d have to go back to what, Ultima Online, for setting up a bar?

      I’ve already mentioned this, but when you look at Fallout 76 as a Survival game, everything clicks into place. You can play ARK solo and have 100s of hours of entertainment. Same with Fallout 76. Both games have servers with limited number of people, both let you play (mostly) solo if you want. The thing Fallout 76 lacks compared to ARK is the fact you can’t go back to a specific server. Once they fix that, a lot of things will fall into place.

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  5. I think EuroGamer’s point was that any of those ideas are more interesting than the actual result, which appears to be just a multiplayer version of the crafting bits from Fallout 4.

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    • They’re so interesting that… no one has really ever done them again, eh?

      The great irony here is that for all the people saying “we didn’t want FO76, we wanted co-op FO4,” well, what would you be doing 99% of the time? Same thing you do in FO76 – wander around, pick up junk, fight enemies, etc.

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