76% Fallout

SynCaine has his 30-minute impression of Fallout 76 up and, spoilers, he’s not impressed:

If you ever wondered what a Fallout game would be like if you removed all the story, all the reasons why you might play and care, F76 is the answer. It’s the same gameplay, the same systems, basically the same world, just empty of reasons to care.

While I am sure that is intended to be a damning indictment of Fallout 76’s failure… it really isn’t, IMO. The overwhelming vast majority of any Fallout gameplay is, well, gameplay. Specifically, it is wandering around, collecting junk, killing Super Mutants and Ghouls, experiencing environmental storytelling, and otherwise exploring the post-apocalypse wasteland. You know, all of the fun bits that occur inbetween questing. So when SynCaine says something like:

In Fallout 3, you also start in a vault, but as a child surrounded by other humans, including your family. Shortly after leaving the vault, you had to a fairly large settlement of humans that gets you rolling.

…I had a puzzled expression on my face. When I emerged from the Vault 101 for the first time – still in the top 5 videogame experiences in my entire life, by the way – I must have gotten turned around because Megaton was not where I went next. Instead, I explored some burnt-out buildings, fought some raiders, collected a bunch of junk, and basically hit up a bunch non-story locations.

I was not trying to avoid whatever the main story quest was supposed to be, but I wasn’t particularly bothered in speeding towards it. And while it was interesting finally getting to Megaton and having to make those moral decisions regarding the sheriff and the nuclear bomb in the middle of town and all the rest… that wasn’t everything that Fallout is. Shit, some of the best narratives in the entire series do not involve NPCs either, e.g. Father in the Cave.

Is there anything approaching Father in the Cave level so far in Fallout 76? Nope. Of course, there really hasn’t been anything of that level even in the main story quests for any Fallout game. Were you really that enmeshed with finding your father, finding your son, or deciding who rules the Mojave? Or was the main plot just a vehicle in which you drove around the wasteland, finding all the poignant stops along the way? Fallout 76 has that same vehicle, that same main story quest, getting you to explore every corner of the map. It’s a beater instead of a Porsche, but it still gets you from A to B.

Which is astounding for a survival game.

SynCaine would surely not care that Fallout 76 was never intended to be anything but a spin-off survival game and not some Fallout 5 substitute. But that is a distinction that matters. There is no plot reason to care what occurs in ARK, or Rust, or Conan: Exiles, or most other survival games. And yet there is an overarching plot to Fallout 76, complete with hours of voice acting, tragedy, and dark humor. There are no moral decisions, true, and yet that is about to change with upcoming patches in a natural way, e.g. everyone died from Scorchbeasts, Vault opens, we followed in footsteps of the dead but succeeded in eliminating the threat, newcomers are now moving in.

The devs did not set out to construct the plot this way; they honestly felt like “players are the NPCs” would work, which is some Silicon Valley startup fantasy bullshit and any actual player of videogames would instantly say is dumb. Bethesda is trying to turn the ship around though, and they have largely succeeded thus far with monthly patches and new quests. Some of it is a bit grindy, like the recent Boy Scouts-esque stuff which comes down to Achievement hunting to unlock a backpack. But, well… it fits this game, and gives you a reason to go back around the block.

I dunno. People aren’t still playing Diablo 3 for the plot, or Destiny 2, or Anthem (at all, *rimshot*). They play because the gameplay loop is fun. Complaining about Fallout 76 not having the same narrative quality of actual Fallout games just makes me question why you played Skyrim so much, and possibly still do. Was it for the engaging faction warfare? Or for whatever the situation was with that one dragon final boss that I 2-shot from stealth? Is that why any of us played and enjoyed Skyrim so much? Or was it perhaps the walking around, the fighting, the exploring caves, and otherwise existing in that world?

Maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps you played Fallout and Skyrim exactly one time, never went anywhere other than towards a quest marker, and turned it off the moment the credits rolled. If you don’t play these games that way, well, you are in for a treat. Not because there is a grand narrative you are missing – although it ain’t that terrible – but because there is a huge map full of nooks and crannies actually filled with things worth picking up, killing, or looking at. And it’s getting better all the time.

Posted on June 19, 2019, in Fallout and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. We 100% approach these games differently, but I think I’m in the majority on why Skyrim and Fallout games are popular (the story/RPG aspect is what drives the rest), and you are in the minority (explore/collect with RPG on the side), otherwise F76 wouldn’t be moving away from your style and towards mine, and F76 wouldn’t be a ‘failure’ compared to Skyrim and previous Fallout games.

    Which is totally fine, and your style is why ARK and RUST are such huge hits, and I enjoyed both those games for what they are because going in I knew mostly what to expect. But that isn’t what people want out of F76, and from my short experience and all the reviews, even F76 isn’t a good ARK/RUST style game. The experiment of “what if we remove the RPG from Fallout, leave the rest the same, maybe a bit more grindy, and let you do it with others?” failed. The result is a game that underwhelmed, and that is getting retro-fit to be more of an actual Fallout game.


    • I highly doubt you are in the majority when it comes to Skyrim specifically. The game came out eight years ago and has been ported to every system imaginable not because it had some kind of groundbreaking plot or even particularly strong RPG elements. Half the time I didn’t even know if I was progressing through plot or on a Radiant quest. If you mean RPG as in roleplaying a dude walking through fantasy towns and such, sure, I agree that that is important. It’s also why I felt it was really dumb that F76 committed to zero human NPCs.

      But that isn’t what people want out of F76 […]

      I’m not going to say that “what people want doesn’t matter,” but… where is the line at which someone’s expectations crosses over into unreasonableness? If I want EVE to be WoW in Space, does my criticism that it isn’t exactly that mean anything to anyone?

      Bethesda’s biggest mistake (aside from not beta testing for longer) was denying that F76 was a survival game set in the Fallout universe. That gave cover for people posting negative reviews based on the fact that F76 was not Fallout 5. They have since came around to the notion that, yes, an ARK-like survival game is precisely what they built. And while they are adding more mainline Fallout elements in future patches, I think people are going to be disappointed with the outcome when it isn’t Fallout 4.5, when instead they should be celebrating it as ARK with NPCs.


      • We’ll have to disagree on Skyrim; I think the reason it is so popular is exactly because of the strong RPG elements. In particular how big the world is, how you can play different characters and take them through different paths of quests/towns (while also having different builds and using different weapons/armor/items), and then how big the modding scene is that either enhances the RPG aspects, or takes the base game and completely overhauls it (Enderal). Much like Fallout, its certainly not the crisp combat, the great UI, the graphics, or even the controls. No, its because you can get lost in the stories and details of Skyrim, even on the 10th character. It’s basically the same reason some call F:NV the best Fallout game; because of the setting/stories/decisions. The combat/exploration/etc is little better than F3.

        Also if Bethesda doesn’t get F76 closer to what people want from a Fallout 5, the rage will continue. If the NPC patch is more fluff than substance, the fireworks will be something.


%d bloggers like this: