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Impressions: Fallout 76 (Beta)

I managed to put a solid five hours of play into the Fallout 76 Beta last night.

My overall impression is that the game is fun, despite the frustrations. Whether the game will continue being fun for any particular length of time is another matter entirely.

Let’s start with the basics. The game is gorgeous. Prior Fallout titles judiciously used green/brown wasteland scenery and only populated certain pockets with relatively normal plant life. Here in West Virginia though, you start out in a vibrant, Autumnal wilderness. The music has also been surprisingly good. In fact, I pretty much have left the Pip-Boy radio off through my entire playthrough. One, because it was unnecessary, and two, because everyone around you can hear it.

Speaking of other people, well, they exist. I did not run into any griefers during my playthrough, nor did anyone stream rap music or racial slurs. Conversations were cordial, and mostly focused on pointing people towards where the good loot was located. As reported pretty much everywhere, there is no text chat – everything is open mic.

That said, people are also distracting. Listening to one of the dozens of holotapes strewn across the landscape is hard when XxSephirothxX is chatting about (and demonstrating) how the cars can be punched until they explode in a huge fireball. You can always listen to the holotapes later, but they are often context sensitive to where you found them.

The economy of the game takes a significant shift in thinking. Within about ten minutes of starting, I came across a few ruined buildings with about five Scorched (burnt ghouls that can use guns). I killed four but actually died to the last one, which appeared to be an elite of some kind (had a crown near his level indicator). I respawned, walked back down, picked up my bag of dropped junk, killed the elite, and started looting. The elite was somehow carrying half a dozen pipe rifles. Jackpot, right?

Not really.

There are vendor robots and kiosks in various locations, but the vendor rate appears to be 10% or less. As in, if the item says it’s value is 30 caps, you get 3 caps at best. Fast traveling about four inches on the map costs 7 caps. Moving your CAMP costs 5 caps. Blueprints are 120 caps.

The vast majority of the time, you are much better off scrapping… well, everything. Collect a bunch of weapon, Junk, and other sundries, find a workbench of any kind (thankfully) and break them down for parts like scrap metal, screws, and the worth-its-weight-in-gold aluminum. Breaking down weapons gives you a chance to acquire modding blueprints and the like as well. Then take those bits and pieces and upgrade, repair, and otherwise craft the gear you want.

This feels like more of a sea change in practice than it might come across in text. Damn near everything drops weapons… which I guess normally happens in Fallout games. But now you need to hoard stuff and collect all the things so you can scrap it, because crafting is now a huge component to the game at every level. Settlements in Fallout 4 might have been whatever to you, but your CAMP is basically the only home you’ll ever have. Weapons and armor wear down and break at inopportune times, and even if they don’t, you need this stuff to upgrade your existing stock.

Having said all of the above, there are some somewhat serious concerns.

For one thing, the inventory management of Fallout 76 is hardcore. Now, it’s a typical Fallout game insofar as weight is basically the only driving concern… but it’s a big one. A lot of people on Reddit found out early that your Stash (shared inventory) has a weight limit of 400 lbs of stuff. This might seem like a lot or a little, but the bottom line is that you can easily reach this cap in less than 10 hours of playing. Hell, if you come across some early Power Armor, that’s nearly 100 lbs right there. Junk has weight, scrap has weight, weapons that you can’t use yet – yes there are minimum level restrictions on weapons – have weight. All of this adds up quickly, and I have no idea what exactly the plan is for when you aren’t level 7 and have a full Stash. Throw everything out? Only loot 1-2 key resources? I’m hoping that this weight limit is a Beta thing.

Another issue is that this game is very much a console port. Again. Pressing Esc brings up your map. Then you have to press Z to open the settings/options menu. What? Fallout has never had a particularly good UI scheme, but I found it largely impossible to tell what blueprints I had just acquired from scrapping a gun. For example, I unlocked “Ivory Handle” but did not see it as an option when modifying any of my guns. Maybe it was an ivory handle to a knife? No idea. You have to dig into the Pip-Boy to find out what the disease you just picked up does. Again, this is par for the course for Fallout games, but this is also a no-pause, no safe place survival game.

Don’t get me started on the CAMP screen when trying to build shit. Let’s just say that Z and C are involved to navigate around. It’s not intuitive at all.

There is no Beta tonight, but there will be some extra time this weekend. I plan on playing as much as possible. The game is a lot of fun, despite my grumblings. But like I said at the beginning, it’s hard to tell for how long. At some point, there will be a transition from “loot all the things” to “can’t loot all the things” to “don’t care about looting things.” It’s tough to forecast how quickly that transition will occur, but I can already see it on the horizon.

When it comes, I suppose that’s when we’ll see the griefers really come out of the woodwork.

Inventory Junk

Sometimes it takes a game to start doing something mundane before you appreciate how every other game doesn’t bother you with that crap. Case in point: Divinity: Original Sin doesn’t automatically remove anything from your inventory.

Nothing. The answer is nothing.

In pretty much any other RPG ever made, introducing lock to key causes the key itself to disappear. It is not as though the key will work on any other lock, so why keep it around? “Why not?” muses the D:OS designers. “Because it’s dumb,” says I. My inventory is filled with keys (which you can’t sell), books that no longer serve a quest or skill gain purpose, and other kitchen drawer debris. There isn’t any special glowing inventory effects either, so sometimes it gets difficult to realize that you actually have picked up something worth clicking on.

Can I manually go through my whole inventory? Of course. But why exactly do I need to? What is the underlying gameplay purpose? As far as I can tell… well, I can’t. I don’t actually know if this is a “old-school” throwback, as I don’t remember if Baldur’s Gate had anything similar. Probably not.

In any case, I’m glad most modern games have moved on. Because ain’t nobody got time for that.

Divinity: Original Sin

My early impressions of Divinity: Original Sin (D:OS) is that this is the funnest tactical game I’ve played in years… in those few moments the game allows me to play. And I don’t mean that the game is crashing or anything – it’s just a few battles interspersed with long periods of fetch quests/running around town. Which is a real shame, because the combat is amazing.

Right from the start, I knew the D:OS battle system was for me, as it seemed to blend a whole bunch of mechanics from my favorite games. First, it’s character turn-based with a prominent display of upcoming turns, which reminded me of Final Fantasy Tactics or even FFX. Second, it uses Action Points just like with the old-school Fallout games. Third, speaking of Fallout, the movement system is non-grid based, as with Fallout Tactics. Finally, unused AP from the end of your turn is carried over to the next, providing additional tactical considerations.

DOS_Rope

Asking the serious questions.

 

What really takes the cake though, are the relatively novel innovations. For example, right from character creation I was able to learn the Teleport ability. Now, this is an offensive teleport whereby you drop someone (or something) from 20 ft in the air, but the sheer number of uses is extraordinary. In the beginning town, there was a joke about how a rope was preventing my character from reaching a treasure chest. Teleport it over to my area. Spellcaster hiding behind melee? Teleport him in front of your own. Considering how a main component of D:OS are environmental combos – shooting a lightning bolt into the water to electrify everyone standing inside – it is extremely convenient to be able to place people where you want them.

The other thing I appreciate? Spells have cooldowns. This prevents spellcasting from being too OP in combat itself (e.g. Teleport), while still giving you amusing out-of-combat options – aforementioned Teleport, casting a Rain spell on a boat on fire, etc. While this does affect game balance quite a bit in the sense that healing spells are effectively infinite, the sort of D&D/Baldur’s Gate style of resource management just means you can’t do fun things.

DOS_Loot

Oh, hey, an upgrade.

While I am enjoying my time thus far, D:OS does have some annoying design decisions. Inventory management is a righteous pain in the ass. The designers were very generous in the inventory slot department, for example, but they also went the Skyrim route of having nearly everything lootable, e.g. dishes, soap, individual gold pieces, etc. That’s on top of the baffling decision to make it so that inventory isn’t combined when selling things. Start a trade and realize you dumped the expensive goods on your mule partner? Can’t switch characters during a trade. Ooooookay… let me just manually shuffle items around and get right back into the dialog later.

As I mentioned, the pacing is weird too. There is a tutorial of sorts with enemies and traps and treasure. And then you are just kinda dumped into a city to investigate a homicide. The Witcher series has this exactly same issue, actually, but Witcher’s combat was awful so I enjoyed not having to slot through the nonsense. With D:OS, I’m hoping for fights.

In any case, this is fairly early on in the game, so I’m hopeful that things improve from here.

Yearly Attempt: Elder Scrolls Online

Almost exactly one year ago, I tried out Elder Scrolls Online (ESO). My conclusions this time around did not change: it’s not the game for me.

In several ways, the game actually felt worse this time around. While I have not kept abreast of all the changes to the general structure, I was aware of the “One Tamriel” had opened up a lot of the game. Apparently you were no longer limited faction-wise, and now all mobs scaled with your level. Which is nice on an explorer level – you can just strike out in a random direction and not have to worry about getting one-shot by mobs – but really hearkens back to my distaste of Oblivion more than anything else, e.g. being punished for actually gaining levels.

WoW’s Legion expansion features scaling mobs, of course. I can’t say I particularly like them in there either, but at least with WoW you still have several avenues of character progression. Hell, WoW really hasn’t been about leveling this expansion anyway, given how most of your power comes from gaining Artifact Power and similar parallels.

Playing ESO again, I just could not help but realize that it’s a bad single-player game. My inventory quickly filled with vegetable debris and other crafting components, but I could not really utilize any of them. Where were the recipes to craft things? In a more traditional MMO, I would pop on down to the AH to see if any were available, but there is no AH in ESO. Which, let me tell you, really kills any motivation to collect much of anything in terms of resources out in the world. Why mine Iron ore unless you specifically need ore for a specific purpose?

Once you go down that rabbit hole of not caring about in-game objects with intrinsic value, the entire gameplay loop edifice starts to collapse. If you aren’t looting everything, you begin to realize how much time you are wasting searching every container out in the world. If you stop searching containers, you stop being excited about seeing containers and other interactable objects in the environment. If you stop being excited about environmental objects, you start to care less about the environment generally. Without the environment, you are left with just the mobs, who are both trivial and drop little loot of consequence (because, hey, most items are meaningless).

Now, you can “subscribe” to ESO and suddenly open up a Crafting Bank tab ala GW2 where all this random crap magically gets ported to. But, to me, that’s just another indication of how ESO is a bad single-player game. I expect that sort of paid-for addon stuff in an MMO. And if we’re judging ESO as an MMO, well, it plays out even worse.

I dunno. Presumably there are a bunch of people out there that like ESO just the way it is. After trying the game a second time in as many years, I am reaffirming that I am not one of them.