Fallout 76 Impressions: Not Another Redemption Story
Fallout 76 launched on Steam recently and, somehow, ended up with a ‘mostly positive’ rating. Given the state F76 launched in, and the vitriol with which it was met, this was a surprise to say the least. The live service space is awash with redemption stories. If Hello Games was able to redeem former refund simulator, No Man’s Sky, I was hopeful Bethesda had done the same with Fallout 76. They absolutely haven’t.
This is my experience of Fallout 76.
Performance – i7 6800K, GTX 1070, 16GB DDR4, M.2 NVME
As you awaken in Vault 76, you hear a pre-recorded voice saying “This is the overseer”. That’s as far as I got before the game crashed and rendered my system unresponsive. By the time I exited the vault, I had restarted twice. As I exited the vault, I needed to restart again. This was a consistent experience.
I performed the usual trouble shooting actions; scan and repair, uninstall and download again, changed from borderless to full window (which requires a restart). Nothing resolved the issue. At most, I was playing for 45 minutes before restarting my PC.
Concerned that this was the result of hardware failure or system instability, I completed hours of stress tests. To eliminate this concern, I used Cinebench, Haven, and Prime95 stress tests. All reported functioning within the norm, with no warnings reported by Prime95 after 3 hours of its taxing torture test. Likewise, Witcher 3 on 1080p/Ultra (no hairworks) was running at a solid 60FPS in Novigrad.
As such, the instability experienced while playing can’t be attributed to component failure or system instability. They can only be attributed to Fallout 76.
I spent an entire day and a half trying to get F76 to run well. This day and a half was split equally between playing and attempting various fixes. I experienced more instability and system wide crashes with Fallout 76, in one day, than I have experienced over this past year.
This may not be your experience of the game. Indeed, r/fo76 has a healthy user base enjoying the game absent issue. However, I found this game to be an unstable mess. It is categorically not fit for purpose.
The evolution of Fallout combat culminated with Fallout 4. It more or less eliminated the impact of character proficiency in favour of a more Call of Duty-like system. It was basically an open-world FPS than RPG. The combat, however, was overly reliant on the VAT system. VATS allows you to freeze time to target specific body parts for increased damage, with damaged dealt tied to random number generators. It’s very helpful if, like me, you suck at FPS combat. This is the same system Bethesda have taken into Falout 76.
Because Fallout 76 is a continuous, shared world, VATS cannot freeze time. Instead, enemies move as normal and the system automatically targets enemies for you. As a result, the combat feels a little more perilous than it did in Fallout 4. Which aids the feeling of struggling to survive. Where the combat, lacks though, is in the complete absence of impactful feedback.
The sound, recoil, and damage animations likewise feel bereft of impact, and it just leads to an overall lack of immersion. Perhaps I’m used to Destiny 2 or DOOM, but those have set the bar and Fallout 76 just doesn’t reached it.
The feeling of regression is exacerbated by often unresponsive AI. While using melee combat, my attacks often didn’t seem to register with enemies. This occurred with molerats, in particular, but was definitely not exclusive to them. This is in stark contrast to the hyperalert, and deathly accurate robots.
The hostility of robots is unpredictable as well. Mr. Handy’s would spontaneously become hostile as world events started. These events are there to make the world to feel dynamic. However, these events feel shoehorned when they just randomly start attacking you, when they were placid two seconds prior.
Building is much the same as it is in Fallout 4. Just with the addition of an unrelenting grind. You deconstruct items collected while exploring or form enemy drops, and these contribute towards the development of walls, workbenches, guns, armour and meals. I may be recalling incorrectly, but it feels like construction now requires more parts. However, the building is very fun.
Because building is the end result of the gameplay loop, it’s pretty easy to get lost in this. Have a look at what you want to build, find the components, build and repeat. It’s a soothing loop, and one I dedicated countless hours while exploring the wastelands of Fallout 4. It’s also one I’ve enjoyed in Rust and Don’t Starve. So, if you enjoy those games, there’s definitely something for you here.
Wooden and Devoid of Emotion
I feel this is amongst the most significant failings of the game. It is hilariously poor and tragically immersion breaking in equal measures.
Protectron still stutters around, uttering nonsense. Liberators are faster but their animations are clunky. Mutants move clunkily, with their melee attacks feeling unnatural. When animals are shot, rather than fleeing becoming hostile, almost always remain still for several seconds. Everything feels very wooden, and it extends to human NPC’s as well.
As part of an interaction at a bar, I sat just to the left of the bar tender before initiating the trade menu. As she began speaking to me, welcoming me to her bar, the NPC just continued looking dead ahead, never turning her head to make eye contact. Kind of contradicting her warm, welcoming dialogue. This was fairly typical of my interactions with NPC’s.
This just adds to the whole sense that NPC’s are devoid of emotional range. They dispassionately express the reasons for their plight, with facial animations and body language that are as puzzling as they are incongruous. Flat voice acting really adds to this state of constant dissonance. NPC’s urgently request your help, but lack the inflection and urgency in their tone to convey this.
It all feels vey last gen. Before The Witcher 3, God of War and Red Dead Redemption 2. Before developers and game directors realised that the overall experience of games is improved by immersive and believable voice acting.
16 Times the Detail…
I understand that the wasteland is not meant to be pretty. It’s meant to be hostile and dreary. However, I’m almost certain that it’s not supposed to look last gen.
Assets, such as leaf piles, hover over above the ground, while plant shoots are clearly two dimensional and jagged to boot. Tree bark is blurry, devoid of even the detail of those in Pokemon Sword and Shield. Wooden shacks are devoid of character due to the repeated use of assets throughout the wasteland. Bushes and mutfruit plants move very little, even in radiation storms.
After a few hours of gameplay, I became tired of the eyesore. Tired of the jaggies. Tired of looking at a current gen title that looks like it launched on the PS3. So, I decided to check FPS stability for 1080p/ultra.
It was already running ultra-settings.
In fact, the only thing that I could adjust was depth of field, and all that achieved was to increase the salience of asset popping.
Not every game needs to look like Death Stranding, but F76 is not a pretty game. It’s every bit a visual step back from Fallout 4. Honestly, this is closer to Skyrim (2011) than a current gen game.
In my experience, Fallout 76 is not a redemption story. It’s a technical mess, which serves as a painful reminder of what Bethesda have become. It is, in every conceivable way, a step backwards from Fallout 4.
Aesthetically, it’s indistinguishable from a last-gen entry. Combat-wise, the series is well behind other live service games. Even Anthem feels impactful and responsive in comparison. The animations are immersion shatteringly poor. The voice acting is wooden and exacerbated by stiff movements and expressionless faces.
Other than enjoying the gameplay loop, my experience of the game left uncertain as to what its redeeming qualities actually are. Much less why I would choose to enjoy the gameplay loop in this broken mess of a game, rather than in Don’t Starve, Ark or Rust, where I could do so without the constant crashes.
My time in the Wasteland left me with one conclusion. Even if Fallout 76 had content to rival what you would find in God of War or Witcher 3, the game is just too broken for me to care.
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