Review: Fallout 76 – War… War has changed

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Set in West Virginia only a little over two decades since the first bombs had fallen, Fallout 76 seeks to take players on new adventures with stories to tell by player-forged stories themselves. But the biggest question yet – does it work? Find out in with our review of Fallout 76 today.


Pros:
+A masterpiece both visually and audibly
+Multiplayer can be an absolute blast when playing with friends
+A nice change has been made to the crafting system through and through
+Daily side quests, events, and even challenges are an absolute delight

Cons:
-Inventory management is a massive problem
-Servers seem almost completely empty on PlayStation 4, leaving the need for cross-platform play


It’s nearly 5am when I finally glance over the brim of my Fallout 76 coffee mug that Jeff Gardner gave me during QuakeCon 2018. One that had been Chris Mayer’s cup before the moment it was placed in my hands and wrapped carefully in a Fallout 76 shirt for the trip from Texas to Oklahoma. Now, I can see the frost forming over the dead blades of grass, but I know it’s not time just yet.

I’ve been waiting since 1997 for something big, something radical to happen within the Fallout franchise. Not something near as big as the moment famed actor Ron Pearlman uttered the franchises famous lines, “War… War never changes” in the opening seconds of the very first Fallout my dad would purchase me for our Acer computer as a gift for my twelfth birthday.

Now here we are, 21 years later, seven games later (eight if you include the newly released Fallout 76), and my dad and I are still diving into the wastelands of the former-United States of America, a country devastated by radiation and the horrors that followed suit.

But after two decades of slowly evolving, the long-run series has had an anomaly peek through the cracks, one that nudges back against the saying Ron Pearlman had uttered all those years ago, a saying we’d heard countless times with each new save we start throughout the various games. We’ve seen these changes happen before with Fallout Tactics, which attempted to join the likes of TBT RPG variants such as XCOM: UFO Defense and MissionForce: Cyberstorm, both solid titles of their era.

Years later, Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel would try and follow along with the famed Baldurs Gate: Dark Alliance and Diablo franchises on PlayStation 2 and Xbox Classic. Now, here we are, a new iteration, a new vision for the Fallout franchise with Fallout 76, a prequel that looks to build on the success of Fallout 4 using its engine, mechanics, and even gameplay evolution; albeit not a replacer for the next main-stay title in the series.

But the question is clear: Can it succeed and can it stand side-by-side with its predecessors while filling the gap between next-gen consoles and the generation we are currently in or is Fallout 76 best left as radioactive dust floating about in the winds of change? Let’s talk about Fallout 76.

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It all starts in Vault 76 and the wilds of West Virginia

Much like any Fallout entry, Fallout 76 follows suit from previous titles. We get the story, a story explaining the events of a pre-Fallout world where the bombs had yet to fall. Shortly after, we are ushered in – in good ol’ Fallout fashion to the character creation, one where you’ll tweak your character to your liking. You’ll alter their face, their hair, their facial features, and even spend some time ensuring that your character is fit to your liking.

However, something’s different. We don’t meet our fellow Vault 76 compatriots the night before Reclamation Day by any chance. We only see the signs of life that came before our awakening from our bender the night before that left us sleeping in and our Overseer helping prep us along the way with the air of the Mr. Handy’s along the way. Unfortunately, you can’t explore this vault by any means. You are guided briefly down a row of tables, grabbing your gear along the way and making your way to the designated kiosks as directed.

Before long, you’re ushered out the door with little reason as to why you’re leaving, why you needed to leave and why your existence in this post-nuclear world even matters. But here you are, standing in the wilds of West Virginia, a place altered by radiation and the horrors that now call these lands their home. Unlike Fallout 4, I wasn’t astonished at the introduction itself. Sure, I loved the backstory, the recap on past events that were explained in Fallout 3: Operation Anchorage, but to hype up those opening minutes were not as what I would hope.

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This isn’t a story written by Bethesda, but rather by you and your friends

Now, before I get this section underway, I want to make something clear. The Overseer’s story – the main story of the game – is a gigantic tutorial, one that lasts a dozen or two hours. Along the way, you’ll find various journals, terminals and holotapes scattered about, filling in the games to provide some lore and other-worldly immersion if there’s any to be had.

For fans wanting something with the depth of Fallout 4, you may be better off sticking to Fallout 4 and it’s upcoming mods Arcadia and Miami. But – yep, you guessed it, there’s a but – if you want something different, something that lets you create a story of your own through the experiences you share with friends, then Fallout 76 and its Reclamation Day will have you covered.

The real story isn’t the one they’re writing for you, but the one you’re writing for them through your adventures, through the stories you tell and the memories you share with those you enjoy to spend your time with inside the game. For me, it’s been a blast with those around me on a daily basis since I was handed a copy to review and that’s where Fallout 76 really began to shine.

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It’s time to write your story and see war change before your eyes

With more than 52 hours played on both Xbox One and PlayStation 4, Fallout 76 has been quite the adventure of its own. The wilds of West Virginia; referred to as Appalachia in the game; is beautiful thanks to its various locales and change of scenery along the way; not to mention the dozens of side quests and dailies you’ll pick up as you go.

On various occasions, I’ve met various Vault Dwellers like myself as we roamed around the forests, mountains, and streams along the way. I’ve even spent some time taking in the sights, laughing with my friends as we sat around a campfire just outside our house, telling one another about the adventures we’d taken before we called it a night.

Some of us even went one step further, drinking a beer as we made fun of one another for our various deaths or mishaps in our latest endeavors. One was even our jaws hitting the floor in recent hours as a nuke fell before us, wiping Charleston off the map (you can see our video review with the footage coming later this week) and replacing it with a highly irradiated zone that we could barely withstand even with all our gear and Rad-Xs on hand.

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It was jarring at first, you know, not seeing the NPC’s we’d been used to seeing before. Instead, we’d become our own NPCs, each assigning one another a task before our adventures began. I’d be assigned with gathering wood, Chuck being assigned to gather tato’s while Saf and Edgar were assigned to hunting down the local game and bring back some meat.

We’d eventually craft some items and even head back to Vault 76, greeting new dwellers as they first emerged and handing out various items to help them along their way. Sadly, the others have already called it quits due to how much time we spend on the grind for ourselves and helping others. But, even then, I’ve enjoyed my various adventures alone, moving through areas such as the Belching Betty, a hellish mine where the Scorched have begun to run rampant, and even the Cranberry Glades Botanical Area.

I’ve even made it my goal to take every photo I can, logging my journies about the map in locations you can visit (with hopes to one day actually visit in my Fallout gear) both physically and in the game itself. I’ve even worked on drawing in various other players along the way. Oddly, I’ve enjoyed the silence, not hearing NPCs such as Nick Valentine or a random vendor randomly carrying on incessantly about whatever’s on their mind. Instead, now, I have silence, I have the various hand-written notes that I’ve found scattered about decimated homes, lodges or campsites scattered about the map.

But what’s surprising is the fact it actually works. Their approach to letting us write our very own stories actually works and it works rather well. I’ve taken my time to even visit locations such as the Toxic Valley, Ash Heap, and The Savage Divide, taking in the sights before taking the time to visit the Mothman Museum itself, a place I’ve always wanted to see (and still want to see for myself).

The only downside. I’ve had to play inventory management and watch both my thirst and hunger along the way.

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This is a survival game after all

But there is a bit of a withdraw from the explorative immersion I’d come to know and love. I’ve had to worry about maintaining my guns and armor while maintaining my bodily needs. Much like titles such as Rust, Ark: Survival Evolved and Conan Exiles; you have to maintain your bodily needs whether it’s thirst, hunger, disease or the effects of radiation.

While Fallout 4 and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim ushered in their very own and unique challenges, things have been taken a step further from the Creation Club ‘Survival Mode’ mod for Skyrim and adding its core elements into Fallout 76. You’ll have to worry about your weight, the effects of various ailments caused by both radiation and disease. You’ll have to worry about the effects of starvation and dehydration.

Alongside those, you now have to double down due to some resources being more limited than others (here’s looking at you adhesive and aluminum). You’ll have to worry about your weapons and armor breaking as you explore. Sadly, some gear doesn’t last as long as others, making it so you have to pay extra careful attention to their condition before moving on.

But then there’s the inventory management you will need to play. You’ll often-times find yourself hurting when it comes to weight, watching your AP drain under the strain of junk and materials you’ve managed to scavenge only to lose it all when you die; which you will die and more than a dozen times throughout your time in Appalachia whether it’s by another player or an overwhelmingly powerful horde of foes.

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Crafting is a blast, but finding the schematics can be a pain in the ghoul’s arse

For anyone that has played a Fallout in recent years, you already know what to expect when it comes to Fallout 76. Weapons work as they did before, upgrading them works like before to some extent. In order to learn how to use certain upgrades for your guns, you need to have two things available to you so let’s talk about those really quick. First, you need the points in your weaponsmith perk card and you’ll need the right amount of S.P.E.C.I.A.L. points in order to make that happen.

Secondly, you need to tear down as many weapons you can by turning them into the scrap you’ll use at a crafting station at your camp or randomly placed on the map. As you tear down weapons, you’ll learn upgrade options for those weapons, which in turn can then be used to forge your weapons of mass destruction. Though there is an issue you’ll come across as you progress throughout the game: You won’t always have the blueprints or mods you need in order to make your upgrades possible.

You’ll even find that you may not have the skill to make that upgrade possible nor will you possibly have the materials to make it happen. Again, a resource issue that needs to be addressed and rather quickly. You’ll often times find that you’ll obtain level 10 weapons at level 5 and at level 30 you’ll find yourself obtaining level 45 and 50 weapons from time to time, which is a bummer, but there is the opportunity to tear them down and get valuable materials that you just might need.

Or, ya know, just save them for later on and go punch that damned Diseased Super Mutant Leader in the face for being a jerk a few times over.

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Combat hasn’t changed all that much, but PvP is lackluster as ever

The one thing we all knew was coming is the topic of PvP and the changes made to V.A.T.S. When PvP was first announced, there was a lot of speculation what it would be like to see it happen. Many of us in the crowds of QuakeCon 2018 were cheering at these very thoughts, even laughing at the stories told about the in-house experiences the development team had had over the course of a lunch break they had taken and how one member of the team trolled the rest with hidden turrets in the bushes as he played an instrument down the road.

Much to the crowd’s delight, it was hilarious and it inspired the idea of how fun PvP could actually be and just how much of a game changer it could actually be. But now that the reality has settled in, PvP isn’t really there. Players don’t purposely duke it out with one another nor is there the random jerk running around making the lives of others as miserable as he can. Sure, I’ve player killed a few other player killers, but that’s been only a few times down and I’ve not seen a whole lot of it since.

I’ve even seen very few people use the hunter/hunted in-game mode for PvP, which is said to host some amazing rewards for the players that stand alive at the very end of the match. To put it bluntly, I’d imagined West Virginia has turned into a massive warzone where nukes fall from the sky as players run about while attempting to get out of the blast radius before the bomb lands on their base.

But instead, I find servers often empty on both PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. It’s sad really, cross-play would have been a fantastic feature to make things a bit more interesting than ever before. Even then, there are still a few changes that we need to discuss before we get to talking about performance and the visual fidelity of the game.

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V.A.T.S. and the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. systems did get an absolute overhaul

One of the core features that aimed to help players out in sticky situations has been overhauled for the real-time environment of Fallout 76. V.A.T.S. has been completely overhauled in our latest title and it no longer works the way you would hope. Everything is in real time and you can no longer target a specific part of the body without unlocking the perk card through leveling up the proper S.P.E.C.I.A.L. to make that happen.

Long gone are the days of leveling up a single stat, seeing a menu pop up on screen and powering up a specific perk as you please. Instead, the perks have been changed for better or for worse. Now, they are a randomized set of cards that you will obtain with every level and point you assign to a perk. You’ll get various boosters as you assign your points to the stat of your choice.

For those looking to use V.A.T.S., the Perception and Agility stats will be your friend as they will offer the perks you need to make V.A.T.S. as lethal as ever. Unfortunately, this can also be said for other perks as well such as Hacking and Lock Picking or Lead Belly and Pack Maul perks themselves.

While you can swap these perks out and power them up as you please, you will still find yourself struggling with ensuring you have the proper amount of points in the stats for those perks in order to ensure you can use them. While Appalachia isn’t the warzone I had imagined, the perk management and inventory management situations have become something I struggle with, even 50+ hours in.

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Oh… Man… Let’s talk performance. Don’t tell Mr. Handy I stole his circuits to try and make things better.

Having spent a suitable amount of time on the console versions of the game, I’m going to start off with saying this – this review is focusing on the PlayStation 4 Pro version of the game. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get my hands on a PC copy or an Xbox One X to go alongside my Xbox copy of the game, so it’s time we pick apart the PlayStation 4 copy the best we can.

To start things off, Networking wise, I’ve had quite a few hiccups with the game. I’ve had an ungodly amount of frame rate stutters, graphical hitches and even framerate drops to the point I’d wondered if my PS4 Pro – I call it BB (Blue on Black – a Kenny Wayne Shepard reference for those that don’t know – had decided to quit and pack its circuits and head on home.

Granted, those moments were during intense scenes of nukes dropping, rad storms hitting, and even an obscene amount going on all at once. We’re not talking about just my group of friends and I. No, we’re talking an entire server’s worth the players huddled around the Posideon Nuclear Plant attempting to complete the Event before it ended. The framerate stutters hit and they hit rather hard, sending my PlayStation 4 into a spiraling episode where the game crashed due to everything going on at once.

But let me make this clear. It happens, but not enough to break the game and it only happens when entering zones you’d not entered into before. Luckily, turning boost mode off and supersampling on my PlayStation 4 alleviated some of these bugs, but not as much as I’d hoped. While it does run super smooth a good 80% of the time, there’s still that 20% that’ll leave you cringing when your frames dip into what feels like single-digits for a good ten-to-twenty seconds before getting back up to par.

However, I’ve noticed the fewer people there are in the lobby, the better the performance is when this happens. Is this a server bug? Who knows, but it’s there and it’s a problem that needs to be addressed.

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The attention to detail is absolutely astonishing and the graphics and sound design help back that statement up

One of the best things about Fallout 76 is the visuals and almost the visuals alone. While I’ve appraised the game in more ways than one and disregarded it for others; Fallout 76 is by far one of the best looking titles I’ve played to date on a console. While it certainly doesn’t stand up against Red Dead Redemption 2 (review coming next week), it does stand out among its peers as a visually stunning title.

It’s magnificent really – I’d never imagined seeing the sun pouring through various limbs of trees that sway in the wind or fog eating at the light as it begins to roll through, hinting at devious little things that call the fog home. Even standing inside of a blast zone is an absolutely enthralling experience of its own. There’s nothing like hearing the crackling and hissing of radioactive wind about as your Geiger Counter warns of the radiation levels around you and the rads you are slowly taking in. Nor does it even emphasize how terrifying that very experience actually is.

Whether it’s the soft fall colors of the farms or the lush environment just outside of Vault 76, the visuals are absolutely stunning and thankfully, so is the sound design itself. Inan Zur absolutely delivers one of his best performances yet, one that doesn’t overpower the soft undertones of John Denver’s love for West Virginia and the world about him or the immaculate detail that Bethesda’s artists poured into the game from beginning to end.

All of the art itself is equally complimented by the sound design artists on their team. Whether it’s the soft trickle of a nearby stream, the clicking of a Mirelurk moving about or the soft whispers of the wind as you explore; Fallout 76 itself is by far one of the most artistically driven games I’ve experienced from Bethesda Game Studios yet.

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War… War has changed more than we’d ever expected.

In many ways, Fallout 76 is the survival game I had been hoping it would be. From its beautifully designed world to its attention to audio design itself; Fallout 76 is one of the biggest undertakings in the history of the franchise in ways both good and bad. For some, it’s the expansion they’d always hoped that Fallout 4 would one day get, but released as a standalone title, while others will be sorely disappointed at what their beloved series has become.

For some, you may find that the world itself feels like a glorified theme park due to how different one zone is from another, each carrying their own designed from fractured buildings to various shifts in the landscape itself. Unlike Fallout 4, you won’t find that the areas themselves blend together as they had before and instead, you’ll find a sudden shift in their overall design.

To wrap things up, Fallout 76 is very much a Fallout game, but it’s a Fallout game in the sense it takes everything we loved about Fallout 4 and – as stated before – merges it with survival games that came before its time, setting itself apart from franchises that are currently chasing the Battle Royale craze.

Fallout 76
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One
Platform Reviewed: PlayStation 4
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios and Bethesda Game Studios Austin
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Release Date: Available Now
Cost: $59.99

Unfortunately, for some, this game would be best left alone when Fallout 5 or The Elder Scrolls VI launch years from now, but if you’re a fan of survival titles who likes to explore, craft items, take on the adventure of building new things, exploring and the challenges of survival titles such as Conan Exiles and Rust, then this is absolutely the game for you. But ultimately, it’s up to you to decide whether or not you will dive on in and give Fallout 76 a chance.


Our review is based upon a retail version that was provided to us by the publisher of the game. For information about our ethics policy please click here.


Final Score: 8 out of 10


About the Writer(s):

dustin_batgr_prof

Dustin is our native console gamer, PlayStation and Nintendo reviewer who has an appetite for anything that crosses the boarders from across the big pond. His interest in JRPG’s, Anime, Handheld Gaming, and Pizza is insatiable. His elitist attitude gives him direction, want, and a need for the hardest difficulties in games, which is fun to watch, and hilarity at its finest. You can find him over on Twitter or Facebook.

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One thought on “Review: Fallout 76 – War… War has changed

  1. Pingback: Opinion: Why you’re really pissed with Fallout 76 and really shouldn’t be | Blast Away the Game Review

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