Text Chat for PC Players and Other Communication Problems Plague Fallout 76
It’s possible that Fallout 76 poses the greatest need for functional, dynamic chat options over other online-based games. Bethesda has stated from the beginning that part of the game’s intention is to compel players to work with or against each other, and the game’s system presently defaults to an area-based open-mic preset, which can spur some unintentionally hilarious and immersion-breaking moments: many players report hearing parents yelling at children, dogs barking, couples arguing, or a loud TV blasting in the background from a nearby player’s mic feed.
While you can adjust your mic to mute, area, and team-only settings, there is yet no push-to-talk option available for players. For a modern multiplayer game, this seems outright primitive, and fan backlash has prompted Bethesda to report that PTT will be added in the “near future.”
Beyond that basic adjustment, though, the lack of text chat is egregious. Sure, this means that server chat spam can be kept to a minimum, but what about disabled gamers who have trouble with verbal communication? Why force them into complete silence in a game focused on players engaging each other with their personalities and role-playing motivations? It’s a bizarre and practically offensive design choice at this point, and it’s possibly costing Bethesda money, or angering some of these players who might have pre-purchased the game under the reasonable assumption that text chat would be a given.
None of the above issues will probably be addressed on day one, but they will be arguably crucial to the reception and longevity of Fallout 76.
Fallout 76 PvP Needs To Matter
By now, many players have been made aware of how random PvP encounters work in the game, but here’s a refresher: if a stranger attacks you, it’s considered a “slap,” and engaging them in proper PvP requires a counterattack in kind. The initial slap causes minimal HP loss, so agreeing to fight another player or group of players depends on a handshake of sorts, so targets can make a fairly easy escape if they're not in the mood for a duel.
It’s possible that this mechanic is in place for players who want to focus on Fallout 76’s extensive PvE content. In a game like Destiny 2, strangers can’t attack each other at all, and there’s a specific venue for PvP play as a menu/radio option so no confusing surprise assassinations are allowed to occur. Still, the wasteland of Appalachia is meant to be a dangerous environment, making it unusual that PvP can effectively be ignored as an annoyance rather than a game-defining threat.
There isn’t an immediate solution to this, beyond something like themed server instances (kill-or-be-killed servers, pacifist-only servers, etc), which doesn’t appear to be on the current waitlist of fixes. Players who kill each other in PvP can loot murdered corpses, and a weird revenge system exists in the game, pushing players into an endless dueling seesaw until one of them decides to end it. All the same, with a scant 24 player max per server, planning PvP requires considerable effort to begin with, chasing dots on the map and spending caps to fast-travel if needed.
It’s obvious that Bethesda wants to sideline potential griefing scenarios, and while that radio station exists to streamline PvP play, it’s been an unreliable or lesser-known option throughout the beta. It’s safe to say that Fallout 76 in its current state prioritizes a default PvE-oriented mode, which is a convenience that yet manages to contradict the post-apocalyptic genre. Time will tell if Bethesda shifts its focus on this essential aspect of play, but what’s available feels a little like a placeholder for a larger idea.
Final Thoughts on Fallout 76's Current State
These contentious aspects will probably not be addressed at time of launch, and there are countless other topics that require attention (optimization, mods not coming for a year, limited player counts, V.A.T.S issues, etc.). Enemy AI can be spotty and comparable bugs and glitches have been heavily reported during the beta period. For instance, in a recent session, a teammate who tried to spawn on my C.A.M.P. repeatedly clipped into base elements, making him unable to move without fast-traveling to another location and walking back.
There are a lot of plates spinning in Applachia's design, and while Fallout 76 seems somewhat stable in its current state, it’s also absent of any comprehensive end-game goals. Will the totality of the experience boil down to base-building, leveling up, reading terminal journals, and releasing a nuke? How will faction allegiance ultimately break down in the full game, and will later (free) DLC ever add human NPCs for greater narrative depth?