A surprise announcement at E3 2018 from Bethesda, Fallout 76 was one of several highlights from what we'd consider to be the best press conference at this summer's Electronic Entertainment Expo.
Fallout 76 is the first online multiplayer game in the Fallout series, four times larger than Fallout 4 in size, bringing its iconic setting and style to the survival genre, and adapting its RPG and gameplay mechanics accordingly. We've been covering news on the game extensively since its first reveal and last week, Bethesda let media get hands-on for a few hours for the very first time.
Related: Fallout 76 Could Get Single Player Options In The Future
We didn't get to play it ourselves but had many questions for our friends and colleagues to seek answers too. How do quests work in a world where the only other characters are other players? How is combat without the ability to slow down time in the V.A.T.S. system? What's the world like in this prequel setting, before large communities began to form in the post-apocalyptic setting of Fallout? The answers to these questions, at least from first impressions, aren't all great ones. Here's why we have some concerns over what Fallout 76 will offer at launch next month.
Fallout 76 feels empty and lonely
Exploration is key but due to the nature of Fallout 76's setting and time period, it's intentionally less 'full' in terms of characters and settlements and therefore, potentially less interesting in certain respects.
Of course, in the survival genre, that's not a big deal so long as there are things to do while playing, and by all accounts, there are a lot of AI creatures to deal with along the way. But Fallout 76 needs to be compared to other Fallout titles, even if the devs emphasize that this game is not to be considered Fallout 5.
The "story" of Fallout 76 comes from lifeless things including notes, holotapes, and robots, reminding us of the awful storytelling system of Destiny 1 & 2 where players go up to a flag and press 'X' to begin a mission. Some of the most notable highlights of Fallout 4 were its NPC characters and companions, and Fallout 76 strips that all away, with the goal of replacing it with the new and different experience of emergent gameplay coming from random encounters with other players. But how long will that last and is the survival and RPG aspect enough for players to sustain longevity?
"That complete lack of a human presence in the early hours left me constantly feeling as though I was chasing shadows rather than actively participating in a story." - IGN
And given the importance of base building (using the CAMP system), and therefore hoarding and grinding for supplies and building materials, how much time can be spent on this repetition and is it rewarding, or more importantly, fun?
Fallout 76 can be played largely solo, but this is a game that's designed as a social experience and may depend on what stories you and your pals create and discover with each other... and strangers.
The AI Isn't Very Good in Fallout 76
A notable issue with Fallout 3 was its AI units, which made the problematic combat mechanics even more annoying, but this was something that improved with Fallout 4. According to VG247, it's gone backward in Fallout 76 and in their experience "enemies tend to run straight at you." They also note that dismemberment physics are scaled down too.
"...enemy AI is nowhere near as good as it was in Fallout 4" - VG247
Again, Fallout 76 is really about players so at least some of the encounters - should you find players frequently (some previews claim it could be a long time in between encountering other life in the game's large world). But the bulk of the gameplay in the non-NPC, no-human-characters world of Fallout 76 will be against AI units, whether they be wildlife, monsters, or the scorched enemies that actually use weapons and cover. From descriptions of boss battles, made challenging at times due to vast differences in player versus AI levels, a lot of this gameplay can turn into kiting enemies around, or kiting one type of enemy to another with the goal of having them fight each other.
Fallout 76 Has Ugly Graphics
A nuclear fallout shouldn't be visually appealing and the Fallout series has never looked particularly pretty, but it's arguably never looked uglier and more dated than it does in some of the Fallout 76 gameplay videos and footage coming from its preview event. Explosions, shrubbery, character models, etc. look old in a way that make us fear for the game engine and netcode required to make Fallout 76 a smooth online experience - especially on consoles. This is especially evident in the laughably bad nuke that went off during the preview sessions, something that we expect will be refined due to feedback - if not before launch, certainly afterward.
As long as gunplay and movement work well, and if Fallout 76 easily supports high frame rates, then the visuals won't matter too much - especially compared to other large scale multiplayer survival games - something we've not seen too many of from triple-A developers. The world itself, during the day and from a distance, looks rather appealing to us.
And then there's the HUD, pictured above from a preview session screenshot. What a mess of distractions.
Fallout Combat and VATS Aren't Made For Multiplayer
Fallout 3 and 4 had a very basic but generally sub par shooting system, so much so, that the lore's V.A.T.S. system is required to make precision shots during a gunfight. The ADS system is clunky and a lot of the weapons just don't work too well compared to modern shooters, whether you're going the fantastical and numbers-above-the-head style of Destiny or something more precise and brutal like Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Siege.
From the gameplay footage spilling over the web this week from the Fallout 76 preview event, this is one of our concerns. The general flow of combat looks the same, meaning it might not lend itself well to intense multiplayer shooter combat. But worse, the VATS system looks annoyingly bad and certainly doesn't (because it cannot) function as it does in the single-player Fallout titles.
You can see VATS work in action in the video above and at a glance it looks like a user-made mod. The weapons don't even aim or track where the player is shooting, instead you're just pressing a button to watch a number go down. It's not based on player skill and whatever's being done in the actual weapon firing isn't reflected in-game. According to Polygon, VATS can be useful for spotting hidden or difficult-to-see enemies and melee combat is actually useful but all previews note this system as something unimpressive.
There's Plenty of Potential for Fallout 76
Not to fret, though! Fallout 76 still looks like a fun and unique experience, on that will continuously evolve. And if it works, Bethesda expects this game to last "forever" which actually doesn't seem too crazy given that players are still playing and modding Fallout 3 and older titles in The Elder Scrolls series. Part of that is made possible by all Fallout 76 DLC being free, allowing the entire player base to remain together and experience the same new updates and content. The title will be supported via cosmetic microtransactions instead, which they are suspiciously not offering details on yet despite taking pre-orders for the game (another concern of ours).
There's also the eventual pro-consumer possibility that Fallout 76 could one day support cross-platform, so long as Sony (of course, Sony) supports it without being weird. Next-gen, all multi-platform games should support cross-play, but for now, we have Fortnite. Fallout is a massive, beloved brand, and this genre is so ripe for a game of this style. We'll know more shortly as the Fallout 76 beta kicks off later this month before the game's full release in November.
Sources: Bethesda, IGN, PC Gamer, Polygon, VG247