Sunday, November 25, 2018

"Fallout 76' Review

The phrase "your eyes are bigger than your stomach" gets bandied around a lot this time of year, and it seems to apply to the formidable challenge that Bethesda Game Studios took on with "Fallout 76."

The ahead-of-its-time concept -- perhaps too far ahead of its time -- is to adapt one of the watershed solo RPG experiences to an MMO-style scene. The big, bold idea called for all human characters to be controlled by actual players, who would band together, forge rivalries and ultimately work together to craft emergent stories that would outpace anything writers could come up with. While some fans were understandably skeptical, many were fascinated by the idea of taking on the postapocalyptic West Virginia terrain with friends and strangers.

The results, at least out of the gate, fall far short of the ideals of what "Fallout 76" might have been, as well as what it still has potential to evolve into. What players actually find is a wasteland of another sort, and often lonelier than what a typical single-player "Fallout" experience turns out to be.

With players scattered to the winds, those who don't head into the fray with a set group of players wind up chasing down the game's barrage of fetch quests by themselves. Chance human interaction is rare, and PVP, which unlocks after a few early levels, is so disparate and bizarre that the risk and burden of taking on the interactions seems barely worth the reward of scrap you receive if you succeed.

Another questionable aspect is the VATS system, which in the past worked to add the traditional, turn-based RPG flavor to battles. The online-only nature of the game means pausing is impossible, thus taking away much of the appeal of VATS combat.

The feel and trappings of the traditional "Fallout" experience are here. There are "good bones," as an HGTV host would say. But this is very much a work in progress, and must be evaluated and played as such. "Fallout 76" will improve once developers put some heft into the community aspect, making the game a gathering place for like-minded "Fallout" freaks who throw their hearts and souls into the game. Once the tourists stop muddying up the servers, "Fallout 76" will be well on the way along its path to success.

Bethesda's "Elder Scrolls Online" had just as many struggles when it was released in 2014, and has since evolved so admirably that its accomplishments have managed to surpass the initial vision. Bethesda's team will surely iron out many of the initial failures of "Fallout 76," and will doubtlessly improve the game with regular updates.

Those who spend time with the game now can expect to be justly rewarded in the game's future, which seems undoubtedly bright. If you have the game now, stick with it and expect happy returns. If you are intrigued with the premise and have patience for a rough experience, by all means proceed, but bear in mind that you're paying full price for what amounts to a work-in-progress. The 2018 version of "Fallout 76" will most likely one day be looked back upon as the beta version of whatever it eventually becomes.
Publisher provided review code.

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