I’ve been a fan of Fallout series since almost the very beginning of the series, back in 1998 when Black Isle Studios made the first two installments of the game. The post-apocalyptic world, so unlike the contemporary lousy YA renditions, mesmerized with the mix of great storytelling, complete freedom, and that pinch of an absurd humor that fitted right in with the world changed by the nuclear bombs.
Then, Bethesda Studios know of its Elder Scrolls series, took over Fallout and breathed new life into it. I was once – or actually twice – more lost in the world of retro sci-fi.
Yet, at the announcement of Fallout 76, I couldn’t help but wondering. An online game sounded like fun, but even if it wasn’t a massive multiplayer, and the prospect of venturing into West Virginia with a couple of my friends was enticing, gaming with other people brings a fair amount of problems. Extensive player killing, annoying players, simplified game mechanics or quests… On top of that, the studio announced there wouldn’t be any human non-player characters which required a new approach to quests and revealing the storyline. This all raised concerns. Would it live up to Fallout’s legend?
At the same time, Bethesda never disappointed me. From Morrowind through Fallout 4 to Elder Scrolls Online, not a single game had disappointed me so far. I knew I’d have to try it out, no matter what others were going to say about the game.
Archaeology in the post-apocalyptic world
Upon exiting the vault, like you do in the beginning of each game in the series, a world without humans awaits you. Yet, it’s not empty. Pre-war automatons still roam the lands, some offering assistance, some gone rouge. Feral ghouls, the mindless creatures changed by radiation, pose a threat like they always did, but now there are also the Scorched, who seem to be humans suffering from post-nuclear disease – as mindless and dangerous as ghouls. Mutated animals also want to take a bite of players, and the super mutants still can bring one’s heart rate way too high.
Yet, the only sing of conscious, non-violent humans is in the traces of the past. Holotapes and letters scattered across the land reveal the pieces of the story of so many people that must have perished shortly after the day 0. As players, we learn of their struggles, of their small victories, and the last-stand confessions, and each holotape seems to be a reminder they likely aren’t around anymore. All we can do is follow their footsteps and maybe pick up where they have finished.
The unique immersion
This experience alone has made the game unique, and offers so much immersion into the world I can’t even describe. As we walk through the beautifully rendered landscapes, we don’t stumble across computer-generated beings who offer a few lines of dialogue or a generic quest or two.
Sure, automatons repeat the several sentences they know, but that’s what’s expected of non-sentient robots, right?
Along with the need for sustenance, with satiety and thirst level constantly dropping, with the threat of enemies sneaking up on you, and many quests having randomized locations, creates a very dynamic, immersive world.
Sure, with a longer game play some of the quests and events will be repeated one time too many, but at no point there’s any obligation to follow any of them, and Inq and I had already rejected the ones we didn’t find fun enough or grew bored with.
Playing with others
Before the game came out, everybody feared that some people would ruin the game for everyone else. Having seen the brilliant solution in Elder Scrolls Online where Player vs. Player is an optional activity, I had trust in the studio to ensure the pleasant experience for the players. And boy, they didn’t disappoint!
Not only the game allows to switch on a pacifist mode, preventing you from accidentally hitting your team mates or even random bystanders, but it also penalizes player-killing. Abusive players are shown on a map, so everyone can either avoid them or decide to hunt them down and collect a bounty. Not to mention that player killing doesn’t seem very common so far. Most players seem to be willing to help or just leave you alone.
On top of that, there are options to mute annoying players or change worlds: unlike MMO games, there are only a few dozens of players in any given world, so it’s easy to avoid the troublemakers, and the supposedly devastated land with its population decimated by the bombs and what came after doesn’t feel overcrowded.
At the same time, up to four people can team up to explore the lands together, and I can’t even begin to describe how much fun it is. Going through the locations or taking on powerful enemies, sharing emotions and discoveries makes up for the lack of the NPC interaction. Even just staying around a camp, repairing gear or cooking food can be fun when you get to chat to people.
And then, if one prefers the lone wolf’s approach, there’s nothing that prevents setting out on one’s own.
The game has also a photo mode to create fun and unforgettable pictures to share with friends.
Building your own place
This part of the game is what Fallout 4 (and Skyrim’s enhanced edition) got the players used to already: building your own little camp, with crafting benches and resources, setting up defenses, and adding a personal touch to it.
C.A.M.P (Construction Assembly and Mobile Platform) can also be moved to different spots with ease and a price of a few caps (bottle caps are the official currency of the postapocalyptic world – something that’s been in the series since the first game).
A well-set camp is like a safe haven, providing all the necessary space for crafting or restocking, and I was delighted to see it in game. But then, tinkering and building has always been fun for me. At the same time, I’ve seen other players forgo the building part, and simply deploy their C.A.M.P device whenever they need to access their storage.
Most of my gripes with the game so far are that of the technical nature: glitches, bugs, and server instability. Nothing, though, that would prevent enjoying the game in general, and with a project of that size there will always be issues, and Bethesda seems to be responding to them as fast as they can.
I’d have a few complaints about the game mechanics as well – all vendors seem to have the same pool of money, which makes selling excess gear a pain, and the game mechanics are irking at time. I also heard people’s complaints about the personal stash size (after all, most gamers are hoarders and I can relate), and the limited “budget” (amount of items to be built) for the camp. But again – nothing that would render the game unplayable.
To play or… to play?
If you ask me, the answer should be obvious so far. I’ve heard many people complain about the game, but interesting enough, all the people I’ve met in-game seem to be having a lot of fun. The game is vast, and offers a lot of options, and at the same time it’s intuitive enough for anyone who played Fallout 3 and Fallout 4.
- Story: Good
- Immersion: Very High
- Inspiration: Very High
- Relaxation factor: High
- Procrastination risk: Very High
Joanna Maciejewska is a fantasy and science fiction author who enjoys all things SFF: books, movies, and video games.
Her short stories appeared in magazines and anthologies in Polish and in English.
Her epic fantasy adventure series, starting with By the Pact, is available in ebook and paperback at all major retailers.