How to Fallout with Fans and Alienate People
Every friendship group has one member that is a bit of a tosser. No one is sure how they got into the group, and no one really wants them there, but if you have ever questioned their behaviour to other members of the group you may be familiar with the phrase “well that’s just how they are”. It’s an observation at most, but gets trotted out as a defence by the sort of people that don’t like to think too deeply or for too long about anything.
Bethesda have become this questionable individual in the hypothetical friendship group of game developers. Now obviously they do have some redeeming qualities, as your social circle’s resident shitbag may do too. Bethesda publish Doom and Wolfenstein, and that’s two very good reasons to justify their existence. But when it comes to their in-house development projects, their reputation for putting out games that barely function is getting out of hand. “Look, you just don’t understand Bethesda games, they’re always broken!” say the apologists. “We like broken games, because we have no self-worth and feel that’s all we deserve. Oh degrade us, Bethesda, treat us like the subhuman customer base we are!”.
Prior to the release of the Fallout 76’s beta, Bethesda even made a jolly joke out of it. “Ooooh, there’ll be some big problems with this game!”, they japed. “Ha! Aren’t we bad at making games!? It’s hilarious really”. This is the worst thing about Bethesda, because it’s entirely possible to imagine Pete Hines and the one with the leather jacket who fancies himself as a comedian on stage at E3 next year, having a great laugh about how they played on people’s affection for a beloved franchise with a full price title that barely functioned and got away with it.
Yes, by now you’ll be aware that Fallout 76 has gone down as well as a Titanic re-enactment in the dead sea. A broken, messy and trudging experience devoid of any notable purpose, the premise is a survival game hung on the mechanics and engine in Fallout 4, a game that was pretty fucking shakey upon release in 2015. In a world where free to play games with microtransactions exist, and Bethesda are no stranger to these, it’s a mystery that they didn’t go down this route with Fallout 76. I’m not saying it’s right, but it would have made sense to release this as such an endeavour, making money by exploiting the usual whales, rather than hyping it up as a triple A release that it was never going to be to widespread disappointment.
In a way, Metal Gear Survive may be to blame for the very existence of F76. Konami, keen to squeeze a little more out of their stealth franchise after the departure of Kojima, hung a bunch of survival mechanics on the engine from Metal Gear Solid 5. The difference between the two projects is that the game engine from Metal Gear Solid 5 is solid, snake. Sure, the story was some hot garbage, but gameplay wise it was faultless, leaving anyone taking a chance on Metal Gear Survive with a guaranteed enjoyable experience that didn’t do the already messy MGS lore any favours but was at least fun to play.
This is not a boast Fallout 76 can make. I don’t even know where to begin detailing the issues I’ve encountered, let alone fit them all into prose without it just being a list, so here’s a non-exhaustive list:
• My character has no torso
• The gun is aiming at the sky but the crosshair is in the centre of the screen
• The textures have not appeared
• Rocks are floating
• Enemies are floating
• Enemies have frozen
• Enemies are stuck in walls
• I am stuck in walls
• I am stuck on nothing
• The textures have still not appeared
• What was that
• Where is the scenery
• My AP isn’t going down (to be fair this is quite a useful bug, but a bug nonetheless)
• An enemy just disappeared to nowhere
• An enemy has appeared from nowhere
• My HUD says there is an enemy in front of me but there is not
• Hard crash to title screen
• Animals with four legs are half-hovering on sloping surfaces as though they are flat surfaces
• Loading took so long I thought the world had frozen around me, Bernard’s Watch-style
Right, that’s got the obvious bit out of the way, but look here; there’s plenty of games that aren’t technically perfect that have still been enjoyable. Indeed, little known Bethesda job Skyrim was famously knackered but people became so enraptured by the dragons and people with arrows in their knees that it got ported to everything.
Well, Fallout 76 has got nothing. I mean nothing. I’m not a Fallout mark, but I played the predecessor to this horror and found it compelling enough, trotting between factions and meeting people with forgotten things such as personalities and memorable character traits. Indeed, it seems this was everyone’s favourite part of the franchise. “Sure, the game isn’t perfect but it tells a good story”, they’d say. So logically, Bethesda took all this out. No human characters exist besides other gamers, and no one likes gamers. My experiences of other humans in Fallout 76 can be summed up thusly: I entered into a quest with a human player that required us to kill waves of mutants. During this, I got killed and was left kneeling in the near-death position, while a countdown started until my death which could be stopped by my new buddy jumping in to save me. He didn’t. He literally stood over me and stared for the whole countdown, and upon my death returned to the task. Now obviously this isn’t the game’s fault. You can’t blame Bethesda for people being arseholes, but you CAN blame them for hanging a game on it. There is a reasonable attempt to limit the amount of shit you have to take from randoms, as damage you take is far reduced unless you retaliate and join in. Hang on to that, because there aren’t many positives elsewhere here.
This brings me to another point I’ve seen batted about in defence of Fallout 76, the classic “it’s more fun with friends”. Look, that’s not a defence. I’d bet receiving water torture is not quite so awful if you can turn to Dave and roll your eyes at what a predicament you’ve got yourself in. Being able to share the despair can alleviate most things, but it just means you’ve got good friends, not a good game.
There’s a loose story to follow here, but the presentation is a shitshow. Firstly, it’s not your story, you just follow someone else’s life post-nuke by picking up their audio logs, like having to read someone’s boring LiveJournal entries but with more death and radiation. What’s worse (and this is going to come up later, too) is that Bethesda don’t seem to have accounted for the online nature of the game at all. The audio logs play as you go about your business, and they are SO LONG. TOO LONG. The result of this is that you’re often trying to listen to some boring tape by some moaning loser while simultaneously fighting off rabid mutant dogs, giving neither your full attention and either dying or losing the thread of the plot.
The end result of uninvolving gameplay and feeling so removed from the story is an experience that gives you nothing to do but survive just for the sake of it. And hey, if there really was a nuclear apocalypse that’s probably the situation you’d be in, but why that was thought of as a decent thing to hang a game on is anyone’s guess. As is a common issue with survival experiences, thirst and hunger metres deplete at an unnatural rate, meaning any attempts to explore are hampered by a constant need to break off and find water. And even when you find what you need to sate your needs, you’re not done. Food and water is plagued by radiation, and making it safe adds just one more hurdle to you being able to get your character fit and well enough to explore. Also, the choice survival games usually offer to fight or run in the face of enemies is too scarce. Packs of ghouls pursue you relentlessly, and in the event you choose to run because you’re low on ammo, you’re left fleeing for what feels like an eternity, usually into some other danger.
The lack of opportunities to pause and take stock have really fucked over the VATS mechanic, too. What allowed you in previous instalments to slow time and target certain body parts, but was really just to hide how poor the shooting felt, is now just a lock-on system. Through sheer lack of forethought, Bethesda have stripped another thing people actually liked about their limping series.
Reviewing games in the year of our lord 2018 is quite a difficult thing to do, and it’d be foolish to post this here stack of words without addressing that. During the writing of this review, a 50GB patch appeared for the game which seemed to fix some of the texture issues. We can look at No Man’s Sky and see that it is possible to improve games and reform them into something is much more playable than what originally got released. The best way to keep track of this is probably to keep listening to the NGB podcast, because naturally we can only review what we are presented with at launch for now.
The problem with the few positives there are here is that so many other recent games have perfected those things to a much finer degree. There are fleeting points where you may enjoy shooting, but Red Dead does it better. Base building is better in No Man’s Sky. World exploration is better in Spider-Man or Assassins’ Creed Odyssey. Anything the game almost gets right is rendered pointless by an abundance of other options.