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Fallout 76 Xbox One review: Sorry internet, I like it (but still don't recommend it)

Fallout 76 is a radioactive mess of shallow survival loot addiction. I love it. I hate it.

Bethesda is notorious for its bugs and engine anomalies. Its dynamic, modular Creation Engine used for Skyrim, Fallout 4 and other titles allows the company to fairly rapidly build huge open worlds, full of detail and reasons to explore. The company has repurposed the systems and assets used for Fallout 4 to build Fallout 76, the core team's first attempt at an asynchronous multiplayer game.

Just a few hours is more than enough to confirm that Fallout 76 is a hot mess, a few dozen is enough to confirm that the game has fundamental, systemic flaws that betray the very idea of a multiplayer game. Staggering frame rate issues I haven't seen from a AAA dev for years. Warped models, poor textures, stuck level-of-detail pop-in, stuttering, poorly implemented mechanics, and server problems. Yet, I kind of love it.

The Good: Addictive, open-world gameplay

Fallout 76 is similar to Destiny in the sense that you share an instanced version of the world with random players. Dynamic events can appear at major locations, allowing you to engage in a combat event for the chance at special loot and equipment. At least when you're playing on a decent FPS on PC or Xbox One X, joining in these events can feel fun and epic, taking down large post-apocalyptic monsters inspired by West Virginia folklore.

Bethesda upset fans when it said that Fallout 76 features no human NPCs, nor the old school dialogue trees the franchise is known for. Instead, players are supposed to make their own story, set against the backdrop of what Bethesda calls a "softcore" survival game. You have to manage your hunger, thirst, as well as cure diseases and heal ailments as you battle your way across the largest open world Bethesda has ever built. In that sense, Fallout 76 still feels like Fallout, with aggressive content density full of reasons to explore, loot, and plunder. That said, if you're a fan of the single-player story experience, Fallout 76 feels like a big step down from Fallout 4, which itself felt like a step down from Fallout New Vegas.

Fallout 76 is light on story and characters, with the only interaction coming via robots or items around the game world. Like many multiplayer games, but there is plenty of lore to uncover if you're willing to look for it, though. Holotapes with recorded audio files, tons of notes and letters, and story quest chains will pull you through the narrative of post-apocalyptic West Virginia, recovering from the nuclear "Great War" that permeates the entire franchise. West Virginia, however, seems to have fared better than other regions in the Fallout universe, with colorful forests and lush rivers (albeit, radioactive rivers).

I've found the environmental narratives Bethesda has woven into the game's rich world to be far more compelling than similar online games, but the lack of branching, guided storytelling is indeed jarring. As such, I'd say playing with a friend is almost a necessity. In that vein, the game almost plays like a first-person Diablo-style title, where loot and upgrades become the focus. There are over 200 ability perk cards to unlock and equip, allowing you to tailor your playstyle from a diverse range of apocalypse survivor archetypes. There's also a huge array of unique, common and craftable weaponry, which only adds to the addictive reward loop. Getting that last adhesive you need to upgrade your gun is still enjoyable if that's your bag.

Fallout 76 still has those elements that make Bethesda's take on the universe addictive and fun, with a vast landscape of hand-crafted areas to explore, throwing in C.A.M.P. personal base building from Fallout 4 for good measure. The most invested players will eventually be able to explore the wastes in suped-up power armor, with crazy sci-fi weaponry, striking out from player-crafted fortresses dotted throughout the game world.

The bad: An open world full of barriers

From a game design standpoint, it really feels as though Bethesda didn't iterate nor test some of its implementations with Fallout 76. A litany of small issues becomes increasingly apparent as you march through the game.

A litany of small issues becomes increasingly apparent as you march through the game.

A lot of the problems stem from layering multiplayer systems on top of what is effectively Fallout 4. For example, managing inventories and scrap is annoying enough while playing solo in Fallout 4. Imagine multiplying that by four when playing with friends in Fallout 76, waiting for each friend to finish reducing their carry weight. It can really hinder the flow of play.

Additionally, in a game about loot, the restrictions it places on your ability to actually gather loot becomes a huge source of frustration very early on. You have a persistent stash which affords "400" weight, in addition to your personal carry weight which you can increase via strength stats and other perks. The problem is, the systems that allow you to manage your stuff just aren't good, nor consistent. You can merge piles of items into a "bulk" package, useful for reducing overall weight, but on certain items doing this actually increases the weight, inexplicably.

Don't expect to make large sprawling buildings in Fallout 76.

While you can sort your stash by weight, it can still be frustrating in the beginning trying to figure out which bits of junk are worth keeping and which aren't, as well as figuring out which stockpile is actually causing your inventory to explode, since even bullets have a weight value attached. There's additional frustration layered on top, too, since your stash size is also linked to your budget for creating buildings. If you have a full stash, your item budget can become sorely limited, so don't expect to make large sprawling buildings in Fallout 76.

You could argue that the limits are, in part, to encourage trade between players, but since there are no long-range in-game chat channels, text-based or otherwise, interacting with other strangers tends towards fleeting, anonymous moments. Even trade to an NPC vendor is a pain since they have a persistent limit of 200 caps per day.

Despite all of this, none of the minor annoyances are what I'd necessarily call a deal breaker, particularly since Bethesda has announced plans to address a lot of these in the near future. But there are some systemic issues that hold me back from giving this game a recommendation, even to Fallout and survival game die-hards.

The Ugly: A hot, radioactive mess

The meme of Bethesda's bugs almost parodies itself in Fallout 76, with what I can safely say is the company's least launch-polished title yet. It was perhaps to be expected, given the studio's inexperience with this format, echoed by their own letters to its fans throughout the launch window. For a fully-priced title from a huge studio, though, the lack of quality is pretty unforgivable.

Even after updates, the game is barely playable on the Xbox One S, which is where most Xbox players will likely be. With anywhere around ten or more creatures or players on-screen, the game slows to a painful crawl, below 15 frames per second. This can, and will get you killed unless you have support from a friend on an Xbox One X, where the game performs far better. Both platforms, and even higher-end PCs, however, suffer from stuttering, which feels like it has something to do with the game's asynchronous online phasing. When players load into your area, the game seems to freeze for a split second to load them in. It's annoying, if infrequent.

Fallout 76

Fallout 76 (Image credit: Windows Central)

Xbox One @ 1080p (left) | Xbox One X @ 4K (right)

Beyond the issues with the connectivity, the game just feels generally unpolished and unresponsive across the board. Interacting with NPC vendors or terminals, firing guns or engaging in melee combat, feels somehow tied to your server latency. Considering that Fallout 76 is virtually identical to Fallout 4, the added lag just makes it feel like Fallout 4, but worse.

Additionally, the game just looks ugly in 2018, especially so on the Xbox One S. The textures are aggressively compressed, and the game uses aggressive "out of focus" blurring on the background to reduce the draw distance, which cannot be disabled. Even on the Xbox One X, when not hiding behind the game's generous lighting and weather effects, textures look barely passable. Even some of the newer monsters and creatures, which you might think would have more detailed models than those ripped out of 2015's Fallout 4, look pretty bad.

As you turn, you can see the level of detail stutter up from pixelated blocks to something more presentable, but sometimes, it feels like objects just get stuck in their lowest detail setting. Out of the platforms we've tested, the place to play Fallout 76 is on a higher-end PC or Xbox One X. You'll want to avoid this on the Xbox One S until after several optimization patches.

Fallout 76: The Bottom Line

Despite all the negativity surrounding Fallout 76, I've still found a lot of reasons to enjoy the game, and be excited about its future. Exploring a Fallout-style world with a friend or three is as fun as it is in any game of this type, albeit with a genre-defyingly dense open world. Typical survival games that preceded Fallout 76 tend to be barren sandboxes, leaning heavily on player interaction as the basis of play. Bethesda seems to be attempting to bridge the gap between its single-player RPGs the studio is known for, with some of the dynamism that only comes via multiplayer.

Bethesda has signalled a strong commitment to support the game post-launch.

If you've ever enjoyed online survival games like No Man's Sky or Conan Exiles, you'll find a lot to love about Fallout 76 right out of the gate. The C.A.M.P. base building system is fun, albeit a bit restrictive compared to some other games. Its monetization layer is purely cosmetic and, frankly, barely relevant, since you earn plenty of "Atoms" in-game from playing. The PvP systems are light and optional, allowing players who don't want to engage in fighting to easily escape, while the "Hunted vs. Hunter" radio station grants some PvP opportunities for those who are that way inclined. Bethesda also announced plans to bring faction-based PvP to the game in the near future, alongside a commitment to address all sorts of other feedback points, including improving its lackluster end-game.

Pros:

  • Rich, detailed Fallout-style open world.
  • Great environmental storytelling.
  • Fun with friends.

Cons:

  • Ungodly amount of bugs.
  • Many systems just feel clunky.
  • When not hidden by lighting, it's pretty ugly.

If you enjoy multiplayer games of this type and are willing to overlook the engine anomalies, you may find yourself rapidly addicted to the game's exploration density and loot systems. If you're easily frustrated by bugs and issues, you may want to sit tight a bit to see what Bethesda does to polish things up, cus oh boy, it could use a bit right now. If you're a fan of the single player, branching narrative the series is known for, you'll want to wait for Fallout 5.

In the meanwhile, I'm finding plenty of enjoyment suffering through the radioactive mess that is Fallout 76, but you may want to wait for several updates before taking the plunge.

Jez Corden is a Senior Editor for Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

24 Comments
  • I totally saw this coming.
  • It's not as buggy as the review implies. Yes, there needs to be some quest fixes, and yes the graphics need to be optimized, but it's damn fun playing by yourself or with other people.
  • The usual with Bethesda games.
  • You're in denial man, I have enough video footage of glitches and bugs to fill an entire separate article
  • Playing on a One X, and haven't noticed any graphical glitches so far. Had one server disconnect and one instance of players following and shooting at me for no reason, though.
  • Question: are the names for other players their gamer tags or their character names? I can't tell.
  • I still can't believe how poor the graphics engine is...
  • It's dreadfully dated, I really can't pay for a game like that. I wouldn't play it for free either.
  • How do the graphics look on the PC version? I sometimes like to turn down some of the lighting effect on PC games to get a silky smooth frame rate even in chaotic situation. Can you still do this on the PC version, and does it make any difference? Smoothness is more important to me than pretty effects.
  • I'm running a GeForce 970 and Ultra settings were making the stutter and skip around a lot. I turned them down to High, and now they resemble High in Fallout 4.
  • I own the Xbox and PC version and found that the game is actually sharper on Xbox One X but alot smoother on PC.
    Check out @ZeroFoxFK’s Tweet: https://twitter.com/ZeroFoxFK/status/1067828545227902978?s=09
  • So … Are they likely to cave into fans and make a story based DLC later on, or is this going to be how the game stays? On one hand I'm worried that Fallout 76 might do badly and cause them to kill of the franchise without first doing a story based Fallout 5, and on the other hand I'm worried that it will do well and they won't ever make a story based Fallout 5 because they are sticking to this format.
  • It is story based, the year is 2076, America’s 300th birthday. You’re someone that was locked in a vault during a nuclear war. You overslept on the day the vault opened so everyone you know is gone, and upon exiting the vault you see the radiation from the war had detrimental effects. The story, what do you do now?
  • He means a story that unfolds while you play, not the context for the game.
  • Did the success of Fallout: New Vegas mean that they gave up on having vault dwellers as main characters for Fallout 4?
  • they should have just played up the bugs and glitches in a fourth wall breaking way like Eternal Darkness. due to all the radioactive fallout and technological degradation since the war the interfaces just aren't reliable, etc.
  • They're not that smart nor have that sense of humor, otherwise they wouldn't have made this game
  • I've put about 6 hours into this game so far, and disconnected twice from the game so far. Nothing to piss yourself over imho. The worst bug I'm seeing is that the game crashes when I exit to Windows. It seems to be trying to save my keyboard assignments and the amount of atoms I currently have in my account. (The currency used outside the game to make microtransactions) However, this crash seems to be preventing the game from saving. Sooo, yesterday I logged in with 480 atoms. I paid $39.99 to buy 5000 more atoms. I spend almost all of it, and my new total was 330 atoms. I clicked "Exit to Windows" and the game predictably crashed. The next time I logged in was this morning, and my atoms total was again 480, without having done anything to acquire new atoms inside or outside of the game. I didn't try to buy anything else yet, but I'm guessing this is going to be a huge problem for Bethesda when they finally decide to start reading posts made in the forums.
  • So we're the only ones owning a vanilla Xbox One? Feels as lonely as playing Fallout 76.....
  • I own a launch Xbox One, but I haven't used it since I got my Scorpio One X.
  • There are some jitters, and pauses, but they are usually when start in a new area. Otherwise it works as good as Fallout 4 for me on the original Xbox from a performance standpoint. It could have a better frame rate. Lots of weird bugs like dead monsters still standing, others just frozen in place when you enter a room, and the HUD still showing you are pointed on an object or monster when you no longer are. Definitely need to work on the Stash issue. You should be able to have the mystical shared location Stash, but you should also be able to have separate stash containers in your CAMP that are not shared with map location stashes. That would help a lot! Also, why not allow Robot traders to have more caps as you progress in levels. So, you get a lot of junk that you go through the trouble of scraping to raw material, then you convert it to bulk material (all of which is done to reduce weight to get to the 400 limit). But you can only sell 200 caps worth and the perks make it so you sell even less to get to the 200 caps (making the perk counter productive).
  • I'm having fun, but it's totally the fallout-y setting that keeps me going. Thanks for your take, Jez. My only hope is that Bethesda doesn't see this as a failure already and stops any future development like personal servers and mods.
  • How is this an asynchronous mp game if people play it simultaneously?
  • The thing is that there are so many other games and such a big backlog that I can't even bother trying this game that's packed with bugs and microtransactions. Personally, I have limited time to play so limited amount of games. I'll surely not support this game.