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Is Fallout 76 really as bad as everyone thinks?

Of all the games released in 2018, Fallout 76 was arguably the most controversial. Taking the already-out dated Fallout 4 engine and slapping multiplayer on the top of it, Fallout 76 launched with a litany of problems, from systemic design issues to game-breaking bugs. I called it a "radioactive mess" in our review, and despite several large updates, it's still tough to recommend it.

Yet, I've been unable to stop playing it, and talking about it, and thinking about it. And it makes me feel a little dirty. I was among those that kind of liked the idea of a multi-player Fallout 4, and that's ultimately what Fallout 76 is, complete with flipped assets, recurring bugs, and a virtually-unchanged engine.

Many Fallout fans feel insulted by Fallout 76, and I'm not here to claim they shouldn't be. $60 for a game that has this many issues is a tall order, particularly when you consider Bethesda was effectively charging for the privilege to test the game, as part of a pre-order bonus. Perhaps next time, have a real beta test, yeah?

In any case, I'm not here to go through all the problems the game has. You can read our review for that. Instead, I'm here to get it out of my system; the things I personally really enjoy about Fallout 76.

Farming 76

Ultimately, the things I like about Fallout 76 stem from other games that I've begun enjoying more and more over the past couple of years, namely Stardew Valley, Minecraft, Conan Exiles, and No Man's Sky. Fallout 76 brings across one of my favorite features from Fallout 4, namely the base building mechanics, complete with post-apocalyptic farming, crafting, and scavenging. If you hated this in Fallout 4, there's absolutely nothing about how it works in Fallout 76 that'll make you enjoy it, at least for now, that is.

It scratches that creative itch for me, in a way games like No Man's Sky and Minecraft also do very well.

I've spent dozens of hours finding the perfect location for my apocalyptic bunker, making sure it's equidistant to important areas on the map, like vendors and major quest locations, while ensuring it's defensible from randomly-spawning bands of monsters and mutants. Painstakingly figuring out the most optimal elevation for turrets, making sure each corner of the base is defended, as well as my all-important mutant crops, is the kind of passive, hypnotic gameplay I've come to appreciate more and more as I've gotten busier and busier.

It's somehow relaxing and nostalgic at the same time, a throwback to a simpler time, building dens in the local wood as a kid. It also scratches that creative itch for me, in a way games like No Man's Sky and Minecraft also do very well.

The difference between Fallout 76 and other titles is that the blueprints required to build interesting C.A.M.P.s (as they're called in game) are ultimately tied to its wasteland-survivor gameplay. Plans can spawn anywhere, and everywhere, pretty much, with a higher-chance to appear in end-game content. Scavenging a seemingly innocuous building and finding a plan for a powered garage door, for example, is almost as exciting in Fallout 76 as finding a legendary weapon with perfect affixes. Almost, at least.

I utterly appreciate that this sort of gameplay isn't for everyone, but it's something I'm personally fond of. The C.A.M.P. mechanics in Fallout 76 are far more restrictive than they are in Fallout 4, however, lacking many of the more interesting buildings found throughout 4's various DLC. Also, the fact you can't add NPCs or build truly huge structures like in Conan Exiles is a bit of a drag, but I have to assume expanding these features is on the agenda for Bethesda. It's widely expected, for example, that players will be able to set up their C.A.M.P.s as makeshift vendors to help out other players.

There's a lot of interesting C.A.M.P. dynamics that could come into play in Fallout 76, given its multiplayer nature. Perhaps players could merge their C.A.M.P. budgets together, to build larger bases. Perhaps Bethesda will add the ability to build underground vaults, or craft PvP arenas, Mad Max Thunderdome style. The "softcore" survival gameplay nature of Fallout 76 makes buildings a little more permanent than they are in some other games, a fact that could lend itself well to more dynamic player interaction.

It's valid to argue that Bethesda should've fleshed these systems out more for launch, rather than later on, but either way, I'm pretty excited to see where they take it.

Soft story-telling

One of the biggest criticisms leveraged at Fallout 76 pertains to its story-telling, or apparent lack thereof. Fallout 76 has no human NPCs, it has no branching narrative, no story decisions, and no player dialogue. It feels like a huge step backwards from Fallout 4, which itself felt like a step backwards from Fallout 3 and New Vegas. And yes, there are questions about whether or not Fallout 76 plays fast and loose with established timeline lore.

If you're willing to accept Fallout 76's story for what it is, it might surprise you.

You could argue that having a deep and involved story wouldn't make much sense in a multiplayer game, leading to its omission. Oddly enough, Bethesda has still included quite a deep, interweaving story within the game, that requires a lot of player involvement.

Given the fact it's delivered via audio holotapes and often very sizable text entries, I feel like it's just as difficult to digest in multiplayer as cutscenes would have been, requiring everyone in the group to either ignore the story, or stop to read and listen. That said, those that do take the time to dive down the rad-rabbit hole of Fallout 76's story will find it interesting.

Fallout 76's West Virginian landscape is completely devoid of human life. Taking place some years before any other Fallout game, you emerge from the nuclear bunker "76" as part of "Reclamation Day." Vault 76 was primarily stocked with scientists, engineers, and other "cream of the crop" humans destined to help repopulate and rebuild after a global thermonuclear war. What you find, as you emerge, is a landscape dotted by radioactive mutants, malfunctioning robots, abandoned raider outposts, and dead cannibals.

Retracing the steps of the first post-war societies has been, ironically, some of the most gripping storytelling I've experienced this year, personally. While I yearn for a true "RPG"-style story delivery in the vein of Fallout New Vegas (yo, The Outer Worlds), retracing the steps of Fallout 76's absent characters, finding their personal effects, scrapped journal pages, and often, corpses has been a surprisingly immersive experience. There are literally hundreds and hundreds of stories and characters hinted at out in the wastes, and a surprising number of them have overlapping tales, reminiscent of 2017's Prey.

I don't want to spoil too much, but one quest chain follows a radio-drama actress and her family who survive the initial catastrophe, only to discover a violent, irradiated world waiting for them on the other side. Shannon Rivers, training for the switch from radio to TV, began utilizing her action-heroine martial arts skills to protect locals from raiders, and raise orphans with the skills and tools to defend themselves. Following mission boards in their abandoned hideout, you retrace years of the sisterhood's trials and tribulations against nearby raider factions, who, for a time, were the valley's greatest threat. The ending of this mission was surprisingly evocative, despite being delivered entirely through recordings and other clues left behind by the characters.

Additionally, the way Bethesda worked to incorporate popular West Virginian myths and folklore into the game has made for some truly memorable moments. Some of the most noteworthy creatures include the Grafton Monster, the Mothman, and the Snallygaster, all based on various American folktales. However, it's the Flatwoods Monster that struck me as particularly creepy.

As a kid, I was pretty obsessed with UFOs and alien conspiracy folklore. The Flatwoods Monster was a reported close encounter from the 1950s, well-known among UFO enthusiasts. Stalking through the woods in Fallout 76 one day, I saw a flash of purple out of the corner of my eye, along with some low grunting sounds. Flanked by spooky music, the Flatwoods Monster appeared in the distance, stared at me, then promptly vanished in an electrical flash, pretty much mimicking the original real-world report. It was an incredible moment, especially considering I had no idea this thing was even in the game.

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As someone who found Fallout 4's story to be a bit lacking, I was pretty surprised to find myself actually getting more out of Fallout 76's lonely, interweaving journey. Many of these tales felt almost like those artistic walking simulators that emphasise world building and passive narrative over big-budget delivery. If you're willing to accept Fallout 76's story for what it is, it might surprise you.

The Fallout 76 community

The Fallout 76 community across Reddit and other sites has shown a wealth of creativity and good humor about the game, while not shying away from criticizing the areas that desperately need improvement.

One of my favorite subreddits, besides the main one, has been the Fallout 76 Creations subreddit, where players show off their buildings, art work, and stories from across the Appalachia wasteland. The Tales from Appalacia subreddit has also made for some fun reading.

In particular, the Fallout 76 journal being put together by u/Shia_Drunkfu (pictured) has been great to see develop. Be sure to check out the full story at their Tumblr page.

Fallout with friends

Bugs and broken stuff aside (and oh my god, that's a lot to brush aside), it still feels intrinsically Fallout to me, from a gameplay perspective. I openly admit that I played Fallout 3 before I played Fallout 1 and 2, but like many, Fallout 3 and New Vegas are two of my favorite games of all time with hundreds upon hundreds of hours across both titles. The things I enjoyed about those games, violent shooting, stealth scavenging, in a huge handcrafted open-world remain fun in '76.

Slapping Fallout 4's engine online does come with drawbacks, of course. Many physics-based weapons like the Railway Rifle don't impale enemies as you might expect, and dismemberment seems to have been reduced, perhaps to reduce server load. For every compromise that exists in Fallout 76, it's offset by the fact you can work together with your friends to take down huge monsters like the Scorchbeast Queen, launch nuclear missiles and decimate huge areas of the map, just generally explore, all while killing your way up the radioactive food chain.

They say multiplayer makes every game better, and given how rough Fallout 76 is, that's certainly true in this instance.

Fallout future

I don't know what the future holds for Fallout 76. It has certainly become a bit of a punching bag (much of it self-imposed by Bethesda), and it continues to court controversy with its overly expensive cosmetic shop, continuing bugs and server problems, and other issues that are only just coming to light as the game's most dedicated players reach the end game.

I'm still excited for the potential that exists in the game. Fallout 76 has a few "Inaccessible" locations that are almost certainly placeholders for expansion content, and Bethesda has been issuing large patches very frequently, with near-weekly community updates that focus on the biggest feedback points. I'm not apologizing for them, though.

With regards to Fallout 5, Elder Scrolls VI, and Bethesda's teased Starfield, hopefully they'll take the drama surrounding Fallout 76 as a warning that, no, they can't ship games in this state moving forward. Despite everything that frustrates me about it, Fallout 76 will likely remain in my online rotation for the foreseeable, I just hope that Bethesda can fix the major problems so that maybe more people will give it a chance, and find the same joy that I have had.

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Jez Corden
Jez Corden

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!

  • I am still playing and I don't find it near as buggy as everyone keeps saying. Are there some issues? Well, sure, but most make it sound unplayable. It's not. Guess we can call this a guilty pleasure?
    Careful where you shoot. I might be on the other side of that Super Mutant. :-)
  • I enjoy playing it. Because of Fallout 4, I am use to collecting all the junk I can. Now I have to think about what I really need and basically throw out some good junk. I wish you could sell more to traders (more than 200 caps worth would be nice). Also, it is hard to spend time trying out guns to see which one you like the most (and for different creatures), so more carry weight before becoming encumbered would be nice also! Maybe a robotic follower than can hold stuff like Fallout 4 and Skyrim have would be nice.
  • Great article Jez. I have been having a blast with this game. Sure, there are lots of bugs, but they're working on them. I take the bugs in stride. I'm more of a FPS lover, so I never played the first two, but between 3, New Vegas and 4, I've got a couple of thousand hours of Fallout under my belt. Here are some of my impressions. Please bear in mind that these are my opinions. I'm not trying to defend/bash anyone else's.
    - I like the V.A.T.S. system in 76 the best. I like the real-time nature of it. The whole stopping or slowing of time in the other games always bugged me. It was immersion breaking for me.
    - I don't mind the more restrictive C.A.M.P. mechanics. I understand that, in order to accommodate multi-player, a cap had to be placed on the amount of objects that the server had to load. In that sense, I also get why the carry weights and Stash limits are what they are, though, that HAS been the hardest thing for me to adjust to. I now view inventory management as a skill, as opposed to an obstacle.
    - I don't play with friends, and my current build reflects that, but once I reach a certain point, I may respec and do with friends or help low level players out. I would like to see more social elements pulled into the game before I do that though, like chat. The biggest request I would make for chat though? The ability to completely turn it off. Not dim it, not make it Sometimes...often times, I don't want to see it at all, and it irks me that many of the games that I play don't allow you to turn it off. I would also like to see a more robust search function for finding fellow players. I really don't care for what they have right now. Everything else that I would talk about Jez already touched on, and by and large, I agree with him. TLDR: This game has issues, and there is room for growth, but I'm having a blast.
  • But is it worth paying full price for? $60 is a lot for a buggy half finished game no?
  • IMO it's not worth purchasing at anything other than a steeply discounted price. In all fairness you could say the same about any Bethesda game. They have all been riddled with bugs, many which are quest breaking, with many that the company simply decided to ignore and leave unaddressed, which is why many of the exact same bugs appear in Fallout 76 years after having manifested repeatedly in other Bethesda games. This is why I don't own a single Bethesda game which has not either been received free as a promotional copy or gift, or been purchased at a steep discount on sale. The mod community fixes far more bugs than Bethesda does for its own games including the unofficial master patches for each game. It's so common to Bethesda games that the mod community basically immediately begins these unofficial master patch mods upon or shortly after release of a Bethesda game. The difference with Fallout 76 is that the mod community will not be fixing any of these bugs because Bethesda will never allow third party mods that alter the code of the game in any way necessary to fix these bugs.
  • I know for a fact, Bethesda has fixed a few quest breaking bugs. If you run into one, you need to report it to them.
  • No game is worth 60 bucks when it relies on a server based map and internet to play. With any other Fallout release, you can pull out an older console, plug it in and play. This game won't have that luxury. There are still people who play the late 90s releases of these titles on PC and some who only prefer 3 and New Vegas. Once a new console for any company rolls out, consider that 60 bucks spent as obsolete.
  • I like it, and I'm an old skool Fallout 1/2 fan. It's not the **** show that a few desperate Youtubers have made it out to be.
  • With Bethesda's history of glitches while adding multiplayer servers and partial saves, what could go wrong?
    The previous fallout and elder scroll games are timeless masterpieces that can be enjoyed over and over again. They are still selling copies of the older games for good reason. I can see this one getting old after a while and unplayable after everyone has left the game or when they shut the server down.
    I got the game for Christmas and it is ok, but it is nowhere near has good as Fallout 3 or 4 where I played until all hours of the morning because I couldn't pull myself away. Fallout 76 simply isn't as interesting without the truly amazing NPC's of the past games and double helpings of twisted folk lore.
    My game crashes or the server disconnects at least every few hours. My favorite is when it crashes shortly after I invest heavily in a workshop. I can only image what it was like before all the patches. I do like the crafting in this game, but it is missing the contraptions workshop and the camps are too small. Perhaps they could put people back in the same world they were in if the reload the game within 10 minutes without loss ownership or progress.
    Teams is somewhat pointless as people just want to rush through everything or an 8 year old joins an just jumps in the river for fun. In order for multiplayer to work, it should be more entertaining to be in a team then outside of one. Teams are better suited for shallow games like fortnite and not rich RPGs.
    I don't join teams lately simply because I'm never less than 300 lbs. over the limit with no way to unload further. I think I have close to 50 lbs in just recipes that I don't want to just trash and I want to get something for my legendary items I've collected. The steel I get from deconstructing weapons is enough to max out my daily 200 cap trade limit.
    They need to improve the junk marking system, everything should be marked as important until you have marked that it isn't. The way it is now, extremely rare materials that you don't own recipes for can't be marked or you have to run out to mark something.
  • Have you tried going to JUNK tab and pressing the COMPONENT VIEW button?(RB in Controller) It shows you the base components and you can mark them all from there, but I think you need to have at least one piece in your inverory. Still it's a help. BTW, finding people to play with has changed my experience for the better, was playing alone for 100+ hours until someone offered to repair my weapons, she did repair them and we've been playing together ever since. Exploring has never been the same in a Fallout game, you just need to find the right people to match your playstyle.
  • Also, don't forget that you can scrap your junk at a crafting table, that will remove some of the weight. Also, after scraping your junk you can package it up into bulk junk (requires plastic), but that also removes some of the weight. You can then sell some types of bulk junk to the traders.
  • "Is Fallout 76 really as bad as everyone thinks?"
    YES, it's a fact that is game is horribly designed, broken and outdated for what it want to achieve.
    That YOU or any other player are finding their own personal pleasure HAS NEVER BEEN THE SOURCE OF ANY ARGUMENTS NEITHER A VIABLE EXCUSE FOR THAT MOCKERY. Sorry, caps.
  • the fact that he had to ask that question in the first place..
  • I can tell you didn't read the article but thanks for your comment :)
  • The game is a mess... BUT... like The Division or GR Wildlands... if you have a team of idiot friends to play with consistently and become a crew... it makes the hot mess of a game undeniably fun. Well... for a while anyways.
  • The thing is that with this or with something like SoT is: Are you judging the game by itself or the quality of time you spend with your friends?
    If I watch an absolutely crap movie with my friends and we have a great time mocking and commenting on it does the movie become great?
    I would say no. Yes I had a great time with friends but the movie is still the same and needs to be judge for what it is.
  • Perhaps in a year when they fix everything and I can grab it on sale with some Skyrim like mods I'll try it.
  • The game isn't without it's issues, but really the more and more I play it, the more I realize the hate the game has gotten has very little to do with the problems the game actually has. Most of it seems to come from a generation of gamers who would rather watch other people play games on youtube, while us "older" gamers who grew up on games where you actually had to read to get a sense of what you were doing and where you were going it's been a much closer "Fallout" experience than Bethesda's other entries into the franchise have been. It's also pretty interesting that you mention the similarities the game's storytelling has to Prey, which Chris Avellone(who was a big reason Fallout 2 is seen as the best storytelling in the series) had a big hand in writing for. I got that sense too, and I genuinely believe he had a big uncredited hand in the game's narrative and helping to tie up the loose lore that 3 and 4 left.
  • It's just because RDR2 came out around same time. Made it look worse than it really is.
  • I'm loving F76 also due to the looting and Camp crafting (building a Camp as self sufficient and enemie safe as possible, while experimenting diffrent styles depending on the surrounding and enemy types nearby) but also just love Fallouts and F76 "action" and "atmosphere"! (just melee weapons seem a bit OP, ... prefer sniping and shotguns) imo most quests are better written than in F4 (don't reach the peaks of the best of F3 or FNV) ..but when you take your time to read the logs and listen to the holos, many are really good, like mystery mistresses (way better than silver shroud) or the kidnapped child (and many are connected somehow to other stories or areas.. making the world credible..) .. sure, some bugs are annoying, needed to reset my Xbox X a few times, but they are durable cause the game is so good .. imo seems PC versions are the buggiest atm
    (still no excuse for Bethesda!.. game needed 6-12 months more bug testing) and sure, the mmo/co-op part doesn't work as well as intemded by Bethesda (prefer solo gaming this with occasional co-op) still, F76 is a great game.., would have preferred a F5 (solo game) with this size and crafting / survival elements, but F76 is still worthwhile just wish the Camp building budget were bigger, Vendors would reset more often .. and ofc less bugs.. that aside, looking forward to new / big expansions (hopefully more focused on solo experiences than co-op experiments) atm if I had to live off only playing 2 games, those would be FFXIV and F76..,
    even if both (especially FFXIV!!) started off a bit slow, both are great..
    (btw both are imo way better than ESO, for different reasons.., F76 really plays like a Bethesda Fallout ... while ESO imo does not play like a Bethesda Elder Scrolls)
  • Couldn't agree more with this summary. It's a hanky game for sure but I've had the exact same experience as you. Started playing expecting very little and then haven't been able to put it down. The delivery of dialogue is surprising for sure. There's a ton of it and it's high quality acting to boot. With the audiolog set up it means you don't have human NPCs acting like robots delivering the same statement to a gazillion different players. Nice article 👍
  • Fallout 1 > Fallout 2 > Fallout 3 > Fallout 4 > Fallout 76 I think I see a pattern. (yes, yes, New Vegas breaks it by being better than 3 and worse than 2).
  • I disagree, Fallout 4 is better than Fallout 3 (I don't like the way 3 ends). I have not played 1 or 2. Fallout 76 I am liking more and more as I adjust to the differences from 4. They had to do some things differently in 76 because you are supposed to play it for years. That means, you need to still get new things later in the game (like recipes and plans). I hope they can about double the CAMP budget at some point (maybe slowly increase the budget as you level up or get the right perk cards).
  • So my wife was the one who introduced me to Fallout. Starting with 3 then New Vegas, at first she hated them but they grew on her and now she loves the older ones and really got into Fallout 4. She was super excited for 76. She had it pre-ordered within a week of the pre-order launch. She finally got it and loaded it up for beta, she was horribly bummed out by the number of hoops to jump through just to beta test it. Once it finally launched, she's been hooked to it, only taking a break to play the new Tomb Raider. 2 weeks from launch I caved and bought it so we could game together. Fallout 4 was hard for me to get into because of the building element but 76 felt a bit natural with the CAMP system. I'm still horribly angry with spending 60 bucks on a game that will probably have no server support in 5 years and still have a vast amount of bugs. I bought PUBG for 30 dollars to get the beta release which was a few months away from being the final version and I felt that it was worth it. Bethesda should've done the same for this but they really needed all the money to pay for cheap bags and random other overpriced merchandise.
  • I had some playing, and need to play more, but my biggest issue is the whole having to eat and drink thing. I really dislike that part.