Fallout 76 has massive potential and could very well evolve into something incredible. But at launch, the game is rocky, rough, and unrefined--which is to be expected--and has a few annoyances. Here are my first impressions from my first day with Fallout 76.
Test system specs:
- GPU: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 (4GB VRAM)
- CPU: Intel Core i7-4770K @ 3.50GHz
- RAM: 16GB DDR3-1330MHz
At its core, Fallout 76 is a survival simulator. The game strips away key elements found in other Fallout games like captivating story arcs and large swaths of memorable NPCs, replacing them with engagement-driven live events, online multiplayer, and tedium. But the tedium is actually alluring and serves as the main drive to keep playing: in Fallout 76 you're always searching for more stuff and trying to get better to fuel your grind, which is the hallmark to any good RPG. The constant search for more loot propels your journeys, but curiosity is a big motivator, too. Just like in the previous Fallout games, irradiated West Virginia has a strong pull to it and makes you want to uncover its secrets.
I started playing Fallout 76 alone. I soon found this was kind of a mistake. After about an hour of running around and scouring for items (you're always scrambling for junk, weapons, armor and everything else in a mad dash for survival) I came across a duo of players and asked to join them. They agreed. Only then did my adventure really open up and offer something that Fallout never had before: player-based camaraderie. We told jokes, we talked about games, current events, you name it, all as we killed huge radtoads and tackled quests and events.
But without this interaction, I feel that Fallout 76 could be a bit stale and lonely. In previous games, we always felt like overlords with a world that's always available to us. Fallout 76 is always-online, and that luxury has been yanked away; gone are the days of pausing to aim with VATS or power up with some Mentats or Med-X. Everything's in real-time and checking a terminal or going AFK could be fatal.
There's a very real tension to everywhere you go, but only if you're alone. With your teammates the game has a steady cadence that all engagement-driven games strive to have: rather than providing stronger challenges, the game seems to put emphasis on how long you play versus how hard you play (if that makes sense). On the flip side, playing alone is just...well...lonely.
Things feel artificial, and the veneer of the game world seems quite thin. You start to realize that Fallout 76 looks very, very much like Fallout 4 and that there's hardly any real NPCs to interact with, and you can't interact with a good portion of the game's world and items. Plus there's no mods so there's no way to control, extend, or augment your gaming experience. You're essentially at the mercy of your own luck, skill, and Bethesda's whims.
But that's not to say playing alone is always bad. In fact, it's a good thing from time to time. I'd say that Fallout 76 is a game best enjoyed across an even split of both singleplayer and multiplayer. Only after playing alone can you really digest the quests and understand what it is you're actually doing (it's hard to pay attention to certain things when party chat is always buzzing).
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