Do you want to know how awesome Fallout 76 is? When you first pop your shiny new game disc into your console, you have to wait about FOUR HOURS to play. That’s because SURPRISE! There’s a massive 53-GB download waiting for you. Even on broadband, that’s gonna take a while.
What on earth was on the disc, then? Apparently just a download link and an EULA.
A few days after that nifty little download, game dev Bethesda recognized it has a bit of a messy game on its hands and released an update patch.
The patch was 47 GB.
That’s a heckuva patch. The Titanic could’ve used a patch that size. Hey, I think I’ll patch up the hole in my jeans with a whole new pair of jeans!
When that monster started a forced download on my PS4, because you have to install the patch to use the network features and it’s a multiplayer-only game, I gave up and scrolled through my library.
I started playing Dig Dug, the same game they had at the K-Bob’s Steakhouse in Waxahachie we used to go to when I was a kid. The funky little game about a guy digging up killer tomatoes and dragons that chase him around tunnels trying to kill him, but only if he doesn’t pump them up with an air pump until they pop like balloons.
Fallout 76, of late 2018, drove me back to 1982 gaming. That’s how stupendously awesome it is. It’s a time machine back to the “Stranger Things” universe, only without the charming sheriff and the girl with the powers.
Or, and I’m just throwing this out there, it’s just a weak game Bethesda rushed out months before it was finished so it could cash in on Christmas. Little Timmy gets a broken game from Santa, and there’s no Festivus for the rest of us.
Ok, so gargantuan patches aside, how is the game itself?
To be honest, it’s pretty weird. The Fallout series is all about single-player RPG storytelling. The world we know has been blown away in a nuclear fire. You emerge from a vault some decades or centuries later and fend for yourself in a hostile world full of mutated wildlife and violent factions vying for their slice of a radiated pie. Plus zombie-like things called feral ghouls. So, it’s an awesome game world. Wandering about, finding pockets of civilization, getting into fights, looting haunting sites, and in Fallout 4, rebuilding the world one settlement at a time is addictive and fun.
But Fallout 76 exists in the twilight zone between the post-apocalyptic universe that made the Fallout series one of the most beloved franchises out there, and a bad not-quite-Destiny multiplayer thing that often fails to deliver.
Also, no NPCs.
NPCs (non-player characters) give the Fallout world life, consequence, and meaning in the earlier games. They can become traveling companions and battle buddies. Sometimes, long after you have befriended them and shared adventures with them, you have to choose whether to let them live or kill them to move the story along – a particularly compelling and heartbreaking feature in 2015’s Fallout 4. The NPC’s give the Fallout games heart.
So, Bethesda thought, why not rip them out of the game and replace them with stupid little floating robots? I’m not making that up. That’s what Fallout 76 has instead of human or mutant NPCs. It has annoying little robots that mostly attack you.
So NPCs don’t help move the story in Fallout 76. They don’t even exist. Instead, you hear dead people. You get the story through recordings of the deceased telling you what they did and what happened to them. A holotape here, another holotape there, a roster of dead people in a kiosk over here. The whole world seems to be dead, other than those actual living players that — in past Fallout games — you literally played these games to avoid other actual humans.
Because Fallout is not Call of Duty. It’s single-player RPG. That’s Fallout’s thing.
Only it’s multi-player now … sort of, not quite. It doesn’t seem to know what it is. That’s not quite fair – it is a survival game with RPG elements. You can avoid contact with all other human players for hours on end, or even forever if you want. You can see them on your world map. So you can stay away from them. And you don’t really need them for anything. Or, as happened to me, they can come out of nowhere, gang up on you, and kill you.
So why make it multiplayer? Good question. There are no satisfying answers. This game feels like an experiment.
I’m only a few hours in but so far Fallout 76 is a huge disappointment. Fallout 4 is my favorite game of all time and I have played and enjoyed Fallout New Vegas and Fallout 3. They all deliver deep storytelling in a compelling universe.
Fallout 76 does not.
It does have a few redeeming qualities. I like the mobility of the campsites, and the random supply crates that turn up and offer loot. And … that’s about it. The graphics are nice.
That’s not full-game-price scale fun.