Fallout 76 Pre-Review: Not the Wasteland You Know

Our full Fallout 76 review will be up after we’ve spent some more time with the game, with servers going live for both press and public at the same time on launch day. However, I’ve now played enough of Bethesda’s multiplayer spin-off to give some early impressions. Unfortunately, though perhaps expectedly, it has been a disappointment.


Fallout 76 Pre-Review — Where’s the Story?

fallout 76 pre review vault 76

Fallout 76 doesn’t provide players with the best first impression. You wake up in Vault 76, quickly create a character using the game’s limited customization tools, run through the shelter while picking up a few supplies, then head straight out into the Appalachia Wasteland. Fallout 3 had you stepping out into a devastated Washington, your eyes adjusting to the sunlight while the capitol building peered at you in the distance. Fallout 4 had you briefly experiencing life before the bombs were dropped, offering a previously unseen perspective on the day leading up to the nuclear holocaust. In Fallout 76, you’re hurried along and booted out those vault doors before swiftly moving on to your first quest.

For those who are invested in Fallout’s over-arching story, it cheapens its narrative. By rushing players out of those doors, there is no time to get invested in the story of Vault 76, aside from the pre-game intro that briefly explains its origins. This is not a Fallout game for the single-player crowd; the context behind the player’s actions in its multiplayer world can be thoroughly overlooked in favor of rushing to new destinations, acquiring XP and obtaining loot, and then moving on.

Fallout 76 doesn’t prioritize its story, with there being very few NPCs to interact with aside from traders and most world-building taking place in audio logs or letters. Perhaps the story becomes more captivating as you progress, but at this moment in time, I haven’t felt compelled to keep up with what is going on in Appalachia. The idea that players are cast as “first responders” is neat, and I hope that the game leans into this more as I level up. One particular quest taking place inside a fiery cave was a highlight, though all have thus far revolved around venturing to a point on the map and either accessing a computer or killing a bunch of enemies. It’s also unintentionally hilarious that every NPC you’re asked to meet up with winds up being dead.


Fallout 76 Pre-review — Solo Woes

fallout 76 pre review scorched

I’ve played Fallout 76 both solo and as part of a team, and the latter is certainly the highlight, though also comes with its own issues. Playing with friends, I hopped into their server and joined their team, though was not able to take part in the side-quest they had triggered prior to me joining. I could venture back to where they had triggered the side-quest, catch up with their progress on the quest, and then play together, though I couldn’t just hop right in and start helping them out midway through. As such, I resorted to shuffling behind them as they knew where they were going, occasionally shooting things that were apparently relevant to the task at hand before watching them level up.

Similarly, I fast traveled to the location of a world event that was in progress and teamed up with another player. The world event required players to find the location of a protest site, and while this had triggered for my teammate, it didn’t for me. I wound up wandering around the area throughout the duration of its 20-minute time limit, before it concluded and I received zero XP. In my experience thus far, many world events see confused players wandering around trying to figure out what to do, while its HUD provides no help whatsoever.

Fallout 76 Pre-review — No Good HUD

fallout 76 pre review super mutant

The HUD in Fallout 76 simply doesn’t work for a multiplayer game. An unfortunate staple of the series, rather than supply an intuitive mini-map for players to navigate, a cluttered selection of indicators are instead placed at the bottom of the screen. Without opening up the world map, there is no way of discerning whether you are on course for your current quest, or if you’re running in the direction of another quest entirely. As a result, I routinely had to pop open my map in order to make sure I was heading in the right direction.

However, the HUD is at its most irritating when you enter a building as part of a quest. If you have another ongoing quest active at the same time, the on-screen indicators will point you in the direction of every available exit. As a result, without turning off every active quest aside from the one you’re currently trying to complete, you’ll stumble upon door after door before you finally find your objective.

Crafting isn’t something I can currently judge all too much, as I haven’t spent a great deal of time with it. You can lay down your C.A.M.P. and build workbenches there, though for some reason wood appears to be in ludicrously short supply despite the vast number of trees surrounding you. It transpires that wood can only be found in certain fallen trees (not all of them) or bought from vendors. Like a lot of design choices in Fallout 76, this is quite irritating.

Fallout 76 Pre-review: A SPECIAL Something

fallout 76 pre review special

The changes to the SPECIALs are ideal for multiplayer, with you able to acquire perk cards that upgrade your abilities in specific areas. I’m also a fan of the randomized perk card packs (that mercifully aren’t purchasable with real money). However, during the early stages of the game VATs doesn’t really have much of an impact. You can unlock an ability that allows you to target limbs aside from the torso, though your AP lowers at such an alarmingly fast rate that it’s better to just shoot the enemy yourself. I’m sure that with particular builds, carrying a sniper rifle and having perks invested in VATs will see players popping off headshots with wild abandon. I’ll reserve my judgment until I reach that point.

But some perks work better than others. In the early going, I invested a few points into strength, figuring that melee weapons would be in greater supply than guns if I were to play much of the game alone. Unfortunately, the hit recognition on melee attacks isn’t what you’d expect it to be, and I lost track of the number of times I swung for the fences with a board of wood without it even connecting with my enemies. I quickly gave up on a melee class in order for a standard gun-wielder, though as I have been wasting a good number of bullets defending myself when playing on my own, I’m currently running around with a whole bunch of weapons but little in the way of ammo.

Fallout 76 Pre-review: First Judgement

The main problem I’ve had with Fallout 76 so far is just how obscenely awkward it is. It feels like very little works in the way you’d want it to, from not being able to chop down trees for wood through to the way that quests are presented when playing alongside teammates. I’ve spent a significant portion of today playing solo, and I’ve been left with my pockets emptied thanks to the game’s minimal resources, little in the way of food, no stimpaks, and a mutation as a result of spending too much time in dirty water attempting to collect it in order to boil it at a crafting situation. My progress has staggered to a halt, as I’m left rummaging through corpses for scraps in the hopes of stumbling on something of value. Spoilers: I have rarely found anything of value.

I’m planning to invest more time in playing alongside friends over the course of the next two weeks, and I really hope that something will eventually “click” for me and venturing through the Wasteland will become more fun than frustrating. I will say that the slew of bugs I was expecting from a Bethesda online-only launch haven’t been present, and the PC version of the game runs quite smoothly. I can’t speak to the quality of the PS4 or Xbox One versions of the game, though I only struggled through the occasional frame drop and some texture pop-in. We’ll deliver our final verdict on the game after we’ve had our fill of the West Virginia Wasteland.