Bethesda is doing things a little different this time around with their latest entry into the Fallout franchise. Though a spin-off (and a prequel), this is the first time a Fallout game has been online and while many were opposed to the idea of the Wasteland going co-op in this manner when the game was first announced, we were pleasantly surprised by how much fun this game really is!
Since this is an evolving online game, this is going to be a "review in progress." Though there is an end goal for the main questline, there's still a lot more to do in this Wasteland with much more on the way. To keep our perspective accurate, we're going to be taking it one day at a time.
As a long-time fan of the franchise and a huge lover of falling in deep with a rich narrative, I was very open to the idea of online Fallout even though on paper I shouldn't have been. Though it's not the co-op experience I was envisioning, I was excited to be able to play a familiar franchise with friends for the first time with a new shared-adventure.
The thing about Fallout 76 is that it's a very strange blend of completely familiar and totally alien. The aesthetic is the same, the quests run very similarly, and the overall feel felt very much like a Fallout title. The heavy leaning on survival and the ability to stumble upon other actual players however cast the game into completely new territory - thought that's not necessarily a bad thing.
Many were worried that online would automatically translate to ... well, let's face it ... assholes. I am happy to report that I have yet to run into a single player that has given me a hard time! One even left a bag of raider armor waiting at the doorstep of my settlement! There are also a lot of players willing to step in for the lack of NPCs, willing to assist new players with new gear, survival items, and much more to help them get acclimated to the new online style. To me, this showed the beautiful side of the gaming community, one that's usually overshadowed by rampant toxicity.
The one thing I do miss is the engaging dialogue through progressing in fleshed out story. Even Fallout 4, with its faults, had some pretty incredible twists and turns. Though it's not the same in Fallout 76, and I won't even pretend it is, there is still very much a story - though players will have to actively seek it out. 76 is very much a "get what you put in" type of game. Put it bare minimum effort, you'll get a bare minimum return. That's not going to sit well with some gamers - and that's OK - but for those that can adapt to this spin-off's vision, it's very much a worthwhile venture.
First things first: Holy crap, is West Virginia beautiful. Not only did the latest game capture the beauty that is those beloved country roads, but it stayed accurate to real-life landmarks - which is not unusual for this franchise. It seems that the more I traveled, the crazier the finds. Running into Mothman was a personal favorite, but even visiting places like the Greenbrier hotel was a special treat.
This is very much an exploratory game - if you don't explore, you haven't given it a chance. To make it more fun, the devs have hidden so many gems throughout this world and they plan on doing just that indefinitely to keep gameplay fresh.
Lets just get this out the way: Yes, there is a story. But, it's different. Instead of living the story through natural progression, you'll read about it - hear about it - see the aftermath. The world is littered with holotapes but from the Overseer (which is the main questline) and from survivors. There were more than a few survivor holotapes that punched me in the gut. Now because they were particularly breathtaking, but they were so realistic. Some of those survivors said things, did things, lived life like my real-life friends. That added a level of reality to the game that struck me as more meaningful than I anticipated.
Just like every other Fallout game, there is the main quest and then a bunch of side quests. Add live events into the mix, and there's always something to do if you're willing to actually go do it. It kind of felt like I was playing a podcast, living a podcast, which was a totally different experience but I actually really enjoyed it.
Multiplayer for the Solo Player
There is multiplayer but aside from a few stragglers, you won't even notice they are there. I very rarely ever even ran into another player, much less had any issues. I've heard some say they ran into a real jerk that initiated PvP without consent but ... it's online game, of course that's a possibility.
There were times where I would go off by myself and just explore. It was peaceful, almost hypnotic. Or, I'd jump in and play with my Player 2 or some friends from work. It felt very social, very engaging, but it was completely my choice as to whether or not I wanted to participate.
The emotes too also make it really easy to communicate. The few times I would come across another player doing the same quest I was doing, I would throw up a heart emoji - or something to that effect - to show that I came in peace. That usually did the trick. I'd get ignored or a thumbs up back, and we'd both go our separate ways.
There's also a really helpful bounty system in place to prevent griefers. If an enemy player kills someone that did not want to engage in combat, they then become a "wanted murderer" and now get no rewards, no XP, no caps - NOTHING. There is literally nothing to gain from doing that. There will also be a bounty put on that players head, one that comes directly out of the "wanted's" bottle cap stash. The hunted also can't see other players on the map any longer, essentially making them 'fair game' to everyone on the server.
So far, it's been working quite well.
Photo Mode and Customization
Call me vain, but I've been having SO MUCH FUN with the photo mode. I've donned the rockstar pose in pretty much every part of the Wasteland. It's also easy to unlock more options through the Atom Shop (which can be purchased with IRL money, but so far I haven't had to) that takes Atoms that you are awarded for pretty much just breathing.
Pair that with the fact that you can change your character's appearance - even sex - at ANY time you want? Holy shit, life changer.
As of right now, I'm loving the hell out of it. Would I have loved a Fallout 5? Absolutely, but Fallout 76 is charming and it really is a fresh perspective on a franchise that didn't necessarily need it, but it's welcome nonetheless.
I understand why many might not find it their particular cup of tea, but I've noticed a lot of naysayers haven't given it a chance. The world "online" has become almost scary with all of the talk cheaters, hackers, and griefers. Many see "online" as a series jumping ship, but that's not the case here. I feel like if you're a fan of Fallout, this will surprise you by how much it feels familiar. Play by yourself, play solo, just play it your way knowing it's not a Fallout 5, but something else entirely.
Personally, I recommend this both to newcomers and veterans of the Bethesda series.
Since this is a "review in progress," we are holding off on a numerical score at this time.
You can also follow the author of this story on Twitter @DirtyEffinHippy.