6 changes that could help Fallout 76 succeed

While I didn’t think that Fallout 76 was going to be the greatest game ever, I certainly didn’t anticipate that it was going to be such a messy poopfest that it’s become. Bethesda isn’t helping matters by over-promising, under-delivering, bait-and-switching, and being far too quiet. Todd Howard loves to talk up a good game before it launches, but afterward it seems like he’s nowhere to be found.

However, I don’t think that Fallout 76 is a loss here. It shouldn’t be written off and abandoned, not only because it’s supposed to be an enduring online service and will take that revenue stream away from Bethesda, but because it could be salvaged with some hard work. I truly hope that the studio is going to take a cue from, say, ESO or the original FFXIV and double-down on its efforts going forward.

Here are six changes that could help Fallout 76 succeed:

1. Be generous with compensation and talky with communication

Bethesda’s been really stingy with its apologies and compensation since launch, and both of those could go a long way to soothing a riled playerbase. It says that it’s going to be putting out dev posts on a weekly basis, but I almost think that there needs to be more — including a live Q&A session, AMAs, and a developer or two on video talking about all this. Players should be getting rewards of some kind for pre-ordering at full price and putting up with this. How about daily login rewards until the game gets fixed?

2. Get those bugs fixed and don’t hand-wave them away

Bethesda knows that it delivers buggy games. Howard was even mocking the studio during E3 earlier this year for this very thing. But you know what he wasn’t doing? Making sure that F76 was fully tested and as bug-free as possible. Killing those bugs and fixing broken parts needs to be of the highest priority right now, otherwise all other efforts to salvage this game will be rendered futile.

3. Abandon PvP and focus on co-op PvE

I don’t think PvP as its structured will ever work in Fallout 76. The map is far too large and the opt-in system will keep dedicated PvPers away. So just abandon that. Trash it. Look at Fallout 76 as an opportunity for an amazing coop multiplayer experience and do more to facilitate that. Give players better social tools, starting with text chat and guilds.

4. Give the PC an interface worthy of that platform

Does Bethesda hate PC players? At the very least it seems to barely tolerate them, giving PC players horrid ports of the console version instead of designing interfaces that work better with mouse-and-keyboard. At the very least, the inventory should be redesigned so that we don’t have to endlessly scroll through lists.

5. Rethink VATS

VATS as it is in Fallout 76 is barely better than nothing. The game doesn’t work as a straight-up shooter, but it doesn’t work as a Bethesda Fallout game either. The whole VATS system really should be re-examined and a better way found. Hey, if The Matrix Online could do bullet-time in a multiplayer environment 15 years ago, you can too.

6. Free DLC and a relaunch

Fallout 76 is going to suffer from a bad launch and reputation for a while to come, and Bethesda could only make that worse if it tries to sell DLC before the game is shored up. Instead, it could win back fans by releasing a meaty content patch (or three!) for absolutely no cost, at the end of which it could make a big to-do out of relaunching the game with all of that packaged in.

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Fallout 76: Death and life in the wasteland

I honestly don’t know how to take Fallout 76 these days. As I laid out in my extensive first impressions piece over at Massively OP, it’s this half-and-half effort that tries to do a lot of things but doesn’t do any of them especially well. It’s awkward as a soloing game, it’s awkward as a multiplayer game, and it’s sometimes frustrating as a survival or PvP game.

But where does that leave me? Should I just abandon it?

I’m not really willing to do that. Concerns and frustrations aside, there is the enjoyment of exploration, advancement, and looting to be had. Making my way in the wild is oddly satisfying, especially as I can craft my own food and fix my own gear. And when I’m not being overwhelmed by bouncy robots and dealing with broken guns, I can even make my peace with the janky, non-slowmo combat system.

Initially, I decided to put off the main storyline of the game after getting to the Overseer’s camp in favor of exploring in a radius around Vault 76 and crafting some useful stations in my CAMP. I’m not up to making any actual structures just yet, but that may come when Bethesda gets its act together and fixes the bugs and makes building less of a chore. I keep grinding my teeth at how none of this game is angled for PC players, especially when it comes to the interface. Oh, that interface could be so, so much more better, including the inventory.

I did have a good time clearing out a pharmacy and figuring out how to climb to the roof of a farmhouse that some dead people were using as a fort of some sort. Again, I think that there’s something very salvageable here, but I’m not going to race to put a lot of time in this game until it’s fixed up. Until then, I’ll probably be popping in and out for the occasional half-hour burst, but nothing more regular than that.

Fallout 76: Beaten with an ugly uranium rod

While my excitement over Fallout 76’s launch couldn’t have been any greater, the game’s timing was absolutely lousy. How was I to know, back in October, that LOTRO would abruptly throw progression servers our way and absolutely captivate me? A handful of days wasn’t enough to get LOTRO out of my system, so when Fallout 76 went live, I started to chew my hair off as my attention was pulled two ways.

So I decided to take it slow, especially considering all of the rumored Day One launch bugs and typical Bethesda wonkiness. Also, the client I had downloaded during beta didn’t work for launch, so I found out on the 14th that I would have to re-download everything.

Finally, I got in, and a brand-new Fallout adventure began — only this time, online and with other people. Other really, really ugly people. I presume this because Bethesda seems completely incapable of fashioning a character creator where players don’t end up looking like some sort of deformed nightmare beast. Someone needs to take the keys away to the studio’s sliders and make them take Remedial Character Creation all over again.

This is my roundabout way of saying that I got incredibly frustrated at my inability to make a character that didn’t freak me out to behold. If anything, the characters looked even worse than Fallout 4, which I didn’t think possible. I finally fashioned some sort of punk with purple hair who had her weird face slathered by radioactive dust. It would have to do.

The whole multiplayer aspect of Fallout 76 lends a strange feeling to this game. You know there is going to be a lot of other people, yet when you start out, you’re all alone in a vault after everyone left you (I guess I partied too hard and nobody bothered to wake me?). Still, I knew I had a mission. I had a purpose. I had…

…to ACTIVATE THAT TOILET. fluuuuuush

It was far less dark and gloomy than some other Fallout game intros that I could mention, and it only took a minute or two before I was outside in West Virginia without any weapons or clear guidance about the changes to character growth and building. But hey, it’s Fallout, I’ll kill everything, loot everything, and explore everything.

Gotta say, I do love the setting. An autumnal West Virginia is a strikingly strange yet attractive place for a Fallout game, although it doesn’t seem like the bombs have really dropped anywhere. Just a lot of deserted and rundown buildings (although not too much so, since it has only been 25 years) and robots running wild.

The lack of human NPCs and the presence of actual players changes up the feel of this quite a bit. I don’t quite agree with Bethesda that it was necessary to take NPCs out of the mix, but it is pretty interesting to look at the map and see actual people running around. I didn’t go out of my way to find any on the first day, but knowing that they were there made me both anxious and elated.

As an MMO player, probably my first complaint was that there was no apparent long-distance communication with others. No text chat and no radio chat. That would have made sense, right? Use your Pip-Boy to talk to others across the map and coordinate efforts? But maybe that’s something I’ll discover another time.

Instead of making a beeline for my first objective, I spent time exploring around, reading notes, and gearing up a little bit. I do miss the single-player VATS system for combat, although I may be able to work with the auto-assist of this game’s VATS. I’m just a poor twitch player these days when it comes to shooting moving targets, and I don’t want to waste ammo.

We’ll see how it goes from here! The whole UI and menu interface is weird (why do I have to hit M for menu and then Z for menu just to get out of the game?) and I wasn’t too pleased with the server hiccuped and lost the last 20 minutes of my questing, but the Fallout charm and gameplay loop is definitely there.

Fallout 76’s end of the world is right around the corner

Last week we received a bounty of new information for next month’s Fallout 76, thanks to a press preview event. With beta and launch coming in rapid succession here, it’s definitely high time that Bethesda sells the gaming public on this online-only multiplayer concept.

I’ve seen this sort of reaction before, but there’s definitely a lot of unwarranted fear from people that multiplayer is going to ruin everything. Single-player modes are like a sacred cow to the non-MMO populace, and I have to restrain myself from rolling my eyes too much when I see articles written about how it won’t be THAT bad and that it still feels solo-ish and whatnot. Even in 2018, there are people who think that soloing isn’t an option when you’re gaming online, and that is just plain ignorance.

In any case, I’m generally upbeat about this entire game. Generally. Let’s get some general worries and gripes out of the way, which include:

  • Bethesda always developing games and interfaces for consoles first and PCs after
  • Off-putting player character design
  • A reported lack of an overt story
  • Unwanted PvP and a lack of a PvE-only server
  • VATS unable to slow down time and reportedly not working that great in the preview test

However, none of these are dealbreakers to me. The core attraction of the Fallout series to me is one of exploration. I simply want to roam the countryside, check out new places, scavenge what I can, and gear up so I can survive another day. That seems to be the gameplay loop of Fallout 76 — including a need for eating and drinking — and I’m perfectly fine with that.

I’m especially ecstatic over the sheer size of the map and the beautiful rural setting, both of which call out to me to roam for hours and explore every last little thing. I like to do completionist exploration in Fallout games, which is probably why I never actually finish them. I hate to think I’ve overlooked something in these fascinating worlds.

The character building system looks like a definite improvement over the mess that was Fallout 4’s setup, and I love the idea of collecting and slotting perk cards as needed. The portable CAMP is a neat idea too, and one I’ve been advocating for years in MMOs (in short, I’d rather have a portable tent/player housing that I could set up for a short duration).

Fallout 76 is going to have to work hard to win a lot of people over, and you see a lot of outlets damning it with faint praise as “not a real Fallout game but nice anyway.” Me? I think it is high time this franchise went online, and I applaud the studio for trying a different tact instead of getting stuck making the same game over and over again.

Fallout 4: Take me down to the Diamond City

As I’ve said many times before, urban exploration in RPGs isn’t my favorite, so now that I’m starting to get into the thick of Fallout 4’s Boston, I’m giving up my systematic search in favor of following questlines and hitting up points of interest should I be passing by them. So far, that’s working.

Got to say, my favorite enemies in this game are the Synths, especially the second generation varieties. It’s fun to blow bits and chunks out of their frame while watching them continue to approach, Terminator-style. By now I have a few really powerful weapons that can take most enemies down in one or two VATS-assisted hits, so I keep myself amused with the slo-mo shots.

Every instance on the map typically has some sort of story attached that is unfolded by exploration, dialogue, computer terminals, and observation. The ArcJet plant surprised me with this rocket booster for the Mars Shot project in the basement. At first I thought it was a full rocket, but no such luck. At least I got to use it creatively to fry a whole bunch of Synths!

Feral ghouls throwing a pool party. They’re relatively weak mobs but they come on FAST and have a tendency to startle you with their unexpected presence. I’m getting really good at triggering VATS as soon as I hear something other than me or Dogmeat moving around.

What’s really fascinating me with this playthrough is observing the frozen-in-time pop culture and technology of this alternate 2077. It’s a world that was really sad and depressing in a lot of ways (even before the bombs), but it also had a lot of love for cool things like comic books and fun toys. Piecing together how this foreign world ticked and functioned is the most interesting aspect of exploring it.

One vault had a mockup street shooting gallery tucked inside. I did a double-take when I first saw it, thinking that I had come back outside somehow.

This guy died as he lived — with his face down on a toilet.

Bethesda has too much fun with propping up skeletons.

Since in the Fallout universe the microtransistor wasn’t developed, the technology stayed big and bulky, even as civilization developed rocket ships and power armor and computers. This “big, bulky, and metallic” design is all over the place (and I really dig it).

I was taking out some Raiders on a barge and saw that they had fished up and were eating… dolphins, I guess? Poor guys.

Finally, finally I arrived at Diamond City, which I had previously thought was just a walled-off block of Downtown Boston or something. When I saw it was Fenway Park I smacked myself in the forehead. I’m an idiot.

Fallout 4: Wasteland Justice

Always thought that Red Rocket was one of the most iconic and evocative location designs in the game — and they use it almost immediately.

Anyway, adventures are continuing apace in Fallout 4 as I press further into this CRPG than I ever have before. Mostly I’ve been sweeping through the early locations, clearing out areas of bad guys, looting, leveling up, and enjoying the environmental storytelling. I do need to get back to doing regular quests, but I wanted to get established first.

“Been waiting here long? HAHA”

My favorite instances in this game are ones where the devs put in a lot of extra effort to make the locations themselves a lot of fun to explore and see. The museum of the Revolution here is one such place, complete with cheesy themed rooms and narration.

In Fallout’s timeline, America’s astronauts went to the moon ARMED. (‘murica!)

The pregnant girl who ran away from her home and died in this cabin continues to be one of the sadder stories of the game, especially since we’re left a voice recording of her plight.

I love getting high up in this game because it offers a much-needed perspective shift on the surrounding countryside.

I’m sure I’ve whined about this before, but one of my pet peeves about RPGs is whenever a game makes me spend a lot of time in a city. I don’t like exploring them, fighting in them, or trying to map them out. And Fallout 4’s in-game map is really basic (and, for some reason, there’s no mapping of interior spaces).

While I’m complaining, I absolutely, unreservedly hate Bethesda’s approach to inventory in the Fallout/Elder Scrolls games. I hate that it’s dumbed down to this extremely messy version just for console users. So yeah, I really need to get an inventory mod going here.

How does she know that I’m married, huh? Anyway, the Covenant storyline was new to me this time around, and while I don’t regret how it went down, I wasn’t exactly happy at the sheer bloodshed that followed. The best thing out of all of this is that I splurged on a named shotgun, Justice, from Penny here. Let me tell you, it was worth every cap I spent. I love that shotgun so very, very much, especially because it has a high chance of knocking enemies back. Seeing super mutants stagger as I pump round after round into them is all I live for now.

Justice was the last thing that Boomer ever saw.

Also, I’ve been getting into mix-and-matching armor pieces lately, especially now that I’m getting star-rated drops from legendary mobs. I look ugly as sin, but at least I’m surviving firefights much better now.

You know what’s fun? Basking in the radioactive heat of disposed uranium.

Speaking of radioactive, I thought that this cabin in the midst of some waste looked so pretty it seemed like concept art.

Fallout 76: Generally happy, slightly worried

Like so many other friends that I saw on Twitter, I spent longer than expected watching the Bethesda showcase on Sunday night. Thought it might have been 45 minutes, hour tops, but that sucker kept on going for 1.5 hours as the company kept announcing countless games and updates. Some were pretty paltry, some huge, but really, I was just there for one title: Fallout 76.

I think it’s safe to say that no matter what they announced, unless it was a piddly battle royale thing, I’d be playing it. But what I was hoping for, crossing my fingers for, was to see Fallout 76 take a step toward that Fallout MMO that I’ve always wanted.

I got more than I expected, really. Bethesda angered some, bewildered others, and absolutely delighted me by announcing that Fallout 76 would be a completely online game in a persistent world with standard questing, socialization, co-op, crafting, base building, and the like. There will be “dozens” of players on each small server shard that can bounce to others, keeping the world from getting overpopulated while still allowing folks to team up and fight. Huge world, movable bases, nuclear strikes, West Virginia, country roads take me home.

I’ll admit that I was standing up and cheering when Bethesda went full-fledged MMO here. Sure, they might not call it one and we can argue about the definition, but in my eyes, it is. There’s always that segment of the gaming community that treats the idea of “MMOs” like it’s poo that ruins anything it touches, but to me it’s the opposite. It takes good things and makes them potentially better with other players, persistent worlds, continual growth, and so on. Tacking that on to one of my favorite RPG franchises is welcome news to my ears.

I really like the setting and timeframe, too. I think it’s a good move to pull back to an earlier time frame when the world isn’t as broken down after the bombs dropped, which means that it won’t be as ugly and sun-bleached. Still a wasteland, still the same scavenger gameplay loop, but in a more colorful and life-filled environment. West Virginia isn’t a typical setting for games either (or any sort of media, really), and I’m glad it’s getting a shot here. It’s an inspired idea for a setting, especially with some of its nuclear-related locales and the Appalachian mountains. Might be kind of difficult to traverse up and down hills all the time, but we’ll see how that goes.

My biggest reservation is the PvP. Bethesda was unapologetic about including it into the game and encouraging players to blow each other’s heads off, and that’s certainly an aspect of survival sandboxes that has never interested me. Like Moxie said on Twitter, I’d rather be cooperative than competitive with others.

Even though the studio spent almost a half-hour talking and showing this game, I feel that there are a lot more specifics that we need to learn, especially how solo/multiplayer/PvP/grouping works. Can I avoid PvP entirely? Will there be server options for that? What about private servers? Bethesda said that players can fully solo if they desire, but what does that mean? It’s open to a lot of interpretation and we really need clarification.

In any case, I now have a really big title to anticipate later this year and more incentive to play through the entirety of Fallout 4. What did you think about the Fallout 76 announcement?