It’s not often I start writing a review knowing the vast majority of people will disagree with me regardless of the score I give the game. With that said, I feel like an important reminder is in order. Reviews are opinion-based, and the best way to get the most out of them is to find a reviewer with whom you identify, one who shares your interests and can give you the most insight on your gaming preferences.
Now, I know the way I started this Fallout 76 piece might sound like I’m about to swoon over this title. I’m not. There are serious issues I’ve seen others have and even myself towards the end of the game. It’s just that saying Fallout 76 is complete garbage would be disrespectful to the great fun I had exploring and traveling for many hours.
Fallout 76’s premise revolves around the storied vault dwellers finally coming out of their underground homes, if they can, that is, after nuclear war. The eponymous vault in this story takes place in West Virginia, and the state was surprisingly home to a lot of classic Fallout lore. Your main goal as a Vault 76 resident is to explore the world and try to rebuild society. However, in this quest you’ll come across the likes of the Enclave, Brotherhood of Steel, urban legends, origins of certain enemies, and references to other games.
Due to the nature of the timeline though, there’s few humans who you’ll interact with outside of your fellow 76 vault dwellers. Actually, there’s really no humans at all, and the only story devices are notes, terminal entries, and holo voice recorders. While this makes sense in terms of the setting, it still doesn’t make for a good video game narrative. It got a little boring talking to just robots (and only two of them were really involved), and I found myself skipping nearly all objects that were there to convey story. There was a fantastic sub-plot that involved a community coming to terms with sentient ghouls though.
Exploring was tons of fun in Fallout 76. The huge map offers many locations in varying environments with old and new enemies alike. There were even interesting places like water parks, carnivals, ski resorts, mining sites, a crashed space station, and creepy swamp areas. Unfortunately, quite a few locations off the beaten path didn’t have anything exciting to them. A holo note here, a small backstory there, but nothing that truly rewarded exploration. Sure there could be materials or resources to pick up. It’s just that every place down to even a small shack could have those. Still, going on my own adventure, choosing a direction, and saying that way was still the Fallout mold I knew.
The same can be said for the battle system and enemies. Some new ones make an appearance, like mole miners that are wide bullet sponges or snallygasters that appear straight out of a lizard’s nightmares. The most interesting and unexplored new adversary are the scorched. Sure, they just look like infected ghouls, but, according to in-game data, the infected are controlled by a hive mind-like enemy that I still have yet to discover. Of course classics like deathclaws, ghouls, roaches, super mutants, and more return. All of them have certain builds, strengths, and weaknesses that don’t take much to figure out.
The whole cavalcade of weapons, armor, food, water, and healing items return as well. The only difference here is that drinking and eating are required, because, if the levels drop too low, your abilities and progress will suffer. Why Bethesda thought putting this survival mechanic in here was a good idea, I’ll never know. It was annoying for sure, but I never found myself having a problem managing the new addition.
V.A.T.S. returns differently too. You can still select enemies for an auto-aim option with percentages on hit chance, except that it doesn’t freeze or slow time. Due to this, you cannot function in V.A.T.S. for a split second. If you fire an attack off too early after you activate the feature, expect to miss your strike. Besides that small, but noticeable delay, I didn’t have any other issues with the change. An enemy could move in any direction they wanted and would still be highlighted as long as they didn’t stray too far away. Like before, any weapon can utilize this ability and not much has changed on firearms as a whole.
The Fallout 4 crafting system regrettably finds itself returning as well. You can collect resources or scrap junk to make, craft, or repair everything your digital player needs. While the idea isn’t terribly implemented, it still doesn’t fit the Fallout series in my mind. Not to mention that depending what terrain you’re on, building a base, house, etc. may not be so easy. I couldn’t even make a basic shack with a bed without the game telling me that there are non-existing objects already there.
Scavenging for all kinds of junk puts unnecessary emphasis on exploring (and sucks some fun out of it) while making your life difficult by limiting how much of it you can carry. You see with such a big world and so much to explore and find, you’d think Bethesda would be gracious with personal and storage weight limits. That is not the case, as in the first ten hours, I found myself already allocating precious decisions on what to get rid of and what to keep.
You can partially mitigate this issue by Fallout 76’s perk system. Every time you level up, you unlock cards that fit into the categories Fallout fans should know and love by now. Depending on how high each stat is will determine how many perk cards you can equip. As you expect, there are ones that increase carry weight and decrease how heavy items are, but it bleeds into every other aspect of gameplay as well. You can customize builds based on your playstyle or how you and when you travel. It’s not hard to get a feel for the leveling system, although, if you like exploring as much as I do, plan on having your strength column quite high.
As I mentioned (and what many people should already be aware by now), Fallout 76 has other actual people exploring in the same world as you. This multiplayer component was advertised as something that would always be in your face in Appalachia. Other vault dwellers would be on the same mission as you and they could either join up with you in co-op or face off in PvP style battles. This decision that angered many wasn’t really worth the risk. My 35 hours of playtime rarely saw another person pass by me unless I wanted them too. It was even rarer that I felt the need to attack my fellow explorers or join up with them. There were also no real repercussions to taking down other players. When you die, the only thing that can be looted are resources.
Plus, the fact each server can only hold 24 people on such a huge map didn’t help how this was implemented. Although the last two “story” missions are so annoyingly hard that you’re pretty much required to team up with others. Even though most of my time was spent flying solo, don’t expect to always be that way. You will have to go looking for teammates. Especially in the end game where there are essentially raid bosses and level 50+ enemies.
However, traveling alone for so long provided many stunning displays of beauty in the environment, to the point I can safely say that Fallout 76 is the best looking Fallout title to date. Minus the swampy areas to the east and the digging sites in the south, this world of West Virginia was in a beautiful and perpetual state of Autumn. Trees, grass, light rays, rock faces, and weather patterns were wonderfully detailed, except when those light rays poked through mountain ranges and hills when they shouldn’t have.
Yes, Fallout 76 is a mess in the technical department. Two different quests, both side and main, glitched on me and prevented completion of them unless I restarted the game or waited for a patch. There were also many times when the server just froze for a few seconds, where nothing could move, or just simply crash you back to the main menu. Framerates and solid objects have fallen equally as much. Simply entering and exiting a power armor station will give you an idea of what I’m talking about. Hell, picking up loot off your dead body took three seconds longer than it should or what could be considered necessary.
Fallout 76 PS4 Review
Fallout 76 was a bunch of well-intended ideas that just didn’t come together in any meaningful way, especially when you’re in the higher levels. If a story told through collectibles doesn’t bore you, then glitches and technical problems definitely will annoy you.
Luckily, I enjoy an open sandbox to explore with the tried and true Fallout gameplay/battle mechanics. There were many hours I enjoyed coming across locations just for the sake of it, discovering what’s out there, collecting items, and becoming stronger. It’s just sad all that means nothing when it comes time to finish the story or join up with others to fight powerful monsters. I don’t expect DLC to save Fallout 76, but I am still hoping for new places to travel to.
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a digital copy of the game purchased by the reviewer at retail. For more information, please read our Review Policy.
Reviewed using a PS4 Pro.