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‘Fallout 76’ review

Fallout 76’s post-apocalyptic world desperately needs an exterminator

Fallout 76 Hands-on
‘Fallout 76’
MSRP $59.99
“Brings friends and some patience to enjoy Fallout 76’s massive wasteland.”
  • Captures the Fallout vibe
  • Crafting and building are as satisfying as ever
  • Cooperative play is fun
  • Combat is satisfying
  • Quest management and HUD are not intuitive
  • Playing solo is tedious
  • Bugs severely hinder the experience

Fallout 76 isn’t as different from its predecessors as some would have you believe. Many of its systems and core gameplay make a return, albeit with a few tweaks, and not without the Fallout series’ signature clunkiness. But with the addition of online multiplayer and “softcore survival”, the single-player experience takes a backseat, and you won’t find any NPCs to keep you company.

Bring a friend for the apocalypse

Fallout 76 brings the nuclear wasteland online, and if you have friends to play with, it can be a great time. If you’re expecting to enjoy a balanced single-player experience, though, think again. There are obvious benefits to grouping that make public events, claiming workshops, resource collecting, C.A.M.P. building, and everything else more enjoyable with friends.

Playing solo, you’ll quickly place the weight of Appalachia on your shoulders. You’ll jump from quest to quest, to accidentally walking into a public event, to fighting off irradiated enemies, to developing a mutation, to frantically looking for food and water. It’s a lot to take on alone, and though the game is multi-player only, you won’t frequently run into strangers. Other players in your session are marked on your map, so you can try to make friends if you want, but these impromptu parties rarely last.

If you do have friends to jump in with, though, you’ll find the exceptional number of systems ensure there’s no shortage of things to do. Jumping in with a group means you get to share XP, Perk cards, pool resources, and complete objectives with efficiency. Need a spare weapon, food, or water? Invite a friend to trade. Getting ambushed by a mob of the Scorched? Call your friends over to help take them down. Groups can build bigger and better shelters more easily and will have less trouble maintaining the game’s most exotic and powerful equipment, including the much-coveted Power Armor.

There’s genuine fun to found in staking your claim to your corner of post-apocalypse West Virginia.

Fallout 76 is truly at its best when you’re taking advantage of all its survival systems and cooperative play. There’s genuine fun to found in staking your claim to your corner of post-apocalypse West Virginia.

Its highs are dampened by its lows

Admittedly, combat in Fallout 76 can be a blast. It’s satisfying to blow the heads off feral ghouls (zombies, basically), or the scorched, a new kind of ghoul that can carry weapons. You’ll also fill up your inventory with all kinds of post-apocalyptic weaponry, including rare weapons, and weapons you’ve customized using parts savaged throughout the wasteland.

Yet the fun is often ruined by the game’s less graceful elements. You’ll often find yourself missing shots that seem should hit. If you use V.A.T.S., the assisted targeting system in Fallout 76, there’s an understanding that any shot you take that doesn’t have a 100% hit rate is a shot you might miss. Though V.A.T.S. can be leveled up and made more efficient, it uses up AP, which quickly depletes if you’re surrounded by enemies.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

The obvious solution is to aim manually, as in any first-person shooter, but this strangely seems to have the same effect, even if your gun is aimed directly at an enemy’s head. Repeatedly, I found myself firing off blasts that look to land, yet the enemy’s health bar just wouldn’t budge. I’m not sure if this was a bug, server lag, or some other issue, but it was certainly disheartening.

Repeatedly, I found myself firing off blasts that look to land, yet the enemy’s health bar just wouldn’t budge.

Buggy combat was at its worst when I was surrounded by enemies. I fired off shots in desperation, hoping to land a few and escape with at least enough health to return to my C.A.M.P. and recuperate. This issue did lead to me dying and dropping my items quite a few times and made me reluctant to even go back and collect my items in fear that it would happen again. It doesn’t help that the early game weapons feel weak, and most fire slowly.

Exploring in Fallout 76 is the highlight, especially when you start to build up a C.A.M.P. and make it your own. Crafting and building are rewarding and make poking in every nook of every run-down house, workshop, and warehouse an addictive, near-obsessive scavenge. Fallout 76 rewards breaking down weapons and armor with mods for new, better ones. You’ll find recipes laying around in abandoned houses, and terminals with entries that provide useful information that you otherwise would not know. It’s not a quick romp through West Virginia, either. You can easily spend hours harvesting resources and breaking them down.

That might sound tedious to some, but it’s a groove you can easily slip into. Post-apocalyptic West Virginia is fascinating, dark tourism, helped along by a beautifully somber, ambient soundtrack that lets time slip by unnoticed.

Revenge of the interface issues

For a game that emphasizes missions and events, there is something left to be desired about the way Fallout 76 handles them. Main, Side, and Daily missions quickly stack up as you explore the vast wasteland, occupying a large amount of real estate on the side of the screen. Disabling them requires opening the map, searching for the objective, and manually halting the tracking of each. You can also open the Data tab in your Pip-Boy and toggle them to inactive.

Fallout 76 Review-in-Progress
Image used with permission by copyright holder

It’s a dated approach to quest management that could learn a thing or two from the latest Assassin’s Creed games, which prompt you before tracking newly unlocked objectives. Fallout games have long struggled with interface issues, but with the many other open-world games that offer a more streamlined experience, it’s hard to keep picking the one that bumbles something so essential.

You’ll find yourself constantly activating the wrong menu even after hours of play.

The problem is at its worst on PC. While aiming is easier due to the precision of a mouse, everything else feels designed with a controller in mind. The Pip-Boy is a real nuisance. You’ll find yourself constantly activating the wrong menu even after hours of play.

HUD positioning is awkward, placing the compass, hunger, and thirst indicators along the bottom of the screen. I never remembered to drink water or eat food until my character was starving. Also, the compass doesn’t differentiate quest markers, so you must open the map to see which marker to pursue. When you’re talking to friends and playing the game, it’s easy to follow the wrong marker. That can lead to major back-tracking when you finally realize you’ve been misled for the last five minutes.

It’s Fallout. It’s online. Does that sound good to you?

Fallout 76 shows some refinement to older systems that make playing alongside friends a really good time, but it’s at the cost of a balanced single-player experience. Combat is fun — when it works. Exploring, crafting, and building are more rewarding than they’ve ever been in the Fallout series, though it could use an overhaul to its quest system and HUD to make its many fundamental mechanics less of a chore to manage.

This could be an amazing game with massive potential, but it currently plays more like an early access title and less like a game that left B.E.T.A. and earned its full release.

Microtransaction information

Fallout 76 does have microtransactions, though they’re only for purchasing Atoms which can be used for buying cosmetic items such as clothing, Pip-Boy skins, poses, and C.A.M.P skins in the Atomic Shop. Atoms can be earned in-game by completing daily or weekly challenges, but the amount earned is small.

Our Take

Fallout 76 is basically Fallout 4. That’s the reality. It shares many of the same strengths and many of the same flaws, but the addition of online play and a new map offers a fresh spin on the franchise.

Players who regularly roll with a group of friends, or adore the Fallout franchise, are likely to find a place in this wasteland. We’re not sure everyone else will see the appeal, however — or if Fallout 76 will keep players coming back once the launch luster fades.

Is there a better alternative?

Yes. While not online, Fallout 4 provides a more refined experience with many of the same features. There are also many other online survival sims to consider such as 7 Days to Die and Rust.

How long will it last?

Fallout 76 looks like it has a long life-span ahead it with the integration of live events and high-level gameplay for players to look forward to but only if it resolves its many issues.

Should you buy it?

No. If you enjoyed Fallout 4, you’ll likely enjoy Fallout 76, but you need a high tolerance for buggy gameplay. Most players should at least wait until a few patches have arrived to resolve the most glaring issues.

Editors' Recommendations

Felicia Miranda
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Born in '89 and raised through the 90s, I experienced what I consider to be the golden age of video games. At an early age, I…
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