After what can only be described as a catastrophic launch, Fallout 76 came out of E3 2019 looking surprisingly spry. Bethesda's resident meme-factory, Todd Howard, took to the stage to announce two major additions to Fallout 76, both of which looked to be direct responses to fervent player feedback. The first was the revelation that NPCs would finally be making their way to Fallout 76, bringing its more in-line with what fans expect from the series. The next was a predictable, but nevertheless enticing, battle royale mode that Bethesda hopes will breathe new life into Fallout 76's long-dormant PvP offerings.
The Battle Royale mode, or Nuclear Winter, puts a Fallout-y spin on the tried and tested formula. Sure, there's still a burning disc of hell slowly restricting the play area, and the mad-dash looting spree signaling the start of each game, but there's also interesting lore contextualizing it all within Fallout 76's world. At the start of every match of Nuclear Winter, you arrive at Vault 51. It's just like any Vault you might find while out exploring Appalachia, except for the fact that this one has yet to find its Overseer.
This is Fallout 76's Chicken Dinner, though it's much more involved than what we've seen from other Battle Royale games. Each lobby segment is really a mini-exploration puzzle in which you're able to unlock new terminals containing information about the Vault. Not only that, but there are musical instruments dotted about for you to mess around on, and a boxing ring so that those fond of some pre-game punching (you know the ones) can blow off some steam.
It's these uniquely Fallout flourishes that make Nuclear Winter easy to recommend, especially seeing as it's being offered up for free until June 17. It's somewhat upsetting that horsing around in Nuclear Winter's lobby is probably the most fun I've had in Fallout 76 so far, and it's almost enough to make you forget about the game's well-publicized shortcomings. Almost.
Fallout 76 Battle Royale is Partly Undone by Fallout's Typically Wonky Combat
You see, the second you step out of Vault 51 and back into the blurry vistas of Appalachia, the fun mostly ends. Of all the things Fallout 76 struggles with, PvP is easily the worst offender. This has been true since the very beginning, from the undercooked Hunter/Hunted mode to the various griefing issues that Fallout 76's bounty system seems to cultivate. Nuclear Winter is no exception here, and no amount of Fallout silliness can make up for the fact that firing a weapon in Fallout 76 just isn't all that fun.
The wonky combat is further exacerbated by the high-pressure setting of a battle royale mode. Being sniped from nowhere is mildly irritating in the base game, though you know you'll simply respawn in a matter of seconds. Die in Nuclear Winter, however, and you're looking at a close to five-minute wait before you're back in a match. This makes the many glitches and bugs still present in the base game's code even more unforgivable, and dying to an invisible mirelurk or rogue grenade is enough to make you wonder why you bothered to redownload Fallout 76 in the first place.
The frustrations extend to Fallout 76's clunky interface. Inventory management is handled via the Pip-Boy, which is slow to load and difficult to navigate under pressure. The looting, too, is nowhere near as fast as it needs to be, and you'll most likely die while in one of the many inventory menus before you've even decided on a loadout. The environments are blurry, the draw distance lethal, and many of the buildings and structures littering the landscape are sealed up and inaccessible. The C.A.M.P building systems have been somewhat streamlined in an attempt to speed up the building process, though I haven't once seen someone use them effectively in my time playing Nuclear Winter so far.
As with any Fallout game, if you learn to work with Fallout 76's shortcomings there are at least some good times to be had. Most of the positives come from the other players in your team, as sneaking through the wasteland looting abandoned buildings is a blast with friends. One particular match stands out to me as a great example of a battle royale story that could only have happened in a Fallout game. I had (stupidly) managed to spawn on the other side of the map to my squad, and spent most of my time moving through woodlands killing Mirelurks and edging closer to my allies. By the time I got to them, all but one had been murdered, though there was an upside to this. Through my solo looting and my friend's looting of the corpses of our teammates, we had both amassed Power Armor and a decent selection of high-level weapons.
Surely a win was guaranteed at this point, and for a while it certainly seemed like it. The player counter dropped as we marched across the map, blasting lasers and firing grenades into the faces of our woefully outgunned opponents. The counter hit 10, then 8, then 4; the win was in sight, the Overseer's throne would be ours. We took aim to finish off the remaining stragglers, then all of a sudden we were both set ablaze by rising blue flame. A scorch beast had joined the fight, and had decided the outcome of the game for us. We were frustrated, though it was hard not to laugh at what had just happened to us.
Moments like the one I just described are few and far between in Fallout 76, though you certainly wouldn't get anything similar in Fortnite or Blackout. Nuclear Winter is worth checking out then for its neat take on the battle royale genre and the Bethesda wackiness at play. It's a shame that this new addition is built on such shaky foundations, as Fallout 76's woeful PvP combat, graphical bugs, and clunky U.I. really get in the way of what could be a great battle royale experience. Regardless, Nuclear Winter is easily the best thing that Bethesda has added to Fallout 76 since launch. Hopefully it's an indicator that, at last, its struggling service game has started to find its footing.