I was simultaneously bemused and excited when Fallout 76 was announced earlier this year. Excited because, hey, it's a new Fallout game. Bemused because... what the heck is this thing supposed to be anyway?
We got a pretty solid glimpse at it during E3, which left me feeling excited and hopeful, but also still uncertain about what the moment-to-moment gameplay would look like. Now Bethesda has truly taken the wraps off Fallout 76, inviting the press to West Virginia for an extended hands-on. Nadia was there, and at my request she spent a good deal of time exploring Fallout 76's solo play.
The general word-of-mouth is, "Hey, the story isn't too bad!" Nadia talks about the spookiness of the Appalachian mountains; the lonely hikes broken up by massive monster encounters, the stories that can emerge from playing with friends. In a bold stroke, Bethesda has opted to leave out NPCs entirely, preferring to focus instead on telling Fallout 76's story through what amounts to audio logs.
The hikes through the misty mountains appeal to me. The scavenger hunt... perhaps less so. It makes me wonder if a key element of Bethesda's RPG design will ultimately be lost in this version of Fallout: the emotional and often darkly funny storytelling.
Such moments have long helped to elevate games like Fallout and Skyrim amid poor combat and disappointing choices. Sniping a half-dozen opponents at range with the VATs system is often boring, but it's okay because there are sidequests like The Superhuman Gambit, wherein you battle the Mechanist and the AntAgonist in a whimsical tribute to comic book lore. Who can forget the time they met Harold the Talking Tree and decided the fate of Oasis? Or fed their companion to cannibals in Beyond the Beef?
These quests have long been what have kept me trudging through the wastelands. Bethesda may have fumbled Fallout 4's big conflict between the Railroad, the Institute, and the Brotherhood of Steel, but you can still affect things on a smaller scale. For example, deciding whether Covenent, a creepy town that murders suspected synths, is allowed to live or die. Or determining the fate of Virgil, who is trapped in a sad life as a Super Mutant.
It seems that little of this will be in Fallout 76. The world outside of Vault 76 is intentionally barren, populated only by robots and the ghosts of the dead. Being a multiplayer game, most of the interactions are reserved for other live players. Nadia writes of Fallout 76's approach to storytelling:
From my time with the game, I can confirm Fallout 76 is a great single-player experience. But here's the rub: It's a great single-player experience for me. I'm someone who enjoys Bethesda's witty NPCs and chatty companions but can easily do without them. I'm someone who loved the long, lonely moments of exploration that came to define The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. And my tastes might differ from other veteran Fallout fans' tastes.
It's hard to begrudge Bethesda wanting to take the series in a new direction. We complain often about franchises becoming predictable, but when developers actually get ambitious, we complain about all the changes. Witness Assassin's Creed Odyssey, which has elicited more than its share of longing for a classical take on the series from longtime fans. The same fans, I might add, who were complaining around the time of Assassin's Creed Syndicate that the series had become stale.
But there's a fine line between innovating and losing your identity entirely. In putting the focus so completely on multiplayer, it seems to me that Fallout risks losing a vital part of its appeal.
Still, there's reason to be optimistic about this little experiment Bethesda has going, if only because Fallout has also long been good at conveying its story through text. Some of its most memorable moments are in the dank and abandoned vaults, many of which have truly horrifying stories to tell if you trouble to read the computer terminals. One of Fallout 4's most chilling sidequests relates the story of the Gibbons family, who become trapped in a bunker and are revealed to be Feral Ghouls upon finally being released.
Then there are terminal entries like this one, which made the rounds on Reddit not too long ago.
Time will tell whether it all comes together. We will undeniably be losing something important in Fallout's famous sidequests, but also gaining something in finally being able to interact with other people. The Appalachian Mountains are an enticing location, and Fallout is well-positioned to give the multiplayer survival genre a much-needed jolt.
We'll know more when the Fallout 76 beta drops later this month. Until then, Fallout 76 remains one of the most intriguing, and potentially divisive, games of the year.
Game Release This Week: October 8 to October 12
- Disgaea 1 Complete [Switch, PS4, October 9]: The cult favorite tactics series is back once again for yet another re-release. It's nice to have it back, but resident Disgaea nut Mike Williams is feeling pretty down about this release, mostly because it lacks many of the quality-of-life improvements from later games. It's also $60 for a pretty unremarkable remaster. Yowch.
- Mark of the Ninja Remastered [PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch October 9]: Klei Entertainment's outstanding side-scrolling stealth action game returns with a remastered release on modern consoles. Though somewhat overlooked due to being sandwiched between the better-known Shank and Don't Starve, Mark of the Ninja might be Klei's best game. Don't miss it.
- WWE 2K19 [PC, PS4, Xbox One, October 9]: Last year's version really set the bar with its absolutely incredible bugs. There's little reason to believe this version will be any different.
- Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 [PC, PS4, Xbox One, October 12]: Black Ops 4 might be the biggest release of 2018. Yes, even bigger than Red Dead Redemption 2. Both will have significant mainstream appeal, but Black Ops 4 is apt to have the staying power. This will be a major test for Fortnite, which will be seeing its first significant competition since surpassing PUBG, and the battle royale genre in general.
- The World Ends With You: Final Remix [Switch, October 12]: The World Ends With You returns after a lengthy hiatus with brand new content. It's not the sequel some might have wanted, but success on the Switch may well pave the way for a proper return to Shibuya. Either way, if you missed it the first time around, this cult RPG classic is definitely worth picking up.
- Luigi's Mansion [3DS, October 12]: The underrated classic that defined Luigi as the coward we know and love today is back. Unfortunately, it's on the 3DS rather the Switch. But even on the small screen, its cheeky sense of humor and unique mechanics hold up very well.
Mike's Media Minute
Venom's opening weekend has come and gone. Despite some rough reviews ahead of the film's debut, audience interest in the film remained high. That was enough to shoot Venom to the top of the charts for the weekend, and then some. Venom reached an October opening record of $80 million domestic, previously set at $55.7 million by 2013's Gravity.
The film also scored a $152 million debut internationally, bringing the worldwide total to $205.4 million. Given the relatively low budget of Venom, a cool $100 million according to reports, it's likely that it'll end firmly in the black once its run is over. It'll all depend on how its legs are, but I can't see the number collapsing hard enough to take profitability away from Venom, especially with no foreseeable competition.
That'll be good enough for sequel and should make Sony Pictures pretty happy, as the studio is attempting to build a cinematic universe around the Spider-Man properties that it's not sharing with Marvel Studios. If they keep the budgets low, at around $80-100 million, Sony could carve out a pretty successful niche of its own superhero properties. A Morbius film starring Jared Leto is next on the docket, with other films starring Silk, Black Cat, Silver Sable, Nightwatch, Jackpot, and Kraven also being in development.
In non-superhero news, A Star is Born took the second place spot with a great $41 million domestically, which is still enough to put it at number ten on top October weekends of all-time in the United States. Internationally the film only bought in $14 million, bringing the worldwide total to $58 million. That might seem low, but context is key. For a drama, that's pretty good and it's likely that its legs will be respectable overall.
This Week's News and Notes
- I picked up Mario Kart 8 for Switch on a whim last year, not expecting to play it much. A year later, it's still a multiplayer mainstay on my house, and maybe the best party game on Switch overall. I played with a bunch of friends last night, and I joked that our setup was like something out of a Nintendo R&D fever dream: We had six people split between three Switches, with two playing on the TV and the rest playing on the handheld screens. I lost probably 10 percent of my vision from squinting at that screen, but it was totally worth being able to squeeze so many people into one game of Mario Kart. That's why the Switch works: Nintendo understands the value of couch play better than anyone else. And no game embodies that more than Mario Kart.
- The Fallout 76 embargo lift has sucked up most of the media oxygen for today, but Mike also got a chance to check out Hitman 2's new Colombia map recently. There should really be more buzz around this sequel, to be honest. The previous Hitman was incredible.
- The Symphony of the Night and Rondo of Blood ports on PS4 won't have the original localization. From what I'm hearing, this is pretty much a chopped up port of the old PSP collection, which is a sincere bummer. Yet another example of Konami declining to treat its classic properties well.
- I recently mentioned that I generally prefer the work of professionals to the modding community, mostly because it has that extra level of polish. But this insane new Fallout 3 mod is massive and fully voice-acted, and it's all by a single modder. Ridiculous.
- We've been harsh on Nintendo Switch Online at points, but the NES games are getting quite a bit of play in my house. In particular, Tecmo Bowl, Excitebike, and River City Ransom. River City Random is an especially underrated choice. What a great game to play with your friends on the Switch. It's one of the few times you'll hear "Barf!" in a positive context.
- I really enjoy Caty's love of Forza Horizon 4's worst cars.
- And finally, since Fallout is in news, here's a look at the creation and evolution of Fallout's iconic Pip-Boy. It's a great little read if you have the time.
- Axe of the Blood God: With Nadia having played Fallout 76, I pepper her with lots of questions. Also, we add Fallout New Vegas to our Top 25 RPG countdown! Subscribe here!