Since its launch, Bethesda has been Fallout 76's worst enemy. Online cooperative Fallout seemed like a slam dunk, but Bethesda has been stumbling through every mine since November 2018. The original release felt like an early access launch, with several glaring design issues and server problems preventing those who enjoyed the game from playing it. The Power Armor special edition didn't offer the canvas duffel bag originally promised, and a glitch in the Bethesda's customer support system opened customer data to the world. Every step forward has been fraught with problems.
But unlike Anthem, its counterpart in poor online launches, it looked like Fallout 76 had finally cleaned up its act. Bethesda promised a roadmap of further content and improvements for Fallout 76, and largely delivered. The Wild Appalachia update launched in March with a new Survival game mode, new quests, and the ability to brew beverages. Nuclear Winter released in June, with a battle royale-style mode and the Vault 94 raid. The next scheduled update, Wastelanders, is supposed to inject Fallout back into Fallout 76, with quest NPCs and dialog choices.
The community has been finding its own places within Fallout 76's framework. They've made their own religions, their own death traps, and their own social spaces. The fervent fans have used Fallout 76 to create art outside of the game, like homages to famous album covers. Despite much of the negativity surrounding the game, there has been a constant core of fans who have stuck by Fallout 76 and Bethesda.
In-between all these major updates, Bethesda has also slowly been improving Fallout 76 with additional features. The folks behind the game have been simply working on improving it, month after month. It's the kind of long-term commitment that gets Ubisoft the trust of its community, given the rough launches of many of its games. Doing that kind of quiet work reaps long-term rewards.
Bethesda couldn't stay out of its own way though. Today, as part of the release of Update 14, the company announced Fallout 1st, a subscription service for Fallout 76. Those who pay either $12.99 a month, or $99.99 for the full year, get access to private servers, unlimited scrap storage space, a second free Fast Travel point, and monthly Atoms to spend on the in-game Atomic Shop.
The private server model doesn't seem that outlandish compared to the service it's obviously patterned after: Minecraft Realms. Realms costs $7.99 a month in order to gain access to a server with a maximum of ten players. Like Realms, only one user needs to pay the service fee in order to create a private server. Fallout 1st is asking for $12.99 for access to a private server for up to eight players, as well as all the additional perks.
Context is always important though. Minecraft is a fully-functional game, and it was that before Realms launched. In addition, anyone can spin up a private server in Minecraft whenever they want; Realms is just makes the process easier and makes it so you don't have to run the server on your own hardware. You can also export your Realms map at any time and upload maps to Realms. With Fallout 1st, Bethesda is jumping ahead of itself.
There are still consistent server issues on the current public servers. Many of the cosmetic items for players and their camp are put in the real-money Atomic Shop, and not the game itself. Storage space has been a problem since Fallout 76 first released, something I noted in my review, and the community has wanted a fix forever. Now the fix is coming, but only behind a paywall. The second fast travel point, the Survival Tent, is another feature the community has asked for in the past. And the Wastelanders update, the one the fans have been waiting for the most, was delayed from Fall 2019 to the first quarter of 2020. The players of Fallout 76 feel like they've lost the update in favor of Bethesda making more money.
Combined with the Wastelanders delay, the news of Fallout 1st has angered the Fallout 76 community. "Fallout 76 still hasn't even justified its original $60 price tag for a significant percentage of the people who bought it. Bethesda continuing to find new ways to take our money for a mess they still haven't fixed is insulting," said one Reddit user in one of the largest threads on the topic.
"It's not that I don't have the money, it's the question: 'Do I want to spend that kind of money on a broken game?' This isn't an affordability issue, but more a how much do I want to keep spending on a glitchy game," said Fallout 76 forum member KentuckyRanger. "If this game was working properly—and I don't mean at 100%, but a respectable 90%—I'd have no problem spending what they want, but it's broken, and they don't seem to be in any hurry to fix it, so I'm in no particular hurry to spend more than I do. Don't get me wrong, I love [Fallout 76]. I love to play it, glitches and all! But I'll be a monkey's uncle if I'm going to give Bethesda more of my money for a game that is in desperate need of a couple improved repair kits."
The unlimited scrap space features has a number of players angry, even if it isn't entirely the expanded storage space that they've asked for. It still doesn't fix the issue with item stash space, which is worryingly limited, supposedly because increasing it would cause server issues. "Infinite scrap should have been in the game from the get go. But under absolutely no circumstances should that be a paid feature. Bethesda has broken their "Cosmetics only" promise time and time again to sell us convenience, but this is simply taking it way too far," said another Reddit user.
Some players are bargaining, hoping Bethesda will provide a more robust private server option or a solo-only options for a single price. Or perhaps to ability the host their own servers. "All I want is the ability to host my own server, for my group of friends, on my own hardware, and not have to pay extra for it. Kind of like Minecraft," said Reddit user Imsohihg.
Most of the frontpage of the Fallout 76 subreddit is anger over this issue, and that's mirrored on Twitter and the official forums. Bethesda was slowly building up some trust with the community, and the (perceived) loss of Wastelanders combined with the Fallout 1st sub is a bridge too far for many. It doesn't help that Obsidian Entertainment's The Outer Worlds, seen by some as the proper follow-up to the classic Fallout games, is right around the corner. Not only is the game reviewing very well, it's also available on Xbox Game Pass. (Game Pass offering Fallout 3, Fallout 4, Fallout: New Vegas, and The Outer Worlds has been pointed out by a few fans.)
Guiding an online service game is an art, and Bethesda is struggling to learn how to draw. The company continues falter, instead of focusing on getting Fallout 76 into a polished, clean state first. Once you game works, players will willingly spend the money on extra services, but focusing on those services to perceived detriment of the game is the path to ruin and a very angry community.