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Fallout 76's Reception Has Been Worse Than Anyone Could Have Imagined. Can Bethesda Right the Ship?

STARTING SCREEN | Opinion on Fallout 76 was mixed from the start, but no one could have predicted that it would stumble this badly out of the gate.

Feature by Kat Bailey, .

When Fallout 76 was announced earlier this year, it was greeted with confusion but also cautious optimism. Multiplayer Fallout! It was a weird turn for the series, but at least director Todd Howard was promising a solid solo experience to go with the new online play. And hey, it was an interesting experiment.

Fast-forward to Fallout 76's release, and fans and critics are generally united in calling it a disappointment. Longtime fans are unhappy with the single-player, which swaps meaningful choices and interesting characters for audiologs. Multiplayer fans are questioning everything from the PvP to the lack of interesting repeatable content. And there are the bugs. So many bugs.

The main overarching complain is that Fallout 76 seems to have all of the weaknesses of a traditional Bethesda RPG and none of the strengths. Superficially, it looks the same. When you emerge from the vault, you walk down the lonely waste-strewn country road listening to old-timey music, and you feel like you're in a Fallout game. But Bethesda's RPGs are best understood as a kind of anthology of interactive short stories paired with a vast, explorable world. With no NPCs, Fallout 76 has precious little opportunity to immerse players in its world.

I wrote on this very subject back during Fallout 76's beta. "[Fallout 76] reminded me a bit of Fallout 4's Nuka-World DLC, which largely eschewed narrative in favor of a series of dungeon crawls through an abandoned amusement park. It was that DLC more than anything that drove home how tiresome Fallout's combat can become when delivered in large doses. Now we have an entire game built around it."

With Fallout 76 having so little of what fans like about Fallout, they are much less-inclined to be forgiving of its numerous failings. The combat, in a word, sucks. Fallout 76 seems desperate to emulate Destiny, but is unwilling to dispense with the franchise's traditional VATs mechanics. The inventory management is still cumbersome and frustrating. The bugs are so bad that Bethesda is dropping 50 GB patches on players with limited data caps.

Reviews have in turn not been kind. It's currently averaging a ghastly 46 on Metacritic and a 2.7 user score. Its 59 overall on PC isn't much better. Giant Bomb's Alex Navarro joked that it was bold of Bethesda to put Fallout 76's metacritic number in the title. It's looking like it will be considerably worse than that. Even Destiny, which had a lukewarm reception at launch, didn't have it this bad.

But it's Destiny that Bethesda must try and emulate if it's going to get Fallout 76 back on track. Like Destiny in 2014, Fallout 76 has a small but vocal group of defenders, including The Verge's Patricia Hernandez. Players are doing weird things like trying to set as many nukes as possible off at once (it crashed the game). It clearly has at least a little bit of a community. Now Bethesda has to feed it with repeatable quests, interesting endgame content, and above all, high-quality loot.

But as it stands, Fallout 76 doesn't do anything particularly well. Its survival mechanics, including eating and drinking, are shallow and add little to the experience. Settlement building is strictly utilitarian and frankly kind of boring. The solo experience, as I've already mentioned, is almost non-existent. It's a game of weird curiosities and not much else right now. None of the experiences described in the reams of coverage afforded Fallout 76 so far go beyond, "We were bored so here's a strange thing we tried." The best story so far is about Fallout 76 players taking the place of NPCs because, hey, someone has to do it.

From a sales standpoint, Fallout 76 is bound to be a disappointment for Bethesda. Fallout 76's sales are reportedly down some 80 percent from those of Fallout 4. In the UK, Spyro Reginited Trilogy actually outsold Fallout 76. Digital sales may be strong, but for one of the two or three biggest releases of 2018, that's a disappointment any way you slice it.

All in all, not the launch that Bethesda hoped for. There's still plenty of time to right the ship, witness the success of No Man's Sky, but Bethesda will have to be aggressive in the new year and beyond. For now, at least we still have Fallout: New Vegas, right?

Major Game Releases This Week: November 19 to November 23

  • Battlefield 5 [November 20, PC, PS4, Xbox One]: Battlefield 5 feels like it's been out for a month already, but it's only now seeing a full release. I wrote in my review that the actual game is very good, but that the slow drip of content and approach to progression is disappointing. I liked the War Stories better than most, though.
  • Farming Simulator 19 [November 20, PC, PS4, Xbox One]: Caty tells me that this is the stealth Game of the Year for 2018. And you know what? I kind of believe her. I think we all need to drive a tractor and forget right about now.
  • Warframe [November 20, Switch]: One of the most successful free-to-play games of the generation makes its ways to the Nintendo Switch. Alas, it's not what you would call "portable," as it requires an online connection to be enjoyed. But if a Switch is all you've got, Warframe offers hundreds of hours of solid content for the low price of nothing.

Caty’s AltGame Corner

Nina Freeman, in collaboration with Jake Jefferies, has released her latest project: Beach Date, a physics-based game about a couple on a date on the beach. It's really cute, and all you do in it is throw sand around, as well as snacks and other things. It's heading up the Sunset Jam, also helmed by Freeman. Beyond Beach Date, Freeman's a designer at Fullbright and is known for her work on Tacoma, as well as her personal projects Cibele and How Do You Do It. You can download and play Beach Date for free on itch.io.

This Week's News and Notes

  • It's a short week here at USgamer as we prep for the holiday and (gulp) Black Friday. Outside of Smash Bros. Ultimate, pretty much all the big games are out. Now we get to actually enjoy them.
  • Random aside: Thanksgiving is the best holiday, full stop. It's a holiday of feasting, drinking, and movies. It also has none of the pressure of Christmas, where you have to worry about lengthy shopping lists and maddened crowds. Enjoy it, and make sure to play lots of video games.
  • On the subject of Smash Bros, notorious Smash skeptic Mike Williams went to check it out in New York recently, and he ended up really enjoying it. We'll have another convert yet! In the meantime, make sure to check out all of his coverage, including his interview with Nintendo.
  • Super Robot Wars T was announced, and it has reams of great shows, including Magic Knight Rayearth, Cowboy Bebop, and Captain Harlock. If you're wondering what the heck it's all about, check out my write-up from several years ago where I explain why it's my comfort food game of choice. In the meantime, you should definitely watch the trailer.
  • I played Warframe for the Switch recently, and it left me with kind of a headache. But I'm really glad it's on Switch! I just wouldn't play it in handheld mode. And if you can get it on PS4, I would play it there instead. Come to think of it, this isn't much of a ringing endorsement, is it? Anyway, I think I articulate my position a little better in my hands-on preview, so check it out.
  • If I never end up finishing Red Dead Redemption 2, it'll be because I enjoy doing all the side missions too much. Just this weekend I ran into a deranged and incestuous murder couple in the bayou; watched an extended stage show, and spent an hour trying to execute the perfect bank heist. It's an obscenely detailed world, and I don't know if I'll ever get tired of living in it.
  • With Battlefield 5 out tomorrow, I find myself once again wondering why everyone is slamming the War Stories so hard. Just a couple years ago, we were all lauding War Stories as a respectful take on the events of the Great War, and now we hate them? I genuinely don't understand why reviewers have turned so hard on War Stories when DICE is making a good faith effort to tell interesting, largely unknown stories from World War II. As I write in my review, at least it's not Normandy and Band of Brothers again for the hundredth time. It's all very strange.
  • In between extended Red Dead Redemption 2 sessions, I'm playing Pokemon Let's Go wherever I can. It's an extremely cute little game for beginners, but seeing the sequence with Bill came with jarring realization that it has some serious body horror.
  • Axe of the Blood God: It's an RPG double-whammy as Nadia and I talk about why Pokemon Let's Go works so well, and reviews editor Mike Williams discusses why Fallout 76... uh... doesn't. It's a mixture of cute cuddly monsters and the post-apocalyptic in an episode that should have something for everyone. Special bonus: We discuss the newly-announced Final Fantasy XIV expansion and the introduction of the Blue Mage! Subscribe here for the full podcast!

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