How Bethesda Can Get Fallout 76 Back on Track

The Fallout train is off the rails at the moment, but there is hope.

If you count the beta periods, whose progress rolled over to live servers, Fallout 76 has been out for some time now. Reviews are beginning to trickle in and the consensus isn't a pretty one. Fallout 76 launched in a very rough state, missing systems and mechanics that would allow it to be considered a great Fallout game or a great survival game.

As I said in our review, I can see Bethesda working hard to improve Fallout 76 and make it something that'll stand up more favorably in the franchise. Zenimax Online spent two years from the poor launch of The Elder Scrolls Online beefing up that title. The delivery of the excellent Morrowind expansion following the massive One Tamriel update was a testament to that effort.

So what does Fallout 76 need to become a top-tier game? Assuming we're sticking with roughly the same vision for the title, here's a few of the changes I suggest.

Adding More Meaning To Fallout 76

I'm going to stick to the basic idea of there being no human non-player characters (NPCs) in Fallout 76. Bethesda felt strongly about it, so let's keep with that vision. Here's the thing though, a lack of humans doesn't mean that the robots and super mutants we run across can't be more interesting. Some of the best characters in modern Fallout aren't human. Harold and Fawkes in Fallout 3; ED-E, Yes Man, Mr. House, and Marcus in Fallout: New Vegas; Nick Valentine, John Hancock, and Curie in Fallout 4.

That's why Fallout 76 should give players actual dialog choices and the faceless automatons more of a backstory. Why can't I have a lengthy conversation with the mayor of Grafton, finding more insight into why the AI does what it does? Why don't the robots manning the stations as vendors have more varying personalities? This can extend to other creatures too. Surely, there are Super Mutants in West Virginia that can hold a conversation. Perhaps the friendly Mothman is actually a collector of old world books about itself. What's Grahm's story, as the only friendly Super Mutant?

You can add life to the world of Fallout 76 without resorting to human NPCs. Give players a reason to engage with the characters you already have there, and you'll be one step closer to why many love the Fallout games.

Bringing Players Together

For a game that's completely online, Fallout 76 needs a whole host of social features for online play. Right off the bat, it needs to overhaul friend requests so that they're actually friend requests, instead of a system where both parties have to make a connection. Second, there needs to be a way to create persistent groups of friends and colleagues. I don't care whether you call them guilds or not, but the feature needs to be present.

If you want random players to work together outside of events, make it easier to find out if you're working on the same quests. World of Warcraft has a feature called the Premade Group Finder. It allows you to select the activity you're doing and post it on what amounts to a digital bulletin board. If I can search and see if someone is waiting for help on the same quest I'm on, that promotes more grouping.

Another way to promote a social experience is to play into the existing factions you already have in Fallout 76: the Fire Breathers, Flatwoods Paramedics, and Morgantown Police Department. Set aside sections of those regions where players can build more permanent C.A.M.P.s together. Like WoW's Horde and Alliance, this promotes more intergroup unity-if you're a Fire Breather and you see another, an instant connection is made. And these regions will acts as solid social hubs for players to congregate towards. Unless you're increasing the number of players on each server, you need to come up with a reason to bring them together. Instead, the large map and small player count means you're likely to not see anyone after a long time of playing.

Overhaul V.A.T.S.

V.A.T.S. in Fallout 76 doesn't really work as anything but an odd auto-aim. It works in previous Fallout games because activating the feature pauses the game, but Fallout 76 is online, so combat has to remain active. That means your chance to hit fluctuates wildly as the enemy moves around the battlefield. It's not great. So let's tear down V.A.T.S. and build it again.

Once V.A.T.S. is activated, each limb on an enemy's body is a guaranteed hit, but those hits cost a specific amount of Action Points. Throwing out random numbers: 1 AP for a body shot, 2 for the limbs, and 3 for a headshot. Then you make three wide ranges: melee range, mid-range, and long distance, with the AP costs going higher the farther distance you are from the enemy. So at melee range a headshot is 3 AP, at mid-range it's 6 AP, and at long-distance it's 9 AP. You can tweak those numbers, but that's a solid starting point.

What this does is turn V.A.T.S. into a more consistent strategic resource to be managed. Do you use 9 of your 60 AP for a headshot now, or save it until the enemy is at mid-range or close-up for a smaller cost? Do I drop AP into a limb hit now, knowing that I'll need the AP to run in a moment? At the moment, the real-time gameplay leads to changing hit percentages combined with varying AP costs, which doesn't shake out as a satisfying system.

Make Player-vs-Player Matter

Player-versus-player (PvP) doesn't really work in Fallout 76. The major problem is the way PvP combat starts and then how it interacts with the respawn system. In Fallout 76, if you damage another player, you do very little damage until they offer a counter-attack. This means the responding player has a chance to buff up, pick out their best weapon, and respond with overwhelming force. The other problem is respawning is nearly instant, so a player you killed can be right around the corner seconds after death. And since you don't gain much—just the resources the player has on their body at the moment—there's no reason to engage with PvP.

So, a few changes. I understand why the inciting system exists: to prevent players from sniping others from far, far away. My first shot would be to change the Hunter-Hunted radio channel to a PvP flag toggle. If you have it on, you're open for any PvP. But once a player dies from PVP combat, Fallout 76 should create a non-respawn region of decent size around their corpse. That way if you want to get back to your body, or hunt your killer, you have to hoof it some distance.

Second, let killed players drop an additional resource that's useful for crafting specific PvP armor. A number of other online games allow PvP armor, because it's a tangible reward for PvP combat and shows off your time with the system. Perhaps an upgraded type of cool Raider Power Armor. This offers a reason for players to engage in PvP over the long term.

The earlier suggestion of factions could all play into PvP as well. Perhaps turn one of the Fissure sites into an ongoing PvP battleground, where entering the zone flags you for PvP combat automatically. Put a few high-level enemies in the region that drop great loot, and again, you incentivize players to enter the zone.

Adding Basic Features

The surprising thing about Fallout 76 is the lack of basic features you'd expect from an online game in 2018. Push-to-talk for microphone audio is coming soon, but that really should've been in there at launch.

Another is disconnects: if I disconnect from the server, I should reload right where I left off. Same physical location and same quest progress. I understand not wanting the player to reload in the middle of a firefight, but that's pretty common in massively-multiplayer online games, and it's far more frustrating to lose progress and resources because of a reload.

It might also help to have a server browser of some sort. Right now, players jump some server to server with no control whatsoever. This is partially a problem, because a player's C.A.M.P. jumps around wildly, causing some storage issues. It's also means that servers lack any sort of server-specific community, something that can exist in other games like Minecraft or Ark: Survival Evolved. Perhaps this can eventually allow for private servers, given the relatively small server limit of 24 players.

Finally, Fallout 76 could do with some sort of general chat channel. Since the console versions don't have a keyboard controls, perhaps adding a series of audio channels on the Pip-Boy Radio that allows players to group together and chat even if they're not within earshot would solve this issue. Again, trying to build some sort of community.

That's just a few of the things that can be brought to Fallout 76 to bring it up to snuff. The Fallout name is a beloved one, and it'd be great for the latest entry to live up to that standard. Fallout 76 doesn't have a particularly interesting story or even smaller narratives to draw players in. Its combat system doesn't take into account the online nature of the game. It lacks social engagement features that would not only bring players together, but build lasting groups and communities. Fallout 76 is lacking, but it's not anything that couldn't be added in the future.

If you've played Fallout 76, is there anything that you'd like to see Bethesda add to title? Drop a comment with your suggestions below.

Tagged with Analyses, Bethesda, PC, PlayStation 4, Survival, Xbox One.

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