Sooo…..it has been about a month (and few extra hours from the BETA program) that I have playing Fallout 76. I am about to reach level 50 (the last level in which you obtain a SPECIAL point), and also it is marking my personal milestones of about 50 hours of gaming.
The least I can tell is that a lot of people out there have been disappointed, if not utterly mad about the game. Sometimes for valid reasons, quite often for exaggerating the facts. The least I can say however is that Bethesda has not managed the PR damage control, by adding salts to the wound on several occasions: ridiculously overpriced “Tricentennial Edition” (that give you something worth $5 extra while paying over $15 just because it is “a special edition”, server hiccups, feeling of a game filled with bugs and glitches (the BETA as good as it was felt sometimes like an ALPHA version), ridiculously big downloads (the physical copy is basically the content of a CD-Rom burned on a Blu-Ray, 99% wasted, leading to download over 50GB on the Net. With a decent rural Internet, it took me at least a solid 3 hours………until it was asked to download the first update as large as the game a week later), CAMP disappearing at each logon on the servers, “deceptive/blunder” marketing on the Deluxe kit (The Power Armor edition, priced $300, was expected to be delivered with a fabric-grade duffle bag, not a cheap nylon material), sudden price discount of the game (we are one week about Christmas and the game price already melted by at least 30%. A month after launch!).
Yet, after all these trouble, I still like this game, with all its bugs and glitches, its server disconnections and XB1 game freezes. I have really enjoyed wandering in the Appalachia, learning survival 101 and dealing with the critters that populate the region. I even found myself at odds in taking pictures around in the game (thing I almost never do in my gameplays) because of some weird humor or awkward glitches. I will try to divide this review into several parts, talking about my experience and frustrations.
The storyline starts as you hear the Overseer’s waking you up to celebrate “Reclamation Day”, about 20 years after the bombs fell. You have been living in the Vault 76 since you were born and you wake up, rested and shiny from the Overseers call. You are asked to leave the vault and reclaim the land out there (we will figure out that the voice was a prerecorded message, with the Overseer’s likely left weeks ago). This allows us to a basic character shaping, very similar to Fallout 4. Once you are happy, smile and get your ID card set.
From there, you are limited by the choice, you can only pick your Pip-Boy on your way out, get to grab your C.A.M.P. (a device that at the acronym stand as your camping device), a couple of canned food, two purified water containers and basically that’s it. There is no-return and no way you can even grab the junk from your room while you exit. I felt it was tad disappointing since you will never ever step foot inside the house. You get to pick a bag of perk cards on your way and automatically get leveled up to level 2, introducing you to the perk system in this game. You arrive in front of the vault, saying goodbye to what you called home for the last 20 years and leave on your own.
For the first time, you see the light, standing in front of the vault door with no obligation to follow any path. You are free to go whatever you feel like to go, but sticking with the Overseer’s journey (that is so far the main quest I am still completing) is certainly the best approach to start. A lesson I have learned is to stay near the vault to start and look for items and stuff. You will find a Responders corpse near the entrance, providing you with a very useful machete. Take a left and you will face the Liberators, a sort of Chinese toaster on legs that are certainly the most annoying thing in this game. If you look around, you can easily grab your hands on a pipe pistol, .38 caliber ammos, a couple of fragmentation grenades and some junk (I will come to the junk later). Bravo, you are ready to wander through the Appalachia, almost (after your learning curve).
The perk and SPECIAL system:
The skill assignment system is very different, yet similar, to Fallout 4. Once again, we end up with one skill per level. Each skill is associated to a SPECIAL. You start the game with all your SPECIAL at level 1. As you progress into level 2, you get to choose which SPECIAL you want to increase by 1, allocating you one slot for a perk card.
Perk cards can harbor ranks (1,2 and 3) that will take as many slots as rank. Some perks have three tiers such as “Expert perk” and “Master perk” and this is where it becomes very confusing. For example “lock pick” and “hacker” have these three tiers. You would think that keeping the “Master lock pick” will automatically grant you access to all levels of lock pick you can face in the game (level 0, 1, 2 and 3). Well, no. With only a “Master Lockpick” in your SPECIAL deck, you will have no advantage than the “Lockpick” card. Now, most of the time I have played the game, I have encountered at maximum a couple of times a level 3 locked door or terminal. Because you can shuffle cards, you can keep some cards in reserve and bring them as they become handy (for instance, flip your “gunsmith” cards only when you are interested in crafting a weapon, using the slots for other cards during your exploration.
It was honestly a mess during my BETA game and decided to restart from scratch when the game officially launched. There is also a very handy website called Nukes and Dragons that will let you help build your character based on the desired perks and SPECIAL.
I build up my character to be able to sustain the harsh environment of the Appalachia, yet in the same time a class of character that matches my personality (science/medic) and with a sniper build (because a scientist weight the benefits of preventing trouble by taking it from afar). There are some perk cards that have interesting names (pharmacist, vaccinated,….) but with limited interest when you consider about. Some are plain stupid and useless like “Woodchucker” or “Party Boy/Girl” and are just waste.
These are some of the perks I have selected based on their feature:
*STRENGTH: Traveling pharmacy (at Rank 3, cut to 90% the weight of chems and stimpacks. Considering the weight of stimpack equals to 1, you can quickly see how advantageous it becomes), Pack Rat (at Rank 3, cut the weight of your junk by 75%) and bandolier (cut your weight of ballistic ammo by 90%).
*PERCEPTION: Picklock (rank 2 and use the master as needed), Concentrated Fire (this stuff will make at Rank 3 some interesting damage by targeting limbs and increasing VATS accuracy as you keep shooting), Tank Killer (at Rank 3, you will add 36% damage by ignoring armor and even have a chance to stagger your enemy), Riflemans (I maintain them at Rank 1, as Rank 2 and 3 only provide a marginal gain. Maxed Rifleman will cost you 9 SPECIAL points and 60% added damage, whereas keeping them at Rank 1 will give you only 30% added damage but will only consume 3 SPECIAL points. Thats 6 SPECIAL freed for other purposes).
* ENDURANCE: Lead Belly (Rank 3) will remove the needs of worrying about radiation in food, and therefore your reliance on Rad-X/Rad-Away, letting them to keep for the nuke zones. “Good Doggy” let me rely on one food (canned dog food) that is most of the time free of any disease. Some went savage and choose “Cannibal” as their favorite perk. Enough said.
* CHARISMA: This one is the least important for me, as I mostly play solo. Taking the “Lone Wanderer” perk allows me to deal with more damage and less AP. “Travel Agent” let me save 30% on fast travel. This is a great way to save some precious caps, considering the vendor bots are tougher in deal than Rick from “Pawn Stars”.
* INTELLIGENCE: This one is likely to evolve as you play. “First Aid” is very useful when you start as you will run low on stimpacks during your first half-period of the game. You may also consider taking “plumber repair” as it will help maintaining the condition of your pipe weapons (these are weapons you will use until you are about level 25 and got hands on better weapons). You also want to have “Hacker” and “Expert Hacker” in it, with “Master Hacker” as a perk “as you need”. Scrapper can be handy at the beginning but I quickly dropped because most of the material I get (scrapped wood, scrapped steel, scrapped rubber) are obtained almost on a regular basis. I have upgraded my “Gunsmith” to level 2 and give me most mods for weapons, “Armorer” to level 2 to get decent external armor (until you secure a Power Armor).
* AGILITY: It may sound counterproductive but this is the one I have most SPECIAL in it. I picked the “Action Boy” (Rank 3) allowing to refill the AP high, the “Thru-Hiker” cutting my food weight (including water) by 90%, covert operation (Rank 3) giving me +25% on sneaking with my sniper rifle and “Ammosmith” increasing my production of ammo by 50% (for example 7 shotgun shells, versus 4 shells for the same cost).
* LUCK: This one has some interesting perks. “Pharma farma” (at Rank 3) gives you the “search” option on first aid boxes (Y) and gives you a chance to get an extra stimpack, Rad-Away. “Luck of The Draw”, at Rank 3, will randomly repair your weapon you have been using (very very useful as condition is back into the game!). Finally “starched genes” will let you keep a mutation gained, and some are damn handy. I have caught a “Marsupial” mutation allowing me to jump 10 feet in the air, giving me an height advantage in building.
The gameplay is very similar to Fallout 4. Logically, as it utilize the same engine than Fallout 4. Some people complained that it was outrageous that it still uses a 4-years old engine. I think that allow current-generation consoles to run it at their best caapcity. And considering how the game can push these consoles to cry their mother over (with marked frame drops), it is not a bad choice.
The main difference with Fallout 4 is the introduction of weapons and armor levels, which I found was just ridiculous. Why cannot I use a level 45 leather chest armor on my level 2 character? The only difference is a better DR but thats it. The same ridiculous logic apply to weapons and even power armors (you can use a chassis, but you cannot use the level 25 right arm because you are level 24). I would have preferred that you have limitations based on your SPECIAL, something similar to what we had with Fallout 1 and 2 (you needed a minimum STRENGTH for accessing a Power Armor or a Minigun). A grave mistake was to stack on these weapons and armor (including legendaries) in my stash and encumbering it uselessly. You are honestly better off selling what you find to vendors. This comes the problem of the vendors. Vendors have a daily cap of 200 caps per day per factions. You will encounter early in the game vendors belonging to the “Responders” faction. You will find them at train stations, making these locations ideal as you can scrap your junk (this will save a lot of weight) , sell unused weapons, apparel and aids and sometimes fix your weapons or repair your armor.
Crafting stations are back and present all over the place. They are great place to break down the junk into scraps to save on weight. You have the weapons, armor, and chassis crafting benches (craft, modify/repair, scrap), you have the chemistry bench (ideal to scrap items, make stimpacks, dilute your stimpacks, Rad-X and Rad-Away, smelt ores you find in the wilderness), the tinker bench (mostly to prepare ammo and prepare quest items) and finally the cooking station. The cooking station will become an essential item because you will have to boil your dirty water (to avoid catching a disease), grill your meats (to prolong their shelf-life), prepare juices and healing salves. The tinker bench will become very handy as it will save you the need to purchase ammo at the vendors (they will charge you as much as a medical bill will charge you a Tylenol).
You will have to scrap your junk to save space and know how to manage your junk. Wood and steel run galore, aluminum less, adhesive will be your daily worry and I am not even mentioning the screws (oh boy the Excavator Power Armor will ask you a good 80 screws, with a helmet asking much as a torso). Also, ignore the Power Armor until you are at least level 25 as you will hardly encounter a Power Armor that will fit you (I felt it got better over the month as the armor I encountered were closer from my level). Worse, it will claim you cannot use a Power Armor or claim a Power Armor with pieces that are not your level. In addition, Fusion Cores remain a luxury (my piece of advice is collect the FC from the PA you encounter and ignore the rest).
Some people have using glitches in the game to profit on (like one that gave you infinite carry weight, other to grind on disarm traps and gain 20 levels in 2 hours, some used duplicated items and selling them online). The only glitch I have been using was to claim an armor, put the pieces that are not fitting to your level back in, wait for the server to reclaim the armor. This will reclaim a whole PA only at the cost of 10 in weight.
Weapons have also a weight and you will have to make some strategic decisions. I carry a melee (right now the Fire Axe) for grinding ghouls, critters and scorchers (and save precious ammo), my sniper rifle and a shotgun (JIC for close combat). As a scientist, I wished I could use an energy weapon but they are damn weak (you encounter a charged laser sniper rifle dealing a mere 60 DPS, whereas a level-equivalent .308 sniper rifle will inflict almost twice more damage). Therefore, carry and drop/give your excess ammo (vendors will not buy them. Of course, they are selling you top price). I usually play Santa and drop the .38 and .44 in the Overseer’s camp stash (great for low-players, always that saved).
Also gone the Pip-Boy freeze, the action keeps going wether you are accessing your Pip-Boy, lockpicking a safe, or hacking a terminal. You will often get bitten by a creature while you were deciding which perk you want. It takes some adaptation to the game.
This is where I have my biggest grievance. It is horrible, even after the patch. First, you have a very strong limitation of what you can build, you need to acquire plans for almost everything. The placement was glitchy as hell (the system would put your structure “green” as good to place, only to claim you cannot because there is an obstacle). I have experienced several times my CAMP completely gone, having to rebuild it from scratch. Even when moving the CAMP, you are not guarantee to recover everything and may end up rebuilding whole structures loosing precious items like screws, adhesive, gears or springs. You also have to deal with a restrictive budget. Goodbye McMansions, welcome 2×2 shacks. The stash is also a big problem as it quickly clutters and reach maximum capacity. You may have 600 capacity but you don’t even see how it reached 90% capacity even by cleaning it. I think Bethesda should seriously revisit the weight system with items like bobby pins. Bobby pins (by the 20) weight as much as a missile. You must be kidding me. This is why I try to get rid of useless junk as much as I can (The Whitespring is great because of the “Artisan” shop in which you can craft and sell useless items from the farming to them, as cheap as it can be. A cap remains a cap at the end of the day :p).
I am not even mentioning the workshop that are honestly a waste of money and resources.
What I would really like is that Bethesda let us populate the areas, the empty houses, even with a limited budget. I am not much interested in building but imaging rebuilding communities with Vault dwellers would give this game an amazing possibility without costing much server workload.
This was my main concern, that I would run out of quests within a couple of weeks since it is an online game. The game is challenging, so you may put a break on a quest and start another one. You may also decide to wander around and explore areas as they appear on your map. Know the game map, as it has certain levels that are accessible to the most grinder player. Heading straight to the Mire at level 2 will lead you to 100% death rate, as much as your average survival time on an interstate highway is. There are maps all over the place and follow the instructions. Dont let you lured by Rose (Top of the World Radio Station) or Mayor Grafton (Grafton Radio), they will bring in levels that you will not enjoy until you are in your 30s and 20s respectively. Same for the Overseer, don’t try to head beyond Charleston until you are mid-20s-30s.
When you feel you cannot get a win, perform a strategical withdrawal and come back to it after 10-15 levels. I got my butt kicked on one of Rose mission (where you have to install a radio transponder on a military radio station) at level 25. Came back to it at level 48 and I went down like Azrael on the supernatants and the robots. You have daily events I suggest to join, they will give you caps, stimpacks, some valuable armor. Performing the quests for the Responders is certainly the best way to gain experience and learn the game mechanics.
As the music goes, Inon Zur is back and made an excellent composition, giving a very enjoyable music accompanying the game. After all these hours of gameplay I did not feel I was feeling saturated with them. Maybe my least favorite was the music inside the building.
The NPCs interactions:
This is one of the biggest contentious point. The only NPCs are robots and computers. It may appear reluctant at first but in the same time, I did not find it as a big handicap. There are a lot of holotapes, paper notes and terminal entries as witnesses of a long gone civilization. I really appreciated discovering the stories behind these lives, the building of the lore “after the bombs fell” (we never have a grasp of what it was like after the bomb, at least in the Appalachia). Learning about caravans of refugees, trying to keep a semblance of civil structure (the main mission of the “Responders”), the formation of gangs like the Raiders (and the tragic Christmas flooding event) living by killing and plundering cities and foremost the “Scorch plague” that has been contaminating the Appalachia and transforming the survivors as scorched creatures capable to blabber few words and with a certain frenzy to kill any non-scorched creatures.
My main complain is on some notes that have been very hard to read on my 55-inches plasma TV. I had to get up and get up close to the TV to be able to discern.
Overall, my gaming experience was satisfactory. I don’t understand all these whiners complain about the game. What did they expect, a Fortnite game? It really has the feeling I was expecting to a Fallout put online. It feels empty, filled with creatures but in the same time you feel like not crowded by other players. I cross players through my runs and automatically say hi as you feel like less alone and some friendly presence out there (although some experience griefing players, taking a certain hedonism to smash and kill other players and their possessions for fun. I have also seen how kinder people can be, teaming up into XP farming in Whitespring Golf Course and splatting hordes of glowing bloated ghouls. I also speculate that the most vocal players complaining about the game are the same one exploiting the games glitches to their own profit, which paradoxically will mine everyones gaming experience worse as these glitches were likely inducing server disconnections.
There are things that happened outside the game that was in my opinion a disastrous PR move from Bethesda, further pushing the opprobe on them. Replacing at the last minute a duffel bag with a mere nylon bag while kept on the same price is not excusable.
Some features like the CAMP feature, is as today still a disaster. There are some potentials but the current limitations about building structures and relying overly on plans is simply inexcusable. What makes the lone survivor more savvy in building structures than the vault dweller from Appalachia? Same goes with the weapons/armor/PA levels. Ridiculous!
Yet, I have my dose of fun and sadness in the game, my dose of frustration and my dose of joy. Everyday, I feel I need to play it, just for an hour or two, not longer. I am enjoying it as I enjoy my glass of wine: by small sips while enjoying a reading. This is the first time I have taken pleasure snapping screenshots in a game. The online experience I have with is a log-scale higher than GTA online (within a week and a dozens hours, i was done. Rockstar can lure me with any in-game currency, I don’t mind seeing the game taking the dust. GTA online was personally a boring experience).
This is why I think this game has potential, if Bethesda takes the time to heal the salted wounds it created and give a chance to players enjoying the game by addressing the major issues and listening to the community. Isn’t a game that we are all out reclaiming the Appalachia and working on as a community? Let’s use this potential.
Finally, this game gave me another view on West Virginia, away from the cliche we can have from the region. The game nicely reflected the treasures and the challenges the region encountered and show us that in 2077, nothing did not change either: environmental pollution due to coal mining, the lost of the workforce (in this case, robots took over their work), the corruption of the local politics by the coal barons. It really give me the curiosity to visit the region, explore West Virginia as I have been enjoying while I wandered through DC (Fallout 3), the Mojave desert (Fallout: New Vegas), or Greater Boston (Fallout 4).
“Almost heaven…….West Virginia……”