The day has finally come and gone – we now live in a world with multiplayer Fallout at our fingertips. I wasn’t someone who had the opportunity to spend all the B.E.T.A. hours playing Fallout 76; I logged about 2 hours, while on vacation, during the very last session that was offered. A small tease that left me wanting more for the better part of a week. My excitement leading up to the release date never had a chance to peak because we saw the servers go online much earlier than the listed times. I guess the folks at Bethesda couldn’t temper their own excitement, not that I’m complaining.
I’ll spare you the boring details about my beginning vault experience – virtually everyone should know that by now – but the server complications that I was expecting never seemed to strike me personally. I never got disconnected, lagged out or had any issues at all on day one and this bodes well for Bethesda. Indeed it seems the purpose of the B.E.T.A. wasn’t so much shoring up gameplay issues, fixing performance bugs, or adding an in-game v-sync option as it was to make sure the servers ran great at launch. And to that, I say good job, Bethesda.
Great server stability couldn’t save me from pulling my hair out over performance, however. The game ran perfectly on ULTRA at 1080p on my laptop, which houses a GTX 1060 and an i7, but on my main gaming rig that sports a Ryzen 7 and a 1080ti I was looking into the ugly face of 37 frames per second – on low settings. For the longest time, I couldn’t figure out what the problem was until I ran across a small tidbit of information regarding issues with high refresh rate monitors and manually turned off the engines v-sync in an INI file. It was only then that I had the pleasure of experiencing 63 frame per second – the weirdest frame rate cap in history. Apparently, this cap is to ensure that animations don’t get broken and you can’t ultra speed around the map because at the core Fallout 76 works on an engine so old that physics are tied rendering and that’s not the only way it shows it’s age. Everything looks nearly the same as Fallout 4 with a few generous sprinkles of extra polygons and copious use of god rays.
You may read all that and think that we are about to give a scathing review of the game but I have bad news for you: I’m having more fun than I did with Fallout 4 and I have a considerable fondness for FO4. I played the first few hours of Fallout 76 completely solo and in that sense, it plays nearly identical to Fallout 4. I left the vault, smashed a few robots on my way out, grabbed a pipe pistol and ran across a farm infested with “scorched” (read: zombies) while following the overseer’s trail. I rather like the introductory quests that are provided in Fallout 76. While being thrust into a world with virtually no direction is a trademark of Bethesda since Oblivion – the (quite ignorable) questline as you leave Vault 76 is a great way to get your bearings in this new world and learn about some of the features.
For me, I had my tipping moment with Fallout 76 when I grouped up with a friend for the first time. We found ourselves doing something in a game together that we truly hadn’t experienced since playing EverQuest: creating our own story and adventure. The path we started weaving through the wastelands of West Virginia is completely unique to anyone else. Pillaging homes for supplies, building our camps, or escorting the world’s stupidest police robot around a town while fending off ghouls – our experience in the wasteland together is what makes logging in all worth it. Some people may feel the lack of interactable NPCs makes Fallout 76 feel dull and dry – and those opinions aren’t without their merit if you’re playing and approaching the game like it was a single player experience – but to me a multiplayer Fallout where the only people I see are unpredictable and engrossed in their own story feels more like a survival experience than any game I’ve played so far.
As it stands I have a few beefs with some systems and I have definitely run into some classic Bethesda bugs, but I’m having a good time in spite of those things. I’ve spent about ten hours in-game so far so I’m still developing my opinions and we aren’t out of the woods yet. Fallout 76 is a massive game and there’s always a tendency for trivial annoyances to devolve into major dings in a score – so stay tuned for Part Two of the review in progress where I plan on covering everything in much more detail.