With Bethesda choosing to send out review copies of Fallout 76 basically on launch day, it will be a little longer before I can give the game a full and fair critique. In the meantime, I want to cover some of my first impressions of the experience so far. After all, Fallout 76’s multiplayer-only focus makes it even more of an endless journey than previous games, and while I’ll have a better understanding of this journey’s quality the longer I stick with, there is value to be had in breaking down its first few steps.
The first thing to hit me about Fallout 76, apart from the arguably excessive detail in its character customization, was how little setup it provides. Before you’ve even fully grasped the controls, you’re out in the wasteland with Radroaches nipping at your heels. This isn’t a detriment to the experience in the long term, but there are a variety of fairly complex systems in the game that are explained over a series of early missions, and these could have been better implemented through more tutorialization. For those that like to min-max their playstyle, it can be frustrating to learn you’ve been wasting time or resources doing something in a less-than-optimal way, like—to pick a totally random example—storing items in a cache you thought was private only to come back and find all your resources have been stolen.
Following my first bemused steps into the wilderness, my next impression was that this game does not look good. We’re at a point of graphical fidelity in this industry where nitpicking game visuals can come off as petty, but I just can’t ignore how dated Fallout 76 looks. It even seems to fall behind Fallout 4 from three years ago, and while the developer may have a technical reason for this downgrade, due to 76’s always-online build, this can’t excuse the near constant graphical glitches and horrendous pop-in.
When getting into the nitty-gritty of the gameplay, the elements that are most like Fallout 4 are 76’s saving grace. Poking around desolate structures, picking up every scrap of waste you can find, and blasting away any monstrosity that dares stand between you and your precious adhesive material still has that same old addictive quality, but even this routine isn’t without its faults. To accommodate the multiplayer, actions like using the VATS targeting function or going into your inventory no longer freeze time, and it’s not until this crutch is gone do you realize how essential it is to the pacing of a Fallout game. The new real-time status of VATS brings about another realization that manual precision shooting in Fallout is just brutally awkward. It’s hard to remember if shooting was this stiff and imprecise in Fallout 3 and 4, but if it was, their VATS systems made it a non-factor.
Now, despite the substantial amount of time I have into Fallout 76, I have yet to dive head-first into everything. Wanting to get a better grip on the systems at my own pace, I have only mildly dabbled in the game’s social features. From the few cooperative missions I have tackled, exploring with friends does have an undeniable charm, but it’s hard to say this social ingredient is something the Fallout formula needed. I have also yet to get into much of the game’s C.A.M.P. building mechanics, as I am waiting to procure a surplus of resources so I can build without interruption. Assuming it just ripped the function from Fallout 4, it should pass the test.
All of this harping may not have painted the best picture for Fallout 76 in EGM’s upcoming review, but there is one more important omission to recognize in this first impression. The end game, with all of its nukes and boss monsters, could be the thing that turns Fallout 76 around for me, but for now, we’re off to a rocky start. Some of you may already be like me, barreling through the thick of it, but if you didn’t jump into Bethesda’s new adventure on day one, maybe wait a little bit longer.