In the world of gaming, there is a constant influx of new game titles, developed by both “AAA” and independent studios alike. In this sense, it is expected that not every game will have the same standards of quality, nor the same reception regardless of the said quality. Some games are outstanding, but fail to garner public attention, and fade into the “cult classic” category. Meanwhile, other mediocre games ride on the fame of their franchise to piggyback themselves into the public view. However, every once in a while, the top evil scientists brew up some of their worst concoctions in their labs and release it in game form, to the dismay of all the gamers around the world. Sometimes, Fallout 76 happens.
Speaking of “AAA” studios Bethesda has made quite a name for themselves over the years, with titles in The Elder Scrolls and Fallout series among others. There was plenty of hype to accompany the release of Fallout 76, but instead it is creating its own negative “fallout” in the video game industry after launching as a buggy, unfinished, and unoptimized mess. This goes well beyond what they have normally done – Bethesda has become infamous for releasing games in this state, then sitting on the sidelines waiting for the community to fix them. This is, in great part, because their games are highly-moddable, to the point where you can change virtually anything after the developers release the modding tools to the community. In other words, if the engine can render it, then it can be added into the game.
These mods, while whimsical, out of place and, sometimes, downright goofy, are some of the best features of the most recent game Bethesda games, especially when it comes to the Fallout series.
Many fans argue that after the highly rated Fallout 3 was released, the developers failed to capture the essence of the original games which, to be honest, is entirely expected. Back then, these games were some of the first and best CRPGs, which are tactical turn-based games played from an isometric perspective. Back when Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, Planescape: Torment, and other similar games kept the CRPG industry thriving, at least regarding fantasy settings, Fallout was the franchise that focused on a sci-fi setting set in a post-apocalyptic Earth. In more ways than one, the Fallout games were very relatable. In the rubble of the old world, you could find familiar signs, buildings, and other ruins that resembled America in the ’60s (which is when the bombs fell in the game world). Moreover, you can also find elements of the alternate reality in which this game is set; where nuclear power was used for everything from powering household robots and flying cars, to allowing the use of power armor for warfare purposes.
In a sense, the game relies on heavy environmental storytelling to go with the lore of its world; whether that’s the eerie sight of seeing the Washington Monument all torn up by nuclear warfare, or the ruins of the Capitol taken by Ghouls, human survivors that have undergone horrible mutations due to the nuclear fallout and so on. Even if the past Fallout games had somewhat lost the essence of the originals by switching its gameplay to a first-person shooter format, they still preserved the essential elements of world-building and the general lore of its game universe, which contributed significantly to the enjoyment of the games.
However, not even that could save the series’ latest installment, Fallout 76, from absolutely tanking in ratings. Following the step down that was Fallout 4, the series was in dire need of reinvention.
Nevertheless, Fallout 76 was not the way to go. Instead of a single-player experience with many dialogue choices, rich storytelling, and a compelling narrative, the developers went full 180° and created a multiplayer survival game similar to Rust, DayZ, or ARK: Survival Evolved. This shift into MMO territory meant less focus on story, and more resources spent on playability in a game that desperately needed to go back to its roots. And this isn’t saying much, considering that at launch, it’s an embarrassingly buggy mess.
The fact that the game is an MMO means that modability will be very limited, taking away the only thing that the fans like about these Bethesda games (seriously, look up the user statistics after the creation kit for these games releases and notice the sharp increase in concurrent players). Furthermore, in an attempt to attract user interest to the game, Bethesda organized a live stream featuring famous streamers like Ninja, Logic, and even featuring special guest appearances from Rick & Morty. Suffice to say, the event was a disaster where not even the witty remarks of the animated characters could salvage from the sheer amount of game-breaking bugs that the players encountered. In the end, one of the guests even stood up from his chair, never to come back.
Users also began posting footage of the broken game to YouTube, which the company has been trying to take down. But it is the Internet, so the news of just how incomplete the $60 game is has found a way to spread. As of this writing, the game is down in sales over 80% from the last Fallout release.
The company also ended up issuing a 47GB “patch” (a file as large as the release game itself) for the game as they scrambled to try and salvage what they could of their collapsed sales. Suffice it to say, the game is a disaster that I fear could lead to the destruction of the Fallout franchise itself. It wouldn’t be the first franchise to suffer from a string of less-than-stellar games that were created by a company that doesn’t quite know what to do with it.