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Here's everything that's right about Fallout 76:
1. The landscape is pretty
2. The crafting and base building mechanics are reasonably well done.
3. The Mistress of Midnight sidequest, in which I discover pre-war Kent Connolly was the sort of nitpicky obsessive fanboy actors and writers hate, made me laugh.
Here's what's wrong with Fallout 76. And to put it simply, you start the game knowing you've failed.
Within the first half-hour of gameplay, your character discovers there's something terribly wrong with post-apocalypse West Virginia, and it's not because the bombs dropped or Bethesda awkwardly shoehorned the Brotherhood into the world when canonically they were still in California.
Coming to your first town, you discover evidence of the Responders, a group of policeman, firefighters, and other volunteers, who put together a pretty effective group to aid other survivors and re-create American society. Except that they're all dead, courtesy of fighting with other groups, the dreaded Scorchbeasts, and a mysterious disease. The best hope of post-war West Virginia is dead.
The Brotherhood is dead as well.
So are the raiders.
So is pretty much everyone except for the nearly mute Scorched zombies, the ever idiotic Super Mutants, and one nut who locked herself in a radio station.
And so, ultimately, are you, because canonically nothing is known about West Virginia in the Capitol Wasteland, when we do know about other places ranging from Pittsburgh to Boston to New California. Your goal is to rebuild civilization, and a hundred and seventy-five years after the bombs dropped no one has heard of you.
So you start the game, rapidly discovering whatever you do is pointless. Bluntly, this goes against everything that the Fallout franchise about. Yes the various morality and faction systems, and the branching story outcomes in the games means you can be an utter bastard if you want, but most people don't play that way because the games don't really give you the warm fuzzies when you choose the Evil paths.
By removing all speaking NPC's, Bethesda removed the chance for the players to help people. Sure you can stop the Scorchbeast menace, but without someone to say "Thank you" at the end of it, what's the point? Part of the fun of the Fallout franchise are the interactions with the NP Cs, from the hyper cheerful Moira in Megaton, to the myriad of companions in Fallout 4. Without them, the only people you have to work with are other PC's, and that's it.
Speaking of which, even the MMO aspect seems curiously muted. The PvP element is nerfed seriously to prevent griefing, making killing other players nearly pointless. But there's also little incentive to work together either, with no Guild system, no easy means to pool resources to build a base together, or other reasons aside from "Scorchbeasts are ultra-powerful"
One of the big things about the Fallout games is that when you first leave the Vault, everything outside is pretty much a mess, except for some isolated communities. The first Fallout had Sandy Springs, Fallout Three had Megaton, Fallout Four had Diamond City. All holding together by the skin of their teeth against a massively hostile outside world. It's the player's job to bring order to the place and make things better. Without that goal in mind. Without NPC's to have needs and to give thanks for a job well done, what is the point?
I suspect the lack of NPC's was a budgetary decision. No NPC's means no need to animate NPC's and fewer voice actors you have to pay, aside from a relatively few holotapes and that poor guy who always does the voices of the Mr. Handys. Also the Atomic Shop screams of wanting to get on that sweet, sweet loot box bandwagon, so the massive backlash against Star Wars: Battlefront 2's ugly loot box cash grab halfway through Fallout 76's development must have come as a nasty shock. Since then, Bethesda repeatedly shooting themselves in the foot with the buggy and inconsistent B.E.T.A. pre-launch and their poor response to the canvas bag controversy has not helped the game's rep at all.
It's not like Bethesda can claim this is their first MMORPG either. Elder Scrolls Online has been going for several years now after all. They know how this is supposed to work. They just tried to do something quick and cheap, and pass it off as innovative, and failed.
I don't know. They might be able to pull out of this mess. Introducing NPC's by having another Vault open up or more survivors walk into the area to repopulate it might work. But right now Fallout 76 is a vast, empty place, and there is little reason to visit there.
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