3 things that just aren't working in Fallout 76
While my feelings on Fallout 76 are generally quite positive (You can read my previous 76 article here), I think it’s worthwhile playing Anakin Skywalker for a moment to bring a little balance to the force and make note of some of the less enjoyable aspects of the game.
Yes, some of the bugs are pretty damn horrible. Glitches aside, my focus for this article isn’t on bugs that can be easily patched out, instead I wanted to highlight three particular aspects of gameplay that just aren’t working effectively in Fallout 76.
And they’re biggies – while not severe enough to make your 76 experience useless, these development oversights are quite existential and really eat at the core of the game, making you wonder why so much time and energy was pooled into an MMO style Fallout 4 clone instead of a new single player Fallout 5 game.
So here are three things that just don’t work in Fallout 76:
Just multiplayer in general, really.
This is an odd thing to mention, especially since Fallout 76 owes its entire inception to Todd Howard’s strange, albeit brave, decision to make every human you encounter in the game a real-life player. At first I understood the idea; it makes the post-apocalyptic world seem more genuine, especially not knowing the true intentions of the people that you stumble upon out in the irradiated landscapes of West Virginia. The problem with this vision is....
....it just doesn’t work.
People are fickle creatures. I’ve put in at least 50 – 60 hours of gameplay into 76 and most of my interactions with other another player goes something like this: I walk through a train station and spot a character that is also using the amenities, we notice each other, one person waves, the other person waves back, then we go on our merry way and never see each other again.
The lofty dream of trade, chat and teaming up to accomplish goals bursts like an overfilled balloon when you come to the realization that inherently people don’t want to talk to each other. Trade between players, while possible, is a painfully difficult experience, especially when the trade window closes immediately when one person gets bored with the transaction and decides to wander off into the night. I’ve tried to initiate trade twice in an attempt to find some valuable crafting plans and both times have left empty handed when either the player failed to respond to my request to buy an item or just turned around and walked off in the other direction the moment I found something I wanted to buy.
The other issue that affects multiplayer is the game’s insistence of constantly displaying another character’s rank. As a mid level character, I’m still cautious of high ranked players because of their unpredictability. I find most of the time when I see a high ranked player in my local area, especially if they’re wearing power armor, I usually turn around and walk in the opposite direction. If they decide to be an A1 fuck-knuckle (you can use that if you want) and wail on you with the fury of a thousand Level 50 weapons, what are you gonna do about it? You can’t run, because unlike creatures in the game people don’t give up easily. Some of them want to make your gaming experience as shitty as humanly possible. For this reason most of the interaction you do is with players ranked lower than you are because you feel more comfortable. But that in itself is a catch 22, because to them you’re a high ranked player and the whole cycle repeats itself. As a result, there is as much player to player interaction going on as an annual meeting of the Agoraphobics society.
When lower ranked players don’t turn tail and run like a stampede of cheetah’s with diarrhea, another problem presents itself; if you decide to team up, you end up wandering through places you’ve already been a thousand times before, because by venturing to areas of the map that you yourself haven’t been to yet will probably result in instantaneous death for your lower ranked teammate(s). One Level 11 player wanted to follow me on a tour of the various ski resorts situated in the center of the Appalachia map, but locations filled with Level 40 monsters and a plethora of Scorchbeasts aren’t places you can even attempt to GLIMPSE armed only with a low ranked Hunting Rifle and a 10mm Pistol. In the Wendigo caves (located somewhat in the center of the map) I watched a lower ranked player get eaten alive in 30 seconds by a never ending army of Mirelurk Razorclaws and Mirelurk Kings, after they decided to follow me in there on a treasure hunt.
Communication is also important. Most players annoyingly don’t seem to employ use of microphones and with no chat system in use (that I can find), coordinating adventures using only emotes is a frustrating and painfully difficult experience.
It seems effective multiplayer in Fallout 76 relies on a number of unique elements falling into place: players need to be of similar rank, they need to use microphones and they need to share the same goals.
Let’s be real here. It’s the internet. That is never going to happen.
I have a feeling Bethesda had some fairly lofty goals with workshops, the problem being is that I think they overvalued their desire among players on the server.
Designed as places to build encampments, extract resources and operate as forward exploration posts, workshops do serve as useful map locations for most players. Different workshops give players access to different resources (Steel, Titanium, Junk etc), potentially leading to conflict and PvP combat between users over access to highly sought after commodities. However in my experience, the majority of workshops scattered across the map are usually unoccupied, probably because owning a workshop is more of a pain in the ass than a rectal examination using a pineapple.
First, to claim a workshop you need to ‘Clear out enemies’ from the local vicinity, which most of the time involves sweeping through and shooing various ghouls, robots or varmints off the property with lethal force. But every now and then some kind of glitch prevents you from being able to finish the mission; several times enemies (usually ghouls hiding under a haystack or mole rats that refuse to surface) just flat out refused to appear, leaving the mission to claim the workshop in perpetual limbo. “Maybe I can come back and try again later?” Nope, not unless you log out and find yourself on another server, meaning there’s a very real possibility someone else now owns the workshop you wish to possess.
Second, if your game successfully manages to avoid a glitch and you claim a workshop of your own, now you’re forced to defend it against both predictable and excruciatingly frustrating attacks against it. “Event: Defend WORKSHOP NAME HERE” soon become words that you learn to hate more than the entirety of text contained within Hitler’s book Mein Kampf. To prevent damage to your encampment you have to stop what you’re doing and fast travel to your workshop to stave off a ridiculous attack by a few mole rats or poorly armed scorched. Getting there is fine - travelling between your camp, Vault 76 and your workshops doesn’t cost you any caps to fast travel, however getting back to the adventure you just LEFT unfortunately does cost money. If you zoomed back to your workshop from a location on the other side of Appalachia, you’re looking at anywhere between 20 – 35 caps to get back to where you left off.
Of course workshop defense events have glitches of their own that make managing a workshop incredibly frustrating. The various layouts of each workshop are unique: some large and sprawling with cars, buildings and various levels of topography, others just flat farm areas that are perfect for rifles and turrets. Workshops with difficult terrain and layouts become tediously frustrating to defend, with attackers sometimes finding themselves caught on rocks or trapped behind cars after they spawn randomly during the attack.
The Red Rocket mega center in the far north-east and the Packaged Food Factory in the south-west are particularly notorious for this. On more occasions than I can count I’ve spent upwards of 10 minutes wandering back and forth across my workshop trying to find enemies to kill, only to find a pack of mole rats cloistered together behind a large rock formation having what appears to be a town meeting.
To add insult to injury, workshop defense missions don’t end until every creature has been killed. Therefore if you can’t find enemies because they’re glitching out behind a car, you might as well rack off and do something else more worthwhile and meaningful with your time because the mission will never successfully come to a conclusion.
Lastly, you lose your workshops when you log out of the game. Usually one could deduce that this quirk of the game isn’t a major problem: holding workshops indefinitely is unfair to other players, plus most of the resources you use to build components in your workshop don’t come from your personal camp stash, but instead from within the workshop itself.
Of course, this gentrified understanding about the nature of workshops is completely useless on servers that experience regular, and I mean REGULAR disconnections. In some cases it’s absolutely possible to spend caps to claim a workshop and be disconnected before you reap any monetary value from it.
All of these reasons make owning a workshop an experience that’s only useful for players that exist in the center of a very unique Venn diagram between “Desperate for resources” and “Masochist”.
If you own more than one workshop, well then, multiply everything I just wrote above by two or more.
Hence, lots of unclaimed workshops.
The Wanted System
I get it, I really do. In an attempt to stop griefers Bethesda implemented a system that makes players accountable for their unprovoked actions against other humans in the game world. Unprovoked attacks leads to a bounty being placed on your head. Attacking ‘Wanted’ players has no negative effects, because the game deems you as a kind of wild-west lawgiver, actively dispensing frontier law at the end of a gun. However there are two problems with this system:
If the player attacking you is highly ranked, what are you seriously going to do about it? Shoot their power armor off with a Pipe-Pistol? Bounty or not, it’s very unlikely retribution will ever come.
Secondly, whatever algorithm is in place that leads you to BECOME wanted in the first place desperately needs an overhaul. On one occasion while walking past another player’s C.A.M.P I noticed a Super Mutant running amok and destroying their generators. Being the nice guy that I am I decided to step in and help – unfortunately one of my bullets missed the aforementioned Mutant and struck the wall of the encampment. I was instantly ‘Wanted’. Within minutes a Level 100 player in Power Armor descended upon me and placed a large hole in my skull using a Super-Sledge, before rifling through my remains and stealing all of my resources.
To add extra turd onto the Shit Pizza, you’re required to pay for the bounty on your own life out of your own cap stash. It cost me hours of foraging and 10 of my own caps to help out another player in need.
This has lead to a major rethink of how I approach the multiplayer aspect of the game – avoid people at all costs. I’ve been forced to watch strangers being eaten alive by marauding monsters because stepping in with a misplaced bullet or badly timed melee strike could result in losing all of your hard fought resources at the hands of higher ranked players looking to make a quick resource grab.
The wanted system means the world of Fallout 76 effectively becomes “Every man for himself”, because even the most well meaning attempt at wasteland heroism could result in dire consequences.
In all, the three most glaring negative aspects of Fallout 76 are also the newest additions; without multiplayer, workshops or a bounty system, 76 is just a reskinned Fallout 4 clone. In a way Fallout 76’s biggest issues are ideological and existential – it’s like Bethesda felt they needed to justify the existence of the own ingenuity by taking some massive risks. While some of them pay off, these just don’t seem to hit the mark.
It’s sad that the very elements that make Fallout 76 unique within the rest of the franchise are also the components that also make it the most frustrating.
And I hope a very valuable lesson has been learned. For all our sakes.
- Andrew Archer