Bethesda hasn't had the best time of things in the last few months. Question marks were raised back when Fallout 76 was announced, and when the beta rolled around even more doubt emerged due to its poor technical performance and criticisms levelled at how all the systems work together. After release, this doubt turned into full-blown controversy, as not only were there complaints at the game for continued technical issues, but then we had a load more to get Todd Howard hot under the collar.
Not everyone loved it, but we've got a few fans of the game here at Gamereactor, and we've already speculated on what Fallout 76 can do to improve, but we're here to take a look at the game as it stands at the end of 2018, over a month after it first launched and sent the Internet into meltdown.
If you love a bit of Internet drama you'll have no doubt seen the countless controversies that have been circling around Fallout 76. We won't dwell on the ins and outs of all of them, but it'd be remiss of us to look back at the last month of its history and not mention the outcry that we've observed, one of the biggest of which had to do with that bag.
Bethesda had promised a high-quality canvas bag to hold the replica power armour helmet with the Power Armour Edition of the game before release, but when it launched fans got a nylon bag and were not happy at all, especially when they found out that influencers had received an actual canvas bag at preview events, contradicting Bethesda's claims that they didn't have the materials available. Like a can of gasoline on a bonfire, Bethesda then offered 500 Atoms of in-game currency as compensation, and considering how costly the Power Armour Edition was - and that 500 Atoms equates to roughly £4.00 and you can't get very much in the shop - this didn't help matters at all.
That wasn't all though, as there were countless other gripes the community had with Bethesda, including the fact that some users were reporting that they weren't able to uninstall the beta or, alternatively, the beta client erasing itself on PC. There was a ton of confusion about Bethesda's refund policy as well, with conflicting reports disagreeing on whether they were or weren't offering them, some even claiming offers had been redacted (something that even caused a law firm to wade into the debate).
The majority of the criticism, however, was aimed at the poor technical performance of the game. There were countless bugs, from the huge ones like making one player immortal, game crashes, and consistently poor frame-rates, to the little ones that we've come to expect from Bethesda RPGs on release, like physics glitches. It was a bug-fest all round, it ran poorly, and overall the whole thing left a bad taste in the community's collective mouth. Patches had to be deployed.
So we've seen what Bethesda has been criticised for, and the response was drastic. On release day alone we got a mammoth patch (weighing in at 47 GB on PS4, for example) that stirred people up even further, but on the other hand it did work to improve the game. In the patch notes we could see that a lot was being done, the most reassuring thing was stability and performance concerns being addressed. That said, there's still an extensive list there including a load of bugs that had been fixed, from quest objectives to item repairs and everything in between.
So by the time November ended the heat was far from dying down, but Bethesda had managed to get a huge update out the door. Next up was December 4, when we got another update taking the game down for just under five hours (winding people up a bit more). Once again we got a lot of fixes and stability improvements, and this time it only came in at 3 GB on consoles. What's perhaps more interesting though is that we also got new content too based on player feedback, one of which increased the stash capacity by 50% to 600 pounds. Some of these features were added two days later than intended, but new features based on player feedback was a step in the right direction.
The week after that we got news that Bethesda had decided to change the game's update schedule, meaning the update on December 18 for PC would land two days later for console players, but that wasn't all that was newsworthy that week. On December 11 we also got another update that worked on performance and stability, with even more additions based on player feedback.
Camp construction was a big focus, as small obstructions could now be removed once you played an item on it, like small rocks and bushes, and if you entered a server and your Camp was meant to be at a place which already had another player's on it, you'd be notified and either allowed to stay without it or move to a different server where the space was available. The update also let players over level 51 reassign a SPECIAL point each time they levelled up (in place of unlocking a new Perk Card), allowed push-to-talk hotkeys for voice chat on PC, added field of view and depth of field settings on PC, and included 21:9 resolution support for PC too, all of which is aimed at player convenience (although 21:9 widescreen had its own issues, as pointed out on Reddit).
Just this past week we've also received the latest hotfix, this being more minor than the patches before. Korean language support was added with this, as well as fixes for a few more bugs like crashes and exploits fixed as well, and we can expect many more small tweaks heading into the future, as things are consistently ironed out and addressed.
The Hiding and The Speculation
Even with all these extensive patch notes, it seems that this wasn't the end to the talk of changes made to the game. Earlier this month reports emerged of hidden changes made to the game, some of which were actually confirmed, and it seems that these might not have been disclosed because they aren't necessarily in the best interest of the fans.
A lot of the confirmed changes had to do with increasing the grind that players had to do to get in-game items. For example, these 'stealth changes' (tested by players and shared online) dropped the production rate for fusion cores at workshops from 10 to one every hour, made extractors produce ore instead of raw material (which you need more of to get the material by smelting), and reduced ammo workshops from 400 to 200 in terms of the production cap. Fusion cores even drained quicker too, and the added grind didn't help the game's public image.
That said, other changes were a lot less controversial. One, for example, removed exploits for grenades, caps, stashes, and more, not to mention one where you could server hop to get items again if they weren't in your current one. Enemy spawning was also changed, as before the update they used to spawn when a player entered the area, even if others were already present, but now they only spawn if nobody is immediately near their spawn point.
As mentioned, these are confirmed, but there were also a lot of suspected changes that people thought might have been added, one of which claims that the late-game item Flux decayed much quicker, going down from an hour to between five and 10 minutes, with claims that drop rates are reduced, damage over level 50 is reduced, stealth had been nerfed, and a whole lot more. We can't comment on a lot on those, but it's understandable that players were and still are sceptical considering the other tweaks made, especially since many were reporting worse stability and more frequent crashes to desktop after the updates.
After this first leak we also got news of the dreaded word 'lootboxes'. On Reddit a changelog was discovered, and while this isn't confirmed or official at the time of writing, lunchboxes were talked about with effects like adding buffs like fortifying XP, as well as giving bonuses to carry capacity, damage, and rad resistance. For a game with so many image problems, this wasn't exactly what fans wanted to hear, especially since these files also came with the ATX label, linking them to the Atom Store and indicating they could be bought for real money, directing contradicting what Pete Hines had said earlier about Atoms only being used for cosmetics.
Speaking of Atoms and the Atom Store, we couldn't neglect this element of the game when looking back at the last month, as there has been growing discontent about these microtransactions. It's true that you do earn them as you play, but progress is often quite slow, and fans are more critical of the prices of things in the shop than they are of the rate at which Atoms are earned.
This Christmas period is a perfect example of this, as the Christmas bundle emerged, reduced from 3,000 to 2,000 Atoms and providing Santa icons, Santa outfits, and stuffed radstags (like reindeer). In real money 3,000 Atoms costs about £24, with 2,000 costing £16, and then if you consider lower-priced items like the emotes bundle for Christmas, this costs 1,200, but since you can only buy Atoms at least 500 at a time, you'll need to buy 1,500 if you don't want to earn it in-game, costing you roughly £12.
It's worth mentioning that purchasing 1,000 gives you 100 Atoms extra, with 400 Atoms extra if you buy 2,000 and 1,000 extra if you buy 4,000, but it's still easy to see why fans are getting a bit uneasy with how much things are costing. To put it into perspective, you'll need £28 to get some emotes, outfits, icons, and Camp items as part of the above Christmas packages, and that's more expensive than the game itself in some retailers. What's more is that a lot of these items are time-sensitive too, so if you don't pay the price, you might lose it forever.
Where are we at now?
Now we've gone through the extensive history of the game in the last month, warts and all, it's time to cast a critical eye at the game as it stands, and let's start with the bad news - it's still technically poor. While patches and updates have worked to improve stability and performance, there are still a ton of bugs to account for, as well as general performance issues like crashes, freezing, stuttering, frame-rate drops, and a load more. It's not unplayable, but right now it does run badly, and the frequent glitches can mean lost items, quests you can't complete, and a whole load of other roadblocks. Basically, these aren't small issues, but we always knew it was going to be a big task to get the game to the place fans wanted it to be at. We just hope that this is continually improved as time goes by because damn it needs more polish.
That said, the game isn't without merits, and that's really important to point out. To say it has been the victim of a witchhunt would imply that the critics are unfounded in their complaints, which is totally untrue, but we would argue instead it has been caught in a social media storm, where even people who don't know anything about it are jumping aboard the hate bandwagon. This isn't a game with no redeemable qualities, don't be fooled by the negative press, as there is still a fanbase getting enjoyment out of it.
For a start, the map is huge and there's a lot to see and do. Despite lacking NPCs (we don't think they'll be added in the future, if we're honest) there is a lot of lore for those who want it in the form of holotapes, robots, documents, and more environmental storytelling, and the whole world has a story behind it. From the very first moment you boot up the game you're bombarded with information, and if you want to get lost in this narrative you can, or you can ignore it to just focus on the mechanics - the choice is yours.
You'll often get people attacking the game and saying that just because it's fun with friends isn't an excuse for its shortcomings, but it's not an excuse - lots of people love it in spite of its flaws. It's true, it's a lot of fun to play with friends, and this is heightened by the fact you can all loot together, share resources, pose in Photo Mode, visit each other's Camps, play instruments, do silly emotes, and a lot more. It's a social experience with a lot of features to heighten that, and you can see it was made with this in mind.
Above all, there's a lot of content here that provides hours of enjoyment either alone or with friends, some of which can be repeated for more XP, while a lot of it will remain new for a long time after you first exit the vault. New enemies and areas always provide a sense of discovery we've seen in past Bethesda games, and some of the criticisms levelled at it have been simply because it's trying new things (online, no NPCs, events) rather than its actual mistakes. It combines what Bethesda has done well in the past with a new formula that at times slips up, but definitely has its moments.
When you look at the past month as a whole for Fallout, the overall theme is "not very good" for the game itself, Bethesda, and everyone involved, but if it was a total disaster you wouldn't still find full servers and committed fans exploring the wasteland, helping newbies, and building settlements with friends. It needs some love, but there's enough of a foundation in there to justify building on top of it, and that's what the game and the fans deserve more than anything.
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