Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Fallout 76 Is Awesome Now, Akshually - Eric Vs.

So, uh, you might have missed the memo but Fallout 76 is awesome now. Bethesda has listened to players and really put in work to make it a great experience these days to the point that it isn't just a passable MMO now, but a truly great core Fallout experience too. Read on and watch to learn all about it.

Did you know that modern video games are very different from the games of the past in the fact that they can be, and usually are, updated after launch so that even if a game launches in a bad state it will probably be better months or years down the road? I know you're sitting there furrowing your brow and grunting that of course you know this, but judging from the fact that way, way, way too many people pass judgement on a game at launch and then never bother to look into it again - while still loudly screaming their outdated opinion from launch into the void of the internet - tells me you're probably a liar liar pants on fire. 

Of course there are still games that launch bad and never get fixed. And there are certainly games that get post launch support that still suck. But there are also bright shining examples of developers actually giving a crap and trying to make their games better and we need to be shouting these games from the rooftops to let everyone know that they should play them. 

Today's video is about one of those games - Fallout 76 - and why you should definitely give it a shot. It isn't just OK now. It isn't just passable. It's actually a great experience all around with lots of new content planned for the years, yes years, ahead, so now is a great time to jump in. I'm not going to cover every aspect of the game, because this isn't really meant to be a review, but I want to look at the specific problems the game started with and how they have been fixed.

Before we get started, I have to do the typical YouTube call to action. We're working on a lot of long form videos covering a lot of interesting and unique topics about video games, and perhaps some other stuff, so if you enjoy this one please like and subscribe to the channel.

Fallout 76 had a rocky start indeed, but it wasn't all entirely the game's fault. Some of it was expectations versus reality, and some of it was definitely that the game didn't start out in a good state, but there is more to it. After years of saying "Wouldn't it be cool to play Fallout online with people?" those same people suddenly weren't interested anymore when Fallout 76 turned out to be an MMO. In other words, the built-in audience they thought they had when they were making it basically disappeared. There were also certain members of the media, who by the way had been blacklisted by several publishers for ruining announcements for leaking stuff early and have a pretty obvious grudge against Bethesda in particular, started poisoning the well of information before the game was even officially announced by basically telling everyone to be pre-emptively disappointed. 

And, yes, the game did launch on November 14th 2018 in a less than stellar state with glitches and bugs and not a ton of content and was definitely disappointing to start with. Bethesda has no one to blame but themselves for that. At that point most people just wrote the game off and moved on.  

But Bethesda keep plugging along to make the game better with patches and updates and now, in 2021, the game is in a very healthy state. I didn't personally start playing Fallout 76 until December 2020, so I can't speak for exactly how the game evolved over the years, but I can talk about what I expected based on reviews and online discussions versus what the game actually is now. I'm level 211 and have played for something like 400+ hours, just for the record, so I'd like to think that I know what I'm talking about.

Fallout 76 is an MMO, which is part of why I was also hesitant to start playing the game at all even though I'm a huge Fallout fan. I had imagined that it would just be a hellscape of players killing each other constantly and griefing and ruining your fun while you try to play the story and do your own thing. It turns out that that isn't how the game is at all. In fact, most players were so disinterested in PvP combat that Bethesda ultimately added an option to turn off PvP damage in the adventure mode and made an entirely separate battle royale-style mode called Nuclear Winter for the people that actually wanted to shoot each other. Surprisingly enough, later in 2021 the Nuclear Winter mode is closing down because it was so unpopular (though, that is at least partially due to the fact it didn't ever really get updated after its June 2019 release). In other words, if you're hesitant about playing this Fallout MMO because you're afraid that other players will constantly be hunting you down and harassing you, don't worry.

Truth be told, the community in Fallout 76 is actually pretty friendly and awesome. The map is fairly big, so even with a full server load of up to 32 players - technically its 24 players but there are a few extra slots to allow friends to join the same server - you rarely actually come across other players while you're out exploring. The only time players really group together is for endgame bosses that require all hands on deck to help out or other public events that multiple players can take part in. These are some of the coolest moments in the game where everyone shows up to take down a Scorchbeast Queen and everyone works together. 

Players are generally just friendly to each other by default, I've found. It isn't uncommon for higher level players to help out lower level players if they see them fighting a group of enemies or something. It is also a sort of fun tradition for higher level players to give items like stimpacks and ammo to lower level players just to help them out. I'm fond of going to the entrance of Vault 76, where every player starts the game, and leaving a bunch of stimpacks and rad away and ammo on the ground to help out new players. That's just the type of community the game has. There is no griefing and harassing players and being mean at all in my experience. And, you know what? If someone does try to destroy your camp or launch a nuke on top of you or something, all you have to do is quit out of the game and join a new server.

I also want to say that the game is totally playable solo. You won't be able to kill a Wendigo Colossus or Scorchbeast Queen by yourself, and there are some other events that aren't really doable with one person, but in those cases like I mentioned before other players will always show up to help. For the rest of the game, however, you can definitely play it completely by yourself and see all of the story missions and probably 95% of the content overall. The game can be more fun with other people, certainly, but if you're shy or have no friends or just prefer to play solo, that shouldn't stand in your way of giving Fallout 76 a try.

This wasn't always necessarily the case, however. When the game launched the game world was a typical MMO where the world was split into distinct areas of lower and higher level enemies. There were areas of the world lower level players couldn't explore because the enemies would be too strong to deal with. That all changed in September 2020 with the One Wasteland For All update where the game was totally rebalanced so that enemies scaled with players everywhere on the map so you could now explore anywhere and everywhere and truly do whatever you wanted, just like a normal Fallout game. Of course, running into a deathclaw or wendigo or other mini-boss-type enemy still provides a challenge, but you no longer had to worry about wandering into the wrong part of the map and getting destroyed by a lowly feral ghoul that was higher leveled than you.

I also want to note that despite the level scaling there are still a few difficulty spikes that will keep you on your toes. Some particular moments in the story definitely punish you if you're not strong enough, and there are some level thresholds when the enemies you face suddenly get stronger and you have to learn to deal with it. Even with level scaling I wouldn't ever say the game is too easy as you still have to be careful depending on what you're fighting and how many of them there are as it is still easy to be overwhelmed and taken out extremely quickly. I personally find it to be just the right balance of occasional challenge while still feeling like a level 200+ badass wearing awesome power armor. 

One of the complaints when Fallout 76 launched was that the game didn't have any human NPCs in the world at all. Instead, all of the shops were run by robots and you got all of your quests from computer terminals. That all changed in April 2020 with the Wastelanders update. This content update saw the addition of a ton of new content including human NPCs roaming the map, two new large settlements of people, and factions of human NPCs including settlers, raiders, the Mothman cult, the psychotic Blood Eagle gang, and more. These NPCs and the new quests and story content made the world feel a lot more like Fallout. 

Like I said, I didn't start playing until December 2020, which was after Wastelanders and the Steel Dawn - which added the Brotherhood of Steel to the game - updates had already dramatically altered the game world and overall story. Because of that I was able to soak in everything all at once rather than waiting months for new content updates, which helped me appreciate the game for what it was versus what I wanted or expected it to be. And I can honestly say with 100% sincerity that I think Fallout 76 is a very good Fallout game. 

The world is very interesting and fun to explore. It isn't huge or anything, but I don't feel like it is too small, either. It has several distinct regions all with something unique to offer. There are also a lot of unmarked easter eggs and fun things to find that aren't marked on the map, so exploration is rewarding and satisfying. I also think the story content itself is very well done and there are some quests that are right up there among the very best quests in the entire franchise. When you're doing story quests it feels just like Fallout 3 or New Vegas or 4, so if you're still disappointed that the game is an MMO instead of a single-player game you really shouldn't be. You're still exploring and learning about the lore of the world and doing specific things that fill in the gaps of the overall story of not just Fallout 76, but the entire Fallout franchise. If you enjoy the Fallout universe, you owe it to yourself to play Fallout 76 for the story content.

There are currently four distinct storylines in Fallout 76. The initial quest where your ultimate goal is to launch a nuke at the behest of ... a certain faction that I don't want to ruin because I personally thought it was a great goosebumpy reveal so I assume other people will be excited about it as well when you play it. The second questline is the Wastelanders where you ally with the raiders of Crater or settlers of Foundation to break into a vault full of gold bars. And the third and fourth main quests focus on the Brotherhood of Steel. There are also, of course, dozens of side quests that contribute to the overall plot as well. It takes about 50-60 hours to play all of the story stuff, but what do you do after that?

The main criticism of the game today in 2021 is that there isn't much to do in the endgame. Once you beat the story and do all of the daily quests and public events a few times there isn't really much else to keep you engaged. That has somewhat been fixed with the addition of seasons, where you do daily and weekly quests to move around a game board and earn items and weapons and other unlockable doodads for each of the 100 spots on the board you reach. Even doing seasons, though, only takes maybe 30-minutes a day to do all of the daily quests and max out your rewards and then you're left with nothing to do. 

I don't necessarily think that is a huge problem, though. You aren't hopelessly addicted to it and want to play for hours and hours like when you're doing the story content, but logging in for 30-minutes or an hour a day or every other day isn't a bad thing and the rewards during the seasons are worth it for the most part so it still feels rewarding. If you're self motivated, though, there are still certainly other things you can do to keep yourself moving along and having fun. I've had several times where I thought "Ok, after I do this I'm done with the game for a while", but then I find something else new to do and just keep playing.

At first I didn't ever bother to launch a nuke, because it seemed too complicated and overwhelming, so that was my first post game goal. That first time took something like 90-minutes, but now I can run through the nuclear silos in less than 25 minutes. My second goal was to get the best armor, which meant doing missions to earn Treasury Notes to turn in for gold bullion, which then got turned in for armor plans to make the armor I wanted. My third goal was to collect the best possible weapons that I actually liked to use, which of course then turned into an ongoing regular task of stocking up on enough ammo to be able to keep using them. My next goal was to get all of the Xbox achievements. Then my goal was to get as many of the in-game achievements, many of which reward you with the premium Atom currency you can use in the in-game shop, as possible. Then I wanted to build a sick awesome camp as my main base. Then my goal was to collect valuable resources that are a pain in the butt to find and sell them to other players to make lots of caps. Every time I've thought I was done, something pulls me back in.

What I'm trying to say with all of this is that you should give Fallout 76 a shot. Most of the complaints people had about the game when it launched have been addressed and the experience is pretty solid now. It isn't perfect by any means - there is still some jankiness and glitches and the gameplay feels a little funky at first because the game basically has to check in with the server for every action you do - but I have had a fantastic time with it in my 400 hours of playing and don't see myself stopping any time soon. I also can't stress enough the fact that it isn't just an MMO with a Fallout skin, it's actually a great Fallout game in it's own right with a fantastic world to explore and an excellent story. I was kind of down on Fallout after Fallout 4, but Fallout 76 made me fall in love with the franchise all over again. I highly recommend you give it a try. You can play it via Xbox Game Pass on Xbox or PC, so please play it.