Survival of the Fanboi
Fallout 76 was released a little over two months ago, but after playing the beta and the general release for the first few weeks I decided to give it a good two month break-in period before writing a review. That way, Bethesda could work out the kinks and I could review this AAA game that was released a couple months too early. However, Fallout 76 is still a broken mess that I cannot recommend playing, at least until Bethesda, or whoever takes over this hot mess, fixes numerous game-breaking bugs.
A quick search of Fallout 76 reviews will yield some fairly toxic results. Let me cut through the hyperbole and shed some light on the core issue behind many of the bad reviews. First, this is all Bethesda's fault. Folks are reacting to the product Bethesda, presumably of their own volition, released before it was ready for prime time. I've played all of the single player Fallout games, and some of the DLCs too, but we were warned that Fallout 76 was a multiplayer game with some PvP elements. I remember thinking that I would finally be able to build and maintain a camp with my friends, in a persistent online Fallout world! Many fans did not share my excitement, likely because they wanted the next Fallout release to be another single player game, just like all the other releases in the franchise. Bethesda failed to manage the expectations of their community. They relied on their fans to just pre-order because it was Fallout. They ignored their community, as compared to other AAA titles released in the past 20 years, and did not properly prepare players for the Fallout 76 experience. I believe this is the root cause of much of the passionate responses to this release. Too much hype, too little community management, and too far off the mark.
Now, on to the major reasons for my thumbs down for this game. There are three critical factors that make up the backbone of successful multiplayer online games today, and Bethesda failed to deliver any of them for Fallout 76.
1) Server stability - sure, all online games have these issues, but how could Bethesda break this core feature so badly? During high volume online traffic hours, players would disconnect after 15 - 20 minutes of play time. At other times, the server would simply stop responding, leaving players in limbo for a couple of minutes before learning their fate. Disconnecting meant losing quest progress, all claimed workshops, and various other bugs and nuisances.
2) Multiplayer stability - players have come to expect a certain level of experience with teaming up in multiplayer games. For example, the friends list should be reliable, especially in a game with no text chat feature. In a production-quality AAA game, you should not see your friends list disappear at any time. Many online games offer a smooth and pleasurable grouping experience, but Fallout 76 is plagued with poorly designed and implemented grouping mechanics. I can think of only one grouping experience in Fallout 76 that was not the worst I have ever experienced. Most of the time, my friends and I played solo because we just couldn't bring ourselves to bear the pain of Bethesda's quirky, broken grouping system, not to mention the absence of any organized player elements, such as player guilds or corporations. Also, forcing players into voice chat with complete strangers shows a blatant disregard for basic human psychology.
3) Game element stability - all online games struggle with game element stability, but Bethesda has learned nothing from history. In 2018, I expect that most elements will work for core gameplay, such as equipping armor and weapons. I also expect that core features work as intended, such as perk cards and ability points.
I've been playing computer games for 38 years, and Fallout 76 is not my worst experience. When not bothered by any of the game-breaking bugs, I had some fun and enjoyed some time with my buddies. However, I doubt Bethesda was aiming for "second from last" for this AAA title at a AAA price. What has happened to game developers and publishers? Did anyone at Bethesda play Fallout 76 before release? Is Bethesda merely the tip of the iceberg? Should we lower our standards? Fallout 76 wasn't merely a rush to publish for the holidays. It was published at least a year too early, based on my experience with other games played in alpha and beta stages. In fact, I'm currently playing an alpha version of a multiplayer online game that is more stable than the production version of Fallout 76 after two months of patches. It is hard not to get riled up by all the egregious errors made by Bethesda in releasing Fallout 76 way too early, and I had somewhat moderate expectations compared to some reviewers. I truly wanted Fallout 76 to be a new and wonderful experience, but at this point, you really have to be a fanboi to stick with Fallout 76.
In an effort to end on a positive note, several interesting online multiplayer games are earmarked for release in 2019, such as Anthem and Borderlands 3. Let's hope they learn a lesson from Fallout 76.