This past summer, when Bethesda announced Fallout 76 (Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC), director Todd Howard made a point of noting that while the game was multiplayer focused, you could still play this post-apocalyptic adventure on your own. As someone who prefers to play games that way, I decided to put this assertion to the test, and what I found was that while you can go it alone in Fallout 76, you may not want to.
In Fallout 76,
you’re the resident of an underground shelter in West Virginia about twenty-five years after a nuclear war destroyed civilization. Which, for those keeping score at home, is 175 years before Fallout 3, 185 before Fallout 4, and 189 before Fallout: New Vegas. The doors of Vault 76 have finally been opened, and so you head out in to what’s left of the world to forge a new life.
For those unfamiliar with this series, Fallout 76 is an action-oriented role-playing game set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland that has the look and feel of a sci-fi movie from the 1950s. Hence all the burned out cars with fins and the robots with round edges and the broken art deco kitchen appliances. Playable from either the first- or third-person perspective, you explore a vast open world populated by irradiated animals, giant insects, human-hating ‘bots, and zombie-like mutants, one where you not only have to survive, but you also have to scrounge for supplies, craft helpful items, and run errands for people.
As for how Fallout 76 differs from Fallout 3, New Vegas, and 4 — which were all single-player games — this removes all of the computer-controlled human characters. Any people you see in Fallout 76 are other players you can team up with or get into fights with. Because of this, the game requires a persistent online connection, and thus cannot be paused, even if your mom calls to tell you to watch that night’s Late Show With Stephen Colbert, it’s really funny.
Fallout 76 also doesn’t have the same kind V.A.T.S. auto-targeting system of the other games. Again, because the game is online only, the V.A.T.S. doesn’t slow time like it used to, which let you target enemies and specific body parts. Instead, it merely highlights an enemy and shows you the odds you have of hitting them. Now, it does allow you to quickly switch between enemies, and you will be able to target body parts if you get the card that gives you this skill, but even then, you can’t slow time.
Fallout 76 also changes how certain items work.
Or don’t, as the case may be. Your weapons now suffer from wear and tear, and can break from overuse. You also now can’t eat or drink to replenish your health. Instead, you have to do it to avoid starvation and dehydration. And while you oddly can’t drink from sinks like you could before, there are a plenty of rivers and streams you can drink from. You can even fill up containers for later.
But one of the biggest differences between Fallout 76 and its predecessors is that the setting gives it a very different vibe. While the previous games were set in big cities and their outlying suburbs, which had been bombed into rubble, Fallout 76 takes place in West Virginia, where structures are less common and surrounded by large forests. It also seems to take place in the early fall, so the trees are all leafy green or just starting to turn brown, a far cry from the barren wastelands of the earlier games. All of which gives Fallout 76 a warmer and less bleak feel than those earlier games.
So, how much fun is Fallout 76 when you play it alone? Well, here’s the thing: You kind of can’t do that. There’s no way to block other people from joining your game, or even a way to limit it to just your friends.
Instead, playing Fallout 76 solo means you just go out into the world on your own. You’ll still see other people walking around, and you don’t have to talk or otherwise interact with them if you don’t want to, but they’re still there.
And this is whereFallout 76 becomes less interesting for people who don’t play well with others. Much like Destiny and Destiny 2 — which also has a persistent open world that requires an online connection — you’ll sometimes get into firefights, only to be interrupted by some other player. It also ruins the post-apocalyptic vibe when you see some idiot running around all willy-nilly or, worse, hopping around in a vain attempt to not be bit by a giant opossum.
It’s also annoying that you can’t pause the game,
not just when the phone rings, but also when you activate your Pop Boy to manage your inventory or look at your to-do list, since it means enemies can attack you when you’re not paying attention. And yes, that includes when you’re trying to use a Stimpack because you’re in a fight and are badly hurt, or you’re trying to switch weapons because your shotgun broke.
Similarly, a V.A.T.S. system that doesn’t slow time is a lot less useful. Especially since targeting enemies with a gun doesn’t work as well in Fallout 76 as it does in such dedicated shooters as Call Of Duty: Black Ops 4. Though it does give you a very slight aim assist. Still, Fallout 76 works best when you use melee weapons instead guns. Well, until you bring a knife to a gunfight, of course.
It also doesn’t help that your weapons in Fallout 76 suffer from wear and tear. It’s about as fun here as it is in every other game that has this mechanic, which is to say it’s not, stop doing it, nobody likes you.
Combat is Fallout 76 is also frustrating when you play solo because there are no options to change the difficulty, and the game is clearly made for people who team up. Not only are the enemies tougher than their counterparts in earlier Falloutgames, they also tend to congregate in larger numbers and attack you simultaneously. In addition, with so few stores still open, ammo and health items are in short supply. Good thing the people who occasionally drop supply caches in Call Of Duty work for this game as well.
Of course, the increased difficulty in Fallout 76 won’t be an issue for those who want the kind of challenge they got by playing Fallout 4 on the hardest difficulty. But for the rest of us, it makes this rather frustrating. Doubly so when you’re surrounded by giant flies and go into the menu to eat a carrot in hopes of replenishing your health, but then you realize carrots aren’t healthy anymore, so you reach for a Stimpack, but too late, you’re dead.
getting killed in Fallout 76 doesn’t remove everything from your backpack like it did when you played Zombi. You only lose some of the junk you’ve picked up, as well as some of the scrap you’ve either found or made by, well, scrapping your junk. And if you go back to where you died, you can pick it all up. Well, assuming someone else doesn’t loot your corpse before you get there.
Now, you can always avoid this, to a certain extent, by building a home for yourself, and being diligent about storing your stuff. Your home base even disappears from the world when you log out to watch Colbert. But when you’re playing, it returns, and remains so even when you wander far away. Which means that while you’re out exploring the world, someone can break into your home and steal your stuff. And not just your junk and scrap, either.
Similarly, some irresponsibly idiot apparently left some nukes lying around. Which means that one day, when you’re just walking around, minding your own business — or worse, just about to complete a task or beat a tough enemy — you might get nuked. Of course, this isn’t a problem that’s unique to those who play Fallout 76 on their own; people who play with friend run the risk of this happening to them as well. But it is something that wouldn’t happen if you were the only person allowed in your world.
People partial to story-driven single-player games will also find the main quest in Fallout 76 to be a bit lacking. You’re supposed to find The Overseer, your Vault’s former leader, but this just requires you follow some points on a map. Granted, it does seem more like a long training mission, and in that it is effective, but it’s still not that interesting.
The thing is,
while this is often more frustrating than fun, and, some would argue, unnecessarily so — it seems like this would’ve worked just as well as a traditional Fallout game but with a co-op option — Fallout 76 is still as addictive as its solitary cousins. Granted, you have to be prepared to die, a lot, and to miss your targets, a lot, and to be a crime statistic, a lot. But if you know all of this going in, you may have a good time wandering the forests of this post-apocalyptic world. Not as much of one as you had in that time in D.C. Or Boston. Or Vegas. But a good time nonetheless.