Late to the Game: Fallout 76

I decided to start a new category called “Late to the Game”, where I’ll review video games most of you have already grown bored with. I tend to play games long after they were popular for a number of reasons:

  1. I don’t have a lot of time to game.
  2. I play most games through to the end, and peek in every corner along the way.
  3. Points 1 and 2 together means it takes me forever to finish a game.
  4. I buy “Game of the Year” editions long after they were popular. If they made it to a Game of the Year edition that tells me it was probably a pretty decent experience.
  5. I might save a few bucks not getting it on day one.

The one exception to that are the Bethesda games, because they’re so immersive. I’ll get them “sooner”, although even there I’ll wait a few months for them to shake some of the bigger bugs loose.

That brings me to Fallout 76, which came out in November 2018, and I picked up this past holiday. Like most Bethesda games, it’s a big-ass world with a complex (but not complicated) economy, with lots of little easter eggs, nooks and hidden spots to find. I was a little hesitant at first, because I’m not a fan of MMOs. I’ve played a few in the past, and while I enjoy playing alongside friends from time to time, I’m rarely online with them at the same time, and when I am, we waste a lot of time trying to find one another. My game time is rare, so I’d rather just dive into the action. Plus I’m an introvert, so wading through random folks with lore-breaking gamer tags just spoils the experience. I’ll play MMOs, but they’re not at the top of my list.

Fallout 76 has none of that. I’ve rarely seen other players in the game, and mostly we pass one another without comment. So, +1 there.

It’s got some PVP, but what I really like is that they scale it so when some level 76 wiseass picks a fight with me, our stats are skewed so we’re on more even footing (I’m still level 15). That player did eventually kill me, but the death penalty is just a few caps, plus I came back and took revenge, making back my lost caps and then some. So, +3.

I like the base building. I see other player bases look completely out of place sometimes (like a top heavy tree house). I did find one that was so well designed I thought it was an in-game asset and so I picked all their fruit before it occurred to me I was robbing another player—who eventually showed up and chased me, so I ran through a bunch of super mutants and eventually lost them. I did feel bad for taking all their vegetables, but no so bad that I didn’t cook them into adhesive and fertilizer—that stuff is scarce. Add +2 for that experience.

And my base? I created this little hunter’s shack nestled in some trees between two separate mob zones. It’s hard to find unless you’re looking for it. I sometimes get wild dogs attacking, but my sentry guns take those out. It looks like some moonshine cabin you’d find in the back woods (note to self: I need to find a banjo). And being so close to the mob zones, I have enough time in the morning before work to log in, harvest my vegetables, kill & loot some bad guys, and make it back to my cabin. +4

The fast travel is there if I want it, but costly, so most of the time, I’ll hoof it out to a location then fast travel back to my cabin (which is free). It’s enough to encourage exploration without a lot of backtracking. +2

I do miss having NPCs to interact with like in the other Bethesda games. It feels lonelier than Fallout 4 and Skyrim, but that might also be because I’m operating more like a hermit anyway and avoid other players. But it’s a post apocalyptic game anyway, so maybe…that’s the point? I tend to get more in my head while I play, and think about strategies and plot threads, and sometimes find inspiration for new characters in my novels. Call that a break even.

I’ve avoided reading a lot of coverage about the game, since they seem to be written for and by power levelers who can devote multiple hours a day. They know how to game the economy. They can list where all the best items are. They break the illusion for me, showing me the high degree of power I’ll never attain, because I’ll never be able to devote the several hours a day that they have. That said, I will occasionally google a tactic when I’m stuck. Again, my gaming time is rare and sacred, so I don’t have time to be frustrated long by a game mechanic.

Overall I’m enjoying it. I like the exploration and the combat tactics. I like the economy and the anonymity. Tallying all the bonuses…

Final score: +12

I’ll let you know when something interesting happens.


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