I’ve mentioned before that back when Fallout 76 was announced, even I was surprised at how little the game pissed me off. Oh sure, it made me mad (multiplayer, for many reasons, is about the last thing I could ever want in a Fallout game), but not nearly as much as you’d expect given the increasingly disillusioned articles I wrote throughout Fallout’s release and DLC cycle. Fallout 4 had been, for me, a series of disappointments that broke tradition with what I originally loved and appreciated about Fallout, particularly its sense of discovery and isolation and how vast the world felt for all the different ways to approach conflict within it. In a combination of resignation and misplaced optimism, I began to fantasize that Fallout 76 could be a chance to course correct, perhaps isolating the crafting survival experience from the core games and restoring some of the features that Fallout 4 removed (like Skills) in order to restore its RPG foundation.
I never dreamed that Fallout 76 would just be an MMO Fallout 4, though. I wanted the game to isolate the crafting and survival aspects of Fallout 4, but I didn’t expect the game to just be those crafting and survival aspects. And while I generally don’t object to the reuse of certain defining themes and core mechanics across a game series (most games are built on at least something that has been used more than once, and without that, they would be even more expensive and time consuming to make), this is just tedious. I can’t believe I’m spending endless hours doing mindless scrap runs for Wonderglue and Duct Tape again.
It took only a few hours of playing Fallout 76 before I slipped into a very familiar pattern: play for about 45 minutes, break my weapon or run out of ammo, then spend another 3 hours doing junk runs and scrapping for parts. For a new game, it’s already much too familiar, and annoyingly so: after the 700+ hours I put into Fallout 4, I really didn’t expect I’d be back in the position of having to memorize crafting recipes and what ingredients each component breaks down to again. While it comes in handy that I already know lots of little things about the Fallout 4 crafting system (always, always pick up Sensor Modules), at the same time, if I wanted to play Fallout 4 I’d just go play Fallout 4. And I’d do so alone, without having to constantly look over my shoulder for hostile players while I’m just trying to make some ammo and repair my armor.
I’d hoped that the crafting and survival features of Fallout 4, through Fallout 76, would come to supplement, not define, the Fallout experience. But currently I’m spending way more time on scrap runs and inventory management than actually working my way through the main quests. The constant need for ammo, meds and weapon repairs overshadows everything else—and what little encouragement the game provides towards building a team and base camp (making use of all those scavenged materials) is not well supported by the game’s mission structure. Not only is the game a lot of busy work, it expects you to be self motivated about it too.
Ultimately Fallout 76, with its wildly unfocused (and uncharacteristic) split between crafting, survival and MMO, strikes me as not knowing what kind of game it really wants to be. And while that feeling may be in part because I refuse to identify these features as the series’s new normal, in the end,Fallout 76 also spends too much time chasing a trend to remain faithful to the basis for its original appeal.
Fallout 76 is not the game I’d hoped it would be. And the game that it is, I’ve already played.
Holly Green is the assistant editor of Paste Games and a reporter and semiprofessional photographer. She is also the author of Fry Scores: An Unofficial Guide To Video Game Grub. You can find her work at Gamasutra, Polygon, Unwinnable, and other videogame news publications.