Fallout 76's Gameplay Loop

Oct. 25, 2018

On October 23rd 2018 Xbox one owners finally got the chance to get their hands on fallout 76. I myself curious to see how this different take on fallout place feels and performs partook in the beta to test the waters and for my part it was overall a mixed experience.

Before I extrapolate I would like to point out that I mostly play the game solo with the occasional encounter with strangers I definitely get the sense that if you can find a group of friends to play this game with cooperatively you're bound to have a better time but I also think it's important for this game to appeal to those who prefer a more solitary experience.

On that front here's what I have to report. First things first let's talk about what I did enjoy about the game I actually found myself decently engaged with a gameplay loop and character progression system I was initially concerned that the perk cards would bog down the experience but I think it works really well for the kind of game that filed 76 is in my four hours playthrough I primarily focused on agility and perception to enhance my capabilities with vats as I don't particularly excel at twin-stick shooting am more of a mouse and keyboard kind of player when it comes to shooters with each level up I would get to choose which attribute I wanted to level up and from there I'd pick a card related to the attribute to enhance my abilities now every few levels you are given perk card packs that yield a random set of cards that you can then apply to your character I wasn't sure how to feel about the system when I first heard about it but after playing the game I found that the card packs add a much-needed element of giving players a glimpse of some of the other useful perks that other attributes have to offer I found myself discovering perks from attributes that I didn't know I'd want to level up and put more of a focus on now one major concern people have is that Bethesda will exploit card packs to implement some kind of paid loot boxes them but I believe it's already been confirmed that card packs can only be earned via gameplay as long as it remains that way so long as they cannot be bought with real money I think the game awarding card packs will greatly serve as character progression aside from leveling another important aspect to your progression is your weapons and equipment and from the four hours that I played I quite enjoy the pace at which you obtained and upgraded them when I first walked out of vault 76 I started with just the vault Sood a party hat and my bare fists but after beating the zombie-like scorch to a pulp I eventually found my first weapon a pipe pistol managed to procure a decent amount of ammo and that enabled me to partake in a few quests then kill a few stronger enemies which in turn you then more powerful weapons that I could either loot off of enemies or craft and upgrade myself there was definitely a sense of satisfaction in killing my first super mutant looting a hunting rifle off of him and then getting the materials and necessary to add a long barrel to increase its range and efficiency without a doubt the thing that I enjoyed most about fallout 76 was that constant forward momentum of progression that I felt my character was making as I partook in activities looted enemies and leveled up whether that feeling will carry through for dozens of hours on end however it is hard to say until I play the game more extensively.

Which brings us to what I did not enjoy about fallout 76 the shallow quests the dull storytelling and the lifeless world as far as quests go every single one I did in my four hour session essentially bogged down to following the quest marker looting or killing something finding some kind of audio log scribbled note or Terminal four additional exposition then rinse and repeat when it comes to the activities who'll be partaking and fallout 76 there is really not much else to it than that one singular template I felt as though once I had completed one of the game's quests I had pretty much seen and done all of them say for variation in context as decently as I enjoy the gameplay loop involved with the character progression the activities I partook in did not offer enough depth to convince me that this might be something that could keep me hooked for dozens or hundreds of hours it also doesn't help that moment-to-moment storytelling and character interactions are practically non-existent in this game which is a huge detriment to the overall experience one of the most bizarre decisions that Bethesda made with file 76 was to make all human characters in the game actual players meaning no NPCs to talk to quests from etc as a result all the story in this game is delivered via remnants of dead or distant characters taking the form of pre-recorded audio or pre-written text scattered throughout the world these remnants to offer some interesting insight about how people lived leading up to the events of fallout 76 but relying entirely on this format to tell the game's story was in my opinion a huge mistake in a role-playing game I don't just want to listen to people's story I want to become an active participant of them that's why the presence of NPCs is so important you not only get to learn about their past exploits through pre-recorded material or through dialogue you get to influence their present and future through your interactions you get to become a part of their lives and shape their story rather than just be a bystander of it the thing that I've always loved about fallout is seeing in real time how the remainder of mankind has coped with the circumstances of having to survive in a post-nuclear world witnessing how different characters and personalities have made the best or worst out of their situation how different ideals in a post-apocalyptic world clash to survive how culture and society has evolved since the bombs struck and being able to actively shape what lies ahead is to me the very soul of Fallout in that regard there is no denying that fallout 76 lacks that soul without inhabitants to color the world and give it some life well I get that a sense of desolation is an important aspect to the Fallout experience even older games sprinkle the world with enough interesting settlements housing a compelling populace those games weren't completely desolate just enough to give the world that nuclear wasteland flavor file 76 takes the sense of desolation one step way too far by excluding any form of fictional human contact and the world feels one step two lifeless as a result the game certainly plays like fallout the world certainly has a fallout backdrop but it's a play without actors it's more of a virtual set and playground that players are allowed to tour explore learn about and partake in shenanigans as a group and maybe exactly what some people are looking for but I for one need a strong narrative anchor to carry me through a games activities especially when they're dull and repetitive and fall out 76 just doesn't offer that this is a fall out game where you're primarily narrated and told the lore and backstory rather than one where you get to contribute to it what I believe will mainly keep people coming back to this game is the gameplay loop involving scavenging creating growing leveling progressing and upgrading I found that loop to be engaging enough that I was able to sit through the betas for hours though without compelling side quests and an active narrative a sense of emptiness permeated a rather strange sensation to have in a world that's primarily inhabited by actual players speaking of which I did encounter a number of players throughout my playthrough with my most active partnership having been stumbling upon an event quest involving having to ward off a wave of the zombie like scorched creatures it was neat at first but once the novelty of meeting other Fallout players in real time wore off maybe it's just me but chance encounters with them felt more immersion breaking in awkward than anything else and they were certainly no replacement for the game's lack of NPCs and character interactions nobody I encountered ever really spoke resorting to the occasional basic communication with emotes instead and even if they did they wouldn't really act like proper and PCs who are part of this world as they are part of the tour rather than actors in the play not to mention that encounters with other players were few and far between with how massive the world is and more often than not I felt strangers God in the way of my solo activities playing with total strangers is just not for me I suppose which is why private servers would go a long way a feature that is coming to Fallout 76 sometime after the game's release during my solo endeavors I also spent a lot of time with the game's controls and mechanics and I have to say that while they are functional they also feel far more sluggish and clunky than other similar online life service games on the market the pip-boy interface is still unintuitive as hell and a pain in the ass to navigate especially in an unpossible multiplayer game in which efficient equipment management and weapon switching is paramount gunplay works as it doesn't fall out for so it's passable but also a far cry from other titles that have refined their shooting mechanics one mitigated fallout force less refined shooting mechanics was the presence of vats but the way that works in fallout 76 leaves a lot to be desired whereas before vats would allow you to slow down time and target specific limbs and fallout 76 the game doesn't pause and it all takes place in real time and that's obviously a necessity given that this is a multiplayer game that doesn't pause but it just doesn't work here fats is only ever really accurate when you're unreasonably close to an enemy and even then percentages will very rapidly because everything is moving in real time without pause furthermore the percentages didn't feel at all accurate to the actual results as even when I'm told that I have a 95 percent chance of hitting an enemy I only seem to hit like 60% of the time honestly investing in vats only seems worth it if you're more of an in-your-face combatant so shotguns would play nicely with it but even then when 95% chance of hitting still means there's a good chance of missing you might just be better off with aiming and shooting manually I really do hope that by the time the game launches they will fix vats to make it feel more useful and less weird and inconsistent also much like fallout 4 in third person point of view the game can suffer from janky camera and animations so you are better off playing in first-person though it's always nice to have the option to pan the camera out and get a good look at your character on a technical standpoint well it certainly feels like a creation engine game with all of its imperfections to the game's credit its artistic direction does a lot of the heavy lifting as far as how good the game looks but overall it's hard not to deny that the graphics in fallout 76 look somewhat dated it does boast some impressive lighting but models animations textures and overall fidelity share many of the same old problems as fallout 4 and when it comes to performance because the world is so much wider than Fallout Force fallout 76 does suffer from a few down grades here and there as well as more consistent and noticeable frame drops it's not to the extent where the game feels unplayable by any means but the stutters are definitely there and they occur more often than they should bethesda has been in dire need for a new engine for many years now as each iteration of their engine has been a patchwork of enhancements stacked on top of the rocky foundation that is gamebryo and fallout 76 is dated feeling only serves to further highlight this one thing that I didn't get to play around with much was the camp system that allows you to build a settlement pretty much anywhere on the map I deployed it once to store all my junk after I became over encumbered and I deployed a cooking station to craft some food and water on the fly but I never got to build a house or anything like that so I cannot comment on that yet but on the topic of food and water fallout 76 does feature a hunger and thirst meter that you have to keep track of as otherwise you'll suffer a huge penalty to your action points and to me personally it didn't really feel like it added anything to the experience if anything keeping track of these stats feel more like a tedious chore that hampers gameplay it's kind of annoying and it doesn't help matters that inventory management in fallout 76 is so cumbersome that sorting through all your drinks and food becomes a pretty frustrating exercise to make a long story short the overall impression that I got from fallout 76 is that it feels like they took fallout 4 and tried to cram it into a mold that doesn't quite fit the game engine the gameplay mechanics the role-playing elements the narrative aspects none of them fully translates to the kind of experience fallout 76 is trying to be it's a decent enough game don't get me wrong but it feels a bit Frankensteinian in nature an extensive patchwork modifier for rather than a properly devised cohesive package built from the ground up it's somewhat reminiscent of Metal Gear survive in the sense that it - repurposed the engine the assets and the gameplay mechanics and tried to shove these elements from phantom pain into a zombie shooter survival mold but this phantom pain mod simply did not work and a lot of things didn't quite mesh phantom pain simply wasn't built to be a frenetic zombie shooter it was built to be a methodical stealth action game similarly fallout 4 wasn't built to be an online Oh RPG it wasn't built to be able to be repurposed into that type of experience so in trying to do so in trying to repurpose the game and fit it into a mold that wasn't meant to be there's just a lot of things that get lost in transition and a lot that ends up falling short compared to the other shared world games that were built from the ground up the passive narrative structure is a huge miss the lack of NPCs is a huge bummer the lack of variety in quests is disappointing shooting mechanics and vats don't feel refined enough for a multiplayer only game the clunky interface is highly inappropriate for an unpossible experience the game engine seems to struggle to handle this type of game and the list goes on I do think there's a nugget of a good idea and of potential here with a gameplay loop they designed for this game I just don't think it was executed with the proper tools and methods.

It's a functional game that has the potential to be fun for certain crowds but a lot of things just do not come together properly it doesn't just work as Todd Howard likes to say.