I played the Fallout 76 beta over the past couple weeks and had a great time playing with friends, actually, a better time than I expected.
The quests were really fun, great and weird Fallout-type quests, exploring was awesome, crafting was a lot of fun, hoarding materials filled that great gaming compulsive itch, and there were plenty of exciting moments all shared by my friends and I. However, Fallout 76 is still a big open online survival game and, here’s where my opinion comes in, all those games are not good games. I’ve played 7 Days to Die, Miscreated, Rust, Hurtworld, Conan Exiles, and one or two more I can’t remember. I’ve watched my friends play all the others - DayZ, H1Z1, Scum, etc. Not a single one of these games is good, however compared to all of them I’d have to say Fallout 76 is the best: the smoothest, the most fun, the most player friendly, the best at managing griefing, it has the best world and the best enemies. And I would still say Fallout 76 is not a good game, but I am going to play it, probably a lot, and really enjoy it.
So the obvious next question is - well what do I mean by “good”? We are living in a time where online gaming is bigger than ever and growing massively every year. The range of quality in popular online games is wild - completely polished, beautiful, virtually bugless games like Overwatch are just as popular (or less popular) as ugly, klunky, bug-ridden games like PUBG. Open world online survival games have an interesting niche in this online world - they are much slower-paced than most online games even while the risk in them is generally higher, they’re competitive but they don’t have matches or scores or teams or wins. I actually think survival games are closer to a traditional table top RPG than MMORPGs are - you have one life, your growth as a character is very slow, you never become this walking video game god because death is always around the corner, and when you die death is often almost as unforgiving as tearing up your paper character sheet. So why don’t I think they’re good? Simply put: the technology is not there yet to accomplish what these survival games want to be. Especially since they’re all made by smaller game companies with limited budgets and staff and they’re trying to make this new genre of game that is online, massive, and complex - which is why they virtually all sit in early access for years and never feel complete when they are officially released. Another comparison is games made for the Atari: genres of games were all over place but where the Atari was built for games like Pong, it was not built for many others it released.
At the time, however, it’s hard to see this when it’s all you know. All we know right now are buggy, never ending alphas and betas, poorly designed, ruined by griefers, ugly as hell, klunky, hard to play online survival games. But people love online games because, as much as we don’t want to admit it in our modern world, we love and need contact with other people. These games are a new genre, they allow you to get into all sorts of ridiculous situations with friends or strangers - and those high moments, moments that can happen anywhere or in any game but are an innate part of survival games, are what people remember. So my point is...it’s okay to like something that’s bad or mediocre. These games are inevitable in the technological growth of online gaming. There is a future that exists where an absolutely mind-blowing incredible Fallout online game exists, it’s probably a mesh of MMORPGs and survival games, and is far bigger and more complex than anything even remotely possible today. Or who knows, maybe it will just be in VR?
And that’s where managing your expectations come in. I think people are being overly critical of Fallout 76 because people’s expectations for games are ridiculously high - part of a cycle created by gaming corporations and irrational player bases. All video game RPGs are still struggling to capture the depth, creativity, and narrative of table top role playing games or, more directly, of human imagination. Fallout 76 feels weird and is weird because it’s an RPG without NPCs - but it could never be a survival game and a deep RPG at the same time because gaming technology just can’t do that yet. Or maybe it could but....the ingenuity is not there yet or no company is willing to take that monetary risk because if we had a true video game RPG, a true world that is player driven, that is slow, deep, realistically paced, and constantly changing it would be wildly expensive beyond anything we’ve seen in gaming.
You shouldn’t expect Fallout 76 to be what it can’t. I’d argue in spite of it’s more specific flaws, it is objectively the best made online survival game yet, primarily because Bethesda has the money and the experience to make it the best. Enjoy this moment in gaming, have fun with your friends in a Fallout world, and down the line you’ll have good memories even if you think the game was pretty mediocre, and that’s okay. I’m glad Bethesda took this risk, they could have easily made a Fallout MMORPG and that would have been way less interesting. We, as players, should be praising game companies when they take risks and manage our expectations of what those risks produce. I’ll definitely be playing a lot of Fallout 76 with my friends and I look forward to seeing what the next major survival game ends up being. I have a theory that Diablo 4 will be heavily influenced by this genre but....that’s for another article.
See you, actually for real this time, in the Wasteland!