Fallout 76's Multiplayer: The Promise Vs. The Reality

In the week since Fallout 76's release, it since has become one of 2018’s more divisive games. Its Metacritic page is a horrorshow; its official forum and subreddits are battlegrounds between those who have found something to love in the buggy online survival game and those who think Bethesda has taken the series off a cliff.

While there’s a lot of hyperbole on both sides, many players’ disappointment is reasonable, given how Fallout 76 was pitched to them when it was originally revealed at this year’s E3.

In a smart post on the subject over at Forbes, writer Paul Tassi compares how the game turned out to some of the ways director Todd Howard described it during Bethesda’s E3 presentation in June. Howard talked up the game’s “all-new” rendering technology, but Fallout 76 doesn’t look that much better than past games in the series, with just a few exceptions.

Howard said 76 would get a beta to help the launch go smoothly, but said beta ended up taking place right before release, making it feel more like early access for people who pre-ordered and not a real testing period where Bethesda could take the feedback it received and use it to improve the finished product.

Most importantly though, Howard described a game where player interaction would be what filled with world with interesting drama. “When we think about games, we think about worlds, and the choices you can make, the stories you create and tell yourself,” he said.

“We have a game, more than any game that we’ve ever done, where the choices are yours, where you’ll decide what happens. You’ll decide the heroes, and you’ll decide the villains.”

Todd Howard on stage at Bethesda’s E3 Showcase 2018 talking about how players will craft stories in Fallout 76. (Screenshot: Bethesda, YouTube)

In his piece, Tassi correctly notes that, at least so far, none of that has panned out because there’s no sense of permanence to the world that players in the game inhabit. There’s actually a lot about Fallout 76 I quite like, especially when I play it like a traditional single-player game.

But it’s also clear that it lacks the strong character-based stories of previous Bethesda games, and contrary to Howard’s pitch at E3, players haven’t been given the tools to create interesting stories of their own as a substitute.

Every time you log into Fallout 76, you’re randomly placed into one of the game’s servers with a bunch of strangers. Your equipment, story progress, and campsite all come along with you, but anything you do in the world outside of pre-structured quest lines goes away once you leave the game and come back later. While you can team up with friends, the map you explore and build your bases on will never stay the same.

You might run into a fellow Vault dweller somewhere in the hills of West Virginia, decide to trade some items and explore a nearby factory, maybe even take down a high level Deathclaw in a tense, drawn out firefight during the process, and then decide to split after looting the corpse. Unless you go out of your way to friend them, though, you’ll never see that person again because the next time both of you log on, you’ll be on completely different servers.

Howard hinted at this lonely future in his original remarks at the conference. “Your character isn’t tied to one server. In fact, you’ll never even see a server when you play,” he said at the time.

But many, myself included, took this to mean that joining up with friends from different servers would be easy and seamless, not that the world of Fallout 76 itself would be ephemeral and impossible for people to leave their marks on. Even the nukes players launch don’t have any lasting effects.

One of the informational trailers shown during the E3 showcase described how players rebuilding civilisation would be a key part of Fallout 76. The “desire to build” is what separates man from beast, the trailer says, before showing groups of players hanging out in outposts together fending off hordes of Super Mutants and the occasional Scorchbeast.

In reality, though, players’ campsites are more like bachelor pads than communes. Players can’t build them together, and they disappear when they person they belong to isn’t logged in. And since there’s no way for multiple groups of people to all play on the same server together, building up rival camps and engaging in complex role-play, there’s no real way for players to become the heroes and villains in a larger, self-authored drama.

There are public campsites on the map that people can take control of and mine for important resources. But since they’re unique to each server, anything you build up will disappear when you log off, never to return. Like personal campsites, they too can only be controlled by one player at a time, making it impossible for groups of people to collaborate on building up and defending the sites together for mutual benefit.

Whereas Howard had previously argued that players would be the characters in Fallout 76, they can’t do the things that non-playable characters could in past Fallout games: they can’t open up shops, give one another quests, or engage in political intrigue.

I’ve even become leery of building up my own campsite in the game given how buggy everything continues to be, even despite the 47 GB patch that went live at the beginning of the week. Campsites are supposed to be perfectly portable, not only across servers but across individual instances of the map.

Individual segments of your camp—a platform with defensive turrets on it, or a station of crafting benches—are supposed to be “stored” when you relocate, allowing you to later replace them wherever makes sense. So far that’s proven to be the exception rather than the rule. More often than not, when I’ve tried to transport the camp I’d been building up somewhere else, most of the stuff in it disappeared.

As a result, as I explore Fallout 76's late game, I’ve taken to using an extremely barebones camp to make the loss of resettling elsewhere less painful. Rather than feeling emboldened in my apparent mission to help forge a new, post-nuclear fallout society in the hills of West Virginia, I’ve more often found myself pining for Vault 76, which has proven to be more hospitable and permanent than any human-built shelters I’ve encountered out in the wild.

“We have built a platform of 100 per cent dedicated servers that will support this game now and for years to come,” Howard said during the E3 showcase.

Assuming that last part is still true, it’s possible that Fallout 76 could still become the narratively rich online game Todd Howard originally described. What Bethesda shipped last week is not that game.


Comments

    Not having the items you build in game transport consistently is a big bummer. Like they said in their promo, people want to build, not waste their time creating something that's going to disappear.

    This is going exactly how I thought it would. Bethesda's games just don't have polish. Even Blizzard has big problems in this arena. I'm sorry for all the bug testers, I mean players.

      The stuff you build does go with you, it just gets packed up. What Ethan seems to be talking about is having built a larger (surface area-wise) base and expecting the entire thing to transplant to what could be completely different terrain and resource positions in the new location. If you blueprint your whole base and try to place it as an entire thing, anything the game can't place (generally because of terrain) stays in storage and you can replace them manually, no extra resource cost.

      The blueprint system exists to help this. You're not meant to blueprint the entire base ase Ethan seems to have done because it's too much to expect it to be able to put them down in the exact same configuration in a new location. Instead you blueprint smaller assemblies like a defence tower or sleeping quarters. Maybe in the old base the sleeping quarters were next to a resource node but in the new spot that resource node isn't there. If you blueprint the entire base it won't place because the extractor needs to be on that node that isn't there any more, but if you blueprint the sleeping room separate to the defence tower and separate to the resource extractor, you can place them down much more easily individually without having to rebuild them from scratch.

      Alternatively, just don't move camp. You get free fast travel to your camp from anywhere on the map so distance is basically irrelevant. The only time you're forced to move is if someone else has a camp in the same spot, but if you choose an out of the way spot in the first place the odds of a collision are extremely rare. I haven't had to move camp once yet and I'm on a high ridgeline with a great view that you'd expect would be popular.

        One trick to blueprinting a house that I haven't seen people mention is select the entire thing but then remove the foundations before you save it. Then when you change location simply place the foundations manually where you want them to go, in the same configuration/shape as before. Your house blueprint will then snap onto the foundations and you won't be stuck with a massive blueprint in your face as you move back and forwards trying to get it to be accepted on different terrain.

          That's pretty good advice, I'll have to remember that one.

      Lets be honest, Bethesda games have always been buggy. But their epic nature has allowed gamer's to see past that and still enjoy the game.

        Totally. Totally. But I'm not sure why they seem to get a free pass when other companies releasing games in the same condition, or leaving bugs unpatched for almost a decade (seriously!) would be pilloried.

        But I loved Oblivion and can definitely see the appeal of Skyrim and Fallout 4.

    Taking the announcement a bit too literally there....and adding extra meaning beyond what the words say at the same time. Talk about twisting words to suit your argument.

    What he said simply means players decide who's nice and who's a jerk, same as any other online environment. From the stories I've read on reddit this is already happening all over the place. Promise fulfilled. Nothing he said indicated we could permanently impact the world.

    On a side note - How many articles are Kotaku going to write on Fallout 76? There's way more than I've seen on any other game release, including the train wreck that was No Man's Sky.

    Feels like you're flogging a dead horse at this stage. Some people like the game, some don't. We get it.

      "People decide who's a jerk" - how does that work, when you're rarely (if ever) on the same server with the same players again? The system can't provide server reputation like the old days in other games.

        like the old days in other games

        You're looking for something that doesn't exist and expect it to be in Fallout 76?

          Me? No, but that was your interpretation of the "heroes and villains" thing. I just tried following the idea, and don't see how it would work.

            Nothing about people being heroes or villains says they need to have a server reputation to do so.

      Well how many articles have there been? Feels like about 3 to me so far. And didn't it come out like last week? How fast did this horse die exactly?

        3 in the last 2 days maybe. They're closer to 10, how many new release games get even 2 articles on here?

          Not sure man but they do tend to follow one or two titles pretty closely, especially when things are going wrong.

          I'm not surprised to be honest. I'm not a fallout player but I'm quite interested in the articles. Not sure what that says about me, but historically I do feel very frustrated with Skyrim and Fallout 4. Literally have to mod them to support my monitor. Can't even run the game properly. SO ANNOYING!!!

        Second reply but edit comment just kills your original comment on here...

        A quick google search for Fallout 76 Kotaku set to "last month" of results shows 14 articles since the Beta started until now - looking at the first 2 pages of results.

        No other game is given that much coverage on here.

          RDR2 got a lot of coverage, as did the Diablo/Blizzcon situation. They do stories on things that are topical, and when one triggers public commentary, they do multiple stories. Both of those generated numerous spinoff articles (crunchtime, blizzard history, etc) which you can tie back to the actual game at the centre of it.

          Assassins Creed Odyssey has gotten consistent stories, as did Spiderman, its nothing new. Every AAA release gets multiple stories, and given the polarisation, this was going to get plenty. No Mans Sky was the same ~2 years ago for the same reasons.

            Yeah, I get that. I check Kotaku 5 days a week and have done for the last few years.

            Multiple stories on a AAA game is common. 14 articles on one in the space of 2 weeks is not.

              Just searched the articles tagged "red dead redemption" on Kotaku, there were 17 unique articles on the game in the first 2 weeks of release. 14 really is about par as far as big games are concerned, definitely not unusual.

                Just had a look too after reading this. The key thing I notice there is those are mostly "kotaku.com", the US site, not AU. There's a lot of articles there that I didn't recognise and if I'd seen the title of them before I'd know it. Those articles haven't been re-posted to AU like Kotaku do with a number of them.

                Whereas for Fallout 76 all of the articles are also on Kotaku AU. That's probably why to me it seems like there's so many more on Fallout compared to most games.

      The issue is that he does talk literally, as experience has taught us. I think, TH is the problem.

    I'd personally love for there to be permanence so guilds could build bigger bases together and start to actually 'tame' the world.... Kind of like we're supposed to be doing.

    But at this point I'd take just not losing my quests every second login.

    “We have a game, more than any game that we’ve ever done, where the choices are yours, where you’ll decide what happens. You’ll decide the heroes, and you’ll decide the villains.”

    Everything this guy says sounds like the most bullshit suit PR nonsense ever lol.

      Sounds exactly the same as Sea of Thieves. Funny that both games seem comparably empty and devoid of fun.
      It's not so much 'its fun with friends' rubbish, but more 'Its ONLY fun with friends'.

        I got that same Sea of Thieves vibe as well. This seems like it has more gameloop than that game did, but the sense of emptiness is there.

        I saw a good summary though that FO76 is a game with a story, but no plot. SoT didn't even have a story.

          At least SoT had personality and you could tell they put some love into it.

    All they had to do was make a copy of "Rust" in the Fallout world and the game would have been an award winner and game of the year. Instead, we get this weird, empty, non-pvp garbage.

      There's plenty of PVP though. The only thing you can't do (easily) is gank someone who isn't interested in fighting. There's still a ton of people that will shoot you back when you shoot them to initiate a fight, and workshop takeovers are particular hotbeds for it.

        The game desperately needs some alternative modes in it...imagine if they'd launched with a PvE version that has out current PvP system but you could also choose a PvP character that only goes onto free for all PvP servers. Honestly I'd play both modes of the game.

    There are dozens of games which have launched in the past month.
    Kotaku reviews about 3 of them. Then we get endless articles about Assasins Creed and Fallout 76.

    Looked like a big lump of nope from a distance, looked more clearly like a big lump of nope as it got closer, continued to look like a big lump of nope as it passed me by and I am now waving at the big lump of nope disappearing off into the distance.

    Sigh.

    At least I never tried to get onboard this time.

    Last edited 23/11/18 2:39 am

    The bit about the stuff you build at public workbenches is wrong. I've often wandered into an unclaimed one with items built where the person has logged off or been disconnected

    just wait #nomanssky they release way to early, and now racing around trying to fixs things that all in yet.

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