Fallout 76’s PC Controls Are Bizarre

Fallout 76’s PC Controls Are Bizarre

Bethesda games are a special beast, but there’s one part of Fallout 76 that is truly maddening.

Every Fallout and Elder Scrolls game has had some kind of bug or quirk. It’s part of the charm.

But my complaint here lies not with the quirky physics, the online functionality, two-headed cows or the performance. I have a very specific issue, one long-running PC gamers will surely understand.

What the hell is going on with the keyboard controls.

There are some things about computers that are baked in. I’m not talking about processes per se, ones that could potentially be done better, but shortcuts, hotkeys that have remained the same since we left the days of DOS for graphical operating systems.

For instance, the iconic ESC key. It’s been a global Windows shortcut for stopping or leaving a task since Windows 95. This is not a new thing. And because some keys are part of the fabric of the operating systems, those keys become the fabric of video games too.

In most video games – well, just about every single one – ESC is the hotkey to stop. To leave. To access the menu. It was Oblivion‘s menu hotkey, and Fallout 4‘s as well.

But when you’re faced with the main Fallout 76 menu?

It’s TAB.

Let’s just unpack the logic of this for a second.

Open up Notepad for me. Or Word. Or start typing into the URL of any browser. (If you’re on mobile, you’ll need to use your imagination for a bit.)

Now hit TAB.

Notice the behaviour of the cursor.

Notice what it didn’t do? It didn’t move backwards. It jumps forwards. And that’s completely understandable, because it’s been a hotkey for moving forward through options and text boxes for over two decades.

But if you’re navigating through the Fallout 76 UI, TAB goes backwards. Even when you’re in the main menu, unconnected to the game world, sitting in the options menu or something. ESC does nothing. You want to go backwards? It’s TAB.


When you fire up Fallout 76 for the first time, you’ll see the intro cinematic. It’s nice, but if you’ve already seen it – or you didn’t leave the vault with your first character, and Fallout 76 didn’t save anything, forcing you to create your character from scratch – you might want to skip.

The skip button isn’t SPACE bar. Or ESC. Or even TAB, which would be consistent with the prompts Fallout 76 shows to the player as soon as they open the game.

It’s T. The same button used for text chat in almost every PC game imaginable, and potentially Fallout 76 too when Bethesda patches it in post-launch.

The control mapping quirks aren’t isolated to the PC, either. On the Xbox, a user found a bug in the photo mode where the X button was bound to take a snapshot – as well as toggling the menu.

Even the basic inputs are a little odd on a controller. For Xbox users, A would typically be the button to jump. In Fallout 76, it’s the default for interactions. If you want to jump, you press Y.

To Bethesda’s credit, you can go and rebind all of these. And every now and again, there will be a game where rebinding one or two buttons is perfectly normal. Maybe you’ll have an entirely different preset or layout, like Halo.

But that’s mostly for controllers. Mouse and keyboard prompts have been standardised for ages. And that’s mostly because the bindings take after the same global shortcuts you use to navigate your PC.

You can scrap all your junk with one button, but you can't sell it in one hit.

But here’s one that truly slays me. Say you’re trying to add a friend to your party. You mouse over their name, and click to add them to your party or join their world.

There’s just one issue: if you happen to mouse over the next person in your friends list, the menu disappears. And given that the options in the dropdown box will always appear below your cursor, as seen in the GIF above, you end up with the menu retracting before you can do the thing you wanted.

It’s easy to avoid once you know what’s going on: just make sure your mouse cursor doesn’t hover over another player in the friends list. But even the fact that I’m even thinking about such a minuscule motion for a menu prompt just to ensure I can invite my fiancee into a party is bizarre for a video game in 2018.

And this is all without mentioning other clunky decisions. Like the convoluted camp UI. Or why you can scrap all your junk at a crafting station, but you can’t sell it all in one hit at a vendor. What’s the design logic in allowing players to do one, but not the other?

I should stress: I’ve enjoyed my time in Appalachia despite all of this, and I’ve had a relatively trouble-free experience so far. There’s been little technical quirks, beyond the usual oddities that are par for the course.

But that UI? Hot damn.


  • Tab has been back navigation in Bethesda games for a while, to be fair, because they let you open the main menu over top of other UI (like the Pipboy but also inventory and crafting UI) without making you close it first. So Esc opens the main menu (anywhere) while Tab navigates back in whatever UI you’re in.

    I think the weirder one is that Esc doesn’t go straight to the menu, it goes to the map. If you want the actual menu you have to hit Esc and then Z for some reason.

    Also, there needs to be a keybind for photo mode. Is there one? I haven’t been able to find it.

  • I’ll admit it is a bit of a hot mess to get used to but I am almost certain Tab was ‘back’ in Fallout 4 as well. Maybe even 3. Once I got used to it, I actually love it. Easy to reach without distracting you from WASD (or WSD, at least)

    As for the use of T, that seems like they reused some parts of Elder Scrolls Online as it’s the only other game I can think of that regularly uses the button by default. Given that they’re under the same studio, it would make sense.

    More concerning for me which has been a constant issue with Bethesda games for some time is input lag. From simple cursor movement to pressing any given button, nothing seems smooth at all and has often led me to almost doing things in my Pipboy that I certainly did not mean to. Apparently it has something to do with FPS which can apparently be capped to stop this but why in the hell does Bethesda not fix this?

    • That’s what’s so funny. What happens when they introduce text chat, like everyone is asking for? Do they rebind T? Pull a Counter-Strike 1.3 and rebind it to Y?

      Re. the input lag, that’ll be a Vsync issue. You can cap the FPS normally through INI settings to disable Vsync, but because the ingame physics are tied to the frame rate, that’s going to cause all sorts of other issues. So … it’s a feature.

      • Yeah, I had read about the link between frame rate and physics. Some of the design ‘decisions’ have me bamboozled.

        Speaking of which! Can someone direct me to whoever made the decision to not include an in-game toggle for motion blur and Depth of Field? I’d really like to give them a piece of my mind. Once more, I know these can be changed by editing the INI settings but I’ve also heard that Bethesda have been unclear on whether that could incur a ban in future.

  • Bethesda always use TAB as back, go check out Fallout 4 and Skyrim. At this stage I’m used to it.

    The weird thing about 76 is ESC opening the map…that’s a new one. I’m sure there would be a reason for it…probably something technical due to some weird lines of code they’ve got. Hell they can’t increase the stash limit beyond 400 due to “important reasons” which again sounds technical rather than a game design thing and there’s no logical reason for that to be the case.

    • It can’t be that technical if they let people rebind the key though, right? Which just makes me wonder: why not M for the map? Doesn’t that make sense to … well, everyone?

      • As @zombiejesus said, M opens the map too. I haven’t checked out what key re-binds you can do yet so didn’t realise you could change esc to just do the menu.

        So yeah that’s pretty weird then. I do wonder sometimes if Bethesda devs have ever played games on a PC.

      • The PC port is a massive afterthought.
        Controllers have, what? 12 buttons?
        PC has like 100.
        And re-mapping breaks other menus.

  • I’m pretty certain you spent more time writing this to complain about it than it would have taken to figure out how to use it.

    • Bad UX and UI is a serious issue.
      Nothing ruins a game quicker for me than terrible controls or poorly constructed menu flows

  • I actually prefer using TAB to go back … it’s a lot easier to hit quickly and it has less of a negative impact on my wrist which has never quite recovered from when I used to play WoW excessively.

  • So weird keybinds, but there’s a way to easily rebind them – and if you’re moving your mouse from one option to another, but accidentally go over a third option, the game assumes that the option that’s actually under the mouse cursor is the one you want.


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