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?
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.
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.