Bored and without a large, engrossing game to play until Disco Elysium: The Final Cut drops later this month, I did the unthinkable: I downloaded Fallout 76 onto my PlayStation 5. I was almost immediately met by a game-breaking bug that, while easily rectified with a reboot, felt like a sign that I could give up on the game for good.
I mostly enjoyed my time with Fallout 76 on Xbox One, which I played for a solid few months after its arrival in 2018 before getting distracted by something else. Spurred on by my coworker’s insistence that Fallout 76 is pretty good now, I recently decided I might as well see what had been added to post-apocalyptic Appalachia in my years away. I waited for the over 100GB game to install and settled in for an evening of reacquainting myself with the pseudo-MMORPG.
The opening of Fallout 76 is pretty much how I remembered. You wake up in one of the franchise’s ubiquitous vaults, create your character, and get shuffled out into the hazy, nuclear war-ravaged world by an overarching main quest. I chose the old woman template, randomly adding superficial wounds and blemishes and naming her Tuna before setting off into the West Virginia wilderness.
But something struck me as strange when I stepped out into the sunlight and Tuna blinked the shadows from her eyes. Did the Fallout 76 screen always feel this…empty? I tried to shrug it off, but when I ran into a couple of the new human NPCs the developers added to the game last April, I couldn’t help but notice there wasn’t a prompt to speak with them. As I made my way down a familiar dirt road and began fighting low-level enemies, it finally dawned on me: The user interface was completely missing.
I couldn’t see my health, hunger, or thirst meters. There were no quest markers. When I tried to loot a small robot that I had hacked to pieces with a machete, I was greeted by metallic sound effects but no item menu. I was still able to talk to folks, sure, but it was like I was trapped in my body with no way of meaningfully interacting with the world around me. The whole thing set me on edge.
I hopped online to see what could be causing this issue, stumbling upon a Reddit post from July 2020 by someone having the same Fallout 76 issue on Xbox One. Some suggested the lack of UI was caused by another bug that messed with the HUD’s opacity settings, but I wasn’t even able to get into the options menu. One comment said it was a known glitch that “happens sometimes when starting a new character, about a 60% chance.” I’m not sure how accurate that maths is but, fortunately, all it took to fix was restarting the game. I now had a HUD.
While Fallout 76 loaded back up, I had a moment to think. What was I doing? Did I really want to play Fallout 76 or was I just looking for something big to fill my time? And if such a serious bug was waiting for me right out the gate, how broken was the rest of the game? I had to delete a bunch of other games to make room on the PlayStation 5’s relatively tiny SSD, and even then I was just left with a minuscule amount of space once Fallout 76 took up residence. Any interest I had in jumping back into the game had completely evaporated in the span of a few minutes.
I’m sure Fallout 76 is fine. Heck, I was even able to eke out some fun with the comparatively poor launch version. That said, I couldn’t help but wonder if the game actually wanted me to play it at this point. I’m not a superstitious person, but this was absolutely an omen of some kind. Perhaps the universe was telling me it was ok to let go of Fallout 76, that the fear-of-missing-out feeling I experienced with each new update and expansion was merely something I had to work through on my own rather than by wrapping my life up in a new, never-ending game.
Just like that, the brief rekindling of my relationship with Fallout 76 has come to an end. I like you, Fallout 76, but I don’t like like you. And as melodramatic as it seems, I think I’m finally strong enough to admit that to myself.