Fallout 76 is in a rough spot. The game’s launch was spectacularly messy, and the following months managed to get worse. It’s only recently that Fallout 76 has been able to establish an identity and carve out a lasting niche in a flood of games as a service. Bethesda’s online take on the Fallout franchise thrives when it focuses on player choice, roleplaying, and customization. When the game tries to introduce World of Warcraft-style combat encounters and MMO gearing, that’s when things promptly go to hell.
Vault 94 is the recent “raid” added to the game. Vault 94 isn’t the first piece of endgame combat-focused content — it follows Project Paradise and The Burrows, two previous dungeons.
The newest raid — and it’s hard to tell what makes it a raid over other pieces of endgame content — has multiple difficulty settings: Novice is the most forgiving, and successive difficulties add timers and more enemies to the game. Players are tasked with delving into Vault 94, which has been taken over by mutant plants, while trying to salvage whatever they can from the ruins before they’re lost to the thicket.
That’s a perfectly fine premise. Based off that elevator pitch, I was cautiously optimistic.
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But Fallout 76 isn’t robust enough to handle the actual execution of these encounters. In a MMORPG raid, I might be expected to dodge pools of fire, watch the boss’ animations, and then execute my abilities to whittle the boss down while my allies tank and heal. But there are no bosses in this raid, just legendary creatures, and the Vault ends up laying bare many of the issues of a constantly online, MMO-style Fallout game.
Here’s how it all plays out: Me and my high-level allies descend into the Vault, and we run around as scores of Mirelurks chase us down. There’s no real mechanic to engaging with them; we just run around, break line of sight when we can, and try to complete our objectives. The real interactive experience is less about combat (we just had to click to deal damage with our chosen weapon), and more about chugging Stimpacks and RadAway while we try to survive.
Clearing mobs is only half the Vault; there are also puzzles to solve and doors to open. This is something Fallout 76 can handle a little better, and there’s nothing wrong with the premise of hacking computers and unlocking doors to acquire new keys that open up the Vault. The problem is that these mechanics don’t always work. Timers don’t trigger, doors won’t open, and information isn’t conveyed due to UI bugs.
Fallout 76 has fixed its duping problem, which was a big feat, but the game still has other nasty recurring bugs and issues. Each patch seems to reintroduce some of these problems. The game is at its most unstable when players are asked to go up against a PvE challenge. Vault 94 highlights the desperate need for a solid rework of the base of Fallout 76, but it’s not clear where that will fit in with the next update, Wastelanders, barreling down on us for a November release.
After an enjoyable stretch of time in Fallout 76, where I spent time playing a character and getting engaged in the world and other players, I’ve put the game back down out of frustration. I don’t think Fallout 76 is going anywhere — I don’t think it can, as the sole ongoing product for one of Bethesda’s biggest brands. But the latest update has incensed the community once again, and it’s clear that while war never changes, Fallout 76 desperately needs to.
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