Saturday, December 8, 2018

Fallout 76 is a Failure on Every Level

Well, it’s finally happened: a bad Fallout game has been created. Yes, that which we had once, in the sunny childhood of our innocence, thought impossible, has come to pass. That which could not be, is. A bad Fallout game--the thing beyond what we could have imagined is reality! The dread eventuality that I never once believed possible, has...has...

...Ha ha ha ha ha! Okay, I can’t keep that shit up.

Yeah, I am pretty obviously a huge, diehard fan of the Fallout series, but I ain’t some naive schmuck. The idea that the vaunted name of Fallout could be sullied with a bad game, surprising? Come on, Internet! Do you people not remember Fallout Tactics? Did you somehow block Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel from your conscious minds? I mean, if you did, power to you, please teach me your mental technique because I’d like to do the same. But yeah, as much as I adore the Fallout series, it’s not like Fallout 76’s horrendous suckitude is some foray into new territory. It is, at most, an expedition that just slightly extends the boundaries of Fallout’s territory in the Land of Shitty Shit that Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel originally lay claim to. Also? I don’t know how anyone with both an understanding of storytelling methods in video games and experience with Bethesda as a developer could possibly have the slightest doubt that Fallout 76 was going to be awful upon hearing that it would be online-only.

Of course, just because I have a good enough grasp on Sesame Street benchmarks to understand that a game series starts at 1, not 3, that doesn’t mean that I don’t have major grievances against Fallout 76. I may remember that the Fallout series is quite capable of disastrously bad side ventures, but I certainly didn’t want that to come to pass again!

But hey, who doesn’t take major issue with this abhorrent, sloppy, careless cash-grab? At this point, Todd Howard’s association with the Tell Me Lies song, previously seeming like a flash-in-the-pan meme that wouldn’t last, is now pretty much permanently cemented into gaming history. As far as griping about stuff goes, Fallout 76 is low-hanging fruit. Diablo: Immortal reminded the gaming community at the beginning of November that AAA publishers will inevitably betray their creations, sell their integrity, and fuck the fans that made their success possible in the ass for a quick yuan, and then mere weeks after Blizzard had put the gaming community back on its guard, Bethesda delivered a validation of every single fear anyone and everyone had had since hearing that the game would be online-only. Fallout 76 is already a slap in the face to any man or woman foolish enough to purchase it, but it had the misfortune of coming right when people were already abuzz with annoyance over a not entirely dissimilar situation.

Still, even if everyone’s already venting their well-justified anger over it, I’d nonetheless like to throw in my own two cents on the matter, because most of the complaints about this game come back to a certain few glaring errors (which, don’t get me wrong, are irredeemably bad), and Fallout 76, in my opinion, is just so much more of a complete blunder than just these particular egregious errors. On every level, Fallout 76 is a failure.

Let’s start with the first and most important matter: Fallout 76 is a failure as a Fallout game.

Fallout is characterized by many qualities, and it can’t truly be Fallout without any of them, but at its heart, this is a series which explores, analyzes, criticizes, and lauds the culture and history of the United States, and through that, humanity itself. From its 1950s aesthetics to its old-timey musical focus, from its major stories that grapple with the USA’s foreign policy and imperialism and history of prejudice and constant struggle to find leaders who put the will of the people over their own desires and toxic capitalism and the inability of the human species to learn from its mistakes, to its subplots of baseball and comic book characters and scientologists and aliens and casinos, from its incorporation of distinctly American landmarks and products and accents to its incorporation of countless references of USA-familiar people and media for the sake of quick jokes, Fallout has made it clear from the start that it exists to be a lens through which we can view ourselves as a country, for the sake of understanding who we are and how we came to be us, of good-naturedly laughing at ourselves, of uncomfortably seeing our shameful acts, mindset, and history exposed, and of taking pride in the many traits that make us uniquely great. To both joyously celebrate and harshly critique the United States of America is to be Fallout.

Fallout 76 does not do this.

Oh, to be sure, it goes through the motions. There are West Virginia landmarks to be found. A bare few of them even are more of the local kind of landmark than stuff that’d be more well-known on a national level. The main music is...uh...well, it ain’t old-timey like it really ought to be, as a 70s song, but then, plenty of the songs appropriated for the series before have been from the 60s, so I guess it’s fine, and it certainly fits.* Some of the holotape stories left behind incorporate professions and accents and other human elements recognizably connected to the region.

But that’s all they are: motions. They have no more life or purpose than the after-death twitches of an ant after someone steps on it. What is the meaning? What are these locations and ideas supposed to convey to us about the American state, mentality, method, anything? What does any of this stuff say about us? For that matter, what does any of it say about West Virginia itself, its people, its history, its culture, etc? These references and locations and recorded diaries, none of them are put to any USE, they don’t analyze or celebrate or criticize anything! There is no thought or message behind any of it, and for that, 76 is more like a molt of Fallout than the actual beast.

The immediate and most easily visible cause of this failure is, of course, the lack of characters in this game, which is 1 of the major complaints everyone has with Fallout 76: a lack of NPCs. After all, how can you explore such a very alive, human thing as the United States without alive, human actors? Characters like Caesar, House, Arthur Maxson, Elder Lyons, Vault 13’s Overseer, and James brought to life their games’ examination of America’s history of and/or connections to culture-extinguishing genocide, dangerously narcissistic entrepreneurship, thoughtless bigotry, selfless charity, xenophobia, and dedication to providing a high quality of life to its citizens. Major organizations like the NCR, the Railroad, and the Institute likewise gave compelling, living voice to Fallout’s analysis of the USA’s ties to unfair economic imperialism, fighting and sacrifice for the sake of others’ freedom, and a harmful Us First mentality. Hell, even just very minor NPCs like Sierra, Nathaniel Vargas, and Iguana Bob allow Fallout to speak to us about American tendencies toward blind product loyalty, self-destructively unreasoning patriotism, and disregarding the rights, feelings, and health of consumers in lieu of making a profit. Fallout 76 has no one.

But with that said, it wouldn’t be impossible to make a proper Fallout narrative based entirely around postmortem stories. Very difficult, but not impossible. Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon, another post-apocalyptic RPG which I like to call Studio Ghibli Fallout, uses after-the-fact storytelling for at least half of its overall narrative, and what’s more, that’s the method that best conveys the part of FDFRotM that’s about the quiet loss of a world ended and the extraordinary palette of humanity that world contained within its every inhabitant. As powerfully emotional and beautiful as FDFRotM can get with its main story, I would contend that its best narrative feature is its postmortem stories! If Bethesda had put the proper focus on saying something about our country and ourselves, if they had put their absolute best effort into appropriately tying that message to this empty wasteland through a thoughtful, well-crafted narrative of recorded messages, it could have worked.

But they didn’t. The narrative of Fallout 76 is an afterthought. They didn’t have the slightest intention to use its landmarks and tepid flirtations with West Virginia culture toward any greater purpose. It’s clear, looking at this game, that from the beginning of the game’s development, the highest level of thought they put into these ties to WV was the equivalent of a bored tourist pointing briefly at a landmark and saying, “Oh, look at that,” checking the place off a little travel list, and then going back to doing something else.

And I knew it would be this way, from the moment they said Fallout 76 was going to be an online-only adventure, because the level of narrative control you need to make a story with deeper content like the standard for Fallout isn’t something you can achieve when you first have to accommodate and put a focus on all the gameplay angles that perpetual communal online play creates.

So that’s how Fallout 76 is a failure on the level of being a Fallout game. But it’s more than that. It’s also a failure on the level of being a Fallout game, too.

No, that’s not a typo. I mean that on a more detail-oriented, technical level, it still fails to be a Fallout. What I’ve said so far has argued that it’s a game trying to play a role whose script it hasn’t bothered to read. But at the same time, it’s not even wearing the right clothes for that role!

Fallout 76 is a failure as a Fallout because it can’t be bothered to don the trappings of Fallout’s lore correctly. Now, look, I recognize the fact that the history and details of the Fallout universe have been changed before, and while that’s really annoying, I’ve generally forgiven Bethesda for it. The reason for this is that previously, Bethesda’s mistakes with the Fallout series’s lore have never been too terribly damaging. I mean, while they’ve bent a few of the bigger details, the biggest outright breaking the company’s done that I’ve seen has been the whole thing with Jet--Fallout 2 clearly stated that Myron, a character in the game, creates Jet, yet Bethesda’s later Fallouts contradict this by saying that Jet is a pre-war drug. It’s possible to rationalize this retcon well enough as Myron simply taking credit for knowledge of a drug that didn’t make it to the western USA before the world’s end (it certainly fits the little slimeball’s personality well enough), but it’s a definite screw-up on Bethesda’s part. Still, even considering the large role Jet plays in Fallout 2 and its recognizable nature as a Fallout item, we’re not talking about a huge, monumentally important piece of lore, here, so I’ve never held such a thing too strongly against Bethesda. After all, Obsidian made a few lore screw-ups themselves in Fallout: New Vegas (such as forgetting who actually created the Mr. Handy, which is arguably a more significant entity of Fallout lore than Jet). And hell, nothing Bethesda did in Fallout 3 or 4 was anywhere near the level of boneheaded, pointless, anti-lore stupidity that Fallout’s own creators pulled in Fallout 2, when they decided to retcon super mutants’ sterility--a lynchpin to the plot of Fallout 1 and the downfall of its antagonist The Master--for the sake of having 1 character make a joke after banging a hooker.** Bethesda never retconned anything so terribly as that.

...Until Fallout 76, that is. Like I said, I’ll forgive relatively minor infractions on the Fallout lore like Jet, and Mr. Handy, and so on. But Bethesda was so damn determined to include every possible iconic Fallout variable, to really just scream “IT’S FALLOUT, SEE!?!? SEE!?!? SEEEEEEE!?!?!?!?!” while they shove series signatures like deathclaws and super mutants in your face, that they just utterly twisted the canon into unrecognizable shreds. For example, Fallout 76 jumps through absurd hoops to include the Brotherhood of Steel, an inclusion which retroactively makes the previous games’ lore incomplete, because you’d THINK, at some point during all the previous Fallouts in which you can learn and read about the early days and formation of the BoS, that somewhere it would have been mentioned that the order’s founding commander apparently had a fucking pen pal in West Virginia who decided she’d open a BoS franchise of her own. You’d think that might have been mentioned somewhere in the histories. Hinted at sometime in the many conversations you have with dozens of Brotherhood of Steel members about their order from Fallout 1 onwards. Implied in the smallest way! But it wasn’t, because the idea is silly, and only a soulless greedy dumbass looking to make a quick buck would greenlight it.

And the Brotherhood of Steel are far from the only major twisting and breaking of lore that 76 is guilty of. Honestly, for a game so utterly devoid of story content, it’s actually kind of astounding how much it can manage to fuck up the series lore. Super Mutants? This is the fourth independent outbreak of Forced Evolutionary Virus mutants in the series now (and by far the least believable). Did the US government just sell vats of FEV as part of some promotional package before the war?*** Why is it so damn common? This stuff was supposed to be the most insanely top secret shit in the world! Now we’re supposed to believe that the government was testing it in a lab, and also having Vault-Tec use it for their experiments in Vault 87, AND that MIT for some reason had some lying around, AND that the government decided to just infect an entire goddamn town in West Virginia with the stuff to see what would happen? All at the same time!? Fucking Nuka-Cola Quantum had a smaller distribution range in the pre-war United States than this biological super weapon!

Also, why are all the ghouls in Fallout 76 already feral? This game takes place a mere 25 years after the end of the Great War. It’s an established fact that after many, many years, most ghouls eventually lose their minds and become zombie-esque ferals, and it’s implied that this is the inevitable fate of all ghouls, although there’s really no proof of that. But even though the time it takes varies from 1 ghoul to another, there’s a substantial enough population of sane ghouls in the USA even over 200 years later that it’s irrational to think that a sizable portion of the ghouls a mere 25 years after the bombs dropped would have gone feral--and it’s ludicrous to think that ALL the ghouls in West Virginia would have succumbed! Since the game is careful to differentiate between natural ghouls and those created by the Scorched Plague, with the former apparently being completely immune to said plague, you can’t just say that the Scorched are the rest of the ghouls; they’re a separate thing. So where the hell are all the mentally functional ghouls in this damn state?

Jet’s not inconsequential to the Fallout universe, but it’s at least small enough that you can make allowances for messing up its lore. But we’re talking about the Brotherhood of Steel, the single most important and influential faction in the entire series, which plays an absolutely essential role in 3 of 5 Fallouts, and an important secondary role in the other 2! We’re talking about ghouls, the major (sort of) non-human race whose afflictions have been a crucial part of countless side stories and quests throughout the series! And we’re talking about super mutants, THE iconic bad guys of Fallout, whose very existence is the foundation of Fallout 1’s plot, an absolutely essential part of the history of Fallout 3, and a heavy indictment against the main villains of Fallout 4! In all earnesty, I cannot think of what other iconic elements of the Fallout series could possibly be worse to carelessly mess up!

So you see, Fallout 76 fails on the level of being a Fallout, not just in heart and spirit, but also in body and mind. Not only can it not be bothered to even try to accomplish the task that its name requires of it, but it mars and breaks the assets it has borrowed. And so we reach the next level: Fallout 76 is a failure as a Fallout, but what about simply as an entity of its own? As an RPG in its own right, how is it?

Bad. Really bad. Awful, in fact.

Indeed, this game might just fail harder by basic RPG standards than it does by the lofty expectations of the Fallout series! Because even if Fallout 76 is unable to (nor even tries to) say anything about America, I will give it, at least, that it’s got the quiet exploration of a post-apocalyptic world that’s another of Fallout’s staples, even if only barely (hard to maintain the tense, atmospheric interest of poking about ruins and the wastes when there’s just so comparatively little to actually find). But as just an RPG, it doesn’t get anything right! The “plot” of this game has less depth, less complexity, than a number of games from the days of the NES, and even the Sega Master System! Seriously, pit Fallout 76’s story against Phantasy Star 1, The Magic of Scheherazade, and even several non-RPGs like The Astyanax, and Fallout 76 is the inevitably the loser--this 2018 title designed to take actual dozens if not hundreds of hours to beat has less substance, less compelling human drama, and lower quality plot twists than a 1989 side-scroller that you can beat in 2 or 3 hours.

Nor is this straightened slinky of a storyline meaningful or emotionally fulfilling. Beyond being terrific commentaries on the USA, the Fallout series is, of course, a great collection of tales that speak to us of ourselves and greatness in a general sense. Even if Fallout 3 had no commentary on the generosity of the American spirit and the way that the will and welfare of the people continues to inevitably clash against the selfishness of our government leaders, it would still be an awesome story of dedicated, selfless human kindness, of the courage to stand against not only danger but also one’s own laws in order to do what is right, and of a child who embodies her/his parents’ greatest qualities and fulfills their legacy of heroism as she/he finishes the father’s work to enact the mother’s dream for the world. Even if Fallout 1 had nothing to say about the USA’s old tradition of isolationism and the importance of not losing diverse individuality in a land defined by its ideals of unity, it would still be a badass story of a man saving a harsh world from the festering wounds its past has left upon it, only to find that in leaving to fight for the sake of his home’s survival, he’s now so changed that he has no place there. Even if Fallout 4 had no investigation of our history of human exploitation, our cold war paranoia, and our recent fascination with finding and embracing our personal identity, it would still be a compelling story of both the strengths and the limits of a parent’s devotion to a child, of ordinary people banding together to stand for extraordinary ideals, and of the fascinating idea that artificial humanity could, in fact, be in some cases more truly human than many so-called “real” people. Beneath the celebrated mantle of their franchise, the major Fallout games that have come before have been excellent RPGs in their own right for their stories.

And yes, as noted before, the game does have a lot of the holotapes and so on of little mini-stories of now-dead individuals to fill you in, but, frankly, that’s just not enough. Certainly, this storytelling device can be an effective one, but, as stated above, it’s clear that Bethesda did not bring its A Game to this aspect of 76. None of the lore stories in this game reach the strength of many of those found in previous Fallouts, and anyway, just because something is an effective part of a storytelling process, that doesn’t mean it can support an entire narrative all by itself. Mustard is a great condiment to put some pep in your sandwich, but it’s not a meal in and of itself--even the terrific after-the-fact stories in Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon, which I believe are the best example of this narrative device, didn’t exist in a storytelling vacuum. They helped make it great, but there was still an actual plot and real story events in the game that defined FDFRotM’s pace and purpose. And hey, who knows, maybe that title could’ve managed to pull off a plot solely held together with such stories--it was really good at them, after all. But Fallout 76’s writing isn’t even close to Fragile Dreams’s equal, even in those rare moments when it did seem like someone at Bethesda was putting a little effort into it, and it most definitely cannot pull together a compelling narrative from these logs and vignettes.

Of course, a superlative RPG can be created from more than just a strong story--a plain or even weak story can be held up quite adequately with a great cast and an emotionally powerful narrative. I love the second half of Tales of Legendia, for example, even though its story is, taken as a whole, only average, simply because it explores a lot of memorable and deep characters, sells you on the great connections they have as a family, and is filled with human drama that speaks to you on a personal level. But here, once again, Fallout 76 fails--and this time, the failure does begin and end with Bethesda’s disastrous decision to keep its game barren of characters. Because obviously, it’s hard to have any human connection to a cast that doesn’t exist. And yes, some people have pointed out that there ARE some NPCs in the game, in fact, namely the quest-giving robots and a super mutant trader...but these “characters” really just are nothing more or less than their role in your gameplay. They no more add to the human experience of the game than do the soulless, single-minded shopkeepers in any other RPG that spend their lives in a single spot behind a desk, awaiting your decision to Buy or Sell a potion. The Fallout series has given us such memorable personalities as Harold, Myron, Lynette, Moira, Yes Man, Lily, Glory, and Codsworth, such interesting entities as Nicole, Marcus, Goris, Elder Lyons, James, Madison Li, Boone, Caesar, Piper, DiMA, and Father, and such amazing characters who are both powerfully memorable and deep as Sarah Lyons, Veronica, Ulysses, Deacon, and Nick Valentine...when that’s the sort of standards against which to measure, it’s kind of hard to even feel like Fallout 76’s lame quest-spouting and money-changing narrative automatons even qualify as NPCs.

And, of course, the facts that the protagonist of this game has no personality whatsoever, and that there’s a lack of any real antagonist figure, don’t help. Even by silent protagonist standards, your role in Fallout 76 is utterly lifeless--the Vault Dweller, the Chosen One, the Lone Wanderer, and the Courier all had honest, personal stakes in their adventures, even if the games did suffer from their lack of characterization, as did the Sole Survivor, thankfully an actual participant in the game’s story for once. In Fallout 76, you just play 1 of a bunch of nameless goons released carelessly into the wasteland for a job with no apparent personal relevance to you. No “Save your home,” no “figure out why some guy shot you in the head,” nothing--you can’t even reasonably pretend to care about what’s happening! And of course, while other RPGs are usually smart enough to make up for their mute main character’s lack of input with an involved and vocal surrounding cast, obviously Fallout 76 has no such fall-back. Likewise, the villain of this story, if so it can be called, is a silent, faceless plague.

Bethesda, when people say that a great villain should be a mirror to the hero, they don’t mean that if you’ve written a horrendously boring hero with no presence whatsoever, your villain should be the exact same!

But hey, again, none of this is a surprise. Because when you make a game for the purpose of online gameplay, this is gonna happen. The strongest reason to voluntarily play a game by yourself is because you want to experience is storytelling qualities, and control the pace and environment in which you discover them. So when Bethesda made this game online-only, it was making something quite clear: the story elements of Fallout 76 were so unimportant in the eyes of its creator that there wasn’t even a point to allowing the players to experience the game in a way that emphasized them. It was clear from the start that they weren’t going to give a shit about this game as anything more than an online cash-grab; the most surprising thing, really, is that they even bothered to include what half-hearted attempts at lore and plot are there.

So yeah, Fallout 76 is not just a failure as a specific brand of RPG, but as an RPG of any kind. I have felt more life and significance in the plot and cast of Kemco games than I have with this pile of crap. Which leaves just 1 more level for the game to try at. If it can’t be a success as a Fallout, which is a specific kind of RPG, and it can’t be a success just as an RPG, which is a specific kind of video game...can it at least be a success simply as a video game, period?

Uh, no. God no.

I’m not good at rating games for just being games, honestly. While I have my enjoyable mindless diversions (as you read this, there’s an 80% chance that I’m currently playing Super Smash Brothers Ultimate), I mostly engage with video games for the same reason I do with books, anime, shows, cartoons, movies, and so on: in the hopes that they’ll speak to me, make me think, offer insight into the human condition that I haven’t considered, and push me to explore new regions of heart and soul. So I’m not gonna go into this in depth. But in strict terms of whether this game is fun, whether it has merits in terms of simple gameplay and enjoyment? Fallout 76 fails.

As more than a few people will tell you, it’s objectively flawed in the technical sense. As in it has bugs. Tons of them. It’s buggier than a goddamn anthill! And when your priority with a game has solely been to focus on the gameplay elements--that’s the elements of just playing the game, now--that’s absolutely unacceptable. If you’re going to sacrifice everything worthwhile about an RPG to focus solely on its playability and nothing else, then the game better goddamn work! And yet Fallout 76 released with as many glitches and oversights as any of its predecessors--more, in fact, since it has all its own problems AND has inherited quite a few from Fallout 4 which after 3 years Bethesda hasn’t bothered to fix even though all it would take is stealing a few lines of code from the damn modding community that DID repair the issues years ago on their own time!

Add to that the fact that Bethesda’s decided no modders can touch the game for a year--modders being the ones who traditionally improve Bethesda’s products to the point that they’re actually playable, because God forbid this absurdly rich developer actually do their own fucking tech work and release a functional product by themselves. Add to that the fact that a significant amount of items and other content are locked away behind a manipulative, evil in-game currency system. Add to that the fact that there’s practically no protections in the game to keep people from cheating. Add to that the fact that there are areas designed so poorly that you can get yourself stuck in them without any way of escaping besides killing yourself and spawning elsewhere, as well as settlement sites that have enemy spawns right in the middle of them that stay functional even after you’ve built a base there. Add to that the fact that even the stuff that works as intended is sometimes just bad all on its own--the PVP system is designed in a way that causes most players to just ignore it because it’s not worth the time, and the HP-to-attack-power ratio makes battle with just about anything a tedious slug-fest, for example. Add to that the fact that the game lacks basic necessary functions of online games that have been standards for over a decade, such as a push-to-talk button! And finally, maybe most damningly, add to all of that the fact that the goddamn servers at Bethesda can’t handle the game consistently,**** booting you back to the main menu (what a GREAT idea to make it online-only, huh?) frequently--the servers can’t even handle some of the game’s primary features; they crash if 3 nukes go off in the same area!

Basically, if Fallout 76 was the Catholic Church, we’d need an entire clone army of Martin Luthers hammering away to accurately theses-out all the shit that’s wrong with this game. It’s like they wanted to create the western RPG equivalent of Lunar: Dragon Song.

Bethesda apologists/stockholm-syndrome-sufferers like Oxhorn (who, if a Bethesda executive whacked him in the dick with an aluminum bat, would, I think, find a way to argue that this action was not only completely acceptable, but actually a good thing), have, of course, tried to make the argument that since it’s an online game, Bethesda will naturally have no choice but to make patch after patch to fix the game’s issues until it’s actually in working order. That’s a nice thought and all, but not only does nothing in the company’s history suggest this will happen, but it’s also really not that great a defense. “Yeah, guys, it’s a abysmal maelstrom of refuse right NOW, but if you’ll just patiently twiddle your thumbs and wait for a few months, THEN it’ll be modestly acceptable! I mean, who purchases a video game and then expects to be able to play it within the same calendar year, right?”

Some people have also pointed out that Fallout 76 is better when playing with friends. This is true. And, in the interests of fairness, that IS a point in the favor of a game specifically designed around the idea of cooperative and/or competitive play. But the simple fact is that it doesn’t make up for the fundamental technical problems that will inevitably mar you experience, friends or no, and there’s absolutely nothing, besides a coat of Fallout paint, that it offers that you couldn’t get from playing a different game with your friends--and that different game is more likely to actually function correctly, too. Anything is more fun when done with people you like--are the movies that Mystery Science Theater 3000 shows somehow less objectively bad, just because watching it alongside a wisecracking guy and robots is fun? Your enjoyment with friends only lasts until they get bored and move on to better games--or in the short term, get disconnected from the server again.

Also, it’s worth noting that everything around this game seems to fail, too. Bought the game at full price? You get to feel like a fool immediately afterward, as Bethesda drops the price almost in half in a desperate attempt to sell it. Want the special edition canvas bag they promised? It takes the very real threat of litigation for false advertising for you to actually get what you paid for. Want to get a refund because you don’t like the game? Well, because Bethesda only allows digital sales through its own services, they don’t have to give you jack shit once you’ve downloaded it--the equivalent in the real world would be a store refusing to return the jeans you just bought 14 seconds before on the grounds not that you’d put them on, but simply that you’d put them in your shopping bag. Putting in a customer service request? Well, I certainly hope you enjoy the prospect of random other people being able to see and respond to your support ticket, as well as gain access to your private data. And as a bonus, expect Bethesda’s initial response to each and every one of these issues to be flippant and cheerfully dismissive.

Thus, I say that Fallout 76 is a spectacular blunder in totality. It fails on every single possible level. It fails as a Fallout game, both in soul and in body. It fails as an RPG. It even fails at simply being a video game. And Bethesda fails at everything they do in regards to it. Fallout 76 is a raging, out-of-control trash fire, like someone set flame to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, for all the reasons commonly pointed out by its players--but I thought it was worth noting that it’s a failure on every level, and that the real cause of this isn’t just the immediate, glaring problems highlighted by reviews, but rather the root of those problems: a lack of interest on Bethesda’s part in giving their product substance, and a lack of competence in making it functional. Shame on every man and woman who’s had a hand in the decision-making process of this fiasco.

* Although I kinda feel like the theme song for a Fallout set in West Virginia being Take Me Home, Country Roads, a song which is just outright about West Virginia, might be a little TOO fitting. Fallout 2 didn’t feel the need to begin with Scott McKenzie’s San Francisco. Fallout 1 didn’t require the Bee Gees’ California Girls to set its stage. Fallout 4 didn’t open by slapping you in the face with the fucking Kingston Trio’s Charlie on the MTA! The signature old classics for every major Fallout title before 76 have always been concerned with the major plot points of their game, or the overall concept of the Fallout universe’s setting, rather than just blatantly wailing the name of the state they take place in.

But then, as I go into above, there IS nothing to this game beyond its scenery, no matter of substance in story nor cast, theme nor intent, so what other song could you possibly use to convey a game so genuinely lacking in intellectual or emotional matter? would want way too much money for any of his work. So really, a song which boils down to “West Virginia is a place THAT EXISTS” represents the apex of Fallout 76’s mental value.

** Chris Avellone has said that it was only meant as a joke, not a retcon, but--and it’s hard for me to blaspheme against the mighty Avellone, believe me--I think that’s just him trying to cover for a decision he only realized in retrospect was really dumb. This nonsense already starts with Marcus the super mutant making a joke, and then, when asked to elaborate, he says, without the slightest hint of levity or deception in his voice or words, just his regular conversational tone, that it just took some years for the “juices” to start “flowing again.” For this statement to be a joke in response to having cracked a joke would be awkward and narratively out of place, and it wouldn’t fit the voice acting nor dialogue’s wording. I’m pretty sure this scenario was originally meant to be in earnest.

*** I exaggerate, of course. After all, by Bethesda’s logic, if a vat of FEV had been promised as part of some special deal, then the only thing that Vault-Tec, MIT, and West Tek would have actually received would be a bottle of Mello Yellow.

**** And keep in mind, this game has, by all indications, not sold even close to as well as Bethesda wanted it to. So if the servers can’t handle even the reduced number of forsaken, miserable souls who had the misfortune to purchase Fallout 76 right now, what the fuck was Bethesda planning to do if it had actually met its sales expectations?


  1. Obdurate hater of Rhythm GamesDecember 8, 2018 at 2:33 PM

    I am boycotting Bethesda permanently, never fucking touching its games again after the E3 press conference. I did the same thing for the same basic reasons after Microsoft's conference in 2013 and after E.A. used Origin's hallowed name to promote its shitty games. I was afraid that even though I abandoned Microsoft and E.A, I might not be able to abandon a developer I liked but I dumped Bethesda. How nice to know that I am not capricious.

    What makes this even worse is that some excellent post-apocalyptic R.P.G.s have become available recently: Ever Oasis and World of Final Fantasy came out and Shin ZMegami Tensei if was finally translated. World of Final Fantasy and Ever Oasis are two of my favorite R.P.G.s now, and though I am not sure if Shin Megami Tensei if is that good it is a great game: A nice change from the horribly tedious, joyless, plotless, soulless, repetitive Shin Megami Tensei 2.

    1. Well, I'm not boycotting them yet, but you can bet your ass I'm gonna be cautious as hell about the next real Fallout--the chances of my purchasing it at full price are now slim to none. And I'm sure as hell not touching anything else they make for a good, long time.

      ICY: Frostbite Edition's another neat post-apocalyptic title, if you're interested.

      Awww, c'mon, SMT2 was great! I mean, yeah, pretty tedious and repetitive, I'll give you that, but plotless? Soulless? No way! It was a great look into Christianity at a conceptual level, terrific in particular for its pointing out of how many of the religion's tenets are so strict that religious leaders, angels, and even God Himself are in violation of them. SMT2's my favorite installment of the entire brilliant series.

  2. Obdurate Hater of Rhythm GamesDecember 8, 2018 at 2:38 PM

    Bethesda has really been fucking over its customers recently: Not only has it promised shitty bastardizations of its games, but it also sold a $200 hobo bindle as a fancy nylon bag, giving out worthless refunds at no cost to itself--fuck Bethesd right in the ass.

  3. Obdurate Hater of Rhythm GamesDecember 8, 2018 at 2:43 PM

    Please comment on Ascendant Underworld and Bard's Tale 4, which based on the reviews sound just as bad.

    1. Can't say I have a comment to make on either--the latter I've simply heard is, indeed, not good at all, and I hadn't even heard of the former.

  4. I haven't been on your blog in a while (so expect an influx of comments) but man it's been a wild ride since this article has been published. I feel like there's a controversy every week. Oh how the mighty have fallen.

    1. I know, right? I actually rushed to get it written before my holiday break, so it would still have some relevance when it got published (you certainly can't say that much for most of my rants). How silly that haste seems in retrospect.

      I half suspect that Bethesda is, at this point, doing it on purpose, because they know that without a weekly disaster to garner attention from Yong Yea and all the other game journalists, this shitty game would already be completely forgotten and ignored. It's all according to plan.

      Not a GOOD plan, mind you, but...