Fall-ing Out

Monday, January 14, 2019

I’ve never been into Fallout. The closest thing was putting 50 hours into Oblivion over a decade ago. I have owned Skyrim, Fallout 3 and Fallout 4 (via Xbox Game Pass) but wasn’t compelled enough to move very far beyond the introductions. I do understand the appeal! It’s a vast world with extremely diverse ways to do things. The several hundred hours that even a casual player can put into these worlds makes perfect sense.

Past. Still have em, mint in box.

But since that time I’ve made friends - one who loves the Bethesda style. In the lead up to the recently released Fallout 76, he was eager to dive in, but wanted buddies to join him to get the most out of the new multiplayer online experience.

I was not going to pay the box price, especially after seeing the reception it received. Despite extensive bugs, glitches and overall wonkiness, the previous games in the franchise have had a fairly positive reception, but this one just tanked critically. The boss over at Giantbomb couldn’t even get anyone on staff to play the game long enough to give it a review score, so it just ended up with a “Don’t play this game”.

But, following the negative reception and presumably unimpressive sales, the price of entry dropped. In mid-December one of my favourite and totally legitimate key trading sites had the PC version for $19 - down from the $100 to $120 that it was selling for just a week or two before.

Rake. People weren't forking over their cash, perhaps.

It’s an experience. The biggest thing I’ve taken away is just how rigid and static the whole world is. You can never move anything, change anything, or do much in the story to make things around you different at all. It’s like everything is cast in solid steel, and you can’t get a plasma cutter. Completing a mission involving burying a dead body, the pile of dirt and the hole doesn’t change one bit after the mission has been completed. Partly because it’s a shared online world, you also don’t seem to be able to do any world changing events.The only exception is base building, but that is always fairly dry and bland. You might be able to get nicer walls and beds at later levels, but getting there would be a task.

Trees. A forest of never changing Trees.

I’ve been told that a big part of the Fallout experience is the story. With this I think you’d be better reading a book. Every plot mission so far is a fool's errand. You get an audio recording of someone or a script for something to do, and when you get there the promised end game - generally the person - isn’t there. There are some interesting plot points, but these are focused on things that have happened far in the past rather than what is happening now. Going to an abandoned Country Club gives you an idea of the fun that could be had if things were happening - exciting story events that were happening as you played - but instead it’s just robots telling you bland and basic dialog on a loop.

It’s not very good looking at all, or very well performing. Well, at least not for me. I’m operating below the minimum system requirements with my GTX 750 - something I brought extremely cheaply out of a decommissioned crypto mining farm. Combining this with my vintage 2011 CPU gives me frame rates in the mid 20’s with every possible option set to low - even resolution. I know I shouldn’t be surprised, as this is below the stated minimum demanded specifications, but after having Destiny 2 run at full 1920x1080 with moderate settings and never once dropping below 30? Oddly disappointing. It looks just awful, but I still find it playable. I get a little thrill out of being able squeeze every drop out of this old rig.

Comparison. Comparison: 750 vs 1050Ti.

Outside of the settings and performance, Fallout 76 doesn’t look to behave in a logical manner. You see a teammate hacking into a safe while they are a good two meters away and not even facing the right direction. The number of animations are at a bare minimum. Most doors don’t animate to open, and any player-to-player interactions just show two people standing next each other doing nothing. In a single player game these things probably wouldn’t be noticeable, but now that everything can be observed from the perspective of another character it just seems lacking.

But by far the biggest and most irritating issue is the sheer instability of the whole experience. Some glitches are just comical - I regularly see my other player companions wearing nothing but tighty whitey underwear despite them being fully clothed. Once my character was animated as swimming over dry land! But this just happened for my companion - for me, my character was running and walking as normal. This example is funny, but some glitches just break the game. A friend’s camp once had everyone spawning under the floor after fast traveling there, stuck and unable to get out. These are all similar glitches that past games have been plagued with, but the online nature takes it to another level.

Nude. Bringing sexy back, but not by choice.

Additionally the servers just aren’t stable. At least half of my friends and my play sessions have resulted in being kicked out of world to the main menu due to a server failure. Often the game just locks all movement with a prompt saying the server can’t be reached, sometimes doing this repeatedly for minutes on end. Sometimes the whole game can just crash, either locking up or closing without any notification. It’s not just my pathetic hardware, asking my friends and browsing Reddit shows that these events are fairly common. I’m not that bothered, I paid a rock bottom price to play! But considering this game right now is on store shelves, at full retail price? It’s not acceptable. Anyone can buy this game and it doesn’t function correctly anywhere near often enough. My friend guessed that there likely is a memory leak or some bad looping code that forces the server to occasionally get bogged down, and which point the server gets rebooted and all players get kicked off.

Despite all of this, it still can be very fun. Just wandering around a polygonal wasteland in a team of four, chatting about the game and other life issues is very compelling. Seeing someone who is hoarding way too much stuff waddle around overencumbered like a duck is endlessly hilarious. The combat isn’t great, but shooting and slicing up giant mutated insects is still fun enough to keep going. Well, that is until you get one giant blood sucking thing that constantly revives itself, never letting you get back to all your stuff that you drop when you die! But in that case it’s nice to have difficulty from actual game mechanics rather than the pervasive glitches.

I’m at level 10, I’ve built myself a base and already have too much stuff in my Stash Box. I will continue playing, probably for as long as I have friends still interested. There is a good chance that things will improve, the latest patch did correct 150 known bugs. Even if stability just got better the whole game would be a far more tolerable experience. It might get there, maybe with a massive re-release similar to what Final Fantasy XIV did with its A Realm Reborn edition three years after the initial outing was unsuccessful.

If you’re curious? Look out for a low cost deal, hold your breath and dive in. If you want a tourist guide, hit me up. I’ll play with anyone eager, and I have so much wood to give.