We've been playing the Fallout 76 beta on PlayStation 4, and to be frank, it's not looking particularly good. Being a multiplayer adaptation of Bethesda's beloved franchise, the game's no stranger to scrutiny even at this early stage, but after spending around eight or so hours with the beta, that scrutiny is, unfortunately, starting to seem warranted.
But first, let's at least go over what we like about Fallout 76 so far. For as graphically ugly as it can look, the game's open world retains that trademark Bethesda intricacy. It feels like each environment has been meticulously crafted and curated, and there are little secrets everywhere. It doesn't seem quite as densely populated as Fallout 4's post-apocalyptic Boston, but there's an openness to West Virginia that's surprisingly liberating. General exploration has been the high point of the beta.
Bethesda's creations have always been a joy to explore alone, but we're sure many of you have thought about what it would be like to travel around one of these open worlds with a friend or two. Obviously Fallout 76 makes this a reality, allowing you to easily team up with your pals or total strangers who just happen to cross your path. Having another player by your side in a Fallout game undeniably feels weird at first, but as with any multiplayer title, adventuring as a group can add a lot of flavour to the experience.
Taking down hordes of ghouls or teaming up to tackle a public event that sees you fend off waves of enemies is fun, and there's just something strangely refreshing about not having to brave the nuclear wasteland alone. That said, the tone of Fallout 76 is completely different to the tone of past Fallout games. There's a beauty to the desolation that's found in Fallout 3, New Vegas, and Fallout 4 -- a feeling of hopelessness that Fallout 76 fails to capture. It's partly down to the fact that you've got other players running around punching each other for laughs, but there's something about the bright colour palette and lush vegetation of Fallout 76 that makes it feel very un-Fallout.
To be brutally honest, Fallout 76 too often feels like a mod for Fallout 4. There's a tackiness to it that's hard to properly explain, but the bottom line is that it certainly doesn't live up to the billing of a brand new Fallout game -- especially one that's releasing in 2018, three whole years after Fallout 4.
And this is where the problems really start adding up. On a fundamental level, Fallout 76 has barely moved on from Fallout 4. The shooting perhaps feels a tiny bit tighter, but it's still clunky at the best of times, resulting in combat that feels seriously dated. Character movement and animations are still wonky, enemies still have dodgy hitboxes, and the artificial intelligence remains as stupid as ever. All of this was passable in 2015, when it was all embedded in an expansive, engaging single player experience complete with role-playing and an addictive gameplay loop, but in 2018, it's the core of a multiplayer, shared world title, and it's so, so far behind the curve.
Even V.A.T.S., the slow motion aiming system from previous games, can't save the clunky combat. Since Fallout 76 is a multiplayer title, you obviously can't have V.A.T.S. stop-starting the action, and so it works like a real-time auto aim mechanic. That sounds fine on paper, but in practice it's horribly unwieldy. Erratic enemies like ghouls, which duck and dive as they charge towards your position, make your hit percentage fluctuate to extreme degrees, to the point where you're better off just aiming manually. It's borderline broken, and it's even worse when you're trying to hit opposing players.
Speaking of opposing players, the player-versus-player system in Fallout 76 is unconvincing. If someone wants to start a fight they'll just keep shooting at you until you lose your cool and fire back, resulting in a mess of twitchy movement and unreliable hit detection. An established first person shooter this ain't, and it really shows.
We didn't get into as many scraps with other players as we'd have liked to, however. For as much concern as there is about players purposefully trying to ruin the experience for others, the map's so large that you'll be lucky -- or perhaps unlucky -- to find another of the 20-odd vault dwellers currently occupying the same server. One of the only times we actually ran into another person was when we visited a specific location as part of a main quest.
The quests aren't up to scratch either, by the way. Fallout 76 doesn't have any non-playable characters to talk to -- every human that you meet is another player -- so the stories that we came across were all told through letters, notes, and voice recordings. Sadly, it's just as boring as it sounds. Some of these recordings drone on and on and on about past events, but without an actual character to interact with, it's so easy to just blank out and follow the objective markers.
Maybe things get more in-depth as the game goes on -- we can't possibly say based on the beta -- but what we do know is that the finished product absolutely must step up its technical performance. While the beta isn't as game-breakingly bad as we thought it might be on PS4, it still runs pretty poorly. The frame rate suffers regular dips and drops hard during big fights in crowded areas. When entering a new location or a new region of the map, the beta has a tendency to freeze for a second or so as if it's loading. For a game that looks this dated, and in a year when we've seen the open world genre push forward with titles like Assassin's Creed Odyssey and Red Dead Redemption 2, this level of technical performance is embarrassing.
Now, we know that a multiplayer game is totally new territory for Bethesda, but let's face it, when has even a single player Bethesda game ever ran smoothly? The Fallout 4 engine feels like it's on the brink of falling to bits to begin with, and now Bethesda's added multiplayer functionality on top of it? We've always said that it's a recipe for disaster.
Based on our time with the Fallout 76 beta, Bethesda has a lot of work to do. While there is fun to be found here in exploring what looks to be another memorable post-apocalyptic setting, there are just too many issues to ignore. The moment-to-moment gameplay feels almost no different to what Fallout 4 offered three years ago, and technical problems are a near constant annoyance. The finished game really has to be better than this, but is there even time to improve things ahead of launch? We'll have to wait and see, but we're not holding our breath.
Have you tried the Fallout 76 beta on PS4? What do you think of it? Are you looking forward to the full release? Take aim at some mutants in the comments section below.