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story.lead_photo.caption Fallout 76 for Playstation 4, Xbox One and PC

Title: Fallout 76

Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

Cost: $59.99

Rating: Mature for blood and gore, drug references, intense violence and strong language

Score: 5 out of 10

In the post-apocalyptic wasteland that is the setting for the Fallout series, much of the nation has been devastated and irradiated, with desperate survivors trying repair a broken world. Unfortunately, that's also sort of how Fallout 76 feels, too — like an ancient machine held together with only duct tape and elbow grease.

That's not to say the game, set in rural West Virginia, isn't enjoyable. It's just nowhere near ready for wide release — not at the premium $60 price point, anyway.

For those new to the Fallout universe, the story, artwork and music selections are heavily influenced by America's post-World War II nuclear paranoia, combining futuristic, atomic-powered machines and robots with a 1950s aesthetic.

In the game's world, fear of nuclear war led to the creation of underground bunkers known as vaults all across America, and in 2077, China, Russia and the United States ended up in a nuclear conflict that destroyed most of civilization and turned almost all of America into a radioactive wasteland filled with mutated creatures and plants.

The Fallout games focus on survivors from those vaults, sometimes shut off from the outside world for centuries, finally venturing forth to find a world devastated, but slowly recovering.

Fallout 76 stretches itself pretty thin, trying to appeal to solo players, cooperative players and player-versus-player types all at the same time. Unfortunately, it might be wearing a few too many hats. Rather than choosing to excel in one area, Fallout 76 is just average in each.

Bethesda chose to create a world without human nonplayer characters (better known to players as NPCs), which have always been one of the Fallout games' strengths. Part of the series' appeal has been encountering many unique characters as part of storytelling that really makes the world feel alive. But that doesn't exist in Fallout 76.

By the time players leave Vault 76, all the humans in the region, called Appalachia, have already died. Which means that there is no one to save and no way to be the hero or the villain.

The "story" is really up to how players interact with one another, and when it comes to online interactions, your mileage may vary.

Fallout 76 feels extremely similar to 2015's Fallout 4, because it's basically the same game. It's the same game engine (the one used to create Skyrim more than seven years ago), same graphics, same textures, same animations. Same bugs, too, along with plenty of new ones. It feels more like a modification of the earlier game than a new property.

There are some interesting new mechanics, though, like semi-portable bases that can be deployed and redeployed across the map.

And it has long been a wish to have a cooperative, multiplayer option for Fallout. Logging into the game server puts players into a world about four times the size of Fallout 4, and each server can host 24 players. Players can form parties of four and cooperatively play through missions, enter "MMO"-like dungeons and claim territory that gives bonus resources. MMOs are "massively multiplayer online" games.

Multiplayer quest events spawn regularly across the map as well.

The base-building and player-vs-player combat is reminiscent of survival games such as Rust — but rather than Rust's unforgiving environment filled with toxic griefers, in Fallout 76, the player-vs-player combat has been sanitized greatly. Shooting at other players merely invites them to duel you, and unless they accept, you'll do almost no damage to them, being at best a mild annoyance.

While that's fine by me, since what I wanted was cooperative play, for people who wanted that "PVP" aspect, it's probably disappointing.

There are also microtransactions available, and since Bethesda has said that all future content released for the game will be free (so no paid downloadable content), it is hoping to fund that content by selling cosmetic upgrades.

There are parts of the game that I really enjoy. Despite no human nonplayer characters to interact with, the world is littered with immersive, lore-filled audio recordings and notes, and there are monsters to fight that have never been seen before, such as winged, ghoul-type beasts that fly through the skies; and West Virginia-specific folk-story monsters show up, like the Mothman and Grafton Monster.

At this point it's hard to recommend the game at its full price, but serious fans of the franchise might pick it up anyway. It just lacks the polish and readiness of other games that cost $60, such as God of War and Red Dead Redemption 2.

I also felt I spent almost as much time managing my limited inventory space as I did playing the game, so there are some quality-of-life problems to work out. I do feel confident that the game will be quite improved in a few months, but for now it's a pass.

Style on 11/19/2018

Print Headline: Game On

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