Fallout 76 may fail Bethesda

A Massive Multiplayer Online Fallout game is great idea that can so easily be come up with, and both its former and current intellectual property’s owner, namingly Interplay and Bethesda Softwork, has made their attempts: while Interplay was not able to release Fallout Online before its bankruptcy and thus the abortion of the project, Fallout 76 is revealed right before this year’s E3 and will arrive in just a little more than 3 month. The dream is nearly here.

And how much controversies it creates. People are calling it a “Rust-clone” or an “Ark-clone” since its reveal (both Rust and Ark are popular survival MMOs that I will later cover), or even the “Metal Gear Survive of Fallout franchise.” While some big-name Youtubers and community leads express their ultra hype, many devoted fans are still very much skeptical of what had already been shown about this new entry. Particularly, people think that Bethesda has taken the wrong approach of making the online Fallout experience.

Let’s start with what is Fallout 76.

Fallout 76 was initiated as the multiplayer mode of Fallout 4. Most of Fallout 76’s gameplay elements have already been presented in Fallout 4: surviving on the hostile wasteland, crafting items, building bases and defending them, so long and so forth. Unlike Grand Theft Auto V, Fallout 4’s overworld isn’t big enough to fully reach its multiplayer potential, and therefore we have Fallout 76, with a world four times of the size of Fallout 4’s and no annoying NPC characters.

Well, yeah, no annoying NPC characters. There’s no human NPC at all.

This is the absolute convex of all its controversies and apparently what may define Fallout 76. We know that MMORPGs are not renowned for their narratives but eliminating all talking NPCs still sounds way too extreme. I’m not going to say one hundred percent sure that no talking NPC means zero storytelling, but it’s true that storytelling would be greatly restricted without any storyteller. Fallout games are known for their narrative, especially from the amazing world set-up thanks to all kinds of in-game NPCs to present the kaleidoscopic humanity in the post-apocalyptic world. And since it is gone now, Fallout 76 is a game about create your own adventure in the wasteland, facing hostile environment, fearsome mutated creatures, and human, real human players.

Here’s where the confusion starts. Since its reveal Bethesda has been really conservative about the nature of Fallout 76 that is a survival RPG similar to Ark: Survival Evolved, Rust and Conan Exile. Todd keeps emphasizing that Fallout 76 is much closer to a traditional Bethesda Fallout game than Ark even though the difference between Fallout 76 and Fallout 4 is apparent night and day. Why? Because games like Ark, Rust and Conan Exile do not have a good reputation. Although a lot of players have been enjoyed playing them, those games are often labeled heavy on grind and thin on story, which is the opposite of the strength of Fallout series. All those problems are designer’s problem and Bethesda’s designers are definitely able to mitigate the problem. What they cannot prevent, on the other hand, is toxicity. In my opinion, Toxicity is the biggest problem keeps players from enjoying those survival RPGs.

Bethesda’s attitude is even more confusing. While Todd Howard, the creative director behind Fallout series, keeps saying they will do whatever they can to prevent toxicity, Bethesda is also heavily promoting the “nuking” gameplay feature in Fallout 76. In the game, players are able to launch nukes to anywhere on the map and just like nuclear bombs in real life, it annihilates anything within a certain range and causing irreversible environment changes (including mutation on creatures).

Let’s be honest, everyone knows that such “nuking” is exactly what those trolls are looking for. The mechanics only brings destruction and terror. Yes, it maybe fun for those who has the access to the nuke button, but definitely not fun for those being nuked. Although in the game, players can get respawned, but everything he or she has collected, grinded and built is gone. Endeavors are rewarded for nothing, as long as they have no access to nuke. The nuking mechanics is, in my opinion, the most toxic mechanics I have every seen in the genre, and Bethesda cannot stop people from playing it without toxicity. Even if, let’s say, there are several factions on one server that they all have nukes. There is a balance among all factions, like the world in real life. Unlike reality, people are definitely not paying for inhumane action in video game. As a result, nuclear balance leads to nuclear war. In anyway, using nukes in Fallout 76 is inevitable and for most players, they are likely the one being nuked rather than nuking others. The inclusion of nuking mechanics is supporting toxicity and trolling.

Bethesda knows. Bethesda does not want that either because toxicity keeps major audience loss. But from my observation, Bethesda does not know how to tackle the balance between fun and toxicity either. Last time I was reading a forum discussion about how bad a pay-2-win domination can be, and the top answer said, “we (free users) are the gameplay of whales.” Indeed Fallout 76 is not a pay-to-win game by any means, but it still allows hierarchy in player community. It’s a problem neither Ark nor Rust, Conan, H1Z1 Just Survive, anything in this genre can resolve. The reason is plain and simple: being a toxic player is fun to so many people. Fallout 76 can be a much better designed survival RPG than its competitor, bring unparalleled fun compared to the others, but trolling other real players is even more attractive to toxic players. We may consider Kim Jung-en to be the most ruthless person in the world, but in the world of Fallout 76, anyone can be worse than Kim Jung-en. Even worse, players are rewarded with the access of nukes from their gameplay, and therefore there’s simply no reason for players to not use nukes. At this stage nuke is both Fallout 76’s strongest feature and its absolutely worst mechanics that potentially keeps players away.

Ironically, this is probably the perfect annotation of that famous sentence from the series:

War, war never changes.