E3 2018 Quick Asides: Fallout 76
Radioactive Fallout from Games as Service
Fallout 3 is one of my favorite games of all time, having logged hundreds of hours into multiple platforms and too many player builds to count. When Bethesda released that game back in 2008 and the sprawling open world beckoned players into some thorough, post-apocalyptic fun, I and many others thought how cool this would be if some element of multiplayer were incorporated. Ten years later, Bethesda has unveiled Fallout 76, a not so MMO, entirely online, open world, classic Fallout “survival” game featuring most of the goodies we’re used to with the franchise, but with an emphasis on partnership, base building and being able to launch unused nuclear missiles all over the map.
How quaint is it in this day and age of ziggy piggy rocket men and overstuffed oompa loompas threatening each other with real life Armageddon and then cozying up like peas in a pod does Bethesda Softworks (located a mere 6.77 miles away from the White House) deliver a video game that promotes cooperation, but also offers mutually assured destruction. Is Todd Howard trolling us? Perhaps this is all just a coincidental twist of poetic irony, but what makes the initial offering of Fallout 76 more interesting is the discussion and debate that has flooded the internet and the one word it all seems to be orbiting around: grief.
Multiplayer games of every sort exist mostly as competitive proving grounds for humans vs. humans in a digital arena which makes for a different gaming experience than trying to defeat an AI in a single player experience. Crushing actual people online provides a level of satisfaction beyond grinding through maximum difficulty or maximum time commitment towards the completion of any game. As such, some gamers always look to find an edge. It could very well be that your low K/D ratio is a true reflection of your ability and you just need to “git gud, scrub.” It could also be the result of others using lag switches, modded controllers or even straight up hacking because the sensation of domination (even in a video game that ultimately doesn’t matter) feels that damn good.
This all relates to Fallout 76 in a very direct way because the franchise has always been a single player RPG experience that was completely free from the peer pressure of any other player. Now, gamers will have to contend with each other and while Pete Hines and Todd Howard may say this new Fallout can be played solo, that also defeats the purpose of playing this particular game. The map will be bigger and more dangerous, so finding a team makes sense so you can pool your resources to build an awesome settlement and maybe even find some RNG nuclear launch codes to lay further waste to the map, but really to wipe out that pathetic tent ring of noobs whose mere presence in YOUR game is just SO annoying. Hit the button (whose button is bigger?) watch those aluminum death spears fly and wipe them out! Their grief is your pleasure.
But fear not, the nice guy team of Hines and Howard has implemented anti-grief measures to Fallout 76 that will assure all former vault dwellers that their game will not be hijacked by *ucking *ssholes. And here they are: 1) Aggressive players will be given a wanted level. 2) PVP is triggered via challenge system that you’ve seen in other MMOs. 3) When you die, the player will not lose any progression or possessions in their inventory. 4) If none of this works for you then you can get into a private server so you can play with your toys alone, or with people you invite in. 5) You can still nuke each other and … well, nothing’s been said about protecting the town that was a focal point of constructing in this game, will probably take a long time and considerable effort to build the way you want it and will be everyone’s primary target once they acquire all launch codes. Happy trails! Maybe they’ll give us some Star Wars missile defense shield DLC for $20?
There’s no way to make an online game immune to significant grief factors. The only real way to do this is to take it offline and since that’s not an option for Fallout 76, it’s nice they have put some thought into protecting the player experience. Yet, how insulated can it be when nukes are always on the table? Personally, I don’t have a problem with this neat gameplay mechanic as the potential fun outweighs the potential grief, but you can bet your bottom dollar that I won’t be investing a twig of resources into building anything before I know I can protect it from mushroom clouds. Even if there were, as buggy as Bethesda games have always been, the modding community is inventive and reliable enough to work around the “rules” one way or another. That’s also to say nothing of the “rules” for nuclear launch requiring multiple codes which I’m sure will have some preset difficulty and/or challenge completion RNG factor to it which will fizzle on release day as we will see virtual West Virginia glowing in the dark so often you’d think the very earth was made of neon.
And then Bethesda could turn Fallout 76 into Destiny because the Creation Club was amazing and lunch (loot) boxes for Fallout Shelter provided such value to the player. We’ll wait and see how Bethesda chooses to monetize Fallout 76 beyond the initial entry fee of $59.99 plus additional costs for deluxe and collector’s editions, season passes and so on and so forth.
I enjoy Fallout games for their ability to deliver unexpected moments of discovery to the player who can make dramatic and permanent impacts to the state of their digital worlds. I especially enjoy these games to play them out at my own pace, beholden to no one. Turning Fallout into a light MMO will alter or perhaps even nullify these enjoyment factors. Homogenizing the way other “games as service” tend to do is banking on the strength of the IP to stand out from the crowd despite offering most if not all of the same gameplay as everyone else. Fallout 76 looks like Fallout 4 with multiplayer which sounds like a really cool mod rather than a brand new game to invest in. I really like the potential of grouping up in a Fallout game which is why this game is still on my radar, but I simply must know more about the monetization, content support and intended longevity of this game before I sign on for a potential long haul.