To say I had low expectations for Fallout 76’s new Wastelanders expansion would be an understatement. My original Fallout 76 review was not kind, but at least ended on a hopeful note. “Maybe like Elder Scrolls Online, Bethesda can tease a decent game out of this foundation in a year or two,” I wrote. But as time went on, and as the controversies mounted, I became less and less convinced.
Still, when Wastelanders released on Tuesday I figured I might as well give it a shot. After all, the expansion is free for anyone who owned the game, and…well, I owned the game. Why not, right? It’s not like there’s much releasing this spring.
And you know what? I’m glad I gave it a shot, because it’s surprisingly solid.
Skeletons in the bathtub
There are still myriad issues with Fallout 76, don’t get me wrong. As far as I’m concerned, it gains very little from being an always-online multiplayer experience, but it certainly loses a lot.
Moment-to-moment combat (and there’s a lot of it in Fallout 76) is particularly underwhelming. The real-time conceit means VATS is essentially useless—which would be disappointing but not the end of the world, except that playing Fallout 76 as a standard shooter isn’t fun either. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve fired a shot at an unsuspecting ghoul’s head only for the game to tell me I “missed.” I’m no Fortnite pro but I’m not a complete scrub either, and it happens often enough in Fallout 76 that I think it’s netcode-related. I never had such trouble with Fallout 4 or, say, Doom Eternal.
The list of problems continues. The menus are cumbersome, especially on mouse and keyboard where repairing a weapon at a workbench requires no less than four different button presses. The food and water systems are an annoyance at best. Bethesda doubled your stash size, but it’s still comically small considering how much junk you’re expected to collect for crafting.
And performance is still wildly inconsistent, with shadows seemingly the leading cause of frame rate issues. My colleague Adam Patrick Murray even had the game crash on him during our stream the other day. (We’ve embedded the whole thing at the end of the review if you want to watch.)
I don’t even want to talk about the in-game store and the “Fallout 1st” subscription, which is its own can of worms. Your feelings about paying over-and-above the $40 base price for cosmetics and an unlimited stash probably hinge on whether you feel this is first-and-foremost a Fallout game or an MMO.
I’m torn, personally. I think the monthly subscription price is pretty decent for what you get compared to Final Fantasy XIV or World of Warcraft or whatever—but I’m also never going to pay it, and I think putting certain quality-of-life improvements (i.e. a second fast travel point) behind a paywall does more harm to Fallout 76 than…