Fallout 76 could have just been another shoddy game sent out to die, but due to a continuous string of baffling decisions and mistakes it has managed to tarnish Bethesda’s reputation, possibly irreversibly. For those unaware of just how badly Bethesda has screwed the pooch, let me take you through the troubled lifetime of Fallout 76.
So firstly, the game releases and it’s a hollow shell of a Fallout game, stripped of much of its identity and rushed out the door in an unfinished state just to make a quick buck. There was no story to speak of, a dull and repetitive grind and the much lauded player interactions were so poorly implemented it showed just how poorly thought out the multiplayer aspects were. Top it off with a cash shop which would happily sell you assets ripped straight from Fallout 4 and you have a game emblematic of what’s wrong with triple A gaming; made all the bitterer for coming from Bethesda, thought to be one of the last bastions of consumer friendly single player games. I reviewed 76 overwhelmingly negatively when it released, and I still feel like I went easy on it. And it was here, right as the game released, that the controversies begun.
The release itself got off to a bad start. The beta was little more than early access. They changed almost nothing afterwards, and didn’t even wipe progress when it ended. It was just a ploy to drive pre-orders, and that’s a classic red flag. This “beta” experienced the strangest bug I’ve heard of in a long time, with the game randomly uninstalling when closed. This is a 46 GB game file that would then need to be re-downloaded. But you better hope you don’t have a download cap on your broadband because after that the day one patch was 54 GB. That’s right, the patch was bigger than the game itself despite seemingly fixing little to nothing. Finally, when fans who were quite rightfully feeling burned approached Bethesda for a refund they were told that as they had opened the game they were no longer entitled to one, no matter their play time. The conspiracy theorist in me says it wasn’t released on steam due to the negative reviews it would have gotten and the incredibly generous refund policy which would have decimated their profits. A fan base in ruins and their reputation on the line, there would need to be a serious effort on their part in order to fix the damage that had been done.
Cut forward not even a week and there is already new outrage. The now infamous canvas bag situation. The “Power Armour Edition” (collector’s edition) of the game was advertised as coming with, among other things, a high quality canvas bag in the Fallout style. What was received was a shoddily made nylon bag which looked like a Chinese knock off you’d accidentally buy on eBay. Bethesda eventually committed to producing and delivering real bags to all owners, but not without stoking the fire a bit first. For one, when people started contacting Bethesda support they were told nothing was going to be done about it, but that they could all have 500 atoms (ingame currency) as compensation. That’s £4 of intangible compensation to people who paid up to £200 for the collector’s edition. It’s even worse when you realise it’s a direct insult to their most dedicated fans as who else would pay that much for a game. Only once the outrage started to spread all around the gaming sphere did they relent. This situation was exacerbated by the fact that influencers in the media who were sent this edition to preview DID receive a canvas bag, meaning Bethesda made an active decision to deceive its fans. And finally, to top it all off after collecting the personal details of all those who bought the power armour edition and were due represent bags, Bethesda leaked their personal details. Outstanding move.
Thing’s died down for a while and the collective gaming consciousness moved on, with only a little murmur when it inexplicably went on black Friday sale less than 2 weeks after release. That is not something that games that are selling well do. But focus came ricocheting back when Christmas rolled around. Unsurprisingly for a game with a cash shop, Bethesda added some Christmas themed cosmetics. A bit of a slap as it was the only new content since release, but the real kicker was the sleazy way they were sold. Ignoring how expensive they were (the Santa costume was £15) from day one they were “on sale” for a “discounted price” despite never actually having sold for the “original price”. This is a flagrantly manipulative sales strategy praying on people’s desire for a good deal. Best of all, this is actually a practice commonly used by mobile games and has been used before by EA. Not a good look there Bethesda.
As the year drew to a close and the time for new beginnings was upon us, what did Bethesda have planned? How would they win back favour with the community? Apparently by paying homage to the Y2K bug. On January first the nukes broke. In 76, the nukes are effectively the endgame content. You can launch a nuke to create a high level zone in which to farm, as well as messing with other players. It’s unquestionably a core feature and one of the few saving graces of the game, and with the new year the system broke and they couldn’t be launched. This wasn’t even the first controversy surrounding the nukes, as despite it supposedly being a big deal to collect launch codes and fire one off, the codes weren’t random. This meant people would just upload new ones to reddit, rendering one of the core gameplay looks entirely unnecessary. The broken nukes were fixed relatively fast, but it shows how poorly thought out the game was. It was released in November, but they hadn’t properly planned even 2 months ahead.
But nothing shows Bethesda’s incompetence like the latest in this long string of embarrassments. See, the game has had a hacker problem from day 1, and Bethesda having never dealt with online games like this before have been really struggling to deal with them, ban waves do get made and exploits are patched but to say some hackers fall through the cracks would be a vast understatement. However, the latest development came when enterprising hackers realised they could duplicate high level items to sell to other players. And just like that, an immense second hand market sprung up selling perks, caps and weapons to other players for real money. Go on eBay and you can buy unofficial weapon packs for upwards of £200. Entire websites have been created to sell you hacked and duped items so you can skip the grind. It goes without saying that this has entirely decimated the core gameplay loop, and the fact people are paying their rent by hacking a game is ludicrous. It is now entirely possible to see low level players hopped up on bobble-head perks taking on endgame monsters with ease due to the flood of these items into the economy.
It doesn’t even end there. Long time Bethesda fans know their maps usually have a “developer room” containing every item in the game. They’re used for testing things before release. These aren’t places you should be able to reach, but they leave them in their single player games because in theory they do no harm, and are a neat easter egg for those willing to dive through the game files and do some modding. However, in a show of stunning brilliance they left the developer room in the Fallout 76 map, and finally people are getting in there. Obviously there is the issue of people getting high level items for free, but people have found weapons and items in there that are not even legitimately available in the game, perhaps because they were broken or because they were planned for release in a later patch. The final cherry on top of this whole ordeal is that, while Bethesda was able to lock the accounts of all who got into the developer room, this lock was paired with an email that offered to unlock the account if the user responded to said email with instructions on how to perform the exploit. That’s right, Bethesda could see you’d been in there, but couldn’t figure out how you did it.
And finally we end up at the present day and it should be clear why people have lost faith in Bethesda. This whole ordeal has shown how little effort actually went into Fallout 76, and has shown that Bethesda is now more than willing to stoop to new lows to follow trends in the pursuit of greater profits. Their reputation is irreparably tarnished, and in a short time they’ve gone from a fan favourite company to one regarded with suspicion. Fallout 76 was not just a bad game, it made people reassess the way they saw Bethesda and their previous games. I find it harder to overlook the flaws in Fallout 4 after this mess, and am nowhere near as excited for The Elder Scrolls 6, because they have shown that when the chips are down they are willing to treat their fans with contempt. For Shame.