by Goran Damnjanovic, Gaming Columnist
Published in Gaming on 28th November, 2018
Fallout 76 is out and by the looks of it, the game will certainly win the unpopular accolade of the disappointment of the year. Tons of bugs, awful performance (especially on consoles), lack of stuff to do, broken promises when it comes to base building, world building, co-op gameplay and many other things, empty world that despite its size and variety simply doesn't offer enough content, boring and generic quests that come down to "go there pick that, rinse and repeat," and the fact that the game looks no better than three years old Fallout 4 are the main points that keep players from actually having fun in Fallout 76.
And, you know, video games should offer fun that's the main reason why they are here in the first place. Bethesda has gone too far with this one and instead of offering an excellent game riddled with bugs and performance issues the company released a broken buggy mess that can hardly be called a finished product. So, in order to repay Fallout fans who decided to stick to the game and in order to boost Fallout 76 sales - which are pretty poor - Bethesda has to roll up their sleeves, roll em up above elbows, and get ready for some serious work.
The company also has to make some changes to its future games because from now on, any future game released from Bethesda will be extremely scrutinized and if it contains the number of bugs we saw in Fallout 4 and Skyrim those bugs won't be considered as cute and part of the game's charm.
No, that game will be considered as yet another Bethesda's failure and the final example of the company's inability to release a stable, bug-free game that doesn't require any major patching in order to work as intended. So, here's what Bethesda can do in order to clean up the mess surrounding Fallout 76 and to regain the trust of the many fans of its games.
The fact is that every single Bethesda game came with loads of bugs but the difference here is that every previous game also included a huge world with tons of quests excellent main story and every single game was fully playable on launch. Also, those are single player games where bugs don't mean that much if the game is playable and fun. But Fallout 76 is a multiplayer title where each bug weighs more.
On top of that, the game's servers are unstable and many players experience frequent server crashes which is unacceptable of an always online game. And since Fallout 4 we've seen some revolutionary open world games that pushed quality way forward compared to Bethesda's open-world RPGs (The Witcher 3, Horizon: Zero Dawn, Assassin's Creed Origins and Odyssey, Red Dead Redemption 2, Marvel's Spider-Man just to name a few).
The game also suffers from countless bugs that seriously hurt the overall experience. Loads of quests cannot be finished, AI is horrendous with enemies often just standing in front of you or floating around you without moving any part of their body. The game is poorly optimized (especially on consoles), it crashes often, base building mechanic is unfinished mess, players often found parts of their camp disappearing when they store them and decide to transport them to some other location, pop-in issues are horrendous especially if you played Red Dead Redemption 2 which almost completely removed pop-in, etc. The list of bugs is longer than the number of quests in Skyrim.
And while community always came to help with amazing community patches that, over time, fixed hundreds of bugs and glitches Bethesda is on its own here because of the online nature of Fallout 76. Because of this, the company has to patch Fallout 76 as if their life depends on it. Bethesda has to shell out regular, weekly patches if they want for the community to keep playing their game. The first patch weighs in at a whopping 47 gigabytes but it doesn't fix lots of things. We hope that this one was a massive preparation of the game files for upcoming patches and that, starting next week, Bethesda will start fixing major missions design bugs, performance, and many quality of life glitches that massively affect enjoyment when playing Fallout 76.
One of the major reasons for the removal of each and every NPC from Fallout 76 was the claim that, in this game, players will build the world and create dramatic stories. Players would shape the game and its massive open world and they would make the game great. But the reality is completely different. Co-op features are buggy and messy, there aren't plenty of them and many promises weren't delivered.
Push-to-talk voice chat is still missing from the game and the PC version also lacks text chat which is unacceptable for an online game released in 2018. These two features have to be added ASAP and there's no excuse in delaying them. Next, Bethesda promised a bunch of stuff you could do with friends but the reality is bland and unexciting. You can roam the world with them, trade, and experience special timed events together.
You can't build bases together, you cannot play quests in co-op fashion, there's no option for conquering and holding down public campsites with your friends (only one player can hold those at a time which is pretty lame), players cannot join alliances and then battle for control of the map, they cannot create custom quests and then share those with friends and other people on the map, PvP is basically nonexistent, PvE is made out of boring timed events that give players some cool loot and that's it.
Bethesda has to bring loads of co-op features in order to fulfill some promises Todd Howard made during his E3 Fallout 76 presentation. Players should have to be able to make alliances, there should be a custom quest feature, you and your friends should be able to build camps together, XP should be equally shared between players for killing enemies, the game should get all those features that can fulfill Howard's promise of a game "where the choices are yours, where you'll decide what happens. You'll decide the heroes, and you'll decide the villains."
The many co-op issues lead us to the next major feature that should be added as soon as possible. We are talking about private servers. With private servers Fallout, 76 could actually become the game Todd Howard promised months ago. You can open your own private server, call all your friends and then have loads of fun playing Fallout 76 together on one server, making the world of the game your world where your actions actually have a lasting effect. Instead of losing all your changes to the world every time you log off you will have your own little world that will evolve with your actions. And the best thing about it all, private servers mean official mod support.
Community mods aren't supported at the moment because the game only has dedicated servers so you can't simply install some gameplay-altering mod because that would completely mess up game mechanics. But with private servers Fallout 76 will finally come with mod support. When you play the game on your server you can install whichever mod you like. And we are sure the game will start getting tons of mods as soon Bethesda launches private server support. Players will build a ton of cool additions that will open Fallout 76 and make it miles better than it is right now.
Just imagine the possibilities. Mods can bring NPCs to the game, they can allow players to open shops, or to role play by creating different factions and then fighting for the control of the game's map. Loads of custom quest mods will bring fun and exciting quest to the game, community patches will make it bug-free, graphical mods will make it pretty and well optimized, UI mods will make PC version much better because they will change menus to be more suited for mouse and keyboard, etc. Look, we don't have much faith in Bethesda fixing most of the bugs and glitches and introducing features they promised at E3 anytime soon, but enabling private servers and enabling mods on private servers could make Fallout 76 an awesome game that will be the best co-op experience out there.
Fallout 76 seriously lacks in content. Since the game features zero NPCs all quests are basically fetch missions where you follow a series of letters and notes and most quests end up with you finding out that everyone tied to the quest had died. And this isn't surprising because after bombs fell everyone died. So, Bethesda has to come up with lots of new content and they have to do it fast. If the company hopes for players to stick around until the game gets private server and mod support it has to populate this huge and pretty but extremely barren open world with stuff to do. And the stuff can't be boring, "fetch me this and then find out I'm dead" stuff but meaningful content with charm, quality story, and cool quest mechanics.
Since developers already broke the game's official canon by including Super Mutants, Brotherhood of Steel, and Deathclaws in Fallout 76 they could make some expansion that sees actual NPCs arriving in the world. Maybe a sudden invasion of Vault 76 by Enclave forces, with players trying to hold off the invasion while trying to contact BoS forces that are residing in California. Or maybe the arrival of raiders who rise from the ashes of civilization few years after bombs feel. The possibilities are endless so we hope Bethesda will admit their mistake and bring some NPCs to the game. The world is too barren without them.
As we said since Fallout 4 we've seen lots of superb open world experiences that surpassed Bethesda's open world RPG games. Hell, if Skyrim got released today (with upgraded graphics of course) we reckon the game would not be universally praised like it was back in 2011. Bethesda fell behind the rest of the industry when it comes to crafting amazing open world experiences and the company has to sit down, analyze games from their competitors, and incorporate their strengths into future games such as Starfield and The Elder Scrolls VI.
Look, open world video games evolved massively over the past five years or so and Bethesda simply has to play catch up. They aren't industry leaders anymore and massive changes are needed if they plan on staying on the top. Just look at Ubisoft. The company released broken buggy mess that was Assassin's Creed Unity and fans and critics responded by bashing the game on concrete until it died and instead of being silent or ignoring the problem Ubisoft made sure their future games won't suffer from same problems.
And we got games like Assassin's Creed Origins and Odyssey both amazing open world experiences, Far Cry 5 which isn't stellar in terms of story and missions but is technically flawless, and Ghost Recon: Wildlands which is an excellent example of successful games-as-service model and an excellent co-op experience.
Bethesda needs to do this too if they plan on getting back fan trust. They have to ensure their future games (Starfield, and TES VI) come with much better visuals, overhauled gameplay mechanics, better quests and excellent stories, and much fewer bugs than previous games. If they fail to achieve those goals well, the industry is filled with examples of once massively successful companies that simply went bankrupt, they certainly won't be the first.
The article by Kotaku's Jason Schreier does an excellent job at explaining what a game engine really is and that it's probably not to blame for general buginess of Bethesda's open world RPG games. But the fact is that every game made with Creation engine (and with Gamebryo engine on which Creation engine is based on) was filled with bugs and poor optimization.
On top of that it seems that graphically, Bethesda's open world games are falling more and more behind to other open world games. Maybe Creation engine simply cannot support such high graphical fidelity, maybe its source code is littered with bad lines of code that make it fundamentally optimized and prone to breaking games made with it. And maybe (and we simply don't want to believe in this), just maybe developers at Bethesda are capable of creating lively worlds, interesting NPCs, cool stories, and interesting quests but they are bad in creating pretty visuals and lifelike animations.
No matter where the problem is Bethesda should move on from using Creation Engine. Yes, they are probably extremely comfortable in using it for creating new games and the modding scene likes it because the engine is mod friendly but it is time to move on. Look, Rockstar created a completely new engine in 2006 called RAGE and it is still used for all of their games. Crytek created the first iteration of Cry Engine in 2002, CD Projekt made REDengine used for Witcher games in 2011, and Ubisoft's Anvil engine used for all Assassin's Creed games was created in 2007. On the other side, we have Creation Engine, which is basically a heavily modified Gamebryo engine. And that piece of software is 21 years old.
All other major game engines are newer and built from the ground up to support new technologies like multicore processors, solid state drives, lots of RAM, high-def resolutions, and other modern features. The only successful engine that is as old as Gamebryo is Unreal Engine, its latest iteration still based on the original version that got released back in 1998. But Unreal is optimized, packed with features, and easy to use because it is made with the intention of being used to power all kinds of games and because Epic makes lots of money on it so they made sure that it works flawlessly and that it supports all kinds of modern tech.
This is where things get interested because Bethesda's Game Studios (developer studio behind Fallout and TES games) parent company, Bethesda Softworks (the publisher of said games) owns id Software, the company that owns one of the best modern game engines, the famous id Tech engine. This one is great for FPS games but it isn't made for open world games so it is understandable why Bethesda decided to stick with Creation Engine.
But in order for the studio to move on from all negative press and all negative prejudice fans have about Creation Engine it has to incorporate a new game engine for TES VI. Starfield is already deep in development so we can't expect for the game to simply switch its engine but there's a chance for TES VI to utilize some form of Unreal Engine (which is now perfectly suited for open world games) or maybe the latest engine from Avalanche Studios that powers the upcoming Just Cause 4 and Rage 2 and that is specifically built to support massive open world games.
Id and Avalanche are working together on Rage 2 so maybe Bethesda Softworks could ask for Apex Engine license. Yes, we know Todd Howard stated that both Starfield and TES VI will use creation engine and if that's true we sure hope that Bethesda will try optimizing games better than before, make them bug free, and make sure they look as good as other open world games especially because both games aim for next-gen consoles.
And finally, in order to regain the trust of its fans Bethesda has to make the upcoming Starfield flawless when it comes to bugs and optimization. The game should come out in time for the arrival of PS5 and the next Xbox One and it has to be excellently optimized. Fallout 3, Skyrim, and Fallout 4 all had many performance problems and while most of those were alleviated over time with patches the sour taste remained. And the massive performance problems combined with countless bugs and glitches Fallout 76 has on Xbox One (X) and PS4 (Pro) - PC version also suffers from performance problems and it has its fair share of bugs and glitches - was too much for many fans who are losing faith in Bethesda.
So, in order to regain their trust, Bethesda has to forget about "charming nature" of bugs found in Skyrim and Fallout 4 and make Starfield clean of bugs and glitches if the company plans on regaining the love lost with Fallout 76 and again be praised for its open world RPG games. Starfield has to be completely finished, more than playable, superbly optimized, and with the lowest amount of bugs, we have ever seen in a Bethesda game.
And the game also has to show some graphical swag that proves Creation Engine is capable of supporting awesome visuals along with advanced animations that were always one of the weakest points of every Bethesda's game. If developers fail to achieve these goals we believe that Starfield will end up as a huge flop which will lead to a massive drop in sales of The Elder Scrolls VI, which should arrive a couple of years after Starfield.