Fallout 76 is trying to be a Fallout and a Survival game but fails to be either.
Before I start I just wanted to get one thing straight first: Fallout 76 is not a Fallout game, at least not a traditional Fallout game. Sure it's got all the aesthetics of Fallout game with the Vault-Boy, Super Mutants, and Pipe Revolvers. It has much of the same mechanics as Bethesda era Fallout games with perks, SPECIAL stats, and VATS. But it is not a Fallout game, it is a survival game with a Fallout skin. It is a game very much in the vein of DayZ, H1Z1, Rust and so many others since the genre exploded in 2012. That is not necessary a bad thing. Plenty of great games have merely been similar games with a new skin. However, these two seemingly separate entities have not meshed together as well as one would hope. This is not the meeting of X-COM and Mario. No, this is more similar to Metal Gear and Survival: Two seemingly conflicting things brought together with limited success.
Where Fallout 76 stumbles the most is in the premise itself. 25 years after the bombs fall the denizens of Vault 76 are let loose to retake the United States and rebuild from its post-nuclear ashes. There lies the problem: Because you are the first nothing is there. Plenty of empty buildings, audio logs, and super mutants but there is nothing for you to discover because whatever quest you are on or audio log you find it will always lead to nothing. You will find countless notes, audio logs, and quests that will send you to far away places with an interesting story but every time without fail it will lead to nothing but ghosts. A militia has taken over a town? No one is there. The Brotherhood of Steel has made contact with the area? They are dead before you get there. For a game that touts itself with a huge world to discover and explore you certainly find almost nothing. Do you remember when you first walked into Diamond City, or New Vegas, or Rivet City? Do you remember all the characters you can talk to or the side quests you find? That is gone from Fallout 76. In its place is a mountain of blend audio logs and skeletons. Yes, Fallout 76 has some of the best environments of the series but without any substance to them, they are as effective as concept art.
Well okay, if Fallout 76 is not a good Fallout game than what about the survival aspects? Is that any good? My answer to that is kinda? Because this is a survival game with an actual budget behind it is one of the better survival games on the market. Compare it to something like DayZ where most of the landscape is a bland Eastern European setting littered with the same seven buildings with two or three things to collect each. Fallout 76 has many different varied environments all filled with objects and secrets to discover. There are times where you'll wander through the forest and find a treehouse stocked with hunting supplies or a sunken church in a swamp. It is cool exploring these environments and see what Fallout 76 has to offer but your rewards for your curiosity is often not worth the effort. Much like Fallout 4 one of the main reasons you are exploring is for your home base or in Fallout 76's case your C.A.M.P: A moveable home that players use to craft gear, create resources and stock supplies. It is functionally identical to the base building feature of Fallout 4 but with the NPC community removed and online players replacing it. It is more functional than most survival games on the market but it is not AAA quality. There will still be times where objects won't snap or refuse to be placed down. Items will go missing whether from enemy players or bugs. Even it's minor annoyances grate on you as you play through with the player stash being unreasonably small and the area which you can build being picky.
Survival mechanics is not new to Fallout. Most of this game is based on the survival mode from Fallout 4 and even Fallout New Vegas had a hardcore mode even before that. The big new thing for Fallout and Bethesda is multiplayer. For the first time ever a traditional Bethesda RPG has online multiplayer (Elder Scrolls Online doesn't count). You can now explore the wasteland, build your base and fight ghouls with your friends. You can even encounter hostile players to fight and loot from. At least in theory. In every choice Bethesda had to make they seemingly choose the wrong choice every time. PVP is only "activated" when both parties shoot each other which goes against the entire concept of the survival genre. The constant uneasiness and danger you feel when going through a populated area are completely absent in Fallout 76. This core concept was the thing that made survival games popular in the first place. Even if PVP was constant all players are shown on the map regardless of distance and even if somehow you engage in PVP and die you simply lose the junk you were carrying which is mostly stuff you can find everywhere. You will never loot anything significant because of this making the benefits of PVP minuscule at best. They attempt to remedy this with the bounty system where a player who engages in too much PVP will get a bounty placed on them for others to collect. I have played dozens of hours of Fallout 76 and the highest bounty I've seen is 30 caps, the price equivalent of a few bobby pins. You would make more caps looting a few small houses making the bounties completely worthless. You can find another player's C.A.M.P but you cannot ransack for items as all containers link to your stash meaning when you open another player's stash you are actually opening your own stash. Best you can do is damage the structure to no benefit to yourself. Finally partying up with other players only gives the benefit of simply playing with others. With the exception of a few high level enemies everything in Fallout 76 can be finished solo. There are no dungeon or raid equivalents. In terms of the multiplayer functionality, Bethesda has seemingly missed every time.
If there is one thing that successfully transferred to Fallout 76 it is the environment. This is the best looking open world survival game on the market by a wide margin. Every area is varied from the others, from the black-sooted mountains of Ash Heap to the bog swamps of the Mire, it makes you want to explore the land just to see what there is to see and it is everywhere. If you point in a direction and start walking it is almost a guarantee you will find something cool. Of course, Bethesda is known for its detail in its environment and Fallout 76 is no exception. You can piece together the story of an area by looking at objects placed around a room and learn more about it then most if not all the diaries and audio logs combined. On top of that the scale of West Virginia that Fallout 76 takes place in it seriously impresses. Bethesda continues to craft areas so vast yet so detailed which makes it a enjoy to transverse.
So if Fallout 76 looks like a Fallout and plays like a Fallout then why is it not a Fallout game? Because Fallout 76 has nothing to say. Actually, it is less like it has nothing to say, more like it doesn't say anything. It doesn't say anything about war or nuclear weapons or society or anything, good or bad and that is really what Fallout is all about. If it weren't for the new environment you could have convinced me that Bethesda developed a multiplayer mode for Fallout 4, removed the story to get it functional and forgot to put it back in. I can only recommend this game if you want a mindless survival game where you are walking around an environment picking stuff up while listening to a podcast. If you want a Fallout game, if you want a multiplayer RPG, if you want a grand story, look elsewhere. Fallout 76 is not that game, at least not yet.