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Friday, September 23, 2022

Post-test: With The Pitt, Fallout 76 takes not one step forward, but two to the side

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Almost four years after its release, Fallout 76 has changed significantly. Read how much fun the game is with the latest addon The Pitt in the post-test.

I”d like to open this review with a bang: I liked Fallout 76 when it first saw the light of gaming. Even in its bug-heavy, NPC-less, unfinished and edgy state, it kept me hooked long after release. And that”s saying something, as I”m very picky about how I spend my increasingly sparse free time.

If you”re still reading without putting me on the virtual pyre or accusing me of being an incendiary beast, let”s take a look together at the state of Fallout 76 almost four years after its release and two years after our last review, on the occasion of the release of the free expansion The Pitt.

A lot has changed – for better or worse. In the meantime, I even have to consider whether the current Fallout 76 is still the game I can continue to enjoy.

What”s happened to Fallout 76 since 2020

Our last retest highlighted 2020”s Wastelanders update, which finally saw NPCs return to Appalachia and settle down as peaceful settlers and snotty raiders (or something in between). Instead of just following the tragic demise of previous inhabitants through grim or loopy quest lines in an otherwise devastated world, you could join one of the two factions, with the highlight at the end of the story being breaking into a Vault alongside your newly chosen companions.

As if that wasn”t enough, an early version of the Brotherhood of Steel also created an outpost in the game world in the Steel Dawn update in late 2020, with the story concluding in mid-2021 with Steel Reign.

For the end of the game in the endgame, there was new game fodder in the form of the daily operations: In these, you shoot your way through a closed area with masses of enemies and complete some smaller tasks under time pressure. The faster you finish, the higher the rewards. The additional characteristics of the enemies such as “can only be defeated by melee attacks” or “explodes on exit” change daily and provide an extra challenge.

It”s easier to survive that way

Thanks to the public teams introduced in mid-2020, you can easily find connections with other game ends online and receive extra experience points for completing tasks depending on the team focus you have set. This makes it easier for you to connect with others for the simultaneously released and crunchy end-game battle event around a Wendy Colossus in the Monongah mine.

Over the years, Bethesda has made a lot of adjustments to the game”s everyday life: The storage crate capacity has been increased step by step, the survival mechanics have been made more forgiving by removing negative status characteristics, and you can produce, utilise and use more and more things yourself.

(In the nightly Trogg raid, we defend Union Group 42''s current refuge from enemies.)
(In the nightly Trogg raid, we defend Union Group 42”s current refuge from enemies.)

Since the one-Edlands-for-all update in September 2020, enemy levels also adjust to your characters” level, so Fallout 76 remains a bit of a challenge even when returning to earlier beginner areas.

Legendary skills help refine your playstyle or give you crafting bonuses. Even with legendary modifications, you are no longer completely dependent on the often changeable loot luck, but simply craft the right equipment yourself, including the random factor. Many of these changes were made in response to community feedback, which has improved the accessibility of the game. Today, Fallout 76 is much easier to get into than it was at release, thanks to extensive quest lines and more convenient mechanics.

Sentence with X – that was probably nothing

In other places, fans clearly decided with their feet and left out PvP content in particular: Originally, the game world of Fallout 76 was available in two variants. In one, adventurers were allowed to roam leisurely through Appalachia and only had to fear fire beasts and the Burnt Courtyard State as the worst enemies. In the survival (PvP) mode, other players were your greatest danger – or you became a nasty mass slaughterer! However, this mode was not popular with fans in the long run and was already discontinued in 2019.

As a replacement, there was a battle royale approach with Nuclear Winter, a last-team-standing deathmatch, which fell victim to the red pencil in September 2021 after a good two years – here, too, the development team had overestimated the fans” interest in PvP brawling.

(The fanatics'' stronghold called Sanctuary is a former cathedral that has been darkly converted.)
(The fanatics” stronghold called Sanctuary is a former cathedral that has been darkly converted.)

The only raid in the game so far, where you could explore Vault 94, suffered from poor design, many bugs and a totally messed up reward table. No wonder that this raid was removed from the game after only three quarters of a year with the Wastelanders launch. A small, but story-wise not fully adequate replacement should probably offer the Operations, since they play very similar in terms of time limit and ammunition-intensive fights.

More practical thanks to penunsen

The Atomic Store and the Fallout First subscription model were already criticised in the earlier post-test. You can still buy cosmetic items in the in-game shop, as well as in-game perks like repair and recovery kits, and the mini-camp and unlimited storage space from Fallout First are also still in the game.

Meanwhile, the possibility of spending the premium currency Atoms for progress in the Season Model introduced with Wastelanders is added. So our criticisms as well as downgrades remain, especially since the edgy endgame still generates some need for such conveniences.

(With this Vertibird, fighter pilot Lennox flies brave oillanders to The Pitt.)
(With this Vertibird, fighter pilot Lennox flies brave oillanders to The Pitt.)

Since the Wastelanders update, the trend of new content has been moving more and more in the direction of constant repetition of the same activities. In the seasons, which change every three to four months, you can only progress if you complete different tasks every day and thus earn points for the hundred levels in total.

These include killing certain enemies, completing operations or events, repairing and producing items and the like. You also have to chew through the same content endlessly for the extra currency, gold bars, which you have been using since Wastelanders to buy high-quality equipment and which you receive in daily quests, events and operations.

This soon becomes tedious, despite new events being added every now and then. You can bring variety into the game by setting your own parameters such as weather, ammunition consumption, PvP settings and more on private servers, but this option is only available to Fallout First subscribers.

This gives the impression that the annoying end game is generally designed with the ulterior motive of causing exactly such frustration in order to then offer a practical (and purchasable) solution – those who want to do hardcore PvP can hardly avoid a private server with the corresponding settings anyway.


Much steel, little story

So if you were hoping for more variety with the expeditions to Pittsburgh (now known as The Pitt), you”ll only get it with a very specific style of play – more on that in a moment. Otherwise, the expansion hits the same grind as Wastelanders and offers much less story.

With the Responders, one of the most popular factions returns to Appalachia. They take over the Whitespring Resort as their headquarters to care for fugitives and the needy. Once you have completed three daily quests there, you will have enough fuel to fly to the atmospherically staged The Pitt to support the union fighters there in one of two selectable missions.

The trade unionists are being viciously attacked by a brutal group of raiders called the Fanatics. Your job is to help recapture an important union base or free prisoners from the Fanatics” stronghold. What sounds like plenty of story potential is totally wasted in the two combat-heavy missions.

(In the outdoor area of the Whitespring Resort, you''ll immediately see who''s taken over: The responders are back!)
(In the outdoor area of the Whitespring Resort, you”ll immediately see who”s taken over: The responders are back!)

With the responder boss Rucker, hotel concierge Orlando, union leader Hex and the former fanatic Danilo you meet interesting people. However, despite small teasers, you don”t really learn much about them, they serve almost exclusively as mission givers and signposts.

Collecting stamps in a boring way

Both missions have no time pressure, so you can look around the respective area at your leisure. However, the structure and course of the missions are strongly reminiscent of Operations and its compulsion to use skills with mass damage: You fight many enemies including the bullet sponge boss and defend three NPCs against several waves of attackers in an arena fight at the end of each mission.

The more of the optional and alternating side missions you complete during an outing, the better the reward: Up to ten stamps, legendary cores and items, plus a handful of ammunition and experience points. In addition, you can start only one mission a day as a team leader, but join other people”s teams as often as you like; if you leave the area of your self-opened mission, your progress will be saved.

(While we shoot down attackers, the union saboteur plants bombs in the containers.)
(While we shoot down attackers, the union saboteur plants bombs in the containers.)

The new special currency, stamps, is then also the crux of the expansion: for them you get a lot of new mods, decoration and equipment matching the theme of the free expansion. However, the price quickly makes it clear that anyone who wants to get all the new stuff is in for a lot of grind in the same missions: From 85 tokens you can get the first, smaller items, and for mods you”ll have to shell out over 160 tokens.

This makes The Pitt especially interesting for players who don”t shy away from a tedious grind and are well equipped enough not to let the mass battles within the missions turn into a resource grave. Despite interesting approaches, fans of discovery and storytelling are largely left empty-handed. Thus, in view of a development time of over a year, The Pitt does not exactly give hope for future content.

Editorial conclusion

As mentioned at the beginning, I”m actually a fan of Fallout 76 – yes, they exist! This destroyed, post-apocalyptic world has always appealed to me, plus it was just fun to explore it with friends. What”s been happening in the game since Wastelanders, however, makes it harder and harder for me to look forward to new updates, as the lack of a varied end game becomes more and more noticeable. Once all the stories have been played through, all the companions have been found and the reputation of the chosen faction is at its maximum, the only thing that awaits you is the really dull vale of tears of the same activities, every day anew.

The fact that the whole thing is sweetened with regularly renewed seasons, in which you can at least bag a few new decoration plans and other extras, can no longer hide the fact that the innovations are slowly but surely moving towards zero. The Pitt doesn”t make anything better in Fallout 76 either, but instead supports the tendency towards a tedious, uniform grind that has been cultivated for two years now, should you really want to have all the new items. I really wonder what we”ve been waiting over a year for now – because The Pitt was already announced in mid-2021.

That it really takes that long to develop a spatially manageable expansion with no appreciable new mechanics with two chop-and-ball missions is hard to believe. I feel uncomfortably reminded of Star Wars: The Old Republic, when Bioware was working on another brand on the side (Anthem), gradually pulling more and more people from the SW:TOR development team, and new content was not only less and less, but also took longer and longer to be released. Hmm, let”s think about what Bethesda is currently working on on the side…


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