Fallout 76 may have released to universally poor reception, but game-breaking bugs are somehow the least of its problems. Bethesda Game Studios taking a beloved single-player franchise always-online represents a worrying trend in the games industry that continues to threaten the validity of the solo experience.
The original Fallout, released in 1997, was set apart by its deep RPG elements and unique charm that expertly made players invested in the tragic and often humorous stories of the wasteland’s survivors. No two characters were the same, and even today, the game is worth fighting through outdated controls and slow gameplay just to hear more. This format clearly worked well, and set the course for the rest of the series whose interesting characters and great music remained consistent.
In 2004, Bethesda took notice and acquired the rights to the series, and four years later, Fallout 3 was released. In contrast to the original game’s isometric, turn-based strategy gameplay, this sequel was a first-person shooter with watered-down RPG mechanics — a dramatic and jarring shift for fans. Still, Bethesda had created a relatively faithful take on the scorched world of Fallout, and fans could again overlook mediocre gameplay for its vibrant setting and interesting characters.
These are the roots of the series, and yet, in Fallout 76, they are nowhere to be seen. Bethesda, perhaps being bored with its singleplayer formula, has abandoned all traces of those NPCs and engaging stories that made the franchise so unique and replaced them with tape recordings and fetch quests to suit an always-online multiplayer experience.
In itself, this change in formula could work. Many fans have begged for a multiplayer aspect of Fallout for years, and there would be no inherent harm in being able to kill crazed raiders with friends. However, by removing the essence of the series — those things that it is loved for — Fallout 76 remains little more than a hollow shell of what it should be, and is a Fallout game by name alone.
For this change, anyone who cares for single-player experiences should be concerned. Whereas multiplayer games used to be fairly harmless, they have become more profitable and more accessible, and developers find incentive for them to replace traditionally single-player experiences even at the expense of the quality of the final product.
This change is not exclusive to Fallout 76, either: after the massive, mainstream success of Fortnite, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 abandoned a single-player campaign entirely, conveniently replaced by a Battle Royale mode that was accompanied by yet another attempt at Zombies. Alternatively, even a single-player hit like Red Dead Redemption 2 is soon to get an online mode following the immeasurable financial success of Grand Theft Auto Online — a venture which saw Grand Theft Auto V’s developer abandon its promised additional single-player content altogether to focus on more profitable online DLC.
Not all is lost just yet, however. Single-player titles saw similar success in 2018 with Game of the Year contenders such as God of War, Spider-Man, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, and the aforementioned Red Dead Redemption 2, all garnering considerable praise from critics and consumers alike. The demand for traditional story-driven experiences is evidently still high, and perhaps the backlash against Bethesda’s moves with Fallout 76 and the universal hatred of intrusive microtransactions will compel companies to focus on single-player games more going forward.
Hopefully, developers are taking note of the direction games are heading with multiplayer games and how it conflicts with the obvious desire of consumers for engaging single-player experiences over shallow online ones. Still, players should remain vigilant, but if the poor reception to the latest Fallout is anything to go by, they should be safe from similar moves occurring again anytime soon.