Fallout 76‘s recent confirmation and burgeoning details have started a healthy debate online. There is a healthy section of Fallout fans who fear that Bethesda are about to drop another weak online version of a beloved franchise.
With the benefit of hindsight, the public has reason to be suspicious of Betty hoisting an immersive single-player ARPG onto teh_interweb.
When Elder Scrolls Online was leaked, then announced back in 2012, the internet was very happy indeed. A beloved series was getting what many felt it needed – to let loose millions of ‘special ones’ around Tamriel to sort out the Sentinels and eliminate some dark lore-friendly forces.
On release, we tasted bitter disappointment. The price for admission was relatively steep. There was nothing worthwhile to do beyond 20-30 hours, of which a hefty portion was unimaginative quasi-grinding. MMO balance and traditions compromised many things that made The Elder Scrolls series so compelling.
Elder SCrolls Online often feels as if the players are maggots poring over a miraculously preserved corpse, failing to interact with it.
Slowly Saving Tamriel
ESO:TU itself has been through the wringer. First, panicked devs cleaned up some horrific bugs and changed from a subscription-only service to a ‘one-time fee with optional sub’ model. Then, Betty chopped ESO add-on rollout into tinier pieces and cleaned up some more horrific bugs.
Elder Scrolls Online is now a playable MMO set in Tamriel that doesn’t cost a persistent fortune to experience. While this isn’t a bad thing for some, it’s not the online TES we dreamt of.
Bethesda now claim 11 million users for ESO, an outwardly impressive figure… Until you realise that this tally is a simple totting of accounts and that Elder Scrolls Online has had more free weekends than an unpopular boy at school. That two days you spent deciding to continue to not buy Tamriel Unlimited – that counts.
the choice of online outlet leaves a massive immersion hole that undermines the entire ESO experience
Not all crossovers are destined to work despite superficial similarities. Konami tried to create a football management sim from Pro Ev and Pro Evolution Soccer Management was absolutely awful. Pro Ev is a successful FIFA rival because of the game-play on the pitch. It has lasted for 25 years in spite of its off-pitch lunacy. Why would you make a game that omitted the best thing about its parent series??
Similarly, TES is a mild-fantasy ARPG and many MMOs have a fantastic setting/theme; on the surface this was an easy choice.
But the choice of online outlet leaves a massive immersion hole that undermines the entire ESO experience. Bounding around Tamriel accompanied by a player character or sixty makes one feel a lot less special.
Ambling towards some monster with several strangers, not being quick enough to tag something with an arrow and coming away with nothing is common. I am often a spectator at what used to be my party. I don’t feel like the Dragonborn, I barely feel like the Prisoner.
In addition, MMORPGs are notoriously difficult to balance. Between the spinning plates of player loot, the economy and PvP stratification, it’s a genre that punishes dev mistakes like no other. As such, the compromises forced upon a now-classic game-play cycle are so widespread and deep that ESO:TU is essentially the same as any other MMORPG.
In the FAllout universe, You don’t carry the weight of a continent on your magical shoulders but rather have more personal goals – Find yo’ kid, find yo’ Dad and find yo’ Husband cos they raidin’ ev’rybody up here.
ESO Also Has Fixable Problems
Another problem is the stoic permanency of Tamriel. Sure, the map opens up with a careful application of real-life money but playing the game over the course of a week or several reveals how lifeless the world actually is.
It’s as if the players are maggots poring over a miraculously preserved corpse, failing to interact with it.
It’s also difficult to accept the loot system. The trinkets that reward Tamriel’s heroes in ESO often bear zero resemblance to the context or even the effort put in to receiving them. While this deficiency may fall under the ‘ruined by being an MMO’ banner, it’s so pervasive that any attempts to right other mistakes would ultimately be undermined by it.
There is always a faint whiff of ‘destiny’ from the loot – as if the player were destined to receive 7 gold and a crafting item they can’t yet use no matter which chest or corpse they searched next.
Only the most special of occasions yields any decent loot and this removes the joy of exploration and purposefully avoiding main quests. Part of The Elder Scrolls draw over a sustained period was that a player would gladly roam the land and be rewarded for their curiosity and their courage. That feeling of reward is largely absent from ESO – and despite Bethesda’s good work in other areas, the current system remains this games charlatan’s single biggest fixable complaint.
Better loot that encourages Elder Scrolls behaviour would suck players in and keep them there. It might even convince players to purchase new provinces if they felt worth a roam.
A Whole New World
Fallout 76 starts from a different place to Elder Scrolls Online. Our escapades through the wastes of a nuked USA are much different to the destinies we fulfil around Tamriel.
In The Elder Scrolls, the player seems to wander in during a stressful or perilous event and just-so-happens to be only one who can save the world. As a hook in a single-player RPG, it works. When asked to save the world at the same time as millions of people, of which you can observe dozens doing so at any one time, the illusion fades. The nature of action-RPGs is laid bare; the checkpoint-chasing, the grind, the ‘press action button to complete quest’ all naked of the immersion we enjoy in Tamriel proper.
The simple fact that the various wastelands of Fallout have existed before you and will continue after you are gone is powerful. You aren’t the chosen one, you are just a man/woman emerging bleary-eyed to a broken and cruel world. You don’t carry the weight of a continent on your magical shoulders but rather start with more personal goals. Find yo’ kid, find yo’ dad and find yo’ husband cos they raidin’ ev’rybody up here.
Along the way you may as well sort everybody’s problems out – fix the giant Brita filter, do some admin in the electricity generation sector, perform an audit on the publicly-funded but little-understood Institute etc..
Fallout 76 is at liberty to focus on the struggle of ordinary people in the face of extraordinary environmental duress. That the ordinary people are human and can choose how to conduct their post-apocalyptic lives is almost an afterthought.
Bethesda has a lot of wiggle-room when it comes to delivering macguffins outside of NPC-given quests (of which there will be none apparently). Dungeons to explore, treasure maps to find, the simple joy of rebuilding after the horrorshow of a nuclear winter. That doesn’t sound like a bad start for Fallout 76.
A Consistent Ark
Crossing the persistent open-world of Ark with that of Fallout seems a better fit than TES and an MMORPG. Being tasked with rebuilding civilisation after the nuclear apocalypse isn’t much of a stretch – nor is deciding instead to steal or destroy people’s s**t. Stealing and wrecking is a legitimate career choice in any Fallout game as well as believable IRL post-apocalyptic behaviour so it certainly won’t be out of place in Fallout 76.
Players won’t be asked to do anything they haven’t enjoyed or endured before in Fallout 76. Survival, crafting, base management, scavenging and erecting buildings have all been implemented to varying degrees before in the Fallout universe. New Vegas‘s ‘hardcore’ mode is the best way to play the celebrated spin-off. Fallout 4‘s clunky building mechanics had potential. Shelter focused on one aspect of the universe and teased a serviceable strategy game from it. It simply doesn’t take much imagination to see a viable Fallout MMO based around what is already within the series itself.
Crumbled Walls that Tell a Tale
Consider the harrowing stories told in the wastelands, not by word of mouth but by environmental design. A crowd of skeletons scattered around an empty pistol in a family home tells a certain tale more effectively than most NPCs ever could. Finding a hastily-scrawled note on the corpse of the treasure hunter is more intriguing than overhearing that same rumour every time you visit a bar.
In Fallout, more than any other ARPG, the star is the environment. An MMO featuring the star of the show has the potential to be more than viable.