Have you ever run into a bug in a Bethesda game? Assuming you’ve played a Bethesda game, the answer is probably yes. The massive Elder Scrolls and last few Fallout games are rather infamous for it. But how would you describe those bugs? Would you call any of them “spectacular”?
That’s the word Bethesda Game Studios used to describe the issues waiting for players in Fallout 76. The developer released a scanned letter this week with words of hope and warning for prospective players. It came just ahead of the public’s first taste of the new game during an early Xbox One beta.
The post, titled “A Note to Our Fans,” preemptively asks players to cut the developers some slack. It describes the multiplayer-only Fallout 76 as “something very new, and very scary” for the team. It also promises the game’s impending launch is just “a starting line where the new work begins.”
Messages to the community immediately before and after a big game release are pretty common. The tone of this particular letter, however, seems slightly… off. You can read a lot into asking players to brace for “spectacular issues,” or saying that it’s “up to you” what kind of game Fallout 76 is—most of it likely innocuous. The game did just enter beta, after all. There are still a couple weeks to make minor tweaks.
But it’s hard not to see this as a response to Fallout 76’s seesaw reception. Audiences were more mixed on Fallout 4 than previous games (I personally rank it pretty low in the series, too). So the idea of a new Fallout so soon was appealing. Not to mention, despite Bethesda the publisher acquiring more and more development teams, Bethesda Game Studios doesn’t release games all that often. They’re usually pretty special.
Then Bethesda director Todd Howard dropped the megaton: Fallout 76 is an online-only multiplayer game. There are no speaking NPCs. There is no traditional story.
Fallout 4 already moved the series in a less narrative-, more community-driven direction with its greater focus on base-building. Fallout 76 appears to move the series toward a totally different genre—yet further away from its RPG roots and closer to survival games like DayZ.
Despite my love of early Fallout, it’s quite an exciting shift. Fallout 76 isn’t a numbered sequel (er, not a sequential sequel anyway). It seems like a spin-off shooting for a very different thing. Perhaps it didn’t need to use a brand name that means a very specific thing to a lot of people. Lord knows “the next game from Bethesda Game Studios” would sell just fine, whatever you called it. But hey! Maybe it’ll be a fun multiplayer survival game.
This letter, however, achieves the opposite effect of what Bethesda’s likely intended; at least for me. I don’t feel reassured that the studio has its trademark bugs squarely in hand. I don’t feel like there’s a very particular—different, yes, but particular—vision for what Fallout 76 means to achieve.
Instead I worry that, like Fallout 4 before it, this is a foundation without a purpose. I’m scared the developers want to spin the story around their often game-breaking bugs into something “spectacular.” Sure. Sometimes Bethesda bugs are hilarious. And sometimes they make your $60 game unplayable if you save too often.
I’ve got high hopes for Fallout 76, but I’m treading lightly. Bet hedging like this just doesn’t make me any less skeptical.