Fallout 76 has been out for a bit, including the time from the B.E.T.A. that was more or less early access to the game from preordering. Reviews are in and well, they aren’t great. The vocal response to the game has been a mix of confusion and rage from fans who seem to really want to enjoy Fallout 76, and that process is causing them pain. Is Fallout 76 an unmitigated disaster? A straight-up failure from Bethesda? Or is it a project destined to become a hangout for a dedicated portion of the fanbase, a group that isn’t huge, but is big enough to keep the ball rolling? What I’m asking is, really, could Fallout 76 become a cult classic?
I haven’t played Fallout 76, so this is more of a speculative train of thought over something more evaluative. But I also, like many others who were probably on the fence about it, have seen all the video evidence of this game being rough, to say the least. And really, it shouldn’t be a surprise. First of all, the very concept of Fallout 76 is ludicrous already. How in the world is a massive online game supposed to be held up by Fallout’s wobbly knees? Bethesda is notorious for its unstable games and have often been given a pass by fans due to the good parts outweighing the bad. But that’s starting to fall apart.
The Elder Scrolls and Fallout aren’t the only games in town anymore. If you want to run around in a massive world and earn loot, there’s a laundry list of titles and they’re all more polished than the average Bethesda outing. Brand power only takes you so far. With the level of jankiness Fallout 76 has, this is going to be an uphill battle for everyone involved, including the fans. Yet, I think there’s a chance this whole situation could turn around, No Man’s Sky style.
Ahead of Fallout 76’s release, Bethesda dropped a letter onto its social media feeds. The letter talked about how long the game had been in development, thanked the fans for support, and noted that the game will inevitably have problems. You’d figure as much. But, the letter also had a line that has stuck with me since I read it. Despite all the development time, despite the launch date, Bethesda called the game’s release a new starting line.
That’s a really deliberate choice of words. That means that, before the game came out, Bethesda wanted to let the fans know that it was impossible to release Fallout 76 in amazing shape. The game’s too ambitious and too unwieldy for such a miracle. Instead, the fans are ideally in on the conversation. This is a working playground, a space where everyone can play with the idea, but then help Bethesda mold it into something more. That’s the idea on paper, anyway.
The problem is, that’s a hard message to get across. It especially won’t land in a letter posted on Twitter right before the game dropped. Fans hardly understood what the game actually even was supposed to be until very close to launch, and the skepticism was already thick in the air. I think this notion of a new starting line could have gone over with the Fallout hardcores, but only if it was a dominant part of the messaging from close to, if not day one. So it’s an uphill battle.
But that battle isn’t open yet. Bethesda has a knack for supporting its games and IP, even if they aren’t megahits out of the gate. With the Fallout IP, this game in particular is safe for a while yet. All it needs is a solid core, a community that is down with the idea more than the execution, and is finding just enough fun in the early product to stick with it and see where it goes. And I think it has that. There are enough people either loving it, enjoying it, or at least trying to see it through that, if Bethesda delivers on its side of the bargain, could have a hand in whipping Fallout 76 into shape. What then?
With fixes, updates, support, and events, Fallout 76 could have a rebirth somewhere down the line. There is precedent, just look at No Man’s Sky and Destiny 2. Both of those games, despite struggling, are enjoying more attention and critical success than ever before after the core communities stuck with them, and the developers did too. The same could definitely happen with Fallout 76, and that may have even been the plan all along.