Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Why Fallout 76 sucks badly

Posted in botch, business, video game, video game design by commorancy on July 26, 2020

NPCsWhenever I play Fallout 76, I just want to pull my hair out. This game is so fraught with bugs, poor design, piss poor consistency and overall crap gameplay, it’s a wonder anyone wants to actually play this turd of a game at all. And, it gets worse with every release. Let’s explore this crap game in all of its crap glory.

Bugs Bethesda Won’t Fix

One of the most infuriating things about this game is its incessant bugs which Bethesda has consistently refused to fix. Some of these bugs have existed since before the release in the Beta (if you can even call one week of early play “beta testing”).

Here’s a non-exhaustive list of gameplay bugs I’ve run into with this game (in no particular order):

  1. Getting in and out of power armor breaks mutations, specifically Speed Demon. This bug persists until you log out and back in. If you use power armor at all, this mutation remains broken while both IN and OUT of power armor. This is a new regression bug and didn’t exist early in the game’s life.
  2. When playing sneaky while crouching, the game will sometimes overload the fire gun action onto the run button and fire your weapon when you attempt to run from the crouching position. This happens with any weapon. Not only does this waste ammo, you may be forced to reload your weapon, wasting time. This is an older bug and has existed for at least 6-9 months.
  3. Getting stuck in power armor. While this bug has supposedly been fixed, I have run into occasions where it is impossible to exit power armor. It clearly is not fixed. This bug has existed since Beta.
  4. Getting stuck in VATS. This is a new bug that sees you pull VATS only to find that the game won’t let you exit it, while allowing the enemies to attack you without any resistance. This is a recent bug, but existed before Wastelanders.
  5. Enemies staggering the player. This is a new bug that sees enemy stagger your player for longer amounts of time. Like getting stuck in VATS, you are unable to move or fire your weapon for up to 5-10 seconds, all while letting hordes of creatures attack and kill you. This may have been introduced in Wastelanders.
  6. Camp over budget after update. This one begins after you buy and install Atomic Shop items into your camp. After an update, Bethesda will raise the budget of SOME item(s) in your camp substantially causing your camp’s budget to go WAY over. There’s no way to know what is causing the issue or resolve it without randomly deleting camp items one by one.
  7. Toxic Goo fails to work. After your character dies and respawns, Toxic Goo doesn’t work for up to 1 minute (or longer) after a load-in or respawn. You’ll end up wasting goo after goo after goo trying to get it to work. This affects Bloodied builds.
  8. Loss of certain perks, but not all, after your character dies. Yes, I consider this a bug. There is no reason why this exists in the game. The Well Rested and Well Tuned perks disappear after the character dies and respawns. You are forced back to your camp to sleep and play an instrument again to refresh these. This is a bug that, I think, has been in the game since the start.
  9. Can’t choose respawn point after character death. This bug has been in the game since day one. Under certain conditions, if your character dies, the game will give you zero respawn points on the map. You are forced to log out and log back in… losing any dropped loot and any other benefits you may have had coming. Day 1 bug.
  10. VATS accuracy…. When the game first arrived, VATS could reach 100%. After a ‘balancing’ update, this has been visually reduced to a maximum of 95% at all times (no matter how close the enemy is to you). This is a ridiculous change. However, during this ‘rebalance’, Bethesda introduced two VATS percentages (one you see visually and one you don’t). The one you don’t see is the one that determines whether the bullet will hit. This has caused VATS to become mostly unusable, particularly when combined with bug #4 and specifically with certain weapons. It fares even worse when attempting to use the Concentrated Fire perk card.
  11. After loading into the game world, the game client runs a background process to synchronize the game to the remote game world server. This process takes at least 5-10 minutes to complete. It’s very slow. While this background process is running, you can’t craft on a workbench as the workbench stutters on and off while this synchronization process runs. This is a new bug introduced within the last 6-9 months. It existed before Wastelanders. This bug prevents using workbenches for at least 10 minutes after you’ve loaded into the game world.
  12. In-Game Music can’t be controlled with volume settings slider. A volume slider for music was introduced into the game client, but it has been selectively applied to only certain music. For example, music inside of Whitesprings, inside of Valley Galleria and with musical instruments are not covered by this volume slider. You must endure this music in the world regardless of your settings.
  13. Main Menu Music Slider settings. This one is also broken. While it does not play music on the main menu on the PS4, it does not at all work on the Xbox One. Worse, after a few minutes inside of the Atomic Shop and after the music changes, the music will begin playing at full volume in the Atomic Shop. This slider is only minimally effective at doing what it’s supposed to do.
  14. Challenges don’t work. This is an ongoing problem. If you’ve bought into Bethesda’s Fallout 76 challenge system, then that means doing whatever convoluted activities are needed to win that challenge. Some challenges require you to perform multiple activities to win the challenge. Because of these multiple activities, if one of them does not register after completion, the entire challenge fails. This is one way challenges don’t work.

    The second way challenges fail to work is if you do perform all of the actions successfully and receive a check mark, but the overall challenge doesn’t reward its bounty to you. Both of these are firmly broken. Even the newest update to the Legendary Run suffers from this same bug. You can perform everything required of the challenge and still not see the 1000 score you’re supposed to receive. Bethesda support won’t help with these failures. You’re just shit-outta-luck. Bethesda simply doesn’t support the game or gamers who are playing this game. These are Day 1 bugs.
  15. Blue Screen Crash… yes, these still exist. I regularly experience these crash-to-the-dashboard bugs about once every day or so. They are about as frequent as they were when the game was released. This is partly because of the memory issues.
  16. Level of Detail Image Rendering… this bug as existed since day one. As you approach objects, the game won’t load in the higher res texture version until you’re standing on top of the object (literally). Even then, it may take 1 minute before the higher res texture loads in. It’s a cosmetic bug, but who wants to look at blurry 8 bit textures?
  17. Fast Travel Bug — Here’s a bug that has existed since day one. You open the map and select a travel point, choose to pay the caps and then …. nothing. The map exits and you’re back in the game. You haven’t fast traveled and nothing has happened. Worse, you try again and it does the exact same thing. This bug is annoying, frustrating and shouldn’t even exist.
  18. Workshop Bug — Here’s a regression bug. This bug existed a week or so after release. It was gone for a long time, but now it’s come back in the latest update: v1.3.2.9. Under some conditions, the workshop icon reverts to the older “regular” icon. As a result, the game requires you to pay caps to travel to your owned workshop.
  19. Bethesda Math — Here’s a bug (several actually), but this one’s very very subtle with the perk cards and with damage multipliers. Bethesda sucks really hard at math and they hope that players won’t notice. Too late, we have. When Bethesda calculates damage multipliers, it rarely does so accurately. For example, a multiplier card might say “does 30% more damage”, but in reality it may calculate out 28% more or 25% more or some random value way less than 30%.

    You can see this in action after enabling damage numbers on your weapon. If you calculate out the number shown, you’ll find that the damage is far, far less than what the gun claims to offer with the damage multipliers. This is just one way that Bethesda reduces the damage level of weapons without showing that reduced damage in the weapon info panel.

    This further continues in the weapon info panel as well by not accurately calculating the damage multipliers within this panel. While some perk cards offer exact damage multipliers, many of these cards offer nebulous increases like, “does more”, “does even more”, “does substantially more” without stating any numbers. This allows Bethesda to modify these nebulous cards at their whims on each release, so you never know exactly what those nebulous cards are actually giving you. In many cases, they don’t give you anything. As for the hard number cards, it only stacks these multipliers by calculating from the gun’s base damage level. For example, if you put on cards each offering 10% damage, it will be stacked like so:

    Gun base damage = 197
    Gun + 10% damage = 197 + 19.7 = 217
    Gun + 20% damage = 217 + 19.7 = 237
    Gun + 30% damage = 237 + 19.7 = 257
    and so on…

    Basically, Bethesda calculates the value based on the current gun value + the % to be applied. It doesn’t add by stacking. If it added by stacking, 60% more damage would stack like this:

    Gun base damage = 197
    Gun + 10% damage = 197 + 19.7 = 217
    Gun + 10% more damage = 217 + 21.7 = 239
    Gun + 10% more damage = 239 + 23.9 = 263
    Gun + 10% more damage = 263 + 26.3 = 289
    Gun + 10% more damage = 289 + 28.9 = 318
    Gun + 10% more damage = 318 + 31.8 = 350
    and so on… but this is not how Bethesda does math during stacking.

    Worse, guns with +30% damage to Scorched (Zealots) or 30% damage to animals (Hunter’s) never see these percentages reflected in the gun’s damage information panel. You have no idea if the gun is actually giving you that extra % damage.

    Even worse, when you kill something with damage multipliers on, you almost never see the damage level of the gun reflected in the damage number seen on the enemy. For example, with the 257 damage listed above, if this is an Instigating rifle, it would do double damage to an enemy with full health. This means that at 2x, Instigating damage should do 514 damage to an enemy. With sneaking, it should double that to 1028. However, shooting an enemy with sneak might show way less than that damage inflicted. Damage to an enemy should reflect actual gun damage.
  20. VATS + Accuracy … this bug has been ongoing since day one, but affects some weapons more than others. For example, neither has the Tesla nor the Gauss rifle ever properly worked with VATS. Using these weapons is more likely to miss than hit. You waste so much ammo using VATS with these weapons, it’s not even worth considering. For every one shot that hits, you might have 10 that fail… even with high accuracy, even if you have the +33% VATS accuracy legendary perk, even with all of your best perk cards equipped, these electric weapons are the worst for VATS.

    Even the Pipe Bolt-Action Pistol fares poorly with VATS. This weapon when set up correctly can have an accuracy of 108, yet it acts as if it as an accuracy of 2. It misses way more often than it hits. This is a VATS problem. In fact, I find that using the scope fares way better than relying on VATS.
  21. Gauss Rifle Wind Up and Misfire — this bug has been ongoing since a week or so after release. You can press and hold the trigger to power up the Gauss, but upon release, you only hear a sad sputter and then nothing. The rifle misfires. This is the only weapon in the game that misfires. I’ve given up using the Gauss rifle entirely because of this one bug that Bethesda refuses to fix.
  22. Bullet Connects, Does 1000+ Damage, Health Wiped, Enemy Lives — this is a new bug, but I believe has existed for quite some time and is a regression from early in the game’s life. You can shoot an enemy point blank in the head, the heath bar is reduced to 0, but the enemy’s health bar goes back to full and lives to fight. This is not a legendary enemy. I’ve run into this bug with Ghouls and Robots alike. There is nothing you can do but shoot again and hope it will kill the enemy. This bug seems specific to shooting the enemy in the head, but can occur shooting any body part. Collision detection on this game is piss poor, to say the least.
  23. Delbert’s Traditional Chitlins Recipe — Here is a bug that has most definitely existed since day one and before. This recipe is supposed to exist on a piece of notebook paper sitting on a picnic table at Spruce Knob Lake, next to a blue cooler. The note paper is sitting there on the table, but it cannot be retrieved from the table. Bethesda has had this bug reported probably hundreds of times and at least twice by me since launch, yet they have still not yet fixed this very long standing bug. There are supposed to be 13 Delbert’s recipes in this game, but this one is not retrievable, leaving only 12 in the game. It’s anyone’s guess as to what this recipe offers.
  24. Backpacks — In a recent update, Bethesda decided to change how backpack skins work. Instead of selling individual backpacks as they had been formerly doing, they set it up to place skins on top of the generic backpack. In doing so, they introduced two fundamental bugs:

    1) We had to pay to reskin our already skinned backpack, using up more resources again. We had to do this for every backpack we own.

    2) The backpacks no longer sit correctly on the character’s back. Instead of sitting properly on the back, they are now embedded in the back and look crappy when wearing certain bulkier outfits. The original packs adjusted their placement on the back to accommodate outfits and the size of the pack. This new system doesn’t. It inherits the placement of the original skin and assumes that placement is correct for all packs. One of the worst cosmetic bugs in the game.

Perk Card Bugs

Under this section, I call out bugs specific to perk cards that have gone unfixed. They are just as numerous.

  1. Tenderizer — This Charisma perk card simply doesn’t work, it’s as simple as that. It’s supposed to afford an up to 7% bonus damage (3 star card) on every hit after the first, but it doesn’t do anything. Don’t bother equipping this card. I’m not certain if this card has ever worked. Day 1 bug.
  2. Concentrated Fire – This is a card that is supposed to not only allow you to target individual body parts of your enemy, it’s supposed to give bonus damage when you hit that body part. This card performs only one of its two stated perks. While it does allow you to target body parts individually, it does not offer any bonus damage. Day 1 bug.
  3. Super Duper – Lots of bugs here. This card is supposed to offer you a chance to duplicate whatever you are crafting on any crafting bench. This card has multiple problems. Its primary problem is that a 3-Star version is supposed to afford you your best chance at receiving a duplicate. However, ranking this card up to 3 does not increase your chances for a duplicate any more than using a rank 1 card. This card formerly functioned correctly for a short time after the game’s launch, but after a subsequent rebalance, it has been broken since.

    Additionally, this card is entirely selectively applied to certain crafted items and in specific amounts when it does work. For example, attempting to combine a 2 star Ammosmith with 3 star Super Duper doesn’t yield a duplicate number when crafting certain ammo on the Tinker’s Bench. For example, Ammosmith increases the Mini Nuke x3 count to x5. Yet, Super Duper doesn’t provide 10 Mini Nukes when Super Duper fires. Instead, it provides perhaps 6 Mini Nukes, not 10.

    Further, Super Duper formerly alerted us every time it fired letting us see how often it fired and how much extra we might expect. At some point during a ‘rebalance’, Bethesda stopped this every-time notification. Instead, now it only notifies us once inside the bench and once on the way out, no matter how many times it has fired. In other words, you have no way to know exactly how much extra you may have received. If you want to know, you are forced to exit the bench each time Super Duper fires so you can see exactly how many times it has fired while crafting… infuriating.

    I believe this much reduced notification change is because Bethesda reduced the frequency with which Super Duper fires (even at 3 stars) and they didn’t want people to see this lowered fire rate.

    Super Duper has also never been applied to the Brewing Station crafting bench. You can craft whatever you want on the Brewing Station and Super Duper will never duplicate it. This bug has existed since the Brewing Station was introduced. Some of these above are Day 1 bugs including this Brewing Station bug.
  4. Butcher’s Bounty / Scrounger / Cap Collector / Can Do! / Pharma Farma design change. Yes, I also consider this one a bug. Butcher’s Bounty (and the rest of these scrounging cards) formerly allowed us to search containers at any time and, most importantly, after the fact. Can Do! and Pharma Farma and some of the others still do allow after-the-fact searching, but it is now hands off with no button presses. You must look at the container with the card equipped to get the benefits. Before this change, you were forced to pressed a button. After the change, it works simply by looking at the container.

    However, unlike the rest of the cards, Butcher’s Bounty has some severe restrictions placed onto it how and when it works and it has seen new bugs introduced. Unlike the rest of these scrounger cards, Butcher’s Bounty no longer allows after-the-fact usage.

    Butcher’s Bounty now requires that you must have killed the creature yourself to be able to search a dead creature and to activate this perk card. Even still, searching a dead animal doesn’t really yield more meat. You hear the chime, but no additional meat seems to appear on the body. You only get what was originally dropped. Butcher’s Bounty is firmly broken. This bug was introduced during the Wastelanders release.

    Additionally, Butcher’s Bounty no longer searches Bloodbugs or Ticks and will not produce any additional bounty from these creatures. There may be other creatures it also fails to search. Ticks contain Tick Blood and this ingredient is important in crafting Stimpaks. Without being able to search Ticks for Tick Blood, this means of crafting Stimpaks is lost.

    Bloodbugs offered Bloodbug meat. Unfortunately, without Butcher’s Bounty, you could rarely ever find Bloodbug meat on a dead Bloodbug. You were nearly always forced to search them with Butcher’s Bounty. Unfortunately, this is another creature whose meat is now entirely extinct. There is no way to craft Bloodbug Pepper Steak… and this now entirely useless in-game recipe is rendered worthless by this specific bug.
  5. Storm Chaser — This perk card is supposed to see you have health regeneration during rain storms. I’ve used this card multiple times in rain storms with no effect. This card is broken.

Regressions

So many of the bugs from the past are actually returning from the past. Particularly duplication bugs. I have grown exceedingly tired of the 12 and 13 year olds whose sole goal is to find some overpowered weapon and dupe the hell out of it so they can make a few caps, caps that don’t make a difference to their game play.

Instead, Bethesda needs to counter these problems by removing this problem from the game. In fact, I’d prefer if Bethesda removed vending entirely from the game. No more sales at all. What you own is yours to keep forever. If you don’t want it, scrip it, scrap it or send it to the game’s void. Nothing at all good has come from player vending. Nothing. The world is not a better place. Vending is a form of play to win. It’s solely used as a way for players to buy their way into better weapons without having earned those weapons or armor.

The point in Fallout is to earn your weapons from your game play experience… not to buy the weapon from someone else.

Bethesda is already considering doing away with future item vending anyway. As more and more new items are introduced into the game, Bethesda is putting the no-vending restriction onto these newer items. You can’t sell them, you can’t drop them and you can’t transfer them to others. These newly introduced items are yours to keep, but not to sell.

I believe Bethesda is slowly introducing these items into the game to get players used to this new no trading concept. Then, at some point in the future, every new item in the game will be marked as player restricted. At some point, the newest great weapon will not be obtainable by buying it from another player. This change IS coming. Bethesda WILL introduce this in the future. It’s not a matter of IF, it’s a matter of WHEN. Don’t believe me? Just you wait.

Even more bugs

This next bug is one that has existed since the game’s release. The game has completely unresponsive button controls at the most inopportune times. You are forced to press a button twice, three times or more simply to get the game to respond to a button press. Infuriating. You press the button expecting VATS to trigger and it doesn’t. You press it again and again it does nothing. You press it again and it finally triggers. This multiple press issue sees the enemies getting ever closer or out of range. It’s entirely frustrating to have the perfect shot had VATS consistently worked. Instead, you’ve lost that shot because you were forced to press VATS multiple times to get it to activate, way too late to make that perfect shot.

This button press unreliability problem isn’t limited to VATS. It affects all manner of button presses from crafting, to firing your weapon to jumping to running. It doesn’t matter which button it is, they are all equally affected by this unreliability of the game’s controller input system.

I’ve never ever played a game with this amateur level of button unreliability. Never. I’ve been playing games since the Atari 2600 and this is the actual first time I’ve encountered a game with this bad of a controller interface. I cannot believe a top tier developer is putting out games with this low level of quality.

I believe this problem stems from multiple problems. I believe the game is giving priority to the back end synchronization with the server over front end input. This means that the game is willing to sacrifice controller button presses to ensure the game client is properly synchronized with the server. Ultimately, I believe this has to do with using a 20 year old engine and trying to retrofit it into a multiplayer system over the Internet. This engine was not designed for this purpose and the signature of this unreliability is in this game’s random and sporadic failure to read input from the controller.

This leaves the game with an increasingly problematic gameplay experience. This situation has only gotten worse with the game’s age. With each successive update and expansion, Bethesda keeps taxing the game engine more and more. As the game engine becomes more and more overtaxed, the controller input is given increasingly less and less polling time… to the point where button presses are entirely lost.

This problem is not a problem that should exist in a top tier game. No game should ever be released with this level of controller problems, let alone with all of the additional problems listed above.

Overpowered Enemies

With the addition of Wastelanders, the balance in the game has been lost. I do classify this as both a design failure and a bug. The human enemies that have been added into the game have not only begun overtaxing the already taxed game engine, but Bethesda has chosen to give level 15 enemies weapons that do the damage of level 98 enemies with similarly equipped armor.

A level 15 Blood Eagle with an automatic laser pistol can kill any level player (even over 200) with just handful of shots. If that’s not the very definition of overpowered, I don’t know what is. This isn’t limited to Blood Eagles, it works for Settlers and Raiders alike. All human enemies have these way overpowered weapons and overpowered armor.

Whether this was intentional design or simply janky happenstance, I’ve no idea. Bethesda has proven time and time again that they simply don’t care about the gamer. With every update, they make it increasingly harder to even play this game, let alone want to like or play it.

In fact, the joy I formerly found in playing some parts of this game is quickly evaporating with the ever mounting bugs, regressions and frustratingly poor design choices.

Atomic Shop and Camp Budget

Worse, I can no longer even build in my camp… which runs entirely counter to buying Atomic Shop items. If Bethesda wants us to buy Atomic Shop camp items, then they’ll need to understand this point of contention. We can’t buy anything for our camps that require budget if we can’t build in our camps. Camp budget maxed = no more sales!

Bethesda, however, doesn’t seem to get this fundamental concept. Bethesda relies on people buying Atom, yet no one will run out to buy Atom if there’s no camp budget available to build. It’s a Catch-22, Bethesda!

You can’t have your cake and eat it too. If this game is failing, it’s because of your short sighted management of this property.

Instead of throwing in NPCs because everyone complained about the lack of them, you should have focused on fixing these long standing bugs. Instead, you focused your time adding new and unnecessary features that are further overtaxing this game’s antiquated engine which exacerbates these existing bugs at the expense of actually useful and fun gameplay.

It’s getting almost impossible to play this game at times… just as it’s getting impossible to type this article into WordPress’s editor with its incredibly bad input lag.

Bethesda needs to wise up rapidly. The Fallout 76 team needs to focus on overcoming these listed shortcomings rather than spending more time crafting unnecessary items for the Atomic Shop which fewer and fewer people can buy with the updated daily challenges no longer giving out Atom. So, let’s talk about the ‘new’ ….

Legendary Run

This is supposed to be the replacement challenge system for Fallout 76. It was promised to be an improvement to help people perform the challenges more in-line with their daily play.

In reality, what this is is a junky and janky mess of a system. Not only are the rewards some the crappiest I’ve seen in this game, they are duplicated all over the place. Need Ghillie armor for Marine Armor? How about Robot? How about Secret Service? Well, Bethesda has littered the board with so many duplicate Ghillie armors that it’s entirely pointless. How many Ghillie armor types do you think that we need? It’s stupid and pointless.

We only need one Ghillie cosmetic suit that we can wear over the top of any armor we wish. We don’t need to own the plan to craft Ghillie skins on every type of armor in existence. We only need ONE cosmetic item we’re done. So many board spaces wasted with this single skin item, the same as the Atomic Onslaught paints.

Worse, handing out these skins runs entirely counter to the way the Atomic Shop wants us to play. This point has been hammered home, oh I don’t know, since the game launched… to wear cosmetic items over the top of our armor. So now suddenly you want us to not wear cosmetics and start crafting Ghillie armor pieces instead? This game is sending us such mixed signals. Show your armor, hide your armor, don’t wear armor, do wear armor. The messaging in this game is not only a mess, it’s a disaster. No wonder everyone is always so confused by this game.

Not a Fallout Game

And here is where we come to the crux of this article. This game is not a Fallout game. It is a cartoony representation of how someone who’s never ever played a Fallout game might think a game like this works. Fallout 76 only pretends to be a Fallout game. It certainly has the skins, the weapons, the armor and the rusted environments, but the game itself is just a hollow, vapid, pointless shell. It barely even resembles Fallout. Further, its lore is so weak and so shallow in storytelling, nothing even matters.

Beyond this, Bethesda has introduced new items into the universe that have never before existed in Fallout New Vegas, Fallout 3 or Fallout 4… games with world environments and stories that exist long after Fallout 76. Games that should have seen traces of many of these new Fallout 76 items.

That’s the danger in creating a prequel… introducing new items into a world where previously existing worlds you’ve already built won’t have these items. Not seeing these items in Fallout 4, for example, means major continuity problems… yet another reason Fallout 76 is a crappy installment.

It’s not just the continuity issues that are a problem, however. It’s how weakly handled the entire world concept is. You exit the vault with the hopes of rebuilding Appalachia, yet the 24 vault dwellers who exit the vault are limited to building tiny crappy camps in remote areas of Appalachia? That’s not rebuilding, that’s junk. That’s not coming together as a team, that’s every-person-for-themselves. That’s not how rebuilding should be envisioned or handled.

In fact, after all of the quests are done and all of the smoke clears, Appalachia remains the same old decrepit place with the same old enemies roaming it and so many of the old bugs present. The presence of vault dwellers did absolutely nothing to make Appalachia, or indeed, Fallout 76 a better place. For a multiplayer game, it’s hard to believe a top tier developer like Bethesda failed so spectacularly at producing a compelling and fun experience… but here we are. Even the combat fails mostly because of all of the bugs that remain unfixed. Bleah.

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Game Review: Ghost of Tsushima

Posted in gaming, plagiarism, video game design by commorancy on July 20, 2020

This Sucker Punch studios created game feels like a sucker punch to Ubisoft as it is far too much like Assassin’s Creed for its own good. Let’s explore.

Assassin’s Creed

Ubisoft originated the stealthy assassin take-down style game, but it seems that Sucker Punch is cool with both ripping off and carrying this concept forward in its latest game, Ghost of Tsushima.

By comparison, some of the most notable and identifiable mechanics in Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed include:

  1. Eavesdropping
  2. Hiding in weeds, hay piles or crowds of people
  3. Smoke Bombs (usually comes later as you unlock skills
  4. Healing, although this mechanic has changed several times in successive AC games
  5. Various button mashing combat mechanics including parrying, blocking, dodging and combos
  6. Parkour (climbing rocks and structures)
  7. Eagle Vision — allowing the protagonist to differentiate enemies from friendlies with an x-ray like vision
  8. Taking over Forts
  9. Horse riding and combat
  10. And… stealthy assassinations… basically how Assassin’s Creed got its name.

There are other features included such as the hidden blades, which also adds to the identity of Assassin’s Creed. However, there have also been AC games that lacked the hidden blade feature.

Why am I harping so much about Assassin’s Creed? It’s important to understand exactly how much Sucker Punch took from Assassin’s Creed to create Ghost of Tsushima.

Ghost of Tsushima

While no Assassin’s Creed game has yet visited feudal Japan, Sucker Punch decided it would be their turn to do so in Ghost of Tsushima. The game is set during the time of the Samurai, during the Mongol invasion of the island of Tsushima.

In that goal, the game sets up the protagonist, Jin Sakai. A little goofy, a little nerdy, a little naïve, Jin ends up becoming the lone Samurai who wanders the island helping out with various problems along the way while learning new skills, including stealthy assassination both from behind and from above. Learning these new skills, along with parkour, ultimately help him to defeat the Mongol leader holed up in Castle Kaneda.

Along the way, Jin learns how to become a ‘Ghost’ (Sucker Punch’s word for an assassin). He uses his newfound assassination techniques to stealthily take down everyone from archers to Mongols to whomever deserves it. Though, he is nearly just as adept at being a Samurai, heading into open combat nearly as easily.

Sounds similar to Assassin’s Creed? It is. In fact, it’s far too much like Assassin’s Creed for its own good. Even the landscape, terrain, stories, enemy archetypes, combat and situations feel like Assassin’s Creed, right down to a nearly identical Assassin’s Creed combat maneuver to break through an enemy’s shield and take down that enemy.

Stolen Ideas

Not only has Sucker Punch taken practically everything that was Assassin’s Creed and placed it into Ghost of Tsushima, it has done so with careless abandon. It’s as if Sucker Punch is flaunting this fact in Ubisoft’s face. “See what we made? It’s just like Assassin’s Creed, only better!”, I can hear someone at Sucker Punch saying.

Here’s the non-exhaustive list of how Ghost of Tsushima ripped off Assassin’s Creed:

  1. Eavesdropping
  2. Hiding in Pampas Grass and weeds
  3. Smoke Bombs
  4. Healing with ‘Resolve’
  5. Parrying, blocking, dodging and combos
  6. Parkour (climbing up rocks)
  7. Focused Hearing (looks like Eagle Vision)
  8. Forts and taking them down
  9. Horse riding and combat
  10. And, of course, stealthy assassination takedowns

Ghost of Tsushima even goes so far as to use a logo that looks like an A, just like Assassin’s Creed uses a different looking A for their franchise.

In fact, there are so many mechanics, behaviors and actions so similarly constructed to Assassin’s Creed (and in particular Origins, but really all of them), it makes me heavily wonder if Sucker Punch hired some of Ubisoft’s disenchanted Assassin’s Creed developers away and put them to work on this project. It’s all so suspect.

Legal Issues?

It’s one thing to hire a team to build a game that has slight similarities to another popular game title from another studio. It happens all of the time. However, it’s an entirely different issue to steal practically everything that made a single game, like Assassin’s Creed, unique and then put it all into a new game and call it your own without giving Ubisoft any credit.

Ubisoft’s Legal Team

If I were on Ubisoft’s legal team, I’d be looking at all options right about now. Considering that AnvilNext is a proprietary engine developed by Ubisoft and which is strictly for its own internal use… then seeing another engine looking, acting and performing similarly to AnvilNext, while driving a game that practically mimics Assassin’s Creed in nearly every way? Yeah… suspect.

Not only would I review that game with a fine tooth comb, I’d be looking through the credits roster to see who might have left Ubisoft and taken something with them. Talent moves around in every industry. It might be worth determining if any developers who worked on Assassin’s Creed made their way to Sucker Punch with a little something extra in hand.

Beautiful Rendering

There’s no denying that the landscape and terrain that has been built on Tsushima is outstanding, but no more outstanding than Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and Origins. Yes, the rendering of the environments doesn’t look at all much different from what’s seen in Assassin’s Creed Origins and Odyssey. Galleries below.

In fact, it looks so similar that I’d have to say that Sucker Punch may be using portions of Ubisoft’s AnvilNext engine. The look and feel of the graphics are far too similar in quality. It’s also possible Sucker Punch picked up another similar game engine. Unfortunately, even Wikipedia doesn’t yet state which game engine Ghost of Tsushima is built on. My money’s on AnvilNext, or rather a modified version of AnvilNext, Ubisoft’s proprietary engine.

Game Play

Sucker Punch’s Ghost of Tsushima plays pretty much like mashup of the best parts of Assassin’s Creed games. It utilizes the eye popping graphics seen in Odyssey and Origins, but then goes back to basics with the combat mechanics and healing. It does have various staples seen in every AC game, such as smoke bombs and hiding in weeds and it improves upon the smoke bomb by adding its new sticky bombs.

Combat

The combat mechanics are almost identical to various Assassin’s Creed games, but with one difference. Jin is easily killed with one or two hits. The enemies also have the ability to immediately stagger Jin leaving him unable to attack or move for at least a minute. This means that the rest of the enemies can simply move in for the kill and they do.

Even though Jin has decent Samurai moves, his armor leaves a lot to be desired… and that stagger mechanic is literally a game killer.

For whatever reason, games have been adding these longer and longer lasting stagger mechanics into their games, which leaves the player unable to do anything other than watch their character die. I’m not a fan of this in games, particularly when my weapons don’t equally stagger opponents in the same way. Giving the enemy an upper hand method to basically kill the player’s character instantly is never satisfying.

What you, as a player, end up doing is… entirely avoiding this situation by making sure you always have the upper hand. The problem is, this game doesn’t let you get that upper hand when in open combat. The enemies always surround you and the best you can do is dodge out of the circle.

Healing

Here’s another sore spot of this game. Ghost of Tsushima gives you the ability to heal (called Resolve), but once used, you must gain it back through specific combat moves. The problem is, you can kill enemies galore, yet never gain any resolve back. There are some times where you do get it back, but there are many times were you can defeat 10 or more enemies and still have no resolve recovered.

This ‘resolve‘ mechanic is actually an incredibly piss poor design. It definitely needed a whole lot more development time. In fact, I’d have preferred just having dead enemies drop health and let me pick it up without having to regenerate “resolve” through very specific means, which clearly doesn’t always work.

Photomode

To carry on from the Beautiful Rendering section above and because this game is just so damned photogenic, you’re inevitably going to want to take some pictures. While photomode does work, it has some important limitations, which may be resolved in later updates. Let’s go through them now:

  1. If the game is night time and you change the time of day to daytime, the sun comes up, but the night sky remains. It looks like a very brightly lit night moon sky rather than daytime. If you want daytime shots, you’ll need to wait until it’s actually daytime in the game.
  2. There’s no way to pose the character at all. Once photomode begins, the character is in whatever pose he was in when it began. The only thing you can change is the facial expression. Even then, the facial expressions are poorly crafted.
  3. Likewise, there’s no way to pose the horse.
  4. While there are various types of weather from foggy to rainy to clear, none of them really work as well as you might expect. When switching between these, like the night/day problem above, the difference is just not that noticeable.
  5. Yes, there are filters. No, they don’t look great. In fact, the filters are so piss poor in quality, there’s really no reason to use them. Though, vivid is probably the most useful of these crappy filters.
  6. Unfortunately, photomode entirely lacks a vignette mode.
  7. Depth of field is also here, but it also doesn’t fare well. While it does support foreground and background blurring, it just doesn’t look as good as it should. It’s just not configurable enough.
  8. There’s no way to improve contrast, only brightness.

There are a number of other photomode features, but they just don’t really work as well as they should. You can get some great shots out of the game, but mostly by happenstance and not by messing with the filters and settings. Here are some images I’ve captured while playing….

Image Gallery

Ghost of Tsushima

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Compare the above to these similar in appearance images from both Assassin’s Creed Origins and Odyssey

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Weapons

As one would expect of a Samurai game, Ghost of Tsushima offers you your choice of blades including a dagger and a Samurai blade and more as you progress. You also get access to a Bow, bombs and various other weapons that you’ll get as you complete ‘Tales’.

Dyes and Plants

Picking certain plants gives you resources, such as wood and dyes, that you can trade at merchants to change or improve your clothing, armor or weapons. For example, picking flowers offers up dye, which can be used at certain merchants to modify your outfits. Remember back to Assassin’s Creed 2. Dye was a big thing in those early Assassin’s Creed games.

Skill Tree

There are basically two skill trees in this game. One is the Ghost (assassin) skill tree. The other is the Samurai skill tree. As you progress through the Tales (Quests), you are given skill points at the end, which you can use to unlock skills from any tree. As you progress more and more, you can unlock more and more skills. It’s a fairly bare bones basic skill tree setup.

Animus Missing

The one thing that Assassin’s Creed included that Ghost of Tsushima doesn’t is having an outer shell. What I mean is that Assassin’s Creed was predicated on Templars from the present using the Animus virtual technology to revisit the past to find specific relics. These relics would help them in the present day gain specific power.

Ghost of Tsushima refrained from using this wrappered shell system so as to avoid that similarity. Although, even though that’s not included in Ghost of Tsushima, the rest of the mechanics included more than make up for the lack of this one missing thing.

Tales

As with any open world system, there must be quests. In this game, they’re called Tales. When you participate in a tale, you help someone do something in return for their help. Sometimes they give you a bow or armor, but sometimes you’re recruiting them to help you later. In return for that help, they expect you to do something for them now. Most times, it involves combat.

Forts

As mentioned above, forts are common in Assassin’s Creed. You end up having to not only take down everyone in a fort, you must also take down its leader. Once you do this, you basically own this fort.

The same can be said of Ghost of Tsushima. Though, while at the end you don’t own the fort, you do get to loot it for whatever rewards you can find.

Overall

Ghost of Tsushima is pretty. Very, very pretty, particularly when the wind is blowing across the grass and trees. One only needs to look at the above images to see that. But, having a game rendering a pretty environment is only part of the battle.

The other part is producing compelling, innovative mechanics to drive this world. Unfortunately, Sucker Punch actually lives up to its name and practically sucker punches Ubisoft for its Assassin’s Creed franchise. Sucker Punch entirely took almost everything that was Assassin’s Creed and imported it almost intact into Ghost of Tsushima.

If you’re an Assassin’s Creed fan, you’ll probably like this game. However, it’s so similar and plays so similarly to Assassin’s Creed, you may also feel like you’ve played this game before… and you likely have.

Is it worth $60? That’s debatable. I’m not usually one to urge people to run out and buy copycat games. In the case of Deep Silver’s Saint’s Row 3 and 4, these were so satirical of Grand Theft Auto, they had their own quirky uniqueness. In this case, I would recommend Saint’s Row because while they had some similarities to GTA, they were uniquely different.

With Ghost of Tsushima, the only really unique thing about this game is it having been set in feudal Japan. Everything else pretty much feels like a clone of Assassin’s Creed, for better or worse.

Ratings

Graphics: 10 out of 10
Sound: 9 out of 10
Gameplay: 4 out of 10
Uniqueness: 1 out of 10
Stories: 7 out of 10
Voice Acting: 8 out of 10
Mouth Tracking: 2 out of 10
Replayability: 1 out of 10
Multiplayer Mode: none, single player campaign only

Overall: 4.5 out of 10 (Rent first. If you like it, then buy it.)

↩︎

Game Review: GTA Online

Posted in botch, gaming, video game design by commorancy on June 25, 2020

gta-coverThe GTA Online multiplayer world uses the same Los Santos map (mostly) as GTA 5 and is basically GTA 5 with multiplayer support. However, there have been some alterations to the map for certain expansions, such as the Diamond Casino add-on. The Diamond Casino, for example, is a mostly fully working casino with table games, slots and a once-a-day spin-to-win wheel. Unfortunately, all is not perfect in GTA’s online world. Welcome to Randocity’s GTA Online review for 2020. Let’s explore.

Where GTA Online diverges from GTA 5 is how it uses GTA$. While it costs GTA$ to buy stuff in GTA 5 single player campaign, the prices were much more reasonable. When you enter the GTAO world, the prices become astronomically high by comparison. An outfit that costs $500 in GTA 5 might cost you $50,000 or a $1 million in GTAO money.

Cars that might cost you $50-100k in GTA 5 might cost you well over $2 million in GTAO. There are plenty of other examples of exceedingly inflated prices in the online version of the GTA world. They’re inflated for a reason, though. This is where the fun meets tedium. There is actually a name for this in the gaming world. It’s called “grinding”.

GTA Online Missions

Almost every mission in GTAO will give you some amount RP (reputation points) and GTA$ in some amount. Unfortunately, the amount of GTA$ awarded is usually very small, like $10k up to $100k. Some are even lower like $5k and sometimes even less. You rarely ever get more than $100k in one mission. If you are awarded more than $100k, you usually have to split that money (i.e., heist) amongst other characters and players involved. Though, there are a few gun challenges that will award $200-250k for completion.

As another lame example, Lester’s Diamond Casino heist typically awards $2.1 million, but that money must be spread out between all of the participants… leaving you again with maybe $300-500k at most. You don’t get all of that $2.1 million. Most of that money disappears into the ether of the game. The money is claimed by AI NPCs, which is disgustingly pointless. That money isn’t even really there. The award number is all for show since you’re only going to get a very minimal (preset) amount of it.

When you do missions for your nightclub, Tony takes a nearly 10% cut of the money from it… money that again simple disappears into the game’s ether. Tony is a fictional character who appears mostly by phone and doesn’t “need” that money. Instead, it’s a cheat-you-out-of-money mechanic that simply skims that money off of the top and leaves you with far less money than you thought you were getting. This intentionally designed (and poorly thought out) system is not only disheartening for the gamer, it makes gaining money in GTA Online much, much more difficult than it needs to be.

In fact, it’s the way MOST of GTAO missions work. You have $100k worth of products to move, yet you’ll only get $90k (or less) out of the deal in the end.

Consider that your player character is the one doing ALL of the work, then the game turns around and stiffs you for 10%, 20% or even 50% of those earnings? It’s Rockstar ripping the gamer off for no reason. It’s a way to make the game tedious and time consuming without actually rewarding the gamer for a job well done. Plainly, it’s a slap in the face and it’s entirely unnecessary.

Even Fallout 76 plays this game with the vending machines. You lose 10% off of the top by selling items in a vending machine. Granted, though, you can mark up your item by 10% and recoup that cost in Fallout 76. In GTAO, you’re stuck with these lame mechanics. Oh, but these missions get even worse.

Mission Vehicles

Here we have a game called Grand Theft Auto. It’s a game about stealing, modifying and owning vehicles. Yet, when a mission starts, are we given the choice to use the vehicles we have formerly stolen? No. Rockstar decides to give us the most unwieldy, poorest performing, least customized, most horrible handling vehicle in the entire game and then expects us to deliver goods using this thing.

What the hell is with that? We spend $2 million to buy delivery trucks, Terrorbytes and semi-trucks the size of Texas and we’re forced into using a crappy vehicle that can barely drive? I don’t even have any idea what Rockstar was thinking here. It’s called Grand Theft Auto!

The online gaming experience with GTAO is, at best, mediocre. It was designed with one goal, to make money for Rockstar. To that end, they make the missions so lengthy and complex, the payouts so low, the end result so unsatisfying and then they expect us to come back for more? Are we expected to be sadists or something?

I don’t even get why people tolerate this level of garbage in a game. Anyone playing this game can clearly see that its a cash grab by Rockstar. It’s no wonder why players resort to bugs, duping and glitching to make bank in these online games. Would you want to spend 5 real hours making less than $100k in this fictional game world? It would be okay if the prices reflected that income level, but they don’t.

Bunkers, Motorcycle Clubs, Offices, Nightclubs, Garages and Arcades

GTA Online is chock full of properties to buy. So many properties exist, in fact, there is really no way to buy them all… unless you buy into Rockstar’s way overpriced Shark Card system. This is where Rockstar makes their bank. This is why tedium abounds in the game as described above.

Rockstar sells “Shark Cards” that start at $20 real dollars and go up to $85 real dollars. For that $20, that will buy you $1.25 million GTA$. For between $85 (when on sale) and $99 real dollars (off sale), that buys you about $8 million in-game dollars. $8 million in GTA Online will only buy you perhaps 1.5 properties or approximately 2 very expensive cars (Deluxo and Stromberg). You can see that even when plopping down real cash money, you’re not really getting very much for what you’re buying.

This is where Rockstar has pretty much failed this game.

Glitching and Loopholes

At this point, this is where players choose to make their own fun. Instead of playing GTA Online on Rockstar’s terms, they take the fun into their own hands and glitch, glitch, glitch their way until they have a billion or 10. This is why griefing is common in these games. This is why players take advantage of bugs, lagging, mods and other outside game mechanics to make bank in this game. I also don’t blame these gamers for playing this game out-of-bounds. Who wants to subject themselves to becoming a sadist?

If game developers would choose to give us satisfying amounts of reward at the end of a mission completed, we might be more willing to work within the bounds of their system. Unfortunately, they want to make things so costly and drop so little cash at the end of a each mission, you would have to spend literally months grinding, grinding and even more grinding and still never afford most things in the game. Things that they want you to afford to have fun within the game world.

Yeah, it’s that bad.

Multiplayer

One of the biggest problems with Grand Theft Auto is its requirement to force multiplayer activities onto other gamers. Literally less than 1% of the GTAO missions can be played solo. Almost every mission requires more than one person. Sometimes it requires 2 people, sometimes it requires more than that.

Even without a multiplayer system, the missions are challenging. Throwing multiple players and griefers alike into the mix makes some of them impossible to complete. Some of the missions for your businesses force involvement from other players. For example, you will have to transport weapons from one place to another. Yet, the game insists on alerting every other player on the server to that fact. In a real-life scenario, that wouldn’t happen. Yes, in the real world, trucks move stuff around, but they don’t announce what they’re moving to the world. Yet, GTAO does so with careless abandon, “Hey you, this player is moving $500k in goods. Go over there and harass them!”

Why GTA Online insists on announcing this to the game world is a questionable multiplayer system. Players can already see other players on the map, where they are and their marker. That’s already well enough information. If a player is moving cargo, force other players to physically drive over there manually and check it out. If they want to initiate combat to take out the truck, then so be it. There’s no reason for Rockstar to announce every single player movement to the rest of the server.

Missions are mostly okay when dealing with NPC AIs. However, when you throw another player into the mix (who could care less about your mission) and who is there solely to blow you up multiple times… that’s not challenging, that’s ridiculous.

Sure, you can change servers, but that doesn’t resolve the fundamental game problem. You’ll end up in another server with another griefer doing the same exact thing. Again, players end up resorting to glitching to avoid these situations.

Actions and Consequences

Building an online world with an in-game economy is a challenge. To date, I don’t think any game developer has done it right. If you’re planning to charge $6 million for something in the game world and that thing is needed to progress missions, then you need to provide missions that can see the player obtain that amount of money in a reasonable timeframe (a day or two). If it takes longer than this, as a game designer, you have failed.

In GTAO, simply go to YouTube and look for all of the GTA money making videos and you’ll see one common thread. You need to do a crap ton of missions to make that cash flow a reality…. requiring missions that have a high probability of failure due to multiplayer griefing. More about this below.

Glitching Part 2

While Rockstar has offered us single player sessions like ‘Invite Only’ or ‘Solo Session’, Rockstar has restricted many of the missions to being run only in ‘Public’ sessions. This means that Rockstar forces you to endure griefing simply to get your missions completed.

That leaves the gamer looking for alternative ways to avoid this situation and consequence. Hence, more glitching.

For example, on the PC and Xbox One, there are ways to force the game to kick everyone off of the public session you are using. With the PS4, it’s a bit more complicated to achieve. Once every other player has left, this leaves you in a solo public session. As a result, missions that require being in a public session can be performed without the possibility of other online gamers interfering with your mission objectives. That doesn’t mean NPC AIs won’t cause problems, but it does eliminate the problems from other multiplayer gamers. Rockstar should have given us this gameplay choice rather than forcing us to resort to glitching.

Unfortunately, the downside is that some missions require multiple players to complete because of stupid mission requirements. For these missions, you are forced to endure public griefing on servers by requiring multiple players.

Online Missions

Unlike GTA 5, a single player campaign game, the online missions almost always require matchmaking. This means being forced to work with random players who join that specific gaming session. As a result, some missions can be impossible to complete because some of the gamers are simply inept. They can’t perform the combat needed, they play contrary to the mission objectives or they simply end up dying. Because many missions only offer up 1 team life, that means that a single careless or intentionally sabotaging gamer can sink the mission for the entire team.

In fact, I believe some players join missions with the intent to tank the rest of the mission and keep it from being completed. They get some kind of jolly out of doing this.

Because these are the primary kinds of missions available in GTAO, it makes GTAO a far less than enjoyable experience.

Relaxed Restrictions

At some point, Rockstar needs to reconsider the way GTAO is designed. Instead of forcing multiple players on nearly every mission and forcing the use of Public servers, they need to rethink this. It’s probably too late for GTAO on the PS4, but it isn’t for the PS5 version or GTA 6’s online system.

I’m not saying that Rockstar needs to make GTAO fully single player friendly, but it would greatly help if there were many, many more 1 player only missions and missions that don’t announce to the rest of the server.

Mission Types: A History

The primary mission types in GTA Online include deathmatch, race, capture the flag, last team standing, king of the hill (last man standing) and survival.

Keep in mind that other than ‘race’, every other mode is a modified version of ‘deathmatch’. This basically means that you’re joining other players solely for you to kill their characters or them to kill your character. I don’t know about you, but deathmatch is so old it’s not even a fun game mode anymore… at least not for me. I’ve done deathmatch so many times in so many games, I’m bored with it. Why have online games not innovated in multiplayer gameplay space since the 90s? Why must these games rely on antiquated multiplayer features that were designed in 1992 or earlier? Why can’t we move beyond these modes and, like our graphics and sound systems, into next gen multiplayer modes?

It shouldn’t all be about deathmatch or racing. Even worse, King of the Hill and Last Man Standing modes almost never work out like they start. Players join these modes and devolve the entire mode into deathmatch. They don’t even try to become King of the Hill or actually Capture the Flag or be the Last Man Standing. It’s simply about how many kills they can get. Unfortunately, Last Man Standing is really just deathmatch wrapped with a weak shrinking world concept. Ultimately, deathmatch is less about who is left standing and more about continuing the match until a timer expires. Whomever gets the most kills wins. In Last Man Standing, it’s one life, no respawns and whomever is the last one is the winner. It’s all still deathmatch, but as I said, wrapped in a weak concept.

History Lesson

None of these multiplayer concepts are original to GTA Online, nor are they new. They are simply pulled from much older multiplayer games that started the whole thing, like Doom (1993), Age of Empires (2000) and Battlezone II (1999).

I played Doom in 1993 when it first released. We would sit in a computer lab in college eating pizza and playing deathmatch. That is, until, we found out that Doom’s networking system was basically bandwidth hogging the entire network. The software wasn’t designed well from a networking standpoint. The iD software company would eventually fix this network hogging problem, but not before it brought many networks to their knees.

Today, networking systems in multiplayer games are much smarter about the amount of traffic they generate. This is not a problem with GTA Online, but that doesn’t absolve Rockstar for using antiquated multiplayer features within GTA Online. I literally groan every time I log into yet another multiplayer game that has, once again, failed to innovate and relies on deathmatch as its primary objective of online play.

Even Fortnite is guilty of this. Fortnite is a Battle Royale system which is just a fancy way of saying Last Man Standing. I already explained the LMS system above. Deathmatch was first introduced in Doom (iD software) in 1993. Deathmatch was expanded to add network matchmaking in iD’s 1996 game Quake. Today, Last Man Standing is not in any way a new or innovative feature. In fact, the LMS system was first introduced in 1983 in Bomberman. Yes, 1983’s Bomberman was the first game to introduce a deathmatch type game since LMS is technically a type of deathmatch.

The first so-named mode of King of the Hill was introduced a bit more recently in 2006’s Gears of War and appeared again in 2007’s Halo 3. However, this mode actually originated under a different name in a game called Age of Empires II: The Conquerers, released in 2000.

You might think that Capture the Flag is also somehow newer, but you’d be wrong again. The Capture the Flag game mode was introduced in the game Battlezone II, released in 1999.

As you can see, all of these multiplayer game modes began as extensions of deathmatch and expanded into more formalized concepts that were built during the 90s.

Why Rockstar can’t spend a little of that effort designing new game modes that befit the Grand Theft Auto theme is beyond me. You spend all of that time building out a rich, vibrant world and then you throw in antiquated multiplayer features that are about as much fun to play as watching paint dry.

Instead, Rockstar lost their way with GTA Online in so many different ways. That’s not to say that GTA Online’s multiplayer missions don’t offer somewhat newer multiplayer game objectives, but they are effectively deathmatch type missions using matchmaking. I despise matchmaking. I’ve always despised it from the first time I played Halo 3 using it.

The difficulty with matchmaking is that these systems are never smart enough and don’t take into account enough factors. The matchmaking is still very rudimentary. Most times, I find myself paired with a teammate that either is so clueless as to be pointless or that person really only has one thing on his/her mind: deathmatch. They’re not there to complete the mission, they’re there to screw with both YOU and the other players and is there solely to try to kill everyone.

These matchmaking sessions don’t have ‘leaders’ or offer ways of kicking people off of the team if they aren’t carrying their weight. If you don’t like how the team works, you are forced to leave it. That’s not an optimal way of handling multiplayer. In any matchmaking session, there should be a designated team leader. That team leader should have some power to kick players from the team who are not performing or who are performing contrary to the mission.

Unfortunately, Rockstar offers us no such mission management system. You’re stuck with the team you get, for better or, in most cases, worse.

Heists

To round out this article, let’s now talk about the biggest problem with Rockstar’s GTA Online world. Money. I don’t mean that it’s hard to get, but well, it is. But, it’s way more than that.

When the Diamond Casino arrived, they added with it a new Lester casino heist that grosses $2.1 million in GTA$… and therein lies the problem. Well, several actually. $2.1 million in the GTA online world is peanuts. It’s chump change. It’s small potatoes. Grossing $2.1 billion in GTA online might be more worth it. Let’s understand how badly this system gets this heist wrong.

To setup and manage a heist, you’re required to BUY lots of very expensive stuff. From arcades, to vehicles, to clothing, to safe doors, to alarm systems, to personnel… and that GTA$ ALL adds up very quickly. All told, you’re expected to shell out around $5-8 million (maybe more) in GTA$ simply to even begin the heist, let alone finish it.

If you were required to follow Rockstar’s rules, you end up shelling out massive GTA$ simply to even play the f*cking game. Worse, other activities require just as much GTA$ cash simply to even get started. For example, want to start moving loads of cars? You’re gonna need to buy an Executive Suite to the tune of a cool $1.5 million GTA$. Then, you’re expected to shell out between $1.5 and $3 million to add on a vehicle warehouse and another $1.5-3 million to buy a crate warehouse.

Wanna sell guns in GTA online? You’re gonna need to shell out $1.5 million to buy a bunker, then add-on at least $3 million in doodads to make the f*cking thing work. Need to transport that crap? Expect to spend $2-3 million on a Mobile Operations center. Then there’s the $2-4 million Terrorbyte, a separate mobile operations center (?) you need to purchase for yet another setup.

This crap never ends in GTA Online. There’s always this thing they’re expecting you to spend up to $5 million in GTA$ to buy.

Let’s get back to the Casino heist for a moment. After you’ve shelled out all of that cash to even get started with the heist, what do you get out of the deal? A lame arcade that nets about $5k a day. Seriously, you outlay millions of GTA$ for a return of $5k per in-game day? It takes about 5 real hours of playing to even reach $20k in the safe. It’s ridiculous.

Then, after you do the heist, the whole heist grosses $2.1 million. You think, great, I’ll get at least some of my money back… except you’d be wrong. That $2.1 million must be shared amongst ALL of the players including Lester and every person you were required to hire to help with the heist. If you have your live friends join in, they’ll get a cut too. That means you’ll net at most $200k to $300k from that heist.

You’ve spent all of that time, effort and, most of all, massive amounts of GTA$ to buy all of the crap that Lester required for the heist, yet you net $300k (probably less) for all of that effort? Where’s the incentive here, Rockstar?

I don’t even get what Rockstar is thinking. Well, I do, actually. For gamers, GTA online is crap on a stick. The only thing that GTA online is, is a cash cow for Rockstar. You’re lining their pockets with cash every time you buy another Shark Card because you’ve run out of GTA$. You’re just sinking cash into the game with no hopes of recovering that in-game cash back because there’s a never ending smorgasbord of crap that Rockstar makes you buy simply to even begin basic missions. When you do complete the missions, they never give you enough GTA$ back to recover the money they required you spend simply to get started.

As I said, crap on a stick. GTA online has its fun moments. Unfortunately, most of those moments are too few and far between. Like most online games, the only thing I find myself doing is logging on to get their freebies. Speaking of that…

Freebies

The one and only one concession here is Rockstar’s weekly and monthly freebies and discounts. This is the only way you can actually afford to buy most crap in the game… that and spinning the wheel in the Casino in hopes of winning the pedestal car. Rockstar regularly puts property types on discount, sometimes up to 50% off. At 50% off, this means that a $2 million property is now $1 million. The problem is, you never know when Rockstar plans to do this.

You simply have to wait it out and hope the discount comes soon. If you need it now but only have part of the cash, you can do one of two things:

  1. Buy a Shark Card
  2. Wait for Rockstar to launch a promotion

It’s really the only two ways. Sometimes Rockstar gives away GTA$ for doing certain things. For example, recently they had a “perform 10 daily objectives and get $1 million” promotion. Others are log in this month and receive $250,000. There are plenty of weekly and monthly freebies that can fill your wallet and help you along with the game.

The problem is that you can’t bank on these. They come when they come, or they don’t. You simply have to play the waiting game and hope Rockstar decides to throw a bone in our direction. Otherwise, you’re limited to whatever in-game money making missions you can play… and believe me, these missions offer up a pittance. Go find a car for Simeon? Sure, but you’ll only receive $5-9k for it when you turn it in. Even then, Simeon’s text is cryptic. He only gives you the names of the cars, not a way to identify them. It’s up to you to go search the bowels of the city to find the car that he wants. Even then, you have no idea of value for any of Simeon’s list of cars. It’s all best guess as to what Simeon will pay you in the end, until you turn it in.

The money does add up some if you do a lot of activities in a short time… such as racing and various multiplayer missions. Even still, if you’re truly lucky, you might be able to net $2-3 million in a gaming session. It’s enough to buy one expensive car, perhaps. That amount won’t buy you the full $6 million Diamond Casino suite, however. That’s why I’ve stated that Lester’s $2.1 million haul is pointless. You’ll need to grind a whole lot more to afford that Casino thing. For this reason, that explains exactly why there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of YouTube videos explaining how to make GTA$ in GTA Online. Yet, most of these videos are actual scams designed to steal from you, so be careful. Some of the videos may see your account banned. Again, be careful.

Banning

Many of the money making schemes involve playing games at the Casino and doing certain things with the actual game in the process. That also means that most of these schemes may see your money wiped out or you might find your account outright banned. Be cautious with following any advice of a YouTuber. YouTubers are only in it for the YouTube views. They don’t care if your account gets wiped or banned from GTAO. Take their advice with a grain of salt. If it looks too good to be true, it’ll probably get your account banned.

I saved this section for last because it’s the one thing that many gamers try thinking they’ll make a lot of money fast in GTAO. Yes, you can make money pretty fast on the high stakes tables, but you can also lose it just as fast if Rockstar catches you playing games with the Casino. They can even lock you out of using the casino entirely. Thinking that you can scam the tables by playing games with the game itself is only likely to get your account banned. Don’t think that Rockstar isn’t watching your account. They watch all accounts.

If your account turns up with an exceedingly large unexplained balance of GTA$ from one day to the next, they’re gonna take a close look at what you’ve been doing. Once they realize you’re using an exploit, they’re going take action against your account. Many gamers don’t realize this and attempt to play games within the game. Don’t do this.

Rockstar knows what it takes to earn cash in the game world by using legitimate means. If an account goes from a $500k balance to $500 million overnight, yeah that’s gonna send up some red flags all over the place at Rockstar.

Thinking you can scam the game out of a lot of GTA$ isn’t the brightest of ideas, either. Rockstar knows the scams because they’re published publicly on YouTube for all to see. If you’ve watched a YouTube video to see how it’s done, you can bet someone at Rockstar also watched that same video. If you choose to ignore this advice and go ahead with attempting to scam the casino out of cash, you’re not likely to have that money very long.

Overall

Grand Theft Auto V single player campaign was an overall fun experience and it also offered player rewards that met with expectations at the end. On the other hand, GTA Online offers no satisfying rewards that are worth the effort. Being handed $5k at the end of a mission in a world where you’re expect to shell out $4 million to simply play missions or buy a decent vehicle, yeah there’s no incentive to play GTAO.

If Rockstar had followed the same money formula in GTAV within GTAO, I wouldn’t be so harsh on Rockstar. Unfortunately, Rockstar fell into the greed trap trying to get people to buy into real USD Shark Cards. Doing so, they jacked up all of the GTAO prices, sometimes 100x the cost of the same thing in GTAV. Even the prices at Los Santos Customs are at least 10x (or more) the price in GTAO.

I really wanted to love GTAO, but Rockstar failed the economy in this game badly. Money on GTAO should be easier to obtain or the prices of properties and goods should be much lower… particularly properties and vehicles required to run missions. Overall, I give the online version of this GTA 3.5 stars out of 10.

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Gaming: PS5 vs XB SX Case Design Review

Posted in game controller, gaming, video game console, video game design by commorancy on June 14, 2020

Since the Xbox Series X and the PS5’s case designs have now been unveiled by both Microsoft and Sony, respectively, let’s explore these case designs.

Sony’s PS5

Let’s start with the recent elephant in the room, the Sony PS5. Here are some images:

Xbox Series X

Note, I will henceforth be calling the Xbox Series X the Xbox SX. Here are images of this console:

Design Goals

Sony claims they wanted something “bold, daring and future facing” according to Sony’s CEO. Microsoft’s Xbox Phil Spencer claims they wanted the, “fastest, most powerful console ever”.

Regardless of the claims, let’s dive into the designs of these consoles. The first word that comes to mind is “dated”. Both the Xbox SX and the PS5 offer odd choices in case designs.

Let’s discuss the Xbox SX’s case design. This design has already been done and been done better… thrice, in fact. Once by NeXT and twice by Apple. Let’s look at designs past, shall we?

The above computers consist of the following:

  • Apple G4 Cube (circa 2000)
  • NeXT Cube (circa 1990)
  • Apple Mac Pro Cylinder (circa 2012)

All three of these computers are of a very similar design to the Xbox Series X. Microsoft never can seem to come up with original designs, instead choosing to abscond with older manufacturer designs. I’m not sure what it is about Microsoft’s inability to come up with innovative case designs, but this is what we get with Microsoft: clunky, outdated designs.

That’s not to say that Sony’s case design is much better. It’s unique, but in a word, “ugly”. If you like the look of consumer routers, then I guess the PS5’s case design is what you might like.

The main problem I have with both of these designs is that neither of them are stackable. It seems with Sony, it’s all about having an oddly round shaped surface. This means when you place it horizontally, you can’t stack anything on top of it. With the PS4 Pro, it offered us a fully flat top. Unfortunately, the PS3 had that, again, oddly rounded design. It seems that Sony vacillates between flat topped systems and oddly shaped systems. If Sony’s were the only device in the home, it might be okay. Since some of us have several pieces of gear, including multiple older and newer generation consoles, we want to stack them so we have them together.

Additionally, stacking a console vertically, at least in my cabinet, is out of the question. There is no way for me to locate the Xbox SX or the PS5 vertically. In fact, I have yet to place any console vertically in the last 10 years (no space) and it’s not going to happen now. Note, I talk about alternative placement of the Xbox SX below.

Waiting… and airflow

As a result, I’m likely to wait until the second case iteration of the PS5. I’ve invested in too many first gen consoles and gotten burned. The only time where having the first edition console was a boon was with the PS3… before Sony yanked out the PS2 compatibility and several other useful features for later iterations. That was the one and only one time when it was a benefit. That didn’t excuse the horrible rounded PS3 case design, nor does it excuse the rounded case design of the PS5.

With the Xbox SX, it can at least be placed horizontally. In fact, this console design might actually fare better horizontally than vertically. Why? When standing vertical, there will be limited airspace under the bottom of the unit with which to pull air up and through. The airspace distance is probably designed well enough, but sitting close to a surface will still limit the amount of air flow.

Placing the Xbox SX case horizontally completely unobstructs the bottom intake vent and allows full and complete airflow through the unit. Placing the Xbox Series X horizontally might actually be the better way to place this unit for the best airflow possible. Sony’s case design probably won’t have an airflow problem. They usually don’t.

Sony’s choice of white case, black inner section using blue case lighting is also a throwback design problem. It has the same aesthetic as the Nintendo Wii. It’s not the same case shape, of course, but it has a similar lighting and visual aesthetic.

Form vs Function

One thing that video game console designers need to understand is that it really doesn’t matter how aesthetically pleasing a case design is. What matters is how well the console functions. That isn’t to say that we don’t enjoy seeing a pretty case, but we don’t spend time staring at it either. We want to use the unit, not stare at the case.

Therefore, the most important aspect of a video game console isn’t its case, it’s what’s under the hood and how well all of that works. Spend time making the innards work well. Make them solid and functional and with proper air flow. Put your effort and money into designing the innards and make that innovative. We don’t really care what it looks like.

In fact, as a gamer, I’d prefer the case be flat on top with airflow front-to-back or side-to-side so I can stack my other gear on top of it. A boxy looking case? Not a problem. Failing to understand this functional stacking issue is a design failure in my book. Clearly, Sony’s industrial designers weren’t considering ergonomics or functionality of its case design. For that matter, neither was Microsoft with the Xbox SX.

Case design isn’t really that important to a video game console unless it gets in the way of being installed into a cabinet… which both of these case designs do.

Vertical Design

More and more, game console creators want to produce vertical case designs. I’m not a fan. I don’t want my console sitting vertically. Not only do I have no cabinet space for this, I simply don’t like this design aesthetic. I prefer my computers to sit horizontally. This is partially to do with the cabinet I’ve chosen, but it’s partially due to the wasted space needed to place a console upright.

Case designers need to reconsider this unnecessary trend of designing for vertical installation. Any design that can be installed vertically should also be designed to install horizontally. Design for both use cases!

Blue LEDs

I’m also not a fan of blue colored LEDs. They are 1) too bright and 2) annoying as hell. At night, you simply can’t sleep with blue LED lights staring you in the face. They’re like little lasers piercing your retinas. I hate ’em with a passion. The faster we can get away from this blue LED trend, the better.

PS5 Reveal

Here’s the part where some of you may have been patiently waiting for me to chime in. Well, here it is. The PS5’s reveal was, meh. The gameplay was actually not any better looking than the PS4 Pro. The CPU and GPU might be somewhat faster, but Sony is reaching the law of diminishing returns. The PS5’s play was, well, not at all impressive. In fact, I was so unimpressed by the PS5’s gameplay so as to be disappointed.

I was expecting so much more from the PS5 and we’re basically getting another PS4 renamed PS5. It’s really unimpressive. Going back to the CEO’s remark, there’s really nothing “bold, daring or future facing” about this PS5 console. From the uninspired and knock-off case design to the PS4 graphics shoved into a new case. It’s really very unimpressive.

I’m not sure what Sony has been spending the last 2 years doing, but it’s clear they were not spending the time designing an innovative new product. The PS5 is a rehash of the PS4 in an oddly shaped case.

Innovation

Nintendo Switch

What is innovation? Innovation means to come up with something which hasn’t been seen or done exactly like that before. I’d consider the Nintendo Switch innovative. I’d also consider the Apple G4 Cube innovative. Why is the Switch innovative? Because not only is the Switch a dockable home console, you can take it with you and play on the go. It’s a powerhouse well big enough to work in both situations.

I was fully expecting this same level of innovation with the PS5. Unfortunately, what we got was exceedingly underwhelming. Even the “new” PS5 controller is bland and uninspired. This controller looks pretty much like the old controller with, again, horrible blue LED lights piercing your retinas and lighting up your face. Let’s hope that this time you can actually turn these silly lights off.

The touch pad remains, but is an unnecessary and almost never used feature of the PS4’s controller. The touch pad was simply a battery suck and a gimmick. I wouldn’t mind seeing Sony get rid of that touch pad garbage. As I said, battery suck, gimmick and completely unnecessary.

Yet, here the touch pad is again, making yet another unnecessary appearance. That’s most definitely not innovative. It simply means Sony is way out of touch with how most game developers use the PlayStation’s controller. Short of a handful of early game titles on the PS4, the touch pad was almost never used, other than as a button. Simply get rid of the battery hogging touch pad and replace it with a button, like the new Xbox SX controller has. If you need a touch pad for PS4 compatibility, allow connecting a PS4 controller via Bluetooth.

See, I innovated for you there, Sony. Microsoft’s Xbox SX controller, on the other hand, is about as simplistic and utilitarian as you can get. That doesn’t make it a problem. In fact, it looks so much like an Xbox One controller, you might not even notice that there’s a new button in the middle of the controller surface. It’s a button that basically does the same thing as the touch pad button on the PS4’s controller.

I was actually hoping to see a few more buttons added to both the Xbox SX and the PS5 controller. Buttons that can be programmed for lesser used functions so that game developers don’t have to keep overloading functions onto the same buttons depending on context. It’s frustrating, for example, to play Fallout 76 and expect the square button to do something, but does something entirely different because you’re too close to an in-game object. You have to move away before the original function resumes. Frustrating.

By having more buttons on the controller, you can map these lesser used functions to these other (smaller buttons) so that button overlapping in games becomes much less common.

PC’s don’t have this problem because you have a keyboard with usually 101 keys. On a controller, you have basically 13 buttons on the face plus 4 on the shoulders. I want more buttons on my controller’s face so game developers don’t have to overload button functions anymore. Yet, no such luck on the PS5 or Xbox SX. They are still basically the same ole controllers with the same limited buttons. Yeah, basically no innovation here.

Overall

I’m planning on waiting to purchase these consoles until the second iteration of the console. Possibly even until they release a case redesigned version. You know that both Sony and Microsoft will introduce subsequent case styles in the future. I tire of buying a the first day console and then having them redesign it six months later.

My plan is not to buy the console for at least six months to 1 year after release. I’ll stick with my PS4 and Xbox One until then. Even then, it doesn’t seem that many game developers will be taking advantage of the new console hardware fully for at least that time. Anything in development today on those consoles will have been using the gaming company’s older non-optimized engine. It will take at least six months for most developers to retool their engines to be optimized for the new platform.

For this reason and for the typical dearth of features that Sony is likely to offer us come release day, I’m waiting. There’s nothing like spending $700 to play one game, then let the console sit for 6 months without using it at all. Such a waste of $700.

No, I’m not doing that again Sony. I’ll lay out money towards a console once it actually has some gaming momentum behind it and usable features to boot. Once Netflix and Hulu and all of the staples arrive to the consoles, then there will be some reasons to consider. Until that day arrives, it’s a $700 paperweight.

Pricing

Don’t kid yourself about this next part. Even though pricing hasn’t been announced for the PS5 or the Xbox SX, you can bet that after buying games, accessories, cables, chargers and the console itself, you’ll easily have spent at least $700. The price will probably be closer to $1,000. Even the PS4 exceeded the $1,000 price point if you included a PSVR unit. If there’s a VR unit on the way for the PS5, then expect the PS5’s price point to hit $1,000 to $1,500, possibly more.

We’ll have to wait on the pricing, but Sony and Microsoft have to announce it soon. Few people will place a pre-order on these units without knowing what they’ll end up paying. I won’t. It’s a fundamental aspect of gaming. You have to know the cost of the unit to know if it’s worth the price.

If both Sony and Microsoft price at or close to $1,000 for a base unit, they are probably making huge mistakes. Since the gaming price point has always been $500 or so, doubling that price approaches PC pricing territory. If you can get a PC for cheaper than a console, what’s the point in buying a console?

Microsoft and Sony must be very careful when considering their price point for these consoles. For me, I’d value these consoles at being worth no more than $600-700 (regardless of the actual costs to assemble it). If they’re priced higher than this, the console industry is going to have a real problem on its hands. Even Nintendo may feel the pinch from it. Considering that the Switch costs $299, that’s an excellent price point for such a universally useful unit. Unfortunately, Nintendo has been lax on wooing developers to the platform. So far, Nintendo has only been able to woo Bethesda. Even then, Bethesda’s involvement on the Switch has been limited.

Sony and Microsoft must be very careful with their pricing. I’m actually hoping Microsoft announces their pricing first. This will start a price war between Sony and Microsoft. Sony will have to price the PS5 at or below the same price as the Xbox SX. Sony and Microsoft can ignore Nintendo’s pricing as Nintendo has never offered a similarly competitive console entry. It’s very unlikely Sony or Microsoft will ever price their consoles at $299. At least, not the day one console.

In the future, though, the pricing will be fluid and may approach the $299 price tag… yet another reason to wait.

Let’s hope that Sony and Microsoft can choose to do the right thing with these units and price them accordingly. At least, they shouldn’t be priced any higher than the Xbox One X or the PS4 Pro. As for the design, yeah, it could have been WAY better on both consoles.

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Fallout 76: Let’s review Wastelanders

Posted in entertainment, video game design, video gaming by commorancy on April 19, 2020

NPCsNPCs are now in the game and so are duping exploits. Let’s review.

[Update for 5/4/2020] It seems that Bethesda has released a hotfix to prevent losing your weapon to an NPC if that NPC kills your character and loots the body. However, all other vending bugs have not yet been patched. We’re still waiting, Bethesda.

[Update for 4/27/2020] Serious Bugs! Bethesda appears to have introduced several new very serious bugs related to player vending in Wastelanders! These bugs can see you lose not only your weapons and armor, they will be taken directly from your stash! You may want to reconsider playing the game until they’ve fixed these showstopper issues. If you need more details or examples, please visit this Reddit thread. Bethesda is aware of these and are in the process of a hotfix for at least Bug 2, but there’s no date set when these fixes may arrive.

Bug 1: Player vending machines appear to be selling random unlisted items from your stash at random prices. This means any legendary weapon, rare armor, ammo or outfit in your Stashbox could be up for grabs for as little as 0 caps. Some buyers report having purchased extremely rare outfits and legendary weapons for 50 caps. Players hadn’t listed these items in their vendor. There is no rhyme or reason why this one is occurring.

Bug 2: Players report having their equipped weapon looted from their dead body by an NPC after character death. This bug seems to occur both in and out of events. If you’re fighting NPCs anywhere in the game and they kill your character, that NPC can apparently loot your body for your equipped weapon before you respawn. This one is a showstopper.

Workaround for bug #1 — Store ALL of your player vending machines in your workshop until this one is resolved. I also suggest storing ALL other player vending items such as Nuka-Cola vending machines, beer kegs, punch bowls or any other vendors that allow players to interact with items from your stash. Display cases should be safe from looting by players, but to be safe it might be worth storing them too.

Alternatively, play in a Private World where no other players can buy from your vendors until this issue is resolved. If you invite friends into your Private World with your vendors out, make sure you trust them fully and explain not to buy anything from your machines.

Workaround for bug #2 — Other than not playing the game, I don’t know of any way to avoid this situation other than making sure your characters don’t die around NPCs.

[Update for 4/22/2020] Bethesda has re-enabled vending and displays after rolling out a hot fix designed to solve the duping problem. However, knowing Bethesda’s track record at performing updates around duping exploits, they likely didn’t solve this problem. I fully expect these items to be disabled again within a week after duping resumes… with yet another patch forthcoming.

Bethesda’s Bad Coding

We all know that Bethesda’s ability to code a great game isn’t the best. Bethesda’s games are always chock full of bugs, particularly day one releases. Well, Wastelanders has arrived (on April 14th) and like all new releases, it is once again chock full of bugs… some fairly severe, like duping.

Before you run out and attempt to dupe your items, let’s talk about the ramifications of these actions first. I’d also recommend that if you don’t own Fallout 76 that you hold off running out to buy a copy before reading this article.

Duping, Exploits and Consequences

Before I get into the meat of this article, which are my actual thoughts about the Wastelanders addition and general review of the new content, I need to talk about duping and exploits first. This is something that some gamers seem to live for in Bethesda’s games, particularly it seems, when they are playing Fallout 76.

But, “Hold your horses there, Mac”. Don’t run out and begin looking for the duping exploits lest you get your account permanently banned from Bethesda.net. Many players see in-game exploitation as some kind of game within a game. To be fair, I see their point. However, Bethesda doesn’t agree with it.

In fact, Bethesda has made their stance on venturing outside of the bounds of the game to be very much a ban-worthy offense. Not only is it ban-worthy, it’s permaban worthy. What I mean is that if you choose to exploit the in-game world by doing things not intended by Bethesda, expect to see your account banned. I don’t mean a few days of ban here either. These bans are likely to be so severe, you may never get your account back… and, you will lose all Atom you carry, all items you’ve bought in the Atomic shop and lose any remaining portion of Fallout 1st you may have left, in addition to never being able to play the game again.

If Bethesda finds what you’ve done severe enough, they may even contact Sony to have your PSN account banned at the console level. Yes, Bethesda can do this.

This section should be seen as a warning to those of you gamers who wish to tread on the very tenuous ground of duping and exploitation in the Fallout 76 world. If you wish to play a Bethesda online game, you need to keep your character’s feet firmly on the ground and away from all in-game exploits. Anything that feels like cheating in the game world is very likely to get your Bethesda.net account banned!

How Will Bethesda Know?

I know this game is played by a lot of naïve minors under the age of 18. Many may even be under the age of 12. Being of this younger age, it’s easy to fail to understand that there are such things as logs. Bethesda has been logging and monitoring Fallout 76 on their servers for months. They began this monitoring process when the last duping flare-up occurred early in 2019.

Since then, all of this monitoring has improved and, in fact, is likely being actively reviewed and monitored daily through reports and other condensed information. This means that someone at Bethesda has the job of actively looking for players using suspect behavior and/or carrying suspect stacks of items.

If you carry a stack of 1 million pieces of ammo, or a 100k stimpaks or 50k Large Holiday Presents or any unnecessarily large stack of items, your account is likely to be found and flagged for duping. The numbers of items you can reasonably carry range from 1-10000 depending on item. Even then, the 10k amount only applies to ammo where it is feasible you can find that much in the game world. While Bethesda will overlook 10k in ammo, they will NOT overlook 10k or 100k in Large Handmade Holiday Gifts or a million pieces of ammo… particularly if they all have the same object ID.

Once they see a large stack of suspect items, they will begin investigating the account for how it obtained this many of the item. The Bethesda staff person will then find if the account performed duping to obtain that item. Bethesda’s duping detection system isn’t perfect. Even if you didn’t dupe the items, but carry them on your account, your account may still be flagged. If your friend hands you 10k Holiday Gifts, be cautious and open them up quick or drop them. Don’t leave them lying around in your stash or in your character’s inventory. Simply holding onto a large suspect stack of items is enough to have your account banned… even if YOU didn’t dupe them.

I can’t stress the above enough. If you value all of the work you’ve put into Fallout 76 and your Bethesda.net account, then don’t dupe and don’t accept large duped stacks of items.

This is why we can’t have nice things!

When push comes to shove, Bethesda is king at punishing (and retaliating against) exploiters and, by extension, all other users of their games in general. Bethesda has continually proven, at least with Fallout 76, that they don’t really care whose toes they step on to solve gamer exploits in their games. If that means deleting game world items from every Stashbox, regardless of whether it was legitimately obtained or not, so be it.

That means that a small minority of gamers can run amok within Fallout 76 exploiting duping bugs which forces Bethesda to take their ire out on the entire Fallout 76 gaming community as whole. Bethesda will willfully modify their game in negative ways, regardless of whom it affects.

Additionally, with exploiters who Bethesda can identify were specifically participating in the exploits, they will outright ban these gamers from Fallout 76 and, potentially, Bethesda.net on the whole. What this means to exploiters is not only the loss of access to Fallout 76, but it also means loss of access to every game you’ve ever purchased from Bethesda’s store. Yes, this punishment is hard. But, some people need to learn lessons the hard way. Life’s lessons aren’t always wrapped in pretty bows… which is a life lesson in and of itself.

Though, I’m not at all saying that being banned from the game isn’t the right choice to make for Bethesda. If gamers choose not to play the game as written and instead insist on playing outside of those boundaries by exploiting bugs, then you take what’s coming to you. Bethesda’s Terms of Service are crystal clear as follows:

You agree not to access, receive, play or use any Service to:

  • Promote, upload, transmit, encourage or take part in any activity involving hacking, cracking, phishing, taking advantage of exploits or cheats and/or distribution of counterfeit software and/or Virtual Currency or virtual items. In an effort to continuously improve the Services, You and other players discovering exploits, cheats, cracks or other inconsistencies are required to report them to ZeniMax;

If you participate in this or any other activity listed in Bethesda’s Terms of Service, Bethesda’s remedies are clearly defined here:

In response to a violation of these Terms of Service, ZeniMax may issue You a warning, suspend or restrict certain features of Your Account (including, but not limited to, user names), selectively modify or remove or revoke Downloadable Content at an Account and/or device level, immediately terminate any and all Accounts that You have established and/or temporarily or permanently ban Your Account, device, and/or machine from accessing, receiving, playing or using all or certain Services.

ZeniMax may terminate Your access to and/or receipt, play or use of the Services (i) for violating these Terms of Service; (ii) if ZeniMax, in its sole discretion, deems that Your information is untrue, inaccurate, not complete or incomplete; (iii) if Your access to or receipt, play or use of such Services infringes on or is suspected of infringing on another’s rights or any intellectual property; or (iv) if You or Your Account reflects inappropriate Content and/or violates these Terms of Service. Any and all Content (including, but not limited to, Software, Content, and Downloadable Content) will be considered forfeit immediately in the event of any cancellation, closure, or termination of Your Account by ZeniMax.

This means that, yes, you can lose access to a portion or all of your content for the game involved or, indeed, you can lose your entire account at Bethesda. Basically, you will forfeit your access to the software involved and potentially everything else you own from Bethesda. When you exploit Bethesda’s software, eventually you will pay the price and that price is fairly steep.

One additional problem that can arise is that Bethesda can also report your account to PlayStation or Xbox if you have also violated those service’s terms and conditions. Bethesda’s report can see your entire PlayStation or Xbox blocked entirely from online services. Not only can you not use any Bethesda games you own, you could lose your entire Xbox Live or PlayStation Network access for all other games. It all depends on how Bethesda plays it against you. Bethesda can most certainly play hardball if you press the point.

With all of that behind us, let’s move into the meat and potatoes of this review…

Wastelanders Add-On

With the addition of Wastelanders, the Appalachia wasteland has changed. How has it changed? It now has NPCs all over the place. This addition is a mixed bag, however.

While some of the portions of the game have been somewhat rewritten, the fundamental original game is still under there. The NPCs will help you get a handle a bit quicker because they can aid you in getting your character to where it needs to go. When you first exited Vault 76 before this update, you had to fend for yourself alone without much of any help.

Now there are NPCs to greet you just outside the vault who not only give you various information, they help you get a handle on what’s going on in Appalachia. That’s not to say these helpers outside of the vault are necessary, but now Appalachia doesn’t feel so barren.

The question is, does this addition really help the game out? As I said, that’s mixed bag. Nearly all of the original underlying quests are still in the game including the boring holotapes and terminal text lore. Some quests are somewhat altered with the presence of the new walking, talking NPCs.

Allies

Also with the Wastelanders addition, Bethesda has added on the concept of an ally. Think of this as effectively a named settler. If you’ve played Fallout 4, it’s similar to a companion with the exception that these allies don’t follow you around and aid you in combat. They live at your C.A.M.P. and help protect your camp. They also issue you quests that lead to a final 3 star legendary drop at the end.

Two of these allies include Beckett and Sofia. To entice them to come to your base, you must place down something that they need. Beckett wants a bar stand. Sofia needs a computer console. Once you plop down their requirement in your camp, they will join you there.

However, you can only have 1 ally present in your camp at a time. This also means you can only run one ally quest line at a time. These allies don’t leave your camp. They stay there and interact with whatever you place around them, such as musical instruments. Be careful with musical instruments, though. Sofia can, for example, sit and play the guitar for 20 minutes or longer constantly. That would be okay if they had given Sofia some actual guitar music to play. Instead, just like a player character, the guitar plays snippets and chopped together riffs that, after a while, become annoying as all get out. It’s fun to know that NPCs will play the instruments, but it’s torture to listen to them playing the same thing over and over for 20-30 minutes continuously.

Dialog Choices

With NPCs, comes dialog. Here’s a screenshot of how that looks:

Dialog

Much of the dialog, as one would expect, is pointless. But, some of it does lead to adding map markers or other interesting actions. With some dialog choices, you can use your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. points which will lead to unlocking other dialog.

New Main Quests

WaywardIn addition to the long ally quest lines, there are new main quests. This main quest begins at The Wayward, just across from the Overseer’s camp. Pretty much it seems the Overseer’s camp has now been discarded in lieu of beginning the game at The Wayward. The Wayward is a house that doubles as a bar. It’s a new addition to the world, along with many other new locations. Some original locations have also been converted into NPC communities.

If you’re used to how the wasteland looked before Wastelanders, many of the locations have changed. For example, the Isolated Cabin which was inhabited by mongrels has been converted into a settler settlement. These NPCs are generically named ‘Settler’. The dogs may or may not appear with the addition of the settlers. The settlers can be killed, however.

New Bosses

Of course, the addition of Wastelanders wouldn’t be complete without a new boss location to nuke. Instead of nuking Fissure Prime to get the Scorchbeast Queen to appear, there is a new location which now spawns the Wendigo Colossus. Don’t think that this boss looks anything like the long slender Wendigo, however. The Colossus looks like a Grafton Monster with tall skinny legs. This particular monster design was, in fact, far too lazily designed. It seems Bethesda did as little as possible to make a functional workable monster.

This boss also has a new attack. It throws goop at you that sees you literally run away screaming. There’s no way to counter, stop or in any way halt this animation effect. You are forced to let it play out. It’s a stupid effect and it completely gets in the way. I’m sure someone at Bethesda thought it was hilarious, but I find it extremely frustrating and stupid. You fight bosses to fight, not run away screaming. If Bethesda had given us a new perk card, food stuff or chem (i.e., Calmex) to negate this attack for a period of time, I’d be less harsh on Bethesda for this addition. This attack needs to disappear or we need to be given a way to negate the attack. It’s frustrating when you’re attempting to kill this beast and you’re constantly being forced to run away.

Updated Locations

Some locations have been updated and rebuilt to support NPC settlers. One of these is the crashed space station. Here’s a picture:

SpaceStation

I’ve included the border because the original space station as it was is seen in the upper left corner. Compare this to the reworked and updated Wastelanders image. I realize the image is kind of drab, but the in-game world had a rainstorm going at the time. I also thought it would be important to Factions-smshow the rain storm look in this review.

This location introduces one of two new factions: Raiders. The other faction is the Settlers. You can view your acceptance level in these factions by checking your social menu.

Negating the Scorchbeast Queen

With the newly added Wendigo Colossus, few people are going to run over and start up the Queen event anymore. Because this is a type of Wendigo, all of the Zealots, Ultracite and Prime perks are useless against this boss. In fact, there really isn’t a Legendary effect that actually works against a Wendigo. You just have to be long and steady with your weapons. This usually means using heavy automatic weapons. Weapons that don’t necessarily do lots of damage per hit, but that cumulatively add up to lots of damage over time.

This is where Bethesda didn’t really plan ahead much. If you’re planning to add an entirely new boss into the game, you also need to add in perk cards and legendary effects to help defeat this boss, just like we had with Zealots and Prime against the Scorched. We have half of the equation with this boss addition, but we don’t have the other half of this in the weapons to help defeat or armor to protect against this boss.

This is where Wastelanders becomes a mixed bag. Yes, we do get a new boss in Wastelanders. No, we don’t get any new legendary effects, perk cards or chems that help us kill that new boss. Don’t think that you can grab your Zealots and have these legendary weapons be more effective against the Wendigo Colossus, like they were against the Scorchbeast Queen. It doesn’t work that way. You’re better off using basic legendary effects like Bloodied or Berzerker’s with a proper character build.

Perk Card Changes and New Weapon

ArcherWith Wastelanders, a new set of perk cards has been added in support of the new bow and arrow weapon. The perk cards are standard 3 damage multiplier Archer cards in addition to Bow Before Me, an anti-armor card which applies to bows and crossbows. The bow itself is a decently powered weapon at level 50, offering up to 350 damage when sneaking. That’s not bad all things considered. However, it’s an exceedingly slow loading and slow firing weapon. Once a horde of enemies finds you, you better switch to a different weapon or you’ll want to pair it with the Sneak card and hope the enemies don’t find you.

New Power Armor

The newest power armor set is the T-65 power armor. This armor requires collecting gold bullion (yet another new currency). To get this bullion, you’ll need to complete as many of the new main and faction quests as you can. One you complete the main and faction quests, you will be able to visit Regs (another new NPC) who is located at Vault 79 (a new vault) where you can spend your bullion to buy the plans to build this armor.

Whether this armor is effective against the Colossus is as yet unknown. Though, I will say that power armor in Fallout 76 has been, in general, a joke. For example, 5.56 equipped Colonel Gutsy robots can shred your HP in just a few shots in or out of power armor. In fact, I haven’t seen any difference between being in or out of power armor when facing a 5.56 equipped Gutsy or Super Mutant.

Worse, while Fallout 4 offered legendary effects on power armor, these PA legendary pieces have never made it into Fallout 76. Even though regular armor regularly drops with legendary effects, power armor has never had any legendary effects in Fallout 76. This drastically reduces the effectiveness of power armor in Fallout 76. Why am I bringing this up here? Because Wastelanders didn’t fix this problem. It still exists just as it did before Wastelanders.

New Challenges?

Actually, no. Even though the Wastelanders update has added NPCs, no additional combat challenges have been added… such as Kill Blood Eagles with a Combat Rifle (0/1000). While NPCs have been added, Bethesda just didn’t work out these small details that would have added much more value to the game.

Lighting System Changes

WhitespringStationPrior to Wastelanders, the lighting in the game was brighter and more dynamic. With the introduction of Wastelanders, the game has taken a questionable backward step toward darker lighting levels (see Whitespring Station image), including the elimination of many areas of ambient lighting. Walking into some buildings which were formerly well lit, we now see portions of the room exceedingly dark with a single bright light in the middle of the room.

CharlestonStationThe Charleston station, left, is exceedingly dark where before the interior was very bright. This is in the middle of the day in-game time. Even the daylight outdoors lighting model has changed seeing shadows on the ground as much darker. This lighting model change is unusual and unnecessary. The original lighting system actually looked better, particularly inside of buildings. This absence of ambient lighting thus makes many rooms, like the interior of Charleston Station, overly dark.

BeforeAfter

As you can see above, the before is brighter, lighter and more vibrant. The shadows are less intense. The before was taken about a month ago, perhaps. The After image is darker, less colorful, drab and is more difficult to read the signs. The whites were easier to see in the before.

…. Where does Wastelanders not work so well?

Changes, Not Changes

This is where I find Wastelanders to be basically a facelift, primarily on the surface. The underlying problems from Fallout 76 all remain. The bugs, the problems, the glitching, the crashing, the difficulties, the getting hung up on rocks while running, the getting stuck in a hole, the broken texture maps, the lack of responsiveness from button presses on down to the whole less than stellar way the interface is built and works. None of these basic day-one problems have been addressed. We’re still working on game foundation that wasn’t perfected from the beginning. So now we have NPCs plopped right on top of all of these still existing bugs.

Many people say that Fallout 76 has greatly improved since its launch. I’ve yet to see that. The game is still just as glitchy and broken as it was on release day. Sure, some problems have been addressed, but the majority of the underlying bugs are all still there. Wastelanders did little to solve these fundamental game engine problems. The problem here is that these bugs and glitches are mainly inconvenient. They are typically not showstoppers. However, some are more inconvenient than others.

For example, dead enemies can sometimes despawn moments after death. If you aren’t super quick to grab the loot from the body, you won’t get it. This includes legendary enemies. This is a bug that has existed from launch day.

Another bug is when you fast travel. You can land inside of rocks, under a building wedged, wedged between two walls or in other places that don’t allow you to move. You are forced to travel again.

You can still find enemies sliding around on the ground either standing up in a T position or in a lying or seated position. This glitch has been in the game since day one.

This next one I’ve seen so many times is one I can’t believe hasn’t yet been fixed. When you’re fighting a boss and your character dies, the game forces you to choose a respawn point. The problem here is that on character death, the game immediately recalculates your carry weight far below your in-game carry weight. This forces you to become severely overencumbered immediately after your character dies. This then forces you to respawn back at Vault 76 (all the way across the map).

Once your character has respawned fully and the game has recalculated your carry weight back to normal, you can then travel back to that death location and pick up your dropped loot. In my case, the game wouldn’t even let me respawn back at my Fallout 1st tent! I was forced to fast travel twice. Once to Vault 76, then once again back to my tent. It’s like, shit, just let me travel to my tent first. If I hadn’t had my tent there, I’d have had to pay caps to get back across the map. This problem has existed since day one.

Bugs, bugs and more bugs

These above are but a few examples. There are plenty of others that still plague this mediocre game. That doesn’t mean there aren’t new bugs. Oh, no no no. There are plenty of new bugs in this update. Duping is, as I mentioned above, back with a vengeance. It seems that many gamers were just waiting to pounce all over duping again, and dupe they have. In response, Bethesda has stopped display cases from functioning and halted player vending.

It’s clear that unless you (as a company) are absolutely stellar at programming, you shouldn’t attempt to have an in-game economy. This shows exactly how amateur Bethesda is at producing online games with any semblance of an economy. If you can’t lock down such basic things as duping, you can’t have an in-game economy.

At this point, it’s probably best were Bethesda to dismantle player vending entirely, disable dropping any items from inventory, stop player trading and halt all ability to transfer items from one player to another. If the devs can’t handle keeping these bugs from surfacing and resurfacing, then they must stop the underlying reason why duping continues to exist. If players can’t sell, trade or transfer items from one player to another, there’s little reason to dupe items. Items like Holiday Gifts should be removed from the game entirely and never see a return. Nothing should produce caps upon consuming the item, not even Nuka-Cola drinks. The only things that should give caps are in-game vending bots, cap stashes, dead enemies, containers and quests. Basically, items that cannot possibly be duplicated.

Additionally, vending bots should mark an object ID which has been previously sold as unsellable. This means that should another player show up with that same object ID attempting to sell it, the vendor bot will not only refuse to buy it, it will then confiscate it from the player’s inventory. Vendor bots that buy items never relist an already used ID. Instead, they will always relist the item with a new ID. This means that a duped item can’t be sold by a bot. If you can’t sell a dupe with an added double whammy of losing it, players will think twice not only about duping, but attempting to sell those dupes to vendors. It also means they can’t sell them to players either. This means duping is a dead end.

This is tough way to handle duping, but we’re at the crossroads with this game. If Bethesda can’t prevent duping, then it needs to be stopped using another more permanent method… and that way is to halt all further player-to-player sales and trading. Halting the ability for players to trade goods with one another is the only way to stop duping.

Player Vending is Broken

I’m singling out duping here because it keeps coming back over and over and over. Duping has not gone away and it is, once again, back. It will also keep coming back so long as player-to-player trading remains in the game. Instead of Bethesda playing this never ending game of “catch the duping mouse”, the answer is to simply halt player trading entirely. Only allow players to interact and trade with game controlled vendor bots. It’s long past time for Bethesda to have solved this problem and this is the ONLY solution.

Changing this fundamental aspect of this multiplayer game will have some ramifications. Yes, it will make traders exceedingly angry. At the same time, it will also stop all real money eBay listings, it will halt scammers and it will halt the third party trading marketplaces. This will force players to legitimately earn caps in the game through normal in-game means.

If Bethesda wants to better control these exploits and continue to allow selling, they need to do away with vending machines at each camp and place a vending machine at each train station (see next section for additional thoughts). A vending machine will always re-ID every object it receives to sell. This means there is no possibility a player could receive a dupe from a vendor bot. When a player lists an item, the item is checked for a duped ID. If this object’s ID has already been purchased by a vendor bot once before, the weapon is confiscated and the player is then notified the duped item has been confiscated. A notification should also be sent to someone at Bethesda that a vendor bot has confiscated a duped item and which account presented it.

Player to player vending can be implemented in the following way and should be limited to a centralized system. This system will list the item along with the player’s name. The item (after being validated as not duped) will go up for sale at the player’s specified price. The item remains listed for a period of time (i.e., 3 days) and will remain listed regardless of whether the player is online. After 3 days without purchase, the item is returned to the player’s inventory. If purchased, the caps will be placed into a centralized bank to which the player can withdraw those caps via the vending machine. Players should be limited to no more than 5-10 listings at a time and a max amount of caps in the bank.

Other bugs which were recently added include the rogue turret bug. If one turret is damaged in a workshop, the other turrets in the area begin shooting at friendly camp or workshop items. This is such a stupid bug. I can’t believe it has been allowed to persist across multiple releases in a row. Bethesda is well aware of this issue, yet they choose to do nothing to fix it. In fact, it seems that now a rogue turret in a camp can actually damage other workshop equipment. I shake my head that Bethesda can’t even fix what should be simple bugs, yet they spend massive amounts of time working on add-ons that really don’t add that much value to the game.

End of Player Trading?

At this point and strictly due to duping, I’d personally like to see player-to-player trading end. This won’t be a popular opinion among traders, but it’s definitely needed to stop all of these duplication problems. Trading is not really very useful, it causes bad behavior among players, it invites duping and it doesn’t really solve a problem for the game. Since Fallout 76 is pretty much a single player game with a multiplayer component, there’s no need for player vending at all. It simply gets in the way of the enjoyment of the game. With the advent of Purveyor Murmrgh and the ability to buy 1, 2 and 3 star legendary weapons and armor, player-to-player trading is now unnecessary.

I’m sure a lot of traders will disagree. Were Bethesda to make this change, it would stop the need for most duping. The primary reason most players dupe is to sell weapons to other players for high amounts of caps. The secondary reason is to dupe items that instantly produce caps for the player. Both of these problems need to be stopped. The way to handle it is to stop player-to-player trading and implement a duped ID checking + confiscation system when attempting to sell duped items to vendors. Further, stop giving away items that instantly produce caps upon consuming it. Instead, drop only objects into the player’s inventory. They can then sell the item to a vendor for caps. Keep caps issuance only from vendor bots, from world containers and at the end of quests.

Additionally, items can no longer be dropped into the world. This should also include stopping the drop of junk items upon character death. Further, like many of the newer items, if you attempt to drop any item, you’re then notified the item will be destroyed. With this change, you won’t be able to drop loot bags any more… which of course negates the idea of custom loot bags sold in the Atomic Shop. A small price to pay to get rid of player trading.

Halting all player trading means the player must rely on the game to produce caps and provide the player with weapons and armor. This change is actually in keeping with the way that Fallout 4 worked in single player campaign. Because Fallout 4 doesn’t allow multiplayer, the player had to rely solely on themselves to obtain caps and obtain the best weapons in the game. Moving Fallout 76 to this more stringent and similar model would actually heighten the gameplay, make it more challenging and more in keeping with Fallout 4’s model. No longer can gamers rely on others to give them “the best weapon”, a form of cheating. Instead, they must grind in the normal way, earn their keep individually and spend the money they legitimately earned to buy weapons from the Purveyor or, alternatively, find a legendary enemy and take their chances to get a better weapon or armor.

Moving Fallout 76 to a more-or-less closed single player system with limited multiplayer support, this stops players from wanting to exploit the game in an attempt to gain more caps, better weapons and better armor via cheating. Yes, I do consider player-to-player trading a form of cheating. You didn’t earn that weapon, you bought it. You didn’t earn that armor, you bought it. There’s no difference between pay-to-play with Atomic shop items and player-to-player for-pay trading. It’s all a form of pay-to-win. I’m most definitely for ending all forms of pay-to-win whether by Bethesda or via player trading.

Overall

The addition of NPCs to Fallout 76 is a long time coming. Unfortunately, it’s probably too little, too late. This should have been the way the game was released on day one, not a year and a half later. Will this make Fallout 76 a great game? With NPCs added, it’s better in some ways, but it’s worse in others. This is why it’s a mixed bag.

Can I recommend this update? For curiosity sake, sure. Download it and explore. If you’ve already played Fallout 76 through to completion, it doesn’t change the original game so much that it makes a huge difference. The changes to the original quests are relatively minor… just enough to introduce NPCs so they make sense.

The best part of Wastelanders is the addition of allies. This C.A.M.P. addition is probably the single best part of Wastelanders. You can now have an NPC at your base permanently. Your character can even have a relationship with them. While they cannot become companions that follow you around, they can help defend your base while you’re not there.

On the flip side, because this is a fluid multiplayer game without the ability to create saved game files, your character’s choices are permanent. If you wish to redo a portion of an NPC’s quest, you can’t do that. If you make a mistake which has specific unknown consequences, your only choice is to start a new character and try again on that new character. I might even suggest starting a new character so you can use this character to determine where these quest pitfalls are. You can then play the quests through a second time on your primary character and know the best choices possible while avoiding such pitfalls.

Is Wastelanders a great game? Hardly. Is it better than it was? In some ways, yes. In other ways, it’s much the same as it was. If you’ve already played the game through to completion, it does add on a few quest lines that you can explore. Unfortunately, the quests mostly consist of fetch this thing, kill this person or do this thing for me. For the allies, there are many of these before you get to the end. Though, I’d say that the game’s Wastelanders addition probably adds, at most, a month’s worth of additional play value if you play it through slowly.

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How To: Portals in No Man’s Sky

Posted in botch, video game design, business by commorancy on February 9, 2020

NoMansSky3While there have been a number of articles describing the portal travel system within No Man’s Sky, it seems that these articles leave out some very important details and restrictions when traveling by portal. Let’s explore.

Finding a Portal

The difficulty with using a portal is finding one. Portals look like a Stargate from the SG1 TV series. In fact, they “dial” almost identically to the SG1 gates, thus requiring glyphs to complete the “dialing sequence”. Once a sequence is input, the gate will either open or fail to open. Putting in random values may lead to a world, but it can also lead to your own peril.

If you choose to dial a random sequence, you should make sure to have a current saved game position that you can go back to if it ends up some place perilous. I should also mention that for the first portal you find, you’re going to need to repair each portal glyph button with varying resources. Expect to carry a bunch of various resources like Indium, Sodium Nitrate, Oxygen and so on to repair the entire panel.

NoMansSky-PortalFinding a portal, however, can be a real challenge. With that said, there are multiplayer quest lines (you can reach these from the Anomaly space station) that will lead you to a portal as part of the quest line. Once you complete one of these basic quests that lead you by starship to a world with a portal, build a base near that portal before you use it. Place a terminus on your base and you can always return to that base right near the portal for use later. You’ll thank me for this advice later. Once you find a portal on a world, it’s always a good idea to build a small foothold base near it so that you can return and reuse that portal later. Otherwise, you’ll be hunting for a portal again once you leave it. Once you have a base near a portal, you can then find portals on other worlds. It’s a complicated process to get back to remote portals, but suffice it to say that it can be done in defiance of the below documented restrictions.

The second way to locate a portal is that you can accidentally happen upon portals on worlds simply by flying over them. If you happen to find a portal through happenstance, create a base near it so you can return to it and use it later. You can reuse any portal you find. You really only need access to one portal in the game. All others are extraneous. However, if Hello Games decides to add world destruction scenarios into the game (not currently in the game), then you might want to have access to several different portals in your chain of bases.

The third way to locate a portal is to use a structure scanner or an acquired navigational map to find one, but this is a hunt in the dark. The scanners (and maps) only locate a close / random structure and may not locate a portal. Though, every world appears to have a portal somewhere on it… including moons apparently. Airless worlds might be easiest to locate a portal as there are no clouds to get in the way of scouting by air.

Using a Portal

Using a portal is easy. To find the portal address of a world, you simply need to enter photo mode. Once in photo mode, a glyph sequence like the following…NoMansSky-GlyphsLarge (to the current closest planet) will appear on the bottom left corner of the screen. You can then snapshot this screen and use these symbols to get back to that world’s portal.

NoMansSky-GlyphsIn fact, using Photomode is the easiest way to find a portal address for a given world. Using the glyphs on your screen snap will land you at that world’s portal. You can then leave a Save Beacon at the portal location to find your way back there easily while revisiting in your ship.

Unfortunately, here is where the restrictions for portals come into play. Using a Save Beacon only really works if you’re within jumping distance of the world. If you’re hundreds of thousands of light years away, it’s going to take you a long while to get back to that world by ship.

Portal Restrictions

When you use a portal to reach a destination, Hello Games has designed some heavy restrictions on that solar system you are visiting via portal. These restrictions include:

  1. You cannot use the Galactic Map while visiting a system via portal. The open portal apparently creates “interference”.
  2. You cannot create a Base Computer on any world in the system you are visiting via portal. This means you cannot build a base there. However, you can leave a Save Beacon behind which will allow you to return to that specific ground location on that planet after you have returned back through the portal and flown there in your starship.
  3. You cannot shut down a portal at all… either on the visiting side or on the dialing side. On the dialing side, you can dial a new system and that will override the currently open portal.
  4. You cannot dial a portal while still on the visiting side. In fact, the dialing controller will not even raise out of the ground. You can only dial on the side where you began.
  5. You cannot dial out of any other portal on any other planet in the visiting system. In fact, all portals on all worlds, for whatever reason, only allow you to return to your dialing point. This means even if you leave the dialed world and head to another world in that system… and then you manage to find the location of the portal on another planet there, you still can’t dial out. You’ll find that that portal (and every other portal) is currently open back to your dialing world.
  6. The Terminus at the local space station is shut down and locked. You cannot use a terminus to leave that visited system.
  7. You cannot call the Anomaly Station (Nada and Polo’s ship) while visiting a system through a portal.
  8. You cannot call your freighter.

NoMansSky2These restrictions are intended to dead end you in the solar system you’re visiting by portal. You can’t leave that system in any other way than back through the portal. You can’t build on any of the worlds you’ve visited while through the portal, with the exception of certain small tech devices like a Save Beacon or a Message Beacon. As I said above, you can’t build a Base Computer on any planet in a Portal visited system. You also can’t leave that solar system in your ship. You can travel from planet to planet in that system. You can pick up resources and return with them through the portal, but you cannot use the Galactic Map to leave the system. You must head back to the open portal and return to your dialing point to continue playing.

Save Beacon

The only sort-of workaround here (at least to find the world again) is to leave a Save Beacon behind on one or several of the worlds. You can then hop into your ship from your own system (the dialing system), then use the Galactic Map to navigate back to that system. Once there, you can then use your Save Beacon to lead you back to that specific portal point on that world.

If you travel to that same system with your ship using Hyperdrive, there is no problem building Base Computers or any other structures. Basically, if you find a particularly compelling system via portal, you must return back through the portal and then use your ship’s Hyperdrive to get you back there. Of course, it could be many thousands of light years away… so there’s that.

Commentary

I can’t really understand the unnecessary portal restrictions within No Man’s Sky. In Stargate SG1, there were no similar restrictions. The one rule in Stargate SG1, though, is that you couldn’t return back through an already open gate. Gates in SG1 were one way. If someone tried to return through an already open Gate, the person would be fried. This is the reason that after traveling through a Gate in SG1, the gate would shut down. This meant that the person visiting via the portal would need to dial back out to open their own portal back to the originating world. This is how No Man’s Sky should work.

I want to understand the developer’s rationale here. I do. But, I must counter any such argument that this is an exploration game. There’s absolutely no reason why we can’t use a portal to travel to another system as open-ended exploration, then continue our journey from there or build as we see fit.

If the developers are concerned that we’ll shortcut our way to the center of the galaxy, restrict that. If the dialed system is at or near the center or within a small diameter of the center, then restrict how travel is handled. Don’t restrict every solar system simply because you’re trying to keep us from using a portal to get to the center. Even then, this restriction is somewhat stupid.

Portals are Mostly Worthless

Ultimately, the restrictions imposed on visiting portal worlds make them a novelty form of travel, but entirely useless. You can only use them to “see” a specific world. You can’t use a portal for any other travel purposes.

Once you understand the heavy restrictions imposed when using portals, you’ll quickly realize the futility of using them. Basically, Hello Games wasted their time building this portal system feature. Unless Hello Games chooses to lift these unnecessary portal restrictions, the best way to travel is strictly by Hyperdrive. There are no such silly restrictions when traveling by Starship or Freighter… at least none that I know of.

Consider that it’s also a major hassle to portal to a world, drop a beacon, travel back via portal then hop into your starship and make your way back there. Yeah, it’s a real pain in the ass. I don’t get why game developers feel the need to place such silly restrictions all over games when they are entirely unnecessary.

NoMansSky4No Man’s Sky is supposed to be an open exploration game. Why close off avenues of game play when using a built-in travel system? If I choose to build on a world in a portal system, let me. If I want to use the Galactic Map, there should be no problem. If I want to use the Terminus to get back home, that’s my choice. These stupid restrictions should not exist in No Man’s Sky. Hear me, Hello Games!

The only restrictions that should exist are restrictions on traveling to worlds within 10,000 light years of the center. Simply place the restrictions on these worlds and systems. Don’t allow portal travel at all to these worlds. Force the player to fly in by ship. Honestly, though, what difference does it make if the player flies in by ship or arrives by portal? Why does it matter if the player has chosen to use a portal instead of a starship?

Video games should allow players to travel in whatever method they choose, even if it ruins their own game experience. What difference does it really make if the gamer flies to the center by ship or arrives by portal? However, if you must, place restrictions on key worlds… but don’t restrict the entire game of billions of worlds strictly for a very small subset use case. 🧐

If this article helped you better understand No Man’s Sky‘s portals, please let me know in the comments below.

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Fallout 76: Where to find Deathclaw Hide

Posted in botch, business, video game design by commorancy on February 6, 2020

NukaColaPA-fIf you’re trying to complete the Possum challenge for Leatherworker, you’re probably looking for Deathclaw Hide. Let’s explore.

[Update 7/25/2020] As I predicted below, it seems that the Alpha Deathclaw carcasses at the fissure sites no longer drop Deathclaw Hide (or any other loot). I have visited several fissure sites, including Fissure Prime, and all of the carcasses are now empty… even when opening up the container into full screen mode AND even on private servers. This indicates that Bethesda has stopped the loot from dropping on these carcasses. The below information must now be amended to note this change in the game. Bethesda could return loot drops to the carcasses in the future, but for now loot no longer spawns on these fissure carcasses. Thanks go to reader Duggle for pointing this out.

With that said, I am still getting Deathclaw Hide from Deathclaws that you can kill. In fact, I found Deathclaw Hide on a Matriarch Deathclaw in the Abandoned Waste Dump cave today (7/25). However, I tried visiting that cave 5 more times after that and did not receive any further Deathclaw Hide drops, but did receive Deathclaw Hands (which doesn’t count for the challenge). It seems that you’re going to have to be diligent with world hopping this cave by killing the Deathclaws in this cave.

In fact, I’m beginning to believe that Bethesda may have made Deathclaw Hide a once-per-day drop from any Deathclaw. Why do I believe that? It seems that I’ve been able to find one Deathclaw Hide from the first couple of Deathclaws killed in a 24 hour period, but I’ve received no more after that from other Deathclaws. This could all be happenstance and rarity at work, but after a couple days of this loot drop behavior in a row, I’m leaning heavily in the once-per-day direction. If you’ve been able to get more than one Deathclaw Hide from killing a bunch of Deathclaws during a 24 hour period, please let me know in the comments below.

It seems that reader Duggle was able to get several Deathclaw Hides in the same session and even by world hopping. So, it seems the once-per-day drop for me was merely a fluke.

Where to find Deathclaws?

The only two places I know of which spawn Deathclaws as part of the location are the Abandoned Waste Dump cave in the Mire and the lower level Deathclaw that spawns on Deathclaw Island in the Forest (not far from Vault 76). There are mini-event locations that can also spawn Deathclaws, but these mini-event areas are randomly spawned from about 10-15 different mini-events… which makes this specific Deathclaw mini-event infrequent.

There may be one more location for a Deathclaw spawn and that’s at the Thunder Mountain Substation TM-02 in the Cranberry bog not far from Watoga. I haven’t visited this location in quite some time, but the last time I was there it regularly spawned a Deathclaw with a bunch of bugs (usually glowing ants). Updated note for 7/28/2020. I’ve recently visited this site again and I can confirm that it still spawns a Deathclaw with 4 glowing ants which the Deathclaw had killed.

Reader Duggle points out that a Mythic Deathclaw spawns inside of Hopewell Cave. I haven’t farmed this cave, but it’s worth heading into this cave and killing this Deathclaw to find out.

[Update 4/27/2020] It seems that since Wastelanders has been released, Deathclaws are once again dropping Deathclaw Hide. I found it on the Deathclaw on Deathclaw Island. I’ve also seen Deathclaw Hide drops from Radtoads. It seems Bethesda has potentially fixed the problem that caused this article to be written (see update Caveat just above). Still, these Deathclaw Hide drops seem to be rare.

Possum Challenges

The one thing about the Possum Challenges is that there’s always this “one thing” you can’t seem to find (or do). With the Leatherworker challenge, this one is no different. I have no idea why Bethesda feels the need to make these challenges drastically more difficult by limiting the ability to find the things you need. For example, the Possum Electrician challenge is entirely broken. There’s no way to actually succeed with this challenge because the ‘Restore power to a Power Plant’ challenge won’t complete no matter how many times you “Light Up” the Poseidon Power Plant  … it seems Bethesda may have finally fixed this challenge to award the point after powering up Poseidon.

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With pretty much every other animal in the game, you can find their hide in the loot pile after you kill them. Perhaps not finding it all of the time, but at least 50% of the time. This would mean you need to kill a minimum two of these animals to find its hide.

With the Deathclaw, unfortunately, Bethesda seems to have taken Deathclaw Hide off of a Deathclaw’s drop list (or at least, after Wastelanders, reduced its drop rate substantially) which you only find out after spending time and ammo killing several Deathclaws. It seems Deathclaw Hide is now back on a live Deathclaw’s drop list (see update above), but it is still a reasonably rare drop. So, no longer does a Deathclaw drop Deathclaw Hide. This makes the Leatherworker Possum challenge nearly impossible… until you know where to look.

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Thanks, Bethesda.

Rant Mode On

At this point, I can’t believe this is an oversight. In fact, I believe that it isn’t. I believe these changes are intentional by people within Bethesda. To consider this unnecessary change as anything more than accidental in among so many other “accidental” changes is naïve. There is absolutely no way Bethesda is this mistake prone. No way! No company makes so many mistakes in writing code. No one does this. One or two mistakes here and there I can accept as accidental. With Fallout 76, it’s been a series of mistakes after a series of mistakes after even more mistakes.

In fact, it’s almost like Fallout 76 came to exist through a series of mistakes. No one (let alone a company as big as Bethesda) makes that many “accidental” mistakes and still produces a semi-functional product. No! These changes are not accidental, incidental or unintentional. No company operates like The Keystone Cops (too young for this reference?   ⃪ click here).

These mistakes are definitely intentional! They have been introduced by Bethesda’s engineers intentionally. Why? I don’t know. Perhaps job security? No company I’ve seen introduces bugs intentionally… except Bethesda and software engineers hoping for …

Job Security

What exactly is “Job Security” in the software and technical professions? I’ll explain.

Many technical staff are not confident in their own skills or abilities. Their job insecurity sees them play games to make themselves appear “more valuable” and, thus, help their prospects with job security. Everyone wants to be considered a valuable team member. Unfortunately, playing this “job security” game in the way described below is highly unethical, but few technical staff see it this way.

By Technical Staff, I’m referring to software engineers, software designers and software coders. I also include systems administrators, systems engineers and systems architects as well. All of these technical roles have the ability to play such games to help increase their perceived “value” to the company.

No one wants to be considered obsolete by their employer. To that end, many software designers, engineers and even systems administrators, choose to keep their jobs secure by engineering their own continued necessity. How do technical employees engineer their own continued necessity? By introducing system breaking bugs. If things are “broken”, the company will continue to need someone to “fix” it.

How this situation manifests is that these folks break small things here and there. They don’t break the whole system, though they could very easily do this if they wanted. No, instead, they engineer breakage in small tertiary components. They engineer situations that are just problematic enough to be annoying, but not problematic enough to keep the product from working entirely. Though, I have worked with some folks who will and have chosen to break the entire system, bringing down the entire product for several hours.

There’s a fine line when considering breaking small things versus large things. Breaking the whole system is a firing offense. If you break the entire system such that no one can use it for hours, that’s something that will get at least one person fired. This doesn’t afford job security. Just the opposite, in fact. Breaking the entire system will get someone fired.

Breaking tiny tertiary pieces isn’t a firing offense (at least as long as the engineer doesn’t go blabbing about what they did). In fact, breaking something small is usually seen as unintentional by most bosses. After all, a boss might think, “Why would they break this tiny thing intentionally?” For this thinking logic, such small things are assumed to be a bug.

Many software engineers (and similar people in similar lower level positions) take advantage of this flawed managerial thinking logic and choose to break underlying, but very small components. Why? As this section states, job security. If small things are continually broken, the company will need someone who “knows that code” to fix it. Hence, continued employment for that person. Yes, it’s a shitty thing to do, but people also want to remain employed. When you hire bright people to write code, you also hire their scheming minds. Expect them to take advantage of such internal managerial flawed rationales to their own benefit.

How does this relate to Deathclaw Hide? It relates because the person who manages this specific portion of Fallout 76 wants to remain employed by Bethesda. If they break something small, Bethesda will eventually turn to them to ask them to fix it once enough people complain. See, job security does sometimes work… as long as they don’t get caught at it. It seems that too many employees at Bethesda are playing the “Job Security” game at the expense of Fallout 76. After all, this video game is already mostly a piece of junk. No one is going to see a few more mistakes as any more than “par for The Whitespring golf course”.

Rant over.

So where can I find Deathclaw Hide?

I’m coming to that. I wanted to rant a little about Bethesda before I got to this point. Since Deathclaw Hide no longer spawns on Deathclaws after you kill them, you must rely on loot containers and via other means.

Unfortunately, it seems that the same engineer who removed Deathclaw Hide from the loot drop list for Deathclaws also seems to have removed it from the drop list for regular containers as well. This means you won’t find it in toolboxes, wooden containers, coolers, safes or any other similar containers. I know. I’ve spent days culling through every container I could find looking for it. Deathclaw Hide doesn’t even spawn in Deathclaw nests!

I even went looking in non-conventional places. I started searching through Scorchbeast nests. Specifically, the nests in Watoga. I rationalized that Scorchbeast nests tend to turn up unusual bones and stuff. There is a nest on top of Watoga’s Municipal Building (where Mayor for a Day is located). There is also a nest on top of Watoga’s Civic Center. While these nests both spawn all sorts of goodies, such as Scorchbeast Hide, Scorchbeast Brain, Scorchbeast Meat and Scorchbeast Heart, it doesn’t spawn anything related to Deathclaws.

However, the Scorchbeast Guano piles will occasionally spawn Deathclaw Hands. Unfortunately, these don’t count towards the Possum Leatherworker challenge, even though Deathclaw Hands provide 3 leather. Go figure.

After spending time making various runs to these Scorchbeast Nests, I then had another thought.

Fissure Sites

I realized that I was going about this all wrong. Around the lip of every fissure is an array of dead animals. I also realized long ago that existing already-dead carcasses in the game spawn the hide of the dead animal.

While a Bethesda engineer decided to remove Deathclaw Hide from the live Deathclaw drop list, he/she forgot to remove it from the already dead carcasses that you can find around Appalachia. For example, there’s an already dead Yao Guai at the Abandoned Waste Dump. This permanently dead carcass spawns Yao Guai hide. If you ever need Yao Guai hide for any challenge, make your way to the Abandoned Waste Dump and pick it up. No need to kill anything. Just loot and be done.

This is why I began thinking, “Where can I find already dead Deathclaw carcasses in this game?” That’s when it dawned on me to visit the fissure sites.

Sure enough, there are already dead Deathclaw (and other) carcasses around the lip of fissures. Deathclaw Hide still spawns on these already dead Deathclaw carcasses. Yay! No need to run around killing Deathclaws if we don’t have to, eh? If you’re looking for Deathclaw Hide, you’ll want to visit the lip of the fissure sites to loot these already dead Deathclaws. The difficulty, of course, is that these fissures tend to spawn a crap ton of Scorched and at least one Scorchbeast, in addition to irradiating you. Be prepared with RadShield, RadX, Radaway or Power Armor and also be prepared to take out the enemies… or, alternatively, use the Sneak card to sneaky sneak your way in and out without being easily detected.

Unfortunately, you will only find one hide per carcass. Even then, it doesn’t always spawn. But, it spawns more often than anywhere else. Fortunately, there are 9 fissure sites around Appalachia that you can visit and check out the dead Deathclaw carcasses. At least one of them will have a hide. If you server hop, you can probably find all 5 of the hides that you’ll need to complete the Possum Leatherworker challenge.

I have found that the fissure sites are the most reliable places to locate Deathclaw Hide in Fallout 76. That is, until another engineer chooses to remove Deathclaw Hide from the loot drop list for these already-dead Deathclaws at the fissure sites, too. 😕

Update for 7/25/2020 moved to the top of this article.

Good Luck.

If this article helped you, please leave a comment below. If you know of the location for other dead Deathclaw carcasses around Fallout 76 (besides fissures), please let me know where you found it in the comments below.

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Fallout 76: Vault 94 to close

Posted in botch, business, video game design by commorancy on January 24, 2020

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Vault 94 was to be one of the first “group dungeons” (i.e., vault raid) to come to Fallout 76’s Wasteland. Vault 94 is scheduled to close when Wastelanders opens. Let’s explore.

Group Raid Areas

With every online game that Bethesda has produced, at some point during the game’s online lifecycle, Bethesda introduces higher level group dungeons. These dungeons usually entail the need to be at least level 50 or higher and you’ll need pretty decent weapons and armor to survive. So, with that, Bethesda introduced Vault 94 as a group raid area within Fallout 76 sometime around August 20th of 2019. No, it hasn’t been open for every long at all. When something is bad, though… *shrug*

Hodge Podge

After having visited Vault 94 myself, I can conclusively say, “It’s a mess.” Oh, and what a mess it is… in more ways than one. Not only is the plant life overgrowth abundant throughout the vault, finding anything in the disaster of a vault is an absolute chore… and that’s even if there weren’t a single enemy down there. What’s worse is the reward, but we’ll come to that topic soon enough.

Throw on top of the fact that the entire interior is an unmitigated disaster of a design, you have a never ending smorgasbord of enemies thrown at you continually. From Ghouls to Mirelirks to Mirelirk Kings to pretty much you name it and it’s in down there. I’m surprised they didn’t throw a Yao Guai, Mothman and a Scorchbeast in, too.

Lag City

It’s not so much that there shouldn’t be enemies there, it’s that the enemies are so densely packed in that space that, when combined with the overly detailed plant overgrowth 3D environment, the game’s engine simply can’t keep up. It gets so laggy, you can barely even run and shoot. I can’t even imagine taking a team of 4 people down there with miniguns. The entire run would come to a crawl. It would become so laggy, it would be pointless to try. It’s bad enough with two people down there.

Bethesda way overcompensated with this vault and pushed the engine way beyond its limits. It’s also quite clear that Bethesda didn’t even bother to run any performance or gamer tests to determine how badly this challenge ultimately failed. Yes, if you’re really diligent and patient (and can wade through the myriad of problems), you can complete the dungeon and get your ending reward. The problem is, that end reward so very much sucks. It’s honestly one of the worst reward drops I’ve seen from Bethesda.

The point is, this raid is ultimately pointless. It’s overly difficult with the number of enemies thrown at you, but it’s made much more difficult by the fact that the interior frame rate lags so badly that you sometimes have to give up and leave. It’s just that bad.

Reward?

The biggest part of the problem with Vault 94 is actually its final reward. A great reward is the only reason to even consider going into Vault 94. Sadly, the weak reward and laggy play actually gives us no reason to go there. Without a reason to go down there, it’s a pointless exercise. Let’s get to it, then. The rewarded power armor skin is absolutely hideous. It’s not even the slightest bit “cool looking”. It’s so ugly, in fact, that that’s the sole reason no one wants to make this vault run. The armor set looks just like the interior of Vault 94, covered with overgrown plants. It’s not something that most people would want to wear, unless you want to look like an armor covered Poison Ivy from various comic books.

Why spend all of that time and effort fighting with the crap ton of enemies in a badly designed vault under HEAVY lag only to receive a hideously ugly PA skin as a result? It is a crappy skin worth less than 500 Atoms. You’ve spent a crap ton of your ammo and stimpaks to make that run and then you get an ugly worthless skin? Really? Clearly, no gamer wants to spend their time and resources doing this, just as Bethesda’s stats support. Bethesda needs to rethink its reward system. If you can’t make the reward worthy of spending the time, effort, ammo and stimpaks, no one will make the run. That’s exactly what’s happening with Vault 94.

It’s not even like power armor is actually very useful in Fallout 76. Bethesda has nerfed the usefulness and strength of power armor so much that you can actually do better out of power armor than you can in it. It also costs way too much to keep power armor repaired and then there’s the fact that you burn through Fusion Cores every few minutes now… when early in 2019 a Fusion Core could last you several days. Yeah, making the Vault 94 run is so not worth it. Locating 100% topped up Fusion Cores is nearly impossible unless you’re willing to take on the challenge of a possible PVP activity by taking over the Poseidon, Thunder Mountain or Monongah power plant workshops. This on top of Vault 94’s crapfest reward? Yeah, no. Even then, Bethesda could cause these workshops to begin dropping Fusion Cores of random lower charged amounts even from a Fusion Core Processor in the future, thus making Power Armor even more worthless than it already is.

In fact, not only is Bethesda continually nerfing every part of Fallout 76, making it worse and worse and requiring longer and longer grinding efforts, they’re also nerfing quest end rewards giving us less and less value at the end of each new quest. Instead, they choose to put those “great looking” things in the Atomic shop where you have to pay for them… instead of placing the items into the game as reward drops. Come on, Bethesda. You can seriously do better. If you can’t give us a reason to want to make a vault run, we’re not going to run it and you will simply have wasted months worth of programming efforts on nothing. You must make the end reward drop worth our time and effort and worthy of draining us of our ammo, thus giving us solid reasons to make that run!

Closure

From Bethesda’s January 16th’s Inside the Vault:

Through community feedback we’ve received and our own monitoring since that time, we’ve decided that Vault 94 and its Missions are not delivering the quality of experience that we had hoped to provide. As a result, we are currently planning to shut down Vault 94 alongside the release of the Wastelanders update.

It’s no wonder then that Bethesda’s recent stats show that Vault 94 barely has any visitors. Vault 94 is a crapfest extraordinaire. Not only is the reward incredibly bad, the dungeon itself is a horrid laggy mess. Bethesda would actually have to try harder to actually make a worse group dungeon than Vault 94.

Sometimes you just have to say, “Good riddance to bad rubbish” and with Vault 94, it’s far too long in coming. This dungeon needed a redesign the day it arrived. Yet, Bethesda entirely ignored gamer complaints. Unfortunately, we don’t know the exact release date of Wastelanders, so we don’t know the exact date of Vault 94’s closure.

Oh, and Bethesda states they will move that sucky power armor skin reward to some other location so we can get it in some other way after Vault 94 closes. Yeah, like we all want that ugly power armor skin? I don’t think so. Here’s what Bethesda states:

When the Vault is disabled, we are planning to make all of its rewards, including the exclusive Power Armor sets and Vault Steel, achievable through other means.

As if we’re going to be anywhere close to excited for that power armor skin or vault steel when it becomes available “through other means”. Don’t think so.

If you really, really personally love this lagfest of a vault, then you’ll want to make sure to run it a few times before it disappears. Personally, the last time I was in that vault is the last time I’ll ever be in that vault. Yes, it really IS that bad.

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Top 10 gripes for Fallout 76

Posted in advice, botch, business, video game design, video gaming by commorancy on December 8, 2019

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You’re thinking of buying Fallout 76? You’ve rationalized, “It’s only a game, how bad can it be?” Let’s explore the top 10 gripes for why Fallout 76 may not be the best game purchase in 2019.

Number 10 — It’s not a new game

This game was released over a year ago in October of 2018. It’s over a year old already. Games typically have a 1 year lifespan of relevance before losing steam. The useful lifetime of this game is already waning and the clock is now ticking down on this game. Bethesda knows it, the industry knows it and gamers know this. You could invest your money into this game and find in 5 months that Bethesda has decided to pull the plug. For this reason alone, I’d be cautious in investing time in building a character.

Bethesda RPG-like games usually take months to fully play through. You might not even see all of the endgame content before Bethesda pulls the plug. Though, you can most certainly get through the main quest line before then, as short as the main quest is. Keep in mind, however, that because it’s an online game, there’s no local save file on your computer. If Bethesda pulls the plug, all of your characters and the work you’ve spent building them will disappear.

Number 9 — Multiplayer Game Modes

If you’re solely looking at the purchase of Fallout 76 for its multiplayer player-vs-player (PVP) game modes, you might want to think again. There are only three multiplayer modes in Fallout 76:

  1. Native (Workshop and Adventure)
  2. Hunter / Hunted Radio
  3. Battle Royale

Native PVP

None of the 3 PVP modes are particularly well designed and none of them fit into the Fallout universe and actually make sense. This first mode, “Native”, requires two people to initiate this mode through a handshaking process. One person fires on another. The second person must fire back to complete the PVP handshaking and launch into PVP mode. The problem is, there’s no fun to be had in this PVP mode and it’s rarely, if ever, used. Most players in adventure mode are there to explore and play PVE, not to get into PVP battles. So, be cautious when trying to elicit a PVP action from another player.

The second half of the PVP mode is at Workshops. If you claim a workshop, the handshaking mode is disabled and the entirety of the workshop area becomes an active PVP zone. Once you own a workshop, anyone can come into the workshop and begin PVP with you or your team. It’s the same PVP as the version that requires handshaking, except there is no handshaking.

Speaking of teams, be cautious when teaming up with other players. It only takes one player in a team to begin PVP with another player. Once that happens, the entire team becomes vulnerable to PVP with that player (and anyone on a team with that player). No warnings are issued by the game to other team players when one team member begins PVP activities with another player.

Hunter / Hunted Radio

The second game mode, “Hunter / Hunted Radio” requires you open a radio station on the in-game Pip boy (heads up display giving access to your inventory, weapons, armor, etc). This “radio station” links you into a matchmaking mode that allows up to 4-5 players in a given radius to begin PVP activities. As the name suggest, it’s about hunting for other players all while being hunted yourself. It’s also a sort of ‘Last Man Standing’ mode in that whichever player ends up with the most kills gets the most rewards.

Both of the above listed game modes are effectively “death match” style PVP. That means that it’s solely about player characters killing one another… which then comes down to which player has the best and strongest armor and weapons. Both of these styles rapidly elicit boredom because “death match” is the oldest and weakest type of PVP mode there is and is simply about killing other player characters.

This PVP also makes no sense within Fallout 76 where all of the people who lived in Vault 76 were supposed to remain civil and friendly towards one another. Not even the game setup or later found holotapes reveal any story aspect of people in Vault 76 turning on one another before “Reclamation Day”. If that had been a story element, then perhaps the PVP might have made some sense. But, no. The holotapes found almost ALL tie into the Scorched threat or other similar environmental survival threats (bad water, radiation, etc). None of the holotapes discuss bad blood between the residents within Vault 76. If that had been true, the “Reclamation Day Party” the night before would have ended in bloodshed before the vault even opened.

Nuclear Winter — Battle Royale

The third PVP activity is separated from the above because it arrived much later in 2019. At the same time it is a merely a weak copy of other better implemented Battle Royale games, which are currently “trending” in the game industry. Bethesda added this game mode, not because it made sense to Fallout 76 (or the Fallout universe), but because it is so popular in other popular game franchises, such as Fortnite and Apex Legends. It’s simply Bethesda’s attempt at a cash grab in an industry being inundated by other better Battle Royale based games.

Battle Royale is nothing new. It is a game mode that has been around since the early days of PVP. However, games like Fortnite and Apex Legends have turned this mode into hugely successful franchises. This mode is another “Last Man Standing” mode which is simply an alternative version of “Death Match.” In this death match style game, instead of people picking off one another and continually respawning until the clock runs out, you only get one try to win. This means that once your character has been killed, you can only watch the action unfold for the remaining active players. The point of any Battle Royale mode is to survive as long as you can and possibly become the “last man standing”.

With Fortnite and Apex Legends, it’s not so much about being Battle Royale, it’s more about the game makers crafting the game using interesting characters using gimmicks (building forts) with interesting attack modes. It’s about finding a character who has the “best” attack in the game. This means you can bring in experience earned and weapons owned back into the game to use over and over.

Why is all of this important to Bethesda’s “Battle Royal”? Because Bethesda chooses to allow nothing into its Battle Royale mode. All experience earned is earned explicitly within this game mode. But, even that experience doesn’t matter. Any weapons you may have used or armor you may have found cannot be used in subsequent plays. You must ALWAYS find weapons and armor in the game once it begins. Even then, it’s all random what you find. The chests generate random weapons, armor and loot. It could be good loot or it could be bad. Since you have no idea what you might or might not find, you’re at the mercy of the game to outfit you while you’re in the game. All the while, the clock is ticking.

You’re never given enough time to really outfit your character in a useful fashion. You end up spending inordinate amounts of time hiding from other players and, hopefully, finding decent armor and weapons in the loot chests. Some Battle Royale games offer this “loot chest” idea, like Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG). Unfortunately this game concept fails to work in a game like Fallout 76 where the entire point of playing Fallout 76 is to gain experience, weapons and armor over time. Having to “start over fresh” every time you play is, unfortunately, tedious.

Ignoring the nonsensical nature of this game mode even being IN Fallout 76, Nuclear Winter is boring. Even after one playthrough, it’s the same every time. Hide, search, outfit, stay alive. In fact, in this game mode, if you actively attempt to go looking for other players to kill, your character is more likely to be killed. To survive in this game mode, you need to remain hidden until the ever enclosing “ring of fire” gets too small to ignore any other players.

Additionally, any earned experience in “Nuclear Winter” is not carried into the “Adventure Mode” of Fallout 76. Everything in Nuclear Winter is for Nuclear Winter and vice versa. These modes are mutually exclusive.

Considering that Apex Legends and Fortnite are free-to-play, buying Fallout 76 solely to play Bethesda’s Nuclear Winter game mode is a waste of money. Go get the free Fortnite or Apex Legends or buy into Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds which do Battle Royale mode much, MUCH better. Bethesda would have done better to separate Nuclear Winter into a separate, standalone, free-to-play game… not tied to Fallout 76. I might even suggest retheming it either as its own franchise or theme it under a franchise more known for multiplayer games, such as Doom or Wolfenstein.

But… don’t run out and buy Fallout 76 strictly for Nuclear Winter. It’s too expensive for as weak as this game mode’s design is. If you already own the game, then it’s worth trying.

Number 8 — Holotape Hunt

This game has categorically been chastised for its lack of NPCs. And… that criticism is rightly justified. All previous Fallout games have been HEAVILY centered around NPCs and their dilemmas. To yank a mainstay out of a Fallout game means to yank out its very heart-and-soul and its reason to exist. The reason players play Fallout and Skyrim is because of the sometimes heart wrenching stories of its human NPC inhabitants.

In Fallout 76, because there are no human NPCs, save Super Mutants and a bunch of robots, the game is devoid of ANY interactivity with other NPCs. Instead, the game’s primary story sees you hunt down a trail of pre-recorded holotapes to “listen” to a bunch of canned messages and read random text on computer terminals. Worse, many of these holotapes open up quests that you are required to complete, yet the holotapes are way too short to really give the player any sense of urgency. Indeed, the holotape has likely been sitting by a dead body for months, if not years already. How can there be any sense of urgency around listening to something that’s been sitting there that long? In fact, whatever that dead person may have been doing to prompt that tape is likely long over and done.

Worse, sitting around listening to holotapes as a matter of story course, then reading text on a bunch of terminals is entirely boring. Storytelling, particularly in video games, should be done by interactive characters, not by text on a screen or pre-recorded audio tapes. In fact, such a storytelling tactic thwarts the point of even using a video game to tell a story. This isn’t the early 80s when Zork was the best that computers could achieve, it’s the days of Call of Duty when it’s all about realistic cinematic 3D character storytelling. Yet, the best Bethesda can come up with is effectively what we got in a game from the 80s?

Number 7 — Shorter Than Expected

While there are a wide number of side quests, events and tertiary activities, the main quests total 22. Considering that previous Fallout installments had way more than this number for its main quests, this is a sad number for Fallout 76. In fact, if you solely focus on just these 22 quests, you can probably get through all of them within a week or two at most. Note, most of this time is spent grinding up levels and gaining resources to ensure you can complete some of the quests properly and, of course, survive.

Number 6 — Eating, Drinking, Diseases & Weapon and Armor Breakage

To extend the amount of time you play Fallout 76, Bethesda has implemented some, at least they think, clever time extending mechanisms. Mechanisms such as eating, drinking, diseases and then there’s weapon and armor breaking frequently. The point to adding these mechanisms is less about realism and more about making you grind, grind, grind to keep your character from dying. Sure, in real life we do have to eat and drink. We’ll also have to repair armor.

These mechanisms in Fallout 76 are implemented poorly. For example, water consumption is entirely too frequent. You will find you have to consume water and food at least once per hour of play. No one eats food that frequently. You might sip water over the course of the day, but you don’t drink the amount of water they force your character to drink at every interval.

Worse, if water consumption drops too low, the penalty is reduced action points. Action points aren’t even a concept in real life. This is where the realism ultimately ends. It is also where it becomes apparent that the point to why Bethesda added these unnecessary additions comes into play. It’s not about realism, it’s about extending the time it takes you to play the game. Indeed, it can and does slow you down. Instead of actual, you know, questing, you’re not forced to forage for food, water and resources to keep your weapons and armor repaired and keep your character from dying. That’s not survival, that’s stupidity.

Worse, it’s all manual. To eat and drink, you are forced to stop and perform a manual task. There is no perk card that automatically consumes marked favorite foods whenever it gets too low. No, it’s all manual. In the middle of a fight? Too bad, now you have to open a menu and consume some food. Forgot to mark it as a favorite? Now you have deep dive into a bunch of slow menus in the middle of a battle. Yeah, not fun.

Number 5 — Menu System / Lack of Pause

As was discussed immediately above, the menu system is clumsy, cumbersome and dated. As I was talking about Zork from the 80s, that’s how this game feels. Like it was designed in the 80s for an 80s audience. Fallout 76 doesn’t in any way feel modern.

When you’re in the heat of battle (and because this is a multiplayer game that doesn’t allow for pausing), if you want to change weapons or swap armor, it’s a laborious process involving a convoluted set of menus.

Sure, there’s a wheel you can plant your favorites, but that’s limited and must be used for ALL items in the game. This means this small menu wheel is overloaded with food, clothing, aid, armor and weapons. You don’t have separate wheels for weapons, armor and food… which this game desperately needs.

While the PipBoy seems like a great idea, in practice and for a game UI, it really sucks for quick access when in a multiplayer non-pausable environment. For Fallout 4 where pause was a mainstay, thus allowing you time to think and swap, in Fallout 76 the PipBoy’s UI system entirely fails the player and Fallout 76.

Number 4 — Scorched and Broken Canon

With Fallout 76, Bethesda introduces a new enemy into the Fallout universe. The Scorched. However, this enemy addition doesn’t really make any sense at all. Fallout 76 is a prequel to Fallout 4. If the Scorched existed in Fallout 76, they very likely made their way to from Virginia to Boston in Fallout 4. After all, Scorchbeasts fly. This is where Bethesda breaks its own canon and lore simply to create new games.

There are a number of places where Bethesda has broken canon in the Fallout universe, the biggest faux pas being the Scorched. So, let’s focus on the Scorched. Even after you complete the game’s main quest (which is supposed rid Appalachia of the Scorched), the game remains status quo and unchanged with regards to Scorchbeast Queens, Scorchbeasts and even Scorched… which continue to reappear. The player following the Scorched quest line does nothing to resolve the Scorched plague… which doubly means that the Scorched should have made their way to Boston to appear in Fallout 4. Yet, they inexplicably don’t. And, it’s not like Bethesda couldn’t have rolled a Fallout 4 update to apply retroactively continuity to add the Scorched information into Fallout 4 and make the universe consistent. Nope, Bethesda didn’t do this.

So, now we have Fallout 76 which remains with story incongruities by introducing enemies, clothing, items and concepts which have not appeared in games that have chronologically come after Fallout 76.

Number 3 — Grind Grind Grind

While some people might think this is the number 1 problem in the game, it is not. In fact, we will come to the biggest problem in just a few, but let’s grind on with number 3.

While this one is somewhat tied to the number 1 problem, it is separate and unique. But, it is not at all unique to this genre of game. Developers seem to think that grind, grind, grinding your way through the game is somehow fun. It’s a mistaken thought rationale. While grinding does extend the length of time it takes to play the game, we gamers can see right through that charade. We know when game developers have added grinding for the sake of grinding and not for the purposes of general game exploration.

There’s a fine line between grinding to complete a quest and grinding because you have to play the subgame of surprise grab bag to locate the best weapons, armor and loot in the game.

Purveyor Murmrgh is the poster child of everything wrong with not only grinding within Fallout 76, it also bookends and highlights this major industry problem across the RPG genre, but also of video gaming in general.

fallout-76_20191207153431.jpgSlogging through the same pointless battles over and over just to gain “currency” to play the Loot Bag Lottery is not in any way fun. That’s exactly what Purveyor Murmrgh is to Fallout 76. It is the icing on the grinding cake… but it’s more like Salmonella.

Oh, and believe me, most of the junk given out by Murmrgh is just that, junk. It’s a Junkie’s Meathook dealing 25 damage. It’s a Vampire’s Knuckles dealng 20 damage. It’s an Instigating Shovel dealing 5 damage. It’s a Vanguard’s Pipe Pistol dealing 10 damage. It’s literal junk. The only thing you can do when you’re issued this junk is turn it back in and get at least some Scrip back. Yes, you might get super lucky and get a Two Shot Gauss or a Instigating or Furious Pump Action Shotgun, but it might also take you hundreds of tries (100 Scrip per try) to get it.

Let’s understand exactly how much grinding is needed to gain the 100 Scrip required to “buy” a 3-star randomly generated legendary weapon from Murmrgh. Each 3-star legendary traded in offers 40 scrip. That means it takes three 3-star legendary weapons to gain 120 scrip and top the 100 Scrip mark. That means that it takes at least 3 Scorchbeast Queen kills to gain three 3-star legendary weapons… and that assumes she will even drop a 3-star legendary weapon every time. Hint, she doesn’t. Many 3-star legendary enemies rarely drop 3-star weapons. In fact, most drop 1 or 2 star weapons most commonly.. which you can trade in at a lesser Scrip value (see chart below). Ultimately, this means even more and more grinding just to find those ever elusive 3-star legendary weapons to turn in and gain Scrip.

You also can’t get Scrip in any other way than grinding for and “selling” Legendary loot. You can’t buy Scrip with Caps. You can’t buy Scrip with actual money (although that would be an even bigger problem for Bethesda). You can’t buy Scrip with Atom (because you can buy Atom with real money). You must grind, grind, grind your way into getting Scrip.

Here’s a table of how it all breaks down for Legendary Scrip:

Legendary Type Scrip Trade-In Value
One Star Legendary Weapon 5
Two Star Legendary Weapon 15
Three Star Legendary Weapon 40
One Star Legendary Armor 3
Two Star Legendary Armor 9
Three Star Legendary Armor 24

What this table means to a gamer is that you should expect to grind, grind, grind to find 3-star legendary weapons (which you can trade toward Scrip), versus any other type when you’re looking to get a 3 star legendary weapon out of Murmrgh any time soon. That doesn’t mean you won’t happen upon a great 1, 2 or 3-Star legendary weapon or armor along the way while grinding. But, it also means that if you want to play the Scrip Loot Box Lottery game at Murmrgh, you’re going to need to grind your way through a lot of legendary weapon drops before you get enough to visit Murmrgh. Even then, because it’s a Surprise Loot Box, you’re at the mercy of whatever crap it decides to roll the dice and give you.

Ultimately, Fallout 76 is about grinding and Bethesda’s understanding and design of its game constructs are intended for gamers to spend inordinate more amounts of time grinding than questing. Bethesda’s rationale around this is having people grinding on the game is better than not playing it at all. To some degree this may be valid, but only because there are some gamers that actually LIKE grinding. I’m not one of them. Doing forever repetitive tasks over and over is not something I want to do in an RPG, let alone in Fallout. Let’s grind on.

Number 2 — Bugs, bugs and More Bugs

This one goes without saying for Bethesda. The game industry has been in a tailspin in this area for the last 3-5 years. When the N64 was a mainstay in the home gaming, game developers did their level best to provide solid, reliable, robust, well crafted gaming experiences. Literally, these games were incredibly stable. I can’t recall a single N64 game that would randomly crash in the middle of the game. While there were logic problems that might have made games unintentionally unbeatable, the games were still rock stable.

Since then when the N64 console was popular, games have moved more and more towards hardware being driven by Microsoft’s operating systems (and also adopting Microsoft’s idea of stability), the former push towards gaming excellence has severely waned. No longer are developers interested in providing a high quality stable gaming experiences. Today, game developers are more interested in getting product out the door as fast as possible than in making sure the product is actually stable (or even finished). What this has meant to the gaming industry is that gamers have now become unwitting pawns by paying retail prices to become “Beta Testers”. Yes, you now must pay $60 to actually beta test game developer software today. Let’s bring it back to Fallout 76.

Bethesda has never been known for providing particularly stable software products in its past gaming products. Even Fallout 3 had fairly substantial bugs in its questing engine. Obsidian muddied the already murky waters of Fallout with its Fallout New Vegas installment. Obsidian is much more attuned to producing high quality stable products. This meant that many gamers probably conflate the stability imparted by Obsidian’s Fallout New Vegas with Bethesda’s much buggier Fallout 3 as both games were released during a similar time frame. Fallout 4, however, can’t rely on this conflation. Fallout 4 stands on its own, for better or worse, and its bugs were (and are) readily apparent. Fallout 4 even regularly crashes back to the dashboard hard. By extension, so does Fallout 76. Fallout 76 was also born out of Fallout 4 and many bugs in Fallout 4 made their way unfixed into Fallout 76. Some of those Fallout 4 bugs are even still there!

Fallout 76 has, yet again, become an unwitting poster child for this newest trend towards cutting corners. Even though Bethesda has always provided buggy experiences, Fallout 76 is by far Bethesda’s worst. Even The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) at its worst never fared this bad, even though it was not completely bug free when it first arrived and was still considered fairly beta. Fallout 76, however, was released entirely unfinished and chock full of serious bugs.

Worse, the whole lack of NPCs feels more like cutting corners than it does an active design decision. It’s like they simply couldn’t get the NPCs working day one. So, they cut them out of the mix and quickly threw together a bunch of voiceovers for holotapes and wrote a bunch of terminal entries. The bugginess and being unfinished for Fallout 76 is readily apparent, but what may not be apparent is this lack of design forethought for the (lack of) NPCs. There are even areas of the game that seem as though they were designed to have functional quests on day one, but never had anything attached. For example, Vaults 94, 51, 63 and 96.

Recently, however, Bethesda released add-ons that fill in Vault 94 and Vault 51 (sort of). Vault 51 is still unfinished in the Adventure server portion of Fallout 76, but it exists as Battle Royale (a completely separate game mode). Vault 94 is a raiding vault intended for multiplayer group play. Unfortunately, Vault 94 is entirely a disaster. Not only is the interior one of the worst designed vault interiors I’ve seen, the actual gameplay is so overloaded with unnecessary amounts enemies, it’s a chore to go in there. By ‘chore’, I mean literally. There’s so much stuff being thrown at you, the game engine can’t even properly handle it. It ends up a completely stuttery, herky-jerky gaming mess. If you can even fire your weapon timely, you’re lucky. Most times, you’re so inundated by swarms of enemies, you can’t even properly aim or fire. VATs barely even works in this “dungeon” simply due to the enemy overload.

As for vaults, 63 and 96, there’s still nothing associated with them in Adventure. It is assumed that, like Vault 94, both will become part of later group raids.

Still, there are many, many unfinished quest lines throughout Fallout 76. Not only are there many presidential ballot systems all over the wasteland, including in Harper’s Ferry and Watoga, there is also a locked presidential suite in the Whitespring Enclave bunker. Also, while there are several hand scan locked rooms in the Whitespring villas, there are also many more hand scan locked rooms in the Whitespring Hotel proper. This almost entirely indicates that being General in the Enclave may not have been the end of the road for the Enclave quest line. Instead, it seems the quest may have led the player to becoming President over the Wasteland. With all of the random ballot systems, it seems that you may have had to repair enough of these systems to allow vault residents to vote for you to become President using those ballot systems, thus giving you access to the Enclave’s Presidential suite. It seems Bethesda abandoned this quest idea somewhere along the way. This, in fact, may have been dependent on NPCs which were summarily stripped from the game. Without NPCs to help vote you in as President, there’s no way to actually play this quest… probably the reason it was left out of the game.

In addition to this abandoned quest line, there are the upper floors in the Whitespring hotel. The front desk Assaultron specifically says the hotel is still under refurbishment. This is, yet another, unfinished quest. You don’t build a hotel like Whitespring and then lock off half of the building as “unfinished”. These are self-autonomous robots. They can easily finish this refurbishment process… and should have finished it by now. This Whitespring Hotel part is simply more on top of the vaults that still remain locked. There are likely even more than this in the Wasteland (crashed Space Station with no explanation), but these are the ones that stand out.

And now…

Number 1 — Revisionism of Fallout 76

Here we come to the biggest foible of Fallout 76. Instead of fixing bugs, Bethesda has focused solely on revising Fallout 76. Instead of releasing a complete and functional game, the developers got to about a 45% finished state and Bethesda pushed it out the door. Unfortunately, when something is pushed out unfinished, it never does get finished.

What that means is that like what’s described in #2, too many long standing bugs remain. Instead of Bethesda focusing on knocking out the remaining bugs, they have instead diverted to “value added content”. More specifically, designing shit they can sell in the Atom shop… that and the addition of mostly pointless short term events that haven’t even dropped loot that they should have dropped. Because of all of this, this game hit the game market hard, garnered intensely negative criticism (and still does) and ended up as a huge miss with many Fallout fans. Bethesda, however, has been riding this storm of negativity in hopes they can somehow succeed.

Unfortunately, all of what Bethesda believes to be “better” for Fallout 76 has been merely temporary bandaids, without actually fixing much of the basic underlying problems. There are so many bugs in Fallout 76 from day one that remain unfixed, it’s a surprise the game actually even functions (and in many cases, it doesn’t).

Bethesda has even spent time towards targeting “fixes” for things which haven’t even been problems. For example, Bethesda has reduced the damage output of weapons that in previous Fallout installments have been some of the most powerful weapons in the game. What that means to Fallout 76 is that the game is so heavily nerfed (reduced) that it’s almost no fun to play. You go into Fallout to spend time looking for the best weapons and armor in the game. Since all of these “best” have been so heavily reduced in damage, they are no longer the best. They are, in fact, now some of the worst weapons in the game. For example, they have reduced the Two Shot Gauss rifle’s output damage to no better than a non-legendary shotgun.

This has forced the remaining gamers to perform even more rounds of grind, grind, grinding. Because now you blow through even more armor and ammo… meaning you now have to go repair everything every few plays (yes, even when you have the perk cards equipped).

And here’s even more unnecessary meddling… Bethesda has mucked with how well the perk cards work. Many cards claim up 60%-90% reduction of “whatever”. Yet, if you really do the math, it’s way, way less than that percentage. Sometimes, it’s more likely 10-15%. The cards lie on their face. Many perk cards don’t even function.. AT ALL. You can buy into a perk card stack, but some cards literally do nothing. When the cards do function, they function at much less than what the face value of the card says. The perk cards nearly all lie in some way. They are merely there as “feel good” helpers. Many of them don’t function as intended, if they function at all.

Much of this reduced functionality is because of Bethesda’s revisionism. Instead of leaving well enough alone with the cards, Bethesda has continually felt the need to tweak these cards silently without informing gamers of the changes they are making. The cards are not the only place where they have done this. Silently screwing with VATs seems to be yet another pastime of the Bethesda devs. Yes, Bethesda is sneaking in changes without letting anyone know. But, you don’t have to take my word for it. Simply equip your Perk cards and see if they actually perform at the level they state. This all assumes that you really want to invest in this way less than mediocre game title. It’s these unnecessary changes that make this game less than stellar. It is also why this is the #1 gripe for this game.

The only thing that Bethesda’s revisionism has done for Fallout 76 is turn it into even more of a disaster than it already was. Yes, Fallout 76 is actually worse now than it was when it launched (when most of the game actually functioned as intended). Only after Bethesda began its revisionism has the game turned into junk heap. And, junk heap it is.

Bethesda continues with its revisionism in Fallout 1st (pronounced “first”), Bethesda’s monthly / yearly subscription service. You should be careful investing into this service. Considering the state of Fallout 76 today, it may not have a year of life left before Bethesda cans this game. If you’re considering purchasing a year of 1st, you may find that in 6 months, the game is shut down. How you get half of your $99 back is as yet unknown. If Fallout 76 remains in service for one more year, I’d be surprised.

Bethesda also doesn’t want to listen to what the gamers want. Instead of adding things gamers have actually requested, Bethesda has had its own agenda of questionable add-ons. Add-ons that no one has actually requested or even wanted (Distillery?). Add-ons that have added limited value back to the gamers. For example, Purveyor Murmrgh. No one wants surprise loot-crates. We want to BUY our legendary rifles already outfitted and ready to go. We want to buy legendary module add-ons so we can add legendary effects to our existing weapons and armor. We also want to be able to level our weapons up along with our player. None of this has been provided by Bethesda. All of these requests have gone unfulfilled and unanswered.

As another example of incompleteness in the game, there are 5 star slots on legendary armor and weapons. Yet, the highest amount of stars is still 3? So what gives with that? If you’re only planning to ever have 3 star weapons and armor, then remove the extra 2 unused stars as we’ll never see any 5 star weapons or armor. So many misses in this game, yet Bethesda keeps going without addressing or fixing all of these simple little problems… instead Bethesda has focused on breaking, breaking and more breaking.

The big takeaway here is be cautious with purchasing this game and be doubly cautious if you decide to purchase a 1st subscription. This game is already skating on thin ice as it is. If it lasts another year, call me surprised.

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What is the Fallout 76 1st subscription?

Posted in video game design, video gaming by commorancy on November 15, 2019

Fallout 76_20191108124032.jpgBethesda has released Fallout 76’s first paid product named 1st. This uninspired and unfortunate naming doesn’t mean much, but it does come with some welcomed and important improvements to Fallout 76. Let’s explore.

 


Fallout 1st

Obviously the 1st branding is intended to be pronounced “first”. Let’s get that one out of the way right off. The naming itself doesn’t mean much and in the context of the game itself means very little. But, this add-on subscription does add some welcomed, important and substantial improvements. Whether those improvements are worth the price, I’ll have to leave that up to you. The costs for this service are USD $12.99 a month or USD $99 per year (USD $8.25 per month — a fairly substantial savings over paying monthly). The additional fee does offer some worthwhile improvements. Let’s investigate these next.

“Infinite” Storage Scrapbox

fallout-76_20191114152424.jpgFor those of us tapped out on Stash space, the new Scrapbox is an invaluable asset. You can take all of that weighty scrap out of your 800 weight limited Stash, release up to 300 weight or more from your Stashbox and put all of that weight all into the “infinite” space Scrapbox. This means substantially more Stash to use for storing weapons, armor and other collectibles. This is an important and welcomed change. Not to mention, being able to store “infinite” amounts of lead, steel, copper, cloth, crystal, leather, etc. This feature offers way more crafting, workshop and camp building options. Though, I highly doubt the Scrapbox offers actual infinite storage, the storage cap is probably so high as to be almost infinite.

On the other hand, you can’t store anything in there but scrap. It won’t store weapons, armor, aid or any other category of items. It also won’t store ALL types of scrap. For example, bulked items cannot be stored in the Scrapbox. If you wish to store already bulked items, you’ll need to unbulk them to store them in the Scrapbox. However, the Scrapbox does offer a scrapping feature. No longer do you need to have a workbench handy. If you have a bunch of junk that you simply want to break down into scrap, the box will automatically do this before depositing it into the box. This makes the Survival Tent much more functional without any workbenches.

Survival Tent

Fallout 76_20191112002656

This freely deployable tent offers a second free fast travel point that can be easily moved and costs no caps to move about. It is definitely welcomed to have a second free moveable fast travel point… and which offers access the new Scrapbox easily and quickly, offers a cooking pot, a Stashbox, a sleeping bag for the “Rested” perk, and a banjo for the “Well Tuned” perk. Unfortunately, the sleeping bag only offers the “Rested” perk (lasts 1 hour) instead of “Well Rested” perk (which lasts 2 hours). Having a second fast travel point will drastically save on spending caps to travel around the map. This means you can leave the tent in a convenient location and avoid paying caps to get to that location and pay much reduced caps to get to locations near it.

Private Servers

Fallout 76_20191114150545Private Servers that had been promised for a year are finally here! These are great for many reasons. For example, locating items that you can’t otherwise find because other players are actively farming them. Additionally, trying to locate legendary enemies to finish up the Enclave commendations can be tricky. With a private server, it’s easier to find such events which spawn legendary enemies (i.e. Wolf Pack) and finish the event (and receive commendations), without interference from other players. It also makes questing alone easier and it makes group questing more fun when you invite only your friends while no one else can join that world’s server.

Alone questing is much easier because the game server spawns enemies at the level of the most recent person who happens by. If a level 150 player hits up a location minutes before your level 30 character arrives, the enemies will likely be level 68. This can make situations impossible to win. It may also mean hopping servers until you find a world where your level 30 character is the one who has spawned lower level enemies. A private server avoids this problem entirely. Since the server is brand new the moment you launch it, only your character influences the world around you when playing alone. However, if you invite high level players into your private world, then the same problem of high level spawns will occur even in the private server. You’ll want to be cautious when you invite friends into your server.

One additional benefit of the private server is it durability. What I mean is that once you start a private server, this same server is available to you for up to 20 minutes while no one is online. What that means is you can swap characters and load into the same private world over and over. While 1st doesn’t offer any means to directly share stuff between characters, this world durability means you can drop a bag of items in the world in an easy location (like Vault 76) and then pick up the bag using a different character. This allows you to swap items between characters without using an intermediate third person to hold your stuff or watch your bag. Simply drop a bag from one character, log out, change characters, log back into the private world, go to the spot where you dropped it and pick up the items. Simple. It works well and it is predictable. Because it’s a private server, there’s no danger of another player grabbing your stuff while you’re working on this activity.

It would be preferable if Bethesda could give us an official way to share stuff between characters, but in the interim, the private server is a great option to share weapons, armor and items between characters. I’ve always intensely disliked using random third parties for this transfer process. Using a private server to share items is an excellent alternative. And yes, it does work. I’ve done this several times between characters.

Of course, there’s no easy way to share caps between characters using a private server. If you want to do this, you’ll still need to use a third party.

Another benefit of the private servers is, while playing alone, you can hold any workshop in the game without fear of PVP reprisal. You will have to occasionally manage defend events, but that’s as far as it goes. If you choose not to do the defend events, you can come back later and just fix everything that got broken. Also, if your game accidentally crashes, the private server remains tied to your ID for at least 30 minutes. This means that in private servers you continue to own your workshops even after disconnects or crashes, unlike the public servers. However, you do have to rejoin the server with the same character to remain the owner of the workshop. If you wait too long, the private server will be unassigned to you and you will lose your workshops, but that takes about 20-30 minutes. If you change your character, you will likely have to take ownership again with your other character.

Atom Shop Exclusives and Inclusions

Fallout 76_20191114153148This isn’t really so much a benefit as it is a nicety. After all, the Atomic shop is mostly just for cosmetics. However, it’s great to see Bethesda include Atom shop exclusives for 1st subscribers. Additionally, the 1st subscription offers 1650 atoms each month included with the ~$13 monthly fee (or the yearly fee if you go that way). That’s $16.50 worth of Atom in addition to all of the above add-ons. The included $16.50 worth of Atom makes all of the rest almost seem free. To previously buy that much Atom, you’d have to spend at least $13 and you wouldn’t even get all of the above access. Receiving the Atom alone almost makes the entire subscription worth it, assuming you regularly buy Atom instead of earning it in the game.

Pay to Win?

There’s something to be said for each of these 1st add-ons. A lot of people may dislike paying the money per month or somehow think this part is “pay to win”, but in reality none of it helps you “win”, but it does substantially improve the game by adding the above features. I guess many could argue that the Scrapbox and the Survival Tent should have been added to the base game for free… but then, that would reduce the reasons to subscribe to 1st. Eventually, it may come down to pay-to-win, but for now there’s no way to actually pay to win.

In fact, I’d argue that most of what 1st offers to gamers now is end-game content. After you’ve done the quests and completed the entire main story, what’s left over is farming items, looking for cosmetics and, in general, locating rare weapons, armor and potentially selling them. It’s less about winning and more about extending the play value of this game. That’s exactly what 1st is intended for… extending the play value of the game.

Improvements to Fallout 76 and 1st

Even with all of the above, there still needs to be improvements in the base game to better support 1st subscribers. Scrapboxes need to become widely available at all train stations and in Whitesprings. Without scrapboxes there, you are forced to travel to your tent or to your camp to drop scrap into the scrapbox. Inconvenient. Else, you have to temporarily drop it into your stashbox and move it around later (even more inconvenient).

Fallout 76_20191114152342.jpg1st is an important step for Fallout 76 as a game, but the subscription support needs to be improved throughout the game. As mentioned above, the Scrapbox doesn’t support bulked scrap. It only supports loose scrap. This is another design flaw in this storage system. This means you still need to continue to store all of your bulk scrap in your Stashbox or you must unbulk it to shove it into the Scrapbox.

1st isn’t in any way perfect, but the game is much better with these improvements than it is without them. 1st is one of the actual first tangible improvements to the base game which hasn’t really been offered by Bethesda in past updates. Most past updates have involved bug fixes or simplistic add-ons (backpack or distiller or limited time events). 1st is one of the first set of improvements that implies Bethesda might actually be trying to improve the game. Unfortunately, too many of us are at the endgame and 1st may be too late to really bring in enough new players. Perhaps the upcoming NPC additions may help the game revitalize, but we’ll have to wait on that.

The current 1st addition won’t revitalize Fallout 76 by itself, but it is a vast improvement in solving basic problems that still plague this mostly beta game (e.g., small sized stash boxes, small inventory sizes, small camp budgets). Seeing Bethesda release actual improvements to the game shows that Bethesda is finally willing to offer better features to those willing to pay. Now if only we can get Bethesda to buff our weapons for subscribing to 1st… that would be a much welcomed improvement. Bethesda should also consider giving us some 1st perk cards to improve our SPECIAL stats… such as additional and exclusive 1st damage multipliers. I know this may sound like pay-to-win additions, but these are the kinds of things that help improve the game, give incentives to subscribe and offer much welcomed improvements.

Sure, Bethesda could have released all of this for free to the current game players… but, the Private Servers alone would have been overwhelmed almost instantly and essentially become public servers. By putting it behind a paywall, it ensures fewer people utilize it and fewer people will abuse it.

I was initially skeptical when I paid for the 1st feature, but I quickly realized the benefit of the Scrapbox. Forget the Private Servers, the Scrapbox is the single thing that almost completely sells me on 1st. The Private Servers are great, don’t get me wrong, but the Scrapbox is the single thing that I have absolutely needed in this game. If only Bethesda would also increase our C.A.M.P. build limit by subscribing to 1st.

Downsides?

There are a few downsides to 1st. Let’s talk about these. I believe non-1st subscribers can be invited to a private server, but I’m uncertain about this entirely. This may also change over time and it may not work correctly. If the owner of the private server leaves the private server, you’ll have about 20 minutes before the server shuts down and kicks you off… regardless whether you are a 1st subscriber or not.

You can’t join a friend who is visiting or has started their own private server from the social menu. There’s no option for this. You must be explicitly invited by the friend into the server. Additionally, only 8 people can join a private server. The 24 people on a server won’t work on a private server. You have to use a public server for that. This could make some events more difficult to complete in a private server environment.

A downside for PS4 users is that the 1 month subscription expires in one month. It is left up to you to renew the subscription manually at the end of each month of service. It does not auto-renew. Bethesda may fix this issue by updating its digital store item to support renewing subscriptions, but for now the subscription does not auto-renew. Be sure not to forget to pay for your monthly membership or all of the scrap in your Scrapbox may disappear. Be cautious with this. Also, if you’re thinking of not renewing, then you should plan to move whatever valuable scrap you have in your Scrapbox back to your Stash to avoid losing your most important scrap in your Scrapbox.

I’d also recommend keeping flux and other valuable scrap items that you simply can’t afford to lose in your Stash. The Scrapbox is a new storage vehicle in the game and may have significant bugs. Be sure that whatever you put into the Scrapbox is something you are willing to lose and collect again.

It is also unknown what happens to the 1st exclusive items you own from the Atom shop if you cancel. They might hang around or they might disappear from your inventory unless you renew. Don’t get too invested in these exclusives if you don’t plan to retain the subscription.

One last downside is the private servers themselves. Sometimes you are lucky and you will get a private server that has been freshly spun up. What this means is that all of the spawn places are already spawned. However, it seems Bethesda’s spin-down processes don’t adequately wait long enough before reassigning a private server world to a 1st user. What this means, unluckily for you, is that if a previous 1st user has already farmed the world for its “treasure”, you could find that what you’re looking for is not in its respective spawn locations. In fact, you could find the spawn locations empty all over the place. Bethesda needs to get better at either resetting the worlds after a private server use or ensure that when a private server is spun up, all spawn points have properly reset. Getting a “previously used” private server world just sucks all around. Worse, you are stuck with that same world for at least 30 minutes even if you aren’t using it. It takes that long for the server to be released and unassigned from your 1st subscription.

If you have any questions about Fallout 1st, please leave a comment below.

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