Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Game Review: Fallout 76

Posted in reviews, video game, video game design by commorancy on November 26, 2018

11-24-2018_6-24-33_AM-r2dy5mq3Fallout 76 has arrived. There is some to like within Fallout 76, but there’s more than plenty to dislike. I was personally hoping for a bit more than what I got in the game. However, because it’s still an early release, it could get better. Unfortunately, some of it is an outright fail. This one is quite long, so grab a beverage of your choice and let’s explore.

Fallout 76 Map

Let’s get this review started with the Fallout 76 Map:

Fallout76-Map
I’ve not yet explored all of the places on this map, but above is what I’ve explored so far. You can click the image to see a larger map. So, yes, there’s plenty to explore in West Virginia. With that said, let’s get into the nitty gritty of what’s good and what’s bad, what’s beautiful and what’s ugly about Fallout 76. And believe me, there’s plenty to talk about.

Contents

This review has the following sections:

The Good
🔥 The Fail
💋 The Beautiful
🛑 The Butt Ugly
🚌 Missed Opportunities
👎 Overall (or TL;DR)
💯 Score


The Good

11-24-2018_1-30-30_AM-ye254zpmFallout 76 looks and feels like an extension of Fallout 4 with the exception of the multiplayer aspect. When wandering around the wasteland, it looks and feels very much like Boston in Fallout 4. Obviously, the landscape and terrain are different, but the structures and decay and rusting vehicles seems the same. A little too much the same, in fact. Even the enemies are the same including Supermutants and their mutant hounds, rad roaches, ticks, feral ghouls, Eyebots, Protectrons and many more. So, kudos to Bethesda for getting this part the same.

Photomode

There is a photomode in this game. The photomode does perform well, but unlike Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed Origins photomode which, even though the game didn’t run at 4K on the Xbox One S, it did take 4K images… where Fallout 76 firmly takes only 1080p images. I was hoping for the higher res snapshots like Ubisoft’s Origins supported on the Xbox One S. Nope.11-24-2018_6-24-33_AM-gqvzwvoq

The exterior lighting and shadows looks reasonably good, but it all depends on the model. Some models, like the tractor above, look fairly good. However, some texture maps used on the sides of buildings are very low res like this Nuka Cola sign.

Particle physics in this game, particularly smoke, looks fake and flat and cartoony… nothing like smoke. For example, these smoke stacks look bad, particularly when animated:

11-24-2018_1-30-35_AM-3pb3yi3d

Photomode’s depth of field only offers far depth of field, not near. Basically, you can’t focus it to offer both near and far depth of field like an actual camera lens works. Instead, everything in the foreground is always perfectly clear, but the background is blurry. I’d also say that the Bokeh doesn’t work that well in photomode.

Photomode also supports additional filters and frames to create unique images. As you play and discover locations, you’ll get additional photomode frames and other photomode add-ons. With these frames and filters, you can produce images that look like these:

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Personally, the frames and logos are fun enough, but after having used them once, I don’t really want to overuse the frames and effects as it’s like having too much of a good thing.

Loading Times

Here’s another area where the game works quite well. I’ve found no problems with loading times, even after being killed by a gang of ghouls. I have no complaints at all about loading times. Even loading a game after a crash is decently speedy. Though, it would be nice if it didn’t crash in the first place.

Crafting

This process works much the same as any other Fallout. You simply need to find the correct ingredients and have a recipe (or plans) to make the item and you’re set. Sometimes you need to luck into finding the recipe or plan before you can make it. Some basic recipes and plans are given to you from the beginning, but the more advanced ones will need to be found through exploration.

The crafting that you’ll become intimately familiar in this game is cooking. You’ll end up making a lot of boiled water and a lot of meat steaks (to avoid all of the random diseases).


🔥 The Fail

While the look and feel are very much the same as previous Fallout games, the gameplay is a bit off. Some of this is due to the multiplayer aspects, but some of it is due to the way the game has been designed.

Missing NPCs

In all of the time I’ve been playing, I have yet to see a single NPC in this game. Where Elder Scrolls Online and Fallout 4 both had cities teaming with NPCs, Fallout 76 is quite devoid of them. With the exception of Graham and his Brahmin, Chally the Moo-Moo (the wandering Supermutant merchant) and a handful of Mr. Gutsy and Protectron robots, there are no human NPCs to be found in any of the the towns (big or small). Only enemies including mostly ghouls or scorched, but sometimes Supermutants are found. It’s a huge miscalculation for a Bethesda RPG. Perhaps they were trying to save money by not having to hire voice talent? Who knows the real motive here?

Personally, if I had been the manager over this project and this project idea was thrown my way, I would have tossed it back. I would have asked for alternative ideas involving NPCs in the game. It doesn’t need to be a large number of NPCs, but there should have been at least a few here and there, if only wanderers. Without meaningful interactions with NPCs, a game like this is a very difficult sell. The game would need to have chosen some other means of NPC interaction, if not using “ghosts” in the environment or some found technology that lets the player interact with live holograms of dead characters. There’s just nothing like that here.

While there’s no shortage of enemies to fight in Fallout 76, the only conversation you do get to have is with other live players using chat headsets. Even then, it’s simply discussion about problematic game mechanics. Instead, it seems that all quests come to your character by proximity to towns, picking up holo tapes, listening to audio logs, scouring computers, picking up objects or searching recently dead bodies (of which there are plenty to find). There are no one human NPCs here to talk to.

With Elder Scrolls Online, I found that there was random camaraderie between actual players, particularly when you’re trying to complete a dungeon… so you implicitly team up to get the job done. So far in Fallout 76, this behavior hasn’t been true. Partly because there’s so few people playing on any one “World” and partly because everyone seems to want to do their own thing. Yes, I do find the lack of NPCs a bit disturbing in this game’s design and it is probably the single biggest overall failing of Fallout 76 because the main quest falls extremely flat as a result.

Fast Travel and Traveling

With all Fallout games, you pretty much have to hoof it everywhere on foot. I kind of get used to this in Fallout. I was hoping that Fallout 76 would introduce a horse or motorcycle or even a bicycle (these could easily be repaired). This would let you move a little faster over the terrain and get from place to place a bit faster. Nope, nothing here.

Instead, this game relies on location discovery and fast travel, like all previous games. I think it’s about time that the Fallout series added some kind of vehicle besides Power Armor. The difficulty with Fast Travel (like moving your CAMP) is that it costs caps to fast travel. The cost is dependent on how far away from you the location is. If you’re on one side of the map and you want to go to the other, you’ll likely pay 20-30 caps. If it’s the next town over, it might be 1 or 2 caps.

If caps were more plentiful in this game, this wouldn’t even be a fail. However, because caps are so hard to find in this game, using even 1 or 2 caps to fast travel one town over adds up when you do it a lot. It really shouldn’t cost anything to fast travel anywhere because that’s the perk of discovery. Yet, here we are.

There are two places on the map that are free to fast travel and the first is Vault 76 and the other is your CAMP. You’ll want to place your camp somewhere a little south of the middle of the map so you can fast travel to the lower portions of the map easily. Vault 76 fast travel lets you travel to the upper parts of the map easily. Placing your camp a little south lets you easily cover pretty much the whole map without spending a lot of caps. Once you finish with an area, you may not need to visit it, so you can move your CAMP to be more beneficial to the upper level areas. It also means you don’t have to move your CAMP often.

Eating and Diseases

Unfortunately, here’s where Fallout 76 takes a turn for the worse. Even though Fallout 4 did require drinking and eating to recover HP, you only needed to do it when your health became low.

11-26-2018_12-16-12_AM-eomehsb0In Fallout 76, the game designers took this aspect to a whole new Sims-ish level. Now, you have a separate food and water meter from the HP meter. When these begin to drop below an arbitrary threshold, your character is socked with penalties. Sometimes the penalties limit your action points, sometimes it causes you to lose HP. It all depends on how low it is and whether it’s low food or low water or both.

As for diseases, these were in Fallout 4, but they usually appeared as a result of being exposed to certain things. Basically, in Fallout 4 it was rare to contract a disease. In Fallout 76, it’s super easy and it’s compounded by the fact that you have to eat so frequently, which means more chances.

Because of the excessive amount of unnecessary eating and drinking, you’ll spend inordinate amounts of gaming time running around looking for water, food and ingredients… then cooking it so you don’t get ‘diseased’. That is, instead of actually playing, you know, the actual game for its story or combat (i.e., the parts that actually matter), you’re spending at least 30-50% of your time in search of food and water (parts that are trivial and don’t matter). This is way too much time spent on such trivial tasks. And it gets worse. Because food and water weighs so much, you’re forced to carry it around all of the time which limits how much other stuff you can carry. It’s just a pisser at just how much this whole eating, drinking and disease aspect negatively degrades the game experience. Instead of playing the quests, you’re out running around looking for ingredients to create a Disease Cure potion or you’re out looking for Brahmin or Rad roaches or Bloatflies or water to make meals.

And wait, it gets even worse. When you get to a water source, it takes ages (real world time) to dip and collect a single dirty water due to the animation and overall slowness of this process. To collect 20 or 30 of these, you’ll be standing there 3 maybe 4 minutes (maybe more) doing this activity. It also takes 2 Dirty Water containers to create 1 Boiled water along with wood. That means if you pick up 30 dirty water containers, you’ll only get 15 boiled water containers. Unrealistic. You don’t lose 50% of your water to boiling that I recall. Anyway, you’ll also need wood, so you better also pick up a bunch of wood on the way to get to the water source and pick more up on the way back.

Bethesda needs to rethink this part of the game. Everything around eating and drinking is so trivial, banal and unnecessary, yet takes an inordinate amount of time away from the gamer when they could be interacting with story elements or taking part in more important events in the game.

In fact, I’d be much happier playing this game without the constant food, water and disease interruptions. This isn’t a Sims game. It’s an RPG. It doesn’t need to mimic real world survival aspects to that trivial level. At some point you have to ask, “Does this really enhance or degrade the game experience?” If the answer is that it degrades the game experience, then it needs to be taken out… regardless of how much developer time might have been spent on it. Eating, drinking and diseases heavily degrade the gaming experience and, IMO, should be removed. Or, at least calmed the hell down. For example, require that you eat or drink once a day instead of 5-10 times per day. I’d prefer removal of the disease aspect, or at very least calm it down so that we don’t catch diseases nearly as often… and put way more Disease Cure potions in loot stashes or make these crafting materials much easier to find.

There was one stretch of gaming where I spent most of a real world day with “parasites”. Parasites make your food health line drop rapidly. So, the only thing you can do is run around gathering foods and eating or try to locate or create a Disease Cure potion. I finally decided to stop eating food and see if it would go away on its own. It did, but the first thing I accidentally ate after gave me parasites again only to start the whole thing over. I was seriously pissed by that point.

Disease Meter

Like the HP, AP, Water and Food meters, if Bethesda really plans on keeping the disease aspect at this level in Fallout 76, then the devs needs to add a disease meter. The addition of a meter would allow the gamer to see how far they are from catching a disease (whatever it is), but also how long it will be before the disease wears off. Basically, you can use the Disease Cure potion or you can wait it out. With a disease meter, you know exactly how much longer it will be before the disease is gone… and whether it’s worth spending a Cure Disease potion. Some diseases should wear off faster than others. The meter should also display the name of the disease right on the HUD.

Disease Cure Crafting

11-24-2018_6-24-31_AM-3lssgfavI’ll point out that the Disease Cure potion requires four ingredients and access to a cooking fire… so, you should build your CAMP somewhere close to the necessary ingredients and have also built a cooking area.

The ingredients you’ll need for a Disease Cure potion consist of Snaptail Reed, Bloodleaf, Firecap and Water. The difficulty is that all of the ingredients aren’t close together. However, three of them are somewhat close: Bloodleaf, Snaptail Reed and Water can be found along the banks of the river that runs through Flatwoods. The fourth ingredient, Firecap, can be found not far away in the Vault-Tec Agriculture facility just outside Flatwood. It’s in the basement of the building in some soil tables. Unfortunately, it only grows four at a time and it seems rare to find it in there. You’ll need two Firecaps to create one Disease Cure potion. This means that, if all four are present, you can create two potions and then you’ll have to wait for the Firecaps to regenerate (might be hours) or try to find them growing somewhere else. There are other locations for Firecap, but these ingredients are also subject to spoilage. Once you find the ingredients, you better be prepared to drop whatever it is you are doing and go search for Bloodleaf, Snaptail Reed and Water to make some potions before the ingredients spoil. Note that all recipes involving water require Boiled Water. This means you’ll need to boil all your water before trying to create a potion.

Food Spoilage

Here’s another design blunder. When you go pick flowers or kill some rad roaches for their meat, you’ll find that within a few in-game hours, the meat will have spoiled. In your inventory, the item will go from showing its original food name to “spoiled meat” or “spoiled vegetables” or “spoiled biofluid”.

This is a design blunder because food doesn’t spoil that rapidly even in real life. Worse, some items that spoil don’t even spoil in real life, like flowers. You can pick, dry and use flowers for long periods of time. Flowers don’t spoil. Yet, in Fallout 76, they do.

What this means is, if you go pick a bunch of flowers or plants or come across some meat, you’ll need to cook it up quickly into whatever prepared dish you have a recipe for. And, you will have to go find these recipes. Prepared foods tend to hold their longevity longer than raw foods, apparently. However, eventually even these prepared foods will spoil. So, if you find meat, expect cook it and eat it quickly.

If you eat spoiled food, you’re going to get a disease… which means you’re going to be running around looking for ingredients to make the Disease Cure potion rather than playing the quests. Yet another Bethesda FAIL.

Spoilage Meter

If Bethesda wants to keep this food spoilage idea in the game, then they need to add a small spoilage meter next to or below the food item in the inventory. I realize there’s a CND meter in this area that may act as the spoilage meter, but I’d prefer this be relabled to SPL instead of CND if it means spoilage. This meter will show just how long it will be before each food item spoils. This means you can better plan which foods or ingredients to eat or use first. If it’s a ganged up item and there are multiples each with different spoilage times, then either normalize all of the ganged up items to the same spoilage time or represent the item that is the quickest to spoil in the meter and use that item first from the multiples.

Sleeping

11-24-2018_6-24-31_AM-bdti42iwEven sleeping in this game isn’t without peril. So, you think you’re going to grab a few quick ZZZs at some random bed in a house. But, then you hop in and almost immediately you’re diseased. I shake my head at this. The only bed you can trust (maybe) is the bed you build in your C.A.M.P. This may be limited to bedrolls on the ground, but don’t count on that throughout the game.

C.A.M.P.

11-24-2018_1-30-50_AM-wfg3dg31I will say that CAMP isn’t a 100% fail, but it’s close primarily because it’s mostly pointless. The fact that you can carry it around with you and drop it wherever you want is an improvement over stationary settlements in Fallout 4. This portability is not enough to call this idea a full win.

As you exit Vault 76, you’re given a number of supplies to help rebuild the wasteland. One of these is the CAMP device. It is a small camping gadget that you can deploy that lets you build a settlement within a radius of wherever you place it. You can’t place it everywhere, but there are plenty of ground locations that allow placement.

Once you place it somewhere, it becomes very much like the building of a settlement in Fallout 4. Instead of being a fixed location like the settlements, CAMP is portable. While the idea of CAMP is okay, it’s more or less a pointless exercise… other than giving you convenient crafting tables and it adds a free fast travel point to wherever you place it, these are its two primary reasons to exist… and that’s not nearly enough. Because the map is fairly sprawling, this portability only helps a tiny bit in terms of travel.

Here’s where the CAMP idea breaks down (which is why it’s under this FAIL heading). Wherever you first drop your CAMP is free. If you want to move your CAMP to a new location, you’ll have to pay caps to do this. If you want to move it a second time, it’s going to cost you progressively more caps each time. To move your CAMP, you’re going to pay caps. Why, Bethesda, why? You encouraged us to move our CAMP frequently, yet you’re going to take more and more hard-to-find caps each time? FAIL!

Even though the portability aspect of CAMP is a fail, setting up a camp lets you build crafting tables and this is much needed because of the food and water problem. In this game there are 6 crafting table types: Cooking, Armor, Weapons, Tinkerer, Power Armor and Chemistry tables. When you build a camp, you need to build at least one of these tables so you can easily and quickly scrap the junk you find into components. You’ll need the component parts to craft new items and mods and to reduce your junk weight. However, I’d recommend building the full complement of crafting tables so you can easily do everything in one place. You will need to look for plans for some of them.

I’d even recommend putting the crafting tables all inside of the structure you build so that the structure is easily portable. The only thing you can’t build inside is a water well. But, you will want a water well so you can easily get to a water source and create boiled water… which critical in this game.

Caps, Stimpaks, Disease Cure, etc

Here’s another place where Fallout 76 has lost it. Caps (and certain crafting resources) are extremely hard to come by. While there are some sellers where you can sell whatever you happen to find, they’ll only give you 1 or 2 caps no matter what the item is. I’d recommend doing this with random junk you happen to find around the seller. Unfortunately, many other players have caught on to this idea. Because these robots only carry like 200-300 caps, you can quickly drain them of caps. I’ll talk about the multiplayer aspect of this problem below. The good thing is that they’ll buy practically anything. The bad thing is that you’ll only get 1-2 caps for nearly everything including Stimpaks, which are equally as hard to find as caps. It means you need to run around locating tons of junk to sell to these dealers before you can drain their caps.

Bugs, Glitches, Bugs and even more Bugs

11-24-2018_6-44-06_AM-r1nxyocxThis game is chock full of bugs. From the bugs that crash the entire game client to bugs that kick you out of the server to quest bugs that prevent you from finishing the quest to floating rocks to flashing textures on robots to event bugs that prevent the event from working to bugs that prevent you from even playing the game at all. They’re all here.

Here’s a sample of texture glitching:


I can’t imagine that this is a fully ready game. For me, it’s still feels very much like a beta version. In fact, it feels very much like Elder Scrolls Online when it was first released. ESO was bug city. Well, Fallout 76 feels very much this same way. Certainly, there are odd cosmetic problems like floating rocks and invisible structures.

11-24-2018_1-30-32_AM-hsg2w0qeHowever, some people have experienced showstopper bugs related to the Power Armor that prevent them from doing anything in the game. Basically, they can’t exit the power armor, they can’t use the power armor and they can’t do anything else including play the game. Bethesda has what they think is a workaround, but apparently it doesn’t always work. Why is it that every game seems to have floating rocks?

Bethesda has a lot of work ahead of them to get this game to a better usability. The first thing I would do is fix the major bugs followed by majorly reducing the eating and disease problems. The latter problems only serve to heavily detract from the game and prevent the gamer from making story progress. That’s a fail any way you slice it.

Inventory, Carry Weight and Photo Gallery

Carry Weight is a problem in every Bethesda game. You’re always given a pittance allotment of weight that you can carry starting at around 120-150. This problem is actually compounded by bad design in Fallout 76. By level 15, I’m able to carry 190… which is not more than what the game gives you from the start. Granted, I haven’t used all of my perks to level up Strength, so I can’t tell you how high it would be if I had done this. I wanted a good mix of perks on my character… particularly the Lead Belly perk, which avoids much of the radiation problems in the game. However, even though I have worked to get Lead Belly to level 3 (maxed out), I found that this perk is limited by the disease factor. Meaning, even though you take no radiation damage by eating food, you can’t willy nilly eat random food because you can still get a disease. You must cook it all first. If there was a perk that made you 100% disease resistant, I’d most certainly level that one up too.

The photo gallery is limited to 50 pictures, way too few. When you fill it up, you have to stop whatever it is you’re doing and spend time jumping into the Photo Gallery area to delete some. It’s such a pain in the butt and so unnecessary. In reality, don’t even save them into an in-game gallery. Use the Xbox captures area, tag them there and use them in-game from there. Problem solved as the Xbox Gallery is limited only by system storage.

Multiplayer

Personally, I’d call multiplayer in this game mostly a fail which is ironic considering Fallout 76’s claim to fame is its multiplayer aspects. Some of this is because of the game design and some of it’s because of the players. Together, the multiplayer part of this game doesn’t work well and it’s actually worse than the multiplayer in Elder Scrolls Online.

Resource Collecting

The first problem is with collecting resources. Because resources are finite (and some are exceedingly scarce), any player who comes along before you and takes the resources means it won’t be there when you get there. If you need Firecaps and there are only two in the building and another player swept through the location 5 minutes before you, nothing will be there for you to find. This makes playing this game unnecessarily challenging.

Resources should remain independent in each player’s game. This means if I enter a building looking for Firecaps, they should always be there in my game and they should be there in everyone else’s game. These resources should be unique and independent of the multiplayer part. I don’t want to have to wait in-game hours for something to respawn simply because another player swept through and took it. That’s entirely a waste of my time. For this reason, I deem this problem a multiplayer fail.

Pacifist Mode

The second problem is with Pacifist mode. While I cannot accidentally hurt another player with this mode set to on, another player can come and kill my player. No! Yet another fail. Like Grand Theft Auto, pacifist mode should disable not only my ability to hurt other players, it should disable their ability to hurt me. If I want to quest the wasteland without fear of being killed by another player, that should be my choice. There are already enough enemies in this landscape without having to watch my butt around other players… particularly when a Level 63 player comes after my Level 15 player. No. Just. No.

Microphone Chat

Here’s a third problem. Because Microsoft makes it so difficult to locate a cheap compatible microphone + headset to use on the Xbox One, I find very few people using them when playing Fallout 76 on the Xbox One. Instead, people rely on emotes to convey limited information. While the emotes are fun and all, I don’t know why people can’t go get a cheap $9.99 set of Heydey compatible earbuds at Target so they can chat with other players. Even these $4.99 Heydey earbuds with mic might work. If not, Target’s return policy works well, so you can always return them.

Also, when you’re in first person view, you cannot see if your microphone is working. When in third person, there’s a small speaker icon that appears over the head of the player speaking, even yourself. If you’re in first person, this icon does not appear on the HUD.

Settlements and Workshops

11-24-2018_1-30-29_AM-2fnvsquwHere’s the fourth problem. This is a two problems in one, actually. In Fallout 4, settlements were designed to offer refuge and safety for NPCs whom you recruit to the settlement. Unfortunately, because this game seems entirely devoid of NPCs, there’s no one to recruit into your CAMP. Thus, the point in the having a camp in Fallout 76 is lost on Bethesda. Other than having a fast travelable location on the map and a convenient location to craft, there’s really no other reason to have a CAMP. You can invite other players into the camp, but other than interacting with the crafting tables and the ‘My Stash’ boxes, there’s little reason to visit someone else’s camp. It’s not like you could create a Ghoul infested building with full quests attached.

The second half of this problem is when taking over found workshops. In Fallout 4, when you find a workshop, you can establish a settlement there. In Fallout 76, again this is lost on Bethesda and there’s no reason or incentive to claim them. Because there are no NPC’s in the game, the only reason to claim a workshop is to start a multiplayer PvP war. What’s the point in that? Deathmatch went out with Halo 3. Trying to revive this play style in Fallout is, well, antiquated. Can’t we think up better ways to get players to team up in multiplayer mode?

If you do decide to take over a workshop, you’re expected to “fix it up” with your own caps and your own resources. When you do find an unowned workshop, they’re so run down, you’ll have to deplete nearly all of your resources not only fixing the place, but adding defenses. The game also only gives you about 15 minutes to fix it up fully and place defenses. There’s just no way to not only fix up the entire place, but build that amount of defenses in 15 minutes, Bethesda. Bah… FAIL!

Worse, even if you do manage to set up defenses and fix up the workshop, you’ll lose it all after you sign out of the game. Yep, your resources and caps… gone forever. So then, what’s the incentive here? If I’m going to spend nearly my entire inventory I’ve collected over many days in one location and then lose it in a few hours later, why? Why would I ever do that? No, if I’m going to claim a workshop, I better be able to own it for as long as I want or until some other faction of players takes it away from me. Let ownership rule so long as the player signs in at least once every 30 days. If the player fails to sign in for 30 days, then the workshop reverts to unowned.

Considering how unstable the Xbox One client is and how often it randomly crashes, there’s no way I’d ever consider investing in building and defending a workshop. Until Bethesda can get the bugs ironed out of the game clients, there’s no incentive for me to even consider attempting to own a workshop. Why bother with it anyway? It’s not like you can invite settlers into it to help man and defend it.

Also, why not let groups own a workshop together? If a group of folks get together and spends their resources to fix up the place, then it should be jointly owned. This means that even if the first person to establish ownership disappears, the property should revert to the next owner in the group list until there are no more people listed who can own it. A single day’s ownership is worthless. Perpetual ownership until the player or team forfeits the property or it is taken over by a new faction is the way to handle these workshops.

Not only does perpetual ownership encourage owning and fixing up a workshop, it encourages group ownership to prevent the workshop from being lost if a player suddenly disappears. Yet, that’s where we are today. If the first owner disappears and logs out, the property becomes unowned. Bethesda has a lot of redevelopment ahead. Yet another fail.

Worst case, do it like Cyrodiil’s campaigns. Let people own workshops for 30 or 45 days. At the end of the campaign, all ownerships are revoked and people will have to reclaim their workshop if they want it for the next campaign round. Owning a workshop for 24 hours only? This is stupid.

Power Armor

The fifth problem is the power armor. Not only are there bugs around using this armor, some of these bugs are show stoppers. Besides the bugs, the armor is just not that useful in this game. It does add a small amount of extra carrying power, but at the price of carrying around a 10 weight power armor suit + the weight of each armor suit piece in your inventory until you need it. It’s not like we’re given a ton of extra carrying capacity to begin with, but this? Really?

If we’re trying to be realistic with the survival eating and drinking, how is it then possible to carry an entire suit of power armor on your person? This is why it’s a fail. You shouldn’t be able to carry around power armor at all. You’re either in it or you’re out of it. If you want to use it, like Fallout 4, you have to go get it having parked it at a Power Armor crafting station. Carrying it around with you is as stupid as the horse that appears and disappears in Elder Scrolls Online. It’s a stupidly unrealistic addition that makes as much sense in Fallout 76 as eating and drinking every few minutes.

Additionally, the Power Armor has no light. If you’re in it and press the light button, nothing happens. No light. At first I thought it was that there was no armor on the suit, but no. It’s a bug with the armor. Basically, the usefulness of wearing power armor comes down to carrying a bit more so you can stop being over-encumbered which allows you to fast travel. That’s the only reason to carry around an extra 10 weight of junk in the inventory. I frankly carry the base suit only with no armor pieces. It’s well enough to lift the over-encumbered problem and let me fast travel. I don’t need it for combat, so that point is useless.

The secondary trouble I’ve found with wearing power armor is that this seems to be an implicit deathmatch challenge signal to other players. If you’re in power armor, they seem to come after you and kill you… moreso than if you’re not wearing it. I’m not sure what’s going on here, but there seems to be some kind of unwritten rule that wearing power armor = “come kill me”. I don’t like this and so I rarely wear power armor because 1) I don’t want to trip the get stuck bug and 2) I don’t want to constantly fight other players. So, I rarely wear Power Armor so I can mostly quest in peace (such that questing is in this game).

Missing Elements

The final problem is what’s not here. In ESO, there was a Risk based board game scenario where factions could challenge each other by taking over each other’s territory. While I didn’t agree with the ESO implementation of PvP in Cyrodiil, it at least encouraged people to work towards maintaining their castles. Unfortunately, it had the side effect of spending each person’s money and resources to fix up the castles during and after battle. I’d have preferred if the castles could have made their own money and their own resources that could be used against rebuilding rather than forcing the player to dip into their own inventory.

Unfortunately, Fallout 76 has no such PvP element at all… at least that I’ve found. Granted, I haven’t explored the entire map yet. So, there might be other “different” PvP areas I’ve yet to uncover. I doubt it, though.


💋 The Beautiful

This section is devoted to what parts I liked most about Fallout 76. First and foremost, the landscape and the daytime lighting quality is amazing, particularly dawn and dusk. The sun ray aspect is probably the best part of this game and it’s done amazingly well… I’d say that it’s much better than the sun’s rays in Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. Let’s take a look at some of these images. They’re just stunning against the apocalyptic ruins. Here’s a quick slideshow of some of these:

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Unfortunately, the night lighting isn’t quite so spectacular, but it still provides some stunning visuals nonetheless:

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With that said, I’m also equally disappointed with the far too many of the low res 3D models and the low res image textures within the game. I know this is supposed to be the Beautiful section, but I have to cover both sides, like I did under the Fails area. Let’s look at a few of the problems with this game’s models and textures:

The above images illustrate how badly the texture mapping can go wrong in this game. In fact, even the tree leaves and ground plants are pretty much flat planes. When you get close to an object, the reality and illusion of it breaks down rapidly. For example, the white flowers above show the edges of the texture map when illuminated by the Pip Boy. You can’t see the lines in the thumbnail, but if you look at this image full size and zoom in a little, you can see these thin edge lines. It’s very prominent when playing the game.

This lack of resolution even includes the character models themselves. Up close and personal on the characters, you’ll see the squared off edges of arms and legs of the character model rather than being smoothed out. I understand why they don’t include 3D model smoothing in games as it takes more CPU power. I’m hoping that this will be available on the PS5 and Xbox Next. 3D model edge smoothing would help the character models look far more realistic.

Pip Boy

11-25-2018_11-32-23_PM-n5eaph0cThe Pip Boy, while not much different than Fallout 4, performs its function quite well here. I will say that the 3D model could do with a bit of work, particularly the orange lit button that seems too low res. I’d also prefer to have the map in the Pip Boy rather than having to pop into a separate screen. It made it so much more handy to get to and fast travel via the map when using the Pip Boy. It was also much more immersive than having a separate and pretty colored map. It’s fine if they want to keep the nice pretty colored map, but having a map in the Pip Boy prevents the need of getting out of the Pip Boy to move move to a different screen. It’s all about time savings and this change would help a lot.

Here’s a little trick you can do with the Pip Boy that maybe you didn’t know. You can use the right stick and move the Pip Boy around, like so to get a better look at it:

If you really dislike using the Pip-Boy, there are two alternatives: 1) Hop into Power Armor. It has its own separate heads-up display. 2) If you don’t have Power Armor handy, you can press and hold the two squares (left button below the Xbox button) until it changes. It will give you a HUD that looks like so:

11-26-2018_12-16-12_AM-eomehsb0

This HUD performs all of the same functionality as the Pip Boy using a different color and without the distraction of it. To switch back, press and hold the two-square button again and the Pip Boy will return. Personally, I prefer the Pip Boy, but I’d like to change the screen color from green to something else. I remember you could do that in earlier Fallout games.


🛑 The Butt Ugly

Daytime and Nighttime

Day and night in this game is weird. It seems that daytime blows by quickly, yet night seems to drone on forever. It could be that there are more nighttime hours than there are daytime hours in the game. This is, frankly, unwanted. I’d prefer to choose day or night and let it stay that way until I change it. Since the clock is mostly unnecessary, each player should be able to choose the time of day setting they would prefer (day, night, dawn or dusk). Let the clock roll by, but let me keep my visuals on daytime. Rainstorms and Radiation storms can still roll through, but let my game remain on my visual choice.

Enemies and Levels

Simultaneously, enemies are both weak and strong at the same time. For example, I’ve run into level 1 Molerats that take at least two shots to kill and my character is level 15. How is that possible? One shot should kill a level 1 molerat. I’ve also run into level 33 enemies who I’ve been able to kill in 5-6 shots. The level system is broken. I shouldn’t even be able to come close to killing a level 33 enemy at level 15… or at least, it should take so many shots that I’d run out of bullets before I finished.

Aiming, Misfires and Collision Detection

This game has some of the worst collision detection I’ve seen in a game of this caliber. When the enemy is up close making hits on me, I can’t even seem to make a point blank shot with a gun… and believe me, I’ve tried. I know that the bullets should be connecting, but the game doesn’t register it. Not only have you lost the ammo, but you’ve wasted health points because the enemy is hitting you. Even worse is that some enemies constantly move around you. If you’re trying to shoot them, they’ll intentionally run behind you… even animals. This AI behavior is stupid and it means you’ll be constantly fumbling to locate them somewhere in your camera view. Combat is already difficult enough without having to constantly swivel to find them

On the flip side, I’ve used my .44 Somerset Special sniper pistol and hit enemies at a distance in the head when I know my aim was way off. I don’t understand this discrepancy in how weapons work here. This problem is even true of even shotguns which are known to have a wide dispersal pattern. Meaning, if there is a ghoul inches from you in Fallout 76, the chance of actually making a hit is very low unless you have exactly perfect aim… when, in fact, the dispersal pattern of an actual shotgun at that range would decimate an enemy as long as it’s aimed in the general direction. Still, in this game when enemies are up close, there’s an unnecessarily high chance of missing. When they’re far away, somehow you can connect shots even when you’re aiming in the ‘general direction’. This is very, very ugly for a shooter.

Instead, up close shooting should be much more accurate than distance shooting. Bethesda’s devs somehow got this one backwards in Fallout 76.

Inventory Storage Maximums

The inventory system on this game is what you’d expect, only worse. Unfortunately, Bethesda keeps adding stupid after stupid into these games. The weights you can carry are way too low for what’s needed to actually play this game. This poorly conceived idea compounds to make a bad situation worse. Once you fill your character’s personal inventory and your stash inventory, you have no other place to store anything. You are forced to drop stuff. You have no choice.

In previous single player games like Skyrim and Fallout 4, you could always store excess stuff in chests or drawers or practically anywhere and go get it whenever you need it. You can’t do that here. Once you’ve filled up your inventory, you’re screwed and there’s nothing you can do about it. As you can see from this video, the way the Stash Box is implemented simply doesn’t work…

Sweep System

Why can’t you drop stuff? This game is constantly sweeping dropped items. The sweep system is so bad and so aggressive that it will sweep away even recently killed enemies before walking over to them to get their loot. It’s particularly bad if you’re a sniper. If you snipe your prey from a distance, don’t expect anything to be there when you arrive. I’ve had so much kill loot stolen from me by the sweep system, I should have stopped playing then. But, I kept toughing it out hoping it would get better. It doesn’t.

This is the fundamental blocker that has made me stop playing. Being over-encumbered is a problem, but nothing’s worse than not being able to drop your stuff off easily and remove that problem or potentially lose it after a character death because of the dropped loot.

Note that the My Stash location holds a maximum weight of 400 … well, actually 399. Once you reach that level, it won’t let you store more. I tire of playing these systems which provide arbitrarily low limits when you really need at least 3 times as much storage space. This is the reason this one falls under The Butt Ugly.

Dropped Loot and Respawning

Upon your character’s eventual death in the wasteland, you will be allowed to respawn. When you do, the map gets a death marker and your character is respawned to the nearest chosen spawn point.

The fail here, and boy is it EVER a fail, is the fact that the game drops loot when you die. What’s the point in this dropping loot? It doesn’t make the game more challenging, it simply makes it a hassle. I absolutely and totally hate this design that’s now being implemented in so many games. Whomever thought that the death marker and dropping your loot upon death was a great idea should be walked to the door after being summarily fired. This is not a design that anyone wants.

Worse, it hangs your loot out to dry whenever you’re out questing. If you’re playing a game that doesn’t allow you to store your items, then maybe it might have a point to exist. Since ALL Bethesda RPGs allow you to store stuff in containers, there’s no point in dropping loot upon death. This just encourages you not to carry loot with you and continually go and drop it off.

The danger with dropped loot is compounded by Bethesda’s absolute crap storage maximums. When you’ve reached the storage maximums of the stash box and of your character, you have to being carrying more stuff with you as you can at least carry over-encumbered. The stash box can’t accept anything else once full.

This means that if actually want to go out questing, you have to carry a shit ton of stuff with you that could potentially be lost under bug conditions (as I’ve described above). It means your loot is being hung out to dry every time you go out questing.

I really don’t want to have to fight with a game’s systems over playing the quests. This game is already cumbersome enough to when attempting to apply stimpaks or change weapons while in battle. Having to fight with stupid bugs that lose stash items is just insane… which is why I’m done with playing this disaster of a game.

Changing Weapons and VATs

Because this is an online game, there is no such thing as pause. This means that while you’re changing your weapon, the enemy is hammering on you. Same for trying to apply Stimpaks or eat food to increase HP. Basically, it’s almost impossible to change weapons, eat food or apply medicine when you’re in combat. In the standalone games, the game pauses while you go into the Pip Boy. It doesn’t work that way here.

Yes, there is a weapon wheel, but it’s just as cumbersome to use as going into the Pip Boy. Because there’s like 15 slots, trying to target just one of the slots perfectly is a challenge, particularly when you’re trying to battle fast moving Ghouls. This part is really trying and needs a drastic redesign by Bethesda. It needs not only a simpler system to get to the most used weapons, it needs a faster way to get to them without blocking the screen. While this is a fail, it’s incredibly butt ugly.

CAMPs randomly disappear

While I believe this to be a current bug which may get resolved in a later version, I have found my CAMP has disappeared twice in the time I’ve been playing. The first time I’d built hillside camp with stilts. It was designed specifically for that hillside. After my camp disappeared, I quickly realized that I wouldn’t be able to build custom designed hillside hideouts as it’s almost impossible to locate that exact terrain to place the hideout in the same position.

Instead, I’ve opted to create a small cabin that can sit on practically any terrain. It means that it’s easily portable and can be dropped almost anywhere that’s reasonably flat. This helped because my CAMP disappeared a second time and I had to relocate it. Having this small self-contained shack made it easy to rebuild. I’m sure it will disappear again. When your CAMP disappears, the game doesn’t charge you to place it down again. It’s not considered ‘moving’ the CAMP, so there’s no fee involved.

However, the hassle of having to move CAMP around and the fact that it disappears is a highly ugly experience overall. Bethesda is aware that CAMPs are disappearing, but they’ve done nothing yet to solve the problem. Perhaps they can solve this in a later update.

The benefit is that if you want to move your CAMP and you don’t want to pay, this bug would let you move your CAMP somewhere else for free. You just have to wait for the bug to be triggered and have your CAMP disappear from the map.

Game Worlds

Finally, I should mention a miscalculated design decision that Bethesda engineers made for Fallout 76 that has contributed to the failure of this game. When you log into the Fallout 76 world, you are placed onto a individual server. It seems Bethesda’s engineering team made a fateful decision to limit each “World” to a maximum of 24 player slots. It also seems that a “World” is technically a server located in some datacenter. While I understand the need to help scale a game may involve using many servers, it seems the engineers decided to limit the number of players on each server to improve the gaming experience, but at the same time, this design choice limits multiplayer interactions.

This design decision has only served to make the game seem smaller than it is. There are times when I’ve been in some “Worlds” where there might be 4 or 5 other people online. Basically, the server is empty and thus, the game seems empty.

This is butt ugly because it causes two problems. The first problem is that in a game that should be teaming with multiplayer folks, you might only see and interact with only a handful of other players ever. You also don’t know how many people are on other “World” servers in total or whether a friend is on another server. Secondarily, this server boundary problem serves to make it impossible at times to put teams together. There was a time when one person on my team couldn’t get back onto the “World” server because it was full with 24 people. We all had to interrupt our gameplay, drop off of that world server, team up at the main menu, then reload the game by following one of the team into a new “World” server. A tedious hassle, at best. Any situations like these that serve to interrupt playing the game are not only a fail, but an extremely bad design decision. The game should seamlessly handle these issues without any interactions on the part of the player.

The engineers should have also designed the “World” system to allow cross play between “World” servers so that seeing people on the other servers is a seamless experience. This would drastically improve the game showing a teaming world of multiplayers rather than seeing no more than 24 people online. In a game where it is entirely devoid of NPCs, limiting the “World” servers to 24 people only serves to make the game seem even more barren and lifeless. Vault 76 then becomes less about hope of repopulation and more about the deaths of the Vault 76’s dwellers.

Vault 76 and Reclamation Day

I don’t even get the logic of Reclamation day. Unless the vault was running out of provisions to support its inhabitants (possible, but not explained), opening the door to let everyone out was a bad Overseer decision. It would have been better to send out a small scouting party to determine the situation “outside”, then report back. That’s the only logical thing to do before opening the door for everyone. If the scouting party didn’t report in at all or reported in unfavorably, then why open the door? I’m not sure what the Overseer was thinking by opening Vault 76 at that moment in time. Clearly, it was a bad decision as pointed out via the multitudes of holo tapes and the clear world devastation that the Vault 76 inhabitants were ill prepared to handle. Why would you intentionally sacrifice the safety of the vault’s inhabitants to such a hostile world? The story starts off badly and doesn’t get any better, unfortunately.


🚌 Missed Opportunities

With the introduction of Fallout 76, I was expecting a whole lot more to this game, particularly the multiplayer portions and settlement building. For example, with the idea of settlements and settlers, comes the idea of letting players settle and run businesses in the wasteland. Instead of roaming around the wasteland, they could man businesses and buy and sell merchandise they create or find. If the player wants to explore, a robot could step in and man the store with whatever merchandise is there. When the player wants to man the booth personally, they can step in and do so. This would allow for actual haggling in prices between players.

There’s also the idea of building a community. Letting players group together to create structures for settling and for extended quests. The settlements could even grow into thriving cities. That’s the point of what Vault 76’s opening meant… to rebuild. This means that players can not only build residential and business structures, but also build structures that might contain enemies including containers with loot and various other things. It would also let players create water treatment plants to filter out the radiation, set up farms for cultivating crops, building power systems and rebuilding manufacturing to allow for building of Power Armor, cars, and trucks to bring the modern world back.

Letting the players build extensions to the world to make the world more dynamic should be the plan of any multiplayer world. Of course, when just starting out in a new game, you don’t want low level players taking advantage of the modern conveniences and improvements… yet. So, they should be restricted from seeing and participating in these activities until they have either leveled up sufficiently or completed the main quest.

Yet, here we are. Fallout 76 is just a mere shell of what it could have been.


👎 Overall

As it is now, this game gets a thumbs down from me with a rating of 2 stars out of 10. I classify it as a disaster worse than the nukes that decimated West Virginia in this game. While the daytime wasteland is very pretty to look at, there’s so little to see and do that Fallout 76 really feels mostly incomplete. The lack of NPCs makes the whole game seem barren and lifeless. The quests are average, but it doesn’t really make me think that this game is heading in any direction like Fallout 4. Like Elder Scrolls Online, the whole experience feels hollow and without a point. Instead, it seems like you are asked to chase information about already dead Vault 76 characters via holo tapes and computer logs. You never seem to run into any other actual NPC characters from Vault 76 other than multiplayer characters whom are “just there”, but don’t play a part in the narrative.

Fallout 4 did at least have a cohesive story to tell. Fallout 76 feels like a pale imitation of Fallout 4, but doesn’t have the meat or the core.

What’s left then is the main quest line and so far that’s simply chasing holo tape after holo tape or logging into a computer to read notes on a computer screen… and you don’t even need to read them to get quest credit. These audio logs and computer screen entries are, well, uninteresting. Other than the enemies you have to kill to find or get to these quest items, the rest are mostly boring exercises with nothing to engage the gamer into wanting to progress.

This is all made worse by the fact that the game is chock full of bugs and glitches. The overly unnecessary eating, drinking and getting diseases simply interrupts and detracts from questing. The lack of a well designed PvP system, including the poorly designed unowned workshop system, simply makes everything seem pointless. The game’s entire reason to exist is for poignant multiplayer PvP, but then fails to even deliver on that. The biggest event to tackle is killing a Scorchbeast, but even the fun of that deflates once you’ve done it and all you receive at the end is basically nothing or some Scorchbeast meat, you really begin to sense just how hollow and tedious this game really is.

The primary thing I’ve found to hold my interest is scavenging. Even then, that’s actually limited because you find the same things over and over in each container. So then it becomes about dismantling these into component parts for crafting mods and such. Basically, scavenging becomes repetitive fairly quickly. This situation is then made worse by the extremely limited inventory storage amount that you’re given, into which you can store these component items. Once your storage space fills up, the game is pretty much over. There’s really no point in playing once you’re constantly over-encumbered.

What I recommend is the following. Wait 6 months to purchase this game. After 6 months or more of patching, this game might become more playable and usable. This same problem occurred with Elder Scrolls Online. Only time will tell. As it is now, unless you like playing these simplistic and poorly designed thin multiplayer games, you should steer clear and try playing this one 6 months from now, at the earliest. It’s definitely worth giving Fallout 76’s developers plenty of time to attempt to right this listing ship and improve the play value of this game in the process.

I’ve lowered my score from 3.5 to 2 stars because this game is far too much trouble than it’s worth. The problem is with the bugs and glitches. For example, here’s several bugs and glitches in a row that compounded into losing all of my “junk” inventory on my character… none of it was my fault in playing the game poorly and was entirely responsible by poor game design and bugs.

I’m currently at level 27. During combat, game lagged for about 5-10 seconds. It was logn enough for a low level scorched to kill my character. The controls didn’t respond at all during that 5-10 seconds. I couldn’t move or shoot or do anything. My health line before the glitching was at least 75%. The glitching allowed more than that scorched’s fair share of hits on my character (which, of course, I couldn’t see or respond to). After the game unlagged and showed my character dead, I respawned to the same location and within 15 seconds of respawning, the entire game hung and crashed on the Xbox with the signature sound looping. It was not enough time for me to go collect my dropped loot (which I don’t believe in dropped loot in games anyway). I believe this is a stupid tactic that doesn’t belong in any games.

After the game restarted, my dropped loot was gone as was my last death marker. All of my “junk” was lost and I had a lot of stuff on me important to repairing items. Items I couldn’t stash because my stash box is entirely full. At this point, I’ve had it with Fallout 76 and I killed the game. I won’t be playing Fallout 76 anymore and with that, I dropped this score to 2 stars out of 10. It’s a pointless and worthless piece of drek from Bethesda that you’d do best to avoid.

Parental Advice

This game is designed as a multiplayer (MMORPG) game. Because of the continuous multiplayer aspect, there is no way to fully rate what your child might be exposed to or with whom they might come into contact. Basically, use your best judgement if considering this game purchase as a gift for a child. As for the themes in this game, they are mostly adult themes. Children too young may not understand the themes contained in Fallout 76.

Requirements

This game requires an always-on and relatively fast (i.e., broadband) Internet connection to function. If you don’t have always-on Internet, you will not be able to play this game.

Updates to this game usually end up in the range of 30GB to 50GB per update. These updates appear at least every few weeks and may come more frequently as Bethesda attempts to squash bugs during the first few months after release. If your Internet connection is metered and/or you only have a small allotment of data, you might want to steer clear of buying this game. Also, once an update has been released, you cannot play the game until you have fully downloaded and installed the latest update.

💯 Score

Graphics: 7 out of 10
Audio: 8 out of 10
Gameplay: 2 out of 10 (too much dependence on eating and drinking)
Questing: 4 out of 10
Settling: 4 out of 10

Overall: 2 out of 10 (Nothing new to see here, just not unique enough, too many bugs)

↩︎

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How much data does it take to update my PS4 or Xbox One or Switch?

Posted in computers, updates, video game console by commorancy on May 10, 2018

It seems this is a common question regarding the most recent gaming consoles. Let’s explore.

Reasons?

  • If the reason you are asking this question is because you’re concerned with data usage on your Internet connection or if your connection is very slow, you’ll find that this answer will likely not satisfy you. However, please keep reading.
  • If the reason you are asking this question is because you want to predict the amount of data more precisely, then skip down to the ‘Offline Updates’ section below.
  • If the reason you are asking this question is because you’re simply curious, then please keep reading.

Xbox One, PS4 and Switch Update sizes

The PS4, Xbox One and Switch periodically patch and update their console operating systems for maximum performance, to squash bugs and to improve features. However, this process is unpredictable and can cause folks who are on metered Internet connections no end of frustration.

How much data will it need to update?

There is no way to know … let’s pause to soak this in …

How much data is needed is entirely dependent on how recently you’ve upgraded your console. For example, if you’ve kept your console up to date all along the way, the next update will only be sized whatever the newest update is. With that said, there’s no way to gauge even that size in advance. Not Microsoft, not Sony and not Nintendo publish their update sizes in advance. They are the size they are. If it fixes only a small set of things, it could be 50-100 megabytes. If it’s a full blown point release (5.0 to 5.1), it could be several gigabytes in size. If it’s a smaller release, it could be 1GB.

If your console is way out of date (i.e., if you last turned it on 6 months ago), your console will have some catching up to do. This means that your update may be larger than someone who updates their console every new update. This means that if the base update is 1GB, you might have another 1GB of catch up before the newest update can be applied. This catch-up update system applies primarily to the Xbox One and not to the PS4 or Switch.

Xbox One vs PS4 vs Switch Update Conventions

Sony and Nintendo both choose a bit more of an one-size-fits-all update process when compared to Microsoft. Because of this, we’ll discuss the Xbox One first. Since the Xbox One is based, in part, on Windows 10, it follows the same update conventions as Windows 10. However, because the Xbox One also uses other embedded OSes to drive other parts of the console, those pieces may also require separate updates of varying sizes. This means that for the Xbox One to update, it has a process that scans the system for currently installed software versions, then proceeds to download everything needed to bring all of those components up to date.

Sony and Nintendo, on the other hand, don’t seem to follow this same convention. Instead, the Switch and PS4 typically offer only point-release updates. This means that everyone gets the same update at the same time in one big package. In this way, it’s more like an iPhone update.

For full point-release updates, the Xbox One also works this same way. For interim updates, it all depends on what Microsoft chooses to send out compared to what’s already on your Xbox One. This means that the Xbox One can update more frequently than the PS4 by keeping underlying individual components updated more frequently if they so choose. This is why the Xbox One can offer weekly updates where the PS4 and the Switch typically offer only quarterly or, at least, much less frequent updates.

Size of Updates

If you want to know the size of a specific update, you have to begin the update process. This works the same on the PS4, the Xbox One or the Switch. This means you have to kick off the update. Once you do this, the download progress bar will show you the size of the download. This is the only way to know how big the update is directly on the console.

However, both the PS4 and the Xbox One allow you to download your updates manually via a web browser (PC or Mac). You can then format a memory stick, copy the files to USB and restart the console in a specific way to apply the updates. This manual process still requires you to download the updates in full and, thus, uses the same bandwidth as performing this action on the console. This process requires you to also have a sufficiently sized and properly formatted USB memory stick. For updating the PS4, the memory stick must be formatted exFAT or FAT32. For updating the Xbox One, it must be formatted NTFS. The Nintendo Switch doesn’t provide offline updates.

Cancelling Updates in Progress

The Xbox One allows you to cancel the current system update in progress by unplugging the lan and/or disconnecting WiFi. Then turning off the console. When the console starts up without networking, you can continue to play games on your console, but you will not be able to use Xbox Live because of the lack of networking.

Once you plug the network back in, the system will again attempt to update. Or, you can perform an offline update with the Xbox One console offline. See Offline Updates just below.

You can also stop the PS4 download process by going to Notifications, selecting the download, press the X button and select ‘Cancel and Delete’ or ‘Pause’. Note, this feature is available on 5.x PS4 version. If your PS4 version is super old, you may not have this option in the Notifications area. You will also need to go into settings (Xbox One or PS4) and disable automatic updates otherwise it could download these without you seeing it.

How to disable automatic updates:

With that said, you cannot stop system updates on the Nintendo Switch once they have begun. Nintendo’s downloads are usually relatively small anyway. Trying to catch them in progress and stop them may be near impossible. It’s easier to follow the guides above and prevent them from auto-downloading.

Also note, any of the consoles may still warn you that an update is available and prompt you to update your console even if you have disabled automatic software downloads.

*This setting on the Nintendo Switch may exclude firmware updates, your mileage may vary.

Offline Updates

Xbox One

The Xbox One allows you to update your system offline using a Windows PC. This type of update is not easily possible with a Mac. Mac computers don’t natively support formatting or reading NTFS properly, but there are tools you can use (Tuxera NTFS for Mac).

To use the Offline System Update, you’ll need:

  • A Windows-based PC with an Internet connection and a USB port.
  • A USB flash drive with a minimum 4 GB of space formatted as NTFS.

Most USB flash drives come formatted as FAT32 and will have to be reformatted to NTFS. Note that formatting a USB flash drive for this procedure will erase all files on it. Back up or transfer any files on your flash drive before you format the drive. For information about how to format a USB flash drive to NTFS using a PC, see How to format a flash drive to NTFS on Windows.

  1. Plug your USB flash drive into a USB port on your computer.
  2. Open the Offline System Update file OSU1.
  3. Click Save to save the console update .zip file to your computer.
  4. Unzip the file by right-clicking on the file and selecting Extract all from the pop-up menu.
  5. Copy the $SystemUpdate file from the .zip file to your flash drive.
    Note The files should be copied to the root directory, and there shouldn’t be any other files on the flash drive.
  6. Unplug the USB flash drive from your computer.

PlayStation 4

You can also update your PS4 console offline using Sony’s system updates. Here’s the procedure for PS4 offline updates. Note, the USB memory stick must be formatted either exFAT or FAT32. The PS4 doesn’t support any other types of stick formats. This means, if you buy a USB stick intended to be used on Windows, you will need to reformat it properly before you can use it on the PS4.

Update using a computer

For the standard update procedure, follow the steps below.

The following things are needed to perform the update:

  • PlayStation®4 system
  • Computer connected to the Internet
  • USB storage device, such as a USB* flash drive
  • There must be approximately 460 MB of free space.
    • On the USB storage device, create folders for saving the update file. Using a computer, create a folder named “PS4”. Inside that folder, create another folder named “UPDATE”.
      PC Update
    • Download the update file, and save it in the “UPDATE” folder you created in step 1. Save the file with the file name “PS4UPDATE.PUP”.
      Download Now Click to start the download.
    • Connect the USB storage device to your PS4™ system, and then from the function screen, select Settings (Settings) > [System Software Update].
      Follow the on-screen instructions to complete the update.
  • If your PS4™ system does not recognize the update file, check that the folder names and file name are correct. Enter the folder names and file name in single-byte characters using uppercase letters.

Nintendo Switch Updates

Nintendo doesn’t offer offline updates at all. The Nintendo Switch only supports Internet updates. There is currently no way to download or update your Switch via USB stick or SD card. The Nintendo Switch is the newest of the consoles, so it’s possible that Nintendo could offer an offline update mechanism some time in the future. However, knowing Nintendo, don’t hold you breath for this feature.

Offline Updates are Point Release Only

These offline update processes apply point-release updates only and not interim updates. Interim updates must still be applied directly from the console. Interim updates scan your system, find what’s needed, then download the patches. This can only be performed on the console. This means you could find that after installing a point release, the Xbox One may still require an additional update or two.

Updates and Internet Connectivity

Game consoles require updates to keep them current. The primary reason for most updates is to keep yours and your friend’s games in sync when playing multiplayer games. This prevents you from having a network edge over another player. When all game consoles are running the same version, all multiplayer activities are on the same playing field.

For this reason, Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network (PSN) require all users to update to use networking features. If you declined or postpone any updates, both the Xbox One and the PS4 will deny you access to networking features. You must update both the console and the games to continue using networking.

If you don’t intend to use the network features such as multiplayer or leader boards, then you don’t need to worry about this. However, if you’re not using the networking features, then there’s no reason to buy Xbox Live or PSN. So far, Nintendo doesn’t yet offer a network capable of multiplayer gaming like Xbox Live or PSN, but as soon as they do I’m quite sure they will enforce the same requirements.

Pushing off Updates

While you can postpone updates to your console, it’s not always the best idea. I get that some people are on metered networking connections and can’t afford to download 20GB sized updates. But, at the same time, this is how consoles work. If you’re looking for a console that supports offline updates, then you’ll want to look at the PS4 or the Xbox One. You might want to skip the Switch if this is a show stopper for you.

As we move into the future, these consoles will continue to assume more and more connectivity is always available. Don’t be surprised to find that both the Xbox One and PS4 discontinue their offline update feature at some point in the future.

Though, Sony will still need to provide a way to install the operating system when a hard drive is replaced. However, that won’t help you with updating your console offline.

If you have a reason to want to know your download sizes more precisely, other than what I mention above, please leave a comment below and let me know.

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Can the Xbox One catch up to the PS4 this year?

Posted in business, video gaming by commorancy on August 21, 2015

ps4-system-imageblock-us-13jun14We all know that Sony’s PS4 has outsold the Xbox One fairly substantially. However, will moving into this holiday season help or hurt the Xbox One? Let’s explore.

Halo 5

In October, we will see the next installment of Halo 5 released. This is unusual in that this title usually releases in November. I’m assuming that Microsoft is attempting to gain an early head start in console sales. I’m also certain that Microsoft is hoping that Halo 5 (an exclusive Xbox One title) will push consoles off the shelves. The problem is, however, UltraHD 4K.

4K TVs and Consoles

With HDTVs rapidly dropping in price and especially 4K TVs (there are several sub $1000 models), this spells a big problem for console manufacturers. I’m sure it wasn’t expected to see prices of 4K TVs dropping this rapidly this soon. None of the Xbox One, PS4 or Wii U currently support 4K content or 4K TVs. This is shaping into a much bigger problem and is especially a problem for Microsoft and Sony. Without the ability to deliver 4K content to these sub $1000 4K TVs, many people are going to be hard pressed to justify the investment in a $500 console that doesn’t support 4K. So, not even Halo 5 may be able to budge many of those consoles off the shelves, at least not to existing Xbox One owners.

Personally, I’m not planning on investing in any new console systems until there’s 4K support. When Sony and Microsoft can finally get off their collective butts and release a 4K HDMI 2.0 or HDMI 2.2 console version, I will definitely consider replacing my existing consoles, but not until that happens.

Of course, I already own a PS4 and Xbox One. I got both day one, but I’ve recently bought a 4K TV. Barring Netflix and Amazon, there’s effectively no 4K content. Still, it does make my 1080p content look amazingly clear without all that annoying pixelation so common in 1080p TVs.

Console Purchasing and the Holidays

Because 4K TVs are now becoming more commonplace and because 1080p TVs will likely be mostly a distant memory in even just 2 years, it’s hard to justify a $500 expense only to replace it in 6 months or a year. It’s not worth it. Additionally, you can buy a video game at any time after it’s released, but it doesn’t have to be on day one. You can just as easily play Halo 5 in spring of 2016 as you can in the fall of 2015. Yes, there are a lot of day-oners out there (must have it the moment it’s released), but because of the deluge of titles in the fall, it’s easy to pick and choose which ones to leave for later. This means you can delay that console purchase or buying that game until the 4K version arrives.

Yes, Halo 5 will push some consoles off the shelves. But, those looking for a 4K version will likely wait. I’m definitely waiting for the console refresh from Sony and Microsoft. For whatever reason, both of these companies are taking their sweet time to provide this refresh. In fact, Sony should have pushed out this refresh as part of the fall game launch. Sony being at the forefront of the 4K revolution makes it ever more important for Sony to finally get this refresh out the door. It’s even more important to get this refresh out for holiday purchases even if we can’t take advantage of the 4K content yet. Though, I know that Sony’s video on demand services for use with the Sony 4K UltraHD Media Player already offers a very large number of 4K movies. There’s no reason not to get this technology into the PS4 and widen that audience. Not only will it widen the audience for their movie services, it also immediately widens their game playing audience. In this case, were Sony to release this 4K refresh faster than Microsoft, Sony would have tremendous advantage both in sales and in gaming.

Sales Advantage

It’s clear, which ever company gets out their 4K refresh faster, they will have a sales advantage. As I said, considering Sony’s involvement in 4K, it makes perfect sense for Sony to get this refresh out now.

I don’t believe even Halo 5 sales could argue with a Sony 4K hardware refresh. People would think twice about buying an Xbox One until Microsoft also provided a 4K Xbox One refresh themselves. Should Sony release first, it would push Sony’s PS4 much higher in sales numbers because many existing PS4 owners would immediately replace their existing PS4. I know I would. So, that means double sales. Sales to everyone who already has a PS4 and to those who don’t. Of course, this would happen with the Xbox One as well once their 4K refresh is available.

Though, should the Xbox One and PS4 4K edition release together, I would still buy the PS4 version first unless Microsoft released the Xbox One 4K version with a 4K 60Hz playable version of Halo 5. There is currently no franchise title that Sony owns that is that compelling. But, were Black Ops III or Fallout 4 to support 4K, I’d be hard pressed not to consider a 4K PS4.

I personally believe that Sony is currently more likely to release a 4K refresh sooner than Xbox One. Microsoft doesn’t embrace new technologies quickly, especially when Sony is one of the primary proponents of that new technology.

Ultra HD 4K Content

Today, there’s not much 4K content. The drought of 4K content is about as severe as California’s rainfall levels. This can all change with a console refresh. Consoles are quickly becoming the ubiquitous media outlet for the home, especially for children. With a console refresh from Sony, that immediately picks up a relatively large number of 4K movies. With the addition of developers taking advantage of 4K gaming, that opens up a huge new door (literally pixel-wise). While that number of pixels is immense, it offers a brand new immersive level of gaming that hasn’t yet been achieved. Yes, it requires producing much bigger content, but the games will be spectacular, the environments breathtaking and the realism levels achieved would be astounding.

The problem today is that most developers can’t even grasp 1080p. So, I do not expect 4K gaming any time soon. Perhaps from the Call of Duty brand and possibly from Microsoft’s Halo (if 343 can figure it out). But, smaller companies like Atlus and even larger ones like Bethesda struggle with high def gaming. If we can get one HD title out of a developer per year, I consider that a win. With Ultra HD 4K content, I’d expect it might even take 2 years per title. That would suck at not having a new game every year, but 4K is where we’re going and Sony, Microsoft, Bethesda, Ubisoft, EA, Square Enix and the rest would do best to take heed. Not only does gaming want 4K, we need it to move forward. In fact, it should have been included in the original PS4 as Sony already had a 4K TV available at the time the PS4 was released. If Sony had had the foresight to create the PS4 with 4K, I wouldn’t even be writing this article.

Ultra HD’s Time Has Come

ultra_hd_blu-ray_logo_uhd_bd_bluray_logo_6501Sony, release your 4K refresh with the Ultra HD blu-ray spec. Microsoft, release your refresh with a 4K Halo 5. Because these two consoles are on the cusp of 4K, I’m anxiously awaiting their release. I won’t consider a new console purchase until these are out. Because they are so close, I would suggest you wait also. I would love to see any 4K console refresh for this holiday season. I’d love to see Halo 5 running in 4K. In fact, I’d love to play pretty much any of this holiday’s season games including Fallout 4, Halo 5, Black Ops III, Just Cause 3 and Star Wars in 60hz 4K. That would be an amazing holiday gift this season.

Xbox One is already dead before its launch?

Posted in entertainment, gaming, microsoft, redmond by commorancy on November 6, 2013

Xbox One family-580-90Wow… just wow. Infinity Ward, the developers of Call of Duty, has recently stated in this IGN article and this IGN article that Call of Duty Ghosts can only run in 720p resolution and 60hz refresh rate on the Xbox One. Let’s explore why this is yet another devastating blow to Microsoft.

Xbox One

Clearly, Microsoft is banking on Xbox One to last for another 8 years like the Xbox 360. Unfortunately, not gonna happen. The Xbox One is clearly under powered for full next gen console needs. And, you would think the Microsoft hardware engineers would have thought of this issue long before even breaking ground on new hardware. You know, like actual planning.

With all of the new TVs supporting 120 Hz refresh rates and higher and TVs running 1080p resolutions (and 4k TVs not far off), it would be natural to assume that a next gen console should be capable of producing output in a full 1080p 60hz frame rate (as its base resolution). In other words, Xbox One should start at 1080p 60hz but be able to go up to much faster speeds from here. According to Infinity Ward, this is not possible on the Xbox One. I’ll say that one more time. Infinity Ward has just said that 1080p 60hz is not even possible on the Xbox One.

Next Gen Consoles

Because of this significant and avoidable Xbox One hardware deficiency, Infinity Ward has taken the step to produce Call of Duty: Ghosts in 720p at 60hz refresh rate (upscaled to 1080p) on the Xbox One to keep the ‘experience’ similar on all platforms. Let’s compare. Every big game title produced on the Xbox 360 is already 720p 60hz upscaled to 1080p.  What this ultimately says is that the Xbox One hardware is no better than the Xbox 360.  This hardware is basically dead before it’s even hit the store shelves. A next gen console should not see limitations in hardware until at least 2 years following its release. A new console should never see any limitations being hit by any launch titles.

If one of the very first launch titles is already taxing this console’s hardware, this platform is dead on arrival. This means the Xbox One has no where to go but down. It also means that you might as well stick with the Xbox 360 because that’s what you’re buying in the Xbox One. It also means that the games will never provide a high quality next generation game experience no matter which game it is. Seriously, getting high resolution at full speed is why you buy a next generation console.

Granted, I can’t vouch for Infinity Ward’s programming capabilities as I don’t know any of their developers. But, I know they have been producing this franchise for years. I would also expect their software engineers to have both the knowledge and expertise to properly produce any game for any platform they set their sights on.

In other words, I cannot see that this is some agenda on the part of Infinity Ward to try to discredit the Xbox One hardware.

Xbox One vs Xbox 360

The Xbox 360 hardware is well capable of producing games in 720p at 60hz already. It’s been doing this resolution and frame rate for years. Why buy another console that also has this same exact limitation of the current hardware? You buy into a next generation console to get something new. Namely, higher resolution gaming experiences. If the Xbox One cannot provide this, there is no point to this platform and this platform is dead.  DEAD.

Xbox One: Dead on Arrival?

Based on the above, the Xbox One’s lifespan has been substantially reduced to, at best, 1-2 years on the market before Microsoft must redesign it with a new processor and graphics card. This also means that early adopters will get the shaft with ultimately dead hardware and have to buy new hardware again very quickly to get the newest Xbox One experience.

If you’re considering the purchase of an Xbox One, you should seriously reconsider. I’d suggest cancelling your pre-order and wait for the newest next gen console from Microsoft. Or, alternatively, buy a PS4 if you can’t wait that long. Why spend $499 for a console that gives you the same capabilities as the Xbox 360? It makes no sense, especially considering that there are no compelling launch titles on the Xbox One that aren’t also coming to the Xbox 360. It’s worth giving the extra time to make sure your $499 investment into this console is a sound choice.

Coding to the Weakest Hardware?

For the longest time, the Xbox 360 was the weakest hardware of all of the consoles. Clearly, it is still the weakest of hardware.  For the longest time, developers catered to developing their games to the weakest hardware choice. That means, lesser graphics quality, lesser texture quality, lesser everything quality. I’m hoping this is now a thing of the past.

It now appears that game developers are tired of developing to the weakest hardware. Call of Duty Ghosts hopefully proves that. And, rightly so they should. Instead of producing low-res low quality gaming experiences on all platforms, they should provide the highest quality gaming on the best platforms. Then, take that and scale it back to fit on the weaker hardware platforms.

So, this scenario has now flipped the development practices. I’m glad to see developers embracing the best hardware and delivering the highest quality gaming experience on the best hardware. Then, reducing the quality to fit the weaker hardware. It makes perfect sense. It also explains why Infinity Ward reduced the resolution on the Xbox One. But, being forced to reduce the quality of the game to a lower resolution doesn’t bode for longevity of the Xbox One hardware.

What about the PS4 and 4k gaming?

According to those same articles above, the PS4 apparently doesn’t have this 1080p limitation. Call of Duty: Ghosts will run on the PS4 in full 1080p with 60hz refresh. Whether the PS4 is capable of higher resolutions is as yet unknown. Consider this. One of the very first 4k TVs introduced was produced by Sony. I would expect the PS4 to have been built to possibly support 4k gaming experiences. That doesn’t mean it will right now, but it may in the future. The Xbox One? Not likely to provide 4k anytime soon. If Microsoft’s engineers weren’t even thinking of 1080p resolutions, then they most certainly weren’t thinking about 4k resolutions.

If you’re into future proofing your technology purchases, then the PS4 definitely seems the better choice.

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