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This week, Bethesda launched private servers for its struggling multiplayer game, Fallout 76. While this feature has been requested since before the game even launched, the company didn’t make it a free update. If you want a private Fallout 76 server, you’ll have to agree to pay $12.99 per month for it or $99 ($8.25 per month equivalent) for a year. Subscribers also get a handful of additional perks, including free currency to spend in the in-game store. If you want to avoid the endless inventory shuffling that FO76 is known for by purchasing unlimited player storage, the only way to currently get it is to pony up $12.99 per month for a private server.
The announcement that private servers would require a monthly fee didn’t go down well. Neither did telling the player community that game-changing features like endless storage — which is absolutely a game-affecting perk — would only be available to those who bought one. But now the entire update appears to be broken in the first place, and that’s made what remains of the FO76 community even angrier.
It’s hard to blame them. Under the circumstances, I’d be angry as well. An unofficial bug thread on Reddit runs through the current issues. There are problems with purchasing Fallout 1st in the Atomic Shop, problems using items that are awarded as part of the Fallout 1st Package, and issues with the new Scrapbox — that’s the bottomless storage introduced for private server owners — “eating” all the scrap you put in it. There are multiple reports of the contents of the Scrapbox being lost upon the next login, especially if a player changes game modes. There are problems with scrap not being shared among Fallout 1st players even when it should be.
There are issues with matchmaking as well. While private servers are supposed to be for you and seven of your closest friends, currently anyone who you have on your friends list can join a private game. If you actually planned to play with seven specific people, you might not be able to if someone jumps into your game session first. The “new” worlds created on private servers don’t even appear to be new. The bug list speculates that these new worlds aren’t new at all, but instead represent re-allocated old server instances. Whether this is true remains under investigation.
Bethesda even managed to blow the most basic rule of a game launch — make sure you’ve got the URL. Instead, an irate fan has purchased FalloutFirst.com and has used it to register his own extreme unhappiness with the game.
This is a tone-deaf way to approach a badly broken title. There are some games that recover after rocky launches and become major hits, but FO76 seems unlikely to join them. The positive goodwill generated by the announcement that a major plot update and the first introduction of human NPCs was coming was dashed when the update was delayed into 2020 — then buried by this paid service announcement. Telling gamers who have put up with massive headaches, like limited stash space in a game where virtually everything has weight and crafting can be a core part of the experience, that they have to pay $12 per month (or $100 per year) for the privilege of not coping with poorly coded hard limits in the game engine takes a lot of chutzpah. Launching this service right before Obsidian dropped The Outer Worlds reads like poor sportsmanship, particularly given the night-and-day reception for TOW versus the creaking FO76. $13 per month is an incredibly high price for a single title, even compared with some MMOs. That’s doubly true when the server instances aren’t even persistent (C.A.M.P. storage and progress are supposed to be saved, but the server isn’t persistent and shuts down when not in use).
Does Bethesda Even Care About Fallout?
It’s impossible to look at the trainwreck of Fallout 76 and not wonder if Bethesda cares about the franchise at all. Of the FPS Fallout games, only one — Fallout New Vegas — actually came close to capturing the spirit and feel of the original games, and that’s the one title Bethesda didn’t develop. Fallout 3 was fun but leaned a bit harder on kitsch than I liked. Fallout 4 threw out virtually all the RPG aspects to the game and polished the FPS side of the equation, creating a game with superior mechanics but an inferior world with weaker characters. Fallout 76 stripped out all human NPCs and most of the plot (unless you count following clues left by long-dead people), but it didn’t make enough changes to the underlying game to create a satisfying experience. There have been complaints about bugs, low-quality updates, and pay-to-win mechanics for the entire time the game has been in-market.
Obviously, the team developing Fallout 76 cares about the game, but there’s no sign that Bethesda corporate is particularly concerned with expanding the world or making it more accessible to a larger group of players, so much as they seem to want to treat it like a cash cow. Launching Fallout 1st as a paid add-on was a bad idea, particularly given its limits. But launching it as a broken paid service afflicted by the legion of problems that have bedeviled FO76 since it debuted?
No wonder fans went nuclear. I’d love to include something about waiting for a better Fallout 5, but given the trajectory of the franchise, you might be better off picking up TOW and investigating other games.