When does criticism of a game go too far? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself a lot lately, off the back of the recent widespread disdain for Fallout 76. While I’m not fond of Bethesda’s latest by any means, believing it to be a startling new low for the series, the public reaction has grown increasingly toxic since its release, with some of the most vocal critics even going as far as targeting individuals at Bethesda and manipulating facts in order to stir up further hatred against the developers.
So, instead of discussing Fallout 76’s mountain of bugs, its lousy multiplayer design, or woefully unstable servers,I want to take this opportunity to address the rage and the misinformation, and to identify the ways in which the conversation has been hijacked by this mob mentality.
Probably the best place to start is with fans’ initial reactions to the game. When players first got their hands on the beta, it was clear that Fallout 76 had problems. Launcher issues aside, the game would constantly freeze up, quests would disappear upon logging in or hit dead ends, and the game lacked basic online functionality like push-to-talk. With so much amiss and only a couple of weeks left until its official launch, some players were rightfully disappointed and this disappointment spilled over into the full release, demonstrated by the awful user and critic reviews .
Opening the Vault
It wasn’t long, though, before the reaction took another turn for the worse. Rather than simply voting with their wallets, cancelling their pre-orders, or taking all the steps necessary to obtain a refund, Metacritic users began review bombing the game as a form of punishment, obfuscating real criticisms of Fallout 76 beneath a bunch of repetitive and hyperbolic 0/10s.
Soon lies started to propagate among the mob. Rather than criticizing Fallout 76 for its uninteresting NPCs or its overreliance on terminals or holotapes for delivering story beats, people started to exaggerate the problems, claiming easily disproven facts like “The game lacks factions or a main story.”
On top of that, people started accusing Fallout 76 of being an asset flip, because of the reappearance of some old code from both Fallout 4 and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. This is a label used more traditionally to describe cheaply-made Steam games, where developers repackage pre-purchased sound files, environments, and textures bought from asset stores into barely functional games, to turn over a quick profit. It also doesn’t really apply to Fallout 76.
That’s because reusing and modifying old code is actually fairly common practice among programmers across AAA game development. You can see this in game series like Dark Souls, Uncharted, and God of War. After all, why reinvent the wheel when you can save time and money by reusing stuff that already works?
In other words, it’s not as lazy or unusual as some people might have you believe and doesn’t necessarily indicate an intention to deceive consumers, even if its inclusion might have you wondering why the Fallout universe needed an alternative to Skyrim’s Dragons in the first place.
With so much rage and anger surrounding the game, easy explanations were bound to follow. And soon DreamcastGuy, a gaming YouTuber, posted a video on his channel, entitled “The REAL reason Fallout 76 was launched broken?!” — his description of where the game went wrong.
In the video, he describes an alleged encounter he had with members of Bethesda’s management in a bar, where they listed off a number of problems they experienced during the game’s development, including that Todd Howard was absent for much of it and that they didn’t have sales goals so didn’t care about the finished product.
It’s a baffling video to watch, especially as someone who has spoken to staff from huge companies in informal environments where if they do end up saying something candid they usually preface it with an agreement to go off the record. And that’s only if they haven’t signed an NDA already, prohibiting them from mentioning anything at all.
While I can’t say for certain the events described in the video didn’t happen for certain, it’s alarming to see so many people repeating the information across forums and social media as fact, especially as the video has now received close to 150,000 views on YouTube. If anything, it just goes to show how willingly people will accept hearsay if it reasserts their opinion or gives them an available answer to something that is currently unknown. After all, it’s likely we won’t find out the truth behind the matter until many years later, and even then, it will likely be from sources who wish to remain anonymous.
Misinformation isn’t even the worst of it either. Some people have taken it further, targeting individuals at Bethesda, many of whom have roles outside of traditional game development and had no hand in making Fallout 76.
For instance, almost a week after the game’s launch, Matt Frary, the Director of PR at Bethesda Softworks, tweeted about the contents of his private inbox where he reveals he has received abusive messages. Something that can also be seen played out in public across Bethesda’s numerous social media accounts, where angry consumers are taking out their frustration on the people in customer-facing positions rather than channelling their frustrations into more constructive means of protest.
That’s not to say the development team hasn’t seen their fair share of abuse either. Recently, an existing New Vegas mod on Nexus allowing players to crucify Fallout 76 game director Todd Howard and vice president of Bethesda Softworks Pete Hines as victims of Caesar’s Legion resurfaced across Fallout forums, in a move that reflects just how toxic the conversation around Fallout 76 has become in some corners of the internet.
No matter your feelings on the game or Bethesda’s performance as a company, no person should feel justified creating and disseminating disturbing effigies of other human beings, based on their disappointment for a video game. Not only does it lack empathy and cross a line into targeted harassment, but it also rapidly undermines your position and any valid criticisms you may have had.
You might ask what the point of this is. Well, there are a few takeaways that I hope people glean from this. I think it’s important to acknowledge that there can be room for nuance in games criticism, if you allow for it. And that games don’t have to be 100% evil to justify your dissatisfaction with them, nor should you just blindly accept information as fact if it seems to agree with your opinion.
If you have a problem with Fallout 76, there are plenty of acceptable ways to protest the game that don’t involve harassing staff or calling anyone who disagrees with you a “shill”. You can choose to avoid future Bethesda games, leave honest reviews, or simply tell your friends not to waste their money. As for me, I’m going to go play Fallout 2 and leave this mess behind me, at least for now anyway.