When it comes to Bethesda and Fallout 76, the company can't seem to stop getting egg on its face. Just yesterday, news broke that the less-than-stellar online game would be receiving a paid subscription service to the tune of $100 a year. Including such riveting features as "private servers" and "extended inventory," it felt like some big joke of an extra to a game that needs some serious attention. Instead of focusing on adding NPCs (an update that has been delayed), Bethesda saw fit to add extra monetization on top of an already aggressive monetization model.
This wouldn't be so bad if this was some random free-to-play mobile title. Nintendo has a similar subscription service for Mario Kart Tour, but fan backlash was less intense because of Tour being free from the get-go. For Fallout 76, Bethesda began charging a full $60 and has continued to shove in even more egregious microtransactions and pointless features while ignoring core problems.
All of this is on top of the various problems and issues that have plagued 76 since its launch. One can’t forget about "Bag-gate," a situation where collector's editions of the game came with nylon bags instead of the originally advertised canvas ones. How about the time Bethesda's website leaked the personal information of hundreds of customers? I haven't even gotten started on the actual in-game issues.
Players weren't able to launch multiple nukes or else it would crash the game. In the first few months of operation, Bethesda's servers were buggy and unresponsive, which left people unable to even play the game. Mere weeks after launch, 76 was marked down in price, basically spitting in the face of full paying customers. Bethesda even attempted an apology gift and failed to give enough in-game currency to buy anything useful.
This is all endemic of a problem Bethesda seems to be facing as a company. Due to modern triple-A gaming becoming increasingly focused on profits, the studio has shifted its focus from creating single-player titles to multiplayer ones. With a multiplayer game, you can shove in more cosmetic microtransactions and psychologically manipulate your players into dropping cash to show off to their friends. It couldn't be more evident than in this year’s Wolfenstein: Youngblood.
The better question is "how does multiplayer benefit Fallout?" As evidenced by 76, it doesn't. The IP can certainly sustain multiple players on a single map, but it’s very obvious from the execution of 76 that Bethesda wasn’t looking to organically expand any of the mechanics from its single-player games. It wanted a service it could run that would provide a steady cash flow instead of giving fans the MMO they’ve always dreamed of.
Back in 2007 when Bethesda acquired the Fallout IP from Interplay, many feared that the new direction for the then-unreleased Fallout 3 would mark the death of the series. Bethesda was seemingly stepping away from the anti-nuke messaging of the old entries and into some strange fetishization of a post-apocalyptic world. While that particular entry turned out okay, the cracks had started to show.
A pseudo-sequel in the form of Fallout New Vegas improved on several deficiencies from 3, though a kneecapped development cycle crippled any chance developer Obsidian Entertainment had of making a truly exceptional title. Seemingly to spite the company, Bethesda gave Obsidian a little over a year to produce New Vegas and then quickly took back control after the game released. Fallout 4 would materialize a few years later and fans finally saw how far Bethesda had strayed.
Instead of expanding on the rich storytelling that Obsidian provided or hearkening back to the past Interplay games, Fallout 4 brought in settlement building to distract players from an underwhelming and rushed campaign. This was on top of numerous bugs and glitches that had existed in Bethesda's Gamebryo engine (now called the Creation Engine) since Oblivion's launch in 2006. The company was basically announcing it was more focused on making cash than improving the quality of its titles.
Various patches and DLC packs didn't improve Fallout 4 all that much, leading many to wonder what would be next. Could a Fallout 5 fix these issues? Was that long-rumored MMO ever going to materialize? When Fallout 76 was revealed as an always-online title, many were hoping for something approaching Interplay's ambitious online plans from years prior.
Sadly, that isn’t the reality we got. Instead of some deep reflection on nuclear war or a dissection of the human condition under apocalyptic circumstances, Fallout has morphed into "NUKES ARE FUN!" Now fans could team up online, gather multiple nuclear devices, and destroy each other. There was no punishment or satire: this was all expected of players. What happened to the gruesome atmosphere from the original series?
It died so that Bethesda could milk its fans like cattle on a farm. That should be readily apparent from Fallout 1st, 76's paid service. Series creator Tim Cain would be shaking his head in disgust if Obsidian hadn't welcomed him on board for The Outer Worlds (which looks to capture the original legacy gloriously).
Bethesda doesn't necessarily need to create deep, anti-war games, but Fallout deserves far better than the fate it has gotten. It's about time that Bethesda stopped milking this series for all its worth and get back to creating the magic it used to be capable of.