Bethesda was so close to climbing of the hole it dug for itself over Fallout 76, only to turn around and jump right back in. There were a few weeks recently where Fallout 76 managed to stay relatively safe from the collective critical eye. The Epic Store was siphoning away all of the gaming community's rage. Even aside from that, Bethesda was actually doing good work. Fallout 76 was getting more content, special events, even a roadmap. Unfortunately, Bethesda seems to just want controversy lately.
Fallout 76's Atomic Shop has been the game's microtransaction store since launch. Microtransactions are a tricky business. They can easily raise consumer ire if too many useful items are sold. Many gamers see that as pay-to-win, giving more wealthy players a huge advantage by letting them buy the best gear from the start. On the flip side, microtransactions can keep fans invested in a game by giving them cool costumes to save up for. Bethesda declared that the Atomic Shop would be the latter. Fallout 76's microtransactions, they boasted, would be cosmetic only.
That changed this week.
A new addition to the Atomic Shop was revealed this week, the first of what Bethesda calls "utility items." They're called Repair Kits, and they're consumables that instantly restore another item to 100% (or more) condition when used. That doesn't seem particularly game-breaking. In fact it seems downright helpful. Bethesda even says that the idea came from fan feedback, that "Repair Kits were a popular request that we wanted to get into players’ hands." So what's the issue?
Players are upset because the Repair Kit, however minor an item, represents Bethesda going back on a key promise about Fallout 76's microtransactions. During the game's pre-release period, when its microtransactions were first revealed, fears of pay-to-win were quick to surface. Since that's a common fear for any game with online multiplayer and microtransactions, Bethesda's Pete Hines issued a statement plainly saying it was cosmetic-only.
“All the content we ever put out for Fallout 76–all the DLC, all the post-launch stuff–is going to be free. That’s important. And to say, the Atomic Shop is cosmetic stuff. To make sure folks understand–look there’s a line. There are people who have crossed it, but we’re going to stay on the right side of it in terms of the things you can spend money on and how this stuff works and what you’re getting for your $60. That you know, when they put out new content or features or whatever, I’m getting that stuff for free. That feels right," he said.
There are some arguments that could be made as to why Repair Kits aren't a big deal. Again, there's the fact that Bethesda seems to think players want Repair Kits and that adding them is a service. Also, a repair consumable is much more tame than an overpowered gun. Finally, it's worth noting that Atoms, the Atomic Shop currency, can be earned through gameplay.
Unfortunately, players have had enough bad experiences with Bethesda's approach to Fallout 76 to give the developer the benefit of the doubt. For one thing, it already looks as though Repair Kits will only be purchasable through the Atom Shop, never to be found by non-payers. And Bethesda has already announced plans to add similar consumables to the Atomic Shop. Refrigerators are on that list, and that gives more thoughtful fans pause.
One Reddit user pointed out that an ability called White Knight, which reduces the rate at which armor breaks, was nerfed. So now armor breaks faster, just before a repair-based mictrotransaction is introduced. Similarly, a recent update causes food in the game to spoil faster. Just in time for a refrigerator to be added...
It's these little "conveniences," along with Bethesda explicitly going back on Hines' word, that are making fans feel betrayed. It seems Bethesda never learns or, even worse, simply doesn't care. The way events played out make it hard to see Repair Kits as anything but a sleazy money-grab. That's not the kind of press Fallout 76 needs right now.
Could Bethesda somehow still turn this game around? Sure, just look at No Man's Sky. But the road to redemption is rarely, if ever, paved with microtransactions.