A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Fallout 76 is an online sci-fi role-playing game for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Windows PCs. In the game, players attempt to survive in a post-nuclear apocalyptic future. Players fight mutated and diseased humans as well as robots and animals using firearms, explosives, and melee weapons. Combat frequently results in blood and gore, with heads severed from bodies, blood gushing from wounds, and "ragdoll physics" controlling the motion of bodies as they collapse. Players share their world with other players, and can join together in groups that allow for socializing and teamwork. But players can also choose to aggravate others, attacking and killing them indiscriminately (though behaving badly comes with the consequence of making the offending player an active target for others). As in other Fallout games, several subplots -- and the world itself -- provide critiques of consumerist and capitalist culture, with a focus on corruption within corporations. Drugs and alcohol can be collected and provide both positive and negative status effects, altering key character attributes such as strength and perception. Spoken and text dialogue contains occasional but sometimes very strong language, including the "F" word. Parents should be aware, as well, that players can spend real-world money on virtual currency that can be used to buy cosmetic upgrades for characters.
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What's it about?
Set just 25 years after the atomic bombs fell, FALLOUT 76 provides players with the earliest chronological entry in Bethesda Softworks' long-running sci-fi role-playing series. After creating a character, players emerge from West Virginia's Vault 76 -- the only nuclear bunker made by Vault-Tec Corp. designed to function not as a psychological experiment but as a legitimate shelter for the United States' best and brightest minds -- to find the Appalachian region pretty much empty of humans, save the skeletons of those who've died and people driven mad by disease or horribly mutated by radiation. It's your job to set out and discover what happened, following in the footsteps of Vault 76's Overseer, who ventured out just before you on a secret mission. The world is free to explore, with players able to travel alone or join up with other Vault 76 survivors controlled by other players. Without any human non-player characters in the world, players initiate quests largely by interacting with items -- computers, audio tapes, scraps of paper -- that lead them to seek out new places and learn more about what happened in this part of the country, which was spared a direct nuclear hit. Players will spend the bulk of their time discovering locations and lore, collecting new gear, growing their character, crafting items, and building camps.
Is it any good?
Players looking to get the most out of this sandbox adventure will need to be both patient and forgiving. Fallout 76 is extraordinarily buggy, frequently booting players from servers and even freezing up altogether. There are critical glitches that keep players from completing specific missions, times when quest markers and fast-travel locations won't appear on maps, and instances when your character simply falls through the floor and into empty space. If these technical issues don't frustrate you, then Fallout 76's dated presentation and design likely will. It looks and plays like a game at least half a decade older than it is. And if none of that proves irksome, there's Fallout 76's online element -- a first for the franchise -- which requires players to maintain an internet connection at all times and share their world with others, who can kill you or ransack your carefully crafted camps (thankfully, you can hide your location from individual players bent on mischief). The move to online play has also resulted in a much larger sandbox world that feels oddly empty and has less personality than the worlds of other Fallout games -- likely because there are no human non-player characters.
But it's not a complete write-off. Despite its many faults, Fallout 76 does maintain the series' attractive retro-future vibe, which shows us a glimpse at a universe that might have been ours if our culture collectively made just a few different decisions in the 20th century. Plus, the lore waiting to be discovered on hackable computers and in notes scattered all over West Virginia provides plenty of interest for players who can't get enough of the franchise's tantalizing alternate history/future. And the business of survival -- collecting and crafting gear and camps -- is strangely rewarding, with plenty of self-directed mini-objectives that push players to keep playing just a few minutes more in order to level up, get a better gun, or put the right roof or turret on their camp. There's fun to be had in Fallout 76, especially for those who want to soak up every detail of the Fallout universe, but by and large this is an installment only for die-hard series fans who don't mind sharing a world with other players. More casual players will be better served waiting for what will hopefully be a prettier and more polished sequel.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about marketing in games. Do you find the same satisfaction in purchasing virtual items as you do in buying and owning a physical object? How do you weigh the benefits and value of a thing that exists only within a game?
Why do you think some people enjoy giving up the comforts and conveniences of modern life for the difficulties that come with living off the land in the wild? Is there anything about this lifestyle that appeals to you?
- Platforms: PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox One
- Price: $59.99
- Pricing structure: Paid
- Available online? Available online
- Developer: Bethesda Softworks
- Release date: November 14, 2018
- Genre: Role-Playing
- Topics: Adventures, Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires, Robots, Science and Nature, Wild Animals
- ESRB rating: M for Blood and Gore, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Strong Language
- Last updated: August 2, 2020
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.