Since its revival at the hands of Bethesda Games, the Fallout series has experienced a bit of a renaissance. Fallout 4 still stands as one of Bethesda’s best open worlds to date and is getting a next-gen release this year. In the meantime, Bethesda is hard at work finishing up Starfield and working on Fallout 5 and Elder Scrolls VI. In between releasing the single-player games the studio is known for, Bethesda is experimenting with live-service versions of their franchises. In addition to The Elder Scrolls Online, players have Fallout 76. Both Fallout 4 and Fallout 76 feature the characteristics synonymous with the series. However, with one a single-player game and the other a live-service multiplayer title, there are some key differences.
Outside the differences in player methodology, there’s also the factor of cost. Fallout 4 is currently running for $19.99 USD, less for a pre-owned copy. Fallout 76 regularly costs $39.99 USD but also requires a $12.99/month subscription. As a live-service title, there is a recurring cost for access to premium tier content. As someone who prefers single-player titles, I prefer the isolation of Fallout 4. Still, the prospect of linking up with friends in the apocalypse is enticing. Despite both games being Fallout titles, they each represent unique experiences in Bethesda’s post-apocalyptic universe.
What Fallout 4 Includes
For players wanting to get lost in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, it doesn’t get much better than Fallout 4. Taking place 10 years after the events of Fallout 3, Fallout 4 casts players as the Sole Survivor. What begins as a simple mystery for players to unravel quickly becomes an intricate web of alliances. In my review of Fallout 4 I bring up the refinement the game presents. These refinements do come at the cost of some of the freedom the series is known for.
Still, Fallout 4 has plenty to offer players that enjoy story-driven RPG experiences. While most can and will finish the game in roughly 40 hours, there are hundreds of hours of content. I personally spent just north of 120 hours in The Commonwealth and feel like there’s still more to see and do. As far as exactly what players will do, there’s plenty under the hood in Fallout 4. Outside the expected wandering and scavenging, there’s the new base-building component. The new crafting and building aspects of gameplay add a welcome and worthwhile distraction from the mutants and mayhem.
Similar to Fallout 3 and Fallout 76, Fallout 4 is a single-player experience where players must make friends with isolation. As you travel the wasteland, the people you encounter and the choices you make affect your journey. Ultimately, the story that the game tells is based on your actions. However, unlike those games, Fallout 4 does have more linearity in how it shepherds players through the narrative. The refined gameplay and better shooting mechanics come at the expense of the loss of some RPG mechanics. Fallout 4 is still an RPG through and through, but it is less so than its predecessors.
What Fallout 76 Includes
Conversely, Fallout 76 is a multiplayer live-service title in the Fallout universe. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to link up with friends and dominate the apocalypse, Fallout 76 is the game for you. Unlike Fallout 4, Fallout 76 does not feature a cohesive narrative or main quest. Instead, players will spend their time in the wasteland completing daily tasks. Completion of these tasks nets rewards for players they can use to acquire better gear. In what becomes an addictive loop, completing missions nets rewards that grant access to tougher missions, rinse and repeat. Like most live-service titles, the story-driven quests are limited.
One important thing to note is the game’s pricing model. While the base game costs $39.99 USD and frequently goes on sale, the best content is behind a paywall. This includes missions and expansions that add more playability to the game. The monthly subscription is $12.99 USD and is the subject of plenty of negative feedback from fans. Despite most aspects of the game featuring monetization, none of it is necessary but does improve the experience.
Both Fallout 4 and Fallout 76 are graphically impressive titles, but Fallout 76 has the benefit of being developed for modern hardware. As a result, Fallout 76’s environments and buildings are impressive. Additionally, players can spend virtually endless amounts of time in-game thanks to its live-service nature.
Which Edition Is Best For You?
When deciding on which version of Fallout might be best for you, it’s important to consider what types of games you enjoy. If you’re the type of gamer who prefers to go at your own pace and enjoy the story, Fallout 4 is the better experience. Alternatively, if you like to play multiplayer games and link up online with friends, Fallout 76 might be better for your tastes.
In terms of what each game offers, they both provide functional experiences but Fallout 4 is arguably more “complete”. As a live-service title, Fallout 76 is subject to regular patches and updates, as well as expansions. Fallout 4, on the other hand, is a complete and fully-fleshed experience right out of the package. Not to mention the existence of multiple expansions (including some of the best DLC in the entire Fallout series). The base game can last players over 100 hours if they choose, and the expansions only add more playability.
Ultimately, both games continue the spirit of the Fallout franchise, where the stories are driven by the player’s actions. The biggest difference is whether you prefer to complete those actions solo or with a squad. As someone who enjoys single-player games but also has played a fair share of live-service titles, Fallout 76 is a blast. Perhaps the deciding factor will be how much you can look past a monetization model that is less than savory.