Last year, I dove head first and rather blindly into two massive MMOs worlds – the well-established environs of The Elder Scrolls Online and the newly irradiated landscapes of Fallout 76. After lightly sinking my teeth into both, I offered up some takes comparing these titles, and I came to the somewhat obvious conclusion that ESO offered much better times to a new (MMO) player like me than did Fallout 76.
But, the world’s current state notwithstanding, a lot can happen in a year. That post I wrote went up at the very start of August 2019, and here in August 2020, the world is a very different place, and these games are in different places, too. Both ESO and Fallout 76 have received significant updates over the course of the year. In ESO, access to the various lands of Tamriel has increased, and the story of Skyrim itself is being expanded. In Fallout 76, we’ve seen new content, new faces, and have a new road map for the game’s future.
It’s with all this in mind that now seems as good a time as any to look back upon my year with these two games. Based on what I wrote a year ago, is ESO still enjoyable and is Fallout 76 still a slog-fest? Does ESO still feel manageable and fun even for low level players, and does Fallout 76 still have scaling (among many other) issues? Would I again recommend ESO over Fallout 76 to anyone new? Let’s see where things stand.
My most significant takeaway from playing ESO in 2019 was that it offered consistency. Progression felt natural, grinding was hidden behind interesting and enjoyable quests, dungeons offered good rewards, and scaling worked. All these factors still hold true in 2020; ESO is a solid game. It’s not perfect – bugs and glitches and server issues are certainly present – but the game has never been outright unplayable. In fact, it’s very playable, proof of which I offer in the fact that I have not one but three characters going at the moment, one characters for groups (a warrior) and two for soloing (a warden and a mage).
One of the things that I’ve come to like most about ESO, is that it’s world is immensely exploitable (in a good way) and can be molded to serve different experiences. My warrior, for example, exists to run content – with others she delves and saves and fetches and rescues, all for the good of Tamriel, My archer has done and will continue doing all that to, but I’ve given him a focus on enchanting and crafting bows and medium armor. I’m not yet sure what will become of my mage, but she’s already become pretty good at alchemy, and I have in mind that maybe she’ll have a house to furnish. The options within the game to do as you like feel limitless. And, certainly, you can invest fully in a single character, leveling up all the various skill and crafting lines available, have dozens of houses, beat every single dungeon. But I like that I’m able to break up these goals between different characters – each having individual purposes helps me focus during gameplay, cuts down on inventory management, and allows me to fully enjoy the time I have with each. It’s all very, very good. If you’re looking to enjoy some high fantasy questing in pretty settings and among intriguing denizens, you can’t go wrong with ESO.
Oh, and what of feeling out of sorts in an MMO? I still do even now, though I am far more used to a world populated with player-characters than I was back then. There remain moments when I wish I was the only one saving Tamriel, and I have had to leave the game when things felt too crowded and anxious, but it does help to remember that, to all the random players out there, I’m just as random. In that I take solace in a certain amount of anonymity and am able to enjoy what the game offers anyway.
Switching gears, my years’ time with Fallout 76 has had more peaks and valleys than a mountain range. My most significant takeaway from playing the game in 2019 was that it was very inconsistent. I never knew from one session to the next if I was going to have a great time or an awful time. Experience points trickled out like molasses in winter, enemy scaling was terrible, and the simple act of getting through a single quest was sometimes maddening, especially when high-level hordes “accidentally” entered the match. All these factors still hold somewhat true in Fallout 76 in 2020, but, to Bethesda’s credit, significant improvements have been made. I won’t rehash what I already said in my post on the Wastelanders update; things have gotten better. Since then, the game has been granted other amenities. For example, players can now make public teams that, at the team leader’s behest, focus on different activities: hunting, roleplay, events, exploration, building, and casual — each one comes with different stat bonuses for players. And players can now jam through the Legendary Run, a Fallout-style “board game” in which players can rack up points (one’s S.C.O.R.E.) for meeting certain daily and weekly challenges. The higher your S.C.O.R.E., the more rewards become available.
If nothing else, the game looks and plays better now than it last August, and while I would no longer call it a “slog-fest,” it’s still a pretty grindy experience, especially when you’re a low-level character. I currently have two characters in progress – one for groups and one I play solo – and, of the two, I readily prefer playing the game with a group. That preference has to do with the fact that while enemy scaling as been improved, it’s still not perfect. (Something that will hopefully be rectified with the One Wasteland expansion due out later this year.) For me, playing solo is a dual-edged-sword scenario whereby I enjoy traversing Appalachia on my own and yet remain constantly on edge about enemies, and even other players. (I don’t mind that solo time in Fallout 76 makes me face my general anxiousness about being an anti-social person in an MMO, but working through that process takes time.) As much as I’ve professed disliking survival games in the past, with my solo character, I’m finding that I like managing her health and well-being in the wilds. It helps weigh differently my activities, especially looting, which I do more carefully in order to garner things that she really needs now over things that may be useful later. If my group character is a fearless bull who’s ready to run all over Appalachia willy-nilly, my solo character is a cat – always alert (well, mostly), watching events take shape from afar, striking only when the moment suits, and escaping when things become too heated.
As happily as I can recommend ESO to anyone new, I still don’t know if I can do the same for Fallout 76. (At the very least if you’ve yet to jump in, I’d recommend waiting to see if good and better things come to the game after the One Wasteland expansion drops later this year.) But here’s the thing. Despite the near-constant bugs and glitches, enemy issues, and occasional combat weirdness, when I have good time in Fallout 76, I have a really good time. There’s lots of fun to be had in it, even if you happen to spend most of your time sightseeing and/or running away from enemies. And in it, you can be whatever you want to be, from a documentary photographer to a souped-up combat machine. Having that freedom in a post-apocalyptic world is compelling. In all the other Fallout games I’ve played, I had to be somebody. In Fallout 76, being a nobody is pretty darn awesome. …Sometimes.
All images, include lede, were captured or compiled by the author from screenshots taken during PS4 gameplay of The Elder Scrolls Online and Fallout 76 (© Bethesda Softworks, LLC.)