(Major Spoilers for the Shear Terror questline ahead). After playing through the latest quest in Fallout 76's Wild Appalachia update, I believe there is a new contender for the worst quest in the entire Fallout series.
What does this questline involve? In short, a chain of fetch quests to find holotapes, notes and terminal entry "clues" which are spread across 5-6 fast travel locations. That's it. Just fast travelling across the Ash Heap following quest markers around. Now so far this might just sound like your typical Fallout 76 side quest, but on closer inspection it becomes apparent that the designer of this questline has not only misunderstood what goes into a great Fallout quest, but also what makes it fun and compelling to play. Let's explore why…
Lack of Choice – Fallout is defined as an RPG series by the freedom it gives the player, allowing them to choose between multiple solutions to every problem, which in turn each have different consequences and outcomes, that range from changing the fate of entire communities to simply receiving a different quest reward. However, there is only one way to complete Shear Terror; by doing exactly what the quest tells you to in the order it tells you to. There are no choices to be made, no way to think outside the box. The few optional objectives that exist are literally just to read extra notes or listen to more holotapes, which besides providing a little bit more backstory have no affect on the quest. Similarly, this quest is all self-contained – completing it has no affect on the world – not even the Sheepsquatch (which the entire questline is about) starts appearing in game.
No NPCs – Much like the rest of the game, the only NPCs you encounter in Shear Terror are voices on holotapes who are tricky to care about, seeing as they have long since died and there is no way to interact with them. On top of this, the holotape recordings do not sound very believable – they feel less like something an actual human would say and more like a laundry list of clearly stated instructions towards the player.
Setting – This ties into a larger problem regarding Shear Terror, and by extension, most of the Wild Appalachia quests; they focus too much on pre-war characters and events that have become irrelevant by the year that Fallout 76 is set in. Fallout as a series has always focused the most on the factions, people and conflicts of the present (i.e. the post-apocalypse rather than pre-war which was simply a backdrop), since the true post-apocalypse is where the best and most interesting stories are born in Fallout. By flipping the focus to pre-war, these quests no longer have the same impact as there is no more sense of urgency or reason to complete them, since they are essentially glorified history lessons within the Fallout universe rather than missions critical to the survival of the current inhabitants of the wasteland. I understand that not every quest needs to have a grand theme like this, but even if we look at Shear Terror as a simple opportunity to get the player to visit some exciting locations, the actual locations themselves aren't particularly interesting. These set pieces include Van Lowe's Taxidermy; a house with a hidden room in its basement, Bastion Park; a small playground, Sal's Grinders; a sandwich shop, a couple of places around Lewisburg and finally a shed with some electricity pylons around it. Not exactly the most interesting places in Appalachia.
Gameplay – Maybe the absense of choice, no npcs and lacking setting would be forgivable if the quest actually contained fun gameplay mechanics, but even they are virtually non-existent. The idea of the quest is to investigate the Sheepsquatch conspiracy by hunting for clues, which might be fun, if it wasn't for the fact that the location of each of these clues is precisely labelled as quest markers on your map, removing any challenge and preventing you from discovering the clues yourself. Apart from following quest markers, there are a handful of enemies to kill, although even they are just a couple of regular radroachs, scorched and robots.
Rewards – There are only two "unique" rewards available from Shear Terror; a pair of renamed binoculars and The Fixer, a silenced combat rifle with a couple of stealth perks. The Fixer is only awarded at level 30 which means it is quickly outclassed by most other guns which can reach up to level 50. And the final reward for completing the last stage of the quest is… nothing! In fact, the quest just ends randomly once you find the last building. This is supposed to be the location of an event where you can fight a Sheepsquatch robot, except by the looks of it the event had already been completed by someone else previously, so when I tried to activate the event myself, nothing happened. I assumed that this event was on a timer, so no big problem, I'll just wait. 5 minutes later another player comes along and tries to start the event and again nothing happens. So we wait for another 10 minutes, as I'm trying to look up how to start this event, and then another player shows up to do the event but its still on cooldown. Players come and go, and after half an hour of waiting afk at this location, tabbing back in to check the event timer, it was still on cooldown after which I had given up waiting for this frankly time wasting mechanic.
I hope that Bethesda reconsiders the direction that they are taking Fallout in, simply because of all of the potential that series has for unique quests with plenty of choice, interesting npcs, unique settings and engaging gameplay.
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