Fallout 76 landed with all the grace of an atom bomb. Back when it first released, PC Gamer's Christopher Livingston called it a "A beautifully crafted but ultimately repetitive world", giving it a 60 in his Fallout 76 review.
It arrived with a bunch of glaring flaws, too: game-breaking bugs, a whole host of missing features like no FoV slider (this happened again with Starfield, somehow), and a bungled $200 edition which promised fancy canvas bags that… turned out to be made of nylon (which Bethesda did eventually fix, though not until a whole year later). 'Troubled history' is an understatement, which is something Todd Howard's wildly aware of as per a quick jaunt through Bethesda's history with WIRED.
"I think as people know, we struggled," Howard says—while quotes from various publications including PCG loom around his face. Still, Howard maintains, there was potential there. "Despite its issues, we had a lot of successes. We built our own online platform from scratch, it sold really well—we had a core audience playing the game despite its problems who were telling us: 'we love this, please fix it.'"
Giving him some credit, here, it's not as if Bethesda scrapped it and moved on. The game's in a much better state nowadays, and it's still getting content—like a trip to Atlantic City. That's not much comfort to those who bought into the pre-launch hype and got burned, but it could've just as easily been left to wilt in obscurity.
"[We learned] how to get in a cadence, and continue to update a game—put our heads down, do the hard work—and today, five years later, it's one of our most played games." Which is accurate—that Atlantic City update arrived with the news that Fallout 76's gathered 15 million players over the years. Though it's on Game Pass, which certainly helps. "It made us much, much better developers," adds Howard, "going through [that] difficult process."
It's nice to see some genuine self-reflection coming through, even if I'm not quite sure Bethesda learned the lessons it needed for Starfield. As mentioned, Starfield still launched on PC with a lot of key features missing. It felt dated in a few key areas, too, most notably its storytelling and repeated use of premade assets making a galaxy that feels a touch miles wide, inch deep.
That's not to say there aren't points of pride to be had. It's noticeably less buggy than other Bethesda games on launch, and the ship builder's a genuine innovation on the studio's behalf. Besides—just like Fallout 76, there's plenty of time left to improve on a flawed game.