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Fallout 76’s first patch sneaks in stealth nerfs, breaks the game in new ways

Bethesda’s Fallout 76 launch woes continue

Fallout 76 - hardware store Bethesda Game Studios/Bethesda Softworks via Polygon
Cass Marshall is a news writer focusing on gaming and culture coverage, taking a particular interest in the human stories of the wild world of online games.

For many Fallout 76 fans, the newly announced weekly patch schedule seemed like it could fix the problems plaguing the online multiplayer title. Indeed, the changes announced in the Dec. 4 patch seemed to be fixes based off the community’s reception to the launch of the title, including buffs to CAMP stash storage and automatic weapons fire. With the next patch scheduled for Dec. 11, it seemed as Bethesda was getting the title back on track.

However, the changes to the game go deeper than just the announced patch notes. Users are noticing stealth nerfs to key mechanics across the board that seriously affect production and gameplay. These aren’t confirmed by Bethesda, but they are being reported by players. This includes the ammo production cap being knocked from 400 down by half to 200, fusion core production down to one per hour (and fusion cores now drain quicker), and legendary creature spawn rates being down.

Unannounced stealth changes have been controversial in games as a service for a long time. A “stealth” change is one that is not reported or recorded in the official patch notes. Sometimes these are simple fixes that are cut from the patch notes in order to increase readability, so that players can immediately spot the most important and game affecting things. However, when a change affects gameplay — especially if it lowers the power or ease of an experience — it’s considered important to record this in the patch notes so that players can adjust accordingly. This follows an apology from Bethesda, where the studio said they would increase their communication with the community.

Because the nerfs the Fallout 76 community is experiencing haven’t been officially announced in public facing patch notes, players are banding together to test and confirm each other’s suspicions. It’s not clear what’s leading to certain perceptions; some melee users are reporting that their damage has been nerfed, but other users are saying that the change comes from a fixed bug that caused the SPECIAL system to record a user’s Strength as higher than it actually was.

YouTubers are also finding ways to exploit post-patch changes, with multiple tutorials going up demonstrating how to duplicate any item with a new glitch.

The Fallout 76 community has been fractured since launch, with some players genuinely enjoying the madcap nature of the game and the changes to the traditional Fallout formula. However, the feedback has largely been negative, with the game being criticized as both a Fallout title and an online multiplayer sandbox. Black Friday saw the title’s price drop by 50 percent, which was seen as a sign of sluggish sales. The Dec. 4 patch has further lowered community morale, with players expressing anger over changes to experience and production. Furthermore, some players are seeing both the price drop and the changes as a betrayal to the fans who have stuck around with the flawed game since day one. They paid full price and get fewer fusion cores; it’s a combination that doesn’t feel good.

[Warning: This video contains rapidly flashing lights.]

Load times in Fallout 76 are dismal after the patch.

Due to the limited patch notes, it’s currently unclear how badly the game has been affected. What’s worse is that the new build seems to be badly affected by bugs, including ones can reportedly delete an entire stash and leave users penniless, a carry weight bug that causes players to disconnect, and weapon and power armor mods reportedly not breaking and stripping off the paint. Within minutes of logging into my own game and entering the Whitesprings Resort, I experienced the lights flickering and frame rate drops that disconnected me. Attempting to test weapons in the nearby golf resort led to brutal frame drops that led to my instant, freeze-frame death.

It appears some of these changes were implemented to stop players from forcibly exploiting the game to overfill their stash or go over their CAMP’s power budget, and happened to target innocent users who had been affected by bugs or made simple mistakes. Other changes are clear signs that the game is seriously broken by the patch and is in critical need of a fix.

Between communication issues, incomplete patch notes, and what seems like an assortment of critical bugs, it seems this patch isn’t the salvation Bethesda was hoping to deliver.

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