Performance analysis: Fallout 76's 47GB patch tested on all consoles
Fundamental problems still need to be fixed.
As patches go, Fallout 76's 1.02 title update is one of the biggest we've seen, weighing in at a mighty 47GB on each of the consoles - a marked difference from PC's 15GB download. In its patch notes, Bethesda talks about bug fixes and performance upgrades, but to what extent is the game actually improved over its launch showing?
First of all though, it's fair to say that the sheer size of the patch is somewhat baffling, especially bearing in mind the actual improvements to the end-user experience. Fallout 76 takes up 53GB before the patch - and yet despite updating with 47GB of data, it doesn't stack on top of it. The final file size is still only 53.2GB with the patch installed - only 200MB more than it was before. Clearly then, Bethesda is updating the game's files, but also replacing much of data you already had installed in the process. All the textures, sound files, and more fit into that same package - quite why they would need replacing is something of a mystery. "This update will be large compared to what we expect for patches going forward," Bethesda has said. "Regular updates will always vary in size, but future updates should be much smaller in comparison."
But once that mammoth patch is downloaded, what does it actually deliver in practice? A standout problem with Fallout 76 is the performance lurches, dropping down to 20fps and under on PS4, and even on Xbox One X. The first thing I checked was the Top of the World resort area that caused so many issues during our first analysis. On Xbox One X - before this patch - performance dropped as low as 10fps, with heavy stuttering bolted on top to create some shocking dips. With that in mind, it's a surprise to see Xbox One X - with the update installed - runs this area flawlessly. The frame-rate is fine here at least. All might not be well across the game, but it's a good sign.
There are some caveats here, however. The trouble with Fallout 76 testing is that frame-rates are so variable, and often without clear reason. The networking conditions, time of day, and even local events all change between every playthroughs and could potentially influence the results, which may explain why the base Xbox One seemingly ran this area better than the X model in our first round of tests. It's impossible to exactly reproduce the conditions between each run, and so it's best judged on the overall experience. Looking at the base PS4, the Top of the World resort seems fixed, until you walk a little farther, where certain vista views sees the frame-rate drop back to the 20fps we saw in the launch build. There do seem to be some improvements overall then, but performance remains highly variable.
Ballpark PS4 performance is poor overall. Putting more time into the campaign subsequent to our first look, battles show slow down, even with the patch in place. Pulling the trigger on any gun, and especially with fully automatics, chews into frame-rates until the clip's unloaded. In short, the one moment you need solid performance, it's taken away from you. Taking down enemies with grenades makes that plummet further, and it becomes too erratic to hold your target reticle on an enemy for much longer than a second. Any combat with weapons more powerful than a handgun just seems to tank performance.
Then there's the stutter, which is a problem on every console, even on patch 1.02. This is something that's highlighted as improved in Bethesda's patch notes, but using PS4 as an example, I see no tangible change here. It happens at the worst times too; evading enemies, switching guns, or simply moving into a new area triggers a sharp drop. Some of this is likely down to the engine's logging progress; when you're approaching a new location, you'll get a note marking the discovery - which usually cues a hiccup.
Looking at PS4 Pro, the Top of the World spot ran just fine before the patch, and it remains a flat 30fps line. However, Pro did struggle using weapons with augmentations. Loading the same weapon again, Bethesda's certainly not solved the problem, to the point where it feels virtually impossible to aim with any kind of consistent accuracy. On Xbox One S, even simple traversal can be blighted by obtrusive hitching and stuttering.
Performance on every console still requires urgent attention then, and glitches and bugs are still commonplace. Clipping, and poor collision detection lead to characters floating above ground, or objects being virtually immaterial. For example, branches can become see-through, letting you target straight through their main trunk. And then there are odder moments still; static enemies and effects that don't work as they should - and pervasive texture pop-in.
Even basic mapping for rock and trees can see prolonged delays before the assets eventually display. You can get right up close, and still be staring at a low-grade placeholder asset for a good five seconds, before the higher-res texture swaps in. Scenery in the distance, especially right at the game's start, shows heavy pop-in on buildings too. At range, or up close, there's no sense of consistency here. The game's littered with small visual bugs like this that suggest that Fallout 76 required a goode deal more development time.
Overall, it's a disappointing turnout. The size of the 47GB patch suggests some kind of fundamental revision to the game, an optimisation of assets at the very least. But what we're more likely looking at is a series of hotfixes for outstanding issues in mission design and online balance. On the audiovisual side, every version is prone to glaring visual glitches, hiccups, and performance drops. Given the online nature of the game, this is no doubt the first of many updates, but the turnout here - and the fact that many of Fallout 4's issues were never fully addressed - begs the question: is it time for a fundamental revamp of BGS's Creation Engine?
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