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Can Bethesda Save Fallout 76?

If you haven’t been following the news lately, Fallout 76 is in a rough spot. Recently, hacks were released that allowed users to spawn assets from Fallout 76 and Fallout 4, including custom legendary weaponry. Worse still, another hack was released that allowed the hackers to treat other players as containers. Not only could they steal their entire inventory, but they could also steal their Pip-Boy, the item that provides players with their User Interface. While this has been patched, it was a sour way for Fallout 76 to finish 2019. With everything else that has plagued this game, is there any hope for its future?

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FO76 has been having a rough time. It launched as a barely held together, buggy mess, and ever since then Bethesda has desperately tried to patch the holes while adding new content. They have been steadily releasing content, but some of the largest drops, like the Wastelanders Update to add NPCs into the game, have been mired by delays.

Bethesda re-entered into controversy following a fairly quiet period surrounding the game with the announcement of Fallout First. This subscription service added several things to the game, the classic Fallout: New Vegas Riot Armor, larger stashes, the privilege of creating and running private servers, and a monthly budget of atoms, for only $100 a year. That is, of course, on top of buying the game for however much you did, ranging from $60 to a measly $4.99 at some retailers.

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This started a firestorm that just kept growing and growing. Quickly, people realized that Bethesda, in their infinite wisdom, forgot to grab the falloutfirst.com url, leaving someone else to take it and put their own twist on the Fallout First announcement. Not much later, hackers discovered how to spawn just about whatever they wanted into the game. Assets from Fallout 4 and Fallout 76, including NPCs and customized legendary weapons, were spawned freely by the hackers. This was the beginning of an even greater threat, however.

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On December 23rd, a Hack was unveiled that would ravage the world of FO76 for three days. The hack was first revealed in a YouTube video, and went live the next day. The hack treated players as containers, allowing hackers to freely steal from whoever they wanted. The original video showing the hack was taken down, but it was reuploaded, with the audio removed.

The hack was live from the 24th until the 26th, fully accessible to anyone who was interested in destroying the hopes and dreams of people who tried their hardest to enjoy themselves. The hack was released while most of the Bethesda staff were out for the Christmas holiday, making it that much harder for them to properly patch the bug. Despite that, they were able to push out a patch on the 26th to stop hackers from having free reign over the servers.

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This hack revealed a much larger issue with how Bethesda is running their game. Reddit user SarahC posted a breakdown of why the hack worked and how troubling that is for the game. On r/fo76, they said:

[A]n evil hacker can make the message read anything they want….. “Player X: Move to Map Position 1, 1” – that gets sent to the server, and the player is instantly “warped” to the top left of the map! … It looks like Bethesda trusts all the messages from clients. As you can appreciate now, that… is BAD with three capital letters … The hack made a message on the client that went something like “Make Player 746738 into a container for items.”, which the server happily did. The hacker then just walks up to them, and retrieves all the items, as you would with a storage box! … This wouldn’t be a security issue if Bethesda had implemented what every first year web-developer knows about security: Always distrust client sent data.

If these observations are true, which they likely are, Bethesda needs to change up their system in a major way. Right now, based on SarahC’s investigations, the game doesn’t bother to check if what you’re telling it is true, which spells disaster for any future plans Bethesda might have. Wastelanders is set to come out by March of 2020, and if things aren’t shaped up by then, adding NPCs to the mix might make the experience even worse than before. Imagine if the hackers could spawn custom NPCs that did whatever they wanted, with no easy way to permanently shut them down.

Is there any hope?

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The truth is that there is no easy answer. Fallout 76 is in a bad spot, and there doesn’t seem to be a straightforward fix. Changing how the Server views Client Messages could introduce a whole new host of bugs and issues, but not doing it will continue to make it easy for hackers to have their way with the West Virginia Wasteland. Games have come back from terrible, unplayable places: No Man’s Sky is one of the best examples of this. The game launched in a horrible state, but Hello Games kept going, and now the game is on an entirely different level than it was. Bethesda may be able to do the same, but they have to be willing to push it through, rather than continually trying to cash in the dwindling player-base running out of patience.

Do you think Fallout 76 is salvageable, or would Bethesda be better off leaving it behind, like they did with Elder Scrolls: Legends? Do you still play Fallout 76? Were you affected by the Inventory Hack? Talk about it in the comments below!