I woke up to the sound of the Overseer’s voice on the vault intercom. “Good morning, Vault 76.” It was Reclamation Day. It was time to open the vault and embark on the mission of rebuilding America. Grabbing my Pip-Boy, I slowly made my way to the entrance alongside my fellow vault dwellers. We pushed open the vault door, and one by one we emerged into the eerily quiet and seemingly empty world. We then set our sights on finding the one person who could help us understand the path forward — the Overseer. All that stood in our way was a massive wasteland full of radiation, mutant monsters, and other bloodthirsty humans.
Sounds like a blast. Right?
During Bethesda’s event at The Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia, we had a chance to preview Fallout 76. We tried a version of the game that we’re told is close to what players can expect with the upcoming B.E.T.A. What we played wasn’t perfect, but it was certainly entertaining. It left us hopeful the first fully online Fallout game be both faithful to the series, and an unexpected new experience.
It’s not a small world after all
Open world games have a difficult relationship with size. Developers don’t want their world to feel too small, but that apprehension has turned into a problem of its own. Some recent open world games, like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, have crafted worlds are as tedious as they are massive. Yet it seems Fallout 76 has side-stepped the problem.
We found ourselves so consumed with everything else that holotapes became an afterthought.
The addition of online multiplayer and group settlements (called C.A.M.P.s — Construction and Assembly Mobile Platforms) encourages exploration and makes wandering through the vast wasteland addictive. When you first emerge on the earth’s surface you’re given one objective. Track down the Overseer. She plays a pivotal role in guiding you through the main story, but you’ll find there’s plenty of opportunity for surprising events along your journey. That’s what makes the world exciting.
It’s volatile. There’s plenty of towns, radioactive mutants, and holotapes filled with stories of past survivors, but exploring is not without risk. Timed multiplayer events pop up sporadically and prompt all survivors to drop what they’re doing and join in, and you never know what will result. Will players band together to take down the enemies, or will the whole thing devolve into a massacre?
While the seemingly endless supply of events and activities is not a problem, we do think it’ll lead to gaps between story missions. Holotapes are recordings of past happenings that players can find all throughout Fallout 76 and they tell the brunt of the story. Though they can be accessed again through your Pip-Boy, we found ourselves so consumed with everything else that they became an afterthought.
Prepare for a fight
While the story doesn’t take center stage, Fallout 76 does feel like Fallout 4, especially in combat. It keeps the infuriatingly slow melee that makes trying to punch out a skittish Radroach embarrassingly frustrating endeavor. Gunplay can is best described as ‘functional.’ It’s not bad, but it’s not going to give Destiny 2 competition.
You won’t lose your items. Death doesn’t set back your character’s progress.
This weakness is compensated by the wide range of weapons you can find, craft, and modify. Don’t like what you have? Tweak it until you do. That worked in Fallout 4 because it gave incentive to find explore and find new resources, and it works in Fallout 76 for the same reason.
Going multi-player means the V.A.T.S. system, which used to slow time, now works in real-time, but it continues to help players line up shots for more effective combat. The system can be upgraded so that more areas on enemies can be targeted, but depending on your affinity and skill in gunfights, it can feel cheap. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to use V.A.T.S. against other players.
That’s a shame, because player-on-player combat remains a central concern. With a few exceptions, players can fight other players at any time, which opens the risk of experienced players griefing newcomers. We learned more of how Bethesda will handle players that abuse the game’s player-versus-player combat.
You must be level five before you can fight, or be targeted by, other players. A bounty system is also set in place to help identify which players have murdered others. Murder has a simple definition — one sided combat that ends in the death of the passive participant. Developers at the event explained that murderers will not be able to see markers for other players on their own maps, and the entire server will be notified of the bounty placed on their head.
And no, you won’t lose all your items to some high-level jerk who waltzed by and killed you. Death doesn’t set back your character’s progress.
Surviving is easier together
There’s no doubt that Fallout 76 promotes teamwork. It’s designed with parties of up to four players in mind and, of course, your odds of survival are better together. Yet you’re never confined to sticking with your group. You can always venture off and then fast travel back to one of your teammates, which turns out to be a convenient and liberating feature.
Still, there’s reason to work with friends. Many of these can be found in perk cards. Every time you level up, you can apply points to abilities and unlock passives from perk cards. Perk cards can be upgraded up to three times, and at level three, they can be shared among your group.
These abilities include boosts to the effectiveness of stimpacks, increases to your tolerance of radioactive food, and more. This cleverly sneaks a flexible class system into the game.
This is not an entirely new experience, but instead a familiar one translated to multiplayer.
Each group member can focus on upgrading different abilities to bring different passives to the group. However, there’s no classes defined in game, so you can mix-and-match abilities to fit your group.
Teams can also band together in settlements. These allow players to chip in and develop a place for everyone to call home. It alleviates the pressures of scavenging, crafting, and defending by spreading the responsibilities among the group.
There is no friendly fire in the game, so you don’t have to tiptoe around your peers during an intense combat session. Yet this doesn’t mean you can’t kill your teammates. If one of your group murders another player and gets a bounty placed on their head, anyone on the team can collect the bounty. The question, then, is how well do you know your friends?
Fallout 76 feels like a lateral sequel to Fallout 4. It doesn’t fundamentally change how the game plays and mostly tweaks existing features instead of adding new ones. This is not an entirely new experience, but instead a familiar one translated to multiplayer.
Strangely, that might prove Fallout 76’s greatest victory. Fallout 4 was hugely popular, but players were disappointed the game’s settlement system never evolved beyond a virtual Lego set. Taking the game online adds the context settlements needed. They become a haven for you and your friends in a hostile wilderness and, because they help keep you safe, you’ll feel the need to expand and improve your settlement, giving you reason to venture out and find upgrades.
Granted, we saw only a glimpse of the game. We didn’t see much of player-on-player combat and we didn’t get to dive deep into the end-game experience. These details will make or break Fallout 76 – but they’ll at least be built on a solid foundation.