Officially revealed just before E3 2018, Fallout 76 took the gaming world by storm, all while causing a bit of concern. It has been only three years since Fallout 4 and yet we’re getting a bigger, more ambitious project within the massive universe. In the last decade in particular, Fallout has become known for its 100+ hour RPG epics, along with a strong emphasis on choice and agency within the world, so it no doubt raised some eyebrows when Bethesda revealed that they were working an online-centric adventure that has the traditional PVE gameplay that’s now tied together with both survival and PVP elements. We were invited down to beautiful West Virigina to get a first hands-on look at Fallout 76 and we came away impressed just how much it plays like a bigger and better Fallout game. While there’s a feeling change, most of them make sense in the context of your character’s situation, not to mention it still also has all the components of what made the series great in the past.
Starting at the beginning of the game, you will wake up and be treated by an announcement from the Overseer saying it’s Reclamation Day and you’re able to leave the Vault. At this point, we were tasked with creating our avatar through the detailed character creator. You could create the most hideous of beings, but considering there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of dialogue outside of what you find on holotapes, it’ll only affect your interactions with others online. As soon as we were done with that, we were pushed down the halls introducing us to some of the different items we’ll be using in the game, including stimpaks and the portable camp. When everything is done, we’re finally able to leave the vault and experience the first view of the open mountains of West Virginia.
Right as you leave the Vault, you will instantly realize just how astonishingly beautiful Fallout 76 is, with luscious green forests as far as the eye can see and rays of light shining through the trees. Considering Fallout has always maintained a drab and depressing environmental palette, Fallout 76 is the complete opposite. Mind you, we did run into a couple of indoor areas that were oddly lighten, but for the majority of our three hours with the game, we came away excited to see more. Opening up the map, which is now represented in a more colorful, campgrounds-esque style, you can also just see how massive the world is and the amount of variety it offers. This includes visiting the mountain-side, underground in the mines, colossal power plants and even a swamp way up north that’s inhabited by some of the most dangerous creatures. There’s a lot going on in the world and there’s little chance you’ll run into anyone else, unless you’re specifically tracking someone down.
Speaking of which, as previously mentioned, a lot of fans have expressed their concerns regarding the multiplayer aspect of Fallout 76, and I can safely say just how insignificant it can be, depending how you play. Everyone in the world, which holds up to 24 players at a time, can be seen on the map, but there’s little incentive to actually hunt anyone down. In fact, it’s to your disadvantage. Engaging with someone will do a little bit of damage, but it will take some time to actually kill them. If that person completely ignores you and runs away, there’s a good chance nothing will come of it. If they engage you back, you will then start a fight and damage will be increased. If you end up killing someone who hasn’t engaged, you will then be deemed a murderer, which removes all player icons from their map, and for everyone else, highlights you and adds a bounty for your head. It’s a good system that should stop people from going into servers and just killing everyone they see. You also don’t lose any of your important gear, just junk that you can scrap at one of the many benches you will run across around the world. To a certain degree I don’t completely understand why this is in the game and not locked to a specific part of a map. While crafting is a big part of the experience, which is used to build and upgrade equipment like in past Fallout games, I never felt like I would be in trouble if I lose all my junk. It might have been more interesting just to section off a part of the map as primarily PVP, but instead we’ll always have to be looking over our shoulders. I guess we’ll have to see how it turns out next month.
One of the biggest changes in Fallout 76 is how the story is told. I mentioned before that everything is found through holotapes, and that makes up for the bulk of the main and side stories. You will find random tapes around the world which will start a quest and lead you on a number of point-to-point objectives. Like MMOs, you’ll want to learn how to clear your quest guide in the UI as it can get cluttered on screen. We ran into few AI and the ones we did were mostly robots who are vendors or security. We didn’t run into any raiders or human based enemies, just machines (such as the new Russian Liberator bots), monsters/animals, feral ghouls and super mutants. Some of the new creatures can be frightening, as a normal sized tick is bad enough, but try taking on one that’s three feet long and constantly absorbing some of your blood – it’s a whole other nightmare. The environmental storytelling is on point with this, as you’ll slowly begin to piece together what had happened and the various new monsters help with this. We have doubts that there are any humans out there, but the developers did say there are other vaults in West Virginia, although locked. When pushed whether or not they’d play a part of the story, all we got was a smile and a “no comment.”
As for gameplay, this is very much Fallout, or at least what we’ve had for the last decade. You will be tasked with going around the open world of West Virginia (and it’s even more vast this time around), killing various creatures and uncovering mysteries around what has happened in the last twenty-five years since the bombs dropped. This is primarily still a first-person shooter, with that optional third-person perspective for anyone who wants to see what you look like in all your crazy or comical gear. Bethesda has added the ability to trade with others, but I never found myself much in a situation where this was needed. One of my teammates, though, blew through all his food, so he had to sacrifice all his caps just to get a bite to eat, which we’ll talk about later. Obviously, being an online-centric game, AI companions are non-existent, at least right now, with the developers stating that they won’t be available at launch. Finally, V.A.T.S. has always been an important part to the first-person shooting mechanics and they’ve been slightly altered with this iteration. Because there’s no pausing what-so-ever, V.A.T.S. will play out in real-time, with you just having to pull the trigger to initiate the AP burning. It feels strange at first, not having a tactile feeling when firing your gun, but you get used to it. More than anything it’s just a good tool to find an enemy.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a Fallout game if it didn’t have scavenging and 76 does things a little differently. Whether it’s killing an enemy or coming across a storage box, there will generally be something for you to grab inside. While you still can be encumbered by carrying too much, which will drain you AP before slowing you down, each lootable object in the world has a little bit of a randomized aspect to it. This is identified right as you open up the menu to loot, as the game has to load what the monster or box is carrying and it can be different for everyone. While these will be randomized, it seems like items scattered in the world itself are up for grabs. For example, I found a park ranger’s outfit and Bobblehead in one area, but my teammates weren’t able to locate them after I picked them up. In addition, while Fallout has always been a game about surviving in the rough wasteland of post-nuclear war, it makes sense that Bethesda would add a food and water meter that will affect your health and AP. Finally, there’s a use for the infinite number of InstaMash boxes and various meats you’ve cut off enemies, but in doing this, you’ll have to manage when you eat and drink properly as you’re both healing and regaining energy. Suffice to say, this feels like a Fallout game, just with a strong emphasis on survival.
Leveling up is drastically altered from what we’ve come to expect. You still will earn experience based on killing enemies (although you only just need to contribute a single bullet to get the full EXP) or come across new locations in the world. The big difference is how you assign points to skills and attributes as we now have a card system in place, one that I think I prefer over what we had in the last game. The biggest problem I personally had with Fallout 4 was that it just had too many skills to choose from that it took forever to navigate, to the point where I didn’t know what I wanted. It feels weird saying this, but it just had too many options that it overwhelmed me. The new card system isn’t as simplistic as Fallout 3, though, as it’s primarily based on leveling each SPECIAL (Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility and Luck) category individually. When you level up, you will be given a choice of a perk card from one of the categories, and the higher you level, the more options will be made available. Obtaining duplicates allows you to level that card up, such as being able to find more ammo in boxes or doing more damage with a melee weapon, but you need to make sure that category has enough points in it to properly utilize it. Lastly, after certain levels, you will obtain a card pack, which seemed to give out at least one high level card out of the four, alongside of a stick of gum and a joke, which seems to maintain that old sense of humor.
Nukes are going to be a large component for late game players. It can be used as vengeful attacks against rival camps or gamers, but considering it’s cheap to both move or rebuild your site, it’s more of a sudden inconvenience than anything else. That’s especially true considering, when a nuke is launched, there will be a three-minute-long timer that will appear, along with a blast radius on the map. You will have plenty of time to move your camp and fast travel out there to avoid it. It’s said to take quite some time to find all the keys to actually launch a warhead, but the rewards might just be worth it. It will change the environment in the blast radius, causing more powerful monsters to appear and different resources to collect. Early game players will have a tough time taking advantage of this, as I assume the keys are located in much higher level areas (I couldn’t find one), and when the nuke goes off, as you’d expect, there’s an incredibly high level of radiation that will kill anyone within a matter of seconds who aren’t equipped with the proper gear. At least seeing a nuclear blast in person is a thing is disturbing beauty.
After only three hours of gameplay, I couldn’t put down the controller. There was a sense of wonder and adventure that I’ve never seen before, and adding multiplayer only adds a whole new level of enjoyment. There was obvious worry about the multiplayer aspect and how players could go around trolling others, but that was put to rest. Each server can only handle 24 players, and considering the map is gigantic, there’s little chance of encountering hostile enemies, and even if you do, the system ensures the assailant is punished more than anyone else. This is entirely a Fallout game just with cooperative play and an even stronger emphasis on survival sustenance. With only a few hours with the game, we couldn’t grasp how well the story will flesh out, especially considering it seems like most of it is told through holotapes, but we’re brimming with excitement to traverse the surprisingly beautiful wastelands of West Virginia once more when Fallout 76 hits PC, Xbox One and PlayStation on November 14.