You'll never walk alone.
It’s a brand new day in the Wasteland: the sun is shining, mole rats are howling and the faint whine of Vertibirds can be heard way off in the distance. It’s time for you, the definitely-not-alone wanderer, to step out and reclaim the wasteland of Fallout 76.
To get the proper Fallout 76 experience, Bethesda sent myself and a contingent of other Aussie journos and content creators halfway around the world to stay at the Greenbrier – a real world hotel and location that we know plays at least some role in the main quest line of 76. Broken up into smaller teams and given our very own friendly Bethesda tour guide, we had three hours to fight, build and explore as much as we could.
New world, new me
As I woke for the first time in the world of Fallout 76 I was faced with that classic RPG opening: character design and stat-point allocation. The familiar Fallout 4-esque character editor is back, offering you plenty of options to chop and change yourself into beauty or beast; unlike most other RPG titles, your first choice is not one that you’re stuck with. Instead, 76 will let you chop and change your look at any time for no charge — so whether you’re crafting the perfect in-game recreation of yourself or a half-hearted Harley Quinn/Joker cross over, you’ll never need to worry about regretting your choices hundreds of hours later.
Once you’ve finalised your creation it’s time to step out of your room in the vault and into the Reclamation Day party. You’re given some supplies to kickstart your journey, including your very own Construction and Assembly Mobile Platform (C.A.M.P. for short), before following the path laid by your Overseer out into the wild.
As you take your first few steps out into the waste the sheer vastness of the Wasteland becomes clear. There are no cars or horses here, so if you want to check out the far-flung corners of the map then you’ve only got your own two legs to take you there. Fast travel makes a return, of course, but the convenience comes with the added cost of a few caps, and you’ll need to visit a location before you can warp back there. A quick check of said map shows that there are plenty of points of interest out there just waiting to be explored, and plenty more unmarked ones for you to find too. So far this felt like Fallout as we know it, albeit with friends, but a few minutes out in the wasteland and the changes necessary to make 76 a real-time shared world survival game begin to become more apparent.
Fallout 76 brings a slew of changes to levelling that can be a little tough to get your head around at first but offer a high level of customisation to suit min-maxers and role players alike. You begin by choosing one of your seven S.P.E.C.I.A.L. skills to drop a point into, before opening your first Perk Card pack. These perk cards replace the perk trees we’re familiar with and provide a much more dynamic experience when customising your character.
You’re not bound to choosing only perk cards that correspond to your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. skills – instead you can freely choose and swap cards as you go depending on how you want to play that day. Had enough of being a sneaky sniper? Cards allowing, you’re able to swap your chosen ones out for those that give a boost to Strength and melee abilities so you can bop things on the head for a while. Want some more AP to max out your VATS for your next big PvP clash? That’s fine too, just spend a few minutes rejigging your cards and you’re good to go.
To me this, more than the multiplayer, shared world aspect of 76, is the biggest and bravest departure from the series formula we know so well. Thankfully it’s still reasonably intuitive and has allowed Bethesda to maintain an Fallout-like customisation system for your character, all while still tapping in to the survival game aspect of titles such as Rust and Ark. To begin with you’ll be quite limited in per-card choice, but Bethesda has assured us that you’ll receive a card pack on level-up ad infinitum.
Levelling offers more than just new perk cards and a point for your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. though, as many weapons and armour are now only usable once you’ve reached an appropriate level. While the pipe pistol and short hunting rifle are available quite early on, if you want to use something decidedly more devastating for the tougher mobs then you’ll need to put in some leg work.
So VATS new?
VATS has long been a crucial part of the combat system in Fallout, a throwback to a time when the game was turn-based rather than real-time as it is today. For the uninitiated, VATS is a system that allows the game to target an enemy for you and provide you with a “chance to hit” rather than relying on your own aim in exchange for some Action Points, the Fallout equivalent of stamina. In previous titles VATS would slow down time considerably and give you a moment to weigh up your options, but that obviously wouldn’t work in a shared world title such as 76.
Instead we get real-time VATS, a system that still takes the effort out of aiming for you in exchange for a chance to miss but without slowing down time or taking you out of the action. The result is somewhat off putting as you’re not required to aim in the direction of your target, simply having them on screen will suffice. Firing still requires Action Points too, though you’re no longer able to “queue up” actions and will need to pay more attention to the meter on your HUD to know when you’re running low on AP. Overall the new system works quite well and blends excellently into the shared world experience, though the lack of hit feedback and the unusual feeling of not actually needing to aim at your target are a drawback of this real time VATS.
Fall-out and about
Once we had a handle on those freshly updated systems, it was time to venture out and see just what this new Wasteland had in store. Naturally our group wanted to make a beeline for the in-game Greenbrier to see just how well it’d been reflected, and to maybe catch a glimpse of some of the new wildlife along the way.
Whether you’re strolling through the main quests or simply exploring the wasteland, Bethesda has aimed to make sure you’re never left wanting something to do. While we didn’t get much time to play through the quests themselves, what we did see reminded me of Fallout 4 – both in terms of objectives and story content. If you feel like taking a break from the main quests, or maybe you’ve completed the quests altogether, then there’s plenty of exploring to be done with a mixture of dungeons and other points of interest to explore.
En route to the Greenbrier we found a mine cut into a steep cliff face that wound down into the earth below. With the idea of sick loot in our minds, we headed inside encountered some scorched – like ghouls, scorched are humans heavily affected by the radiation that’s soaked the wasteland after the bombs dropped. These enemies were surprisingly intelligent, taking cover and moving around to make fighting them somewhat more of a task then the robots and molerats we’d faced earlier. They also babbled in broken English too, an eerie reminder that these unlucky few were once as human as you are.
Once we’d dispatched a few of those we came across the first puzzle – a locked cage containing two scorched guarding some tasty looking loot. The door was, of course, locked with a keypad requiring a 6-digit code to get inside that we could find elsewhere in the room. Continuing past a few more scorched we eventually came across the boss of this dungeon – a decidedly more deadly scorched that was a higher level than those we’d encountered so far. Monster levelling is a much larger deal in 76 than in previous titles, as mobs no longer scale along with you. Instead enemies you encounter will have a level already, and it’s up to you to choose whether fighting that level 45 Deathclaw while you’re a measly level 5 is worth your time.
Are we the bad guys?
While exploring the wasteland you’ll find yourself in the company of up to 32 other players, so naturally our merry little band had to pick a fight with the first group we could get to. You’ll need to be level 5 before PvP becomes available, but once you are then you’re free to attack, or be attacked, at any time.
Once we all hit the magic number, my party decided we needed to show a nearby group of content creators the power of the written word the only way we knew how: violence. While running around in 76 you appear on the map as normal; crouch into stealth and you disappear off the map as long as you remain unspotted. I used this to my advantage as I snuck up on the other players at a broken down carnival in the North West corner of the map. The 2x crit multiplier for stealth hits still applies in 76 too, though Bethesda has gone all out to make sure unwanted PvP attention is easily avoided.
In fact, it almost feels like Bethesda didn’t want to include the option to fight other players at all — you’re almost always punished for being the instigator of a fight. Your initial shots on a target do very little damage, even with the tasty 2x multiplier, until your chosen foe decides to fight back. While this seems like an excellent way to stop griefers, it removes a lot of the threat of other players and reduces punishment for a lack of awareness.
You never need to worry about other players’ positions on the map because, even if they attack you first, you stand an excellent chance of winning any ensuing battle. On top of that enabling the “pacifist” setting allows you to fast travel away from the fight too, making unfriendly players an inconvenience at most.
Should you decide to fight back you’ll find that PvP is quite the hectic affair and, on console at least, you’re almost always best to use VATS for that better chance to hit. While most enemies in the game will run straight at you, other players tend to strafe and jump around and can be quite hard to track when aiming normally. With VATS though, you’ll only need to keep them on your screen and the game will do the rest of the work for you.
Win or lose, PvP fast becomes a battle of attrition to see who runs out of stimpacks or ammo first. Should you find yourself the victor then you’ll likely have only the briefest moment of respite to loot the junk of your downed foe, before they fast travel right on back to fight you once more. Should you lose? Well that’s no problem either, as you too can fast travel right on back to the nearest point of interest ready to reengage once more. This turns what should be small, occasional skirmishes into drawn out battles as you and your opponent fight to see who runs out of supplies last.
This of course describes a solo player 1v1, but in Fallout 76 you can roll around with three friends and ransack the Wasteland together. When our group of four took on that of the content creators we soon found ourselves in an exhaustive all-out war to see which team ran out of ammo or lost interest first. After twenty minutes of fighting I’m sad to admit that it was us, the writers, who’d ran completely dry of ammo and usable weapons and had to bow down to the onslaught of New Media™.
S.E.T. up C.A.M.P.
Building of course makes a return in 76, rightly so given its position as a survival RPG, and feels far more natural than in Fallout 4. While I often found settlement management to be a huge pain in 4, building your C.A.M.P. or workshop up feels much more straightforward in 76 and is a better fit overall for the theme of the game. While we didn’t dive too deep into the building aspect with our time, preferring to explore instead, we did take some time to set up a workshop and assemble some turrets to protect it from enemy attacks.
Workshops function as resource generating areas in 76 – imagine a settlement that you know, did something – and allow you effective access to some key building materials. Capturing and defending these workshops will be an essential part of the mid and late game time in 76, as not only will your newly secured resource hub be under threat from hordes of robots and scorched, you’ll also find that other players will be keen to take control of your new base too.
War never changes.
Overall, I enjoyed my brief glimpse into Fallout 76. Bethesda has managed to blend and build on the survival game aspects introduced in Fallout 4 and craft them into a fun, if not wholly new experience. This isn’t simply Bethesda cashing in on the craze of survival games either, as the changes to the core aspects such as VATS and S.P.E.C.I.A.L. feel natural – like steps forward as they build on mechanics that we already know and are comfortable with. With Fallout 76 positioned to be a live game, we’re sure to see new game modes and monsters and while we haven’t seen what the end game has in store just yet, I’m confident that Bethesda can craft an experience players will want to come back to.
Hamish Lindsay was sent to West Virginia as a guest of Bethesda. All travel, accomodation and meals were paid for by the publisher.