Facing post-apocalypse is never easy, having to hide from ghouls, radiated bugs and the raiders who are surviving in less friendly ways than yourself. Fallout has continually released as a series of living within a world scarred by nuclear wars, changing the very face of the planet as well as all those who still live among its surface. Changing from Interplay to Bethesda we have seen changes in mechanics from isometric RPG to Action RPG to even more FPS orientated designs. A major ask, and modding adventure for some, from plenty of players, was the addition of cooperative play, to survive with friends.
Fallout 76 aims to not address this request totally, instead only adding in cooperative play whilst adding in the constraint of multiplayer and an always-online world. Surviving as you would in the modern Fallout game with friends, but also replacing all NPCs with robots, with the raiders now becoming other players, who may or may not attack you on sight for your materials. While plenty of fans are complacent with this approach, others are furious, while many turn into internet trolls with copy/pasted replies to all videos linking to the new game.
Whether Fallout 76, and its mechanics or systems, are appropriate to you is your own concern, but as I am approaching this game with reservations I will try to be critical, whilst being constructive and inoffensive. There is never a perfect game, as they suit so many people’s needs and wants, F76 is no different.
Set as the earliest Fallout ever, F76 sees us within the vibrant location of Appalachia, an Eastern region of the US. As is usual for Fallout we have the main quest to find something, instead of a water chip, father or platinum chip we must instead find the overseer of our Vault, 76. While this quest is familiar to past main objectives in the series, it is instead dealt almost entirely through the use of holo-tapes, as they take us around the map, clearing out Super Mutants or handling survival tasks.
I will be truthful that I was not able to complete this quest within the allotted time of the BETA sessions, with no real idea of how long it will take to gather them all. However, due to the sheer distance needing to be covered, the quest will take several hours of your time. In normal Bethesda fashion, the world is full of interior dungeons, stories and side-missions to accomplish, from taking an army training exam to surviving against waves of enemies to protect a target.
The storytelling in F76 is still very similar to past games, although with a distinct lack of Human, Ghoul or Mutant NPC to converse with. We will talk with plenty of robots who have varying personalities, listen to the holo-tapes of the dead or read countless notes to learn about the history of Appalachia. In a surprising turn, the voice acting in some of the holo-tapes surpasses that of Fallout 4 or even 3. Complete despair, sadness and regret is felt totally within their voices, with sincere trembles and cries. From teenagers begging for their parents to come home to survivalist teams arguing with one another over their current situation.
In stark contrast, the length of text, notes and computer terminals is very off-putting, this is intensified even more so as time does not stop while you read. If you find a terminal with 10 odd entries that is a good few minutes spent reading, while enemies surround you or players take pot shots. One of the major flaws I see in F76’s design is the sheer quantity of written text, we cannot afford to spend so much time reading while the world goes on. For those who love lore-reading it is a joy, but when a piece of paper can kill you for your inquisitive nature, it loses plenty of allure.
If you have played Fallout 4 at all than Fallout 76 will feel all too familiar, as most of the mechanics are still in place. Weapons now have condition once again, similar to Fallout 3 and New Vegas, requiring maintenance and repairs. Breaking down equipment will now teach you new attachments or enhancements to the weapons themselves, replacing the omniscient characters of earlier games who knew them all at the beginning. The same goes for base building, with objects needing to be taught via plans before being built. With a more progression-like approach to learning, Fallout 76 is a bit more immersive alongside a better flow.
World design is pretty identical to Fallout 4, being created with the same engine alongside plenty of reused assets. You will notice reused staircases, buildings, textures, weapons and more, which can be off-putting to players of Fallout 4, or lazy to most other players. While it is underwhelming, the new additions and placements can make up for the copy/pasted assets, combined with entirely new ones being added as well as new building types and areas.
F76 is designed mostly as a multiplayer experience, with enemy numbers being easily 2 – 4 times higher. There was one building I cleared out that easily had over 20 Super Mutants in the first hall, with 20 or so more through the rest of the building. With such a high number of enemies, levelling comes around much quicker, with that particular building giving me 2 levels after I was done with it. The number of attacks I sustained, and the swarm that came after me, felt highly geared to a team of 4 over a single player approach.
While the game is geared as a multiplayer experience, it does allow for single-player approaches as almost all my playtime was as a lone wolf. You can sneak around and take out enemies with silenced weapons, craft your own base and survive easy enough. The main difficulty of being a solo-player is that of bigger player teams attacking you, or handling larger dungeons and events alone. Turning off voice chat, turning on pacifist mode and staying on the move will allow you a majorly solo experience if that is your preference.
Fallout 76 also introduced level locked equipment, meaning you cannot use any rocket launcher till you hit level 20. This can be a major blow to some players who want to experiment or use higher-power gear but does aid with the whole PvP aspect. Item level also affects the stats, with armour giving increased defence and weapon giving higher damage values. A big disappointment with this system is that you also will not be able to attach any armour to power armour frames, as the lowest tier requires level 25.
As you level up you will also gain S.P.E.C.I.A.L points to spend into your attributes, with the maximum raising to 15. Instead of skill points or perks you now have perk cards, which use up these points to attach their effect to your character. For example, if you want to craft tier 1 weapons, you will need a rank 1 perk card slotted into your intelligence. This does allow you to personalise your build a bit more while limiting your overall power to your stat points. You may select 1 perk card per level, with card decks being rewarded at certain levels, every even level till 10, then every 5th level.
An issue with the perk decks is that you get random cards, meaning you may get all melee and ranged cards when you are focusing more on a crafting build. Alongside unusable cards you may also draw duplicate cards, with a max ranked concentrated fire of Tier 3 you may pull more of that card, making them almost pointless, with the only use being a lower cost to your stats, allowing you to move around cards.
You no longer have a permanent base within the world, instead, you have temporary workshops and a moveable C.A.M.P. The workshops allow you to harvest natural resources like ore, wood or fusion cores as you defend them, while your camp can be packed and moved around. The pickup and go design of the camp is a friendly approach to bases, but with Stash boxes and the camp itself, you may only store 400lbs of loot, which is nowhere near close enough to how much you need. I easily filled this 400lbs within 3 sessions of the BETA, around 16 or so hours.
Another issue of Fallout 76 is that of the community, which may change as the game moves into full release, with fewer BETA testers. There was a time where I was following the main story, to find the Overseer tapes, where I came across an interior dungeon that had a team of 4 players. I thought I would leave them to their own business, only to have them attack me over and over as I tried to enter, halting my story progress. Later in my sessions, I also noted plenty of wanted players, who had killed 1-3 helpless players. For those who want a single player approach, or a friendly one, the number of caustic players who just kill for fun and materials may push them away from this game.
PvP is locked till you are level 5, with attacks causing majorly reduced damage, to my estimate 10%. If you retaliate, the game will lock you into a fight with the player, and their team, meaning the damage reduction is removed. If you do not retaliate, the reduced damage will continue, and the attacking player will need to hit you several times to kill you. On death, you drop your materials and Junk which are mostly more valuable than Caps. You, or any nearby player, can pick up your Junk and run off with it.
While you may be able to revive from death, with the loss of caps and junk, your moveable C.A.M.P can also be damaged in a worse way. If you place down this portable base, other players are allowed to attack and destroy the building, from turrets to walls. While they cannot steal your resources, it can be very annoying to return home to see the walls and turrets all gone. With next to no reward for doing so, Bethesda should have just removed this feature or altered how PvP would work.
While Fallout 76 has many issues with its design, these are all thoughts from the BETA, but some may not be altered this far into development. The gameplay is still enjoyable and very close to that of Fallout 4 with some systems from Fallout 3 making a return. The lore is well done, though oversaturated with written text that cannot always be viably read. Some amazing voice acting pulls the story higher, alongside interesting quest designs. The difficulty is generally higher as the game is geared towards group play, but does not lock out lone-wolf approaches. PvP and griefing needs tweaking, but works as a baseline for now, with only a few isolated cases of abuse.
I enjoyed my time with the BETA and am anticipating my further play when the game eventually releases. While plenty of my concerns are still present, I hope they improve or dissolve as I play further.
Final Session Edit:
After finishing up my time with the BETA I have listed plenty of bugs, glitches and crashes to the game itself, though some may not be prevalent in the final release, with others seemingly being fixed during the BETA itself. The game would commonly crash to desktop, this was apparently due to a memory leak during the first 2 BETA sessions, but I did not experience this within the final 3 Sessions. Looking in 3rd person would see that people would T-pose or glitch out while entering power armour, this was all throughout the BETA. Getting into power armour would sometimes freeze movement, alongside my character carrying 2 power armour frames while I only actually had 1, doubling the weight for no benefit. There were some load screens that would infinitely load, these seemed to be fixed locations, but towards the end of my playtime, I found that my game was stuck in this loop on load-up, halting my playtime in the final hour of the last session. Alongside plenty of other minor glitches, this is a normal thing to expect from Bethesda, but is still horrible, to say the least.
In a bizarre choice by the developers, the co-op has a strange form of shared reward. Any body can be looted by team memebrs, and rewards are shared for quest rewards, from experience to caps. However, you will not receive exp for kills if you never land a hit on the targets, meaning that high-power builds with snipers will be taking plenty of experience away from their teammates. This created annoying situations where I would hit targets with my 10mm to allow my teammates to get a hit in for experience, rather than use my sniper rifle that could kill enemies in 1 or 2 hits. It may be to push players towards helping one another, but in a team, this just adds another annoying step to winning a fight.