Mutually Assured Destruction.
It is a safe bet that I am torn with Fallout 76. Out of many games I would have beaten a hippie to have built in multiplayer form Fallout is not a series high on the list. The reason is simple: They are polished RPG experiences focusing heavily on story. Having such rich stories requires a strong focus on designing them within a set world of how a SINGLE PLAYER interacts in it. Even many games with a multiplayer focus, and Monster Hunter World comes to mind, lock the story down in single player areas.
Now when Todd Howard says that you create the story what he is hoping you will hear is that 76 is a rich world brimming with interesting things to do and players interacting in such a way that you will find this as fulfilling as a well-written game story. What my cynical mind hears is that Bethesda has not bothered to put a story in this one and is expecting you to just love the grind.
Which I don’t like.
Now I understand that concession are going to be made to make this a multiplayer game. But the detailed and rich story is what makes Fallout such an award winning series. Nobody would have cared if Obsidian had made a game in the Nevada desert if the story wasn’t such a stylish post-apocalyptic western. My worry is not really that the story is missing though, it’s that the story missing will ruin what makes Fallout games, and that Fallout 76 is going to feel like it’s missing something special.
But naturally I’m writing this before playing the beta, so everything past this paragraph will be post-playtime. Will this be the new and beautiful Fallout game we will all love? Or is it going to be another poor attempt to cash in on the multiplayer market.
I woke up in my room in Vault 76 hungover from the final night party before. Over the tannoy the Overseer wishes us luck on our quest, telling us that sadly she will not be joining us, and her work is going to take her to the Appalachian Mountains. Quickly getting dressed and putting on my face in the character creation which has been ripped pretty wholesale from 4, not a bad thing but note this ‘taken from 4’ motif, I get ready for leaving the vault.
I scurry through the vault, grabbing my good friend on the way (a real person who I will call Gaz because that is his name) and we hurry through grabbing all the things Vault-Tec provided for us: Clothes, medical supplies, food, and a C.A.M.P., an object used for placing bases around the world.
Leaving the vault, a nearby quest marker denoted that we had to follow the Overseer to her camp, but I had made more friends and wanted to explore so our team of 4 went off in the completely wrong direction to explore and make camp. We headed down a road, fighting Protectrons and Liberators, small robots which dive around quickly, and headed down to find a small house boarded up at the bottom of the road. After a quick looting and going over some little details we decided to head to the next interesting looking object on the map: a funfair.
Our plan of just having fun at the funfair was quickly cut short by the Scorched: Young Ghouls which are pretty salty about your presence. We beat them down, then focused on the new quest which had appeared to find Jangles the Moon Monkey. We scurried around doing the usual loot and shoot until finding him under a counter at the food stand and moved on to the rally track across the road.
The rally track was a mess but after clearing out the local ghoul population we found a build table and managed to scrounge enough caps together to make ourselves a base. We played around with some of the building mechanics and tried a few timed missions about before I retired for the night and left my friends to travel on without me.
So to give the best impression on this beta I’m going to split this down into 3 sections and flatly assume you have played Fallout 4. I’m going to go through what’s different from 4, what you actually do in 76 and the multiplayer aspect.
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN 4 & 76
If you have played Fallout 4 recently, you are going to really see a lot of similarities in 76. That’s understandable, the game is built in the same engine and a lot of the same assets are reused. Now they haven’t built the same world at all, Virginia is not really a nuclear wasteland and Boston takes a lot more of the brunt of the damage from the nuclear assault. The world is one which has fallen to disrepair not through nuclear remodelling but through the lack of people. Trees are still about, animals are not really monstrous and water is pretty safe.
In essence though 76 is a reskin of 4, which I personally quite like. The focus on FPS-style shooting makes the transition to multiplayer a little easier. The older Fallout games heavier focus on story and non-violent action would have made this transition harder. In fact, it seems that 4 has a lot of mechanics which can work in a multiplayer setting: The emphasis on shooting, the smoother gameplay without dropping into menus as often, the building as well; it’s almost like this was planned…
WHAT YOU DO IN 76
76 really share a lot of aspects with previous games. The major difference is that you are not aiming towards some overarching goal of finding you father, or your son, or water and other important things. You are doing this to build the world back up, or in reality to better yourself. Think like MineCraft: You gather to build better equipment to gather more and cycle up in quality of product.
That doesn’t mean that exploring for exploring’s sake is inherently bad. The world is still full of interesting story and information around to make this place feel like it was a living and breathing landscape. You just have to accept the grind that you’re doing this not for some story goal.
Quests still exist and come in a variety of forms: You do get traditional side-quests from previous games, but these are supplemented with area quests such as my find Jangles adventure mentioned earlier and event quests which can be focused around a base or timed. Rewards get planted straight into your inventory along with caps, and quests are the easiest way to gather items far surpassing the usual scrounging.
It’s going to make the way you play more akin to a traditional MMORPG. Stock up, rack up some quests and loot and head back to base. It’s a game that transitions across between being an FPS and an MMORPG seamlessly so you will be able to manage the dissonance of shooting things in the face and grinding like a WOW player without much stress.
Base building, one of the big touted points, is ripped straight from 4. Bases are dotted at specific locations around the world, although I believe you can use the C.A.M.P to situate them wherever you want. Your reward for gathering all the loot will be to make your base better, and the system quite happily accommodates multiple builders. I look forward to once again being a handicap in my team’s architectural adventures through base building.
Finally, the biggest retooling is the Perks system. You still retain your SPECIAL characteristics, and over time can level these up point-by-point. Rather than having a grand effect on your character as in other games their levelling allows you to equip higher level perks into each slot. Perks are split across the seven characteristics, and you equip a perk to its corresponding letter. You can only have one perk active for each letter at a time which gives 7 perks in total to run with. Gathering more perks is done through levelling up, which unlocks you card booster packs and a terrible joke with a piece of gum. This system worries me most, as cards seem like the most obvious thing that microtransactions could be inserted into. But that will have to wait until the main release to confirm my paranoia.
MULTIPLAYER: HOW THAT WORKS
The main aspect of multiplayer is unsurprisingly having other people with you. You meet players in general, however, you can have teams of up to 4, which allows you to see each other on the map and limit communication in voice chat just to them.
Working with friends doesn’t diminish from the experience. Item drops are not shared across parties, so loot drops and random drops are unique to each player. You can trade within the party and with other players easily though so you can help each other out without issue. Having other players generally don’t behave differently from other games: You pick each other up, chat, do quests together. There really is nothing special other than it being in a Fallout game.
Fighting others players is not possible in the beta currently, but there is a risk that grief could easily occur. You can easily knock each other about in a fight and if one party member has a powerful weapon it could really cause some havoc. But that’ll be for the main review.
I have to give it to Fallout 76. I was expecting to have a few more gripes with the game. At the moment my only worry is the endgame, and that the game will reach a point of either too much ease or you will never reach a point of comfort. But as I travelled around with friends old and new, looking at the rolling Virginia hills I felt like I just might be wrong. There is something soothing about those rolling hills, soft autumn trees, and blank water because my goddamn texture didn’t load at all.