The wait is almost over, as we creep closer and closer to the November 14th release date of the next entry in the Fallout series, Fallout 76. Many devoted fans of the series, myself included, expressed concerns when the online only functionality was announced. Having spent approximately eight hours with the game across two separate tests, I can say it’s not nearly as bad as I was expecting, but it’s also not that great either.
The newest entry offers a nice change of scenery, taking place in the year 2077 in the foothills of West Virginia. You’ll begin the game crafting your character’s unique appearance using a slightly upgraded character creation tool, and then setting off on Reclamation Day – the designated date that everyone in Vault 76 was leaving, setting off to reclaim America. Since the inside of Vault 76 is completely empty, sans you and a few various robots, it is clear you overslept or had too much to drink the night before. The Overseer was kind enough to leave you with a few bare essentials to ensure you don’t die as soon as you set foot outside of the vault.
Upon exiting the vault, you’ll be free to explore the world solo with a world inhabited by random players, or you can party up with friends with a number of random people still inhabiting your West Virgina. In its current state, there is no private option; however, this has been confirmed at one of the larger conventions to be a thing. I understand that this is a Beta, but the party system is currently broken. Despite sitting next to my wife, looking at her sitting in the social menu of the game, it was hit or miss whether we would be visible on the other’s in-game friend list. If you are fortunate enough to be able to group up with friends, you not only have to hope there is room on their server, but then join their team, essentially requiring you to accept an invite twice, as if the game is asking you “Do you really want to play with these jerks?” In addition to the party issues, I found that running the game on my OG Xbox One was not quite up to par compared to my wife’s Xbox One S, as I suffered through lag spikes, poor frame rates, and disconnects much more frequently than her, all while running on the same network.
I’m not one to make fun of a game’s entire player base, because there are typically some nice random people in any online game you play, but my experience with the online community of the pre-release Fallout 76 players has taught me that if they think they can kill you, they will. Even though Bethesda has implemented some nice mechanics to curb toxic behavior, each room I have been a part of has had at least three assholes who want nothing more than to hunt you down, kill you, and take what the game thinks is fair when dropping part of your inventory. This is limited to players over level five, as you cannot participate in PvP whatsoever until you reach this level. If someone that isn’t in your group shoots you, it’ll do a bit of damage and could kill you, but you won’t take more until you actively defend yourself. The problem with this is that all of the players in the game show up on your map, so if you set off making the conscious decision to kill others, it’s extremely easy to stalk the other players. In the pre-Beta stress test, I encountered the same group time and time again, each time trying to kill my group and I unprovoked. The anti-grief measures do not step in until a player kills you, without you fighting back, labeling the offending player as a murderer and removing everyone from their map for a set period of time. I haven’t been that guy, so I am not exactly sure how long this period of timeout is, but I would’ve preferred they stick these players in their own designated lobby.
Adding to the huge list of changes is the implementation of a number of survival mechanics, requiring you to eat, sleep, and drink at regular intervals, or suffer a loss of HP or AP. These requirements are somewhat forgiving when compared to similar games, such as Conan, but the overall experience feels the same, just with a Fallout 4 skin. I can confirm that the game doesn’t feel like an outright survival game, such as Ark or the previously mentioned Conan, but it also feels extremely different than any of the previous games in the series. There are currently no AI controlled NPCs that are not in the form of robots. In this venture, quests are given by robots, terminals, or audio logs, basically killing the dialogue trees or back and forth banters that previous games included. I found this to make the story a bit lacking in what I have experienced, removing any optional decisions the series is known for and leaving any choices you make feeling… empty – much like the game’s world.
The much needed change of scenery comes with a slight visual improvement over Fallout 4, due to an impressive level of additional detail being on display on almost every in-game asset. The enemies you’ll face also have been upgraded – instead of running into the same ghouls over and over again, you’ll notice a lot of them have themed outfits depending on where you find them; wearing mining gear if you’re exploring one of the various mineshafts hidden within the world as an example. The downfall to this is, there simply aren’t enough of them if you’re playing in a group. There are still minor issues with clipping or textures popping in and out, much like any Bethesda game worth its salt, and the nuke animation looks downright awful, but outside of these minor complaints, the visuals are a huge step forward for the developer.
In addition to the ghouls I touched on earlier, there are a number of new creatures aiming to eat or kill you and your comrades. I’ve only had the pleasure of battling it out with a few of these, but I can confirm that the dragon-ish looking flying deathclaw will inspire nightmares to anyone who’s felt the rush of either trying to take one out blow for blow or running like hell to evade the bipedal versions from previous entries. My personal favorite of the new creatures is the gigantic ticks that explode, spraying blood everywhere upon death.
Yes, the map is pretty expansive with cities and small areas to explore, but these places rarely feel like anything of substance. For me, it feels more akin to the free roam gameplay from Destiny than any other game. My time with Fallout 76, which has been confirmed to be the full game in the beta, felt like I was spending more time simply wandering around aimlessly than actually completing anything worthwhile. I am not sure if it was the lack of NPCs or the questlines feeling like never ending Preston Garvey Minutemen missions, but the overall experience feels incomplete, like it’s only a part of a larger puzzle.
When you actually have something to shoot at, the game handles just like you remember, with a decent range of weapons to be looted and ammo being the hot commodity that you’ll never have enough of. The only noteworthy change to combat is the removal of the way the VATS system slows time, which previously allowed you to slow time and lock on to specific enemies or limbs using AP points. Since this is an online game and freezing it for everyone would get downright annoying, this is reduced to a system that highlights enemies and with the right perk cards (we’ll get to this in a bit) you can target specific body parts, just without the benefit of slowing combat.
If you’re worried about others looting the spoils of your efforts, you can rest assured that any containers/corpses you find will have designated loot for you and you alone. While some areas will be empty for you as others find valuables, it comes down to luck, not someone stealing your precious materials. This only differs for items that can be looted from the game world, which will appear as a stationary item that respawns after a set period of time.
The leveling system is by far the biggest change for the series. You’ll still acquire XP as you normally would, but instead of picking from a list of perks, you’ll select one of the primary skills to upgrade, allowing you to select a perk card for the slot. You’ll earn these cards through packs, which can be earned by completing missions or leveling up. While it is a bit convoluted this go around, it works and there are some fun new inclusions as well as returning fan favorites. The randomized aspect leaves much to be desired, but I feel like it will drive those who enjoy the game to seek out more and more of the cards.
For a series with “War never changes” as its motto, Bethesda has implemented a lot of changes to their post-apocalyptic franchise. Whether these changes are for better or worse will be up to the player to decide on November 14th. While I am not overly impressed with it in its current state, I’m sure you’ll find me wandering the wilderness aimlessly with all of the other players in just a few short weeks.