- Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
- Release Date: November 14, 2018
- Developer: Bethesda
- Genre: RPG
Fallout 76 started life as the multiplayer mode for Fallout 4, spending another three years after that title’s release being quietly worked into its own standalone game.
Throwing back their own vault doors, Bethesda unveiled the game earlier this year to a confused audience that was unsure how a multiplayer Fallout title would play. Is it a Battle Royale? Is it like Rust? Is it a co-op campaign? Can we all take turns with Fisto this time around? All pertinent questions that over development it seems Bethesda has gone back and forth on themselves. Apart from on Fisto.
At its most base level Fallout 76 is a PvE shooter with RPG elements focused on exploration and base building, this time towing along friends, strangers and enemies along for the ride. Many of the fundamental mechanics of Fallout 4 return here, working surprisingly well in an online setting. There’s looting and scavenging, seeing players collecting items from containers, corpses and other things you might expect to have loot stuffed inside. You use these items to break down as material for weapon and armour building or modding, or importantly for settlement construction.
Though the combat is all real-time, V.A.T.S also isn’t neglected, though it is somewhat different as it works in real time as a sort of auto-targeting system.
If you want to beef it up, you can use the new Perk card system that Fallout 76 brings to its level progression. This involves each time you level up dropping a point into one of the S.P.E.C.I.A.L attributes, then adding a card to your hand to a stat. Though, you are free to level up one stat and add a card from another.
These cards can be rudimentary like boosting run speed with a pistol by 10%, to making it so V.A.T.S can blow off limbs, with lots of fun combinations possible.
Each card comes with a cost that relates just how many points you’ve put into a stat. Level 5 Charisma could have two 2 Cost Charisma cards and one 1 Cost Charisma card slotted into it, or five 1 Cost Charisma cards slotted in. The good thing about this new system is that you’re never locked into just one build. When I felt like mixing it up from a melee build into more of a sneaky shooting build, it was as simple as opening the Pip-boy up and slotting in the more rifle orientated and sneak critical cards I had in my possession over the ones that made me good at whacking people with friends.
Starting at level 4 and every 2 levels after that you are gifted a 5 card booster pack of random cards, some of them rare, on top of the ones you get from leveling and the cards you can loot from the world. Though in theory, it is possible to slot in as many cards as you have levels, the game really encourages you to make the most of the crafting system of combining two cards of the same type to create a much better but higher cost version of it. It felt fun to scavenge new cards and tweak a build on the fly, the pack of five every two levels felt generous and random enough to make me want to not just stick to one style of play as new things were constantly opened up for me.
How effective specialising down each S.P.E.C.I.A.L path feels a little trickier to manage. Opting for a jack of all trades build, I felt happy with how I was making my way through the world till I saw my teammate in action. At level 9 after three hours of play, he had stacked all of his stat points into Strength, boosting his damage to an incredible degree. Mobs of Ghouls and Scorched that would take the rest of the party 3-4 hits to take down were being cleaved down in one by our friend in a party hat and pink dress. He couldn’t open safes or hack terminals that well, but he didn’t particularly seem to mind.
This is where teaming up with up to three other players really comes to the fore, as it opens up new options of allowing everyone to min-max complimentary stats and builds. In a world with only robotic NPCs and terminals, Charisma rather than a dialogue tree perk becomes a way to boost teammates; higher levels of it even allowing you to share perk cards with your allies. Another player can focus on being the designated lockpicker and terminal hacker, or just the one who crafts the best stuff for everyone to use when you use the workshops in your captured settlements.
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Capturing a settlement in Fallout 76 opens up the building menu many will be familiar with from Fallout 4. Whilst in the game you can freely set up a camp to freely quick travel to in most places outdoors, with some workshops attached to it, the settlements in their fixed positions are where a lot of action around the map is going to take place and allow building proper, acting as major resource hubs.
Once a Settlement is captured and a little bit of building time leeway goes by to set up defensive turrets and fortifications, an AI mob will likely come to take it back straight away. Once this initial wave is repelled, other mobs may sometimes attack or other players may come across an event allowing them to attempt to raid and steal it away from you.
It’s possible to save blueprints of constructions you build in settlement zones, so if there’s a nice elaborate fortification you’ve spent a while building as a motif you can repeat it elsewhere. Once captured anything you build in a settlement is tied to you as a player; when you leave a game your base comes with you but will appear there once again whatever server you join next. If two players who have built in the same location are on the same server, then whoever joined first takes precedent in loading in their structures.
How long structures stay in the world after a player logs off Bethesda were unclear about. Or as the game servers rely on seamlessly instancing players in and out, depending on their level and a multitude of other factors, what counts as leaving a server was also hazy. Whilst this might sound strange to people expecting to mainly be focused on killing other players, this isn’t a harsh kill-and-be-killed survival world like Rust.
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There’s survivalist elements, as there’s a constantly depleting water and food meter you have to manage (where allowing either to deplete fully means your AP, used for running and fighting, take a severe hit), but the approach to PvP in Fallout 76 belies the mindset behind this all.
When in a team, it isn’t possible to hurt your allies at all. The ability to engage other players isn’t unlocked until level 5, something the team has debated about themselves as they didn’t want new players to feel overwhelmed by all the new systems they’d be learning. Even when PvP is unlocked, to fight another player relies on you both shooting/hitting one another to consent to it. Until then you do minimal damage to one another but once consented to full damage can be done but the initiator will be marked as a murderer for all players on the map, including their teammates, to hunt down.
Further disincentivizing just mindlessly wailing on one another, there is no reward for fighting another player. Death is barely punished as the loser drops some of their junk, which can’t be picked up by the victor, while the victor is an open bounty for all players to collect on; the caps for which come from their own cap stash. The most telling aspect that Bethesda find people pointlessly shooting each other to be the least interesting action folk can have is the fact it’s possible to either block a player entirely so you won’t appear in each other’s worlds, or to turn on pacifist mode where you can’t even be damaged by other players at all.
The places Fallout 76 incentivises you to fight other players is in the settlement raiding events, or their future plans for events that involve as many as 12 on 12 team fights. In my 3 hour time in the game, an hour was lost to trying to get other players to engage in duels that though fun for the brief time they lasted ultimately felt very empty.
That’s because this is mostly a game about exploration, preferably with friends. Having no NPCs is a strange thing to adjust to, but some of the most memorable moments for me in recent Fallout games haven’t been those interacting with NPCs. It was through environmental storytelling, sifting through an area, going by visual storytelling and reading terminals to piece together what happened.
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It felt easy to always be stumbling upon some new area or quest in the West Virginia wasteland like this, with the main quest line of following the path of Vault 76’s Overseer being a nice way to discover the game’s mechanic but also bread trail and peel off into places that looked interesting.
Climbing a watchtower, surveying the area, then barrelling into a town of the new mysterious Scorched enemies to find out a little more about them and their strange hivemind tendencies felt very satisfyingly Fallout, only this time good to bring friends along with me. The downtime between these moments felt a little too long at times though, feeling like as a group we were just aimlessly exploring and shooting at times for the sake of exploring and shooting rather than it being something we were invested in, trying to find the next new area or quest to hook us after the nice first few hours lead in to the game.
It’ll be interesting to see how Bethesda develop the mid and end-game content in Fallout 76. We were shown a little the once a week game event of nuke firing, which seems to require a string of quests and looting to gather five keycards.
Once prepped for launch, a nuke appears as a giant red circle on the map for all players, giving time to evacuate the area. It then destroys and heavily irradiates an area for several hours. It’s not really designed to be used against players, as there’s nothing stopping them running out of the zone, but more to create high-end zones of rare crafting items and more difficult enemies.
Fallout 76 surprisingly works, it just feels a little too much like Bethesda have managed to create a multiplayer sandbox and are waiting for the players to roleplay and fill in the blanks for one another.
If they can keep people incentivised in playing in the world with more than just getting better at simply killing and surviving in it, then this could be the game that takes many people by surprise as the go-to co-op game.
It currently stands as a fun role-playing survival experience without the harshness of worlds like ARC or Rust, mixed with that lovely Fallout feel.