I’ve been a fan of the Fallout series for many years now, and I was a big fan of Fallout 4 in particular – despite its shortcomings I found it to be a very enjoyable game. You can imagine my delight when Bethesda announced a new game in the series at E3 this year. That delight was tainted by a little apprehension because they were moving into online multiplayer, something that the company’s other main franchise, The Elder Scrolls, didn’t fare too well in initially. Still, I was keen and followed as much of the game as I could online over the last few months and pre-ordered it as soon as I was able to.
Unfortunately, I fell victim to the bug with Bethesda’s launcher and my preloading of the B.E.T.A. (Break-it Early Test Application) failed a couple of times, delaying my ability to get stuck into the Appalachian wastes until the second PC B.E.T.A. session on November 1st. My initial reaction on loading up the game was one of sheer relief. It was working fine and it looked amazing.
The character creation is almost identical to that of Fallout 4, with the only change being the location of your character as you choose their appearance, and the very early stages of the game will be familiar to anyone who has played the franchise – you’re inside a vault and you have to get out. This time, however, your time in the vault isn’t dangerous. It’s literally just a way to get you some initial gear for facing the wasteland ahead. Upon exiting the vault, I was stunned by the views afforded to you. Even 25 years after nuclear war, the Appalachian mountains are beautiful. Within a few moments of leaving the vault, I had my first issue which was a crash to desktop. Unsure of the cause, I immediately opened Fallout 76 again and was delighted to find that my respawn location was right where I had crashed out – a nice feature, that.
What follows your emergence into the world is a series of quests designed to teach you the mechanics of the game. It’s a tutorial in everything but name. You’re taught how to create armour, weapons and food items fairly quickly and the enemies you face are fairly easy to dispatch. I joined the B.E.T.A. a little later than it had started so my server was fairly well spread out with players all across the map, although there were a few stragglers like me who had only just come on. A minor gripe is that your microphone is constantly available so you could find that, while you thought you were talking to yourself, you get into a conversation with another player. It happened to a player near me: he was asking himself if a global event quest had been completed and I answered him. What followed was an awkward conversation punctuated with him complaining to someone in the room that he had got stuck in an awkward conversation with another player. It would be nice if voice-chat could be muted, or you could have a push to talk button to prevent this from happening.
The first main location that you reach is called Flatwoods. This is where you perform most of the initial tutorial quests. Upon reaching Flatwoods, you’ll often find that a global event has started where the local Vault-Tec Agricultural Center has had a malfunction with their robots and you need to go and take them down and fix the issue. This happened to me twice within the space of an hour so I think it’s based around the number of players that are actually present in the area at any given time. It was also here where I discovered my first of two supply drops. The first dropped three crates filled with random loot for all players to access – this loot included a pack of perk cards to help improve your characters chances.
From what I’ve seen so far, there are still a few animation bugs that need to be ironed out but then again, it is Bethesda and it’s what they’re known for. There was one occasion where I was attacked by a number of Scorched (not quite feral ghouls with weapons) and they came at me while keeping their bodies completely still. The different creatures that have been added to the game are pretty cool. There is a tick which actually fills up with blood after attacking you, much like the blood bugs in 4 but bigger and more dangerous and there’s also fireflies which look really cool at night. The combat hasn’t changed much from Fallout 4, apart from the obvious real-time VATS – which is actually just as helpful in this form as it has been in its previous ones. It may take a little getting used to for players familiar with Fallout 4 or Fallout 3’s VATS system but it works really well in the context of online multiplayer.
One of the areas that I discovered was a place called New River Gorge Resort, just to the east of Flatwoods. It’s a resort made up of log cabins located at the top of one of the highest hills in The Forest region of Appalachia. There are many cabins here filled with ghouls and bloatflies and the swimming pool is surrounded by mirelurks. It’s fairly easy to dispose of all of these enemies and then you can explore the area and discover some cool stuff. There is a woodland assault course, similar to a Go-Ape centre, which you can actually attempt to complete. It’s not easy, and I never managed it, but at the end you can access a tower which would afford the player excellent views across the region. At the base of the tower you’ll find the corpse of a man called “Tumblin’ Joe”.
The big thing that I was most looking forward to in Fallout 76 was building yourself a base. This all begins with your C.A.M.P. system, something you will have picked up in the vault before leaving. Using C.A.M.P, you can start to build anywhere on the map. The building mechanics of Fallout 76 differ quite drastically from Fallout 4.
Firstly, there is no opportunity to scrap any of the nearby woodland, at least not in the early stages of the game that I was in. Secondly, the menu is entirely different with each section split up different ways. Resources like wood are harder to come by in Fallout 76 because of the lack of scrapping, but once you know how, it’s fairly easy to get the ball rolling with your home. Wood can be found by scrapping any junk that would naturally contain wood, pencils and brooms for example, or by scavenging it from fallen trees – something in abundance in the wasteland. Another big change in the building aspect of the game is that you need to scrap your junk in order to access the components within, which is a much more realistic way of doing things and is a nice touch from Bethesda. All of the building items are locked behind recipes, which means that your home base will start off fairly basic but as you progress you’ll be able to upgrade.
All in all, Fallout 76 allays almost all of my fears so far. It’s hugely beautiful and the map is so big that once you really get going outside of the start area you’re hardly going to see anyone unless you want to. My only gripes so far are minor enough that they can be written off. It’s not a perfect game but it is a lot of fun to play, and if you can get a group of friends playing together, it could be even better.