Fallout 76 is a More Perfect Union Between the Series' Strengths and Multiplayer
While it takes the series into uncharted territory with multiplayer and PvP, Fallout fans don't need to worry: Fallout 76 is still very much a Fallout game.
In case you didn’t already know, West Virginia is a very, very hard place to get to. I experienced this first-hand while heading into the preview event for Fallout 76, which was taking place in White Sulpher Springs. The trip there ended up involving a missed flight, a later flight to Chicago, and then a 20-person plane to a one-runway airport just outside of The Greenbriar Resort, where the event was being held.
As I exited down the steps of the plane and looked down at my 3G-connected iPhone, I realized I was officially in the middle of nowhere–for a New Yorker anyway. But West Virginia is home to almost two million people, many of whom love their strange and out-of-time folklore. It’s hard to believe a game like this hasn’t been based here before. Whereas a place like Manhattan can dictate the lore for a game (i.e., The Division, GTA IV), Fallout 76 will be played by more than ten times the population of the state, and as its first big exposure, will re-establish West Virginia in popular culture. The picture that Fallout 76 paints of this state will be around for a while.
“The picture that Fallout 76 paints of this state will be around for a while.”
Let’s get this out of the way: The Greenbriar is the ritziest place I’ve ever been. The walls are adorned with grotesque and ancient wallpaper and the floors are polished marble. The screenshot above is for context, but I really felt like I was in an episode of The Twilight Zone. This place is, of course, represented in-game, and ultimately Bethesda chose it because to do a press event for a West Virginia-based game anywhere else felt wrong.
That’s one of the things that stands out most to me about Fallout 76. Even people who had no interest in video games prior are interested in this one because it is the first to show off their geography and culture. I spoke with a doorman for 15 minutes about how excited he was to see the place he worked at in a video game. It’s something I take for granted in NYC; playing through Marvel’s Spider-Man recently made me realize just how much I was used to seeing those buildings and streets in the games I play.
I overheard a reporter from WBOY, the local news station, planning out which areas he was going to track down during his gameplay time just so that viewers in their homes could see that someone was taking the time to generate a virtual version of West Virginia.
Fallout 76‘s locale seems more important than ever with the multiplayer nature of the game requiring the absence of traditional NPCs; the game’s story is told through the land. Coming into Fallout 76, I was terrified at what a Fallout game would look like without characters to talk with, but there’s something about West Virginia that makes it feasible.
“I was terrified at what a Fallout game would look like without characters to talk with, but there’s something about West Virginia that makes it feasible.”
Fallout 76 takes place less than 25 years after the bombs fell and when your vault opens, you are the first humans to repopulate the area. This means every other being you come across is either a mutated animal, a robot, or some amalgamation of the two. There’s Scorchbeasts, The Mothman, and Feral Ghouls who move SO much faster because they haven’t had the time to decay; neither has West Virginia’s lush green forests. This is the first green Fallout game we’ve seen.
It’s also the first inkling of multiplayer we’ve seen in the franchise. That’s the hook: Fallout 76 is meant to be a Fallout game you can play with your friends. The Elder Scrolls Online failed to deliver that “multiplayer Skyrim” dream that people had hoped for, but Fallout 76 hits its mark. I’m really excited to discover West Virginia with my nerdy friends. We’ll experience that physical storytelling together, and of course, there are other players to worry about.
I thought emotes would be cheesy: they wound up being essential. One wave or thumbs up showed me that I could work with a player I found out in the open. Similarly, a cash register symbol appeared over the heads of those who wanted to trade with me. You could set the asking price of any of your items, or you could request a price for one of theirs. There will be local area chat too upon launch, but it wasn’t available in the early build I played at this event.
“Fallout 76 is meant to be a Fallout game you can play with your friends.”
For players who loved the building mechanics in Fallout 4, you’re in heaven. It’s completely feasible to spend your time building a general store, or becoming a weapons dealer and getting enjoyment out of role-playing. Griefing has been dealt with in a really smart way since everything you build in your C.A.M.P can be moved even after you get hit by a nuke. It’ll cost you some caps, but you can play the game however you want without fear of some asshole ruining it for you.
The same applies to player versus player. Shooting a non-hostile player flags you as hostile: since they’re still passive, they take heavily reduced damage but can shoot back at you and level the playing field. Combat when both players were actively shooting each other felt great, but you won’t have to worry about someone sneaking up and headshotting you from two feet away. Dead players drop all of their “junk,” which is unrefined crafting materials. If I die to another player I might lose my desk fan and pencils I picked up, but those random objects can be broken down for valuable lead or screws. Bethesda’s Todd Howard described collecting junk as a “time sink,” and therefore dying to another player might mean you’ve lost some of your progression, but it isn’t anything you couldn’t scavenge back.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Reddit thread after the game comes out describing some uniquely stupid way of killing players without repercussion but–until then–the game’s PvP feels sound. Even when someone launches a nuke at your camp, you’ve got three minutes to get out of the area.
There’s also a cool “Hunter/Hunted” radio station that players (above level 5) can tune to to be matchmade with five other players in a bounty hunter showdown. Each person gets a target, and the last person standing wins a nice reward. This system’s very existence is important because it shows that there is an outlet for those of us PvP nerds. Basically, we have a mode dedicated to killing each other in, so that we don’t go griefing other players. I got to speak with the lead developer working on PvP, and he told me there were even more matchmade PvP systems in the works.
“Even when someone launches a nuke at your camp, you’ve got three minutes to get out of the area.”
Visually, Fallout 76 is a step up from 2015’s Fallout 4. I was worried we’d lose some detail seeing as the world has to be rendered the same way for 24 people at once, but thankfully I was wrong. I should note that the early version of Fallout 76 I played at the event was still (for the most part) unoptimized. I often saw the Xbox One X version that I was playing dip to 15 frames per second. I hope this is different when we get the full release, but even still, it may be a problem I solve by playing on PC.
I really enjoy what the developers have done with the S.P.E.C.I.A.L system. The game is using perk cards in place of skills, and while you’re no longer able to see an entire tree before you begin investing into it, you do get random higher level perk cards when you open a perk card pack every few levels. One of my perk card packs included a level 7 perk card which I couldn’t use at the time, but it still gave me a taste of what that skill tree was capable of at higher levels. This led me to invest in other S.P.E.C.I.A.L trees and really explore instead of sticking with Luck like I usually do.
“I really enjoy what the developers have done with the S.P.E.C.I.A.L system.”
Crafting materials, as I mentioned “junk,” are another form of currency within the game. Killing players gives you what junk they had, and dying means the loss of your own. You’ve got to make it to a workbench (or deploy the one at your C.A.M.P.) to scrap them into crafting materials before you lose them, and that necessity can lead you to desperation. You can become encumbered with junk and just praying for a place to break it down before you die.
You can earn junk and materials faster if you secure a public workshop. You’ve usually got to do something to clear it out from whatever native species is inhabiting it, but once you and your team claim it, you can build up its fortifications and begin using a junk harvester. You’ve got to check in on it every so often to ensure that another team hasn’t taken the workshop from you and to make sure that waves of enemies haven’t destroyed your setup.
More still, there are world events that require you to defend or repair locations. It’s a race against the clock, and if you beat it, you’re rewarded with more valuable crafting materials. I did one at the World’s Largest Teapot where a Mr. Handy robot was trying to brew me some tea, and I had to defend the water system from hostile wildlife. When I was done, I got some pretty good tea and a bunch of valuable crafting supplies.
Another interesting event was the Government Supply Drop. I got the quest off of a holotape I found on a random ghoul, which asked me to go and repair a radio tower in order to call for a supply drop. Once I had cleared out all of the protections and turrets, I called it in and it landed just outside of Flatwoods. I wasn’t the only one who was able to get loot off of it either, as I saw other players notice and loot it. These kinds of quests are really rewarding as a player, because they can drop off of random mobs. This encourages players to engage in combat against hostiles whenever they can, rather than just moseying by because they’re not worth it.
The music sounds great, as always, and players can still tune in to different radio stations in order to listen to classical music or ’40s and ’50s bangers. It stinks that there aren’t any disc jockeys (since…ya know…there aren’t any humans outside of the Vault at this time), but you may see someone roleplaying as a DJ in-game to fill that void.
“While it may have begun as the multiplayer for Fallout 4, it has evolved into something new entirely.”
Many of you reading this are probably worried about whether Fallout 76 will “feel” like a Fallout game. It does. The dark humor that has been present throughout the series is in Fallout 76 all the same. When I was in Camden Park, I found an entry about an employee who didn’t smile enough and had his pay docked and was sent to smile training camp. That’s funny to me. I found another example while doing the cooking tutorial quest, in which I had to discover the recipe for ribeye steak. The guy whose terminal I was using showed a million ribeye steak entries in his “other favorites” folder. I laughed out loud.
There’s also the Overseer’s journal quests that act as the main story thread throughout the game. The Overseer of Vault 76 was tasked with finding and securing the nearby nuclear missile silos, and following her path led to some narrated holotapes that gave me a purpose.
My expectations for Fallout 76 were low coming in. I wasn’t sure if there would be a real story. I didn’t know if PvP would prevent people from killing me on-sight. I didn’t think this would be a real entry in the Fallout series, but it is. While it may have begun as the multiplayer for Fallout 4, it has evolved into something new entirely. When the Fallout community gets their hands on it, I’m sure it will evolve even more.
Fallout 76 will release on November 14 for Xbox One, PS4, and PC. You can check out the most recent Fallout 76 news here, or pre-order the game on Amazon if you haven’t already. The game’s “B.E.T.A.” period is set to be released on October 23 for Xbox One and October 30 for everyone else. Be sure to keep your Pip-Boy tuned to DualShockers for more Fallout 76 content.
Editor’s Note: All travel and accommodation expenses for the Fallout 76 preview event were paid for by Bethesda Softworks.