I have seen the less-than-favourable comments left on Fallout 76 following the release of the B.E.T.A. on Xbox One last week. Well, with the release of the PC and PS4 versions last night, I had to try it out for myself. I was far too young for Fallout when I first was exposed to it (a purchase my father made for me at the ripe age of 6, when he thought he was getting a cool puzzle game for me, which at the time I loved). But since then I have been a pretty consistent fan of the series, having played all but a few version of the game, so I wanted to know what the Fallout Universe’s foray into the Online scene would look like.
First, lets get all the things people hated about it out in the open. It is claimed that players don’t talk, and that the addition of other ruins the immersion of the universe, making it feel chaotic in all the wrong ways. People claim that the lack of notable NPCs make it feel bleak and unwelcoming. Or that the game is just a series of fetch and combat quests, ruining how Fallout should be played. They claim there is no story.
In my first minute of the game, talking to my friends and not realizing the mic was live, I found another player making his first character. So we chatted as we built our characters, and together, we explored Vault 76, before leaving together into the wasteland. Immediately we were engaged in combat, he covered me with a pipe pistol while I charged down little propaganda robots with naught but my fists. Our combat complete, we celebrated, and gathered loot, only to find we don’t even share the same loot. Things I grab, he might be able to also grab from a body. We laughed about the situation, and then parted ways. We had a wasteland to experience.
Speaking of the wasteland, it is absolutely amazing. The colours are rich, the water looks real, the trees move as you would expect. This isn’t the desolate wasteland we are always shown, it is a post-apocalyptic universe riddled with radiation, yet, it is simply beautiful. And in that, lies danger. Enemies blend with the foliage around you, meaning that hunting and searching becomes hard. And when you do finally find the first C.A.M.P., deployed by your old Overseer, you are more than ready to repair the damage to your weapons, in what is a very organic way to be introduced to your crafting system.
There are two points from that last paragraph I want to touch on, your Overseer and crafting plus weapon damage. But let’s first talk about the crafting, because I want to get as much done before I can potentially spoil anything. So, with Fallout 76, weapon degradation returns. Something a lot of people loved to have seen was the ability to modify weapons, but wished now that they had more of the feel of New Vegas and 3. Well that returns, with being able to modify your weapons, as well as degradation of said weapons. First and foremost, there is nothing more frustrating than fighting off a rabid group of Scorched, than to have your shotgun break mid-fight, having to quickly cycle to something else. And that’s realistic of the real world, your stuff will not last forever. I know, for some this is a sore point, claiming weapons found on the ground should last more than two minutes, but this is from a group of game journalists, people who I feel not only have a limited understanding of firearms, but also would be the first people to die in the event of a nuclear apocalypse, trying to tweet about how the new world meta isn’t balanced in their favour.
The crafting system as a whole takes on new feel, with the need for blueprints and actually building. See, if you scrap enough guns, you start to gain the knowledge of how to make them better. Same goes for armor, ammunition, everything. The more you use it, the better you get with it. So while you can purchase things that are pre-modified, the more you modify yourself (and the higher your intelligence) the better you are going to get at it, and the more things you can do. A good gunsmith in a group of friends is going to be worth their weight in gold. And food takes on a whole new importance, with the need to eat and drink, all the while making sure you prepare it so you receive the least amount of radiation (that’s right, not none). Boiling water doesn’t magically remove rads, and wood will become essential to survive. As a warning to any new players coming up, the game does let you break down junk you find to make it lighter, I recommend doing this often.
Now onto the part that contains spoilers, the story. There is a beautifully told story in this game, of the characters around, the Overseers, and some pre-war stories. Bethesda has always been great at playing with our imagination surrounding a game, and this one is no different. Gruesome scenes can be found all around of bodies frozen in horror as a Scorchbeast (these are fun) attacked them. The new enemies, the Scorched have fantastic lore built in, and ghouls are far more interesting, often still wearing perfectly good pre-war clothes. Most NPC interaction of a human nature comes in the form of people’s holotapes left about, and these are just as chilling and human as ever, making for compelling stories.
One such story I found was of a young boy who was part of the Responders, a volunteer group made up of pre-war firefighters, police and EMS. He was rescued, and recorded his story, his apologies for being a bad child. He sobs as he apologizes for being a bully, and begs his father to return, probably dead following the bombs dropping. Worse still, this boy, just 13 carries a lot of grief, believing if maybe he was better, the bombs might not have fallen at all. These stories are mirrored time and time again in holotapes and notes left for people, regrets. Even the Overseer you are following tells a story of her own father on one of her journals, a sad story of a woman who clearly misses her father.
These are heart tugging moments, stories of triumph and victory, of loss and pain, all told without needing to have a person present. And while we won’t get companion stories that make us want to hug people, like the loss of Boone’s wife, or Cait recounting the horrible ways her parents treated her, we will still hear of people who, just 25 years ago, had their lives torn up. You don’t need an NPC present to tell those stories, their chilling voices do all the work for you. And where those are lacking, skeletons and mummified bodies remain, some still clutching rat poison or 10mm pistols, to remind you that not everyone who survived the bombs falling, survived the collapse of society.
The game isn’t perfect however. There are some odd decisions that were made, that I have to say I don’t completely understand. While I get PvP being disabled until level 5, to allow players to get a feel for the game, it appears adding friends is also disabled, which makes joining up with new friends (or old friends you want to play with) impossible until you have progressed far enough. And some of the level progression seems weird, some quests taking forever to provide experience, and when they do, they provide barely any XP. And some quests can’t be turned off, so you are left with a confusing amount of markers. And caps are given at a weird rate, sometimes being paid almost nothing for a perfectly good shotgun, but then paid really well for an okay pipe pistol. I suspect a lot of this is stuff that Bethesda themselves are still working on fixing, but that has been yet to be shown, so until later we’ll have to just wait and see.
There are also a few lore, shall we say, bending things that have shown up. The Brotherhood of Steel, for example, during this time should still be fairly isolationist, and definitely shouldn’t be on the East Coast. I question the existence of Super Mutants as well, seeing as the FEV virus wasn’t even leaked from Vault 87 yet. From what I know, it will also be possible to find X-01 armor, which I know is a sore point with many dedicated Fallout Lore fans.
All in all, I loved the game, and I think that there is a great deal that can be done with it. I can’t wait for my next available play slot, so I can start exploring Vault-Tec University a little closer, and get a better feel for the lore there. I also just want to find my first settlement, settle down, and build myself a wonderful new encampment to live in. I can’t wait to find my first launch code, and nuke a small city out of existence, or form a cult like group to ward off anyone who wants our supplies. There are all kinds of potential options available to us in this game, and I suspect it will have hours of playability.
I can’t wait for more.