“War, war never changes.” This one line has been greeting new players to Fallout for ages. With Fallout 76 though, there is a pretty massive change in the form of multiplayer. To be honest, we were quite wary when Bethesda announced that the next installment of the Fallout series was going to be an ‘online survival RPG’. As many of you might know already, Fallout always has been a single player RPG experience, even when it made the jump from an isometric point-of-view to a first/third person view. So adding a multiplayer element to the game was bound to change things drastically. Take a look at Grand Theft Auto. When Rockstar finally added a multiplayer element to the game in the form of GTA Online, things got a bit crazy to say the least. Mind you, it is still fun, but there are times where we yearn for a bit of peace and quiet and want to play alone for a bit without randomly getting blown up by some guy on a flying motorcycle. Remember, Fallout is a series where people can carry launchers that can fire mini nuclear bombs. So you can understand our trepidation as we jumped into the Wasteland of Fallout 76 B.E.T.A.
Booted out the door
The idea behind the B.E.T.A (Break-it Early Test Application) was that it would give Bethesda a chance to test how the server would be able to handle a large number of people for a limited number of time. The first of these tests were scheduled for October 23, 7-11 p.m. EDT. Which meant that in India, we would have to play the game on October 24, at the unholy hours of 4:30AM to 8:30AM.
The first thing we noted was that the game no longer had a leisurely pace to it. The memorable intro of Fallout 3, where your father (voiced by Liam Neeson no less) guides you through birth, and childhood, teaching you the various gameplay mechanics along the way is no longer present. In Fallout 76, you create your character, grab your Pip-Boy and you’re on your way. No tutorial, except for little pit stops along the way to teach you about the basics of survival such as ‘eat to heal’, ‘shoot/punch/slash to survive’, and a basic C.A.M.P (Construction and Assembly Mobile Platform) that lets your create a shelter (more on that in a bit). Once our character was ready, we were out the door, on our way to our first objective; finding the Overseer of Vault 76 (which is where you start the game from).
The graphics of the game seemed very reminiscent of Fallout 4, albeit with a bit more vibrancy. Colours pop-out a bit more as compared to its predecessor, which itself was more colourful as compared to the grimy worlds of Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas.
A few minutes of scrounging around for some loot, we came across the exit to Vault 76. With daring and grace, we took our first step into the Wasteland.
The rather ‘forgiving’ Wasteland
Soon after we were introduced to a wide and vibrant Wasteland, we came across a couple of other players just outside the door, we checked out our Pip Boy and almost soon after, we heard our character let out a grunt of pain. As it turns out, we were being attacked by another player wielding a foot-long machete. Before we could do anything, we were ‘rescued’ by a random stranger who started wailing away at our attacker with his fist. However, it soon became pretty evident that neither one of them was doing any damage to each other. As it turns out, PvP combat between players is not possible till level five, so new players have a chance to get to grips with the gameplay before they are immediately murdered by someone camping at the door of Vault 76. Points to Bethesda for this little feature.
After the pointless little skirmish was over, we headed off to the first quest marker on the map. Almost immediately after though, we were attacked by tiny robots with lasers. So the protection that the game offers seems to be limited to PvP combat, so we were on our own in the wide open wasteland. Since we were armed with just our fists, we decided to bravely turn around and high tail it.
The first stop was to find the Overseer’s C.A.M.P. This handy little device forms the center of your settlement and lets you build things like stashes, beds, building structures and more, provided you have the right plans. Stashes that you build using the C.A.M.P is the only way you can safely store you loot, without worrying about anyone else stealing your stuff. The C.A.M.P can also be relocated to any location (for a fee) but then acts as a location you can fast-travel to for free. Oh yeah, unlike previous Fallout games, fast traveling to any location now cost you Caps (the in-game currency). However, traveling to Vault 76 or your C.A.M.P is free.
This map is also gorgeous, possibly the prettiest we’ve seen in a game. It looks like a poster and tempts you to explore by showing you key locations in the form of drawings that depict what you can expect in that area. It’s a far cry from the monochrome maps used by previous Fallout games.
It should be noted that being over encumbered in the game no longer makes you walk like an octogenarian. You retain your speed, which makes sense considering the fact that you will just end up being an easy target. However, you will not be able to fast travel. However, this is easily rectifiable as you can teleport your C.A.M.P back to you at any time by paying a few caps.
After we found the Overseer’s camp, the game introduced us to mechanics such as armour/weapon crafting. It should be noted that only one person can use a crafting table at a time. So there was an awkward moment of two three people crowding around a table, waiting for the other person to be done.
We realised that these initial missions were taking over as the tutorial, which sort of makes up of the lack of the same at the start of the game. The next few missions aimed to teach us about hunger and thirst mechanics and how being hungry or thirsty could lead to adverse character effects being applied. However, It was around this time that we started to get side tracked a bit.
Getting side-tracked and teaming up
It doesn’t matter if you’re playing Elder Scrolls, or playing Fallout, Bethesda’s open-world RPGs are notorious for making players forget all about the main quest and get side-tracked with exploration or side-quests. Fallout 76 is no different. Soon after the mission about water was done, we got a notification for an event that was about to begin. An event is a special, limited time mission that is open to all players. Anyone can fast-travel to the event (for a fee of course) and take part in this. During an event, players must work together to accomplish tasks. This could range from taking down waves of enemies, escorting a robot safely to its destination, and so forth. Cooperation is key here as it can get tough alone, and victory means getting a sizable sum of caps, loot, and maybe even a rare item. We became a part of a three-man team for the first task and we managed to take down the waves of enemies with relative ease. However, soon after the event was over, my new teammates immediately disbanded the team and went their separate ways. Poor Captain Carlos was on his own once again.
It’s possible to partake in these events on your own, but that can be difficult. We tried doing so, but we were soon overwhelmed and failed. However, when we played the same event again with two more players, we were able to succeed. In short, team up when you can.
Is anyone home?
We also decided to go out exploring and noted that there was a military base near close by. It’s was here that we realised why everything was feeling so remote and distant. There were no NPCs in the game. Even at the military base, the whole place was populated by ‘Mister Gutsy’ robots. we found a tape recording at the base in which a human drill instructor is congratulating a batch on recruits on graduating and also informing them that they are the last batch to be trained by humans. However, the instructor is cut off by a government official who informs the class that the robots will be able to train recruits forever.
This still doesn’t explain why there aren’t any NPCs anywhere in game. While an argument could be made that the humans are still locked away underground in Vaults, but where are ghouls? For the uninitiated, ghouls are humans who were bombarded by radiation and instead of dying, they are turned into zombie-like creatures with rotting flesh that can live forever. Some of these individuals turn violent after losing some higher brain functions to necrosis. These are termed ‘feral ghouls’ and usually attack the player on sight. However, some still retain their personalities, and can be talked to like any other NPC. During our playthrough, we came across feral ghouls, so there was no reason why there couldn’t be ‘intelligent’ ghouls out there.
The lack of NPCs combined with any discernible narrative made the game feel very distant in terms of immersion. This is further diluted but the fact that we weren’t given any backstory on why we should care about our Overseer. The game tried to give you a sense of perspective through voice recordings, but this depends on me picking them up. And even when we do, the sight of other players hopping about like kangaroos does not help with immersion. Only time will tell how this will affect the longevity of the game.
The new incarnation of Fallout may be a first/third person game with guns, but it was never known for great gunplay. Fallout 76 seems to stick to these lines. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still much better than what Fallout 3 had to offer, but DOOM or Gears of War this ain’t. There were times our shots missed, even though we were sure we had the enemy in our sights.
V.A.T.S (Vault-tech Assisted targeting System) makes its way to Fallout 76, but its way different from earlier iterations. When activated, V.A.T.S freezes, slows down time, showing you the likelihood of hitting specific body parts on an enemy. Then you’re treated to a visual of the player hitting those body parts in slow motion. Since Fallout 76 is an online game, slowing down time is out of the question. Instead of that, players are shown percentages in real-time and acts sort of like auto-aim, with the percentages governing the probability of a hit. However, this would mean that at times, we would hit an enemy even though we weren’t pointing our gun towards them at all. But to be fair, we really cannot think of any other way to implement the series trademark V.A.T.S feature in an online environment.
By the end of the test, we were at level 9 and decided to try out the PvP feature. This would be as good a time as any to give you guys some tips. First off, do not head into a PvP fight without heath (stimpacks in this case). Second, try not be be outnumbered. By the end of the battle, our enemy (enemies) would immediately heal themselves, while we ran out of stimpacks, resorting to running around like a headless chicken, attempting to quickly eat dog food just to survive. Needless to say, this tactic did not work and we were soon gunned down.
When you die in Fallout 76, you retain your weapons and health items, but drop any junk that you might have on you. These items are placed in a paper bag, which is located on the spot you died. You can then try and retrieve the items and also try and embark on a quest for revenge.
Did we break it?
Since this was a Bethesda game, we were expecting to see bugs everywhere. Surprisingly though, we didn’t come across many bugs during our playthrough. The one we came across showed a player walking as though he was held along by his wrists. Considering that this was a B.E.T.A, the fact that we came across only one bug was commendable to say the least.
As mentioned before, the graphics are quite similar to Fallout 4, albeit a bit more vibrant. The game isn’t the most detailed, when compared to most modern AAA titles, but that shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
The sound effects seem to have been lifted straight from Fallout 4 and didn’t seem like much of an issue. Lag issues were also at a minimal, however, there were multiple times in which we had to wait for the inventory in a loot stash to load before we could collect it. Voice chat was also pretty clear and talking to most other people was no problem at all. If you don’t have a mic, the game also lets you use emotes to communicate with others.
Fallout 76 B.E.T.A – Final thoughts
By the end of the test, we were in two minds. The lack of immersion in the game world makes it hard for us to call this a true blue Fallout adventure. It’s more like an online game with elements from Fallout thrown in. Don’t get us wrong, Fallout 76 is a very fun game. But as fans of the series, we were disappointed by the lack of a coherent narrative. However, keep in mind that this is not a review. Just the impression that the game left on us after just four hours of playing the first B.E.T.A and there was a huge part of the world that still awaits exploration.
He sparkles ... like a fairy