Fallout 76 hands-on impressions: Breaking ground with buddies

What's it like to step out into the Fallout world and rebuild with friends while discovering what happened to everyone left behind?

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While Fallout 76 rewinds the clock and takes players to an earlier moment in the world’s lore, the game is brand new territory for the developers and for Fallout fans. There are no lone wanderers here, as the game is set when the first wave of colonists step into the radiated landscape of West Virginia to rebuild their world.

This set of circumstances is what Todd Howard and Bethesda chose to use as a springboard for a Fallout first: Multiplayer. Every human character that hasn't been transformed into a ghoul or mutant is another human player and, now, we're shaping a post-apocalyptic experience with and for one another. During an event held in one of Fallout 76's destinations, The Greenbrier, I went hands-on with the Xbox One version in a server filled with journalists and influencers. My take away from this first taste of Fallout 76 is that the developers have a hit on their hands as long as they can keep supporting it with enough content.

Playing (nice) with others

Throughout the demo, I mixed it up with teammates, took on a wanted level 50 developer murderer, and occasionally encountered other random players while exploring out on my own. As has been said many times about Fallout 76, every character you meet is another player. In an effort to give us an idea of how this will impact and add life to the map when the real game goes live, we regularly came across camps built by devs.

I’ve still got to see how the camp building mechanic moves and shifts as players jump around to different instances in the full launch, but the camps get pretty involved if you have the resources. There are also workshops you can fight for and build up throughout the map, but there’s still a lot more to learn in that regard. In the demo, we took on the many robots peppering the junkyard and then we were able to claim the space. There was a moment where it was “contested” because of the presence of a developer, but they cleared out and it was ours for the taking. Because of that interaction, I imagine that these places will be crucial to higher level play and adds a layer to PvP conflicts.

It was fun going through dungeons and events with the team and all the mechanics flowed as you’d expect from a game shaping up as a primarily cooperative game. You can trade items with your teammates and with other PvPs you come across, setting a cap cost for the items if you wish. Looting is tied to individuals, though one of the treasure map finds scattered items out to the entire group. We were all able to dig up the treasure individually, though, so we all got a large haul plus the bonus of other teammates finding it. Experience and cap gain is spread among the group as well, as long as you’re in the vicinity and engaging with some aspect of the conflict or event.

There's an aspect of PvP that we just didn't get to test with such little time. Battling for territory was non-existent because none of us had even a remote foothold in the map and the devs were pretty high level. Other than the earlier junkyard, we didn’t battle for space or set up any intricate camps of our own. That’s something we’ll have to explore a lot more when the B.E.T.A. goes live.

You can jump back to friends with fast travel, so you can spread out and then get back together…at the cost of some caps of course. With only a limited time to play, I'm not 100% sure how quests and loot scale with teammates of various levels or when stepping into new areas.

Survival

Survival elements are not overwhelming. Water, food, and radiation or RADS. That's all. There are multiple tiers of items that replenish your health, fill your belly, and/or hydrate you. Some intersect in both positive and negative ways. You can search for the exact items you need with some luck, but you'll want to turn to cooking for better quality items eventually.

As far as leveling up, Bethesda knocked it out of the park with the perk cards. This version of the series’s S.P.E.C.I.A.L. progression system is intuitive, simple, and fluid, allowing players to change up their stats quickly to match better with friends or random strangers. You can stack cards for specific effects, share the bonuses of some with your party mates via the Charisma branch, level up the individual cards to specialize your build, and open up packs of cards every few levels to give yourself a significant boost in options. With all that said, I'm sure there's a question on the minds of many of you readers:

Can you survive the wasteland alone?

This is something I'll expound upon in another article going live today, but the answer seems to be “yes...to a point.” I split away from my group pretty often, looting houses, completing quests, and engaging in events on my own. Events were rough solo and I ended up abandoning a couple, but I was also only level five or six at the time. I also had high-level devs around, so things weren’t as harrowing as they will be in the real game.

Spaces spread far out from the vault varied in difficulty. It seems some spaces will be designed with higher-level monsters around, so we'll have to wait to see if you can take the "lone wanderer" approach with tougher content if you're high level enough.

V.A.T.S.

The Vault-tec Assisted Targeting System or VATS feature is something I personally put under a microscope when it was revealed that Fallout 76 is a strictly online multiplayer game. My take after playing? It needs work and I'm not sure it will ever satisfy former fans of the mechanic. Obviously there's no way to completely pause the action because Fallout 76 is always online, but it feels a bit off in other ways. For one, the weapon and camera don't focus on the parts that you're targeting and it feels clunky to just shoot or swing straight ahead but expect to connect with your enemy that is way off from your targeting reticle.

There are limitations that just seem to make it tough to implement in Fallout 76 and using it is not intuitive at this time. I didn't attempt to use it against other players, but I can imagine it causing even more problems there. The upcoming B.E.T.A. will be a solid opportunity to work this feature out.

Conclusion

Bethesda has a strong foundation in Fallout 76. There didn’t seem to be a lot of bugs that needed ironing out, but we were playing in a more controlled environment. Nevertheless, the B.E.T.A. will be an opportunity for that and give the developers a glimpse at how quickly different tiers of players run through the available content.

That was one of the concerns discussed in the roundtable interview at The Greenbrier and rightfully so. Continued support that keeps pace with the largest collection of players will make or break Fallout 76, but it was made pretty clear to us attendees that they want to support this game for years to come. Be sure to stay tuned to Shacknews when we take a deeper dive into the game when the B.E.T.A. goes live in October and also check out the official YouTube channel for a plethora of new Fallout 76 gameplay videos.

News Editor

Charles Singletary Jr keeps the updates flowing as the News Editor, breaking stories while investigating the biggest topics in gaming and technology. He's pretty active on Twitter, so feel free to reach out to him @The_CSJR. Got a hot tip? Email him at Charles.Singletary@Shacknews.com.

From The Chatty
  • reply
    October 8, 2018 7:00 AM

    Charles Singletary Jr posted a new article, Fallout 76 hands-on impressions: Breaking ground with buddies

    • reply
      October 8, 2018 8:25 AM

      You know I wasn't impressed with the Bethesda reveal of the game at all and the premise of it sounded pretty bad. The more I see of it the better it's starting to look. Less of a PUBG game and more of a Destiny / Original Fortnite / Guild Wars game I guess?

      Either way after watching these I think I'm going to be in.

      • reply
        October 8, 2018 8:52 AM

        The main thing that bothers me is the PvP aspect that might ruin the game. Sure its nice to have to rely on others for trade, but humans are assholes.

        • reply
          October 8, 2018 10:35 AM

          They said you can turn off PvP during the conference and have a piurely coop experience.

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          October 8, 2018 11:50 PM

          Yeah definitely going to have griefers