Fallout 76 Feels Like Two Different Games

Screenshot: Kotaku, Fallout 76

There’s a lot of tension in Fallout 76 between the series’ solitary past and its new multiplayer future. During my four hours in the game’s beta last night, these two sides of the game repeatedly rubbed up uncomfortably against one another. I have a tough time imagining how they’ll ever be reconciled.

Fallout 76 began with me emerging from the game’s titular vault on Reclamation Day into a small portion of West Virginia’s irradiated wasteland. I was ordered by the vault overseer to take back the country and rebuild civilisation.

I was immediately surrounded by other players, often with ridiculous names floating above their heads, awkwardly jerking this way and that. Our numbers quickly dwindled as we travelled further from that starting point, searching for better loot.

By the time I’d emerged from the game’s nearest set of workbenches with a make-shit pistol and wooden board at my disposal, I felt entirely alone. Not just alone in the normal single-player Fallout way: Fallout 76 has no NPCs.

I encountered my fair share of ghouls, mutants, mole rats, and quest-giving robots, but that was it. The parts of West Virginia I managed to visit in the limited time I had with the beta were mostly empty and abandoned, filled only with the occasional buzz of old time radios or the occasional pop of guns going off in the distance.

I spent most of my time following train tracks towards the east as they snaked in and out of small riverside towns. Scavenging the wasteland for good equipment, like laser guns and power armour, has always been a central part of Bethesda’s Fallout games, but Fallout 76 takes it to a new level with its in-depth crafting systems.

Everything that can be collected in the world, whether it’s wild herbs or metal pots, can be processed into useful materials at one of the crafting benches stashed throughout the world. Raw foods can be seasoned and cooked to improve their nutritional value.

Guns can be repaired, and ammunition can be crafted. Old clothes can be broken down into the raw materials necessary to stitch together something more protective.

The game’s map shows the location of other players, quests, and points of interest. Places you’ve already been can be fast-travelled to for a price. (Screenshot: Kotaku, Fallout 76)

I went into every building I could find, loading my pockets with all of the garbage inside: old magazines, board games, cooking utensils, skis, plungers, cups, flower pots, pencils. Occasionally I’d rummage through a dresser and find objects useful in their own right, like the bobby pins necessary to pick locks, but more often than not it was all junk.

This junk is the life blood of Fallout 76. It’s how you build up not only your own equipment but also entire buildings, which can be used as personal forts to get a safe night’s sleep in and stash your valuables to make room in your pockets for even more junk.

It’s also what you lose when you die, either at the hands of an AI-controlled enemy or another player. Other players can loot your remains and take any spare teacups or metal plates you dropped.

Anything that’s been stashed in your base or refined into raw crafting materials is safe, however, so there’s an incentive to plan your travels accordingly.

You can also trade your junk with other players, in addition to finished weapons, armour and the like. A few of the people I stumbled upon offered to trade with me via emotes (although voice chat is also an option), but since we had all only just started the game, our inventories looked mostly identical.

Nuka Cola caps can be traded to robots at general stores throughout the world. I gave one about 40 for three bobby pins, which I then proceeded to break on a locked door in a nearby school cafeteria.

Levelling up revolves around Perk cards which can be earned or collected in packs. Since you can mix and match them on the fly, Fallout 76"s character builder feels much more fluid than in previous games. (Screenshot: Kotaku, Fallout 76)

My long walks through Appalachia’s beautiful fall foliage, which included occasionally running toward mysterious PUBG-like supply drops, eventually yielded me enough enough wood, concrete, and other resources to build a cabin.

This can be done in the vicinity of specially designated crafting benches, which can only be occupied by one player at a time. My cabin sat on a solid foundation and had four walls and a ceiling. I hung lights from it, added a small table with a radio on top, and created a sentry drone to watch the large opening where I had tried but failed to build a door. (Objects are crafted from a list and can be placed in spots where they appear green—while the system was easy to use overall, I found the finer points of door installation elusive.)

I added a mattress on the ground and then slept for a few minutes to recover my character’s health. The first stage of reclamation was complete.

Then, after I left my new home, someone shot at me. I tried to retaliate, but—this part probably won’t be surprising—Fallout 76’s combat system is incredibly clunky. It’s good enough for facing down ghouls or even mutants, whose limited AI makes them easy targets.

In fact, the stiffness of aiming and the long reload time on the game’s early guns play into an overall sense that anything could kill you at any moment and you should probably just go back to hiding in the vault.

When forced to exchange pleasantries with other players, however, the difficulty of aiming and the delay between pulling the trigger button and a bullet leaving the chamber can get frustrating.

Fallout 76’s VATS system is one in name only. In practice, it simply lets you expend a certain amount of stamina to deploy an aimbot for a couple of hits. It no longer slows down time, due to being on a live server with other players. And though its new functionality would seem like a sensible trade-off, I often found it more cumbersome and distracting than simply trying to shoot at my target normally, even when that seemed to not be working either.

Severe frame-rate issues didn’t help either. Since this is a beta, the finished game is likely to vary, but at least in my experience last night, any time too many players got together, the game’s performance took a big hit. I didn’t experience any weird bugs or glitches, but did struggle to accurately fire even at stationary targets when the game started to chug.

Thanks to some beautiful environments and an amazing ambient soundtrack, Fallout 76"s overall mood often reminded me more of There Will Be Blood than a satirical MMO.

(Screenshot: Kotaku, Fallout 76)

When someone kills you in Fallout 76 they become an outlaw. The game puts a bounty on their head and telegraphs their transgressions to the rest of the players on the server. The game also gives you the option of respawning near them to try to get your revenge rather than at your last checkpoint.

I attempted revenge every time, even though it ended in my own death more often than not. Even at the end of the world Fallout 76 makes it easy to nurse grudges ... Even within the few hours the game was live last night, it was clear a hierarchy beginning to shake out based around guns, and my bolt action pistols were not cutting it.

This is the other side of Fallout 76, a semi-lawless state of nature where the people with the biggest sticks and the most junk set the tone. Since the consequences for killing or being killed aren’t very onerous, it didn’t make life feel nasty, brutish, and short.

But it did remind me that, unlike in previous games, Fallout 76’s world doesn’t belong to me, but to the cumulative effect of my and 23 other people’s actions. Where games like Destiny 2 cordon off competition in specific modes, Fallout 76 sets it loose on the entire world.

I have no idea what types of norms, communities, and memes will take shape and govern the game after it releases in November, but it does seem like their existence, for better or worse, will be inescapable.

Fallout 76 has its own main story and quests that involve trying to track down Vault 76’s overseer and learn about her backstory through recordings scattered across West Virginia. While exploring these locations on my own, the game’s felt even more convincing then the series’ past ones.

The immersive fantasy, no matter how long it lasted, was eventually always broken by forces beyond my control: notifications for timed public quests popping up on my screen, other players rampaging through battlefields I was content to sneak through, someone walking up beside me wearing a party hat, aviators, and a police officer’s uniform.

It felt like two games, each potentially great in its own right, competing with rather than complementing one another. Only time will tell which one will win.


    It felt like two games, each potentially great in its own right, competing with rather than complementing one another

    It's a good point, and one I've been thinking about despite not having played the game at all. Fallout to me is a single player adventure where the world revolves around my actions. If this was a single player fallout I wouldn't hesitate to dive in.

    It's multi player only though...so to get the most out of it I need friends to play with. Getting a group together for multiple gaming sessions is damn tough so not sure if this is a game for me. Even if I just got 1 other person to play with me I could see it unraveling after a couple sessions and the play through just stopping. Same thing happened with Divinity Original Sins 2 after I made it through the first Act with someone - ended up starting over and playing through alone.

    Where games like Destiny 2 cordon off competition in specific modes, Fallout 76 sets it loose on the entire world.

    I have no idea what types of norms, communities, and memes will take shape and govern the game after it releases in November

    Well, could always ask GTA Online what resulted from that wide open world...

    Interesting to read a negative take on the game. Most reviews I've seen from the Xbox beta are quite positive, even several people saying they were negative before but changed their mind after playing.

    This perspective bummed me but didn't wholly surprise me. I'll be a day one player on pc, but it'll be a game I play only with company (which has its place but is sadly limiting).

    My main hope is that after an initial round of dickishness the griefers will move on to another game that properly rewards them for being gaming alphas.

      Whenever I fire up GTA online it feels like all the people who aren't griefers got fed up and left a long time ago as the second you try to do any kind of delivery mission you get half the server chasing you on flying motorcycles trying to blow you up despite the amount of money you get for doing so being less than you'd earn spending 30 seconds to rob a convinience store.

      They know that blowing up your deliveries will cost you millions of dollars and many many hours of time but they do it anyway to earn that sweet $2000.

      So yeah I reckon the normal players will get fed up and leave and the griefers will be the only ones who stick around even if there is no reward for it.

        Yes, other people who bought the game like you shouldn't be allowed to have fun at all. People killing you while you do a mission is not griefing, it's called playing the game.

        People spawn camping you and killing your repeatedly at level 1, now that's griefing and being an a--hat.

    The key things for me is the reports on latency and desycing anination between firing a weapon and hits registering, if its not performing well in a structured event like a media/influencer demo event with low latency networking... then where will the Austrslian/Oceanic servers be, or is the Pacific Ocean going to ruin my experience with 250+ ms latency?

    Thats what I am holding out for... What type of Radioactulive Lag Monster has Bethesda spawned for Australians

    pretty much what i was worried about. Ah well RDR2 will fix my adventure thirst.

    So even less RPG and more crafting than Fallout 4. What a sad end to one of my favourite franchises.

      No, this is not, never had been and isn't even close to the time FO5 would be coming out.
      This is like a side dish. Don't like? Don't order.
      It is like saying garlic bread is the end of pasta. Fallout has had shit-show shonky games in the past and the world kept going around.

        I just hope that their experience with this mutant offspring doesn't turn them off trying to properly implement what many of us wanted in the first place, which is optional co-op in Fallout.

        GTA 6 and elder scrolls 6 should have been released years ago too. Lately franchises have milked their existing games for all the dollars they can rather than release new ones. Fallout 76 could easily be the end of Fallout.

    Private servers, yo.

    Unless they charge you for it, in which case... fuck off with your bullshit, FO76, hanging out for a co-op mode/mod in Fallout 5!

    What everyone needs to keep in mind is this is an open beta and the official release of the game Is 3 weeks from now give or take. And by that time the servers, lag ,fps drops and time outside should be either fixed or close
    to it, to all those people saying it's the end of the franchise that really makes me laugh , not even close unless they announce they are ending it.
    And all of us in this beta also have to remember we haven't gotten a taste of the story or some of the missions not really the story but the quests and they do tend to listen to the community so hopefully there should be private servers added eventually. So don't give it a bad name just yet there a long road ahead for the game and the series.
    But one thing I'm no as happy with it the main story, because there really isn't one it's going to be mainly based around quests, if u didn't already know there will be no human npc's all quests will be given by mainly notes, holotapes and terminals as well as robot npc's so it looks like no matter what its going to be a lot of pvp and online play.

    Last edited 25/10/18 4:39 pm

    ‘This junk is the life blood of Fallout 76’

    Mmmmm I love spending time collecting shit and crafting instead of engaging with a games story said nobody ever.

    Well maybe some OCD types, but not me. Sounds like the pooch has been properly screwed on this iteration of Fallout.

      I agree, even Witcher 3 and D:OS which are great games let you pick too much crap up in the hopes of maybe crafting something with it later. It just becomes painful inventory management to keep under the carrying capacity. Sometimes less is more eg the crafting isn't as complex in Wizardry 8, but you made some sweet items like demonic jack in the boxes, earthquaking jackhammers, resurrecting lazarus stones etc


    Oh and please buy some store items on the way out! ... I hope one day mods make this game more interesting but I hear that is 1-2 years away, lol.

    Honestly sounds like a bog standard looter shooter with a Fallout skin. The saddest part is people are saying the world space is great but it seems frankly wasted when it could of been an amazing single player game

    I'll try it out but as far as I'm concerned it's a free bonus with the helmet I purchased.

    Without NPCs, I refuse to play. Being able to exist in the world with other inhabitants immerses me more than running across XXXPOON_SLAYER_69XXX

    I played a lot of Rust and 7 Days To Die and The Forest.
    This sounds right up my alley.

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