Fallout 76: My First Day Out Of The Vault

Screenshot: Kotaku, Fallout 76

Fallout 76 is out today, three years after the last game in the series, Fallout 4. Unlike its predecessor it’s not a single-player open world role-playing game, but an online multiplayer one. It also went through a lengthy beta period, with players’ progress from those sessions carrying over into the official release.

As a result, the game’s launch feels most like another milestone on the difficult journey to predict what the game will become. The more I explore the far corners of the map, trying to decode mysterious radio signals and collect better Power Armour pieces while steering clear of its dangerous threats, the more unsure I am whether to hate Fallout 76 for its stockpile of small frustrations or to love it in spite of them.

After 15 hours with the game across its beta and today’s release, I expected my feelings about the game to come into stronger focus, but it’s been the opposite. While it feels increasingly like Fallout 4.5 with multiplayer, I’m increasingly less sure about what the implications of that might be.

Is the fact that another player can try to kill me at any moment a distraction from the rest of the game or one of the most important factors undergirding it? It’s still too early to say.

Here’s something I’ve experienced in the game more than once. The sun’s just gone down and it’s dark out. I can barely make out what’s in front of me on the mountain path I’m following toward my next objective marker. Then a howl, followed by a second and third. All of the sudden I’m surrounded by wounded dogs I can’t really see. I try to shoot them, but the game’s stiff controls make it impossible.

I true to use the V.A.T. system, which is supposed to let me spend AP in exchange for auto-aiming, but now I’m suffering from thirst and hunger and I don’t have any points left.

The edges of Fallout 76"s map constantly taunt you with questions about what lies just over the horizon and how fast it will kill you. (Screenshot: Kotaku, Fallout 76)

I search my inventory, while being repeatedly bitten, in hopes of finding a good melee weapon, but they’re all busted because I’m still missing one of the four ingredients needed in each case to repair them. So I try to karate chop the dogs with the butt of my 10mm. Repeatedly and haphazardly I smash the right shoulder button. But often nothing happens, or the attack occurs on a delay.

A minute goes by and I’ve only killed one of the dogs. Finally, after much frantic flailing and two stempacks later, they’re dead.

I loot the bodies for meat and decide now would be a good time to fast-travel back to my campsite so I can cook some food and get rid of my hunger. The game says I can’t because there are still enemies around. I look for them. Nothing. Listen for them, still nothing. I twirl around searching my compass for any sign of a red dot representing said enemies. Nothing.

Finally, after walking half the distance to my camp, the game says the coast is clear and lets me teleport.

This is just one example of the nonsense in Fallout 76. Of course, there’s been similar nonsense in previous Fallout games, but here there’s no quicksave, pausing, or magical V.A.T. system to help grease things along. Instead there’s even more friction, with survival and crafting mechanics to manage as well as a messy perk system that feels more like playing spider solitaire than navigating a traditional skill tree.

While it’s early days for the full game of Fallout 76, a lot of people have already made up their minds. Some spent the greater part of this morning review bombing the game on Metacritic, writing things like “Basically it’s an asset flip of Fallout 4, minus real quests, plus multiplayer.”

Others were pitched against Fallout 76 as soon as it was announced, feeling that rather than building on the series’ grand single-player legacy, Bethesda was planning to flog it for microtransaction cash by turning into a battle royale-esque online shooter. Reactions from vocal minorities like this aren’t new, but they feel especially ill-suited to a game with so many different sides to it that’s still in its infancy.

You run into people infrequently enough in Fallout 76 that when it does happen, at least for now, people usually stop and try to connect in some way. (Screenshot: Kotaku, Fallout 76)

At times Fallout 76 feels like any other modern Fallout, just with random strangers with weird names above their heads occasionally running by. There are audio logs to find, mutants to kill, and computer terminals to hack, most of which can be done without every dealing with another human being.

There are only 24 players to a server, and since the map is roughly four times bigger than Fallout 4’s, the game can feel surprisingly but refreshingly lonely at times.

Some of my favourite moments with the game so far have simply been exploring a dilapidated house or factory building alone, picking through containers while the game’s soundtrack of beautiful forlorn violins hum softly in the background. At times Fallout 76 has the emotional resonance and narrative slow burn of a walking simulator, in which environmental storytelling through found objects and audio recordings do the bulk of the heavy lifting.

At the same time, the concessions the game makes in order to accommodate multiple humans is hard to ignore, even if other players are rarely present. Timed events pop up on the map at regular intervals, pulling you to some far corner of the map to team up with other Vault dwellers in the hopes of getting the resources your survival depends upon.

Usually this means fighting off a horde of enemies together which, even when repetitive, fosters a slight sense of flourishing together or not at all. Most of the time, quests are doled out by robots and pre-recorded tapes hooked up to automated machinery. In this regard the world is more like a post-apocalyptic fun house to scavenge through than a living, breathing world, but there are still small but vibrant pockets of civilisation humming along.

Narratively, Fallout 76 takes place prior to the rest of the series. Set in the beginning of the 22nd century, not long after the bombs fell, the game’s players are supposed to take on the role of homesteaders taking back the wasteland. One consequence of this design choice is that Fallout 76 relies on each server’s players to provide the storylines, cultural subtleties, and violent confrontations that normally drive the arc of a Fallout game.

Screenshot: Kotaku, Fallout 76

That means that while you can play Fallout 76 like a single-player game, you won’t get the Fallout experience unless you go out of your way to be social.

So far, most people have been busy looking for their first gun or simply trying to find enough food and water to keep from starving all the time. That means most of the multiplayer storylines haven’t had time to properly emerge yet, and likely won’t for a least several more days, if not weeks.

However, a small but noticeable subset of the game’s more veteran players decided to celebrate Reclamation Day, the day when residents of Vault 76 leave to find fame and fortune in the land above, by helping brand new players out. Some players have out helpful starting equipment or simply said hi by adding a beer to their inventory. I’ve had a number of people come up to me during my travels and greet me with a thumbs up emote before asking me if I want to trade.

It’s early enough in the game’s life that neither of us have much to offer the other, but on more than one occasion I’ve exchanged various types of ammunition, just for the hell of it. If nothing else, it’s a testament to how eager players are to create meaningful human interactions where none are fabricated in the game itself.

These types of interactions are what I’m interested to see develop, especially as they become augmented by end-game activities. Throughout my journey so far, everything I’ve already accomplished has increasingly felt like a tutorial for something bigger: an eventual carnival of player vs. player faction wars, raid-like co-op bosses, and nuclear code arms races. Fallout 76 might have released yesterday, but it still doesn’t feel like it’s gotten completely started yet.


Comments

    My first day hasn’t happened yet because of the day 1 update. Is just me or does anyone else think the ps4 version doesn’t actually have the game on the disk?

      lots of people online have said that it only installs 200mb from the disc and downloads the other 50gb+ from the internet which is pretty bad.

        I didn't even have that. Bought two copies yesterday, all that was inside was a cardboard "CD" with the key on it. Downloaded about ~50GB from the office, took it home, copied it to Games/Fallout 76/ and told the Bethesda launcher to install in the same directory.

        Took about 15 minutes to verify the files, which was slow, but the process worked.

          all that was inside was a cardboard "CD" with the key on it. I don't know if I should laugh or cry...

      You got a disk!? JB sent me a circular piece of cardboard with a key on it.

      Wouldn't normally bother me but my ISP (Mate) has been sucking during peakhour lately. I could've had it downloaded quickly and even played an hour or so last night, but after sitting at <5% my normal speed for 3 hours I have to defer to tonight :(

      That's pretty much what the XBox version seemed like. 50gb was downloaded as an "update" and it looked like maybe about 200mb was installed from the disc. It took a long time to download as well - I left my XBox running overnight so that the game could download and install.

        I did the same but I checked it before I went to work and it said 99+ hour to go

    Glad to hear/read some people are enjoying the game. Ill be steering clear for now till the 'dust settles' then might look at it again.

    Played it for the first time last night (luckily had the wife at home with bub so she got our computers downloading during the day).

    I really liked it! Granted the interface was clunky as hell, but aside from that we had a great time exploring a world that felt fresh and intimidating.

    I commented once during playing that the world just feels indifferent to you rather than actively out to get you, which is rare in video games.

    At one point my wife exclaimed "bloody men!" after listening to a holotape recording of a long dead luckless lady. She rarely gets that invested in character backstories.

    In all it's a game where you're more archeologist than chosen one and while it's still finding it's feet, I for one can't wait to delve back in.

    I'm yet to play. I picked up the PA edition yesterday but I arrived home late and had the update to download. I've never had high expectations for the game but that Power Helmet as a centerpiece for my Fallout merch collection is amazing

      It's better quality than I expected. Just be careful with that swivelling eyepiece though, it looks like it might be the most breakable part on it.

    I brought the game on a whim and played solo a solid 6 hour session last night. Despite the game running like ass on my pretty high end pc I really really enjoyed my time.

    Walking around exploring and doing quests has been a blast so far. I honestly love the way the game does the story via letters holo tapes and good old environmental storytelling. Learning about what happened while in the vault has been engrossing, much more than I feel fo4 was.

    It's too early to say but I can atlest say I'll get my money's worth out it. Compared to RDR2 a game that people will tell you is the 2nd coming of christ which bored Mr after a few hours

    Beth spent years developing the micro transaction model for this game...you make sure that you damn well enjoy it!

      Yeh, no. No idea what you are talking about.
      Regurgitate some ranting youtuber?

      Last edited 15/11/18 4:40 pm

        Probably watched Jim Sterling. He's still peddling the "Perk Packs as microtransactions" line.
        The game has enough REAL issues to have me concerned, without resorting to straight fabrication of imaginary ones.

    I'm sorry but that entire scenario with the "sun being down" and dogs come attack you just reads that you're completely unprepared and are ignoring a bunch of the game systems. Due to these facts alone you're then punished for it by turning an easy fight into a tough one.

    - You should be on top of food/water. The game warns you when these get low. Fix it or live with the debuff.

    - You shouldn't have to search your inventory for a weapon. There is a quick select option that lets you easily swap them out.

    - If you have multiple broken weapons to the point that you have to hit them with your fists then you're failing to maintain your equipment. Your problem, you get punished. Same as any other game with a durability system.

    - Nothing happens/attack occurs on a delay. Well no, you can't spam a button and attack as fast as you hit it. There is a cooldown between each hit.

    - Combat/fast travel bug. I'll give you that one, that's a true problem but that's it.

    This article reads like someone who has barely played the game (15 hours!) and possibly never touched Fallout 3, 4 or New Vegas. Don't blame the game for your own limitations as a player because you decide to actively ignore game mechanics that are thrown in your face.

    You could have used this article to address the real bugs and issues with the game but instead write a section that just says you're a new player with no idea what you're doing. Hardly an appropriate person to write a review.

      You should be an editor.

        Can't tell if serious or sarcastic...

        I'm an engineer though and frequently have to review/edit the reports of junior engineers before they are issued.

      Yep, it seems like some people can't grasp the entire point of the game & it's mechanics.

      Next they'll be complaining about playing Battlefield V and having to put up with people constantly shooting them.

        "No matter how fast I hit the shoot button the gun wouldn't fire until it finished the "reload" animation"

        Worst game ever!

    agreed with xenoun - whether you're on PC or console, there is a quick bind system (to a wheel, with umm 12(?) different slots) where you can bind weapons, healing and I think food and drink to. Also if you hold the key that pulls up your pipboy then you'll turn on the ''flashlight'' on the pipboy and you don't need to wander or fight in the dark.

    there are a LOT of in-game mechanics which are poorly described or not described enough in-depth.

    I am really enjoying the game. My friends and I are having a great time exploring and having adventures. Bugs are not killing the game, no npcs are not killing the game and other players seem cool so far. Lots of teaming up and saying hello. Totally enjoyable.

      That moment when you realise there are some NPCs, and they're not all robots..

    I mean, it sounds like Rust/Seven Days To Die/The Forest in the Wasteland. I'm keen.

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