Bethesda Game Studios are known for creating some of the finest single-player, role playing games of the last two decades. This year, they are shaking things up a little by diving into their first online multiplayer title with Fallout 76. While fans of the series can expect more of the great things they have come to love from the other Fallout games, Fallout 76 will seek to replicate those same experiences while populating the world with other players.
25 years after nuclear war breaks out on Earth, players will awaken inside of Vault 76, a fallout shelter in West Virginia. As I began my three hour preview I was asked to create a character and take their photo for an I.D. badge. Once you’ve done this you’re free to explore the inside of the vault. As you move towards the exit you’ll walk past a variety of numbered tables that contain resources to prepare you for your adventure outside in the world.
One of the items you’ll pick up is a pack of perk cards and doing so will give you enough experience to level up your character for the first time. Each time you level up you’ll be asked to put a point in one of the stats listed in the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system. These stats include Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility and Luck. The perk cards have a range of different abilities that allow you to customise your character to your liking. Every couple of levels you’ll get to open a new card pack from the hundreds that will be available within the game.
Once outside of the vault I met up with the other members of my group. There were four of us for this session, but the game will allow you to play through solo if you wish to do so. As we make out way into the world, at the bottom of some stairs we encounter a Mister Handy robot who gives us quest. Since Fallout 76 won’t have any human NPCs, the majority of the quests you’ll receive are through robots, recordings, and environmental events – the only humans in the game will be the other players populating the world.
Shortly after we set off we came across a cabin ridden with Wild Mongrels. These familiar dog-like creatures have been transformed due to the radiation over the years, and while they aren’t much of a threat alone, taking care of them while they are in packs can be a little tricker. At this stage I was able to get our first look at how the Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System, or V.A.T.S., worked. In previous Fallout games V.A.T.S. would pause or slow down time, allowing you to target and queue up shots on enemies within the environment at the cost of Action Points.
In Fallout 76, V.A.T.S. will work in real-time. The percentage chance that you will hit an enemy when firing a weapon changes on the fly, and where your weapon is aiming on the screen does not seem to have any negative effect on that chance. I found this to be a little clunky, as it was hard to gauge if the enemy had taken any damage from your shot.
After dealing with the Mongrels, we ventured further towards our first quest marker where we learned how to setup a C.A.M.P. – Construction and Assembly Mobile Platform. These moveable settlements allow you to create bases for your team that provide shelter, safety and a variety of tools to help you survive. Like the base building in Fallout 4, a C.A.M.P. works on the same principles of needing the right resources to construct objects. This let us build workbenches to craft armour and weapons, a cooking station to make food, and a stash box to store all the unwanted items I’d picked up along the way.
A little bit down the road we ran into another player within the game, a Bethesda developer who had setup a trading outpost with their C.A.M.P. – although theirs was a lot fancier than what we had constructed. After exploring their generator powered building, complete with its own Vault Boy statue at the front door step, the stranger wanted to initiate a trade with me. A list of both our items showed up on the screen and you could go through and request things that you wanted to trade for. I selected a stack of corn from my inventory that I’d stolen earlier from the harvest out the back of the trader’s house while they were occupied with another customer. But this savvy trader wasn’t having a bar of it; especially considering I was asking for a ridiculous amount of bottle caps from them to unknowingly buy back their own crop – it was worth a try.
Our next stop was an underground mine that had become overrun by ghouls. While scavenging we came across a caged stash that required a key code to access. We managed to find this hidden inside of a nearby locker and commandeered the goodies locked inside. While searching the mine, we stumbled by a treasure map that had a crude drawing of a bridge passing over a river, some trees masking a building off in the distance, and an ‘X’ just shy of the river.
When our group left the mine we decided to start making our way to The Greenbrier. This is a hotel resort in West Virginia where this preview event was being held, and where we were staying during our visit. Once inside the old hotel I noticed that Bethesda Game Studios had done a fantastic job of capturing the details of The Greenbrier; from the over-the-top colourful carpets and walls, to being able to easily navigate to the room where we were sitting down and playing Fallout 76 at that moment.
By this stage our crew of scrappy vault dwellers had hit level 5, which allowed us to start participating in the game’s PVP. At anytime you can look at the map and it will show you all the players on your server and where they are located. We selected a group of Australian content creators to be our victims and fast travelled back to Vault 76, where they happened to be nearby, and began stalking their team who were headed towards an amusement park.
PVP is initiated by shooting another player in the world, who will take a small amount of the damage dealt. If the other player decides to shoot back at you then that will trigger the PVP and both players will start to take the full amount of damage from the combat. When players are killed they’ll drop bottle caps from their inventory which are given to the triumphant player as a reward.
If a player tries to initiate PVP but the other person does not engage, then the attacker, if they persist, will continue to do chip damage until the other person is killed. Once this happens the attacker will be marked as a murderer and a bounty will be placed on their head as a reward for killing them. Additionally, all of the other players on the server will have their location icons removed from the murderer’s map and they will not know where anyone else is until the bounty has been claimed.
The way PVP is handled in Fallout 76 is definitely a unique experience and while I think it will be appealing for some players, it just wasn’t clicking for what I wanted to get out of it. It feels more like these short contained deathmatch moments once it is triggered for players. In the lower levels PVP victories seemed to ultimately come down to which player was able to outlast the other, primarily due to the resources they had with ammo and stimpaks. If a player died from another team they could quickly fast travel back to one of their other team members if they had respawned somewhere far away. On top of that, I just don’t understand the incentive behind becoming a murderer; there just isn’t any reason to turn into one other than to give other players grief. Ultimately I feel like this is a missed opportunity for some interesting player driven moments that could have occurred within the game.
After our short skirmish the team split off into different areas of the map. I headed up north and found myself in Toxic Valley – an appealing holiday destination as the name might suggest. I scaled some cliffs and entered a house after taking down a few super mutants. Inside was a safe that I had to lockpick my way into, filled with much needed ammo. Back outside, while attempting to cross a decaying bridge I misjudged the size of a gap and found myself swimming in the brown water below. My radiation meter quickly spiked and I began taking rad damage on my health bar – a rookie mistake. Fallout 76 will introduce diseases and mutations that can have positive and negative effects, so keeping an eye on your radiation is crucial for some of these traits.
As we started to wrap up our play session, there was one last surprise that Bethesda Game Studios wanted us to see. Our entire server fast travelled back to Vault 76 where we were greeted with a 3-minute countdown that someone had initiated a nuclear launch. These events can be started by collecting nuke codes within the game and launching them from one of the secret facilities around the map; with one of them probably being The Greenbrier, if you know anything about that location’s history.
Once the countdown finished we saw a bomb drop from the sky, followed by an enormous mushroom cloud that filled the screen as leaves came rushing towards you. After an event like this the area changes and can be scavenged for rare resources that are protected by powerful creatures. It looks like a cool mechanic and one that I’m definitely excited to see more of.
Overall. Fallout 76 is looking to be Bethesda Game Studios’ most ambitious game yet; seeing the studio taking their much-loved RPG format and expanding it into an online multiplayer world for players to mess around in. The great thing about Fallout 76 is that the developers seem determined to evolve the game past its initial release. With the beta just around the corner I’m excited to play more of Fallout 76 and explore the West Virginia that they have created in this post-apocalyptic world. Just try not to get in my way or you might find yourself losing some of those bottle caps.
Luke Lawrie travelled to West Virginia, U.S.A. as a guest of Bethesda. Flights, accommodation and meals were paid for by Bethesda.