I’ll be honest, I went into the Fallout 76 B.E.T.A expecting something terrible. I tried to avoid headlines regarding how it plays so that I could form my own untainted opinion, but I’ve seen some pretty grim stuff about the game. Then, you know, there’s the bitter memory of Fallout 4 still fresh in my mind. And sure, I can see that it’s going to have problems going forward. But you know what? I actually had a pretty good time (for the four or so hours that I got to play.) What’s important to remember about Fallout 76 is that it’s a spin-off MMOFPS, not one of the mainline RPGs of the series, and should be judged as such. I know that might sound funny coming from me considering what I thought of Fallout 4, but this game does have a lot of potential. Also bugs, glitches, and problems (this is a Bethesda game, after all), but the potential for some great things nonetheless.
So, first of all, this is definitely a game made to be played with other people, which is good because that’s what they said they’d set out to do. It isn’t that the world is boring, far from it, but it can be very isolating if you’re playing on your own. Yes, that does sound weird when said about Fallout, but bear with me here. There are no NPCs, no human ones anyway, for you to speak or interact with; the few vendors and so on that you’ll come across are all Protectrons. The story seems to be that you’re coming out of the vault a bit later than everyone else (maybe you overslept?) and are following the horrified footsteps of your Overseer. All the humans are either dead or have succumbed to a disease that turns them into Totally-Not-Reskinned-Ghouls called the Scorched. Though they’re all feral, or borderline feral, they can still speak, use weapons, are creepy as hell, and the mainline of missions are dedicated to finding out more about them.
It’s a passive storyline so as not to draw focus away from the multiplayer aspect of the game, which is arguably its most important aspect, but it’s not without problems. The voice acting and writing are still on-par with previous games, all done through found notes and recordings, of course, but they’re all far too long. I’m playing with friends, there’s a lot of joking and talking going on, and we’re not going to want to stand around listening to dialogue and reading notes every few minutes. Yeah, you can go back and listen to things via your Pip-Boy, but that’s time-consuming and doesn’t involve shooting things in the face with my friends. Again, that last bit is absolutely the draw of this game. So, while they generally have the right idea for what should be done, I can see there being some sizeable speedbumps for whatever narrative is planned.
The good thing is that shooting things in the face with my friends was great, and I could do it all day long. And plan to, in fact, as I’m sure my wife has also begun planning for a life without me for a few months as I lose myself to yet another Fallout game. The core gameplay loop consists of the gunplay and obsessive hoarding from Fallout 4, and in the framework of an MMOFPS that works exceptionally well. With multiple people working together, the problems of consistent inventory management are reduced, and building a base is much more enjoyable when you’re working on the post-apocalyptic clubhouse with your buddies. It’s so much more satisfying putting stuff down when you feel like you’ve actually got something you’re committed to with others, and much more willing to protect. Whether or not that’s reflected in later gameplay – i.e., actually having to defend your camp from considerable dangers – is something I’ve yet to see, but I’m hopeful.
This probably sounds predatory more than anything, but it was immense fun to find other players, and kill them. You’re protected by the game until you’re level 5, with a “pacifist” mode being enabled, which stops anyone from shooting you and vice versa. After that, however, you’re on your own and at the mercy of people like myself. I won’t lie, I’m going to kill you if I find you, because why would I try to barter when I can just kill you and take your stuff? I’m sure there’ll be some consequence for that later on, but there wasn’t while I was playing, and the realisation that I’d effectively become a raider really sold the “Fallout” feeling. I’m sure that says more about me than the game itself, but there it is. The more I played, the more I became convinced that this was the game they actually wanted to make with Fallout 4 but couldn’t (or wouldn’t) fully commit to the idea.
Now, let’s not get ahead of ourselves here, because there are problems. As I said, this is a Bethesda game, after all. So, let’s reel off the worst things I experienced in my four hours of play. The game hard crashed on me, twice, and crashed again when I tried to close it down at the end of the beta period. Fast travelling to my camp would spawn me inside part of one of the floor platforms, which meant I had to metaphysically slide through the walls until I was popped back out into the material plane. Some items and activation points are temperamental as hell, requiring many presses before they’ll do the thing, or sometimes just ignore your commands altogether. This is to say nothing of the audio recordings that stop and start as they please.
I also have some qualms with a few of the design elements. The first hour or so is a mess of tool-tips that won’t go away until you do what they say, and rail-roady tutorials which have been dragged out into boring quests. There’s an emphasised survival aspect to the game, requiring you to keep your character fed and hydrated frequently, and it’s a complete pain in the arse. The key word is “frequently,” as in “too frequently,” because your character apparently suffers from chronic dehydration and can’t go two minutes without snacking. I want to play my character, not babysit them. VATS is also complete rubbish, being reduced to nothing more than aim-botting, effectively a lazier version of Dad 76’s Tactical Visor ability from Overwatch. If you also happen to be as daft as my friend and place your camp somewhere that’s crap to build, well have fun moving it because it will cost you both caps and time. A lot of time.
Fallout 76 isn’t perfect, and these are all just observations from only four hours of play, so it’s not my most informed opinion ever. However, I think a lot of potential misgivings about the game may be unfounded. This isn’t one of the mainline RPG entries, and going in expecting one will undoubtedly lead to disappointment. That said, there are many elements of the Fallout series still present and working well in this title. It even incorporates some of the more irksome design aspects of Fallout 4 and makes them fun in the frame of an online multiplayer game. There’s fun to be had, and I think there’s no better recommendation I can give it right now than I was disappointed when I had to stop playing. Just don’t get too hung up over the “Fallout” title – it’s certainly not the worst spin-off the series has ever had.