On the weekend I went on a journey to West Virginia with Charlie and while this is most definitely Fallout, Fallout 76 is something different from what has come before. What do I mean by that? Come along a trek in the Appalachia mountains with me.
Fallout 76 has a lot fewer NPCs than you might be used to, but the in-story reason for it works really well. You are one of the first people out of the vault and things are pretty rough on the outside. You are a pioneer, a reclaimer and you need to deal with some harsh, desolate conditions. Some others have tried to do the same and often all you find are mangled corpses or worse, they have turned to Scorched. Something bad has happened here in West Virginia, and you are going to have to get used to roughing it at times.
The Scorched are a new threat that will make you miss fighting ferals and some of the other run of the mill nasties of the wasteland. There is a plague here in the mountains, spread by a demonic sounding giant bat. It makes the body burn, figuratively and literally, with hot sores developing and the skin and insides starting to desiccate from the heat. The pain is overwhelming and eventually, the poor victims lose their minds, becoming angry, husks that are in so much agony that they lash out at everything around them. They still can use firearms and can speak, but it is all nonsense, with the victim too far gone. It looks like a major quest is going to be dedicated to finding a vaccine for this terrible disease and to kill the spreaders of it. Sometimes you find others that were trying to reclaim and settle the world, but now they are your enemy, trying to make you feel the same pain they do, or perhaps starting a fight hoping you will end their tortured existence, to make it all stop.
Melee combat feels a bit weird, with no reaction or feedback on your attacks. With it being a multiplayer game, you don’t get the normal paused / slow-down for VATS, but the system still exists, helping you land hits or criticals if you are battling to hit an enemy. With the correct skill card, you can target body parts too to disable an arm or get more damage to the head. Using VATS burns through AP though, so you should use it when really necessary, and save some if you need to run away.
Set up C.A.M.P
Setting up a camp changes the rhythm of this game from most other Fallout and even Elder Scrolls games. Generally, we would all collect everything, load up to close to max weight and then fast travel back to town or home to drop things off or make the merchants cry when we sold them large heaps of rubbish. Your camp is where you build a cooking station, crafting benches, a bed (or whole house) to rest in, defences to fall back to and storage space for the
junk treasure you find on your travels. Your camp can’t be too close to other settlements or buildings, but being able to set up outside a new place you are exploring, drop off some heavy items and cook some food before going on really felt a lot better than fast travelling to and fro. The best part is you aren’t building hundreds of camping sites. When you set up camp again all the things you built before are in a handy storage tab, ready to be placed again, and it only costs five caps to set up camp. It feels good to be self-sufficient and to have a handy stash for junk from early on, without going back to the same place again and again for supplies. Some of the things you build you will need a blueprint first, making them valuable treasures to trade with others later on, as you only need a blueprint once to learn it. I particularly like the idea of building something once and not worrying about building it in every new place you need to make ammo or repair a weapon.
The B.E.T.A (Break-it Early Test Application) was split into times that you could play to stress the systems. While this meant the servers were busy, they probably had nowhere near the number of concurrent players we will see on launch day. So with that bit of guesswork in mind, I still felt that the player density was very low, low enough that I was pretty happy with how it felt. Besides for one location that the main quest sends you to, the only time I saw players was in a town with many quests and vendors or gathered around events. Events? Well if you have seen any MMO or shared world game like in Destiny, there are world events you can participate in marked on the map which gives you some nice rewards. One such event involved robotic farmhands deciding that humans were actually fertilizer and attacking everyone. If you killed three supervisors and disabled the other farmhands via a terminal in the building, you get event rewards and some XP.
Graphically, the Appalachia mountains are beautiful, if downright scary at times and sometimes I just enjoyed the view while Charlie slept in my bed without asking. How rude. Things feel nicely spread out, making you want to walk to that farmstead or radio tower you see, hoping to hear an emergency broadcast or pick up a transponder signal. Exploration felt rewarding and being in a group didn’t hamper the experience. Loot is instanced, meaning you can both loot the same corpse and possibly get slightly different items. In an abandoned mine I cracked the safe open and looted it, and Charlie didn’t have to pick the lock, but could help himself to the spoils, meaning that travelling with a party that specialises in various areas could be highly beneficial and easier than trying to be a master hacker, lockpicker and surviving the wilds all at once. It also meant I wasn’t so worried about missing out on loot, and I could happily call when I found a hidden stash, so that we could all benefit. One thing I did notice immediately: you are going to want to play this with friends who have the same ideas and playstyle in mind. If you want to rush on and your friend wants to explore every corner for scraps of lore and a few extra caps, you will frustrate each other. To counteract this a bit, your teammates become fast travel beacons, with you paying a few caps to fast travel anywhere. So you could essentially play together still, and catch up after. What it will do is make getting together to take on a tough location much faster and simpler if one person is at the place already.
The beta had some erratic graphic slowdown and I saw a few ash corpses crumble but stay in the air and sometimes there was a long wait for a container to show me what loot was inside of it. It was also easy as a group to miss cues as to what we had to do next or why, which I guess could be avoided by starting the game solo and getting together after you learnt more about the game’s systems.
A lot has changed but a lot is the same or familiar enough. While purists might not want to call this a Fallout game, this is most definitely Fallout. Things felt like Fallout and while I miss pausing for my perfect shot while sneaking, the real-time VATS system is a lot better than no VATS at all. I think I could see myself in a party, looting a big location together or taking on events, but there are enough perk cards to make playing solo have an edge, so I might just be a lone wanderer, camping alone in the wilderness, with my defences out in case anyone gets any ideas.