Not all games are created equal. Some are released with more expectation, a more fanatical fan base and a deeper sense of lore than others. Fallout 76 well and truly falls into that category. While Bethesda’s epic post-apocalyptic RPG’s aren’t to everyone’s taste there is no dismissing their popularity, with Fallout 3 selling 12.4 million copies.
Between Oblivion, Skyrim (available on literally every platform), Fallout 3, 4 and New Vegas the reach and scope of these titles is massive and anything that comes out of the Bethesda stable needs to reach a certain pedigree.
With Fallout 76, Bethesda have gone in a different direction. The open world, quest driven storyline is still there, but in a new setting and with one major addition, this time you aren’t the only human survivor. I spent 5 hours in the Appalachian wasteland to find out if the new Fallout title is worthy of the name.
How does it play?
Vault 76 opens on Reclamation Day, releasing me into the wilds of West Virginia ready to rebuild America. The first mission and waypoints let me choose and create my own character and then lead me past all of the equipment I would need to survive. Fallout 76 is set earlier than previous titles, there is less civilisation around. After an hour I had seen a few dead Raiders and some human corpses. Any missions or waypoints were given to me by a robot NPC or a dead drop, or note.
I started following the Overkeeper’s mission which led me on some long journeys. Having played the BETA and struggled, I opted for melee weapons and stealth from the start, but levelling up happens quite quickly and I soon had a healthy arsenal of guns and grenades as well.
In my first real encounter with an enemy I found that V.A.T.S. (Vault-Techs Advanced Targeting System) is replaced with a targeting assist system. So rather than the slow-motion/bullet time of previous titles, new V.A.T.S. helps with targeting. However, it starts very basic and by the time of writing I still haven’t found it that useful.
Within 2 hours I’d set up my camp and learnt how to craft items like floors, beds and cooking stations so that I could do more than merely survive. I found that I could leave my camp unattended and go exploring. A marker on my map let me find my way back, or for a small cost (bottlecaps of course) I can rebuild my camp exactly as it was in any open space of land. There is a STASH crate in my camp, and others dotted around the map, where I can access any of my stored items.
How does it feel?
Exploring the hills of post-nuclear West Virginia were completely reminiscent of previous titles. I started to feel a) relieved because I liked the previous games (especially 4), and b) a bit disappointed that after all this time nothing had changed.
But then a few things happened. Timed missions started appearing on my screen. These are community wide missions which anyone in the area can join to complete. Once completed I was awarded with some items, resources and a gun. That seems like small thing, but it is symptomatic of the change in direction for this title. It used to be that you’d go from point A to B, speak to someone, they’d send you on a mission to kill or collect at point C and then it would be back to A where you might get paid. But along the way you would loot and search. Fallout 76 allows you to do that but straight up gives you goodies for doing a good job.
The rewards, timed missions, basic crafting and emotes really gamify the Fallout story. While the other games had a good sense of humour, this one doesn’t take itself seriously at all. SPECIAL upgrades have changed too. You win cards that give perks which you can share with others. It’s a small difference but adds to the game feel.
And then I traded with another person. Not a vendor in a town, but a regular guy who was armed with a piece of wood. So I sold him a shotgun for 20 caps. Next thing someone comes over and wants to team up. They weren’t on mic which was a shame as we couldn’t explain what we were trying to do, but the new emote wheel allows for some basic communication. We ran together for a while before going our own ways. Even then I could still see what missions he was doing and how he was progressing. I could fast travel to him as well.
The game went on and I built a better camp, armour and weapons. Five hours flew past and I ended up at level 8 with a basic camp, a load of guns and a ton of mission options ahead of me.
Mission selection isn’t great on Fallout 76. The missions appear on your on-screen compass as small diamonds, but they all look the same. If you have a few missions open, there is no quick way of knowing which way to go.
That became important when I was using my Pip-Boy to select a weapon or First-Aid. The gameplay continued and I was getting attacked and taking damage. The same happens when I was looking at a computer terminal or reading.
The time it takes to get out of an interaction, select and then draw a gun means you are vulnerable to damage for quite a while. I’ll get used to it, but it jars with the way the game plays. I want to read the documents and listen to holo-tapes, but I need to find somewhere to hide first or I’m gonna get hit.
How does it look?
The game looks gorgeous but is by no means perfect. In my short time playing it I’ve seen NPCs stuck in walls and moving without any animation (creepy gliding along the floor). I found that several times I have shot one point blank and had no effect.
To deal with the giant map and number of online players, the game blurs everything farther than about 20 (in game)metres slightly. Played on a day-one PS4 I noticed some blurry shots and even a few frame-freezes.
I can’t understate the sheer size and scale of Fallout 76. Whatever Bethesda have had to do to cram this into a PlayStation is awesome. The visuals didn’t take my breath away like Horizon Zero Dawn, but they are big and immersive.
I got to listen to the great jazz tunes on Appalachian Radio via my PipBoy 2000. A mixture of familiar and rare tunes really set the tone for the game. The sound effects for the game are great and keep you turning around, looking for whatever is causing the floorboards to creak. There are literally dozens of creatures and enemies out there and they all sound different. The scorched even have some basic language skills.
Fallout 76 is a massive game, cleverly layering PvP, Minecraft-like crafting and survival RPG styles in a massive map. It’s also glitchy. The game freezes and jerks in the middle of battle and it feels like it still needs de-bugging. Bethesda titles are known for weird glitches and this one is no different. Off the back of some stunning titles this year like God of War, SpiderMan and Red Dead Redemption II, Fallout 76 feels a bit clunky, but it’s still good.
If you’re a fan of the previous titles, Fallout 76 offers you more of the same. It is huge but first impressions are good and I’m getting ready to go back in.
Maybe I’ll see you in the Wasteland.