“War. War never changes.”
While that phrase has been part of Fallout’s lore since the very beginning, the same can’t be said about the Fallout series itself. Each game in the venerable post-apocalyptic RPG series has expanded and improved upon features in the entry before it, to the point that the changing locales (like Washington DC in Fallout 3 and Boston in Fallout 4) often end up playing second fiddle to some major gameplay alterations. This has never been clearer than in the case of Fallout 76, as the upcoming title from Bethesda Game Studios changes thing up in a big way by moving from a wholly single-player campaign to a shared world experience that feels like the radioactively mutated love-child of an MMO and a traditional single-player role-playing game.
At a recent event in West Virginia’s Greenbrier Hotel (a real-world location that’s been painstakingly recreated in the game), I had a chance to spend a couple hours exploring Fallout 76 with some friends. While there’s no doubt that it’s a Fallout game through and through, I was impressed by a number of changes to the core experience that should excite new and old fans alike. Let’s break them down:
Adopting a Pack Mentality
As I mentioned above, Fallout 76 has a multiplayer element not seen before in the series. From the moment you step out of Vault 76, you’ll be able to squad up with up to four other players to form a group. Once you’re in a group, you can take on quests or break up and explore the world around you. What’s really neat is the fact that you can fast travel to any one of your teammates, even if they’re in an area that you’ve never explored. This means that you can save some time by fast traveling to a friend at a point of interest, which in turn unlocks that point for later fast travel. It costs some caps to fast travel to a location, while it’s free to travel to a squadmate, so this can be a really helpful way to unlock the map without breaking the bank.
There’s Never Too Much Junk in Your Trunk
If you’re anything like me, you’re a freak who can’t walk through a dilapidated hovel or bombed-out house without picking up everything in sight. We’ve all been there: you pick up a melted doll head off of a skeleton, and all of a sudden you can’t run or jump. Over-encumbrance can be a real issues for hoarders like myself, but Fallout 76 helps mitigate this in a big way by allowing you to break down all of your junk into materials at any workbench you come across. Since all of the game’s workshops (as well as your C.A.M.P.) feature workbenches, there’s a good chance you won’t find yourself constantly lugging around too much junk. Along the same lines are storage containers, which allow you to access your gear as you explore the world, be it at your C.A.M.P. or at a shared workshop.
It’s (Not) a Small World After All
Fallout 76’s version of post-apocalyptic Appalachia is a whopping four times larger than Fallout 4’s Boston. Anyone who played that title can tell that that means the game world is absolutely huge. And it’s full of a variety of environments, from a verdant copse of trees called, simply, The Forest, to the awful-sounding Toxic Ash Heap. What’s more, Fallout 76 features what the developers are referring to as dungeons, which are standalone areas featuring tough enemies and enticing rewards.
Death Becomes You
One interesting twist in Fallout 76 comes in the form of the death mechanic. In previous games, dying would send you back to a previous save or force you to reload your game. That isn’t the case here, as you can now choose a teammate or camp to spawn on. What’s more, you’ll lose whatever junk you’re carrying (keeping your weapons and armor), so you’ll need to decide if it’s worth heading back to your carcass to pick up the stuff that you dropped. Since some materials are more scarce than others, sometimes it’s definitely worth the hassle.
The Tales We Tell
During my time with the game, I battled plenty of enemies that were similar to those in previous Fallout games, including ghouls, a variety of bots, and good old fashioned Super Mutants. This time out, however, there are a bunch of enemies that you haven’t seen before, largely because they are based on regional folklore. You’ll battle monsters like the Mothman, the Beast of Grafton, and more. I can’t wait to confront more of the things that go bump in the night.
Murder Was the Case
Each Fallout 76 server will support 24 players, so even though the world is massive, you’re bound to run into other people whether you’re grouped up or running solo. While you could leave well enough alone, the devs at Bethesda realized that that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Fallout 76 supports player-vs-player action, meaning you and your pals can attempt to take down anyone they come across. There’s a twist though: if your targets don’t fire back, you’ll do only a small amount of damage. If you do manage to kill them without any reciprocation, you’ll not only be out of luck when it comes to claiming their loot, but will also be marked as a murderer. If you’re a murderer, you’ll be marked on other players’ maps with a bounty, which will be taken from your bank if they hunt you down. To keep experienced players from battling neophytes, PvP won’t unlock until players hit level 5.
The Story Before The Story
In many ways, Fallout 76 feels like a prequel to a never-before-seen Fallout game. That’s because, unlike Fallout 3 or 4, which took place hundreds of years after the nuclear war, Fallout 76 takes place only a few decades after the end of the world as we know it. This means that you won’t run into any human NPCs, since you and your friends are the first ones out of the vault. Instead, you’ll get quests via environmental storytelling devices like holotapes or collectibles. In many ways, this makes Fallout 76 feel almost like a ghost story, since everyone you’re learning about is assuredly dead.
Live and Uncut
In many ways, the mission and quest structures in Fallout 76 are similar to those in the series’ other games: You’ll get a quest, take down enemies or find items, and get rewarded. One major change to this formula comes in the form of live events, which pop up from time to time and often require a group effort to complete. And it often won’t just be your group, as others on the server will get the notification that something’s going down. In one, my team and a number of others near us took down some rampaging bots, battling our way to a terminal to reprogram them to not target humans. It’s a fun way to keep the action fresh, and might even result in you making some new friends.
Playing the Cards You’re Dealt
Not surprisingly, Fallout’s S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system has returned, allowing you to customize your character by distributing points across seven different categories. This time out, however, you’ll earn trading card-based perks that can be slotted into each category. So, for example, you might choose to be able to target individual limbs in the VATS system, or automatically use a healing Stimpak if your health falls below 20%, or slow your hunger or thirst degradation (these need to be managed in Fallout 76) while in a camp or workshop. Each card has a numerical value, and you will only be able to slot them if you’ve got enough points left in the corresponding category. Every time you level up, you’ll earn new cards for a variety of categories. As an added bonus, you’ll occasionally earn packs of cards that include a cringe-worthy dad joke!
The Nuclear Option
My time with Fallout 76 literally ended with a bang. You see, as you and your chums play the game, you can undertake quests that result in finding parts of launch codes. Find enough of them, and you’ll be able to head to a launch center to fire off a nuke wherever on the map you see fit. Want to get revenge on the group that took down your squad earlier? Drop a bomb on them. Want to irritate (and irradiate) some folks at a shared workshop you want to claim for yourself? Send in the nukes.
I wasn’t totally sure what to expect from Fallout 76, but after playing for a few hours, I absolutely can’t wait to play for several hundred more when the game launches on November 14. And I’ll actually get my chance sooner rather than later, since anyone who pre-orders the game on Xbox One will get exclusive early access to the B.E.T.A. that starts on 10/23, with all progress from the beta carrying over to the full release a few weeks later. Finally, I’m also happy to share that Fallout 76 on Xbox One includes 500 Atoms, which allows you to purchase cosmetic in-game items and outfits.
We’ll be sharing more on Fallout 76 between now and the game’s launch on November 14, both as a standalone title or as part of our Fallout 76 Xbox One X bundle, which includes an Xbox One X console and a copy of the game.