Fallout 76 is an online RPG developed by Bethesda studios. I have played a few days of the beta on a base PlayStation 4 and have been playing with a partner during each of the betas open times.
Fallout 76 is an interesting take on the Fallout franchise, it looks and feels like fallout and if you have played Fallout 4 you will feel right at home here. But with its online nature, 76 brings a wide array of brand new features and modified old features to table, some of them work, some of them don’t.
The first and most obvious is the fact that Fallout 76 is always online, even when playing alone you will be in a server with other vault dwellers. This isn’t inherently good or bad, it will vary on the person playing the game. However every other system in the game is routed through this central fact, many of these are inherently bad. I’m going to break down many of these systems below.
Fallout 76s perk system
In Fallout 76 you have a number of attribute points that dictate your characters various statistics. They are known as SPECIAL, Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility and Luck. In past Fallout games, you could distribute points in these attributes at the start of the game to *build* your character. In Fallout 76, however, you don’t. They all start at one and every time you level up you pick one to increase by one.
In addition, every time you level up you pick a perk card, and every few levels you get a pack of perk cards. Each of these cards is attached to one of the special attributes and can give you bonuses such as dealing more damage with one-handed weapons or reduce the number of RADs you take when drinking water. If you get a duplicate of the same card you can upgrade it into a more powerful version that has a steeper cost.
Your attributes function as slots for these cards, if you have a strength of three and a strength card has a cost of the one you may equip it and two other one strength cards, or one other two strength card. You can share your cards with your teammates based on your charisma.
Furthermore, you can change your perk card layout at any time, this makes the system flexible but noncommittal. There is nothing stopping you from unequipping cards that let you pick locks or hack terminals, and equipping them the moment you need to pick a lock or hack a terminal. The system allows for a variety of builds but needs some balance on how freely you can change your set up.
Building and construction
Every player in Fallout 76 is given a C.A.M.P, its essentially a mobile flag that you can place almost anywhere to claim a small circle of land around it to build on. You can also fast travel to your camp for free while fast traveling anywhere else costs a couple of caps. You don’t have a lot of room to build and you have a smaller building budget compared to Fallout 4. You won’t be building giant fancy cities in 76, but you can still make decent and defensive houses for your stash and crafting tables.
Players that enjoyed organizing their loot in Fallout 4, however, will be disappointed. You have a stash box where you can store all your goods, but every single other piece of storage such as lockers or chests you can build are purely cosmetic and link to the same stash. This can make inventory management an utter disaster as you have to manually sort through your entire stock of everything. A nice feature is the ability to blueprint what you build. You can select your entire construction and blueprint it, enabling you to place it down again in a new spot later. Wild creatures sometimes attack your base which can be fun but anything they damage is easily repaired for a fraction of the cost.
The camp is quite easily abused though. Not only can you fast travel to it for free, but you can also call it to you for a couple of caps. This makes encumbrance irrelevant as you can simply call your camp to you, place down a stash box, unload your goods and be on your merry way. This also impacts the survival elements as you can bring or go to your entire storage of food and water at any time for free if you fast travel or for a few caps by calling your camp.
In 76 you have a hunger and thirst bar and your weapons and armor degrade over time and need repairs at a workbench. They don’t have much relevance to the games experience because resources are so abundantly available. Food, water, and junk are ample and you always have a workbench or cooking pot in reach due to the ability to call your camp to you. There will come a point where you are either throwing some junk out or simply not picking it up due to how plentiful everything is. One other change is the rad system. Accumulating rads slowly reduces your maximum HP and can cause you to gain a mutation. Mutations are neat changes to your character that have positives and negatives. For example, I obtained twisted muscles, which made me deal more damage in melee combat but lowered my accuracy with a gun. If you’ve got a mutation you don’t want, Rad-away like all other things is everywhere and has a chance to get rid of it. On the flip side if you like your mutation you may accidentally get rid of it by using Rad-away.
Story and world
There are no human NPCs in the game, every human you meet is another player. This can make the world feel very empty and dead since you don’t have settlements to check out. You get quests from holotapes and robots, who act as quest givers and vendors in place of humans. The quests themselves function fine but in a group, it can be difficult to focus on the story elements as most of it is done via reading notes, terminals and listening to holotapes. It’s easy to miss things and you will more than likely have to listen to a holotape more than once to catch everything. You also have the eternal feeling of being one step behind in a never-ending chase to catch a ghost. There are no NPCs, you will always arrive on the scene when the NPCs in your notes or tapes are either dead or moved on further. It does not feel like a progressive storyline, it feels like the story already happened and your playing catch up.
The world, however, is pretty to look at and fun to explore. I’m always excited when I find a brand new creature or enemy type I’ve never seen before. Some of the set pieces are interesting, such as an old cliffside village built from a wrecked plane.
Playing with friends is simple and easy but the game made a lot of tradeoffs to have a world inhabited by other players at the same time as you and your chosen group of friends. But they exist for very little interaction. If a player attacks you, you take very little damage and I can’t overstate how little it is. If you don’t want to fight you can simply ignore them and leave and its nearly impossible for you to be killed by the said player. If you shoot back you both deal full damage and whoever wins the fight gets a couple caps. It’s unbalanced however because the aggressor is always at a disadvantage. The first attack the victim makes back deals full damage, it’s incredibly easy to run up to an attacker plinking you with reduced damage and melee or shotgun them to death since your first attack deals the real amount.
Then its a never-ending loop of revenge, when you are killed by a player you can choose to respawn somewhere or select “get revenge”, if you pick the latter you spawn extremely close to the player that killed you and you are still considered hostile to each other. Kill that player and he or she can pick “get revenge” and so on. One player picked a fight with me and I killed them, I took their junk and called my camp to me and dumped it (another system flaw) and I killed the player three more times, each time they selected get revenge and came back within seconds. It ended only when I was finally killed and chose not to get revenge, but I could have kept the loop going if I chose to.
Furthermore knowing that its nearly impossible to be killed by an attacker you don’t want to fight deflates the tension out of player encounters. I never once was worried a nearby player would attack me at a bad time because they were irrelevant if they did due to the opt-in PvP system. You can damage another players camp, but you can’t take anything from it and they are repaired for the fraction of its initial cost anyway.
If you somehow kill a player that did not fight back (If they were afk perhaps) you get nothing and become wanted. Being wanted puts a bounty of caps on your head, removes other players from your map and makes it so other players can attack you right away. A clear in-game method of punishment, but not a satisfying one.
This system isn’t likely to please anyone. PvP advocates will be disappointed that they can’t attack and rob other players, and people with no interest in PvP will just be annoyed at being bothered by a player attacking them in the first place. You can technically trade in 76 but the worlds aren’t permanent, every time you join in it puts you in a random server. So any idea of sitting up a local shop is out of the question. But as I stated earlier, supplies are plentiful, Fallout 76 is all supply and no demand. It’s unlikely that anyone would find any worthwhile trading anyway. In the end, other players just feel like they are there, running by to do their own thing. Outside of your own team, they don’t add anything meaningful to the game in its current state.
Difficulty and challenge
In addition to plentiful supplies, easy fast travel and always having a camp within reach the game is poorly balanced and offers no challenge at all. Past Fallout games gave the player a choice of difficulty settings but due to 76s online nature Bethesda designed the game so anyone and everyone can play it with no issues. My partner and I were taking down level 30 enemies at level 7 with basic hunting rifles and leather armor no problem. If you ever enjoyed the harder difficulties or survival mode in Fallout 4, you’re out of luck here.
On the off chance you do die, you just drop your junk and respawn nearby, so you can simply pick your junk back up and continue on with what you were doing. As long as you spawn right away the enemies you killed will still be dead and the ones you wounded will not have healed. If you are playing with a friend you can spawn on them, right away even if they are in combat. This invalidates everything as dying is becoming a health refill since you face no consequences for doing so. If Bethesda chose to give the player infinite health, it would functionally be the same as it is now and this just doesn’t sit well with me.
Playing off its multiplayer focus there are many events randomly within the world. They tag all players in the area as friendly to you and everyone in the area works together to complete them. But since the game is easy you can do them yourself and it’s yet another peg in making the other players completely irrelevant to your experience.
The beta is riddled with the performance issue, long load times on the PlayStation 4 and frequent framerate drops. But these may be fixed by release. However, I think 76 does a lot of things to try and appeal to a mass audience but fails to do any of them well and the entire game suffers for it. The game could be infinitely tweaked and added to easily. It’s a perfect slate with which to carve on and the chisel is in Bethesda’s hands. Perhaps it will improve, I certainly hope so.