Bethesda is making a very controversial move with Fallout 76. I’m sure I’m not the only fan that, after spending over 100 hours in Fallout 4, was eagerly itching to explore yet another apocalyptic wasteland, seeking out bobbleheads, and blasting the occasional Super Mutant or two with a Fat Man just for the hell of it. Yet, the developer’s decision to uproot the franchise from its typical single-player origins, in favor of a shared world RPG experience has left many fans concerned. Admittedly, prior to diving into the Fallout 76 beta, I was very much in the same boat. However, after a few hours exploring the West Virginian wasteland, I’m starting to think it might not be so bad after all.
Let’s make one thing perfectly clear before I go any further. I haven’t had a whole lot of time with Fallout 76 just yet. Its beta is only live for a few hours at a time, and after an initial four-hour window on its opening day, Xbox One players now have to wait until the weekend to dive back in. As such, expect an additional impressions piece early next week as I venture deeper into the radiation-tainted wilderness.
During my time with Fallout 76’s beta so far, however, things haven’t been quite as shaky and irritating as I initially expected. Sure, there were other players hopping and jumping around the nearby vicinity to Vault 76 and the first town or two that the main quests funnel you towards, but this was only temporary. My interactions with other players during this time were innocent enough, too. The occasional player would run over, give me a thumbs-up emote, before bailing off into the distance smacking the crap out of a Brahmin. Fallout 76 frequently respawns loot and enemies, so while there’s certainly something jarring about walking into a locale that’s just been ransacked, give it a moment and you’ll be free to do it all over again.
In that sense, Fallout 76 does a good job of ensuring that the shared world experience is fair to all players, regardless of how quickly they’re moving through the world. However, it’s at odds with a key reason as to why fans have been so enamored with the Fallout and Elder Scrolls series for so long. Having some other Vault Dweller sprint through, beating Brahmin with their bare fists or looting somewhere before you only to have places restocked takes away from that solitary exploration element that works with their worlds, rich with secrets to uncover and special moments to be had.
The more I played, and the more I ventured off the beaten tutorial path, though, the more that sentiment began to fade away. Rather than making a beeline for the next main quest, I opted instead to seek out a government supply drop in the opposite direction. I claimed a workshop in the middle of nowhere which rewarded me with a number of items and tasked me with defending it from ghouls. I fought off a few Scorched members on my own. All the while I was leveling up my character, listening to iconic Fallout tracks on the radio, interspersed by the occasional new addition to help keep things fresh.
Even when I did come across another player, it was rare that they were trying to make themselves a nuisance. They either wanted to work together, or simply passed me by, content to explore on their own. That, of course, is going to completely depend on who’s in your server, but there are so many systems in place to help nullify the effects of griefers that I can’t ever imagine it completely spoiling the experience.
A quick tab over to the Social menu from the map gave me a list of all the other Vault 76 dwellers currently exploring the world. I could invite each one to my party, mute them should they be screaming down their mic, or ‘ban them from the session.’ I never used any of these options. I never had to. But it gave me the peace of mind that they were there, should I need them.
Additionally, the entire PvP experience isn’t actually enabled until you reach level 5. It’s an apt amount of time to help you find your feet, and even then you can immediately enable Pacifist mode, essentially nullifying any damage you receive, or deal to other players almost entirely. Bethesda has made Fallout 76 an experience that can still be enjoyed by lone wanderers, while also doing cool new things that can only be done with a shared world.
It left me wondering, though. If Bethesda’s gone through all of this effort to ensure that its core fan base of single-player explorers can enjoy Fallout 76 on its own, why make it a shared world experience to begin with? It’s in kind of a weird limbo, and it’s a sentiment accentuated by some of the core mechanics of the franchise.
For example, using your Pip-Boy to navigate menus is fine in a single-player experience where the world stops around you. Less so when everything is playing in real-time. Stand out in the open tweaking your armor, changing weapons, tweaking your Perk Cards, or dealing with your food and water levels, and you’re a sitting duck. On numerous occasions I was ambushed by pesky radroaches or other wild inhabitants of the wasteland while I was navigating these menus. They feel cumbersome and out of place.
It’s the exact same with the VATS system. A mechanic that once slowed time down to a crawl in-game so you could target specific body parts has been adapted to be more of an auto-aim feature. However, in losing the slow-mo effect, and with creatures quickly moving around you, it’s not only less effective in combat, but it’s not as cool to use, either. You’re better off lining up your shots yourself, and ignoring the VATS system, which is a shame, considering it’s always satisfying to watch a sniper shot demolish a creature in slow motion.
Fallout 76 is by no means perfect, but it’s certainly a lot more fun than skeptics (myself included) initially thought it would be. There are systems in place to prevent other players from hindering your experience, but also perk cards to support your preferred playstyle, whatever that may be.
With two more play sessions scheduled for this weekend, I’m eager to return to the wasteland of West Virginia. It’s early days, however, and things could most definitely change as other players level up, more powerful gear is uncovered, and if features emerge that require or strongly encourage co-operative play. For now, though, the Fallout 76 Beta has begun to succeed in making me a believer that it’s not all doom and gloom in the post-apocalyptic era of West Virginia.