‘Fallout 76’: Not quite heaven, West Virginia

This isn’t your older sibling’s Wasteland. Set in the mountain state of West Virginia, “Fallout 76” is the latest game in the post-apocalyptic franchise by Bethesda Game Studios.

When the player begins, they find themselves waking up in Vault 76, named for America’s Tricentennial, 25 years after the bombs have fallen. Like every other Fallout game, the player emerges into a vast wasteland, this time around known as Appalachia, an immense world inhabited by all sorts of creatures, robots and mutants, all hell-bent on destroying your life.

This Fallout game is much different than any other, however. In every other game in the franchise, you interact with human non-playable characters. In “Fallout 76,” every other human you come in contact with is a real person, someone who is looking at a screen and moving their mouse or joystick right along with you, making this the first of the franchise to be multiplayer. This allows you to team up to complete quests, join together to build defensive behemoths and engage with one another in a unique player-vs-player setup.

Fallout is my favorite series, and the thought of a new game was exciting when first announced before E3 this past summer. Hearing that Bethesda was going to make it multiplayer was intriguing and discovering that that multiplayer experience was an always online one, that was void of human NPCs had me a little worried. Playing the game, however, made me understand that this is not your typical Fallout game. This is a chance for Bethesda to explore new opportunities in the franchise. It’s an experiment. To use role-playing game lingo, it’s a side quest, if you will.

My 24 hours of playtime, roughly, in this game has been an interesting one. I pre-ordered the game and therefore was able to take part in the beta, or as Bethesda branded it, the “Break-it Early Test Application.” Bethesda is notorious for glitches, so this was a welcome addition to the development of the game. The play itself felt like an early version of a Bethesda game, and I did, in fact, encounter a few issues, some small, some pretty significant. In one instance, I found myself trying to kill a beast, missing a head, only to discover that it couldn’t be killed and was actually not attacking me. A bigger issue was being sent on a quest to repair a token dispenser, only to discover that it was glitched. A patch was available post-launch which did resolve this latter glitch, along with a few others that I didn’t encounter.

The gameplay itself is fairly easy and mimics, in many ways, the game’s predecessor. There are a few differences from “Fallout 4” though. The most noticeable is the change in V.A.T.S., a mechanic used to assist the player in doing damage to an opponent. Before “76” the system was able to stop or slow down time to give the player the advantage of figuring out where to hit or fire. As this game is always online and as it is played in real-time, V.A.T.S. was relegated to basically being a real-time self-aiming system. As with previous V.A.T.S., this does help the player by making it easier to shoot and hit, but it loses the quality it once had. Another big change and a large aspect of “76” is that of base building, with several locations available to claim that are replete with supplies. This new game also allows players camps to be built almost anywhere on the map. This allows easy, fast travel locations, that are also free as the new game requires a certain amount of caps, the in-game currency, to travel to locations. While previous Fallout games have had a survival or hardcore mode, “76”‘s gameplay is entirely survival mode, meaning the player must pay attention to not only health, but also hunger and thirst. My favorite new feature is a photomode, which gives players the ability to take a photo from any location and features several frames for locations and factions found in the game. Other changes include moving the map to its own section, rather than inside of the Pip-Boy and on-screen quest notifications.

As typical with the franchise, I began my gameplay solo, without teaming up and with little engagement in other players. I wanted to explore Appalachia on my own. The game and its environment are beautiful. There is a certain detail I have never seen before in a video game including realistic clouds, shadows and even the ability to see far off storm systems. The map itself is huge. I have not been able to explore everything, but there are unique sections of the map that could be worlds in and of themselves in other games. Each of these sections includes flora and fauna and hazards distinct to that area. This made for a challenging experience.

I did dabble some in the multiplayer aspect of the game. More than once, I tried to team up with random players that were nearby, only a couple times did the other player accept my invitation. One of these players quickly realized I wasn’t doing the same quest as him and booted me from his team rather rudely. My other team up experience was much more pleasurable. The player was a much higher level than I and while I engaged in a somewhat difficult quest, they helped out by killing off enemies. The other player also had apparently done that quest already and twice pointed me in the right direction when I got stumped. I imagine if we both had been using mics, the experience would’ve been even better. This latter multiplayer experience is what I imagine Bethesda was hoping to see in this new Fallout game.

Overall, I have had fun playing this game. While it is probably the weakest in the franchise, it is still a Fallout game. There are still some issues to be worked out, such as a few glitches and some pretty slow load times. The first major patch update fixed some of the major problems and as Bethesda works on the smaller ones, I’m sure more patches will follow. If you are a serious Fallout fan, this game is a welcome change in the franchise and a nice little break. If you have never played a Fallout game, this may be a nice and very different introduction to a great franchise.

7/10 Bottlecaps