Fallout 76 Gameplay Impressions
Since being revealed at E3 2018, Fallout 76 has been the subject of intense scrutiny. Bluntly, what the hell is it? Is it a builder? An MMO? Something completely new? I sure didn’t know. But now, I do. Sort of.
Bethesda hosted an event last week at the historic Greenbrier in West Virginia, where I played 3 hours of Fallout 76. Two immediate points: 1) it feels like Fallout, and 2) I had a great time playing it.
I’ve summed up 10 need to knows in another article you’ll definitely want to check out, while this piece is more about the experience of playing Fallout 76. How it felt, what I learned, that kind of thing.
We started from the beginning with the opening cinematic you’ve probably already seen. Ron Perlman’s voiceovers have always provided the initial surge of momentum in the franchise, and Fallout 76 is no exception. I was eager to get out into the world, so after a quick character creation and tutorial section, we stepped out into Appalachia (pronounced apple-ah-chee-a, not apple-eh-chee-a).
At that moment, with the blinding light and sweeping vista, Inon Zur’s beautiful score swelling, I knew. This is absolutely a Fallout game. But it also isn’t: the congregation of 20+ people checking out the view made that pretty clear.
I was teamed up with a couple other journalists and a member of the Bethesda staff, and we decided to follow the main questline for a while to get some exposure to it and get some baseline gear. I’ll definitely play through the story as an individual come release – which you can totally do – as I found the group story experience somewhat immersion breaking in the way most MMOs are. There’s just something about a four person lineup at a terminal that pulls me out of it, ya know?
Interestingly, server density is something Bethesda has put a ton of thought into. They wouldn’t peg the number of servers except to many, many thousands (with 20-24 players per), but based on their calculations it’s highly unlikely you’ll run into other players too often unless you’re teamed up with them. Whether that holds true in the wild remains to be seen, but the team seemed confident that respawning of areas, story mission lineups, and other annoyances will be more or less invisible to players.
So after following a few story missions but ultimately being distracted by all the commotion, we decided to head to the Greenbrier. It’s a higher level zone, we were told, but it was too tempting to ignore. Along the way, a ton of crazy things happened.
There was a fight with some Super Mutants, a PvP showdown with another group, an uncomfortable ceasefire with said group to take on a terrifying Scorchbeast, a clash with the Flatwoods Monster, a Deathclaw, and a group of Feral Ghouls straight out of 28 Days Later. But hey, we eventually made it to the relative safety of the Whitesprings robo-staff.
After checking out Whitesprings, a Deathclaw attack was being repelled by the Robots staffing the resort. I decided to help out, taking pot shots from a safe distance. One of those shots hit a robot, and suddenly I was the primary target for a few dozen robots. They were relentless, continuing to punish my errant aim even after my death.
Each one of those situations were tense, exciting, and decidedly Fallout. Bizarre system interactions have always been a big part of Fallout’s uniqueness, and the addition of multiple player characters ramps the chaos up to 76.
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t quieter moments though, as I spent the last hour of playtime roaming the wilderness more or less aimlessly. This meant that I made my way into areas that haven’t yet been optimized, but despite some ragged framerates I found the solitude and uncomfortable peace that really defines the series for me.
Bethesda seems to have done a great job maintaining the Fallout flair I expected, even without any human NPCs. For the most part they’ve been replaced by Robots and holotapes, and one of my main concerns is whether the story will be able to generate emotion from the player via those delivery mechanisms.
I asked multiple people why there are no people around, and apparently that’s a big part of the story in Fallout 76. I’m intrigued, and to be honest, surprised. I kind of expected the experience in 76 to diverge dramatically from what’s been done in the past, but I’m thrilled that this feels like a huge Fallout game with other player characters.
Something I didn’t expect, but am absolutely elated about is that Bethesda intends to release all post launch Fallout 76 content for free. It’s a huge announcement, and bodes very well for the game community’s health after launch.
Just before our time with the game expired, we were asked to fast travel back to Vault 76 – someone launched a Nuke, and hey, who doesn’t want to see that? I ran down the hill towards the blast, and was quickly overcome with rads – you’ll definitely need power armor to brave the Nuked zones.
And so ended my 3 hours with Fallout 76. My pre event curiosity has given way to optimism bordering on excitement. Fallout 76 is poised to be another excellent entry in the franchise with the addition of playing with others, but also faces the challenge of generating the meaningful and choice based narrative the community craves. Will it ultimately succeed? It’s too soon to tell, but I’ll definitely be there on day one to try and find out.