GameCentral stays up until the small hours to play Bethesdas new multiplayer take on the post-apocalyptic Fallout experience.
We really didnt know what to expect from Fallout 76s first beta last night. Weve seen the trailers, of course, but the game had almost no presence at E3 or Gamescom and wed never played it until now. On the one hand the thought of an online multiplayer version of the regular games seems hugely exciting – something that many fans have been imagining for years – but on the other hand knowing virtually nothing about a major game thats due out in less than a month is naturally worrying. But if nothing else the beta calms our fears on one aspect: the game does actually work.
Bethesda has not been sending out very encouraging signals about this beta. Yesterday they warned that it would be filled with spectacular issues in terms of bugs and glitches, which is the last thing you want to admit when your offline games are already well known for them. And then there was the timing of it all. The beta will run for a few hours on various different days but the first one was this morning at between 12am and 4am. Which is so farcically inconvenient for European fans it seemed like Bethesda must have had something to hide. But as far as we could tell they dont.
They did occasionally turn the servers on and off on purpose, to see what would happen, and were presumably monkeying around with other things behind the scenes, but we had no trouble getting on or playing for an extended period – which is more than you can say for some betas. But once that concern is put to rest the focus then becomes what exactly is Fallout 76? How similar is it to the regular games and what exactly is different? Were not sure just a few hours of play is enough time to answer all those questions fully, but this is what weve learnt so far…
The question of how similar this is to Fallout 4 is the easiest question to answer: very. Although the background lore is different (the game takes place much earlier in the series timeline than usual, as you play as a member of a special vault meant to help restructure America after a nuclear war) the set-up is almost exactly the same. You start by customising your character visually and then in terms of abilities, with a variation of the usual role-playing system where perks are determined by collectible cards given out in random packs every time you level up.
That may sound a bit random but it seemed to work well, as you could only use a finite number of cards on your character at one time but were able to combine cards of the same type to make them more potent. Overall though Fallout 76 does seem to be less of a role-player than the previous games, simply because you have to interact with other people and so the VATS combat system has had to be greatly simplified. You can still lock onto enemies, but all that does is indicate the percentage likeliness that youll hit them. A later perk can enable targeting individual body parts, but crucially there doesnt seem to be any way to pause or slow down the action while using it.
For those that dont actually want to play the game with other people, Bethesda has already been quick to point out that you can play the whole game on your own if you want. In any case we didnt come across anyone else for the first half hour, as we worked through the first few tutorial missions and tried to figure out how the C.A.M.P. gadget works.
This is one of the games key features, in that it allows you to set up a base (almost) anywhere in the world using a powerful customisation tool similar to the one for settlements in Fallout 4. Its a very powerful 3D tool that lets you build up the post-apocalyptic homestead of your dreams, but its also an important gameplay feature in that you can move the base at any time, acting as a mobile spawn point that can be kitted out with both workshop stations and defensive turrets.
At this point we ran into our first human player – a peculiar-looking avatar who looked like a portly cherub, near naked except for random bits of leather armour. He seemed a friendly type (PvP doesnt get turned on till you reach level 5, although that takes less than an hour) and so we formed a team, which involves nothing but a simple button press, and wandered off into the wasteland together, following the breadcrumb of story missions.
The early story missions revolve around finding now deceased members of the vault and learning to do things such as manufacturing fresh water. Although it still seems a relatively minor element, Fallout 76 is more of a survival game than previous entries and you have to keep an eye on both your hunger and thirst, as well radiation poisoning. You also still have to collect every bit of rubbish that isnt tied down, so you can use it as raw material for crafting and base-building.
What you also need to keep any eye on though, obviously, is enemies. The usual radioactive dogs and rats are wandering around, but so too are new radiated humans called the Scorched, who look like more demonic versions of the usual ghouls and are a lot faster and more intelligent – with many using ranged weapons.
The most interesting enemy encounters though are in public events somewhat similar to Destiny. A number of locations around the map can play host to these, seemingly at random, with areas being overrun by things like ghouls or malfunctioning robots. These have to be dealt with in combat but theres a mild puzzle element in that you also have to work out how to stop them spawning. Anyone can join these event and as long as you help out in some way you seem to get a reward.
One of the tougher encounters we had was with super mutants guarding an airport, which is where all the gameplay elements came together as one. Not only did multiple teams of players attack at once but by setting up a C.A.M.P. nearby we were able to get turret support against the much tougher enemies. Although when you die all that happens is that your belongings get stuffed into a paper bag and as long as you come back to retrieve them, Dark Souls style, you can get everything back very quickly.
In wider gameplay terms the goal of the game is to take control of nuclear launch codes, which will apparently constitute a weekly event that ends with the winning team setting off their bomb wherever they like. We didnt get to see that last night but we did start to get a good feel for all the other aspects of the game. And generally wed say we found it very enjoyable. Theres only a maximum of 24 people playing at one time on your map, so youre never overwhelmed by other people – especially as the game world is four times the size of Fallout 4. So if you want to play it as a traditional single-player game you really can.
One other reason the timing of the beta seems ill-advised though is that we came straight from playing Red Dead Redemption II to this and, without wanting to break any Rockstar NDAs, lets just say that Fallout 76 isnt winning any technological arms race. The graphics are better than Fallout 4, with more complex lighting and more detailed foliage and buildings, but the improvement is mild and never actively impressive.
The artificial intelligence of opponents is also still very basic, with a lot of them not able to properly navigate more complex terrain – meaning you can easily get them confused or stuck and pick them off at your leisure. These are not, we think, the sort of bugs Bethesda was initially warning of, not least because theyve long been a familiar part of the franchise.
Most fans will already be expecting that and apart from the technical side of the game we were impressed by how Fallout 76 managed to have its cake and eat it when it comes to single and multiplayer. How it will fare when its released next month were not sure but just to underline how weirdly the beta is being handled theres still no clue as to when the next beta period is.
We assume theres another one today but Bethesda hasnt said anything other than to keep an eye on their Twitter account. Although perhaps things will become more straightforward once both PlayStation 4 and PC players are able to join in next week. Its hard to say whether Fallout 76 is the dream multiplayer version of the franchise fans have always imagined, but its certainly not a nightmare.
Formats: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
Release Date: 14th November 2018
Email email@example.com, leave a comment below, and follow us on Twitter.