UFG Crashes the Fallout 76 B.E.T.A.

Like most Fallout fans, I was eager to get some hands-on time with Fallout 76. To really get a grasp on what Bethesda was trying to do. Survival mechanics, single player options, PvP – there are a lot of new elements to contend with. Even with all of the information being released monthly, I was still trying to wrap my head around what Fallout 76 is. That’s not the case anymore…

The Fallout 76 B.E.T.A. (Break-it Early Test Application) is underway, allowing gamers to visit a post-apocalyptic West Virginia at scheduled dates and times. Bethesda sent over some beta codes right before the first session started – I jumped right in. We were told ahead of time that these sessions were strictly to be used as a stress test for the servers. In order words, I expected some bugs and such going in. None of them were enough to ruin my time in-game though; the concern was centered on how well Fallout’s various systems worked in this new multiplayer environment.

The Fallout series typically provided a single player experience. Taking place in a post-nuked part of the country, you’ll awaken in a rough state. Your family is gone, radiation is everywhere, and the land is teaming with mutated enemies just looking to end your existence. You’ll venture beyond your vault’s walls solo (or with an AI controlled team, depending on the game) to collect supplies and weapons to ensure your survival. This is done while you learn the new pecking order; which group of bandits or super mutants are ruling your neck of the woods. There are moral conundrums and terrible events to contend with. It’s basically a roller coaster ride of survival with a thematic backdrop. Fallout 76 seems to offer most of the same things.

As you load into the game, you’re immediately greeted with the intro video shown in a recently released trailer. After that you’ll create your adventurer using what seems to be an enhanced version of the customization system introduced in Fallout 4. For whatever reason, it’s still difficult to create a realistically looking black person; our hair styles and skin color is apparently tough to nail down. A deep sigh and eyeroll later, I settled for a “nice” look and moved on. To be fair, players will be given opportunities to change their appearance with new options after playing a bit. I personally never found them due to this being a beta. Moving on, I eventually exited the vault – after looting it for much needed items – and walked out into a desolate, yet captivating, Shenandoah region of West Virginia.

Fallout 76 is a prequel, taking place twenty-five years after the bombs dropped – as opposed to eighty or so years later like in the first game. So, it makes sense that there are far more non-mutated survivors walking around. Being the first to see the world after the nuclear fallout, you’d think that people would be far more excited to see you. Unfortunately, no one is role playing in that sense; Fallout’s fan base is so used to playing alone, that it took a long time to get anyone to accept a team invite. It may take you having friends join your session to simulate what it’s like to group up with other survivors. During the early moments, I had to remind myself that it was a beta and that, at some point, the UFG team will squad up and play this game together. That’s the gift/curse of creating a Fallout game that can be played either alone or cooperatively. I’m sure that will easily change over time as I was eventually able to find some willing participants.

While I wouldn’t say that Fallout 76 is harder to play than previous entries in the series, certain places are more dangerous when solo. Finding a holotape with a quest that pointed me towards a rough area gave me pause. In other words, the game became more enjoyable when I was able to find a group. Each player would seek out and complete quests to level up their characters, increasing the number of skills that helped us survive. Of course, it wasn’t always about the team. The leveling system uses cards that tailor your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. traits and skills in a way that adheres to a given playstyle. You’ll still get experience points, but instead of just upgrading via a normal skill tree, you’ll use them to purchase cards with different point values. What’s great about this setup is how the cards are made specifically for co-op or single player and that they can be swapped at any moment. Players can even share cards, adding passive buffs to teammates. Basically, Bethesda made sure that everyone would be able to play Fallout 76 the way they’d want while also allowing them to be flexible – no one is locked into a particular role. Unlocking a card that says “Increased damage when solo” is just as exciting as getting one that strengthens the whole team.

Battling monsters shouldn’t be your only concern. There are survival mechanics that governs part of the game’s difficulty. With having to make sure that your character doesn’t die from starvation, thirst, or mutate from radiation exposure – which could be a good thing – it’s important to use non-combat skill cards to toughen up. The idea is not just to survive but thrive. Which is also where the base building aspects come in; having a balanced team means your base will also be bountiful/filled with items that will help everyone prepare for long journeys out in the wastes. It can be set up and moved to (seemingly) anywhere in the world, allowing you to craft and store armor, weapons and other items in places void of such luxuries. It can also provide a “safe” haven. That is, if you’ve outfitted it with turrets and traps. Most of us didn’t use ours in the beta so I can’t speak too heavily on the difficulties of placing buildings and such besides urging you to put some emphasis on it when possible. It became apparent quickly that you must start building for the long term early on because we didn’t see any option for a re-spec; you can swap your cards but not shift the points to another category to purchase a different card pack.

Taking a step back, the game’s combat works as expected. Both the close ranged melee fighting and mid to long range shooting felt great. The V.A.T.S. system left something to be desired though. In previous installments of Fallout, V.A.T.S. was used to slow down time so the user could focus critical shots or attack key areas of an enemy’s body with increased accuracy. It was possible to shoot a weapon out of a person’s hand or remove a limb with a solid axe swing. But in 76, it is used as an auto-aimed critical shot were its damage and accuracy are dependent upon your skills chosen underneath your “Perception” tree. It can be effective at times, especially in dark places. But it doesn’t really work visually; you’ll still see hit percentages and indicators letting you know what limb will be hit, but your gun won’t move as if it’s being aimed at those spots. It also isn’t reliable when the enemy is really close to you. Their quick movements often negate the percentages. And since your weapon (or rather, your character) doesn’t aim realistically, it can be difficult to see what you’re going to hit. This isn’t something you will use that often, but with guns being made of scrap metal, I would recommend doing what you can to help increase your accuracy with this system. Snipers, I’m looking at you. Just don’t expect V.A.T.S. to get you out of a jam.

With this being a B.E.T.A, I didn’t mind the bugs. Enemies that wouldn’t die after their health hit zero, sounds being off – I’d get shot with what sounded like a shotgun from the right, but it would turn out to be a laser beam fired from the left – and so on. What did bother my though was the lack of a story. Beyond the desire to see how things have changed since the bombs hit, there didn’t seem to be a reason to leave the vault. Not only that, but there wasn’t the usually moral issues or conversations that presented dialogue choices that would affect your standing in the world. Those elements really helped to catapult this series into the forefront of Western RPGs. Fallout 76 is, at least during the B.E.T.A., is missing that.

During my time in-game, the consensus was that it felt like Fallout 3 (or rather Fallout 4 with the ability to build, customization options and so on) but with a cooperative aspect. As I have said in previous articles, I don’t enjoy playing video games alone. Triumphing over a tough foe with friends and creating long-lasting rivalries is where it’s at. Even when playing a single player game, I invite others to watch and sometimes join in (passing the controller). So, my initial impressions of the gameplay were positive. Well, aside from not being able to find people willing to party up. Fallout 76’s B.E.T.A. didn’t give us much on the story front, which could turn off some fans looking for a more linear experience. It fun to explore West Virginia and fight monsters. The lack of structure had a lot of people aimlessly walking around until they stumbled on a quest though. That isn’t indicative of the entire game, given the limited scope of the beta time and content wise. But it is something to ponder.

All of that said, I’m still looking forward to playing the full game. The B.E.T.A. was entertaining. Even when I wasn’t sure of where to go or what to do, just being in Fallout’s world with other players was worth the visit. My takeaway: multiplayer wouldn’t ruin Fallout, but a lack of structure might. Here’s hoping that’s not the case upon launch!

Editor’s note: There was surprisingly very little PvP action during our playtime. We’ll add our thoughts about that aspect of the game when we see how it pans out – most likely in the next few scheduled sessions.

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