When Bethesda announced the upcoming addition to the Fallout franchise, Fallout 76, prior to E3 this year the fans went wild - or did they? What was Fallout 76? A straight-up sequel? A spin-off á la Fallout: New Vegas? A take on the MMO genre channelling its Elder Scrolls Online aura? We were invited to the Fallout 76 event at the Greenbrier Hotel in West Virginia and with the information shared with us at the event as well as that gathered during our gameplay session (we only got about eighty minutes of actual game time out of the three scheduled hours because of technical difficulties with the console dev rig) at said event we're here to clear up any confusion. What is Fallout 76?
Fallout is one of those major franchises that has seen many twists and turns over the years, even branching out into multiple genres. It started out as an Interplay-developed top-down, open world CRPG with a turn-based combat system in the late 1990s. Since then we've seen the franchise branch out into a tactical strategy RPG with Fallout Tactics, a story-heavy, consequence-centric RPG with Fallout: New Vegas and Fallout 3, as well as a massive action-shooter RPG with the latest instalment Fallout 4. For the upcoming Fallout 76, however, Bethesda has taken more of a risk than ever, gunning for both general multiplayer and MMO players, as well as trying to get the old school Fallout fans interested in the game. However, with broad appeal comes compromises - compromises that don't cater to either group but still has some potential.
The biggest change to the series, for single player connoisseurs, comes with the scary term "always online". The world of Fallout 76 puts the player in a lovely nuclear wasteland in the West Virginia mountains with twenty-three other players. One can tackle the game as a single-player experience, surely, but it seems it may be an experience that pales in comparison to playing with others. Multiplayer, be it PvP or co-op, is the game's main focus and even though there are missions to be found all around the massive map of the Eastern state (said map is almost four times the size of its Fallout 4 counterpart) these have been somewhat stripped down to make room for a more fluid multiplayer experience. For example, there are no NPC characters in the game aside from robots, which means no interesting quest givers or fun conversations with quirky individuals. This, in turn, means that the missions you will be able to take on will come solely from picking up and listening to holotapes, finding notes on dead bodies or in the wasteland, chatting with a robot, or finding information on a terminal hard drive.
If you want to get some quality co-op time with some other wastelanders (and you really should want to as the missions we got to play definitely had more of a multiplayer, MMO-type feel to them, especially the "main" missions - there were a lot of "stand your ground" quest lines, for example) you can see the team leader's selected quest highlighted with a star on your map and compass, however you need to pick the quest up and go through the mission checkpoints yourself, meaning you can't rely on your team leader for XP progression. If you use Fallout 76's proximity chat, you can, however, ask your squad for information regarding the quests and if they're feeling like being helpful in silence (or just want to show some fancy animations like sending a love heart your way or giving you a thumbs down for doing something bad) the other players can use emotes to tell you what to do, where to go, or when to come running to help your dying team once you've wandered off too far. Speaking of relying on your team (or other players for that matter) there are some perks with the always online thing, one being the new trading system. No human NPCs means no AI traders in the wasteland but with the help of other players, you can trade your unwanted junk for a sweet weapon another player doesn't need (for a good price, if you're lucky).
As for other aspects of multiplayer, PvP is, of course, a major part of Fallout 76 (don't worry too much though, there are ways around player versus player combat). Fighting with a member of your team isn't possible since there is a friendly fire system in place, but if you hit another player with a projectile to the knee and they hit you right back the two of you can fight to the death with no consequences other than dying (which means some lost scraps that you can then pick up from your decaying corpse later on) and fast recovery times if you want to take revenge after being killed. Worth noting if the V.A.T.S. system is your preferred method of combat, V.A.T.S. has been tweaked some and understandably so since stopping time for a few seconds would give any player an insane advantage in combat. The action takes place in real-time instead of pausing the action but the system still lets you aim for specific body parts if you pick one of the neat Perk Cards linked to the combat system. That's it for voluntary PvP combat, moving on to involuntary PvP: murder.