Fallout 76's Survival Mode has just landed in the game as part of the extensive plans Bethesda has for the post-apocalyptic open-world experience in 2019, and the core focus is that it's a more hardcore experience that lifts the restrictions already imposed on PvP. That's one of the pillars of Survival Mode at least, but there's actually a lot more substance and subtlety to it than just letting people kill each other willy nilly.
To give a bit of context, with this change comes another change to Adventure Mode, tightening the PvP restrictions further, meaning that Adventure and Survival are now essentially polar opposites in terms of how you interact with your fellow man. While you can attack people freely for full damage in Survival, in Adventure your attacks do no damage unless your victim attacks back (changed from the minimal damage inflicted before), and this protection is also planned to extend to Camps as well.
Does this turn every Survival server into a bloodbath though? Actually, not at all. Bethesda has made the smart move of hiding other players on the map unless they're in the top three of the leaderboard, which means that if you keep your head down and don't want any trouble, chances are you won't find any. Couple this with the fact that you can only respawn at Vault 76, train stations, and your camp, it means that battles are few and far between.
When we were playing, for example, we got into five scuffles in two hours, and that's when we were actively seeking out these top three players to battle. The map is so big and there are so few players that the change of rules don't drastically change how the game is played, but instead, it raises the stakes and lets those who want the reward - and the risk - seek it out if they want.
After all, you get double the caps for killing someone in this mode, and dead players drop all junk and a random amount of aid items. On top of that, there's also a permanent 20% XP bonus as well, so there's every incentive to play in these servers other than just wanting to pick a fight. Each encounter with another player feels a lot more meaningful now, especially since you often don't see them coming, and with that comes a level of nervousness that we think suits the lawless wastes very well.
Petty back-and-forths between players are harder now as well since the 'Seek Revenge' option has been removed, so you can't easily head back to the place you died anymore to get your stuff back in a vicious circle. Instead, you can opt to spend caps to place a bounty on your killer's head - with wanted players also being visible on the map - although it might not be worth it if some other player is just going to go and kill them instead of you.
There's also an interesting dynamic with the top-placed players and those who are wanted, since they know they're visible to others on the map and can, therefore, be extra cautious. There was this one incident when we were trying to hunt someone down near Mount Blair, but after much searching, we emerged from an elevator where they were waiting for someone to find them, at which point we got assassinated. It's these types of interactions that make it was more than your PvP in something like Ark, where higher level players can just ruin the newbies - here there's more opportunity for sneaking and cat-and-mouse chases, facilitated by the play between visibility and invisibility.
The stats and leaderboards are a nice added feature that gives some meaning to your previously meaningless wanderings, since you now get a scoreboard showing how you did when you die, including kills and lifespan. A future update will add the ability to compare stats with your friend, and obviously climbing the leaderboard in the server is always going to feel good, especially since there are multiple categories to assess players.
When you're not trying to fight against the other vault-dwellers there are also more difficult weekly challenges, with some of the rewards detailed here. These provide pretty tasty rewards that aren't just Atoms, as you can get weapons with really appealing modifiers that'll make combat that bit easier, whether that's in PvP or against any of the monsters of Appalachia. Since you can carry everything over from Survival to Adventure and vice versa too, there's every reason to switch regularly - there's no need to commit to one.
Perhaps the one fallback with PvP in Survival Mode is that the technical performance of the game and the combat itself doesn't make for the most epic battles. It's fun to ambush someone, and you can get sniped as we did, but those who have played the game will know that lag, bugs, frame-rate, and more makes an accurate and satisfying battle impossible; the game simply wasn't designed around real players fighting against one another. It's not unenjoyable, but don't expect a Destiny-level style of deathmatch.
We went in unsure of what to expect, and perhaps expecting more chaos than we got with Survival Mode. Instead it's a much more subtle change that allows for those who want it to seek out a challenge by gunning for the top dogs in the server or those that are wanted, but the risks and the lack of spawning options mean that players who want to stay out of the crossfire can do so with relative ease. If you want to see how we got on over two hours and with the top players in our crosshairs, check out the livestream replay below.