Graydon Goes West.
B.E.T.A Played on Xbox One
No, that title isn’t a coy play on words: I have never played a Fallout game. Ever.
I haven’t touched a single old-school top-down Fallout, I haven’t ever heard that classic “war never changes” line, I never even tried downloading Fallout Shelter; I guess you could say I’ve been pretty sheltered, myself. So with Fallout 76, I went in as blind as possible, save for a couple of E3 videos and screenshots, so my expectations were essentially non-existent. With that said, this weekend’s B.E.T.A. (Break-It Early Test Application) was a surprisingly entertaining romp through the West Virginian wasteland, and it definitely got this Fallout newbie excited for more. For anyone who was fortunate enough to find themselves in this Wasteland with me you’ll know how short a burst we had to play through but in that time I encountered, and accomplished, a lot.
I began Fallout 76 in a titular fallout shelter, as is the norm in most Fallout titles, or so I’ve been told. I was immediately thrown into a character customization screen that absolutely blew me, and the family members who had gathered around to watch me play, away. Upon finding a strangely familiar hairstyle, I decided to create a character who resembled my uncle. As he stood next to the television, I shifted and contorted my character’s face all around until it looked nearly identical to him. This is the level of craziness that Fallout 76 has to offer in terms of overall customization. Everything from basic features like hair color and beauty marks, to advanced options like cheekbone height and nose bridge width, can be adjusted. I was beside myself, and while I’ve been told that this customisation was also found in Fallout 4, for a first timer to the series it was a revelation in creation. Nevertheless, I donned my blue jumpsuit, grabbed a party hat, and headed out into the world to find The Overseer.
As that giant vault door moved aside and the outside world poured in I was struck immediately by the scope – this dilapidated world was my oyster. Bethesda’s post-apocalyptic West Virginia really does feel like the end of the world. I felt alone and lost in the death littered wilderness, and unlike other open-world games that say “Welcome! Your first objective is over there!” Fallout 76 basically threw me out of my comfortable home and said: “Go get ’em, tiger!”. There is so much to explore, and it’s all on offer from the very beginning, it was almost overwhelming and I was truly scared for my pseudo uncle’s life. Taking a right turn, I was instantly shot at by…something, so I decided to go left instead. Meeting a friendly robot along the path, I was told where The Overseer was last seen, and thus my real journey began. The less said about that first incident the better.
I was truly scared for my life.
That initial scope didn’t last quite as long as I would have liked however as, from this point on, quests and their objectives felt pretty straightforward. I was never again confronted by that feeling of “Where do I go?” and honestly that was a bit disappointing. I preferred that sense of isolation and uncertainty, it was the exact kind of feeling I’d heard Fallout could provide. While that feeling was perhaps fleeting, that undertone of terror that comes from the “anything could happen” mindset remained the lifeblood of Fallout 76. This is due to its MMO infrastructure, and the ability for any player to lead enemies straight into your path, or become enemies themselves. This makes the simplest tasks even more dangerous, whether it be reading a message on an old computer terminal or leveling up your character through your Pip-Boy. The Wasteland is infused with constant stranger danger and it’s absolutely thrilling, only adding to the suspense of an apocalypse. Even if occasionally a quest will ask you to put yourself in a particularly vulnerable situation and the frustrations of death start to weigh heavily.
There is no fast travel or vehicles of any kind, making each hike across the wasteland a life-threatening task. I found myself meandering random trails at night for a large majority of the B.E.T.A as the day/night cycle seemed to eerily favor the latter during my playtime. As I wandered the open road, I came across many different enemy types, from large beetles and mutated opossums to zombified ghouls and “scorchers.” Enemies were fairly easy to take down with my minuscule array of weaponry however, these encounters felt few and far between. You see, the world itself feels vast, yes, but simultaneously it is quite barren. Visuals are simply breathtaking, with my aunt being particularly awestruck by the stunning scenery throughout West Virginia but for all the splendor many buildings are completely empty and contain nothing valuable to loot. Couple this with a lack of enemy hideouts and strangers with side quests, and you’re left with a sad and uneventful trek across the wasteland no matter where you’re headed. Exploration feels pointless, save for collecting materials for crafting.
To that end, however, crafting may have been my favorite part of Fallout 76, as nothing feels better than blowing baddies away with your very own custom-made gun. Upon starting the game, I crafted my own machete, and this got me pretty far until I started feeling threatened by enemies with ranged attacks. So I shifted focus, hunting down the necessary materials to craft a pipe revolver, and I later used this to defend a fellow player in the midst of a Scorcher swarm. Finally, when one of these Scorchers dropped a damaged, but more-powerful-than-my-machete pickaxe, I rushed to the nearest crafting table and repaired that baby to ensure my safety in this Godless Hellscape. The best part about this whole chain of events? I figured it all out by myself – there was never a quest that told me to find a weapon. Fallout 76 encourages you to find your own way in this post-apocalyptic world, and defend yourself by any means necessary. Crafting is quick and easy, whether it be weaponry, armor, or a nice cup of tea you’re making. I can see myself spending a lot of time grinding for resources to level up my equipment. Paired with a whole new set of perks and abilities to level up your character with, the RPG mechanics of Fallout 76 feel deep, intuitive and most importantly, rewarding.
Chances are you’re not gonna find an area that looks like the Tower Plaza in Destiny.
Completely new to the Fallout franchise, and perhaps the most exciting element of this new title, is the inclusion of an online, multiplayer experience. I was never really drawn to Fallout before, as the empty world didn’t interest me very much. But now with the world being full of other human players, well, it’s a party! Granted, the world isn’t quite teeming with online players. Chances are you’re not gonna find an area that looks like the Tower Plaza in Destiny as it has been confirmed that only 24 players can be on a single server, so they’ll be there, but they’ll be few and far between. That being said, I encountered quite a few people in the B.E.T.A. Until level five, PvP is disabled, so you pretty much work together to complete the first few quests, and you run into them passively along your route. You can invite players to teams, and ask to trade equipment with them, which is a really nice touch considering there is a lot of equipment to loot and collect in Fallout 76.
Upon reaching level five, however, shit really hits the 1950’s inspired art-deco fan. I first encountered a world event during that aforementioned “Scorcher swarm.” One of my quests had landed me right in the middle of this horde mode, and I could hear gunshots coming from outside the barn I was exploring. As I walked out, I saw Scorchers descending upon a lone seventh-level player. He was swinging his melee weapon wildly as they surrounded him, and I decided to help him out by taking shots from afar (I had just crafted a scope for my revolver. Super rad, I know). Unfortunately, I could not save him, and I was left to clean up the remaining scorchers once he fell. I soon realized with sinking dread that I had only barely survived wave one of five and fled that nightmare like a bat out of nuclear Hell.
Rather unfortunately, I stumbled out of the frying pan and into a much greater fire, as another world event was happening right next door involving defending three machines from ghouls inside a farmhouse. I fought my way inside and helped three others clear the area, the whole event lasting about five minutes, and upon completion we all received rewards. This is where the misfortune comes in, as apparently, these rewards weren’t enough for some people and in true raiders of the Wasteland style, I found myself getting shot at almost immediately by two of the other players. Undoubtedly, this is where Fallout 76 shows its brilliance. As they gave chase, I led those fools right into the path of some hostile NPC robots who quickly drew their fire, allowing me to flank around, gun those dastardly players down, and loot their rewards. I had turned the tables, weaponised our shared apocalypse and achieved an unlikely victory.
Fallout 76 is a wild ride, and I left my B.E.T.A. experience wanting to download Fallout 4 and finally try it for myself. I can see some Fallout fans not loving the inclusion of online play, most notably because it is extremely hard to follow the story and immerse yourself in the loads of readable materials when the world around you cannot be paused. Hopefully, the server cap will help provide a nice balance of single and multiplayer so everyone can enjoy their time in the wasteland accordingly. I can’t wait to see how more players factor in, especially with base building, and of course, the nukes. It has been confirmed that nuclear missiles won’t be unlocked until completion of the main story. But with progression happening at different rates across servers, it’s only a matter of time before the world becomes even more dangerous than it already is. Time waits for no man in Fallout 76, and fortunately, no man (or woman) will have to wait much longer to play it. Fallout 76 drops on November 14. I’ll see you on those country roads.
I have just learned that the Fallout 76 B.E.T.A. is running a few more sessions throughout this week. While it’s still only available to those who preorder the game, I hope some of you get the chance to try it for yourselves. Hopefully I’ll see you out there! Hopefully you won’t…kill me and take my things…