Fallout 76! The first few hours!

War! War never changes! Or so Bethesda Studios keep telling us with their Fallout series of post apocalyptic games.  But perhaps that opening monologue should be changed, to War never changes, except when it does!   

November 14th this year saw millions of Fallout fans around the world rushing to midnight launches for the latest offering in the Fallout franchise, Fallout 76, a brand new game that has caused a lot of controversy since its initial announcement at E3 earlier this  year!

For the first time ever Fallout has gone online and multiplayer, but at a great cost to traditionally what is often held to be one of the most successful games franchises in the industry.

Not only has Fallout 76 gone online, it is the ONLY way you can play this game, meaning that you will have to connect to the internet and play on dedicated servers that support the game.  Every single person you will meet in Fallout 76’s vast open world of West Virginia is another player! There are no non player characters (NPC’s) to interact with or get side quests from, in fact one of the other main staples of the series is gone for good, the companions!

So what does this mean?

Fallout 76 is a beautiful looking game, playing on X-Box on a large format smart television, at times I was sure I was watching a documentary rather than playing in a rendered world.  The rich palette of colours used is so photo realistic and the wilderness of West Virginia is stunning almost beyond compare.  In the first hour of the game, after waking up and leaving Vault 76 behind forever, I found myself wandering through lush green forests, filled with radiant trees and foliage, all backed by majestic looking mountain ranges.  The scenery is breathtaking and sometimes you just have to pause a moment to take in the beauty of the craftsmanship that has going into creating this vast open world.

This game really takes into account the power of the new generation of consoles and high end computers and pushes them to the limit.  High polygon counts and super detailed textures and really high frame rates all help to blend a game that seems like watching a movie at times perfectly.  The vistas you can see from the top of the mountain range during the early part of the game are breathtaking! This game is best played on as big a screen as you can for total immersion, and add to that a sound bar and you can really let yourself get lost in the game totally! A quick word of warning, if you are running low on space on your console, be prepared to delete a lot of stuff as the download file for the X-Box One is 50 gigabytes alone, this needs to be downloaded to your console or computer before you can even begin to play, though thankfully my download speed meant that I downloaded the files in under thirty minutes, and I am lucky enough to own two X-Box Ones (one of which is a One S to which I downloaded the files to the terabyte drive)!

Your character is fully customisable, allowing you to tinker with all aspects from height and build, to sculpting their face and more!  This is something you can spend hours messing around with and really have fun, or if you fancy recreate yourself.

Of course Fallout is a post apocalyptic game and is set after a devastating nuclear war, this is all to present when you venture down from the mountains and into the nearby towns and villages in your quest to follower the Overseer of Vault 76.  Here is where you will find the devastation left by the war, burned out husks of vehicles litter roads, which themselves are overgrown with vegetation, corpses lie where they fell and the first time you come across a petrified corpse you may get a shock when it explodes into radioactive dust as you touch it!

Buildings are run down and abandoned and  entire towns are void of people, instead seem to be magnets for Scorched, pathetic remains of people who have been exposed to radiation and more and have changed into little more than feral creatures.  Scorched will attack you relentlessly, often with ranged weapons, but are quite easy to handle, even at low levels.  Careful though as if you get over run you could find yourself in a situation that gets out of hand very quickly! And that seems to be the case for everything in Fallout 76!  Due to the lack of NPC’s in the game, there is no dialogue, other than the holotapes that you will find scattered around (which often act as clues to quests) these tapes when played will break up the taciturn stillness of the game, which for the most part is extremely silent.

I turned off the background music for about an hour of playing as my young son hasn’t been well and I didn’t want it to disturb him in the next room and ended up having  to put the music back on again as it was far to quiet and I guess that can really add to the loneliness of the game.  And lonely it is too.  With nobody to interact with other than the small dots that appear on your vast map (each dot being a player in your world, a real person!) the game can seem empty and little more than a string of kill encounters, run away, kill again, repeat and rinse!

Of course you can interact with other players and team up to do missions and this may be perfect for some players who like to do co-operative play, but not everyone likes that style of game play and this can be off putting.  Players can request that you join their teams and there are benefits of being part of a team.  You can share items and build up experience very quickly, you can take part in the random events that appear at set locations on the map, often these will take the form of killing wave after wave of creatures from Scorched to Super Mutants or Ghouls!  These events can give the players access to weapons and equipment and even legendary items quite early on in the game, and the team play option will let you do this far more easier than solo!

Players can communicate with emotes directly from their controller and even purchase emotes from the games Atomic Store (my copy came complete with 500 Atoms to be claimed which I still need to claim).  Also players can communicate via headset and local voice chat, but only as far as I am aware when they are in the same localised area to each other, and given how vast the map is for Fallout 76 this can make for a very quiet game indeed!

Of course the real way that Fallout 76’s mulitplayer aspect will shine is if you band together with your friends and go on your own adventures!  Unlike Fallout 4, there is little to no advancement of the stories narrative, other than finding letters, journals and holo-tapes that will give you more information about the world above ground following the war!  Set out with a team of friends and you are bound to get the most of this game!

Fallout 4 could at times be unforgiving.  You could spend hours searching the wastelands of Boston for items to craft for your settlement, only to be killed off and lose everything because you had forgotten to save.  Fallout 76 addresses this in a simple way! If you die during play, and lets face it this is a post apocalypse where everything is out to get you, including the environment itself; you will be given the option to respawn your character at a previously visited area, most often your camp (more of which in a moment).  Once you have respawned you will be able to retrace your steps to collect all the junk that you were carrying when you died from the same location you died in.  All of this junk is present in a small paper bag (no charge for this) and ready to go back into your inventory.  Please note though it is only your junk and not your weapons or armour that you lose when you die, so if you have just stored away all your junk recently and something befalls your character, then you need to ask yourself is it worth back tracking to get a few cans and some cups?

Nearly everything is out to get you in Fallout 76, so far the only thing I have come across that didn’t attack me (other than the robots that gave me missions) was the two headed cows that seem to wander aimlessly through the deserted streets of settlements, and the odd stag in the woods.

Fallout 76 is as much about exploration as it is about combat and like its predecessors you are rewarded whenever you discover a new location for the first time.  This means that there is always something new to look for and you will take many, many hours of play to cover only a small percentage of the vast open world that Bethesda has created.  Again this can be lonely and also can be pretty terrifying too.

Playing the game with no music is one thing, playing it when no music and at nightfall is something enticingly different.  The world is so dark that you really need to use the light of your Pipboy to see anything.  This is an open wilderness and there are no street lights, and sometimes the world is so dark that if you are playing in 3rd person view mode, you can’t see your character unless they end up silhouetted against something. During my first hour of play I wandered off the path and began exploring the woods that litter the early part of the map, it was deathly quiet and very, very dark.  I hear a rustling in the bushes and undergrowth around me and before I know it I was attacked by a pack of feral dogs from nowhere.  The dogs were all but invisible to me, darting out of the bushes at me and attacking, it was only the sound of their snarling that alerted me to their presence and was a truly scary moment that actually had me physically shocked for a few moments!  This is one of the elements that make this game great to immerse yourself in!

Sure the light from your trusty pipboy (hold B on Xbox controller to light it up) sends out an eerie green glow that penetrates the area around the player but still not enough to clearly see any threats that may be lurking just out of sight.

Carrying things in Fallout has always been a major pain, you are restricted to the Strength attribute of your character and this is only really aided by some of the perks you can take in Fallout 4!  In Fallout 76 this is again a major problem and you can only carry so much without being over encumbered and unable to run or fast travel.  Of course you can stash your junk away every time you camp which will clear up some of the space for you, but perks don’t really do much to help matters in the early part of the game.

Speaking of perks!

The way S.P.E.C.I.A.L works now has changed from previous games. Rather than assigning points to the attributes, you now allocate cards are earned when you rank up. Cards are random so you may draw a card that can only be used once you reach a much higher level. Cards come in the form of a pack which when opened not only gives you the perks but also a piece of bubble gum that has in game effects, and includes a very corny joke much like those found in Bazooka Joe gum!

Cards can be combined to give a much better effect and can be loaded in or out at will from your Pipboy.

Another change to Fallout 76 is the need to eat and drink to keep up your energy or face penalties to your actions! This means during the early hours of the game you are constantly looking for water and food. Of course this feature was in Fallout 4 on the hard and legendary level, but now it is an integral part of the game and during the early parts of the game you may find yourself using stimpacks often, try not too however as even dirty water can help, though you do run the risk of catching a disease!

Yes that’s right, not only do you have to watch out for attacks from creatures of the wasteland, and be careful around radioactive barrels and such, but now you can catch diseases from dirty water, spoiled food, and certain creatures. Now you can also catch diseases from sleeping on the floor in a sleeping bag so always try to use a framed bed when possible!

Yes everything is out to get you and even other players can be hostile and attack you! Two hours into my game I was met by a player who thought it good to shoot at me. I was only level four at the time and the player was level nine! Due to the restrictions on PvP combat we had a middle ground met and put us both on a level footing. I lost the combat But my opponent was now wanted and the bounty on him would come from his own caps stash!

Overall PvP is designed to favor the defender and to help stop players from briefing new players.

The main mission is pretty much straight forward, seeing the player following a trail of breadcrumbs as they track down the Overseer of Vault 76. Each part of the mission in the first few hours will build up a narrative as well as act much like a tutorial, teaching the player how to craft items such as water, set up camps using the new system that let’s you take your camp almost anywhere and more.  After the first two hours or so of playing I strayed away from the main story and just went out exploring. There is so much to find in Fallout 76, with a map that is four times the size of Fallout 4 and though the lack of characters to interact with takes a lot away from game play, you are never short of something to do.

Events happen quite frequently and allow any players who are in the same world as you to fast travel and take part. Often these will be simple things like defeating set numbers of waves of enemies or defending an area for an alloted amount of time. They will yeld experience as well as weapons and junk and can be repeated and played solo or with team mates. My first time with a time was three other players who happened to be in the same area as me and we faced off against several waves of Eyebots and Protectrons. We all got loot and all went our own merry way.

Occasionally you will see a bright plume of smoke in the distance. Head for this as its a responder supply drop and gives lots of weapons, armour or resources to use. The game doesn’t have a manual with it so you learn a lot through playing.

Sometimes you will find an area on the map that indicates an unclaimed work bench. Claiming this will allow you to use the work bench and quite often any utilities around such as manufacturing plants, but you will have to earn it. Firstly you will need to clear the area of enemies, then will be able to access the work bench. However shortly afterwards you will a warning that you will soon need to defend the area before you are attacked by several waves of creatures. Surviving is down to placement of defences and taking out the bad guys. Some of these can be killed with just one hit, while others are a lot tougher and seeing as it’s always a random selection that attacks don’t get caught unprepared.

While events and capturing work benches can be a blessing when you are low level and in the first few hours, it’s the random encounters that will provide you with ammo, resources such as radaway which you will need a lot of during the game.

Whether you are off exploring or following the main quest of the game, its very important to keep your eyes open and listen to the environment as you never know what is around the next corner. In the first few hours you will mainly encounter Scorched or the extremely annoying robots that fire lasers at you, but as you progress these change to ghouls and even mirelurks.  All drop stuff you can collect from their bodies but most of all give you that all important experience that will let you go up in levels.  Simply put the more enemies you kill, the quicker you will go up levels.

The world of Fallout 76 is filled with all manor of strange creatures and none of them are friendly.  Some areas on the map play home to creatures of legend taken from myths in the real life West Virginia.  From the huge Scorchbeasts to living trees, all seem weird but fit in perfectly with the mythos of Fallout.  One area which is very close to the game is Grafton and here you can find the Mothman of Grafton.  This legendary creature aside, Grafton is a perfect place to gain caps very, very fast.  There are several spots in the town that feature caches of Mothman eggs, including a statue to the creature.  Harvest these and you can sell them to vendors for 15 Caps each, and these respawn pretty quickly.  But they do come with risks, least of which is the Mothman.  Its quite easy to get overrun by Feral Ghouls here and they respawn really quickly so be warned. I ran out of ammo here and was totally wasted by a large group of Feral Ghouls pretty quickly.

There a lot of things that will seem so very familiar in Fallout 76 if you have played Fallout 4, or even Fallout 3! Crafting items and modding armour and weapons, building settlements and more.  However there are twists that turn things on their head.  Settlements are no long static and you can build them and carry them with you in the form of your C.A.M.P this acts as a mobile base of operations for yourself and you can share with team mates.  This can sometimes give you access to things you may not have discovered yet.  A player may be a much higher level than you and have already got their first suit of power armour and have built a power armour station in their base.  It has been known that these schematics appear in your inventory from time to time if you share them with team mates.

Some of the perk cards allow you to share experience with team mates, or help them get most out of medical resources, so if you do plan on playing with team mates its worth remembering when you kit out your loadout for play.

Here are a few tips when you first start out that will help you out quite a lot.

  • Collect everything that isn’t nailed down.  Junk is used to build almost everything and to craft items.  You will find a weapon that is something you may stick with for many levels, and be tempted to ignore duplicates of that weapon.  Don’t! Pick them up and sell them or scrap them.
  • Scrap your junk to turn it to its base components.  These weigh less and make it far easier to play.
  • Enemies let you level up quicker.  Try not to run from fights, just get stuck in when you can and the levels will fly by, especially during the first few hours.
  • Don’t be afraid to die in the game!  You will die in Fallout 76 many, many times and each time you do die you will get the chance to respawn close by (unless the game glitches like it did on me twice).  Once back in play you can go and collect your stuff that you had when you died.  Mostly this will just be junk or stuff you have scrapped but not put into your stash or camp, you need to ask yourself is it worth going after this junk, or do you just press on.  Sometimes going for this junk can mean you will die again and again so weigh things up!
  • Stimpacks. These are so rare in the first few hours that you will feel very lucky indeed when you find them.  However don’t use them just to heal yourself, save them until you really need them.  There are so many creatures you can kill and use for food and health, and once you discover recipes you can cook them and not only will they heal you, they won’t give you any harmful radiation.
  • Water. When you find a river or stream collect water, you will take a small amount of radiation damage but its worth it.  At a camp site you can turn it into boiled water which you will need so much of during the game.  You need to drink and eat very regularly or get penalties.
  • Weapons.  Right at the start of the game you can find a melee and a ranged weapon depending on which set of steps you go down (both if you backtrack your steps).  These will both really help during your first few moments out of the vault.
  • Choose the build suited to your style of game play. Do you like to shoot things from a distance or take things close up and personal?  Build your character around what you want to do and you will find things get simpler to hit and kill.
  • Read everything! You may be tempted to just skip the text when you pick up a recipe or note.  Don’t as you may not be able to craft items till you have read the recipe and notes can lead to items on your map you may not normally find!

I am no stranger to Fallout, I have played and finished Fallout 3 several times, and as of writing I am over a hundred hours into Fallout 4 and only done 6% of the main quest, preferring to go off on my own and interact with the vast universe and sandbox of the wasteland.  Fallout 76 is a unique game in its own right but if you are expecting Fallout 5 from this title, you will need to wait till that long awaited game is finally out.  Sure its beautiful to look at and such a vast playground, but I can’t help but feel loneliness when I play Fallout 76!  Over all I have spent around six full hours playing the game, reaching level 12 quite quickly. It is without any doubt a beautiful looking game, but it is the lack of npcs and companions that I found really lacking.  Dogmeat has been one of my favorite character in the franchise for many years, and is much loved by a majority of fans around the world, yet as far as I know is missing from the game!

In conclusion Fallout 76 is a great game but not for everyone. I don’t like playing multiplayer games normally, with the exception of maybe Titanfall 1&2 which I played for many hours. The online aspect is something I would have liked to have been an option rather something I am forced to choose, but once I play with friends this may change my mind. Normally I prefer playing games that immerse my imagination totally in the same vein as Fallout 4 or the excellent Witcher games.  Would I recommend Fallout 76, hell yes in a heart beat, but I don’t think it is in the same class as its predecessors.  I haven’t even touched on the story, the stuff you can do with your camps and a hundred and one other things, so venture out into the wastelands and find the overseer responder and I will see you out there, just don’t shoot me, I am just a games reviewer!

Overall 7 out of 10

So what do you think of Fallout 76? Is it all you had hoped for or a massive let down?  Let us know in the comments below!

Published by Marc Farrimond

I'm a 55 year guy from Wigan in Lancashire living in Edinburgh, Scotland with two of my four awesome kids and my long suffering wife Laura. I have worked freelance over the years for some of the biggest names in tabletop and roleplaying and I am a very keen cosplayer and photographer.

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