Fallout 76 Beta Impressions

I was one of the lucky folks who got to try and break Bethesda’s servers en route to Fallout 76’s November 14 release. And I did manage to break it a little! I swear I didn’t mean to.

But first things first. I’m a Fallout 76 skeptic from the jump. I love the exploration and immersion of previous single-player Fallouts. I count New Vegas among my favorite games of all time. When I got my beta code for 76, I wondered if I would say one nice thing about the game.

I’m not. I’m actually going to say quite a few nice things about Fallout 76.

I got into a server pretty fast and immediately saw the very, very expected “War… War never changes” intro, with accompanying narrative setup. This new West Virginia Wasteland is familiar, but fundamentally different from what we’ve seen in previous games in a few major ways.

First, you’re a part of Vault 76. It was a “control vault” without any tragic social experiment shenanigans (that we know of). The vault worked, your Overseer was nice, the clock struck midnight, the door opened, you had a party, and everyone left.

It’s implied that your player character partied too hard the night before, which is why you get up late and everyone else is gone.

Relatable.

Anyway, since nothing was amiss (besides the apocalypse outside, of course), you can rush through Vault 76. I collected vital items on tables and learned game mechanics from very brief messages at the top of the screen. I actually loved how brisk and noninvasive the tutorial was. Gone are the days of interminable Bethesda opening sequences, it seems.

The timeless SPECIAL system—which determines your character’s strengths and weaknesses—is a little bit different this time around. You still invest in one core attributes (stealth, perception, charisma, intelligence, agility, or luck) whenever you level up. But you then assign a corresponding perk card to that attribute.

Charisma is the most notably different trait in 76. It no longer affects your interactions with NPCs (there aren’t any, besides enemies and robotic quest-givers). Rather it buffs your teammates when playing with a group. Since I plan to mostly play solo, charisma doesn’t appeal to me as much as in previous Fallouts. I chose agility for my first investment because I love the VATS system, which stopped time and allowed you to deliberately pick your attacks in older installments.

The second way Fallout 76’s Wasteland differs from previous, more barren Fallouts is with all the lush greenery of Appalachia. The nukes didn’t totally annihilate West Virginia and the game is, dare I say it, quite beautiful. When I exited the vault I saw a distant rainstorm hovering over a green forest bathed in moonlight. I actually want to see more of this place just because it’s so nice to look at.

Bethesda’s engine still shows its age, for sure, but I’m pleasantly surprised by how nice it is outside… considering the circumstances.

I only had 30 minutes to play the beta (the whole thing only lasted a few hours), but I still got a lot done! During that time I found a note from non-vault dwellers scoping out 76. I picked up a machete, destroyed a couple Chinese robots leftover from the invasion, and met a lumberjacking Protectron robot. Then I got attacked by a huge tick while searching the inside of a lumberyard…

Fitting. Gross.

I collected its blood sac. Thank goodness you can collect blood sacs.

Facing the imminent shutdown of the servers for the night, I only got a glance at the world map. Bethesda says it’s four times bigger than Fallout 4‘s and it seems appropriately huge in person. This is either wonderful news, or cause for an exhausted sigh as you internalize the dread of yet another too-big-to-conceive-of video game to explore. You do start pretty close to the Mothman Museum, though. That rules.

My final encounter of the evening was an estate full of Scorched: precursors to the series’ crusty Ghouls. The Scorched are pretty self-explanatory. They’re grotesque victims of nuclear burns, understandably bummed out by their circumstances, and ready to attack on sight. I brought a knife to a gunfight and paid for it dearly.

I opened my Pip-Boy to heal after taking a few big hits. Then I remembered there are no pauses in Fallout 76. I continued to get hammered by melee attacks and gunshots before frantically jamming three Stimpacks into my thigh and finishing the scrap.

Bethesda announced earlier this week that Fallout 76’s beta might be buggy. This is shocking news. I’m making a very shocked face right now.

That being said, I didn’t encounter any bugs (besides the tick) until the Scorched fight. Two T-posed enemies flipped on their sides and disappeared into the background, only to reappear stuck in the ground with their hitboxes totally hidden from my machete.

I would’ve died if I hadn’t been disconnected from the server.

Oh well.

Bethesda has three weeks to iron out these issues. And they should. In this game survival-focused world, immersion-breaking bugs like these are akin to the narrative-breaking (and heartbreaking) bugs encountered in single-player Fallout games. The developer says death won’t be punishing in 76, but I still won’t be psyched to die by T-pose hillbillies stuck in the floorboards. I might laugh about it, though.

Overall, I enjoyed the beta despite not encountering another human being. It actually felt like the Fallout I know and love that way. I’m still curious to know more about this world and the ways in which actual people impact it. Maybe I can get stuck in the floorboards, too!

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John Warren

I miss Texas sometimes. Wheelchair person. Professional wrestling is humanity's greatest achievement. He/his, y'all.

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