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Fallout 76 B.E.T.A. Impressions: The Shakiest Vault-Tec Experiment Yet

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Now that the irradiated air has settled on the Fallout 76 server-sweating pre-release B.E.T.A. weekend, there’s plenty to say about it. Of course, Fallout fans who neglected to take part in the beta — or are clutching their wallets in anticipation of the upcoming review coverage — are probably asking the same questions that have arisen ever since this year’s perplexing E3 reveal, and wondering how a persistently online, NPC-less Fallout game might function.

The breadth of Fallout 76’s map is impressive, though the elasticity with which players can hop to and fro between events and teammates seems to blur the geography somewhat. In the original FPS Fallout games, there was a sense of accomplishment to breaching the distance between a cleared-out settlement and a distant point of interest on the other side of the map, something that is essentially absent in this newest incarnation.

Related: Fallout 76 Beta Includes Full Game and Progression Carries Over

All that being said, those Fallout games were rather comparable, adding minor gameplay tweaks to a well-established (and beloved) Bethesda formula, and Fallout 76 is bucking standards left and right. Does a world absent of human NPCs mar the experience? Is there a sufficient amount of gameplay to be had in a populated instanced server? Diseased radroaches notwithstanding, what are the bugs like in the beta build?

Let’s take a closer look at Fallout 76’s minute-to-minute gameplay: what works, what doesn’t, and what’s just plain weird.

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Yes, there really aren’t any NPCs in Fallout 76

Those early concerns were correct: Fallout 76 is unusually lonely. Of course, that criticism is implying that the series revolved around some bustling community of NPCs, which isn’t quite right; NPCs were usually most present in specific shelters and outposts, though companions (like Dogmeat) helped stave off that nagging loneliness during long silent treks across irradiated terrain.

Bethesda’s earliest statement about the lack of human NPCs made mention of other entities, and there are countless friendly robots in seemingly every corner of Appalachia. Unlike previous Fallout games, though, those robots don’t engage the player in any dialogue trees, and usually just parrot a few commands or hints about a related quest or, in the case of faction-specific protectrons, buy and sell items. Beyond that, Fallout 76’s narrative is relegated to countless holotapes, notes, and terminal-told stories, the latter of which is an extremely familiar narrative method to the franchise and holds up here.

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Unfortunately, the game manages to be facetious about this standard, with many quests insinuating that players will need to find and speak to a specific individual. Spoiler warning: those quest targets are always dead, a robot, or (somehow) both. The first few times this occurs it’s predictable but disappointing, and it quickly stops being cute two hours in.

The Bug Population in Appalachia

This might seem like a case of damning with faint praise, but Fallout 76’s pre-release code is surprisingly low on game-breaking bugs. Open-world Bethesda RPGs are notorious havens for bugs, crashes, and unexpected behaviors, and while the game’s parameters will certainly be pressured further by its most boundary-pushing players, the experience is considerably clean and stable in most respects.

It really needs to be called out as an accomplishment, because the persistent instanced multiplayer on display is wildly elaborate. Every single player on a server can create and move their camp (a.k.a. C.A.M.P., the Construction and Assembly Mobile Platform, a portable storage and creation hub), build multi-level bases, toss around hundreds of different items, kite and fire at enemies and other players, and join active events around the map, with all of these varied activities melding together and rarely prompting crashes or stalls.

No, it’s not perfect, and specific bugs that popped up in my time with it included: some enemies freezing in place, two super mutants spawning completely naked and in a frozen state (kind of disturbing, actually), and an odd audio issue that required a full restart to correct. All of this is to be expected with an online game in its early days, but considering the complexity of Fallout 76’s interactive player-generated game actions, the relative stability at this stage is impressive.

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V.A.T.S. Falls Flat in Fallout 76

A new Fallout game means the return of many properties and mechanics that players have grown to love over the years, and one of Fallout 76’s most contentious mechanical changes has to be the new V.A.T.S. (Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System).

Interestingly, V.A.T.S. hasn’t changed a whole lot from the very first Fallout game forward. A kind of remnant mechanic from its turn-based origins, V.A.T.S. has historically allowed players to slow down the action and target specific body parts for focused damage. Naturally, pausing a multiplayer game with dozens of players on a server isn’t really viable, so V.A.T.S. has turned into a kind of on-the-fly, automatic critical-hit targeting method. Or, in simpler terms: it’s an aim-bot that uses Action Points (AP), a stamina reserve which drains during melee attacks, running, and jumping.

Bethesda has taken one of the franchise’s smartest inclusions and mutated it to fit the intentions of a multiplayer action game. Additionally, V.A.T.S. has always doubled as a streamlined enemy detector, allowing players to check if any hostiles are in their surroundings by quickly flipping it on and off, something that is roundly interrupted with its high AP consumption in Fallout 76.

Of all of the experimental ideas in this newest game, it’s hard to imagine that any players are going to appreciate the new V.A.T.S., and it feels like a huge step backward for the franchise. Slowing down time might not be an option, but V.A.T.S. has gone from a series hallmark to a completely unsatisfying, possibly disposable feature.

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But all hope isn’t lost, and one last potentially surprising thing about V.A.T.S. is worth mentioning: a recent datamining leak (which we’ll avoid linking for spoiler reasons) has revealed a Perk Card for the Mysterious Stranger, linked to the Luck stat. For new players, the Mysterious Stranger has been around the Fallout games from the start, and his related perk would include a chance for him to suddenly appear during V.A.T.S. activation and help out during combat. While any footage of this has yet to be discovered and shared by a Fallout 76 beta player, here’s hoping that this perk actually makes V.A.T.S. worthwhile.

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Page 2 of 2: Fallout 76's Multiplayer & Inventory Problems

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Key Release Dates
  • Fallout 76 (2018 Video Game) release date: Nov 14, 2018
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