Many of us view Fallout’s irradiated wasteland as a home, a familiar place of comfort we’ve spent hundreds of hours exploring, conquering, and rebuilding. In Fallout 76, when we emerge from the vault on Reclamation Day, that feeling of returning to something well traveled will be replaced with the anxiety and uncertainty of something new. In that moment where you bask in the sunlight for the first time, you may see an entity that completely upends what you’ve come to expect from these games – another human player. This person may greet you with open arms and the intent of helping you find your footing in West Virginia’s dangerous rolling hills, or this person could be a double-crossing snake lying in wait, looking for the right moment to sink their teeth into you.
The introduction of multiplayer into Fallout makes a nuclear explosion seem like the least of your worries. Thanks to a decade’s worth of exploration in these games, we know how to shield ourselves from ionizing radiation. What we don’t know is how to handle human contact, which may end up being the most unpredictable and hazardous element ever integrated into a Fallout game.
This new wrinkle has been met with mixed reactions from the Fallout community. Some are worried this series is losing its soul by adding multiplayer and moving away from traditional storytelling. Other players are counting the days until they can launch nukes at their friends’ settlements.
Given the size of Fallout 76 and its impending release date, developer Bethesda Game Studios’ has been surprisingly tightlipped when it comes to detailing what players can expect from this experience. The studio’s focus has mostly been on communicating multiplayer, and the interactions players can have with one another – both for competitive and cooperative avenues.
Outside of game director Todd Howard saying Fallout 76 is “80 percent the Fallout everyone is used to, and the other 20 percent is really different,” Bethesda hasn’t painted a full picture for players.
I recently sat down with the development team to find out what makes Fallout 76 tick, and can now confidently communicate exactly what it is. If you simply want another solo Fallout experience, Bethesda is making this game for you. If you desire a Fallout game that you can enjoy with your closest friends, Bethesda also has you covered. If you want an RPG with PvP and instances, put Fallout 76 on your radar. The game embraces all of these styles of play, and you have a direct hand in determining how much of any given one you experience.
The RPG You Know
Fallout 76 isn’t a single-player game, but it can be played solo with the caveat that you will eventually run into other players. Anything could happen at that point. They could stop to say “hi,” raise a gun at you, or completely ignore you. No matter what happens, you have the ability to ignore them.
Howard saying “Every character you see is a real human” is true to a point, but there’s another way to interpret this: Every “human” you see is a human. They aren’t the only intelligent beings in the wasteland. You will run into other “characters” that are controlled by A.I., such as robots. Some of these individuals are enemies you have to deal with, but others are mission givers. A few may even be vendors who you can barter with.
The big difference between Fallout 76 and the other games in the series is you don’t engage in conversation with most of the NPCs. You still hear what they have to say, but you don’t have dialogue choices to steer the conversation or mission in a different way. Bethesda likely has a number of colorful NPCs that players will grow fond of, but they hope the most interesting beings in the wasteland end up being the other human players. They want them to be the real storytellers.
Although Bethesda has talked at length about Fallout 76 being a survival experience that pushes players to keep their hunger and thirst in check, it is still a game driven by quests. When you emerge from the vault, you receive a transmission from the Overseer. “She left before everybody,” Howard says. “She left secret instructions for you, and that’s kind of the jumping-on point for what we call the main quest. At the end of it, you launch the nukes. The nukes are a game system, but they are also part of the main story.”
This Overseer’s quest is not something you can blaze through; it’s a lengthy, multipart story that takes players across West Virginia. This quest requires the player to be a high level at its conclusion. Even if the player sticks to this quest, they will still receive optional tasks along the way, and will end up having a menu filled with missions that can be selected at any time. “Given the nature of the game, you can jump ahead in parts and go back to others,” Howard adds.
Quests are not just gained by NPCs. Players can find them embedded in holotapes, notes, terminals, and may even gain one by simply being in the proximity of a notable location. Fallout 76 project lead Jeff Gardiner says the development team didn’t want players to simply run past great content. “You’ll wander near something, and will be alerted of a quest, like ‘explore this mine,’” he says. “In the past, we thought that was maybe a little gamey, but we want you to find it. We’re being very proactive with where this content is. You’ll have a lot to do very quickly.”
The world is four times larger than Fallout 4’s play space, and is brought to life with 16 times the graphical fidelity. Given the vastness of terrain players can explore, the points of interest are spread out, meaning you won’t find as many things crammed into one particular area. That said, there are more things to see and do than any other Fallout before it. Gardiner jokingly says it’s a “scary amount of stuff.”
Almost everything you engage with nets you experience points. After enough experience is accumulated, you’ll eventually level up. Bethesda doesn’t want to put a level cap on this game, as it intends to reward players well for reaching level milestones. When you first start out and leave the vault, you’ll reach level two. At this point, you are asked to pick which S.P.E.C.I.A.L. ability you would like to increase. S.P.E.C.I.A.L is an acronym for Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, and Luck – the skill-based system used in all Fallout games.
After one of these is selected, the player picks which perk they would like to assign to that particular trait. If you give a point to Strength, you can add either a Gladiator card, which gives you a 10-percent boost in one-handed melee weapons, or a Thru-Hiker card, which reduces food and drink weights by 30 percent. On the next level, if you pick the Gladiator card again, you will level it to rank two, which gives you a 20 percent boost.
As you continue leveling up, more cards become available, and you’ll even receive perk card packs. Each pack mimics Topps baseball cards of old, containing four random cards, a joke, and a stick of gum that, when chewed, reduces your hunger for a while. When you reach higher levels, the frequency of the packs drops from every two levels gained to five. You can continue feeding points into S.P.E.C.I.A.L. until rank 50. After that, each new level rewards you with just cards.
“There are hundreds of cards,” Howard says. “They all rank up, and there are gold versions of each. Fallout 4 and Skyrim’s [skill systems] were really great, but when we got into the DLC, we said, ‘Let’s add skills or perks.’ We looked at them, and said, ‘Where? The rules are so strict.’ The cards allow us to be very flexible moving forward. We can release new perks with events we are doing, and also have themed perks.”
The cards allow you to manage most things in the game. The Slow Metabolizer card does exactly what you would expect in satisfying hunger by an extra 15 percent. The Scrounger card increases your chance of finding extra ammo by 50 percent. The Pannapictagraphist card lets you hear directional audio when in range of a magazine. You will never mutate from rads with the Starched Genes card, but it also won’t cure a mutation if a Radaway is used. Since conversations aren’t a part of this experience, Charisma’s cards are designed to give team bonuses as opposed to NPC influence. Charisma cards range from giving your team the -ability to run 10 percent faster to your stimpacks also healing nearby teammates for half the normal strength.
Cards are not obtained in any way through microtransactions. Again, you can only earn them through leveling. We don’t know if they can be traded yet, but you can share one card with your team. That card gives bonuses to everyone.
As you log hours into this RPG, you have the flexibility to change who you are, not by just which cards you use (you could have a stealth build for infiltration, a PvP build, team build, solo build, etc.), but the look of your character. You can completely alter your hair, skin, and facial features at any time. One of the first tasks in the game is to take a photo of yourself for an ID badge. The camera becomes an item you’ll have at all times, allowing for photos to be taken anywhere.
Pete Hines, Bethesda’s senior vice president of global marketing and communications, says he loves Fallout 76’s multiplayer aspects, but has recently played it solo, and is finding it to be a fascinating experience. “I know it was a concern in our community, and it was a concern for me because I play solo a lot [in games]. Given my schedule, it’s hard to find times to group up with folks. With my current character, my plan was, ‘I’m walking out of the vault, and I’m going left. I haven’t been over there before and I don’t know what’s there. Let’s see what happens.’ I came across some super mutants and got in a big fight with them, completed a few quests, and found this one location outside of a pharmaceutical plant that seemed like an awesome place for a camp. It had a good view from up on top of a mountain. I figured not a lot of people could see me up there. I’ve been using that base camp to go off and do quests.”
Playing With Friends
Fallout 76 allows players to be lone wanderers who never interact with anyone, but it’s designed with multiplayer in mind, and offers a wide selection of activities for players who either team up with other players or decide to gun them down. You can boot up a game with your closest friends to take on quests, build settlements, and engage in events.
Events are something new to the Fallout experience. “When you get near one, it starts broadcasting for help,” Howard says. “It’s like a timed multiplayer quest.” As you explore the world, you’ll be alerted of them occurring nearby, or you may see some appear on your map. Most are geared for teams, but some may require more players converge on an area. Bethesda doesn’t want to reveal exactly what we can expect from the events, but we do know some appear at random times and places, whereas others appear in specific places and at specific times. Once you discover one, you can fast travel to it.
Gardiner detailed one of the smaller events players could possibly come across. “You’ll get a call about robots in distress, and you basically have to go and escort them to various locations,” he says. “If they live in the end, you get a reward. That’s a random [event] that will spawn. Some people will join you or not. The robots have a lot of character, and they are sort of the levity [of the mission]. You’ll follow along and they’ll make little comments to you.”
Gardiner noted events often give the best rewards. If you’re looking for better loot and don’t have a firm grasp of crafting yet, you’ll want to engage in events. That means becoming a part of the multiplayer experience, as most can’t be completed solo.
Up to four people can team up together. All of the content factors in the group dynamic, even quests. The team leader can queue up a mission, which every party member sees and can engage in if they so choose. Should you get separated from your friends, or need to travel great distances to your settlement or a hub to resupply your gear, you can immediately fast travel back to any one of your teammates.
This Fallout experience is a bit harsher in terms of how the world is structured. “It’s more of a zoned game and more level-jumped than our previous stuff,” Howard says. “Some of the feedback we’ve gotten is, ‘I’m just going to run across the map. I died. It got hard.’ There’s a reason for that. We have higher-level zones.” That’s not to say that the game won’t factor in your level. If you enter a zone, things may spawn between level 40 and 60, depending on your level. If you enter that area at a lower level, well, you’re in for a hell of a fight. If you are in a group, the first player in sets the level ranges. If that player leaves the area, the next player in changes the level. Bethesda says the game is divided into six regions, but wouldn’t give specifics for each. Howard did say the cranberry bogs are “really, really hard.”
While teams are limited to just four players, you can technically play with other people on your system’s list. You just can’t group up with them in the game. Don’t expect to see people everywhere. “It’s definitely not an MMO with hundreds of players running around a server,” says development director Chris Mayer. “We have 24 players on one server on a map that’s four times the size of Fallout 4. There will be times you see other players, but we hope it’s not something that’s commonplace.”
If you’re thinking of creating a private server for 24 of your closest friends, Mayer says Fallout 76 isn’t launching with private servers. Is there a chance you can join a faction that may support a larger number of people? “We’ll answer that later,” Howard says with a smile.
Saint or Murderer?
Every person at Bethesda I talked to says one of the scariest moments in Fallout 76 is hearing a gunshot off in the distance. “You don’t know if that’s another player,” Howard says. Do you investigate the origin of the shot, or run away from it? It could be anything: enemies battling for territory, or perhaps another player in need.
If you have the courage to investigate where the shot came from and it ends up being another player, you can use a chat wheel to communicate with them in a basic way, or if you have a headset, talk verbally if you are close to them. Chances are they mean you harm, but you don’t have to retaliate. If they shoot you, they’ll do minimal damage. “It’s like slapping someone in the bar,” Howard says. You won’t do much damage to another player until they fire back at you. When a bullet exchange is made, the duel is officially underway, and your next shot will do full damage.
Victors receive a cap reward based on their level. If you lose and feel like you can fare better the next time, you can seek revenge for double the reward.
If someone kills you, yet you never engaged in combat, they are going to be in for a world of hurt. “We like to turn that into a dramatic moment,” Howard says wryly to a crowd during a QuakeCon panel. “The player that kills somebody that didn’t want to engage in it becomes a wanted murderer. They get no reward, no caps, no XP, nothing for becoming a wanted murderer except for the social incentive people have online to be a–holes. What do we do with that? We turn the a–holes into interesting content. They appear on your map as a red star. Everybody sees them and they have a bounty on their head. That bounty comes out of their own caps.”
Since Fallout 76 is always online, players can’t freeze time through the Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System (better known as VATS). That doesn’t mean you have to rely solely on twitch reflexes to down your foes. VATS is still an option, allowing players to pick targets and specify which limbs they are aiming at. Getting killed in games is often stressful, but the penalty in Fallout 76 isn’t that bad. You’re only going to lose your junk – the radios, fans, and garbage you pick up with the intent of recycling. The name “junk” makes it seem meaningless, but it’s also the lifeline of camp building. The person that killed you will likely run off with your junk, but if you die against A.I., you can return to the location of your death to pick up the stash you lost.
“When you are doing group events, we turn off the [PvP],” Gardiner says. “If all of these random people are fighting a giant monster, you don’t want to get hit by a stray bullet and then be in PvP. We wanted to make it an intentional thing.” If you accidentally hit someone with a stray bullet outside of these zones and don’t want to trigger PvP, you can wave a pacifist flag to shut it down. Griefers also can’t camp out in front of Vault 76 to pick off new players. The PvP gameplay is not available until you reach level five.
The best way to survive in Fallout 76 is to build a settlement rich in workbenches, farm fields, and harvesters. You can build your home almost anywhere, but a scenic view may not be the best location, as you gain more benefits placing it near a resource deposit.
“There’s a lot more harvesting,” Howard adds. “We have harvesters and things like that for regenerating resources. It’s machinery. If you find a deposit of aluminum, you can harvest those resources.”
If you gain enough at that one deposit and want to move your camp, the game automatically blueprints everything you made, allowing you to pick it up and move it wherever you want. Other players can do your camp harm, but since you have that blueprint, you can easily rebuild it exactly the same. You also don’t have to fear what happens to your settlement when you log off of the game. Your camp magically vanishes from the world at the exact second your character does.
“It’s different than Ark and games like that because you’re not picking a server,” Howard says. “It’s better for us and the people playing to keep their progression by jumping around [to different servers].”
The camp building should be familiar to anyone who played Fallout 4, offering similar functionality for how electricity works and components click together. If you play the game cooperatively, your team can help you build your base. You can even connect settlements with everyone in your party to make a larger space, although each player needs to be online to have their part of the settlement appear in the world. “We had one test, where a dozen people built their camps next to each other and created an enormous city,” Mayer says.
Each player builds one home base, but there are also public workshop spaces that you’ll come across. Howard says they almost feel like event zones. “It’s a space you can take over that has a lot of supplies. You and the people on your team can build there. There’s gameplay with resource generation. There are enemy waves that attack these spots.” This camp is temporary, however. When you leave, another team can roll in to claim it as their own.
As you begin to level up and your base is flush with resources, you won’t worry about hunger and thirst as much anymore. You’ve basically mastered that system, and find yourself moving on to the next dangers, like radiation and toxic air.
Your camp can also be a haven for other players not in your team, although Bethesda is still trying to figure out exactly how this will play out. You can walk up to someone else’s camp and harvest their plants. You can’t go through their stashes, but you can get some things that regenerate. Right now, it’s a crime to take fruits and vegetables, and you’ll find yourself in trouble. That may change by the time the game launches. One thing you won’t have to worry about is the power armor. In Fallout 4, if it ran out of juice, you had to climb out of it, leave it, and return with a new battery. The power armor is now treated like an inventory item rather than a vehicle. You still get in and out of it, but you can now pick it up.
Fallout 76 doesn’t hit stores until November 14, but players will get a chance to play it in October through the cleverly named Break-it Early Test Application beta. “It’s going to break – we’re pretty sure of that,” Howard says. As of this writing, the game is content complete, and the development team is currently squashing all of the bugs and exploits it can find before the beta hits.
For a decade, the Fallout series has carried the tag of “War. War never changes.” With other players now a part of the equation, there’s a chance the war in the wasteland will be dramatically different, hopefully making it an even more engaging experience.
“Usually when we finish a game, we’re pretty sick of it, Howard admits. “We don’t want to see it again. With this one, because of the other players, we’re really excited to play it when it’s out. That’s when it’s really alive.”