Polyblog: Fallout 76 B.E.T.A. Impressions
Having missed much of the scheduled beta sessions for dumb reasons like "family", "vacations to Disney World", and "parental responsibilities", I finally got to play the Fallout 76 B.E.T.A. this weekend. With about 5 hours under my belt, I managed to explore a little, finish a handful of quests, and team up with a stranger so I feel like I've experienced enough of the game to give some initial impressions.
When you're alone, the game feels very much like an updated Fallout 4. The things I love about Fallout are there: a huge world to explore at your own pace, plenty of places to discover and loot, plenty of horrible enemies to fight. As soon as I got out of the vault (which happens much faster in this game), I was already ignoring the main quest objective, and exploring whatever looked interesting nearby.
In Fallout 4, your main quest was to find your son that was kidnapped by the man that murdered your spouse, so wandering off of that path felt a little discordant with what your character's motivations were. In 76, your goal is literally just to try and rebuild the wasteland, so there aren't any hangups about just doing whatever you want.
I only managed to explore a small bit of the map during my ~5 hours of game time - the yellow line in the map below shows how much ground I covered - but what I've seen so far was great. Because this area wasn't affected so badly by the nukes, there's a lot more trees and other vegetation, and it's overall more colorful than Fallout games usually are. I very much look forward to seeing the rest of the map. It looks like there should be a variety of "biomes" to explore.
I'm a sucker for being able to build my own bases in games. Fallout 4 introduced the base-building functionality to the series with settlements. In that game, you could custom build structures in predetermined areas around the map after unlocking them through a short quest. Imagining, building, and upgrading your settlements could be a really addictive time-sink. However, after I had unlocked 10+ settlements, it got to the point that I didn't care any more. I had 1 settlement that I used for my home base, and let all the others rot.
In Fallout 76, instead of unlocking and building up dozens of settlements, you start the game with a Construction and Assembly Mobile Platform, or C.A.M.P. This little bad boy allows you to set up a base almost anywhere in the world. You're no longer confined to predetermined spots. So I, of course, spent a bunch of my play time just trying to find that perfect spot for my camp. Once your C.A.M.P. is set up, you're free to build within a radius around it using a system very similar to Fallout 4. If your camp gets destroyed, or you find an even more perfect spot later on, you can move your C.A.M.P. for a small caps fee, and all your stuff comes with it. Even buildings you construct are stored as one unit, so you don't have to rebuild them piece by piece. To know all your time building something won't be wasted if your camp gets nuked, or you want to move is a great comfort.
V.A.T.S. as we know it from the last 3 Fallout games is no more. Since this is now a shared world game, you can't have time stopping every time someone wants to carefully pick their shots. So now V.A.T.S. is more of a lock-on targeting system that plays out in real time. You also have to use a specific perk card (more on that later) to unlock the ability to target specific body parts. This makes combat more hectic because you're not allowed that time to think through, or prioritize your shots.
Personally, I'm a big V.A.T.S. user. With the exception of Fallout 4 VR, I always build my characters to take full advantage of V.A.T.S. I make sure to use highly accurate weapons, and beef up my action points so I can queue up multiple shots. So it definitely felt a little weird not being able to do that.
I know the major differentiator for this game is that it is online, but adding random people from the internet to anything has the potential to turn it into a toxic wasteland. Even if they're not being intentionally toxic, other people can be annoying. Once I was trying to listen to a holotape for a quest, and these two nearby guys wouldn't shut up, and I couldn't hear it. Another time I was in a building trying to use a terminal for a quest, and some dude kited a high level super mutant into the room. I had to drop what I was doing, and just make a run for it.
There's also the threat of unwanted PVP. Once you reach level 5, you can be attacked by other players, and if they kill you, they can loot all your "junk". Meaning, all your building and crafting supplies. They can't take your armor, weapons, or other usable items. But still... the nagging fear that some high level dude might pop out at any moment and ruin my day isn't the best feeling. Credit to Bethesda, though, for proactively creating systems to help prevent abusive behavior, like being able to block someone from your session.
At one point, a random guy walked up to me, and just said "I'm going to follow you now", and I thought "oh great" very sarcastically. I was level 4, almost level 5, and he was level 8. I kinda just wanted to play by myself, and I mostly expected he just wanted to murder me as soon as I hit level 5. However, despite my fears, he turned out to be a pretty okay guy. After stashing all my junk at camp just to be safe, we went and did some exploring together and it was kind of neat to be playing Fallout cooperatively. So maybe other people aren't all bad. By the end of my play time, I had decided to try not to worry about what other players might do, and just play the game how I wanted.
So "the mutated" refers to aspects of the game that have changed drastically, but I'm not sure yet if they're good or bad, or just different. When you level up in Fallout 76, instead of increasing your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats or unlocking and upgrading a variety of perks, you instead get to equip a perk card. You're allowed to have up to 7 perk cards equipped at one time; one for each S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stat. Some of these perk cards are similar to perks you've seen in Fallout 4, like "Find 30% more ammo in containers". Others are new, and unique to 76, like "Gain extra XP when in a group".
My gut tells me this system was devised as a way to prevent people from getting too powerful as they level up. Even if you're high level, and have a lot of cards to choose from, if you can only have 7, and I can only have 7, then there's a bit of an even playing field there. Since I was only level 5, I didn't have enough experience with this system to really judge it properly. I didn't mind it, anyway.
In a huge departure for the series, Fallout 76 has no human NPCs. No settlers, no factions, no raiders. The only other human characters you'll encounter are other players. I did come across a robotic NPC, but it was just a merchant that didn't have any dialogue. In the time I played, all of my quests came from finding pre-recorded messages, using terminals, or from radio signals. I get that the dwellers of Vault 76 are supposed to be the first to have come out of their vaults not long after the war, so canonically there aren't any major human settlements or factions at this point. I'm not sure how I feel about it.
Despite my misgivings about some of the changes, I found myself really enjoying my time with the game, and really eager to play more. Luckily, the full game is out in 2 days, so I don't have to wait long. Maybe I'll see you in West Virginia.