Dust off your favorite set of power armor; in four short months, you’ll be on an adventure through the rolling, mutant-infested hills of post-nuclear West Virginia as Fallout 76 comes to PC, PS4 and XBOX on November 14, 2018.
Fallout 76 is easily one of the most-hyped entries in Bethesda’s popular series, and also one of the least-understood — both thanks in part to the notable transition from the familiar sprawling single-player RPG to an even larger and dynamic, online world.
What we know so far:
Since the game’s announcement in late Spring of this year, questions have been flying about what Fallout 76 will be like, and what kinds of changes can be expected from previous games in the series.
Timeline and Premise: From the start, Bethesda has been clear that the game will be a prequel of sorts, taking place in 2102, a short 25 years after the Earth was devastated by nuclear war, and many decades prior to the preceding titles. The residents of Vault 76 (a nigh-sacred place referenced in previous Fallout entries) will leave safety on a mission to rebuild and recolonize the world.
Given that there are four games of post-nuclear hardship that take place after Fallout 76, the jury’s still out on their success with that.
Setting: As stated above, the game world exists in a space approximately four times the geographic size of Fallout 4 and, at least at launch, will be set exclusively among the country roads of John Denver’s West Virginia (the inclusion of this track in the introduction trailer was virtually obligatory).
Single-player or Multiplayer: Both, kind of. Bethesda has clearly (and ambitiously) designed a multi-player romp, while also declaring that single-player adventures are still viable, given that the player maintains an online connection. The proposed small population servers — with an option for private servers — seems reminiscent of the fairly successful GTA Online set-up; albeit, with a bit more environmental impact on the part of the players. Regardless of whether you want to establish a crew to plow through the wasteland or forage alone, the developers have exhibited a real awareness of the potential for griefing and trolling, with several proposed measures to minimize unwelcome interference.
‘Softcore’ Survival: Much about what makes the Fallout series attractive is the setting’s innate danger to human livelihood (see: generous interpretations of radiation poisoning), and yet the games have never truly existed in the survival genre. In Fallout 76, although players will no longer just have to worry about wandering through radioactive muck, but basic food and water needs also. Death itself isn’t so bad, either.
Gameplay: One of the big issues in transferring a single-player game to a multiplayer one is the necessary absence of a pause or turn-speed function. In previous entries, for example, the V.A.T.S. system was a critical aspect of gameplay, allowing players the time to deliberately and tactically target enemy body parts in order to maximize effectiveness. This feature, as well as other time-manipulation-dependent mechanics, will persist in Fallout 76, with the intent of players managing those strategic decision in real-time. The degree to which this will be successful, however, is not clear. Hopefully, any issues in translating these elements will be sorted out in the beta.
Roleplaying: While the series has never truly been at home in the RPG genre, classic elements of character creation and customization have always been a heavy presence. With Fallout 76, Bethesda seems intent on keeping these aspects important, yet fluid, allowing for deliberate-but-changeable traits — meaning players can mold their strengths to their preference as well as the needs of a given group set-up, similar in spirit to the specialization swap of MMOs like World of Warcraft.
Base-building: A favored feature of Fallout 4, base-building makes a limited comeback in the new title, with permanent settlements traded in for more mobile, shareable outposts. While some may mourn the loss of the well-planned settlement, moveable pack-and-go shelters seem a necessary adaptation to the unpredictable nature of online play.
Questing: Bethesda is shooting for dynamic missions and story-telling, with most quests handed out by discovered footage, terminals — even notes. Curiously, there will be no NPCS — it seems every other human you encounter in Fallout 76 will be another player. How this will jive with the RPG-heavy gameplay remains to be seen.
Travel: If you’re excited at the prospect of roaming around West Virginia in a chugging buggy or a trusted steed, Fallout 76 may not scratch that itch. In a recent talk with Bethesda’s Todd Howard, it was made clear that mounted and vehicle travel won’t be a part of the game, though fast-travel options are still planned.
Newbie-cide and Griefing: Low-level players need not worry about being killed by experienced players fresh out of their exit from Vault 76; low-level players will be immune from PVP damage.
Nukes: Nuclear war is a big part of the Fallout lore, and the inclusion of player-generated nuclear strikes in the game itself has led to a lot of understandable debate. According to Bethesda’s Pete Hines, nukes will be tough to launch, come with a fair warning time, and are designed not to target players. Instead, nuclear explosions will change the landscape in favor of further exploration and greater potential for high-quality loot.
Mods: A beloved aspect of Bethesda’s games have been the ability for players to create their own modified game experience. With a persistent online world, the concept of game-breaking mods seems out of the question; however, Todd Howard recently assured us that mods will have a role in private servers.
DLC is DL-Free: Bethesda has expressed a commitment to substantive downloadable content— both large and small— that is free to players who have the base game. Earlier reports remain unchanged; purchases requiring actual dollars will be reserved to purely cosmetic upgrades. In the era of micro-transactions, this news is basically as good as it gets.
What’s To Come: With only a matter of months to go, the biggest questions unresolved deal with basic questions of how it actually feels to play a multiplayer Fallout game, and how the story of the game can and will be influenced by a prequel edition.
As to the latter question, considerations as to whether or not the game will be the final entry in the franchise are simply too soon to ask— when Elder Scrolls Online came out, it wasn’t clear if we would get an Elder Scrolls VI, but that is now, thankfully, the case.
As to the former; it remains to be seen if the soul of the series is transferable to a cooperative or competitive style of play, but much of what we’ve seen lends itself to optimism. Learning from the mistakes and successes of other studios, Bethesda has demonstrated a conscious appreciation for what makes the franchise great, as well as the potential for players to share in one another’s experiences and story.
And we will be there with them, from start to finish.