How Bethesda plans to handle all the trigger-happy players who randomly kill everything in Fallout 76

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Aug 13, 2018, 2:21 PM EDT

With the upcoming Fallout 76, Bethesda is taking the iconic Fallout franchise into uncharted, always-online territory that’s got legions of would-be Wastelanders wondering just how, exactly, the studio’s first foray into a post-apocalypse that doesn't come with non-playable characters to shoot at is supposed to work.

Bethesda’s previous mainline Fallout games have been single-player adventures that could be played offline, and they’ve been loaded with (mostly) disposable NPC adversaries: AI-enhanced bad guys and gals tailor-made to absorb all the bullets, machete thwacks, plasma grenades, and power fist pummelings employed by the game’s innovative, time-slowing  V.A.T.S. combat mechanism.

But with word that Fallout 76 won’t include any non-playable characters and that every conflict that happens on the screen will involve avatars controlled by other, real-time connected players, it’s been an open question how the game will foster the kind of cooperation necessary to build and maintain settlements while giving players a challenge. 

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Well, we don’t have all the answers yet, but at least we know how the studio plans to deal with rogue players who run around nerfing everyone else’s progress: By handing the power to do something about it over to the players.

“We turn the a**holes into interesting content,” Bethesda's Todd Howard explained recently at the studio’s QuakeCon panel in Dallas, via Variety. “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 [Fallout’s version of dollars], and they can’t see the other players on the map. We had this idea, like, ‘Let’s make them interesting content.’ When anybody murders somebody when we’re playing in the office, everyone sees it on the map and it is awesome.”

Fallout 76 project leader Jeff Gardiner reportedly added that Bethesda’s testing process even has included gameplay sessions specifically designed to assess how fun it is to chase down rogue players who’re dead-set on being “the biggest a**holes they could”, and that the results — at least so far — have been gratifying. 

Interestingly, the studio’s also eyeing a novel way to include V.A.T.S. (short for Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System) in Fallout 76, even though, unlike the previous games, it’ll have to work in real time to keep pace with the PvP gameplay environment.  

V.A.T.S. targeting “happens in real-time now, instead of in a slowed-down moment, and targeting specific body parts in combat is a perk,” Variety reports. “As a result, V.A.T.S. isn’t nearly as useful right from the start, but Howard said that Perception-focused characters who invest their points will see more of an advantage over time.”

With the beta release of Fallout 76 set to go live sometime in October, followed by the full game’s release on Nov. 14, the details on Bethesda’s West Virginia Wasteland experience are finally starting to come together in a way that helps fans make better sense of the game. In the meantime, you can keep your Fallout fix going strong on PC and current-gen consoles by heading back to Boston (and all that glorious, consequence-free NPC killing) in Fallout 4.