War never changes, according to the Fallout series, but the games themselves do. Bethesda is hard at work on bringing us Fallout 76, the latest entry in the long-running post-apocalyptic role-playing series, and it promises to be one of the most different experiences we've had with the game yet.
This time around, there are no NPCs to help guide you through the barren wasteland that once was your native homeland. Instead, real humans flood every corner of the game, as Fallout 76 is a game you're meant to play with others just as you would in any other MMO. It's a stark departure from the series as we know it, and yet it's still familiar. We've been trying to figure out what could become of the Fallout series thanks to this sudden departure from the norm ever since the game was initially announced during E3 2018.
The Fallout 76 Break-It Early Test Application (BETA) gave eager players a chance to try out the upcoming adventure with its sprawling open world recently, and we were able to go in and give it a look. We're here reporting our findings now, and we have to say, while we were skeptical at first at how smoothly things could go with such a heavy focus on player interactions, we've emerged from the Vault tremendously pleased, and excited to see much more.
Of course, the beginning of the game isn't far removed from what you'd normally see in one of the "regular" Fallout games. Fallout 4 had you fleeing to a vault shortly after beginning the game (or face total annihilation) and you ended up there, emerging shortly after as well. It's the same story, again and again, but that's what we've come to expect, and that's what we want from the series. So you begin in a vault, where you've lived most of your life, and it's finally Reclamation Day! After being given a quick tour and creating your avatar, you're funneled out into the massive open world waiting for you out there — and yes, it's as big as you've been hoping it would be.
When you're finally out in the open, it's a daunting process to get started, but everyone else is largely in the same boat you are — you're all looking to figure out what your first move is in the beginning, everyone clad in their Vault costumes, looking for a way to survive. For the brief beta period we took part in, we set out on a quest to see everything we could possibly see, since our time in the game was so brief.
Granted, there's not as much as you'd like to be accomplished in such an annotated time period, especially when you're working to conquer low-level beasts, acquiring as much loot as you possibly can, and keeping out of everyone else's way. There's a deep sense of discovery and "I made this" philosophy that permeates just about every inch of the game, especially when collecting materials to craft better equipment and gear, which you feel is totally necessary to look cool in front of the other players around you.
Though Fallout 76's carefully curated story is meted out in notes, files, recordings, and other bric-a-brac strewn throughout the world, it does feel a bit strange to think that this is the extent of which you'll get in terms of a narrative. We knew we'd find ourselves missing NPCs and other "active" story diversions that typically come with the territory in open-world games like this, but there's enough going on at any point that you don't feel as though you're wandering out without direction, and your quest log will continue to fill as you explore the wide world around you. So make no mistake that this is some sort of barren world or devoid of personality. We miss the guidance provided by characters and cut-scene conversations, but we knew that we would going into the game.
This new storytelling model is still intriguing, however, and the idea that anyone around you can be your enemy or ally at any time is an odd one, but adds a welcome element of unpredictability. We had shared concerns about what might happen if other players continually engaged in griefing activities, but it seemed most players, at least during the beta, were concerned with exploring and doing their own thing as much as we were. We feel confident that most of our enemies, however, will remain feral ghouls as we play through the game.
There's a lot more to see than what was crammed into the four-hour window we were able to play, but this small chunk of time afforded us a decent look at what's shaping up to be Bethesda's most ambitious project yet. And with the way the developer plans on supporting the game through the years to come, it's only going to get bigger and more impressive. We can't wait to see what else the Wasteland has in store for us. Country roads, take us home, indeed.