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Fallout 76: You never go alone

Fallout 76 is will be November 14th but game developer and publisher Bethesda has run an expansive early trial online. Beta, as Bethesda calls a BETA, or Break-it Early Test Application comes with all kinds of warnings and stars about violation of game systems and content that may change for the last game so our first impressions should not be taken for a formal review.

The most difficult aspect of judging a project like Fallout 76 is that any online only game is largely defined by the players community. The downside in West Virginia in the game can feel lifeless because there are not many people playing right now. While mutants, robots and ghouls are plentiful, in fact, meat and blood people are few and far between.

With this in mind, here's our first impression of Fallout 76 beta, which is played on the Xbox One console.

Dan Ackerman

I liked Fallout 76 much better the second time I played it. My first session in the beta was presented with something that looked and seemed a bit like Fallout, but had unknown menus and a blank additional opening level in a now abandoned vault.

It's true that, like most of the players I suspect, I spent an unusual amount of time on the cartoon screen, experimenting with different chin lengths, hairstyles and nostrils. That part will never be old.

On my second play session, I finally left the blank boundaries of Vault 76, apparently several hours after everyone else (because I overslept, according to the game play) and things took a sharp visual upturn. Inside the vault so blocked and dated, no different from Fallout 4. But outside, the thick foliage and rockete outcroppings finally showed the power of the Xbox One X combined with a LG OLED TV.


Screenshot / Dan Ackerman

It's a good thing I did more than just looking around. Some angry robots started taking potshots on me almost immediately and without being offered any kind of combat training or even a weapon. I found a rusty old gun on a nearby body, but only a few rounds of ammunition – not enough to fight me through the parking lot outside the vault.

Instead, I went down a stone staircase through the woods and tried to follow a marker to my first McGuffin – a camp that apparently was put up by my missing vaultman. Along the way I walked past a seemingly deserted farmhouse. Probably a good place to pick up some extra equipment or make materials, I thought.

Approaching the farm, I saw a figure out with a shotgun in his hand. Since all the people in the game are being played by actual people, I thought this was my first chance to interact with another player.

It turns out that it was not a co-test at all, but a zombified ghoul with a gun (or a variant called The Scorched), which I suppose I should have expected. Taking out an enemy did not work so hard. But when I swung to stand on my ground, I saw at least three or four more scattered against me over the courtyard's back yard.

That's when I learned an important Fallout 76 lesson: It's often better to retreat than to fight, especially if you're unnumbered. Not only do you start the game with minimal offensive ability, there is no possibility (like in other Fallout games) to reduce the time for a crawl and strategically line up your attacks, RPG style.


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During several beta sessions, I experienced more ups and downs. A handful of moments in the game took my interest, but I suspect I would be happier to play another single-player Fallout game with the series's typically detailed characters and communities.

Some other highlights for me included:

  • An in-game "event" where each nearby player was instructed to take on a robbery together. It was great to collaborate with other players, but the event was repeated almost every time I was in the area.
  • A series of wicked games playing ghouls in a bombed city. There was a clear walking dead vibration when I had to slowly back up as I cut them down one at a time with a machete.
  • A craft system that is easier than most Fallout games. I was able to turn every piece of garbage into my stock in raw materials by clicking on a button.
  • Being swarmed by a fleet of giant military helicopters. I do not know who was in them or where they were, but I managed to catch some cool screenshots.

Some Fallout fans take it too far …

Sarah Tew / CNET

David Katzmaier

I loved Fallout 4 – 476 hours worth love, apparently – but until now I had no interest in multiplayer games. So yes, I was psyched when Dan invited me to play 76 beta, but not so psyched that I cleared my calendar to log in to the first session (the beta is only online during scheduled hours ) . My first breakthrough was a two-hour stint in session two, followed by a nice four-hour lump in the third.

My first impression of the worldview Dan: The game starts slowly in the lame vault, then all is Suddenly you are deep into battle and worldbuilding with minimal training or hand holding. It's classic Bethesda, which rewards you to try to figure things out on your own and I agree.

I soon realized that my machete was good for most of the early Scorched, Ghoul and Feral Dog matches, especially when I realized how to collect and boil water to heal me a little. It is one of the first survival tasks, but it also seemed a bit too grind-y: I spent a lot of time curing. I was also annoyed to be thirsty and hungry all the time as I walked around – it is an element most games do without, for good reason. But having to be aware of the avatar's appetite added an element of realism, I suppose.



Maybe it's just me, but my first meetings with other players were hard and never improved. At one point, I was invited to join a team of a few players at the higher level, and we collided with killing some robots as part of the event Dan mentioned. It was fun! But it was hard to wonder how the quests were shared, and finally I lost my list of teammates in the wilderness.

I participated in some other arrangements with other players – blasting scorched at an airport, cleaning feral dogs out of a forest – and they were fun slay-and-loot fests, at least until the server teams were kicked in and things slow to a Crawl (fingers crossed which is a beta-only issue). I also met Dan for an event that was too tough for both of us, and I ended up just dying. It was less fun to have to respawn and go back to get my loot, with the villains around. I prefer the more forgiving single-player way to handle death: Update your last save.

One of my favorite Fallout 4 mechanics was groundwork, so I claimed a workshop near a power plant and broke out the construction menu. It was satisfying to get my towers to pick out invading moles, and to get work benches and sleeping bags created a satisfying sense of space.

Unfortunately, I could not figure out how to scrape unwanted world objects. It was a tree and a car where I wanted to build and I could not get them out of the way. Most cool things to build – from advanced tower to beds beyond sleeping bag – seemed to require a recipe, which was a bit disappointing. Then again, it gave me another reason to apply!


Screenshot / Dan Ackerman

I also found myself spending a lot of time on my PIP boy menus. But unlike Fallout 4, the action did not stop when I pulled up a menu screen. I found myself to be attacked often when I was on the menu. I appreciated the extended shortcuts for favorite items, which makes it easier to access important things like healing stimpacks.

The highlight of my time in beta came after I removed that airport and climbed a traffic control tower to investigate the area. A dragon-like Scorchbeast appeared in the sky above, something I had never seen before and it was at level 50 (I was one level seven at the time). I put my rifle in my shoulder and took some potshots and hoped it would notice me and engage me. But unlike the exciting dragons at the beginning of Skyrim, it just flew. Too bad – it would be a fun way to go out.

Overall, I love the big map and the potential to explore and tame a new wasteland, and I definitely want to give the whole game a try. It feels already huge compared to Fallout 4, but I miss the lawsuiting NPCs that gave the solo games a more emotional feeling. After playing beta, my biggest problem is not the multiplayer aspect, which seems potentially fun without being intrusive, but the game will end up being too heavy and demand too much grinding – perform repeat tasks to achieve a goal or an object . I doubt I'll spend a few hundred hours in Fallout 76, but you never know.

See Fallout 76 on Amazon

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