Fallout 76: B.E.T.A

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2661 words.Average read time: 13 minutes.

If you know me you’ll probably know that I am a huge Fallout fan. I absolutely love the games (all of them basically, maybe not Tactics) and I’ve played Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas countless times on XBox 360 and PC. When Fallout 76 was announced via a mysterious live stream in anticipation of E3 2018 I spent an entire evening on Twitch watching - nothing. It was a bit frustrating at the time but checking Reddit and Twitter for all kinds of hints as to what this stream could mean and speculation with the amazing r/Fallout community was a lot of fun. It brought back the time of “The Survivor 2299”, where a mysterious broadcast and message appeared and all of (Fallout) Reddit tried to crack it until it was revealed as a hoax. Fun times!

Anyhow, the minute I could I pre-ordered Fallout 76. A lot of folks were annoyed by the fact it is an MMO / always online game instead of a single player game but given my very good experience with The Elder Scrolls Online over almost three years of actively playing I was simply excited. Watching the beautiful West Virginia and the new engine which renders the landscapes with so much more detail and depth to it was astonishing. Just looking at the trailer over and over again hyped me to no end.

Pre B.E.T.A problems

The B.E.T.A was announced at E3 for everyone who pre-ordered the game and I wish I could’ve jumped in right away; But I couldn’t. The B.E.T.A started on October 23. - so only 3 weeks before launch - and only for XBox One. The Playstation 4 Beta started on the October 30. and I didn’t get my invite. Only after I contacted Amazon directly I got a code within minutes and could download Fallout 76. This whole experience wasn’t pleasant at all. The Beta wasn’t playable at all times but only during special hours - according to Bethesda this was due to testing “high loads” which is understandable. However, due to this restrictions I could only participate in the Beta two times, for a total of 14-16 hours of play time - and I loved every second of it.

The information in this blog post is based on the Fallout 76 B.E.T.A, played on Playstation 4. Things might change before the game is released on 14. November 2018.

Note: All images in this post are downscaled. Some were screenshots taken on my Playstation 4, others were screenshots from a video I recorded. The quality of the screenshots shown inside this post does not show the games’ graphic quality.

Country roads, take me home

My character Angie posing on a sign.

My character Angie posing on a sign.

Welcome to West Virginia

Appalachia, as the region of Fallout 76 is called, is a vast beautiful landscape with a lot of mountains and verticality, which is 4 times the size of Fallout 4 according to Todd Howards. During my roughly 16 hours of playtime I was following quests. After the first 8 hours I traveled basically a tiny bit in the center of the map because there is so much to explore. Fallout 76 has no human NPCs. There are no settlements with merchants and no raider groups - only Ghouls, Robots, and the death. All stories are told through the terminal entries and holo tapes which are scattered around Appalachia. In previous Fallout games I enjoyed reading through terminal entries and listening to holo tapes to find the “hidden” stories. You may find a bunch of skeletons and you’re thinking “Wait, what has happened here?” - look around, find a holo tape, and learn the story of the people.

Fallout 76 has a photo mode which allows to control posing and gestures, correct lightning or apply frames (some frames are region specific). With this photo mode the player can take pictures like the one below or the “posing on a sign” picture. In contrast to the photo mode of Horizon: Zero Dawn or No Man’s Sky the player cannot control the weather or time of the day when taking pictures; Only brightness, saturation, field of view, etc. can be modified but not the world around the player directly.

Angie, my character, posing with a thumb-up gesture in a field.

Angie, my character, posing with a thumb-up gesture in a field.

Gameplay and V.A.T.S

Overall the gameplay is pretty similar to Fallout 4. Weapons behave similar but there’s one big difference. In single-player Fallout games the player can use V.A.T.S the Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System which slows down (or pre Fallout 5 stops) the time and allows to target specific body parts. The player can plan the next shots or hits based on the number of Action Points they have. Since Fallout 76 is entirely online (and PVP everywhere; More below) time cannot be stopped. Instead V.A.T.S functions as an auto aiming system. Once V.A.T.S has been activated you can “just shoot” and will hit or miss, depending on the percentage change displayed. This works surprisingly well but in heated situations with a lot of enemies (“a lot” being everything above 5 for me 😅) I missed the slowing or stopping of time to tactically analyze a situation - combat has become a tick more hectic.

"Using a throwing knife against a Super Mutant"

The gif shows a throwing knife being thrown at a Super Mutant. The Mutant has a low level (5) but is still killed with one hit - throwing knives can output quite the damage for some reason. I assume they’ll be nerfed before launch.

Throwing knives can be crafted from the beginning of the game and offer a viable throwable weapon for the first few level. They can be equipped alongside other weapons, just like grenades in Fallout 3, Fallout: New Vegas, and Fallout 4.

Character development, S.P.E.C.I.A.L, and perks

In Fallout 76 the player doesn’t distribute the S.P.E.C.I.A.L at the beginning of the game but instead on each level up (might have a upper limit!). The PC can choose one of the seven “S.P.E.C.I.A.L” attributes:

  • Strength
  • Perception
  • Endurance
  • Charisma
  • Intelligence
  • Agility
  • Luck

Once an attribute is chosen the PC gets a pack of cards. These cards represent the perks from previous games; They can for example give a 10% damage boost to a certain weapon type or enhance the resistance against environmental damage. If the PC wants to be melee focused they’d pick “Strength” and hope for cards that give damage to melee attacks. During my playtime I received cards like “+10% damage to one-handed melee”. It is possible to receive a card two times, e.g. two times “+10% damage to one-handed melee”. In this case the two cards can be combined to one stronger card that gives more damage bonuses.

"Three ranks available for a card"

The image shows three ranks for the card “Pack Rat” which decreases the weight of junk - a card that I absolutely require with my play style.

The second image shows how two cards are combined into a new, higher level card.

Throwing knives can be crafted from the beginning of the game and offer a viable throwable weapon for the first few level. They can be equipped alongside other weapons, just like grenades in Fallout 3, Fallout: New Vegas, and Fallout 4.

"Two cards which can be ranked-up"
When the player owns two cards of the same type they can be combined. The menu shows the new card which will be created. Card have different ranks or “values” in the top left. The two rank one cards are combined into a single rank 2 card. So far the highest rank I could see was rank three, but this is of course subject to change!
"A selection of cards for different SPECIAL attributes"

Over time the player will have more cards than available slots. Each level in a SPECIAL attribute allows to use one more card (in value/rank). In the image my Strength S.P.E.C.I.A.L attribute is level three. I can therefore use cards with a combined value of three, for example the selected “Pack Rat” card and one other level 1 card.

This system kind-of prevents people from being overpowered, though some people might be lucky and get very good cards. While this is a complete break with the more traditional perk system I enjoyed it during the beta. Cards can be changed at any time so you can use the “Pack Rat” card when you’re carrying to much and a melee bonus card when you’re about to start a fight.

During the Beta I always swapped to the Hacker card I got which increases my Hacker rank +1. Since my rank was 0 I could use this to hack terminals on demand - quite handy! If I wasn’t near a terminal I used the “Licensed Plumber” card so my pipe weapons break 60% slower and are cheaper to repair.

PVP and other people

So, it’s an Online RPG - where’s the other people? Surprisingly, I saw a lot of people in the first hour around Vault 76 and around the first town, but afterwards I was alone. Sometimes I’d hear shooting in the distance but I wouldn’t run into people all the time like I do in The Elder Scrolls Online. This is a design choice. Todd Howard said during E3 that they do not want to put “hundreds or even thousands of people on the same server” (freely quoted); Instead an instance is shared between a few dozen people. During the last 30 minutes of the Beta I was all alone with one other person. They were exploring somewhere; I was throwing knives at Super Mutants - we didn’t see each other.

As for PVP I was only attacked once and I am sure it was a mistake. Someone was stabbing me with a knife but once they realized they stabbed me, we just looked at each other and went on - no fighting. I would fight with other people in a role-playing scenario, for example if other players decide to be “Raiders” and I’m part of a group that fights raiders. On my own though? I’ve no interest in PVP. I prefer to trade and maybe group up with others to fight harder enemies or clear an area of Ghouls or Mutants.

A very interesting feature is the map. All players are always visible unless they are sneaking. So when I opened up the map I could see lots of small dots which represent the other players on the server. A few times this helped me avoid other people when I felt more like enjoying silence - I just walked in the other direction.

Killing and dying

All of Appalachia is a PVP zone, so at any moment another play can attack you. The first shot or hit only does minimal damage, and if you hit back and continue to fight the PVP fight is on. If you kill your enemy they drop a paper bag with some loot inside and you receive caps, the currency of the post apocalyptic USA. If you do not reply the initial attack the enemy player can still kill you - but they will not receive any loot or caps and they are visible on the map as a murderer. I couldn’t check this in the beta because I didn’t want to kill some random person and I didn’t see - or notice - anyone doing so.

It’s questionable how this system will work out once the game is released. I really hope that I can block off people who ruin my game by haunting me.

Other players are not the only thing that can kill you; Hazardous environments with high radiation and the various mutated beasts of this new wasteland are a threat. But another threat lurks in this game and that’s the “Survival” aspect. You must eat and drink regularly because you’ll get sick or die otherwise. But not all food is good for consumption and not all water is clean - you’ll have to use cooking stations and learn receipts to create better food. Full of enthusiasm I collected all the foods I could find only to realize at the next cooking station that it went bad - it had become “spoiled food”. I am not sure if processed food can go bad, but I would assume so.

Crafting

Similar to Fallout 4 (and party Fallout: New Vegas) weapons and armor can be modified and updated. In contrast to Fallout 4 weapons and armor will break in Fallout 76 and require constant maintenance and repairs - this is an essential part of the “survival” aspect in my opinion because it makes the whole “post apocalypse” feeling way better. It seems that there are perks associated with crafting creating weapon updated but I couldn’t figure out how it works during the beta.

C.A.M.P

C.A.M.P, short for Construction and Assembly Mobile Platform, is a new and exciting mechanic in Fallout 76. Every player get a C.A.M.P device when leaving Vault 76 which allows to build a camp everywhere on the map. If you want to you can build your home right outside of Vault 76 or at the edge of the map - it’s entirely up to you. A camp is basically like a small settlement where the player can have crafting stations, beds, and build a (small) home like in Fallout 76. I didn’t spent too much time with it, mainly because I was lacking the resources, but I build a small shelter behind some houses and then later moved the camp into some transformer station.

Camps can be moved at any time, however this will destroy everything that has been build. Individual parts can be “blue printed” which allows for them to be recreated at the new location. I didn’t try the blue printing because I forgot about the feature and didn’t spent much time with the building editor.

Once the game launches I plan to move my camp way out of the way of everyone where nobody bothers me.

Atomic Shop

The Atomic Shop is the in-game shop for Fallout 76. Here the player can spent “atoms” which they collect by doing daily or weekly challenges, for example crafting or building something, teaming up with other people, etc. “atoms” can also be bought for real money but this section was inaccessible in the beta so I do not know the price. During my playtime of roughly 16 hours I could acquire around 450 atoms.

Bethesda said the Atomic Shop will only feature cosmetic items as shown in the screenshot. These items include: - new outfits - “skins” which are recolors (as of the beta there was only a blue Pip-Boy available) - C.A.M.P. items like a Nuka-Cola storage box - “styles” which are cosmetic items like tattoos or scars - Photo Mode frames and poses - Emotes - Icons which appear beside the players’ name

C.A.M.P items on sale in the Atomic Shop

C.A.M.P items on sale in the Atomic Shop

Bugs

I’m not going into detail on bugs, there were some bugs but none were game breaking. One thing in particular, however, was annoying: The frame rate dropped to what feels like 5 FPS . When this happened nothing could be done but wait. In most cases it was good after a few seconds but annoying still.

Other bugs included no text when picking up resources or missing text for quests; The notification for a quest just showed XML code, e.g. <Area name="QuestArea" /> or something around the lines. At one point I wasn’t sure if I experienced a bug. Another player died next to me and I wasn’t able to help them. That sucked! Afterwards, however, I was able loot their “bag” - every character drops a brown paper bag when they die. After re-spawning you can go to the location of your last dead and get the loot back.

Besides these minor things and the FPS drops the game runs good.

Conclusion

Thumb up, can't wait for launch!

Thumb up, can't wait for launch!

I’m now even more hyped and so happy that Fallout 76 is released so soon after the B.E.T.A ends! See y’all in Appalachia on the 14th and afterwards!