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Fallout 76’s beta delivers a second set of first impressions

It felt like a different game from the one I played three weeks ago

Fallout 76 beta - Wavy Willard’s Bethesda Game Studios/Bethesda Softworks
Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

Tuesday night’s Fallout 76 beta made it hard for me to get to sleep afterward. Really.

Sure, all of that visual stimulation right up to bedtime is bad for you. Mostly, it was because of my racing thoughts: Is that even the same game I played at the preview event? Well, this part was so much better. But that part wasn’t as fun. What did I misunderstand? What did I understand?

What I misunderstood in my first go-around was how fundamentally chaotic the game is. This is only partly because of a human population participating alongside, everyone doing as they please. A mission to monitor water samples was constantly interrupted by the enemies of a special event going on nearby. Interstitial noise isn’t always the footsteps and gunfire of other players: snorting bovines and ... whatever-ing possums on the other side of a wall interrupted my work at a computer terminal. Even though you’re in the middle of breathtaking scenic Appalachia, it’s very hard to take in a moment with so much going on.

That’s why I really want to play more of Fallout 76. Because if it’s fundamentally a chaotic game, it’s also fundamentally a very longterm game. I feel like the distractions and interferences and little aggravations are taking on a little more weight when people are up against a time limit trying out things for the first time. Trying them out a second time, I found a game I liked a lot more, and want to play a lot more.

Here are some thoughts about my time in the beta, connecting back to how I felt about similar things in the preview.

Fallout 76 beta - Red Rocket Megastop Bethesda Game Studios/Bethesda Softworks

Stash boxes are a godsend

Near as I can tell, crafting is the same system from Fallout 4. But in my scattershot, oh-God-what-did-I-miss tourism of Fallout 76, I missed the point of the stash boxes, which are a simple and great addition to help you meet your survivalist obligations.

Basically, stash boxes are just storage points all over the map and every one of them has your stored junk inventory. Anyone who remembers schlepping all their salvage back to the first Red Rocket in Fallout 4, or the time spent maintaining multiple bases (and getting the perk that united their inventories), will love the stash box. It’s especially important because, starting at 1 Strength, carrying capacity is so limited.

These also made the point of the C.A.M.P. a little more clear to me. Stash boxes are a way to live off the land while still getting the benefits of having a home base (there are usually work benches nearby, occasionally even a mattress on the ground). This gives a player time to think about where to put the C.A.M.P. — choose a scenic location, or something more geographically advantageous? While the camp is movable, it’s usually arranged according to the original terrain where you put it down. The more improvements, the more it won’t, or shouldn’t, move.

With just a little time spent foraging (and I did this only incidentally in the preview) I was surprised by the amount of stuff I was able to craft. Before I hit level 3 I already had a sweet pipe revolver with a long barrel and a full set of improved leather armor. I can scavenge and craft more efficiently in Fallout 76 without having to fast travel, which means I can see more of a pretty countryside.

V.A.T.S. is V.I.T.A.L., actually

I came away from the preview event feeling like VATS added little, and even said as much. I was also playing on top-of-the-line equipment on a closed network. On a launch-day Xbox One, Fallout 76 struggled, and against fast-moving feral ghouls (a very common enemy), there is no running-and-gunning with its framerate. VATS is vital not only with firearms against the ghouls, who really need to slow their roll, I found it necessary just to be sure I was landing shots on them with a machete.

VATS also seemed to have corrected, or at least adjusted, the weird sense of not-aiming I got earlier. At the preview event, I got two pieces of visual information, a red outline saying I had a good probability to hit, and a crosshairs position that said I didn’t. I cracked off shots with more confidence with VATS during the beta.

A (neverending) story

My initial impressions complained that I was unable to follow the story because I had chatty teammates, and they talked over the audio of holotapes that auto-played when I picked them up. Playing solo, I was able follow the story more and make more sense out of what I was supposed to be doing and where to go.

And you’d be surprised how hard it is just to go find something in a mission when one person has already found it and is trying to tell you where it is; another is saying they’re standing right over it, and a third has already completed the mission and talking about something else entirely. Tapes and other evidence that need time to analyze are just as important in telling you where to go and what to expect.

However, these holotapes drag on in a way that’s fundamentally incompatible with the amount of distraction going on around you. Sure, I’m interested in the Overseer’s memories of going to the corn maze as a little girl. Developing a connection to the story is gonna make me want to finish this long journey. But I’m also watching two other people fight some ghouls in the middle of the road.

This goes back to the taking-in-the-moment complaint. In Fallout 4 there was always some place to sit down and listen to a tape, or read terminal entries, without feeling like that was a waste of time. Fallout 76 doesn’t really have that, and I’m not sure what the answer is.

The events is too damn high

Maybe this is because of the beta, but “Fertile Soil” just would not stop respawning. I was taking my time in the Flatwoods area working on some side missions, crafting and building up my C.A.M.P. My activities intersected with the event area, and a bunch of Mr. Handies and feral ghouls I had repeatedly killed kept showing up to waste my ammunition.

The flip side, just being in the area when the event ends gives you the reward. An event is a nice concept and a good way to bring the population together if they’ve been recalcitrant about teaming up or simply don’t know how to. But this has me a little bit concerned because there seems to be no good way to opt out of them beyond just staying out of the area. For a game with as much exploration as Fallout 76, this is borderline unreasonable. And any enemies who sight you as you’re strolling through will be in pursuit forever.

Fallout 76’s next beta period on Xbox One will be on Saturday from 5 to 7 p.m. ET, and then Sunday from noon to 2 p.m. ET. PlayStation 4 and Windows PC will get in on the beta beginning Oct. 30.

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