My enthusiasm for Fallout 76 dried up faster than you could say “always online multiplayer-only experience.” Trouble is, I love the franchise with the red, hot, plasma-like passion of a 30-megaton thermonuclear device.
When the game launched last week I looked the other way until the usual launch-day jitters worked themselves out. Now that things have stabilized somewhat and a few patches have been applied, I’ve spent these last few days getting properly stuck into West Virginia circa 2105.
If you’ve played every other game in the series, there’s no reason you should avoid this one simply because it’s trying to do something different. Here’s my advice for finding a way forward in a troubled game, one that’s unlike anything the franchise has ever seen before.
After the first few hours of the beta, I was thoroughly turned off by the game’s storyline. Good news is that it gets better over time. It’s not a linear experience by any stretch. There’s plenty of room to go off and wander by yourself. My recommendation, however, is that you stick with the main questline for the first few hours.
Bethesda has extended the game’s tutorial well outside of Vault 76. You’ll still be learning about new systems even after you’ve marched two towns over. Most importantly, following along with the Overseer’s questline is a good way to learn recipes, and the only way you’ll learn how to interact with the game’s elaborate crafting systems.
The bottom line is that if you don’t do the work early on, eventually you’ll be stranded far from Vault 76 with a handful of low-level weapons on the verge of breaking and no idea how to get them fixed. Even worse, you’ll miss out on ways to make carrying around lots of loot easier and more efficient.
My advice is to wait at least until after the Overseer’s questline tells you to head to a nearby airport before you decide to make a break for it and head off on your own. Even then, go to the airport anyway, since it’s a great place to set up your first base.
Amateur coroners take note
Once you do begin wandering off the beaten path, extracting the narrative of Fallout 76 can be a bit of a challenge. That’s because everyone in and around West Virginia, save for the other player characters wandering around alongside you, is dead. In fact, much of the game’s environmental storytelling requires that you become fluent in sorting through layers of different kinds of corpses.
The first set of bodies you’ll want to become familiar with are the so-called “petrified corpses.” These are the forms of civilians and other bystanders who were trapped outside of Vault 76 when the bombs fell on Oct. 23, 2077. So far, I’ve not seen a lot of variety in them. They’re just sort of hanging around on street corners and rooftops, looking to the sky. Many of these clusters look like a cut-and-paste job, truth be told, and don’t contribute much at all in my opinion.
When you touch them, they crumble into dust. As a side effect, they can also give you a tiny dose of radiation. I would recommend avoiding them entirely for a good long while.
The second set of bodies are more recently deceased. They’re still wearing clothes, so far as I’ve found, and have gray, ashen features while not actually being composed of ash.
These are the citizens of West Virginia and the surrounding areas who managed to survive the apocalypse on their own, and their bodies are only around a decade old. One group of these recently-made corpses that you’ll meet early on are called the Responders. They were a faction composed of police, firefighters and other first-responders, who made it through the worst of Armageddon and tried to rebuild society on their own.
These bodies will usually contain loot. They’ll also be posed in ways that can inform you about how they met their demise. To help you read the scene, look for notes, computer terminals and identifying signage. Usually there’s a related cache of loot nearby and, sometimes, a more elaborate sidequest will open up.
Perception is reality
Fallout’s marquee SPECIAL system is back, but in a weird new format that involves collectible trading cards. Early on they’ll be more of a novelty than anything else, but where you assign your stat points early on will make a difference before long.
My recommendation is to pump up your Perception stat at least every other level. Because of Fallout 76’s dodgy netcode, enemies are fairly hard to hit. Adding to the challenge of hitting a running target is the frame-y nature of the game’s underlying engine and some random number generation going on behind the scenes that can make you miss, even if your crosshair is over the target. All in all, there are plenty of reasons why you’ll rarely hit what you’re aiming at.
That’s where Perception comes in. It’s the key to getting more action points, which will allow you to spend more time with an assisted targeting system called VATS. Hitting the button for VATS doesn’t slow down time, like it did in previous games. But it will automatically lock onto your targets and give you a percentage chance to hit. It’s your only hope in chaotic, close-range encounters with packs of AI.
Focus on one reliable ballistic weapon and one melee weapon. Keep a backup for each on hand as well, but don’t overburden yourself with guns as you might have done in previous games. There will be plenty of opportunity to make your own later on.
Rebuild democracy through communism
Getting over the hump early on in Fallout 76, especially if you’re planning on going solo, has a lot to do with having upgraded gear. Even low-level leather armor and pipe weapons have potential if you can manage to kit them out to meet your needs.
High-end recipes for weapon mods usually require a few hard-to-find items, but everything — and I mean everything — needs adhesive to stick it all together. Yes, just like Fallout 4. Also like Fallout 4, vegetable starch is the way to go to roll your own glue. Once you’ve made some, you can break it down into adhesive and craft to your heart’s content.
To set yourself up for adhesive manufacturing, just make sure that you have a good source of “tatos” and corn. It just so happens that you can find both in a field nearby the airport that the Overseer sends you to early in the game. Instead of using them up right away, however, plant those seeds using your CAMP system. That way you’ll always be able to harvest them to make even more adhesive later on.
Want to make friends early in the game? Then just share your bounty by trading vegetables and glue with other players. Better yet, teach new players how to manufacture adhesive on their own.
One final note on the game’s social system. Even the most curmudgeonly haters (read: me) can get some benefit out of it. First things first, turn yourself to passive mode. That will minimize your chances of going to war with someone, and reduce the chance that you get killed and lose your place.
Second, just approach someone in the game and ask if you can create a party with them. There are several perks in the game, especially those associated with the Charisma stat, that only work if you’re grouped with another player.
Also, understand that the microphone sensitivity in the game is touchy. Even if you’re not in a party, either turn on push-to-talk or use an in-line mute button on your headset. Everyone else will thank you.
Finally, don’t feel compelled to be joined at the hip with other players. You can be on the other side of the map and still be in the same party and enjoying some of the benefits that parties can bring. Once you have someone on your friends list, you can also spawn on them. That has proven handy for me at times when the game crashes or when I die at the hands of the buggy, warping enemy AI.
A better tomorrow
Even with the above advice, I still have my reservations about Fallout 76. Some of the inconsistencies in the lore, especially with regard to the ghouls and Super Mutants, are a bit of a stretch for me. But I struggled through Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel as well back in the day, including every bit of cheesy dialogue from the late R. Lee Ermey himself. Today I count completing that game among my top gaming experiences.
There are no perfect games, and as it stands right now the experience of playing Fallout 76 can only get better. For fans of the Fallout universe, the important part is that there’s some worthwhile bits to be found in this awkward, multiplayer-only adventure. So quit complaining and go have some fun now, because once the hive mind moves on to the next hot thing the experience simply won’t be the same.