I'm not sure what I was expecting from VATS in Fallout 76, which we got to play during a hands-on session last week at an event in West Virginia. In Fallout 3, 4 and New Vegas, the Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System lets you slow down time to target the different body parts of your enemies. Target their arms so they'll drop their weapons. Cripple their legs to slow them down. Aim for their head or other weak points, or cycle through several enemies and line up devastating shots on all of them. VATS also gave the combat in prior Fallout games a dramatic and cinematic feel: at times the camera would leave your character's POV and frame you in a hero (or villain) shot as you took your enemy down.
Fallout 76 was never going to be able to support the VATS we know and love—you can't slow down time or pause for bloody cinematics in an online multiplayer game that takes place in real-time—but I was hoping for something better than what we saw in our hands-on session. As you can see in the embedded video above, or here on YouTube, this is a heavily diluted and somewhat unintuitive version of VATS.
In its most basic incarnation, Fallout 76's VATS simply highlights enemies, displays your chances of a successful hit, and then determines a hit or miss depending on those odds. Perk cards you earn when you level up can give you the ability to cycle through body parts or weak areas and hit for more damage.
Weirdly, though, your weapon doesn't physically move to track those body parts as you cycle through them. Your gun just sits where it is no matter where you're telling VATS to target. So it feels strange to then fire your weapon, which may not be pointing anywhere near your target, let alone at their arm, leg, or head, and still score a hit. It's like you're hip-firing into empty space. When you hit it's like you have magic bullets, and unless you're looking at the enemy's health bar you might not even notice that you did hit. It's odd and disconnected from what you're seeing on screen, and even using VATS multiple times in the hands-on session I never really got used to it.
And obviously, gone is any sort of drama or feeling of bad-assery that came with a slow-motion, cinematic kill. I knew VATS would need to change dramatically, but Fallout 76's version of VATS winds up feeling pretty toothless even when you get a kill. I can see it being useful as an aim-assist tool when playing Fallout 76 with a controller (as we did in our session), but once we've got our hands on a mouse and keyboard version of Fallout 76, I wonder if the VATS perks will be something I'll really bother investing in.