Fallout 76 isn't a proper Fallout game, but it’s fun anyway

We've posted lots of stories and videos about Fallout 76 following our hands-on time with an Xbox One build last week. We showed you how disappointing VATS is, the game's cool treasure maps, the fun-sounding assassination radio station, what it's like to have a huge nuke plopped on us, and of course there's a heap of gaming footage to watch.

But is Fallout 76, like... good? Is it fun? Having played a bit of it, is it something I'm still excited about?

Three hours of play isn't nearly enough to make a real judgement, but I definitely want to play more as soon as I can. It was fun, and I am still excited for the Fallout 76 beta and full game in November—though there are a few things that have dampened my enthusiasm a bit.

Almost heaven, West Virgina

The West Virginia of Fallout 76 is a big world, and while three hours only allowed us to stomp around on a small portion of it, the areas we visited were packed full of stuff. I spent some time playing in a group but I also wandered off to explore on my own and found I never had to go too far before stumbling across something to do. 

There was a cool server event where I had to activate and protect a robot as it patrolled a town full of feral ghouls. While wandering in the woods I found a series of tree houses connected by rope bridges that could be explored with a lot of climbing and jumping. I came across a power station and a relay tower packed with enemies, and a mission to reactivate both structures. Plus there were lots of ruined houses to loot, an abandoned underground mine, and a whole bunch of random monster encounters. I even ran into the Mothman, briefly. Fallout 76 feels like a big place packed to the gills with things to keep you busy.

Fallout 76 is also sprinkled with the conveniences of a singleplayer Fallout game. You can fast-travel around the map, using your buddies, your camp, or server events as fast-travel markers. Dying seems like it's barely a stumbling block: you won't lose your weapons and can usually respawn very close to where you died. It's a world that encourages you to explore it, and makes it easy to return home again.

Forgiving survival

As an online shooter with PvP, Fallout 76 feels exceedingly forgiving. If you elect to participate in PvP and are killed, you only lose your junk: your screws and tape and desk fans and whatever other random crap you only picked up so you could turn into scrap for crafting at the nearest workbench. While someone can stalk and kill you even if you don't want to fight, they'll be labeled an outlaw and assigned a bounty, probably causing them more trouble than it's worth. Plus, with only two dozen players on a server at once, it's unlikely you'll be hounded to all four corners of the map by people who want to kill you. I took part in one PvP battle during our hands-on session, was promptly killed, and respawned quickly not far away, basically no worse for wear.

There are survival elements like eating and drinking, but at least in the early game and relatively gentle starting zone of The Forest they feel tame. If you don't eat or drink for a while you'll lose action points, but the drain is so slow and there's so much stuff to loot it doesn't seem like it'd ever be a real problem. Even when starving and dehydrated, we were told it'd be ages until you actually died from it.

Maybe both of those points sound like complaints, and for some, they might be: I'm sure there will be players will be looking for a more extreme survival simulator. But personally, I'm happy to not have to worry much about food and drink or being repeatedly confronted with meaningful PvP.  I am not looking for a harsh and unforgiving survival experience in Fallout 76 or to be constantly be hunted by players—but I wonder if it's all so forgiving it might turn off people who are looking for a hardcore DayZ or Rust-style PvP survival game.

Talk to me

I can't say I really missed having a bunch of NPCs to chat with and dialogue choices to make, but in this hands-on session I was mainly rushing around looking for things to do, not people to talk to. In the long term, though, I'm pretty sure I'll miss having conversations with AI characters, not just in terms of story but because they provide an opportunity for roleplaying. Deciding upon the nature of your character—if they're kind and helpful, evil and ruthless, or something in between—often stems from conversations with NPCs. Even just being given a choice between "I'll help you" and "I'll help you, but it's gonna cost you" can stir up some thoughts on who your character might really be deep down inside.

This makes me wonder what kind of roleplaying Fallout 76 will facilitate. You can roleplay with other human players, naturally (there will be proximity voice chat as well as team chat), but only when you actually encounter them, and in an online game there's no guarantee you'll run into anyone at all for large stretches of time. I wasn't a huge fan of the settlement system of Fallout 4, but it was still nice to have human NPCs strolling around, manning defenses, and sleeping in beds, and giving you a bit of chit-chat. It made the world feel more alive. In the times you're not surrounded by friends or strangers in Fallout 76, and no NPCs to chat with, I wonder if it will feel alive at all.

Persistent thoughts

A while back I played Rust every few days over a span of about a month. I found a medium-population server, built a little shack near some other dwellings, and over time met some of the locals who played there. They weren't my friends, but they were mostly friendly. Sometimes I'd log in and see them, other times I wouldn't. But even when they weren't there, their stuff was. Their homes and bases were always right near mine. I'd login and see their progress, see how their bases had grown, and see new dwellings that had been built in the area. It was, in other words, like a neighborhood. It was a community, it had persistence even when I was the only one around. Sure, sometimes I'd login and some of our bases had been busted up by raiding players but it still felt like a little town.

One concern I've had (and still have) is with Bethesda's servers. I just can't get behind the idea of not having a server browser, of not residing on a server of your choice, one you can revisit repeatedly. I know my base will appear in the same spot whenever I login, but it's weird to think that a base built near mine simply won't be there the next time I login because the person who built it isn't around. Unless they're my personal friend, I'll probably never see them again. It could be difficult to really feel like you're rebuilding America if the buildings all vanish when their architects log out. Maybe it's better that people won't be able to trash your base while you're logged out, but it comes with a price of never feeling like you're part of a persistent world.

I guess we'll find out in November. And my reservations aside, now that I've played a bit of Fallout 76, I'm definitely ready for more.