Fallout 76 made a strong first impression, but we've got a lot of questions

Fallout 76 has been revealed, and as expected, it's an online survival game combined with traditional elements of the 3D Fallout titles. Bethesda's Todd Howard seemed pretty conscious of the fact that hardcore Fallout players might not like the idea of a spin-off like this, and tackled potential criticisms head on in Bethesda's E3 conference last night. 

But what do we make of it? Samuel and Tom talk it out.  

Update: Todd Howard has commented on post-release mod support since this piece was published.

Samuel Roberts, UK editor-in-chief: Fallout 76 got a mixed response last week when it emerged that it might be a survival-based, multiplayer game. And yet yesterday's reveal impressed me. I think they did a smart thing by assuring everyone that a fundamental element of survival games—namely permadeath—isn't in there. Your progress stays with you, which is what Fallout players will want to hear. I came out of that reveal convinced I'm going to have a lot of fun playing this with the PC Gamer team, though there's still a lot of smaller details I want explained to me. This reminds me of how I felt after Fallout 4's reveal in 2015. I've been told a lot, but there's loads more I need to know.

Tom Senior, web editor: I was worried, I’ll be honest. But as I watched the presentation I realised that I don’t really care about chatting to NPCs in Bethesda’s open world RPGs. For me they have always been amazing places to ramble and absorb the atmosphere. West Virginia looks gorgeous and varied, and I can’t wait to go looting in those hills. Maybe dealing with other players will be more interesting and dynamic than embarking on scripted quests, though apparently quests will be in there too.

I don’t quite buy the line that it will be a great solo experience, however. You’re sharing a world with roaming bands of other players who have the power to launch nukes. It doesn’t sound like there will be much chance for some quiet questing in that circumstance. That’s understandably a letdown for fans of Bethesda’s RPGs, but Fallout 76 doesn’t mean Bethesda’s studios will stop making the games they are famous for. Unless it makes a million billion dollars. Then I’d worry.

It’s going to be fascinating to see a big, experienced studio tackle the open world survival genre. So far we’ve had games like Rust, which are fun, but don’t necessarily have the resources that will be going into Fallout 76. That’s not to say this will be totally polished and bug-free—Todd Howard copped to that on-stage at the E3 Bethesda conference—but it could easily be the prettiest and most atmospheric multiplayer survival game made yet.

Samuel: I agree on the singleplayer thing. It's hard to believe you can really get the most out of the game when a group of four players could launch a nuke while you, in theory, can't. I've played enough GTA Online to know that when other players have the destructive tools in a shared open world, they will use them against you. That said, I don't want to pass comment too much on this before we've had a chance to dig into how playing alone will work. It's just a mild concern of mine.

A point raised by PCG's Chris Livingston is around modding, too. How will that work in relation to Fallout 76? Can it? We know this is part of the DNA of Bethesda games, and I have no doubt they do too. 

Like you, though, Tom, the thought of exploring an all-new Fallout world alone makes me want to play this. New enemy types sound exciting. Emoting together is always fun. And Fallout 4's vastly improved shooting suggests they've got the potential to make a PvP game work.

Tom: I would be very surprised if a persistent online game allowed mods of any kind. I have a lot of questions about exactly how Fallout 76 actually works online. Does your character load back in to the same instance of West Virginia every time you log in? In that case can you invite friends to your instance of West Virginia, or do you go visit theirs? If a nuke goes off in your map and creates a patch of wasteland, will it still be there the next time you log in? 

These specifics really matter, especially when you’re building settlements together and creating an ongoing story. Todd Howard mentioned a dozen or so players co-existing in a map, does that mean folks who want to roleplay peacefully can start a game together and go hiking? How does levelling work in a PvP context? If you’re a higher level than an adversary, will that create a power imbalance? These are the nitty gritty details that dictate whether the game feels fair or not. We’ll learn a lot more at beta stage.

I’m encouraged by Howard’s “softcore survival” comments, though. I would love a game that presents the same potential for co-op fun that Destiny and Anthem have, but without the stat grind. I want Fallout 76 to be a playground rather than a treadmill.

Samuel: The other part I'm not convinced on is how exciting it is to build a settlement in Fallout. This was something I only dabbled with in Fallout 4 and didn't particularly enjoy—I found it onerous, and that a lot of work didn't really get me anything I was happy with, even though I know some players created some dazzling stuff. Sharing that experience with other players might make it feel like a different deal, but fundamentally I still want Fallout to be about questing and exploring. I'm hopeful I can mostly play it and enjoy it in this fashion. 

That said, Tom, how much fun will it be when the PC Gamer team launches its first nuke? That's a diary feature right there.

Tom: Slightly cynically, I thought ‘oh yes this is going to fill so many pages,’ because even shabby games of this sort create great anecdotes. The nukes and their fallout zones seem to be an endgame activity that you work up to over time—I doubt you get a suit of power armour right away as you do in Fallout 4. I’m looking forward to telling the story of that journey when we dive in together as a team and start nuking squirrels.

You can talk about these games and share stories in a way that you can’t with a singleplayer RPG, because describing quests ends up just spoiling things a lot of the time. It might not be the new Fallout everyone dreamed of, but it’s going to be a massive talking point this winter. I can’t wait.

Samuel Roberts
Former PC Gamer EIC Samuel has been writing about games since he was 18. He's a generalist, because life is surely about playing as many games as possible before you're put in the cold ground.