Ever since Bethesda revealed that Fallout 76 players will be able to nuke and kill each other, many Fallout fans have been worried that they won't be able to explore West Virginia without griefers constantly killing them and destroying their stuff. However, as Pete Hines explained earlier this year, nukes are hard to get and relatively easy to avoid, plus your personal camp can't be destroyed by them. And while players can technically kill each other at any time, there are several systems in place to rein in PvP and discourage the griefing seen in games like Rust and DayZ.
Most importantly, PvP level balancing is more even compared to PvE. If you're level 10 and you bump into a level 50 Scorchbeast out in the wilderness, you're probably going to die in a radioactive fire. But if you're attacked by a level 50 player, you'll be able to hold your own even if you're only level 10. High level players do wield some advantage thanks to their gear, but they can't one-shot or otherwise bully low level players. The amount of caps you get for killing another player also scales with their level, making low level players less desirable targets.
On top of flatter PvP level balancing, players are also protected by the murder system. As Bethesda's Todd Howard explained, when you initially attack someone, you'll deal greatly reduced damage until they return fire. Those opening shots are "like slapping somebody in a bar" and asking for a fight, as Howard put it. If you ask for a fight and the other person accepts, you two can duke it out like normal. If you win, you'll get a few caps—that's it. If you lose, you'll only lose some of your scrap materials—the adhesive, metal bits and other junk clogging your inventory—and can easily respawn nearby, so duels are really just for fun.
If you attack someone who doesn't fight back and kill them, you not only won't receive any caps, you'll also be marked as a wanted murderer. While marked, you won't see other players on the map and you'll appear as a big red target on the map to other players. You'll also have a bounty placed on your head, and if someone kills you, that bounty will be taken out of your caps. It's a pretty severe punishment, though it does make me wonder what happens if you're already out of caps when you go on a killing spree. And if you're wondering: yes, you can kill your friend if they become a murderer, even if they're in your party.
A passive buff called Pacifist provides one final layer of insurance. Pacifist lasts until you reach level five, and as long as you have it you're totally immune to other players. They can't damage you and you can't damage them. This gives new players a grace period to gear up and learn the ropes, but once you reach level five, you lose the Pacifist buff and become fair game under the rules of the murder system. If excessive player killing does become a problem at some point down the line, I could see Bethesda extending the level cap on Pacifist.
Between the slim rewards and the harsh punishments, you might be wondering why you'd bother with PvP at all. You don't get many caps, you don't get any exp, and you stand to lose caps if you play too aggressively. What's the point? Obviously, PvP will always appeal to some people just for the thrill of it, but there are a few other reasons to fight other players.
For starters, turf wars are going to be a thing in Fallout 76. There are only so many resources on the map, so players will inevitably butt heads over who gets to use them. When a nuke drops, for example, rare monsters and materials appear around the blast site, which will draw players in from around the map. Likewise, workshops, special building sites scattered around Appalachia, are extremely valuable since you can use them to build resource-generating extractors. Workshops can only be owned and used by one player (or team) at a time, so even after you claim one, you can bet it will come under attack. You can install walls and turrets to make your workshop more defensible, but when it's attacked you'll need to fast travel to it and take up arms.
Fights these like are simply a function of the multiplayer sandbox, but there's also a more direct PvP mode for people who really want to hunt other players. Appropriately, it's a radio station called Hunter/Hunted which you can access via your Pip-Boy. Whenever you tune into Hunter/Hunted, you receive an assassination target and you're marked for assassination yourself. Only Hunter/Hunted listeners can be selected as targets, but the person you're hunting isn't necessarily the person hunting you, so it's more of a round robin-style deathmatch.
From what we heard at Bethesda's recent Fallout 76 event—where we finally got to play the game—assassinating someone via Hunter/Hunted gives better rewards than randomly attacking and killing players. It's also totally optional and insular, so I'm hopeful it will provide a satisfying PvP mode that doesn't intrude on the exploration and RPG elements Fallout games are known for. Which feels like Bethesda's goal with PvP as a whole—to add tension to the social elements of Fallout 76 without making it feel like a cutthroat survival game. Whether they'll succeed remains to be seen, but after playing Fallout 76 for myself, I don't think PvP will be a problem.