The footsteps of other players begin in the Fallout 76 Xbox beta while I'm still in character creation mode. And it's weird! It's weird to be engaged in such a personal, private moment, trying to pick out my avatar's nose and eyes and facial hair and blemishes while simultaneously listening to someone shuffling and stomping around nearby. It's as if I'm trying to grab a few moments of grooming time in a mirror while standing in a busy public bathroom.
The opening hour of the Fallout 76 beta is a crowded one. I emerge from Vault 76 to find it's nighttime on the server, so that powerful iconic moment of stepping into the post-apocalyptic world for the first is sapped of its strength in the darkness. Plus, people are everywhere. Players are standing around, hopping, emoting, punching each other for zero damage, and dashing madly to collect what they can while gunshots ring out from all directions. It's like those videos of someone who has 25 cats and the owner walks in to feed them all at once: pandemonium. This is in stark contrast to what comes later, when everyone spreads out and Fallout 76 begins to feel quiet and lonesome.
For now, I dash off and enter a darkened motel to do some looting. What could be a spooky experience turns into a semi-comical one as there is the constant sound of footsteps from all the other players rushing around looting the same building. The main quest leads to an overseer's camp for some crafting (if someone isn't already using the benches) and then to a town with a robot vendor (if someone isn't already selling stuff to him). I pretty quickly get tired of basic quests (craft some armor! drink some water! cook a steak!) and lining up to use the salesbot, so I just set off on my own.
I do make a friend, or a 'friend.' This stranger invited me to join his party, but we didn't stick together long. I still get a bit of XP and caps when he completes a quest, and I use him a free fast-travel point now and then (otherwise, traveling usually costs a few caps). Honestly, I spend more time with the Lumberjack Protectron in the video above (also on YouTube) than I do with my human partner. I love you, Lumberjack Protectron.
I decide to track down a couple bounties, which turns out to be way, way more fun than boiling clean water to drink. When someone kills a player who doesn't fight back (thus signalling they don't want to engage in PvP), the killer is given outlaw status: marked on the map for everyone to see. I spot my first outlaw in a distant region of The Forest, too far for me to get to quickly. I see another player on the map close to the outlaw's location and invite him to join my team. They accept, I fast-travel to them, then immediately disband the team. Rude, maybe, but effective. I catch up to the outlaw just in time to see him vanish—I'm not the only one using other players as fast travel points. He's escaped! Lousy cheater, cheating exactly the way I cheated.
I eventually track down another wanted player, and this time get the drop on him, even though (as you can see above or here on YouTube) I forgot to reload my weapon before taking the shot. Even more pleasing than screwing up but still single-shotting him (he was at reduced health, but I'm still taking 100% of the credit) is that he had a much better gun than I did and he appeared to have been in the process of cornering another player. So not only am I a stealthy badass, I'm also an accidental hero! You can see the guy I saved retreat behind a door, but then pop out to give me a thumbs up.
While I'm stalking my prey and collecting my reward in the video, you can also hear the Hunter/Hunted radio station playing. I joined the round-robin assassination game as soon as I turned level five, but the match never filled up. Hopefully I'll get to try it soon. I did attempt to be an outlaw myself, but picked a fight with a player who wasn't just completely willing to PvP with me but also much better at shooting than I am. I was dead before I could even become wanted.
While fighting some ghouls at a farmhouse, I receive my first Fallout 76 mutation! I become a marsupial: my intelligence is lowered (are marsupials known for being dumb?) but it gives me more carry weight and increases my jump height considerably, at least doubling it, which let me bounce my way to the roof of the house in the video above (and on YouTube). Fun! I am now stricken with the desire to pollute myself more, in hopes of trying out other mutations.
I am definitely starting to miss voiced, human NPCs. There are robots and notes and holotapes all over the place, but it does feel a bit strange to come across a farm or settlement and find only enemies or recordings. By now players are spread out and I'm very rarely running into them. It's nice but leaves the world feeling strangely quiet for a Fallout game, where I'm used to stumbling across chatty AI strangers fairly often. From my time so far I'm getting the feeling you'll be able to solo a lot of Fallout 76, but I think you'll probably want to have a friend with you for a lot of it, too.
I didn't have any issues joining the beta (though some apparently did) and didn't have any crashes or problems hopping between different servers. I saw some glitches: creatures sliding over the ground without moving their legs, my Pip-Boy radio would continue to play static even after I turned it off, and there were occasional delays while trying to pick up objects or loot containers that signify a slow response from the server. There was also the glitchy-ass ghoul in video above (here on YouTube) who turned into taffy and stuck to the wall next to a terminal.
The next Xbox beta is a few days away, on Saturday and Sunday, and each is only for two hours, which feels pretty disappointing, though Bethesda says there will be more sessions with extended hours coming soon. I certainly hope so! I'm eager to get back in and collect a few more bounties.