The Fallout 76 beta wrapped up yesterday, meaning we won’t be able to play it again until its full release on November 14. I played about 25 hours of Fallout 76 over the past two weeks, mostly solo, but some with a friend, and several times with strangers I met in the game. I’ve hunted bounties and been hunted myself. I’ve done quests and events and plenty of exploring and crafting.
I’m a long, long way from having any sort of verdict, but here are my three major takeaways from my time with the beta.
Fallout 76 is full of stories, even without human NPCs
While exploring a desolate area in the north I came across a small, ruined house. Inside was a working terminal with a few short entries that mentioned the homeowner’s troubled business, his young son, and the son’s robot nanny. What followed was a sidequest that lasted most of an hour. I was able to track down that nanny, who asked me to find out what happened to the son who went missing before the war, which led me on an investigation to find clues involving numerous locations and other characters, their motivations, and what ultimately happened to each of them.
Fallout 76 is full of stories like this. They’ll grab you and distract you from whatever activity you were in the middle of, and often you can approach in different ways: this one offered an optional crafting-based solution to uncover one clue, and while my terminal hacking skills were too low to breach one location through it doors, I was able to find a secret entrance by snooping around). Often these stories are on a small scale—we’re talking about finding out what happened to a single person in a world where untold millions have perished—but they’re still satisfying to unravel, often more so than grander, loftier, more ‘important’ (and more violent) quests.
I do definitely miss the type of interaction that comes in singleplayer Fallout games, where you can choose how you’d like to respond to NPCs and influence others with charisma checks or bribery, or roleplay the type of character you are through the things you say to other characters. It’s frankly hard at times to not imagine how much more depth could be added to Fallout 76’s quests if we were allowed to really interact with other NPCs.
But that doesn’t mean the quests and stories don’t work in Fallout 76. They do. They’re just a bit different. And there are stories, lots of them, everywhere, if you dig around and look. There are no AI humans but friendly robots are a complete delight to encounter, and while I’m not a huge fan of the mostly overwrought holotape voice acting, I do love to snoop around in the details of someone’s life using their personal terminals. Most quests I’ve found this way have been rewarding (and not just in the material sense). I can’t wait to unearth more.
You can play alone even while playing with others
I teamed up with Jarred for a few hours of the beta. We played and explored and fought side-by-side at times, and drifted apart to do our own things at times. When we’d find something interesting we’d let each other know over the mic (OK, sometimes I would just swear or mutter and he’d ask what was happening), and we’d rejoin via fast-travel.
Another time I was hunting down a stranger with a bounty (one of my favorite pastimes) and while he and I were trading rifle shots we got to talking over proximity chat. He said the bounty was a holdover from the previous beta, and while he didn’t mind losing his caps he did have a fair amount of junk he wanted to save. So, I holstered my gun and swore to protect him from any other players who might show up for his bounty (none did), we visited his base so he could store his junk, and then he asked me to kill him to remove the bounty so he could get back to playing without fear of assassination. We played a while together but eventually each went off to do our own thing again.
This is all to say that Fallout 76 feels like a good hangout game. You can team up and tackle things as a duo or group, but it’s also incredibly easy and natural to veer off on your own while still technically being part of a team. My biggest misgiving about an online Fallout game was that I’m not much of a multiplayer guy, and while I’ve soloplayed most of the beta, teaming up with a friend or even a stranger has always been fun and still allowed me to wander off on my own as much as I want.
The PC version needs a lot of work it may never get
Much of our focus during the beta was to see how the PC version performed, and there are some obvious shortcomings we’ve already covered but which bear repeating. We’re missing all sorts of completely standard PC options, like not being able to turn off motion blur or adjust depth of field, plus a lock on the FOV and a cap on fps. Bethesda is beginning to address some, not all, of these issues, saying it will add ultrawide support and push-to-talk and is ‘looking into’ adding text chat.
Menu navigation is also pretty awful on PC with a keyboard—some menus you’ll scroll through with Q and E, some with Z and C, you can open the map with M but hitting Escape also brings up the map instead of the options (which requires another keypress of Z), some menus you use Escape to close and others you use Tab… it’s just a real inconsistent, unintuitive mess, quite honestly, and not all keybindings can currently be remapped.
On Reddit, Bethesda said its aim is to create “a consistent experience no matter what platform you’re on”, but the reason we love PC gaming is all the flexibility and options PCs give us. A lot of those options aren’t currently present in Fallout 76. While there will no doubt be a big Day 1 patch, my guess is many of the issues we’re hoping to see fixed won’t come until after Fallout 76 launches, and some, like uncapped fps, may never come at all.