As soon as I arrived at a wacky water park that had a slide winding out of a crocodile’s mouth, I was warned that the servers for the Fallout 76 beta would be closing. I had just enough time to snap a picture of myself with the crocodile in photo mode doing the Pip-Boy pose and wearing a police uniform. Unfortunately, 0utside of my silly picture and some of these ridiculous locations around the wasteland, Fallout 76 is overwhelmingly desolate and empty.
The region has no human survivors except for the Vault 76 dwellers who are now running around dressed in clown suits and aviator sunglasses. It sounds like a jarring juxtaposition — and it is — but it still feels very much like the sort of silliness I’ve come to expect of Fallout games. A paradox emerges where the game is both empty and populated; there are no characters to interact with, except for the players roaming around.
It feels weird when first surfacing from the vault seeing others in their uniforms performing the exact same actions: reading the same terminals, picking up the same items, and crafting at the same stations (though only one person may use them at a time). It’s like there are several robots set out to follow the same path until you actually interact with them. Players become slightly more real when you group up or wave at each other, or when you hear their kid brother yelling over their headset. A few friends were able to play the beta with me, however, and that made all the difference. Traveling the wasteland with buddies and discovering new places makes me feel like I’m in a gang ready to take over the world — or whatever’s left of it.
The empty West Virginia wasteland is made less lonely with friends, but it’s still meant to be empty. Corpses of those who once lived there are strewn about with nothing left of their existence but notes and audio logs. Remainders of places they used to visit — like the aforementioned water park, or a giant teapot attraction — serve as forms of environmental storytelling; remember, there are no live humans to fill in the gaps. It’s a very different take on the post-apocalypse in Fallout‘s world, but it opens up the possibility for players to be the ones to rebuild society.
And they’ll do just that with the “C.A.M.P” base-building, Fallout 76‘s repurposing of the Fallout 4 settlement system. This system differs in that you can move your camp at any time and place it almost anywhere around the map — not to mention that you won’t have to deal with Preston Garvey. It feels pretty much the same from what I can tell, and it’s still a little wonky trying to place things exactly where you want. Some of the controls feel a little wonky in general, and it will take some getting used to a Fallout game that can’t be paused. VATS no longer slows down time, but it can assist in aiming at or identifying enemies at a distance. It can also be cumbersome to switch weapons or heal up from the Pip-Boy when there’s already a mirelurk scuttling toward you at top speed.
Despite any awkward controls or graphical bugs and glitches, I’ve enjoyed my time with the beta so far, and am looking forward to sinking my teeth into the full release as well. I’m especially interested in finding and defeating Mothman and the other mythical beasts that I’ve heard tales about. It might be strange existing in an empty (yet populated) world where players drift through in witch hats and gas masks, but teaming up and wandering with friends in Fallout 76 might make all the difference.
This preview is based on time spent with the PlayStation 4 beta of Fallout 76. A beta key was provided by Bethesda Softworks.