'Fallout 76' is a Multiplayer Game For Single Players

I don't have a lot of friends. I hope that you do. I used to; I had dozens of friends online to choose from when I wanted to play Halo 3 or Borderlands. But these days it's hard for me to get a group of people together I'm comfortable with, so I don't do multiplayer games much anymore. I'm also a Fallout fan. So imagine my trepidation when I learned there was a NEW FALLOUT GAME (YAY) that's MULTIPLAYER ONLINE ONLY (Nooooooo).

I'm no longer worried.

After a three-hour demo and a two-day press event, I learned a lot. My biggest takeaway? At its worst, Fallout 76 is a single-player Bethesda experience. If you're familiar with Fallout 3 or Fallout 4 , you'll instantly feel at home in the character creator, and emerging into Vault 76 on Reclamation Day is full of that signature dystopian charm. And a new feature: musical instruments. You can play a guitar, piano, tuba, etc. and eventually earn bonuses that can provide different buffs. So right away you encounter a nice mix of the fresh and the familiar.

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Bethesda Game Studios

Once you get outside, the wasteland doesn't disappoint either. It's as rich with emergent narrative, moody environmental designs and utter peril as you'd expect. You level up quickly (getting to level 5 unlocks the PVP options) and invest your XP in a modified S.P.E.C.I.A.L (Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility and Luck). system that runs on Perk Cards. Perk Cards provide a mix of buffs and abilities, and will serve as a de facto skill tree. Investing in stats unlocks upgrades too; I spent points in Charisma to gain the ability to share Perk Cards with my team. It has a lot of potential. In one instance, a teammate didn't have the unlock skill to pick the lock on a chest. I shared the Lockpick card and gave him the skill. He got his loot. You get a pack of Perk Cards every two levels and, no, there are no microtransactions involved.

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Bethesda Game Studios

What follows is a solid gameplay loop. You go to a cool place, fight, get loot and then craft things. If it sounds repetitive, it's not (much). The world is full of notes and terminals with quirky stories, and there's a lot of variety in the enemy types and terrain. Fast travel isn't free for most destinations, so you are sometimes coerced into exploring instead of rushing to follow a questline. And I kept finding small, interesting details everywhere I looked that three hours suddenly felt like no time at all.

And that was by myself. There's that whole multiplayer thing.

As stated above, I've been out of the multiplayer scene for a while so I can't make comparisons to current titles. But on merit alone I enjoyed multiplayer, because it didn't feel demanding. You don't need to "squad up" here. Even playing with just one other person makes a big difference. You can take on slightly harder enemies, and having occasional chit-chat with someone on my team made the loot grind a little more entertaining.

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Bethesda Game Studios

One thing Bethesda does exceedingly well is populate its world with objects of small purpose. Loot drives PVP as much as single-player. The core of PVP is built around the loot you take and the loot you make. In a one-on-one scenario, you lose the loot you're carrying when you get killed (either in a duel or cold-blooded murder). By "loot" I mean junk and crafting materials. Weapons, armor, aid, etc. won't be lootable by other players.

In Fallout 76 the loot grind is in service of crafting at workshops and camps. Camps allow you to set up a stash box that acts as a shared, permanent inventory. You also build crafting stations and, eventually, even elaborate cosmetics like electric signs. Crafting recipes are scattered all over the world, but you start with a fair amount of default weapons, armor and modifications. There seem to be some limits as to where you can set up camps, but it's flexible enough that you can usually find a spot close by when you get over encumbered. And because the game never pauses, building incurs risk and adds to the tension.

With workshops, you're defending a claimed space on the map either solo or on a team, usually someplace like a factory or greenhouse. Workshops do everything camps do plus a very important thing camps don't: resource harvesting. And workshops persist in the world once you log off, vulnerable to players and AI hordes. These hordes trigger automatically once you claim a spot, so there's no chance of escaping attacks. Our workshop defended against quite a few scorcher hordes. We never encountered players though, so I'm still unclear how the PVP permissions play out in workshop raids. One of many questions that still remain.

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Bethesda Game Studios

Unfortunately, these beta impressions are based off of one carefully controlled demo. Stability looms large. Most of the demos went smoothly, but not without a hiccup here or there. The Fallout 76 beta will certainly have issues, that's the point, so it remains to be seen how many problems need to be fixed before Nov. 14. It's also not intuitive enough for players, especially newcomers who might not know the world at all. Perk Cards and crafting recipes are incredibly important, but require some extra steps in submenus before they're activated. There's also a lot to learn about the content roadmap. We know there will be daily and weekly challenges, but the deathclaw is in the details. How quickly will such events get stale?

Based on what I've seen so far, Bethesda seems to have built a game for its audience instead of for a new audience. The deep amount of single-player story and exploration all but guarantees longtime fans are satisfied. But will it be enough to draw a crowd in an increasingly competitive multiplayer space? I think so. Because it will be full of people like me. Single-players ready to be mingle-players.