War. War never changes, but the “Fallout” series does. “Fallout 76” marks a major shift for the 21-year-old series, making the jump from a single player role playing game to a online multiplayer experience. While a definite shock for long time fans of the dark, though occasionally wacky, series, my time in the open beta has put many of my fears to rest.
“Fallout 76” takes place in the remains of a post-apocalyptic version of West Virginia. You wake up inside of Vault 76, one of many fallout shelters scattered around the United States. It’s reclamation day, the day when the citizens of the vault are meant to return to the bombed-out remains of their former homes after 20 years underground, to rebuild society. After customizing your character, you are sent out into the Appalachian wasteland to follow in the footsteps of the Vault’s Overseer and uncover the dark secrets of Appalachia.
Just because Fallout 76 is the first multiplayer entry in the series doesn’t mean you'll have to share your loot. The game is perfectly playable solo. During my time in the “Break-It Early Test Application” (gotta love Bethesda’s acronyms), I primarily roamed the wilderness with nothing but my wits, a party hat, and a very pointy shovel, and I had a blast. The handful of times I did find myself in the presence of other players were always an interesting experience to say the least, most ending with finding myself on the wrong end of another player's Super-Sledge.
If PVP is not your thing, then you’ll be glad to know that “Fallout 76” has a pacifism feature. If another player attacks you without you fighting back, a bounty will be placed on their head which is up for grabs by anyone on the server. Hunting down the less friendly players provides a unique challenge that can result in a lot of loot if you succeed—but will cause a loss of all your scrap, and a chunk of change if you fail.
However, “Fallout 76” is definitely an online experience. You will have the most fun if you and a group of buddies take on the trials of Appalachia as a team. After wandering solo for a few hours, I picked up a radio signal telling me to head to a nearby city where three other players and I were tasked with defending a soup factory from ghouls, giant rats, and communist robots. After a fierce battle, where my dear old shovel was destroyed lobbing off the head of the final ghoul, the whole party was awarded with food, medicine and new crafting schematics. Events like these pop up all over the map and give out some of the best loot when completed. While these events are not impossible solo, they are a lot easier and way more fun with friends watching your back, so you best make some buddies if you plan on gunning for some of the more challenging missions.
In the admittedly short time I had with “Fallout 76,” the game managed to exceed my expectations. The gameplay was solid, the environments were interesting, and it definitely had the atmosphere of a “Fallout” game. However, going into this new title, you should not expect this to be “Fallout 5.” “Fallout 76” doesn’t follow the traditional story-based format the franchise has been known for, which will definitely be off-putting to some. This is not a game where you play the chosen one destined to bring peace to the wastes and rebuild society. This is not a game where your choices will leave echos through the greater narrative of the series. This is, however, a game where you will be able to experience the world of “Fallout” like never before and have a blast tearing through the wastes with your friends. If you’re willing to look past this major shift in the series, you will have an amazing time in “Fallout 76.”