First and foremost, this is not the Fallout you're used to. Don't go into it expecting that, or you're bound for disappointment. It's an online survival game more akin to something like Rust than Fallout, but it does have that Fallout feel and setting.
Speaking of the setting, it's interesting jumping into a Fallout setting that I'm more familiar with than the previous entries. The first city you visit is Morgantown, which I've visited a handful of times and recognized immediately. And it, and its surrounding area, are rendered beautifully. You can tell you're playing in the same engine as Fallout 4 but the effects have been ramped up and it's been tuned a bit. It seems to run just as well for me, maybe a little better BUT I haven't been anywhere as busy as something like Boston so it could just be that these environments aren't as taxing. But I noticed that no matter how I set my video settings, the robot NPCs and some enemies still stutter. You'll occasionally be fighting a ghoul who's just kinda gliding across the ground. It doesn't happen consistently, so I assume that it's caused by lag, because their movements are being calculated server-side so they’re the same for everyone. I haven't noticed it with other players but it's not as important for player animations to be synced so that could explain the difference. This may be related as well: sometimes I just have hard locks for about 5 seconds, and I wonder if that's a server sync.
This doesn’t have a narrative like the other Fallout games, and we knew that going in, but it definitely feels different and strange because of that. However, Bethesda has always had a knack for environmental storytelling and it seems like they ramped it up for this game. Discovering the little stories left around every nook and cranny has been great. You feel like you're discovering three timelines as you go, and how they might be connected: when the bombs fell, what people were doing shortly before your arrival, and what is happening now.
But that leaves a question for me, and for all I know it will be answered, I just haven't gotten there yet. This game takes place in an area that was affected less by the bombs than the other settings we've seen in Fallout, and we know that people who weren't in vaults survived and humanity would have kept going without the vaults... so where are the survivors? You'd think if it was hit less you'd be *more* likely to see human NPCs. However, you see evidence of people being here recently, they've just either fled or died, so I bet there's an answer. But honestly, even if there isn't, that's a minor complaint; the obvious reason for this decision is the gameplay they were striving for, where real human players replace NPCs.
And those other humans really bring a new dimension to the series, whether it's one you're into or not. For me, the online aspect is interesting so far. I haven’t even connected a headset, I figured I’d just use text chat but hang on... they don’t have text chat. That’s an odd omission but they are “looking into” adding it. Push to talk is coming soon apparently. But I managed to communicate with rudimentary gestures with a couple players and we were working on the same missions so we kinda watched each other’s backs without any formal plan. There are events that pop up and people just kinda show up and join in, kinda like how some modern MMOs have timed events (Guild Wars 2 and Final Fantasy XIV come to mind). The off-the-cuff co-op and emergent gameplay work well, and I can't wait to take out that level 50 giant radioactive bat thing with a bunch of people.
I have read some stories about trolls and griefers, but I haven't seen anyone who wasn't cool. I ran into one joker (I hesitate to say troll) who was blasting “Never Gonna Give You Up” over his headset and following people around “dancing” with emotes. It was way more funny than annoying, but that's the worst (can you call it worst?) that I've seen. Everyone else is just doing missions and helping out.
The radio is back and maybe it's just me but I swear I hear the same five songs over and over. And the Beach Boys are an odd add. I love the song but it's so out of the time period and mood that they usually go for. The first time I heard it I thought that guy I mentioned above switched songs. But they added some songs that are very appropriate for the setting: Country Roads and Sixteen Tons especially.
The survival aspect is pretty well done. Imagine a Rust kind of system but way less strict. It’s more refined than the survival mode they added to Fallout 4 and a could imagine them learning some things for their next single player games.
But the gunplay is the same as in Fallout 4, which is to say, not stellar. Sometimes I'll be shooting and I'm positive my crosshair is on the enemy, but I miss. This could also have something to do with server sync issues, but it's annoying. VATS is back, but it's only useful for targeting because it no longer slows time to a crawl (naturally) so if you're being swarmed by ghouls (which I was a few minutes ago) and VATS is useless because you leave yourself open to attack (which it WAS), and you're clearly shooting the ghoul but it's missing (which it was), and your game hard locks for 5 seconds (which it did), you're going to be lucky to get out alive... which I was. BARELY got the stimpack in time and got very heavily irradiated.
So... there are issues here. This is the main problem I have, honestly. With Fallout 4, even in survival mode, you could rely on VATS to overcome the less-than-amazing gunplay. In Fallout 76, when I can, I tend to use melee just because it's easier to overcome the shortcomings.
And there are some bugs. It wouldn't be a Bethesda game without them. Some of these bugs are progress halting bugs, which haven't been patched. I don't think I've been hit with any yet, but it's a common complaint. I'm not sure what their plan is for patches and server maintenance, but hopefully they're on top of it and quick to patch. The thing with Bethesda games is that usually, a bug can be overcome with an unofficial patch mod or a console command, neither of which is an option since the logic is server-side. Even with single-player Bethesda games that aren't getting official updates, it's not recommended to play them without those unofficial patch mods because some serious bugs were just kinda left in their games. So, if they aren't on top of things there will be problems, but I'm sure they know that, and again, I hope they're quick to fix this stuff.
I ended up buying a physical copy for PC because I wanted some shelf candy, and it luckily came in on the day I finished Red Dead Redemption 2, so it was ready for me. But if you’re planning on going that route to save a little bandwidth, don’t bother. The PC version is a DVD case with a download code in it. It download-only for PC. I also grabbed the collectors edition strategy guide because I LOVE what Bethesda does with those, and this one is no different. It’s packed with a lot of useful stuff and I’d beautifully made.
When the big title they were about to announce was rumored to be an online-only Fallout, I was a little bummed. Then their E3 conference got me excited for it. Then as time went on and more press came out about it, I lost more and more interest as time went on. Reading about player experiences and watching some videos from the beta nearly killed my interest, if I'm being honest. But ultimately I'm a Bethesda/Fallout megafan and I knew I'd buy it.
And I'm glad I did, pending how it's handled over the game's life. This is new grounds for Bethesda so the verdict will be out pending their responsiveness. But yeah, overall it’s pretty good so far and keeps me wanting to come back. It won't have the depth and development of a standard Fallout title, which is what I would have preferred over an online survival game, but that's fine. If this was Fallout 5 and that's the direction they were taking Fallout, I'd be disappointed, but I think a franchise can handle different types of games if it makes sense, and survival certainly makes sense for Fallout. It’ll take some time to really judge it but so far it has a lot that interests me and nothing that really strongly puts me off, which is not what I was expecting but I'm glad to be surprised.
If you have this on PC, send me a friend request, and please don't grief me. I'm "panickedthumb" in game, because Bethesda won't let you change your screen name.
EDIT: Some updated thoughts.
I finally hooked up a headset when Greg popped up at my camp. We spent a couple hours wandering Appalachia, did an event (and avoided another), did some quests and looting.
At least in the early game, the gameplay loop is basically:
1. Get a quest or ten and go do what you need to do for them.
2. Get distracted by events, new locations to scout, new lore to find, and everything else you discover and make multiple trips back to camp to drop stuff off.
And this is a really satisfying gameplay loop because of number 2. For me, the quests are mostly to give you a task to do that takes you to new places so that the large map isn't overwhelming. I still probably have training wheels on, honestly. I'm a lowly level 10. But so far it's keeping me interested.
But I'm not a fan of the leveling system at all. Every level you put a point into one of your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. attributes, and select a card that applies to that attribute. You also get a random set of perk cards every two levels, and you can pick and choose what you want from all the cards you've collected. I find it a bit too random. It's nice to be able to swap your perks whenever you want, but it really feels like a step back from Fallout 4, which already felt like a step back from Fallout 3 and New Vegas.