Bethesda are currently running the Fallout 76 BETA (Break-it Early Test Application) at intervals over the next week. We had a go – but what did we think?

Despite going out of their way to tell us that War Never Changes, it would seem that Bethesda are shaking up the Fallout formula a little with Fallout 76. An online-only, shared world mutiplayer adventure, Fallout 76 takes place in West Virginia 25 years after the bombs fell, setting it way before any of the other Fallout titles. You are a Vault Dweller from Vault 76; a control vault full of some of the country’s best and brightest. It’s Reclamation Day, and time to reclaim America and rebuild the nation.

The game isn’t out until next month, however the BETA is currently running on all platforms at various intervals throughout the day. Bethesda are using this method to get as many people online as possible in order to put the servers to the test, and we jumped on for the full four hours this morning on PlayStation 4. A few frame rate drops aside, we didn’t experience any game-breaking bugs, and are pleased to report that Fallout 76 comes across as mostly a run-of-the-mill Fallout game – at least for now.

Following an introductory video (good luck not thinking of “War. Terrible War” Hunger Games fans), you awaken in your Vault, and after customising your character are free to roam around as you see fit. Word on the street is you guys had quite the Reclamation Day party last night, and some are nursing a few sore heads from one too many Nuka Colas. Be warned: Nuka Tapper on the very first Terminal you encounter is highly addictive and may render you stuck inside the opening area for upwards of 45 minutes. Play at own risk.

Once you’ve had a look around, you can gather some essentials left out for you on the way out of the Vault, and finally escape into the wilderness. It just so happens that your Vault Overseer has disappeared to do some work of her own accord, and you’ve been tasked with tracking her down by following Holotapes and other clues left behind.

That’s the general idea as far as the story is concerned. Whether you choose to follow it, of course, is completely up to you. There are also plenty of side missions and optional objectives that you pick up along the way; by the end of our short four-hour playthrough, we’d barely hit level 7 and already had five questlines running simultaneously.

Fallout 76, as a whole, is very similar to the rest of the Fallout universe, no matter what you may have expected once you heard it was online only. Servers hover between the 20 and 30 player mark, and the map is huge, so more often than not you will be wandering around the (fresh) Wasteland by yourself. Sure, you’re likely to bump into fellow Vault Dwellers early on in the story as you all stay on the critical path, but as you get more and more spread out and people start to do different things, you’ll find running into others is the exception rather than the rule. For now, anyway. Who knows what will happen when the game has been out for longer and higher-level players are running around. PvP isn’t even unlocked until you hit level 5, so you have the chance to acclimatise yourself before you end up under fire. Even then, you take reduced damage from other players unless you choose to return fire.

At least in the BETA, the Wasteland is actually a very friendly place. I was not targeted for PvP once (again, worth noting that everyone’s around the same level with probably similar weapons) and most people I walked past were happy to exchange a Hello or a Thumbs Up via the handy emote wheel. It’s a great tool to have for those that don’t necessarily want to jump onto voice chat.

As you explore the wilderness, you’re going to want to pick up as much as you can, as you don’t know what you’ll need later. Weapons are hard to come by, and ammunition rarer still, so it’s handy to have a few melee weapons at your disposal, as well as things like fragmentation grenades and molotovs for larger groups of enemies – of which there are plenty of types. You’ll get your smaller things like mole rats, but there are still humanoid enemies like Ghouls to look out for, not to mention other players; and we’d like to wager we haven’t even scratched the surface. Thankfully, we didn’t come across any Scorchbeasts – who knows how that would’ve played out. You’re also going to need to keep an eye on your hunger and thirst meters – this is a survival game, after all. RADS also returns, so you’ll need to monitor that too.

One of the most enjoyable parts of the few hours we played were the public events. Yes, they get extremely repetitive if you’re in the same area for more than, say, 10 minutes, but the loot at the end is worthwhile. They act the same as public events in many other games; you get a notification saying it’s about to happen, and nearby players can travel to the area in the hopes of helping out. It’s a great way to make friends with other players on your server – or finish the event and never speak to each other again. Either way, it’s a distraction if you’re procrastinating the main story – which we often were.

One main difference from the past Fallout games is that the SPECIAL perk system now uses cards that you can obtain from levelling up, or through other means. It takes a bit of getting used to, but once you’ve wrapped your head around the concept it becomes simple.

The key impression we took away from Fallout 76 is that it will not spoon feed you story. You’re going to have to do a lot of reading (and listening) to really get the most out of this game. Check out Terminals, listen to Holos, just pay attention to the world around you. Without other NPCs for you to interact with, Bethesda’s Fallout 76 world building is done entirely through text and other similar means – it’s just up to you to find it.

A BETA like the one for Fallout 76 is a great platform upon which to test server capabilities and gauge public interest in the game, but whether it will be a reliable indication as far as player experience goes remains to be seen. Everyone we encountered was very kind and obliging, but we can’t help but wonder whether that will stay the same in the full release when everyone has a handle on how to play and has scored some of the best weapons and armour in the game. That being said, we thoroughly enjoyed our time with the BETA, and get the feeling that 76 will be enjoyed by both Fallout and online survival players alike. Take the word of this trusty trader that walked past us on our travels: “Home is where the meat is.”

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