Since its debut at E3 2018 in June, “Fallout 76” has mystified some fans of Bethesda Game Studios’ post-apocalyptic role-playing series. It’s not a purely single-player affair like past entries, but also not an online game that’s solely focused on aggressive player vs. player combat. In Bethesda’s view, “Fallout 76” finds an ideal middle ground between them.
Players may not fully understand the scope or moment-to-moment feel of the action until the pre-release beta test launches in October, but the game’s creators continue to try and set the stage as best they can—and assuage any fears in the meantime.
That was true once again this weekend at Bethesda’s QuakeCon convention outside of Dallas, Texas, in which “Fallout 76” development leads discussed new elements of this fall’s survival-centric adventure and tried to answer some of the community’s top questions.
“People who come to the office and play it, at first they’re like, ‘This is the “Fallout” I know and love,’” said Todd Howard, game director and Bethesda Game Studios head. “I’d say 80% of it probably is the ‘Fallout’ that everyone is used to, and the other 20% is really different.”
The 80% of that equation may be comforting to longtime aficionados. The post-apocalyptic setting is still richly detailed and compelling, plus “Fallout 76” provides ample character customization to let players concoct their own unique adventures. Furthermore, the game’s trademark sense of humor remains intact, with cartoonish cinematics filled with over-the-top violence, plus little jokes and sly writing along the way.
It’s the other 20% that may take some getting used to from fans. The key difference is that instead of having non-playable characters in the world to further the story, every other character is now controlled by another living human. That shift will be deeply felt in almost every imaginable respect, from narrative to combat, interactions, and the newfound element of cooperation—including the C.A.M.P. settlement-building component.
While that change will undoubtedly bring surprises for players, it has also required the creators to rethink so much of the core “Fallout” experience from past games. What works in a closed-off, single-player experience doesn’t necessarily hold up once online servers and potentially millions of other players are introduced.
For example, the team showcased the new player progression system. As before, you’ll have seven “S.P.E.C.I.A.L.” attributes for your player, including Endurance or Charisma, and then there are various perks that you can equip that bring in unique abilities. Hundreds of perk cards are available and more unlock over time, with players able to carry more as they level up and swap cards in and out to shift gears a bit.
However, while the Charisma attribute could help a player manipulate computer-controlled characters in past games, that doesn’t work in a multiplayer setting. Finding a new direction “was a very interesting discussion amongst the team,” said development director Chris Meyer. Now, in “Fallout 76,” Charisma has more of a team-centric focus, with abilities that help allies or even benefit you when working with teammates.
Another past element, the V.A.T.S. targeting system, has also been significantly reworked for “Fallout 76.” It happens in real-time now, instead of in a slowed-down moment, and targeting specific body parts in combat is a perk. As a result, V.A.T.S. isn’t nearly as useful right from the start, but Howard said that Perception-focused characters who invest their points will see more of an advantage over time.
Online play also introduces the issue of griefing from antagonistic players, and Howard finally revealed their approach to overcoming that potential annoyance. If a player begins attacking another, the victim can choose to engage and trigger a proper PVP battle with rewards, including a bonus should the fallen player seek revenge once he or she respawns.
However, if the victim chooses not to engage, the damage inflicted by the attacker is much less than usual. Still, that weakened damage can gradually build, and should the unwilling combatant die, the aggressor gets no rewards—and instead is branded a “wanted murderer” within the game.
“We turn the assholes into interesting content,” said Howard. “They appear on your map as a red star. Everybody sees them and they have a bounty on their head. That bounty comes out of their own caps, and they can’t see the other players on the map. We had this idea, like, ‘Let’s make them interesting content.’ When anybody murders somebody when we’re playing in the office, everyone sees it on the map and it is awesome.”
That’s one way that Bethesda Game Studios is trying to overcome griefers in the game, but it’s one of many tweaks needed to make “Fallout 76” a friendlier place for everyone.
In fact, the ability to damage structures—something that players can do to damage rival bases—actually came out of necessity, since it was initially possible to quickly build a C.A.M.P. around another player and trap him or her within it. “They needed the ability to damage the walls just to get out of the prison you have built for them,” said Howard.
Project leader Jeff Gardiner said that one testing session with their quality assurance team prompted testers to “be the biggest assholes they could” to discover more potential griefing issues. “We got a lot of good notes that session,” he added.
Ultimately, however, Bethesda understands that the game will evolve once large numbers of players get their hands on it, and that issues and exploits they can’t even imagine will emerge in time. That’s part of why they’re doing a beta test—colorfully called the “Break-It Early Test Application”—ahead of the November 14 release, and why they fully expect that things will go awry.
“This is an all-new thing, so we need to stress-test a lot of systems. That’s what we called it the Break-It Early Test Application because this is going to break. We’re pretty sure of that. Get ready. We need to make sure we’re ready for when everyone comes in and it all crashes the first moment,” said Howard with a laugh. “We need to make sure that we’re ready to fix that really, really fast.”
And for anyone worried that the move into multiplayer territory will prevent private server and modification support in “Fallout 76,” worry not: both will be in the game. Bethesda is still sorting out the details, but Howard affirmed that the game will feature those elements.
“That is something that, given the online nature of [“Fallout 76″], is going to be very, very complicated,” he said. “But we’re committed to it, and we’ve been starting to design what that system is going to look like. It’s a complicated problem, but one that we are 100% committed to solving.”