Fallout 76, an irradiated odyssey part 4: End-to-ending the map
Fallout 76 boasts the most verdant setting of any Fallout game yet, and we've spent several hours trekking across it to bring you this hands-on preview.
Before I tell you of my cross-country trek across Fallout 76, here's a pro tip. Be warned: using the Pip-Boy no longer pauses the world. You will get your butt chewed off, or a new blowhole installed in your head if you're staring at your wrist-computer map like a moron. Instead of double tapping B to activate your Pip-Boy like any other Fallout title, press Options on the controller to toggle what Bethesda is calling "Quick-Boy mode". It projects the Pip-Boy's screen in front of you – there's no arm-raising animation plus you get a bit more spatial awareness.
I wish I'd know that before doing some insane orienteering during my world's first hands-on. The mission was quite simple. Starting in the absolute north-east point of "Appalachia" at Vault 76, my hideously under-levelled self would make a beeline to the edge of the world in the south-east, to a location called Watoga. I'm a confident Fallout franchise veteran, but what I found down there managed to make even me quake in fear.
Before we go any further, it's important to note that this article is one part of a quadrilogy. My hands on with Fallout 76 represented quite a large chunk of time and content (made possibly by the flights and room bookings paid for by Bethesda). The overload of info I collected warranted four articles. So if you're after my no-nonsense opinion on a specific facet of this game, I recommend you jump directly to the relevant chapter.
Setting out into the West Virginia of 76, one can't help but hum and be reminded of the John Denver classic "Country Roads". Even though the wider Appalachia area has had radiation seep through it to various degrees, it's still "almost heaven". Deep valleys and Blue Ridge Mountains abound, all of it blanketed in the ochre of autumn leaf maples.
It's important to note that the topography of 76's Appalachia is unlike any sandbox you've explored in the series thus far. Real-life West Virginia is the most rugged, up and down state in the US. Gorges and steep mountains will have you constantly meerkating up to find landmarks on the horizon to navigate by. Stumbling into naturally concealed enemy encampments is a frequent occurrence. Getting shin splints by doing a tactical retreat off a cliff to escape these new friends is also common.
Sadly, I didn't see much in the way of new weather systems. Not a single radstorm was spotted – the most striking phenomenon I saw was the odd misty mountain. However, eagle-eyed fans have spotted a list of weather commands in a video interview of a Bethesda dev. If those entries are to be believed, we can expect ash storms, toxic clouds, misty rain and everything in-between.
I should also like to say that 76 is indeed pretty – what with its much trumpeted marketing point of "16 times the detail [of Fallout 4]" – but you could only call it beautiful if you take it within the context of its predecessors. There are much more gob-smacking games out there. That, and this game is nowhere near its final form and more than a little rough. Eyesore shadow and texture pop-in mar what could become quite a handsome display of dapple-lit forest floors and breathing seas of branches pierced by God's rays. The potential for true American beauty is certainly within reach.
I make a number of notable stops on my way to Watoga. Helvetia is a major town that's brimming with Scorched (think radioactive zombies) and clusters of storefronts that have been hastily converted into one big ramshackle, defensible fort. Most of what I pass is wilderness and the occasional petrol station or a handful of cabins taken over by dismember-happy super mutants. I decide not to lay my head there lest it gets added to the pike collection.
When I get over the mountains that neatly bisect the map on a SW to NE diagonal, Appalachia offers up some gold. The impossibly decadent Greenbrier Hotel sits nestled in a central valley. It's a bit of a mixed bag down there – beautiful, Civil War-era architecture and safety indoors, but also angry mobs of potent foes lurking about the gardens. I find myself more impressed and worried later on when I stumble across a military base further south in Huntersville. It'd been taken over by super mutants locked in a state of perpetual war with a trio of Vertibot drones. I detoured them all in the name of survival.
When I finally did reach my destination, I wasn't disappointed. Though Watoga is (uh...was) a towering city of the future, it's now like The Greenbrier – overrun with Protectrons and other droids. The big difference here: none of them are benign. Every clanker in the place wants to murder every meatbag they see. I discover this fact the hard way and beat a retreat into the fields closer to the edge of this world.
While I'm there, I realise that I've stumbled into the lion's den. Though I can't confirm it completely, it seems to me that the Cranberry Fields outside of Watoga are more or less a breeding ground for the worst, most OP-levelled enemies in this game. My puny level 6 self cowered in fear as a dive-bombing Scorched Beast (level 65) did battle with a Deathclaw (21) and a Mirelurk Razorclaw (18). If any of them had so much as coughed in my direction, it would have one-shot killed me.
However, I beat a retreat and ended up accomplishing my mission just as my demo time ran out. Stepping away from the screen, I left with a greater appreciation for what looks to be a fine, if slightly flawed, open-world sandbox. What Bethesda has here is brimming with hideous creatures, hidden cranny loot spots, plus those weird little environmental stories we all love to stumble across and wonder about.
I may go into Fallout 76 with a Pip-Boy, a fully fleshed out map and the means to fast-travel, but I can see still myself getting utterly lost in this world – most likely for years and years to come.
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