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‘Fallout 76’: More hands-on impressions

You can accomplish a lot of things in three hours. Experiencing everything a “Fallout” game has to offer isn’t one of them. Yet last week at The Greenbrier resort, during a special hands-on event hosted by Bethesda, three hours is all the time I got to spend poking around the virtual West Virginia landscape in “Fallout 76,” by far the most ambitious title to ever bear the “Fallout” name.

The limited playtime prevented me from exploring much of the map, which is four-times larger than “Fallout 4,” or from partaking in player-vs.-player combat. While my team did encounter other groups of human players in our travels, we did so before reaching Level 5, which is a prerequisite for engaging in PvP. I also barely scratched the surface of base building, which plays a much larger role in “Fallout 76” after being introduced in “Fallout 4.”

A full recap of my “Fallout 76” adventures can be found here, but I wanted to share a few additional thoughts that didn’t quite make it into that piece:

  • Country roads — The team at Bethesda Game Studios did a fantastic job re-imagining West Virginia. The areas I visited were full of bright, fall foliage and the terrain was exactly what you would expect to find in much of the southern part of the state — uneven, rocky and steep. Beyond that, I enjoyed discovering unexpected areas such as the Tyler County Fairgrounds and look forward to seeing what other surprises remain tucked away.
  • Handle with care — From my brief hands-on time with the game and discussions with developers, it’s clear that the culture of West Virginia and its people were treated with respect during the creation of “Fallout 76.” This was one of my biggest concerns going in, that West Virginians would again be painted with broad strokes as “rednecks” or “hillbillies.” Thankfully that doesn’t appear to be the case.
  • Survival of the fittest — In addition to multiplayer, “Fallout 76” introduces elements of survival. Players must keep a watchful eye on both their hunger and thirst to avoid incurring negative effects, such as the inability to sprint. Initially I was worried this would become tedious, but it ended up being just the opposite. As a player who regularly consumes food and drink as a way of maintaining their HP, I was able to keep my hunger and thirst in check without really even trying. I’m sure as resources dwindle, this could possibly become something that needs to be monitored more closely, but only time will tell how much of an impact the survival elements will have on the overall gameplay experience.
  • Lost in the woods — When you die in “Fallout 76” — which I did quite often during my demo — you drop your gear in a brown paper bag at the spot where you perished. If you want to give another player a weapon or ammo, you drop them on the ground in a brown paper bag. While this may sound like a convenient way to manage resources, keep in mind that the ground is also usually brown. And often thick with undergrowth. In other words, it’s really hard to find a brown paper bag on the forest floor. I’m not sure if this is something that can be tweaked before release, or perhaps I just need new glasses, but I found it mildly frustrating nonetheless.
  • Weather or not — While exploring what remains of Charleston a thunderstorm erupted in the sky. I found the lighting in “Fallout 76” to be stunning in most instances, but at no point was it more breathtaking than during that storm. The flashes of lightning lit up the world around me and the booming claps of thunder had me jumping out of my seat. I hope to see more of this in the final version.
  • A river runs through it? — One thing that struck me as I returned home from Bethesda’s event at The Greenbrier resort was the lack of actual rivers in “Fallout 76.” Or at least there were none to be found in the areas I explored. In Charleston, there was what looked to be a dried-up river bed where the Kanawha should have been flowing. And water was nowhere to be found as I wandered beneath the New River Gorge Bridge. I found small streams and ponds, but none of the larger bodies of water W.Va. is known for. I was especially surprised to have not encountered some kind of whitewater, which the state is famous for. Did all of the water evaporate when the bombs dropped? Do the rivers and lakes exist only in parts of the map that I didn’t see? This will certainly require more investigation when the B.E.T.A. arrives.

While I still have some questions regarding certain aspects of “Fallout 76,” the three hours I spent with the game offered a little more clarity as to what players can expect when the game launches. Despite the changes to the gameplay formula, this still largely feels like “Fallout,” and as someone who has invested hundreds of hours across multiple entries in the series, that’s really all I was hoping for.

In my limited experience, the addition of multiplayer proved to be quite fun and I certainly see the potential that exists in exploring the great unknown of West Virginia with a group of friends. Toss in the fact that I can still get my traditional “Fallout” fix by eschewing the team structure and venturing off on my own and there’s reason to be optimistic.

I’ll have plenty more to say about “Fallout 76” as the Nov. 14 release date draws near, but you’ll have a chance to experience the game for yourself in just a couple of weeks when Bethesda opens up the B.E.T.A. on Oct. 23.