To put it out there first and foremost, I really enjoyed Fallout 4.
It was certainly different in a lot of ways than the previous (and much loved) predecessors in the Fallout franchise, under new direction as a Bethesda property, but it gave me that post-apocalypse role-playing game that I was after, with enough world to explore for hours on end, a quirky and often amusing setting full of hidden secrets, memorable characters to meet and enough combat to keep me on my toes from start to finish.
But this isn’t Fallout 4, and this is by far the most different Fallout game yet.
Just as ESO is to Skyrim, Fallout 76 is the massive multiplayer online successor to Fallout 4, with all the potential and complications that come with it.
As a huge online multiplayer title, there are hundreds of hours of progression to be had to truly experience the game at it’s fullest, and I was only able to play for long enough to hit Level 8 before writing this review (partially because I was busy sacrificing my beard and filming it for charity), but with a few hours playing alone, a few hours playing with friends and even some time spent teaming up with strangers, here’s how Fallout 76 looks and feels to me.
Particularly if you compare it to previous Fallout games, but even compared to other console generation MMO style titles like Destiny, Tom Clancy's The Division or even Elder Scrolls Online, the story feels a little lacking in Fallout 76.
That isn't to say there isn't any, but the mission statement of this game is very much to set the scene, give you a little push in the right direction and let you and the rest of the players make of the post-apocalyptic sandbox what you will.
Minor Spoiler: Unlike other Fallout games, all the human NPCs are already dead. While there's lots of development hidden in the holo cassettes, voice recordings and written notes throughout the game world, and there are some fun non-human characters to interact with, there's definitely much less character development than in other games.
The Bethesda team have done a great job of maintaining almost all the gameplay from Fallout 4 despite the challenges of real-time online multiplayer, and this leads to a genuinely fun gameplay experience. The game world is big and beautiful and it's interesting and engaging to explore and play in it, but as with most MMO type games, sometimes you can get a little lost in the grind.
Personally I'm playing on Xbox One X, and it looks stunning. I'm actually using the photo mode to take snaps here and there because of how great and how interesting the world looks, and none of the clarity or theme of the game is lost in the mix.
Not only is there a really solid score composed by Inun Zur, but the radio stations available on your pip boy really add to the atmosphere.
My friends and I have been jamming along to Appalachia Radio (yes, Take Me Home, Country Roads is on this one) and with over 50 songs on the playlist, even the long sessions that you might find yourself playing in a game like Fallout 76 don't lend themselves to repeating songs to the point of annoyance.
I might be marking a little harsh on this one because I'm still a little angry that the industry is being pushed in this direction instead of local multiplayer and co-op in full fledged AAA role-playing games, but we've wanted a Fallout world that we could share with our friends for years and this is definitely that.
Playing and reviewing so early on a game this big made me expect lots of bugs, but so far an enemy clipping through a door that was open but looked closed is the only thing I've had any issue with at all.
There's a bit of a learning curve adjusting from regular offline Fallout to the real-time, non-stop nature of Fallout 76, and the internet connection between you and the servers will have a real impact on your gameplay experience (nothing more frustrating than swinging at an enemy that lags out of reach) but on the whole there's not a lot wrong with this from what I've seen.
Some of the unique features of this game are worth a high rating here, the Perks card system for rewarding higher level progression and keeping interesting character development in a balanced MMO context while staying true to the Fallout S.P.E.C.I.A.L perks is one of my favourites.
When you increase your level you choose one of the stats to increase, but you also get a loot drop of new Perk cards. You can change which cards you have equipped at any time, and the stats determine how many cards of each category you can have active at any one time.
Personally I've loaded up on Charisma for my first character, and with the Perks I've got active I'm able to gain a 10% experience boost when part of a team. By using my Charisma to share a Perk, I get to extend that experience boost to the rest of my team, which hasn't hurt my popularity.
On a big picture level, Fallout 76 is encouraging role-playing by setting the stage so well for players to be who and what they want in a brave new world, it's got solid anti-griefing mechanics to allow for a truly shared open-world experience and it's delivering a post-apocalypse online multiplayer world in the age of Battle Royale clones.
It's multiplayer, it's co-op, it doesn't require any prior knowledge of the Fallout franchise and it's packed full of tutorial opportunities to learn how to play organically.
On the downside, it's online only, it's a huge game (both file-size and time required to get the most out of it) and while it's possible to play and enjoy it on your own, without friends or the co-operation of strangers you're likely to find the game gets very difficult as you progress, or you'll need to spend more time on the grind to make up for it.
Although the lack of pre-written plot to pull my character onwards certainly makes this less addictive than the usual RPG allure, the opportunity to jump into such a rich sandbox with my friends and play whoever and however we want to play is more than enough to keep us coming back for more.
I didn't have huge expectations from Fallout 76, but I fully expect to spend many hours in Appalachia with my friends, building our camps, developing our own survivor characters and trying to make our mark on the post-nuke landscape of West Virginia.