Category Archives: Fallout

The Real Issue of Fallout 76

Played an unhealthy amount of the Fallout 76 Beta this weekend. I’m now convinced of a few things.

FO76_Farm

Oh country roads…

First, PvP and griefing will largely be irrelevant. Some people may have claimed the same thing before the beta even went live, but having now experienced the game for myself? Yeah, it’ll be no biggie. My one “PvP” experience was inside the Morgantown Airport “public instance,” one of the locations the game funnels you into for story purposes. While trying to access the computer, some guy with a shotgun was shooting me at point-blank range (for like 1 damage). As I looked at him, I saw what presumably was his buddy nearby, naked and holding an axe. At first, I misinterpreted the red “50” over his head as being his level (it was actually the Caps reward for killing him), so I decided to walk calmly to the exit and left the area. They did not follow me outside the instance. I came back later and completed the quest.

Now, yes, their shenanigans caused my behavior to change. It’s also possible to find yourself in the middle of a fight with actual enemies, which would prevent you from Fast Traveling away to wherever. It’s also technically possible for dedicated griefers to Fast Travel to wherever you Fast Traveled to… unless it’s your own CAMP, in which case your Turrets would do your dirty work.

But the real reason none of that matters? Because you get a random server every time you log in. You will not see the same people ever again.

Incidentally, random servers is also the real issue with Fallout 76.

At first, the idea seems liberating. There will not be any “alpha tribes” in Fallout 76 who systematically take over everything. There will not be any sort of administrative busywork in finding servers with the lowest ping or whatever. There is no concern about picking the wrong server, or being left on a dead one, or being on one that is overstuffed. People will pop in, people will pop out, and life will go on.

The impermanence cuts both ways though.

FO76_Workshop

Junk might actually be the most valuable out of those.

One of the big features in Fallout 76 are public Workshops. These are locations that you can capture and claim for your own, and have to periodically defend from waves of enemies. In exchange, you can use Workshop materials to craft basically a 2nd (or 3rd, etc) CAMP to your liking, including being able to Fast Travel back to it for free. Build walls, traps, turrets, crafting stations, and so on. Most importantly, you can craft Resource extractors on specific nodes in the Workshop area, and these extractors will produce 25 whatevers per hour. This is really good if you’re looking for a specific resource, of course – concrete, gold scrap, acid, titanium, to name a few that I’ve seen.

But guess what: the moment you log off, for any reason, for any length of time… poof. You’re on a different server the moment you log back in. I have heard it claimed that your Workshop setup will remain for the next person to have to clear, but you personally will never see that specific Workshop again. Now, you could certainly head back to that same Workshop on a new server and set everything back up. But… why? Even if you blueprint your setup such that you don’t have to fiddle with placing all the turrets over again, the impermanence makes such a task a bizarre sort of daily chore.

Speaking of dailies, there are Daily Quests in Fallout 76 as well. Unless it’s weird beta behavior, these are reset every time you log into a different server too.

Speaking of logging into different servers, a lot of items exist out in the world for you to pick up. For example, there are many known locations for Power Armor that are just laying around. You can’t really equip the Power Armor until level 40, but you can certainly scrap it or sell it to a vendor. And guess what… another copy of that Power Armor is going to exist on a different server in the same place, unless someone just happened to have picked it up before you got there.

As you can see, the real issue with Fallout 76 is its random server situation. It’s not just the potential exploits of farming the same location across multiple servers. It’s the fact that random servers also removes Workshops as being worthwhile to own over time in any capacity. And later down the road? What happens if you spend day/weeks finding all the nuclear codes, launch a missile to create a high-level nuclear zone, and then… disconnect. Oops. Is this why Bethesda was stating the nuke thing is a team effort? So that if you disconnect, you can (presumably) get back to a specific server by joining a friend who is still there?

Ultimately, these are solvable problems. Somewhat. Todd Howard states that eventually there will be private servers such that you can control who or who is not allowed to play with you. This permanence will make taking over Workshops mean something, even if it’s a bit OP in the equivalent of single-player… although waves of enemies do attack the location periodically. This will not stop the ability of people to server hop to farm resources, and I’m not sure how Bethesda will solve that issue. Maybe they won’t. Maybe a baseline level of exploitation is acceptable – people have been crouch-sneaking into a corner for hours in their games for a long time now.

Other than that teeny, tiny systemic issue that impacts every corner of the game’s design? Fallout 76 is great. I want to be playing the game some more right now. And I guess in a week I’ll be able to.

Impressions: Fallout 76 (Beta)

I managed to put a solid five hours of play into the Fallout 76 Beta last night.

My overall impression is that the game is fun, despite the frustrations. Whether the game will continue being fun for any particular length of time is another matter entirely.

Let’s start with the basics. The game is gorgeous. Prior Fallout titles judiciously used green/brown wasteland scenery and only populated certain pockets with relatively normal plant life. Here in West Virginia though, you start out in a vibrant, Autumnal wilderness. The music has also been surprisingly good. In fact, I pretty much have left the Pip-Boy radio off through my entire playthrough. One, because it was unnecessary, and two, because everyone around you can hear it.

Speaking of other people, well, they exist. I did not run into any griefers during my playthrough, nor did anyone stream rap music or racial slurs. Conversations were cordial, and mostly focused on pointing people towards where the good loot was located. As reported pretty much everywhere, there is no text chat – everything is open mic.

That said, people are also distracting. Listening to one of the dozens of holotapes strewn across the landscape is hard when XxSephirothxX is chatting about (and demonstrating) how the cars can be punched until they explode in a huge fireball. You can always listen to the holotapes later, but they are often context sensitive to where you found them.

The economy of the game takes a significant shift in thinking. Within about ten minutes of starting, I came across a few ruined buildings with about five Scorched (burnt ghouls that can use guns). I killed four but actually died to the last one, which appeared to be an elite of some kind (had a crown near his level indicator). I respawned, walked back down, picked up my bag of dropped junk, killed the elite, and started looting. The elite was somehow carrying half a dozen pipe rifles. Jackpot, right?

Not really.

There are vendor robots and kiosks in various locations, but the vendor rate appears to be 10% or less. As in, if the item says it’s value is 30 caps, you get 3 caps at best. Fast traveling about four inches on the map costs 7 caps. Moving your CAMP costs 5 caps. Blueprints are 120 caps.

The vast majority of the time, you are much better off scrapping… well, everything. Collect a bunch of weapon, Junk, and other sundries, find a workbench of any kind (thankfully) and break them down for parts like scrap metal, screws, and the worth-its-weight-in-gold aluminum. Breaking down weapons gives you a chance to acquire modding blueprints and the like as well. Then take those bits and pieces and upgrade, repair, and otherwise craft the gear you want.

This feels like more of a sea change in practice than it might come across in text. Damn near everything drops weapons… which I guess normally happens in Fallout games. But now you need to hoard stuff and collect all the things so you can scrap it, because crafting is now a huge component to the game at every level. Settlements in Fallout 4 might have been whatever to you, but your CAMP is basically the only home you’ll ever have. Weapons and armor wear down and break at inopportune times, and even if they don’t, you need this stuff to upgrade your existing stock.

Having said all of the above, there are some somewhat serious concerns.

For one thing, the inventory management of Fallout 76 is hardcore. Now, it’s a typical Fallout game insofar as weight is basically the only driving concern… but it’s a big one. A lot of people on Reddit found out early that your Stash (shared inventory) has a weight limit of 400 lbs of stuff. This might seem like a lot or a little, but the bottom line is that you can easily reach this cap in less than 10 hours of playing. Hell, if you come across some early Power Armor, that’s nearly 100 lbs right there. Junk has weight, scrap has weight, weapons that you can’t use yet – yes there are minimum level restrictions on weapons – have weight. All of this adds up quickly, and I have no idea what exactly the plan is for when you aren’t level 7 and have a full Stash. Throw everything out? Only loot 1-2 key resources? I’m hoping that this weight limit is a Beta thing.

Another issue is that this game is very much a console port. Again. Pressing Esc brings up your map. Then you have to press Z to open the settings/options menu. What? Fallout has never had a particularly good UI scheme, but I found it largely impossible to tell what blueprints I had just acquired from scrapping a gun. For example, I unlocked “Ivory Handle” but did not see it as an option when modifying any of my guns. Maybe it was an ivory handle to a knife? No idea. You have to dig into the Pip-Boy to find out what the disease you just picked up does. Again, this is par for the course for Fallout games, but this is also a no-pause, no safe place survival game.

Don’t get me started on the CAMP screen when trying to build shit. Let’s just say that Z and C are involved to navigate around. It’s not intuitive at all.

There is no Beta tonight, but there will be some extra time this weekend. I plan on playing as much as possible. The game is a lot of fun, despite my grumblings. But like I said at the beginning, it’s hard to tell for how long. At some point, there will be a transition from “loot all the things” to “can’t loot all the things” to “don’t care about looting things.” It’s tough to forecast how quickly that transition will occur, but I can already see it on the horizon.

When it comes, I suppose that’s when we’ll see the griefers really come out of the woodwork.

Split Baby

Have you ever seen a friend or coworker make a terrible decision in what felt like slow motion? Like they asked for your advice, you said “No, that’s a terrible idea,” and then they do the thing anyway? Then they stop back by, tell you the terrible result, and then detail their even worse plan for “fixing” things?

Welcome to the Fallout 76 PvP Show. Todd Howard is your host, and tonight he’ll be splitting a baby.

QuakeCon just ended, and there was an entire panel on Fallout 76. A transcript/summary of sorts is up on Reddit and that’s where I’m getting the following information:

Question: PVP. People are concerned. What’s the deal with griefing? How can we we enjoy our own game or ruin somebody else’s?

  • Todd jokes, “This is why I don’t go on reddit!”
  • The game is designed to be both PVE and PVP as part of the core experience. They want you to have a sense of danger around other players, but (and he muses here that it’s weird to say), they want that sense of danger without griefing.
  • When you shoot another player, you do only a small amount of damage to them, not full damage, akin to an annoyance or an invitation to PVP. If the other player shoots you back and engages, the kid gloves come off and everybody is doing full damage.
  • There’s a cap reward for killing another player; the higher their level, the bigger their reward. After you die, you can choose to “seek revenge”, which doubles the cap value that the enemy who killed you is worth.
  • Even if you do not engage the enemy, they can eventually kill you with that reduced damage. “Which sounds terrible…” but if you do that to somebody who doesn’t want to fight, you get no reward, you become a wanted murderer.
  • When you become a wanted murderer, a bounty is placed on you and is sent out to every player on the map. When a wanted murderer is killed, they pay the bounty out of their own cap supply (there was a large applause here).
  • A wanted murderer loses the ability to see other players on the map.
  • A wanted murder is always visible on the map to every player, even when sneaking.
  • Their goal was to turn players who are trying to ruin other players’ experiences into interesting content, and they are really happy with how it works.
  • As a side note, when you see other players on the map, you don’t get their exact location, only the general area.
  • Jeff shares that during the last play session, somebody became a murderer. He had just finished building a high-power sniper rifle when he got the notification of the bounty, and set out to take him down. He stalked the area until he came across the murderer exiting a building, where he popped his head clean off with his sniper. He looted some of the junk used a dance emote, took a picture over the body, and logged off.

Later on, there were two additional notes of… er… note:

  • You can choose to ignore specific players. If a player kills you, a button prompt appears allowing you to ignore them for that session. If you ignore them, they can’t see you on the map, which makes it pretty much impossible for them to mess with you due to the size of the map.
  • They’re also working on a pacifist flag that you can activate, so your stray bullets will never harm another player by mistake. They mentioned how players who were trying to egg other players on would wait for them to shoot a creature, then run in front of them in order to grief them, and the pacifist flag was born.

So, let’s recap. If you’re out in the world, you cannot be instantly killed by a sniper griefer. That’s good. Griefers can, apparently, keep poking you with bullets until you are near-death though. And if you were in the middle of fighting off a pack of feral ghouls…? Question mark. If they outright poke you to death, the “wanted murderer” status kicks in and they’ll be a big target for everyone else while also losing the ability to see other players coming for them on the map. It’s not specified whether or not this status persists if they log off, or lasts until they are killed, or what. The griefer will also lose Caps directly from their own pocket, although it isn’t specified what happens if they don’t have the amount of Caps available.

Or, you know, what happens if the griefer has a buddy or alt account. Account A kills you, gets Wanted status, Account B kills A, and then hands the bounty reward back over to A.

And just think about this PvP system for a moment. You “poke” them with bullets, and if they return fire, then the match is on. If you’re looking for a fight, there’s no reason not to just fire off a few rounds at everyone you see. I mean, the only way you can even find consensual PvP is by firing at other players. Presumably you would only start fights from an advantageous position, and being ahead on HP is already good. So we’re absolutely in a “shoot first, ask questions later” state.

Plus, death penalties are back. You don’t lose your weapons or armor, but you drop your “Junk,” which I’m assuming means generic crafting materials. Considering that that is probably why you are out exploring in the world in the first place, it’s pretty important. Unless, of course, you want to engage in some PvP, in which case you likely aren’t carrying around any Junk with you, since you drop it all on death.

So, we have two classes of players. The ones who want to fight and will have nothing to lose, literally, for just shooting you several times… and then everyone else just trying to get on with their day. Instead of, you know, just making PvE and PvP servers. This convoluted nonsense is what happens when you split a baby.

None of this is even what really worries me about Fallout 76. What worries me is the incredible lengths Bethesda is going through to prop up this pillar of specific gameplay. Which means this was an arbitrary, top-down design decision that they are willing to bend the whole game around just to make it work. “Every NPC is a human player!” You can still do that in a PvE server. So… why? Why bullet pokes instead of emotes, or raising a flag on your map marker, or just having PvP servers?

The simplest explanation is that they feel there’s nothing else worth doing in the game. Getting more powerful so you can kill your human opponents though? That’s a perpetual hamster wheel that will be spinning until the heat death of the universe, no further dev time required.

Another Bad Good Idea

It sometimes astonishes me how certain game design decisions make it off an office whiteboard and into real, live games played by people. Like, do the designers realize how bad the idea is at the time, but think it’s the least bad idea of their available options? Or do they simply not think it through?

Exhibit A:

In a video posted to the official Fallout Twitter account, Jeff Gardiner, project lead for Fallout 76, was asked: “How do sneak perks and detection work in Fallout 76?”

Gardiner responded:

“As soon as you crouch, which engages our stealth mode, the dot [AKA your character marker] will very quickly fade away, so other players won’t be able to find you.”

There is still some confusion about this mechanism on Reddit, considering that there are two “dots” to which this can refer: the pip on the compass ribbon, or your character’s dot on the map (which is currently set to display everyone’s position all the time). Regardless, I have seen some celebration going on from people who believe the above is “the answer” to what they were worried about occurring in Fallout 76, e.g. being hunted down by griefers.

Let me explain what will happen in practice: you will be hunted down by griefers while hindering your own gameplay the entire time.

If Fallout 76 launches with the ability to see everyone on the paper map (as it is currently), the people doing the player-hunting will have perfect information regarding your location and direction of travel. “But you’ll be able to see them too, and then know to hide.” Nope. The only time you’ll know they’re coming is if you are running around with the map out, obscuring your view of the game world and otherwise not engaging with it. Not to mention that knowing your target is in a certain area is more than enough to go on for hunting purposes, so the griefer can check that you’re exploring some ruins, and then sneak that direction to intercept.

Suppose you do happen to notice their dot moving towards you… what then? You crouch, they crouch, and the both of you perform a crabwalking game of cat and mouse. Sounds fun. Maybe you just hide in a bathroom, map out, and wait to either surprise them or hope that they go away. Meanwhile, mobs are going to be respawning and attacking you because, you know, you were in the middle of PvE before xXxDethClawz69xXx came to pay you a visit.

Suppose Bethesda removes the map markers for players upon release, and thus this dot is really the compass ribbon. For one thing, that’s a lot better, as it would prevent people from starting to hunt you from across the map. However, we are once again in a situation where you are encouraged – under the threat of player killing – to be Sneaking around 24/7. Except it won’t work as much for you because, again, you are trying to engage in normal PvE and your hypothetical opponent is not. Remember, VATS is real-time, so taking out a sprinting Feral Ghoul while crouched is not going to be easy without an alpha-strike; there are going to be moments when you are map visible.

That there are mechanisms in place to prevent one particular player from killing you over and over is nice, but irrelevant. I prefer to not be killed, even if it “only” costs me a bit of time. Thus, the optimal method of gameplay will be to Sneak all the time, crawling around the floor at 50% speed. That is kinda how I play most Fallout games anyway, but only when I’m actively trying to get Sneak Attack Criticals. I’m not looking forward to doing that as a matter of course, every minute of every play session, while checking the map every 5 seconds.

Like I mentioned before, I get it. There are some emergent stories lost when you become immune to the pointless aggression of other people. There will be the thrill of scavenging in a warehouse while crouched, and see an oblivious stranger appear down the hallway. Or perhaps the triumph of a griefer getting killed, as was shown in the Fallout 76 video. Hell, if there are Bottlecap Mines and other traps, maybe you look forward to seeing people try and fail to take you out.

But there are definitely gameplay costs involved, and I’m not sure how much consideration was given beyond “wouldn’t it be cool if Sneak worked on players?” Presumably people appear on the map because otherwise it would be difficult to find others in such a large game space, right? Well, the game space might be large, but the density likely isn’t, so key resources are likely to draw players to specific locations out of convenience. Then you have the fact that a dangerous (PvE) world is going to involve the firing of a lot of bullets, which other players could hear.

Ultimately, we’ll see how it shakes out in the Beta. And perhaps that is what Bethesda is looking forward to as well. But I remain surprised how often incredibly flawed ideas persist almost all the way until release. Then again, working at my IRL job, I can sometimes see how it happens too.

Stage 76: Acceptance

Well, I certainly feel better now.

Essentially, almost all of my concerns surrounding Fallout 76 have been addressed in several follow-up interviews with Todd Howard and others. There is something to be said about the failure of BGS’s marketing department that there needed to be three days’ worth of interviews and a 40-minute documentary to explain what kind of game the studio is even putting out, but whatever. It’s a Bethesda game, so if we can successfully log into it and the game not immediately explode, things are going well.

Here are the videos I have watched lately:

The summation? The griefing potential in Fallout 76 is limited.

You do not lose any items when you die, and you can choose were to respawn afterwards. When you log off, your base disappears with you. Anything you build can be repaired if destroyed. You can pack up and move your base pretty much at any time, and potentially save the layout as a blueprint for easy re-setup. Nukes do destroy everything in the area (for a time), and they also drop a endgame zone with high-level monsters in the blast radius, but there is apparently enough time for you to pack up and scoot out of the area. Plus, with the nukes, there are actual high-value areas (monster-spawning zones) for which the nukes are intended to destroy. Ergo, for every pack of sadists collecting launch codes for trolling potential, there will also be a group of PvE players interested in grinding loot and otherwise competing to Do The Right Thing.

Oh, and there will be areas (including the beginning area) in which no player bases can be built, specifically to avoid scenarios where you cannot find/complete a quest.

There are still some areas of mild concern – presently all players are visible on the map all the time – but honestly? I’m good now. People may indeed track you down and murder you from afar. There are systems in place already, apparently, to prevent them from being able to continue harassing you thereafter. And… I kinda get it. If other people were impossible to attack, griefers would just find another way to grief. But this way, there is a little bit of drama. Would you implicitly trust every person you ran into after the apocalypse? Maybe if you needed to supplies, or felt contact was inevitable. So now, there will be stories.

I will still, of course, be rolling on a PvE server if those are available.

Fallout76_Order

Speaking of, I already pre-ordered. That’s not something I do but Amazon offers 20% off preorders, and more crucially, preordering grants access to the beta. Member of Press©, and all that, right?

So we’ll see how things go soon.