Fallout 76’s is hosting its first beta this week, and I streamed my time with it on Kotaku’s Twitch channel. Four hours is a long time to watch someone bumble in a buggy beta, so I’ve assembled my escapes into a short video showing off just how absurd this multiplayer spin-off is.
I haven’t sorted out my thoughts enough on Fallout 76 except to decide that it is incredibly ridiculous. From the expansionist conceit of leaving a vault to populate the West Virginia wasteland to the clumsily-implemented jumping puzzles and outpost full of party hat-wearing players, it’s hard to take Fallout 76 seriously. The series has always vacillated between political commentary and systems-driven emergent hijinks. Obsidian balanced the two in Fallout: New Vegas, while Bethesda mostly managed the latter with Fallout 4. As time goes on, the Fallout series has become less about making any sort of statement and more about the bloody ragdolling that might occur when you blast a deathclaw. It’s to the point where nukes are a silly game mechanic in 76, a bright bit of Michael Bay eye candy for players who collect enough widgets to trigger the bombs.
Fallout 76 embraces chaos, populating the world with an endless supply of floppy ghouls, angry possums, and rampaging hordes of bees set on destroying the player. You can build makeshift settlements basically anywhere; you can claim factories and fight off any player who tries to take them. You will find shrines to the Mothman, marvel at a wasted waterpark, mutate until you gain Bird Bones, and generally act like an entitled jackass. Embracing all this can be entertaining, but it means leaving behind any expectations for the series’ ability to convey a message or tell a story. Fallout 76 is Rust with sloppy branding slapped on it; it is a digital clown car with spinning rims and a bitchin’ spoiler. It is an adult-only playground where you can eat paste, run around naked, and shoot giant mow-skeet-ohs.
In his assessment of the game, my colleague Ethan Gach notes that Fallout 76 seems like it is two different games. It’s caught between being a Fallout game and a multiplayer survival game, and, although it’s hard to judge from a limited beta session, I’m not sure it’s doing either quite well. But there is momentary fun and beauty to be found. Wild textures, mole rat swarms, verdant forests—exploring Fallout 76 was never boring, at least.