Fallout 76: Country roads come calling

It’s long been on my docket to head back into Fallout 76 this year, and now with FFXIV winding down for me and New World still weeks away, I felt like it was a good time to return to Appalachia. I elected to start up a brand-new character to experience the level-adjustment system (and, to be honest, get that thrill out of “discovering” these areas all over again).

As we all know far too well, Bethesda has pretty much the worst character creation tools in the industry. I mean, if you’re trying to make a mutated freak that’ll have you waking up at night in cold sweats, no problem. Bethsoft’s got you covered. But making a human that rises above the uncanny valley to something approaching attractive or likable? That’s a tall order.

That said, I think I did very well for myself with Ghostfire here.

And apart from the continued lack of social connection and chat tools in this game, it was a joy to be back and do some sight-seeing. I spent the first night exploring the surrounding areas, stocking up on a few weapons, and kicking off quest chains. I also created a bare-bones CAMP — weapon workshop, stash, and garish HAVE A NICE DAY sign — for the time being.

Originally I was thinking about playing this character as solely melee, to change things up, but melee-only doesn’t always pan out in certain areas and missions. Sometimes you need to attack from a distance or use cover, and a rifle in that case is better than a baseball bat. So I think I’ll make a all-around generalist with a small assortment of weapons.

I like how you can be playing this game for a long time and still find stuff you’ve never seen before. This alien statue (shrine?) made me laugh.

Two things really press those anxiety buttons — when the game makes that “nuclear strike incoming” alert and when a radiation storm hits. They’re downright eerie, both times, and I always duck ‘n’ cover.

So. Yeah. Really enjoying the simple gameplay loop of explore-salvage-craft, and I’m going to work off of fan maps to try to see every place that’s actually in the game. Explorable locations, that is.

Six MMOs that want my attention in 2021

Boy do I feel like I’m in a weird place with MMO gaming right now. Call it a summer malaise or what have you, but it’s that mixture of guilt, restlessness, and a hunger for fresh blogging material that keeps turning my mind to MMOs I’m not playing — but kind of feel that I should. Or might. Perhaps. Maybe at some point later this year.

The delay of New World really threw my summer plans into disarray. Now I’ve got over a month before gearing up for that, so I have some extra time that I could be using elsewhere. Not that LOTRO or FFXIV doesn’t offer enough content to fill those hours, but… restlessness. Freshness. I don’t like getting too stale.

In any case, here are six MMOs that I’ve been contemplating as titles that I want to get to sooner or later:

No Man’s Sky

The recent fifth anniversary thrust this title back in front of my eyes. It always seems like a game that I should like and stick with more than I have in the past, and so it’s always on the docket for another go. I think this might actually be a really fun blog series if I wanted to do a journal run of it.

Fallout 76

It’s been a while since I’ve done any serious F76 play, and this is a good contender for bite-sized explorative play. I’ve never hit level 50 on a character, and I would like to see how the level scaling works from the start. I’m still kind of holding out for a guild and chat system, but that’s not on the immediate horizon, so my feelings are more lukewarm than “MUST PLAY NOW.”

Star Trek Online

My daughter and I have been watching through some Star Trek: The Next Generation — she’s kind of interested in Trek, so I’m low-key encouraging it — and it’s certainly having the result of making me want to head back into the MMO… at some point. Probably in about six episodes, if my track record is a witness.

Project Gorgon

Label this one under a big, all-caps “GUILT,” because boy do I feel guilty that I’m not actually playing this. Allegedly, I’m waiting for a bonafide launch, but that’s just an excuse. The truth is that I know I’m going to have to learn a whole bunch of new systems and figure out what to do, and that takes mental energy I’m not super-willing to expend. Right now. But I should.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

New expansion will come with new hype. But the appeal for me, right now, would be that SWTOR is a good MMO substitute for when I’m craving WoW again. I’m not quite at that point — LOTRO is probably helping, here — but it’s quite possible that I’ll be blasting my way through this during the holiday season.

Guild Wars 2

Another case of “new expansion news brings actual hope that this game has a future instead of stagnation.” I genuinely hope it does. I don’t really care for GW2’s story, but I love so much about this game and want to see it pull out of this nose-dive it’s been in the past few years. Considering that I’m reinstalling it as I’m typing this, there’s a better-than-average chance I’ll be puttering around doing map completion before too long.

Fallout 76: A new face, a new identity

Despite the general lack of time on my hands during this very busy month, I felt the urge to dip back into Fallout 76. It’s been on my to do list for a while, to start over and see how the level-scaling works from the ground up. It’s certainly been a while since I’ve been to Appalachia, but I miss it. Yeah, I know this game has problems up the wazoo, but I miss it.

And another part of the reason that I’ve been wanting to get back into it is that I’m jonesing for some nature crawling. Now that spring is in full bloom around here, we’ve been going out for hikes and bike rides and kayak trips, and I yearn for that exploratory feel in a game. Fallout 76 delivers that thanks to its wilder setting. And I’ve gotten a bit addicted to reading and watching stuff on the Appalachian Trail, which also ties in.

Anyway! Here’s my new character. I tried to give her a bit of a different look than the rest, kind of a sassy old school engineer, and I think it looks fine. She handles herself well, especially while punching Chinese bots.

But I’m in no hurry. I need to rebuild my stockpile, start in on questlines, get gear, build a base, and start checking off places on the map. Considering that they brought in a whole bunch of new content over the last half-year, I’ve got more to look forward to than before.

I’m thinking about maybe making her a melee fighter instead of my usual shooty style, just to try something new (and keep ammo weight down). I can always flip between options, of course.

It feels like Fallout 76 is finally filling out as the game it should’ve been in the first place — all except the much-needed social options like guilds and text chat that it still lacks. I might start looking around for a Discord guild or something to stave off the isolation.

Playing Fallout 76’s impossible board game

“No thanks, I think I’ll hold it until I find a cleaner bathroom. Yeah, I’m sure.”

I feel like I’m always waiting on a Fallout 76 update to bring the game up to my standards for enjoyment. First I was waiting for the Wastelanders release to start over in the game, and now I’m kind of waiting for the One Wasteland update to be able to tackle my huge backlog of quests. But what I was really waiting on this particular summer was the start of the game’s first season, which landed last week alongside of public teams.

The seasons seem like a decent way to pass the time for now while still leveling up and accumulating more stuff for my character and house. The idea is to have a reward track — 100 ranks’ worth — that’s advanced by doing daily and weekly challenges. There are some pretty nice rewards on there, too, from currency to cosmetics. It’s enough to make me want to play and to give me some sense of direction, which is pretty much all I need — other than narrative, which this sort of activity lacks almost entirely.

So far, it’s been slow and steady. I can already see that I’m not going to be hitting any of the weekly goals, not with my levels and time to play, but I am able to tick off two to four daily challenges and help get me up there. I have no idea how far this will take me — I think if I hit rank 30 or 40, it’ll be a miracle — but so far it’s not been too frustrating.

One thing this has done is getting me to do more public events, which puts me at least in proximity with other players — even if we can’t chat. I am trying to use my weakest guns and cheapest ammo so as to conserve my good stuff for when it’s really needed. My two-shot bow gets a lot of use in the Forest region — arrows are cheap and I can retrieve them more often than not. It’s a little tricky to use, especially in a high-pressure situation, but I tend to take down low-level mobs with a single shot.

I have been running up against a completely full STASH at my camp, which is subsequently causing a problem with my carrying-around inventory. There’s so much random stuff in this game that I’m not sure whether or not to get rid of — keys, cards, brochures, and other seemingly quest- or area-related items. So instead of a neat bag, I’m carrying everything I’m too terrified to drop. I am trying to build one or two things in my house every day to help use up some of those STASH materials, as well.

So yeah, it’s fun to be back and to have clear goals to chase for the summer. If you happen to see a combat medic sprinting through the wasteland with a bow and arrow, give me a thumbs-up emote and then run for you life, because something’s probably chasing me.

Fallout 76: Paranormal paramedic

I got to say, one of the best perks of doing game journalism is once in a while getting to interview the developers of the game you’re actually playing. I always feel incredibly lucky that I get face time with these people and can zing whatever questions I want at them.

So it was incredibly gratifying to get a half-hour to grill Fallout 76’s devs on Zoom the other week. I wasn’t mean about it, but I came at them pretty blunt and pretty hard and at least got to voice my frustrations at some of the game’s “pain points,” such as a lack of text chat and guilds, as well as the wildly fluctuating difficulty levels while questing. I think Bethesda’s getting hammered about the text chat question, and there’s hope that it’ll get on top of that sooner rather than later, but what is coming soon is this One Wasteland stat retooling that’ll level out the difficulty for all players.

I am very excited about that, and once that hits, I’ll finally be able to catch up on sooo many quest chains that have stalled out because they’re in super-dangerous areas or guarded by mobs that I have zero chance of defeating.

One cool little change the game made lately was to allow backpack skins to apply to small backpacks, which means that those of us who got these skins in the store and have been waiting to use them on regular backpacks could go ahead right now. As you see above, I went with the medic backpack, which goes well with my paramedic jumpsuit. I like the look and feel of the character, imagining her as a combat medic hopping through the wasteland.

She’s level 26 as of the writing of this and doing fine, if not better than that. Each gaming session I attempt a different quest or set a goal, and sometimes I can achieve it, and sometimes not. I’m starting to accumulate a nice arsenal of weapons, although I’m running out of room to put everything I have. My STASH is completely full, so maybe another housebuilding session is in order to clear out the stuff in there.

I am a little disappointed how few dialogue NPCs I’ve encountered over the past month. The pre-Wastelanders content is still in the game, so there are still a ton of locations and quests without a talkative NPC to be seen, and those are mostly what I’ve been doing. I know I need to head back over to Foundation to see what missions I can drum up from those folks, so that might set me back on a more normal questing course.

One thing that sets Fallout 76 apart from other MMOs I play is that I feel so vulnerable in this game. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve jumped because a mob I didn’t see springs out at me, or how I’ve quietly backed away from mini-nuclear detonations and fireballs from other conflicts just over the next ridge. It still has a “big world” feel to it, and without social tools, I’m more isolated than I’d like to be.

Hitting walls over and over again in Fallout 76

I can say that I very rarely walk away from a Fallout 76 session feeling let down or bored. At level 26, the world is still pretty open and new to me, and each night’s activities contain a host of unexpected discoveries and experiences. But more and more these days, I find myself hitting brick walls and finding myself at impasses to actually complete missions.

There’s a lot to be frustrated with here, mostly due to how Bethesda handles its quests and mob difficulty levels. For starters, none of the quests are labeled with suggested level ranges or a difficulty rating. You can start a quest in an easy region and soon find yourself forging into very dangerous territory because step 3 demands it. There also seems to be no rhyme or reason for the levels of mobs that I encounter, either. They’re supposed to be loosely tied to a level range within a region, but I’ve been told that if a high-level player comes through, then the mob levels will increase to match — and then stay that way for a while, completely putting the screws to weaker players.

So there are many questlines that I’ve started and simply can’t finish because they’re death sentences. And that stinks, because quests are by far a huge source of gear and XP to leveling players. There’s one quest — the one for the backpack — that I can’t finish because it requires me to rez another player, which is kind of impossible with the scarce communication tools on hand.

Another problem I’ve been running into is when I get into these harder parts, I’m burning through ammunition at an insane rate just to down a single mob or two. I have some nice guns at this point, but I’m going to be out of ammo within days if I press on.

When I hit these walls, I sigh, curse Bethesda, and switch to the next mission and see if I can do that. It’s a shame, because a lot of these questlines have great stories attached to them. On the recommendation of a Twitter friend, I started doing one involving a group of women who formed a superhero-themed team that helped folks around the wasteland. They have costumes, an underground base, the works. But about midway through, I was asked to get a sword from this one specific location — and that locale is guarded by very high level mobs.

I tried a lot of things to run in and grab it, but since I have to use a computer terminal to unlock the case, no amount of stealth will keep me undetected. I also waited to see if other players would happen to run through and be interference, but no such luck. The populations on these servers are too low to expect anyone to show up.

I’ll keep persevering, because there’s a lot of fun here, and I try not to shy away from the challenge of it all. I figure that I’ll eventually work my way up in levels and gear to be able to handle these obstacles and finally break through the walls, but in the meantime, I’m going to have to keep cycling through quests to find ones that don’t send me on death trips.

I am excited about the summer season pass that’s coming up. That might be a really good way to level up and get rewards, presuming that it makes allowances for low- and mid-range players as well as highbies. Bethesda really hasn’t addressed that, so I guess we’ll see.

Fallout 76’s perk system is pretty groovy

One thing I’ve noticed about giving games a second or third chance is that sometimes you end up understanding systems and getting the game as a whole a lot better the next time around (and with fresh eyes). I can’t say that I really got Fallout 76’s perk system in the past, but now? Now I’m on top of it — and it’s become one of my favorite MMO character build systems.

So basically, every level you get to bump up a SPECIAL attribute by one point. While the attributes have connected effects on various secondary stats (carry weight, VATS accuracy, etc), each point also represents a total perk pool for that primary stat. So if I have 8 strength points, I can put in perk cards that total up to 8.

Every level you also get to choose one perk card from an assortment related to the stat you chose, and ever five levels you get a “perk pack” of (I think) five random cards. This creates your overall pool of perks from which to choose and assign to your stats. Perk cards can be combined to level up to make a stronger effect (but also a higher card point value). It’s actually pretty straight-forward once you get it and remarkably flexible.

Since Fallout 76 doesn’t really have active combat skills, none of the perk cards that I see actually give you more abilities so much as just create a lot of passive effects and effects that are triggered upon a certain condition. I really like having a perk, for example, that automatically injects me with a stim pack when I go under a certain health threshold. And I do not regret investing in several perception points to get two ranks of lockpicking.

I also have been applying perk cards that help bring down my carry weight. But by far, my favorite category is luck, because those perk cards are just amazing. I have cards that randomly pay out in bonus ammo and food when I find those containers, and they proc all the time.

In any case, it’s a very flexible system that allows for a wide range of builds, and I appreciate any game that lets me tailor my character and playstyle to what fits me.

Fallout 76: Post-apocalyptic homebodies

When I came back to Fallout 76 for Wastelanders, I had hoped to like it, but I really didn’t expect to get this much sucked into it. Seriously, for a while there, it was sucking up about 80% of my gaming time, day after day, because I was just so interested in the missions and game world.

I think that a huge draw for me is the sense of going out on expeditions into the unknown. There’s a big element of exploration with F76 (and all the Fallout games), and grabbing some supplies and then hoofing it over a mountain range into an unknown area on a quest for some weirdness or another always made me feel vulnerable, excited, and daring at the same time.

But first things first — I built a house. I was holding off on it for a while, but eventually I knew I really wanted my own home base and would love it once I did it. Probably the longest part of making this was finding the ideal location that wouldn’t be CAMP camped by other players. I ended up making it in a small clearing at the top of a mountain in the starter zone, not too far away from the Vault.

The home-building process went surprisingly easy. I spent some of the free Atoms I’d earned on a contemporary housing set (walls, floors, doors) to make it look less ramshackle, and then constructed a basic 2×2 cabin that you see above. I want to keep the interior full of decorations and homey stuff, with all of the workbenches and whatnot on the outside. It’s a work in progress, but so far I’m pretty pleased with it.

Probably my biggest complaint about Wastelanders is that I still don’t think that the devs have the quest flow just right. For starters, there’s a big gap from when you finish the initial quests until you can start in on the faction ones (you have to reach level 20), which left me wandering around looking for the odd quest to do and mob to kill for XP.

Then, many of the quests that I was given as part of these chains sent me into absurdly dangerous areas. Like, “Hey, you’re level 14 and these are level 52 mobs. Have fun getting past them to your objective!” I had to do more than a few suicide runs to try to frantically dash into structures to click on The Thing and get the next quest step before being gunned down.

Oh! I did see a nuke! Well, I was informed that there was one going off in a couple of minutes, but it was so far into a high-level area that I didn’t have the chance to get there through fast travel. I went to the top of a ridge and was able to see some light in the distance, so I guess that was something.

Really, the quests are pretty excellent even if they’re somewhat rare to find. I stumbled upon this frat one that I thought would be pretty simple, and it turned out to be a many-step quest to find the formula to a secret alcoholic drink that was going to fuel the success of an actual underground speakeasy. Lots of environmental details and humor, even if it was pretty morbid.

And I came upon the room of the most dedicated Nuka Cola fan in the universe as a result.

So yeah, good times all around. I’ve gotten my first CAMP ally (Beckett, who set up shop at a bar that I built for him), started in on the Settler faction quests, and decked myself out with a nasty combat shotgun that mows down mobs like nobody’s business. I feel like I’m getting the hang of the perk system and weapon mods for the first time, and I’m even not that bad at combat any more. Good times.

Fallout 76: Beating friendship into you

I feel that this time around in Fallout 76, I’m playing the game much differently than before. For starters, I got these sweet bottlecap sunglasses that I never, ever want to take off. For another thing, I’m mostly just following questlines and exploring locales along the way instead of trying to be a completionist. I’m also engaging more with the perk system than I did before, trying to build the kind of character that fits my playstyle.

Probably the greatest frustration that I’m encountering isn’t thirst or huger — it’s inventory limitations. It’s just way too easy to load up on so much stuff that your become overencumbered and then can’t fast travel. I have to keep an eye on weight and make frequent trips back to my ever-filling stash before I reach that point, which is tedious. I’m extra frustrated because even when I clean out my bags after a trip, my armor, weapons, ammo, and various aid supplies all add up to 2/3rds of my maximum weight.

I can slowly expand my inventory limit through investing in strength stat points, but I don’t want to go all-in on that. I did manage to get a small backpack through one quest, but that only gave me five more pounds of carry weight, Whoopdie-doo.

I haven’t yet started on a new house, although I really do need to do that. Instead, it’s a lot of nail-biting adventures through dangerous areas that are very hostile to a level 11 newbie. Some of the mines in this game — yes, West Virginia has a LOT of mines — are more tense and claustrophobic than many MMO dungeons I’ve run. Probably the one that had me the most on edge was trying to make my way to to the bottom of a coal mine that was also on fire and had fire zombies everywhere. Good times.

I do like the branching quests and the ever-greater assortment of storytelling devices that the devs are now using. Running missions to help out the folks running the Wayward Inn became a lot more meaningful when I got to know the NPCs there and genuinely cared about them. And there were a couple of really surprising twists along the way which delighted me.

I don’t know who lives at this house, but I do not want to meet them.

So here’s a fun story of maturity in cyberspace. I was finishing up a mission to get through an airport when two other players burst into the room behind me, presumably also on a quest. I turned off voice chat early on, because I do not want to hear mouth-breathers slurring around half-chewed Doritos, so all I have to communicate with others in the game right now are emotes.

I did a friendly wave.

They responded by running up and punching me, over and over again.

Obviously, they were trying to goad me into participating in PvP, but I wasn’t having it. I knew that if I didn’t respond, the damage they did to me was negligible and their time was wasted. I did get a screenshot to commemorate the start of our beautiful friendship, however.

On another quest, I was running an obstacle course through some ruins when this horrid monstrosity leaped out at me and killed me in two blows. That’s me, showing off my backpack while I bleed out on the filth. Cool, eh?

Fallout 76: Does Wastelanders make this a brand-new game?

Not every flaming mess of a game gets a do-over, but occasionally, it does happen. Final Fantasy XIV and No Man’s Sky are prime examples of pulling a complete turnaround, going from extreme disappointments to passionately loved titles. Is that even possible for Fallout 76? Let’s not get carried away with ourselves right now, because this is still Bethesda here, and that studio doesn’t know how to go two days without tripping over its feet and landing with at least one of them in its mouth.

But here’s the wild thing — Fallout 76 appears to be a whole lot better. It’s not a completely new game, but Wastelanders is an amazing step forward. It *feels* fresh and exciting — and whole, in a way that F76 never has.

I started a new character to get the full Wastelanders story experience, going from a Vault nobody to hero of Appalachia in 8,000 easy steps. It took me an evening to reacquaint myself with the strange controls and design of the game, getting back into the habit of salvaging everything and taking the most roundabout ways to get anywhere. At the same time, I was reminded about how beautiful this game can be. Not all the time, but there are some gorgeous vistas.

I’m going to save fuller impressions of all of the new content, including the story, dialog, and NPCs, for a bigger piece I’m writing up for Massively OP, but I’ll say that it’s stunning how much this makes a difference. It’s no longer a shell of a good game; it might well be an actual good game in its own right.

Also, there’s a giant robot here that thinks it’s a cow. “Comforting Moo” indeed. I really want more of a backstory on this thing.

I do have a very long road ahead, but that’s OK. Wastelanders comes at a very good time in my play schedule, when I’m slowing down in LOTRO until the next update comes, so I have more space for it. And I needed something new and exciting to enjoy this spring (can’t imagine why I might need the distraction!).

I absolutely hated the look of my character that I initially came up with. Fortunately, Fallout 76 allows you to completely change your appearance *on the fly*, which is something I’ve never seen in any MMO or online game. So I did a whole lot of tweaking and slidering and fiddling about and came up with a look that is, in my opinion, pretty respectable. I can’t believe how atrocious most of the looks and hairstyles are for the Fallout games.

Anyway, back to the wasteland I go!