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Fallout 76: Everything we know about Bethesda's shared world shooter

Go back to Fallout's wasteland on Nov. 14 -- with other players.

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War. War never changes -- but the world of Fallout apparently does. Bethesda's next post-apocalyptic adventure game is almost here. Fallout 76 will be here in November, and it's taking the series somewhere it's never been before: Online.

The company has been dropping hints about the game for months -- between the snippets of the game we saw at Microsoft's E3 event, Bethesda's own showcase and at Quake Con, there's a lot of info to sift through. The short of it is that Fallout 76 is less punishing take on the online survival RPG akin to RUST or DayZ, but that's just the tip of the nuclear warhead.

There's a lot to uncover here, however, so before we get to what Fallout 76 is, let's go over the basics.

What is Fallout, anyway?

Ever wondered what would have happened if the Cold War got hot, and everybody dropped atomic bombs on each other? That's Fallout. The first game takes place a little over 80 years after the world was devastated by nuclear warfare and portrays a dystopian wasteland built on the ruins of the United States. Fallout 2 took place just a couple of decades later, but when Bethesda took the franchise over, the timeline jumped forward: Fallout 3, Fallout New Vegas and Fallout 4 take place around 200 years after the bombs dropped.

In most games, the player is the descendant of people who survived the war by retreating to long-term bomb shelters called Vaults -- and they're leaving the comfort of their underground city for the first time to explore a destroyed and desolate world.

It sounds grim, but it's surprisingly packed with humor and great music, while its engrossing open worlds are buoyed by solid RPG mechanics.

Now Playing: Watch this: Fallout 76 first look shown at Microsoft's E3 2018 conference
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OK, then -- so what's Fallout 76?

Fallout 76 is the latest Fallout adventure, and it's the earliest game in the Fallout timeline. Previous games in the series mention Vault 76 as one of the earliest bunkers to be opened -- a little more than 20 years after the bombs dropped, and Bethesda confirmed that on the stage at E3 2018. 

That means players in Fallout 76 will be seeing a world ravaged by the aftermath of nuclear war, but not ravaged by time — making them among the first survivors of the Great War. And most importantly, the first survivors to start rebuilding society. It also means less time has passed since the bombs dropped, which means...

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Bethesda

It's a lot more colorful than Fallout 4

The Earth may be poisoned by nuclear fallout, and the future of the planet's flora may be grim -- but in Fallout 76, it hasn't been that long since the bombs dropped. That means, well, that it's not as muddy, dull and brown-looking as some of the previous games. Early shots of the game's world shows a landscape dotted with plants and trees of all kinds of colors.

It doesn't hurt that the buildings in this version of Fallout have only been standing empty for a few dozen years, either. Not hundreds.

That better-looking world isn't just the developers adding more trees to the landscape either -- Bethesda's Todd Howard says that the game's rendering engine has been given a major overhaul."We always start with the world," He said at E3. "This time, it starts with new lighting, rendering and landscape technology." Fallout 4 has better lighting, and farther viewing distance than any other Fallout game. Not bad!.

It's the biggest Fallout game ever made!

According to Howard, Fallout 76 is the largest Fallout game ever made. In fact, the game world it's set in will be four times larger than Fallout 4, previously the largest game in the series.

"Set in the hills of West Virginia," he said, "You are one of the first to emerge into a very different and untamed wasteland." And indeed -- it is different. Howard says the world is huge, diverse and features six distinct regions to explore, each pulling from real culture, locations and even legends from the area.

...But you won't need to walk everywhere

There might not be vehicles in Fallout 76 (at least none we know of), but you still won't have to walk all the way across its massive map. Well, at least more than once: developers recently confirmed that the game would include a "fast travel" section that will enable you to instantly travel to different points in the game world.

It's a good thing, too. The world needs to be huge, too -- because you won't be playing Fallout 76 alone.

Fallout 76 is a shared-world survival game that's 'entirely online'

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You aren't the only vault dweller escaping the confines of an underground bunker to greet the irradiated world -- the Vault 76 in Fallout 76 is filled with other characters too -- and they're all real people.

Speaking at Bethesda's E3 2018 showcase, game director Todd Howard announced that Fallout 76 is "entirely online," but that isn't to say it's a massively multiplayer game though -- it's more like a "shared world" shooter, similar to games like Destiny. When you play the game, you'll be on a map with a dozen or so other players. Not hundreds, not thousands -- just few. It is the apocalypse, after all.

That matches up with early rumors, which claim that Fallout 76 started life as a multiplayer prototype for Fallout 4, but evolved into an online survival RPG. That actually makes a lot of sense: Fallout 4 introduced building mechanics to the franchise, tasking the player with building out settlements for other survivors. Now, Fallout 76 is taking that mechanic online, and letting your friends help.

You won't be able to play with friends on other platforms, though

Fallout 76 might be a shared-world shooter of sorts, but you'll only be able to share that world with friends who are playing on the same platform as you. In other words, Xbox One players won't be able to pal around in the apocalypse with PlayStation 4 owners. According to the game's creators, that's Sony's fault -- the company has made a habit in recent years of barring online games from enabling cross-platform support. It happened with Rocket League, Fortnite, Minecraft and now, Fallout 76.  Bummer.

There might be less NPCs

In Fallout 76, every other human you encounter in the game is a real person -- another player, on their own adventure in the wasteland. That means you won't find any other humans out living in the wasteland with dialogue trees and scripted missions to give out. That means there might be fewer NPCs in the world to interact with -- but it doesn't mean there won't be any. 

It's online, but there's still a main story

Despite the multiplayer focus, Bethesda's Pete Hines says the game does have a main campaign. "There definitely is a story in this game," He told GameSpot. "What happened to the people outside after the bombs fell? Where are they? What are the new threats? How do you solve that?"

Bethesda was very careful when it said that every human being you encounter in the game would be a player -- but humans aren't the only characters in Fallout. Bethesda has revealed that there will be a new faction of intelligent ghouls in the game (Zombie-like irradiated humans) called who can serve as NPCs.

Skill points and perks are back, but they're different

If you've ever played a Fallout game, you know that every character has their own special attributes. Or, rather, that their attributes are S.P.E.C.I.A.L - Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility and Luck. Traditionally, players get a set number of skill points to pour into each of these attributes. Each time a character levels up, they get more points -- which the player uses to define their character's development over time. Characters could also earn "perks" that would give them specific stat boosts or unique traits.

These systems are returning for Fallout 76 -- but they're a bit different. Rather than serving as numeric markers for how strong or agile your character is, skill points will denote how many perks you'll be able to use in each S.P.E.C.I.A.L. category. Oh, and perks are no longer permanent character changes either, but equitable "cards" that you can toggle on and off to change your character's loadout.

Like in the original game, each perk card adds extra bonuses to your character. A luck-based "scrounger" card for instance will give you a 50 percent chance to find extra ammo when you search containers. The "Expert heavy gunner" perk card, on the other hand, adds an extra 10 percent damage to nonexplosive heavy guns you equip. The catch? Each of those perk cards has a value assigned to it. If you want to equip a perk card with a value of 3, you need at least three points in that card's attribute to use it.

Yes, that is a bit complicated -- but the result is a system that allows you to more freely swap out your character's abilities and change your play style on the fly. At least that's the hope.

Not everybody you meet online will be your friend

Although Bethesda mostly showed off Fallout 76 as an online co-op version of the series you can play with your friends, it didn't shy away from the antagonistic side of multiplayer gaming, either. Other players in Fallout 76 will be able to team up with you to explore the West Virginian wasteland, or hunt you down and attack you to fight for land.  Why do they need land? Well, to build things of course.

You'll be able to build your own base -- and move it wherever you want

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Building settlements was a big part of Fallout 4 -- and that element is coming to the online world of Fallout 76, too. Players will be able to gather resources and create a base or settlement in the wilderness, complete with defense weapons. Don't worry about over-crowding though: you can build any base you want, but Howard says you'll also be able to pack those bases up and move them to other locations. Player-built structure's won't appear when that player is not logged in either, so the map won't be littered with half-built camps. 

You can fire nuclear missiles at other players

if you're wondering why this wasteland isn't quite as irradiated as the world is other Fallout games, well -- the game has an reason for that. In addition to exploring, rebuilding and surviving West Virginia, you may have a hand in destroying it, too. Scattered throughout the world of Fallout 76 will be inactive missile silos, with launchable nuclear armaments for any player resourceful enough to find the launch codes.

Players will be able to use these codes to launch attacks on other player settlements, NPC enemy camps, or other random areas of the game -- which will make them ripe for harvesting loot. Well, assuming you can survive the radiation the missile causes. Nuking an area basically turns it into a "high level zone," which spawns the toughest enemies in the game.

V.A.T.S. combat will be very different

That's the Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System, or V.A.T.S. Well, at least in the game's lore -- in terms of gameplay mechanics, it's a mode that lets you freeze the game and call your shots, displaying your chance to hit an enemy's arm, torso, legs, head, etc. with percentages. It's a carryover inspired by the game's 1990s origins, when Fallout was an isometric tactical adventure game.

The game's E3 trailer didn't show a single moment of the tactical targeting system, but Todd Howard says the targeting system is still a part of Fallout 76 -- it's just going to be different. It won't freeze time, however, or enable slow motion action the way it does in the VR version of Fallout 4. This version of V.A.T.S. is a real-time targeting system.

"It doesn't slow time. But it lets you target and pick parts and all of that, but it's in real-time. It still works great," he says. "It's different, obviously." It definitely sounds different.

DLC will be free, but there will still be some microtransactions

According to the Making of Fallout 76 documentary, you won't have to pay for updates: all major in-game DLC for the game will be free, and updates will be available "for years to come." That said, Bethesda will be all to happy to shut up and take your money -- microtransactions will allow players to purchase cosmetic items for their character through an online store. Bethesda says players can earn these games through regular gameplay, too.

Despite being online, players won't be able to endlessly bully each other

It's almost a law: if a game is played online, someone is going to make a point of being a jerk. Fortunately, Fallout 76 is being designed to prevent players from griefing each other. Speaking with GameSpot, Bethesda's Pete Hines explained.

"You can't be harassed by somebody who just keeps chasing you around the world and keeps killing you over and over again; the game literally doesn't allow that to happen to you," he said. "Death isn't supposed to be a super-negative thing. You don't lose your progression, you don't lose all your stuff, somebody can't kill you and then take everything in your inventory [and then you have to] start over."

In fact, in a recent interview Bethesda said some players might be immune to being killed by other players -- at least until they get out of a lower-level newbie bracket.

Getting shot by another player doesn't hurt that much. At least not at first. The first attack from another player will only inflict minimal damage. It also present you with a choice: fight back or flee. If you fight back, you'll face the full brunt of your enemy's attack. That doesn't mean you're invincible if you run away -- unwanted enemy attacks can still kill you -- but if a player kills in cold blood, they'll be marked as a "wanted murderer."

Bounty system

Planning on trying to murder every other player you come across? Get ready to be hunted. Players who chose to grief others will be marked as "wanted murderers," and their location will marked as a red star on the map -- encouraging other players to track them down and take revenge. It's more than just a nuisance, too: wanted players will have a bounty on their head, and the payout for that bounty will come from their own inventory.

Either way...

Death isn't the end

Fallout 76 is definitely an online survival game, but Bethesda describes it as a "softcore" survival game. Death doesn't mean loss of progression or of end of your character like it does in other online survival games. This means you can play, take risks and fail without fear of feeling like you've lost hours of gameplay for one mistake.

This is part of why other players won't be able to ruin your game experience -- if another player kills you, you won't suffer a big penalty for it, and the game will give you an option to avoid interacting with that player again for awhile.

If you join in on a friend's game, your progression goes with you to their world, too. The online element, Howard says, is more about giving players a way to share their memorable game experience with others -- though other players can absolutely be a threat to your survival. Watch out for those nuclear warheads.

There's going to be a beta version of the game before launch

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Bethesda says it plans to have a "Break it Early Test Application," for the game. You know. A beta. "I've read on the internet that our games have a few bugs," Howard joked at E3. "Sometimes it doesn't just work."

It's true, Bethesda games have a bit of a reputation for being buggy at launch, and that's not something that goes over well in an online environment. The company is doing everything it can to mitigate a rough launch, and wants to enlist players to help it test the game's dedicated servers before going live to the world. If you want to get into the beta, however, you'll have to preorder the game -- and you'll need to play on Xbox One if you want to play first. Bethesda says the beta is coming to all platforms, but Microsoft's console will get it just a little bit early.

That said, you won't have to wait too long to play it, even if you're not in the beta. The first beta invites are going out in October -- but the game itself launches just over a month later.

Any progress you make in the beta will carry over to the full game

Playing the Beta won't be a waste of your time -- Bethesda has already confirmed that the beta test is actually the full-release game. Any progress you make playing around in the early-access beta will carry over to the full experience when it hits stores. It still might be a rocky experience, as it'll be a stress test of Bethesda services and online systems, however.

You can listen to the trailer's cover of Country Roads on YouTube

One of the best things about Fallout games is their soundtracks. This one is already starting to sound pretty good.

There's a collectors' edition -- and it comes with a helmet!

One of the coolest things about Fallout 4 was its collectors' edition -- a special edition package that came with a wearable version of the Fallout Pip-Boy device that your character wears in the game. It's even functional, featuring a slot to put a cell phone that allows it to integrate with the game. Fallout 76 has something similar:

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The Fallout 76 Power Armor Edition comes with a glow-in-the-dark version of the games map and a Power Armor Helmet, complete with a working head lamp! The helmet is designed to be wearable, too -- making Fallout 76 cosplay a little easier. You only have to build the rest of the armor yourself.

The PC version of Fallout 76 won't be available on Steam

If you're hoping to add the latest Fallout game to your massive Steam library, you're out of luck -- the PC version of the will be exclusive to Bethesda.net. That's not too much of a surprise: other Shared World shooters like Destiny 2 tend to live on their own native platforms, and it's not uncommon for Massively Multiplayer games to launch on their own before making their way to Steam later, if at all.

Fallout 76 comes out this November

Back in 2015, Bethesda showed Fallout 4 for the first time at E3, promising that gamers would be playing it later that year. They were. Now, the company is doing it again -- Fallout 76 will launch on Nov. 14, 2018. That's only a few months away!

Even so, some fans can't stand the wait, and are already coming up with theories: from analyzing the cover of Take Me Home, Country Roads that plays over the trailer for clues, to examining a blurry purported screenshot of the game lifted from a documentary about Bethesda.

In fact, some fans have gone back to Fallout 4 (£20 at Amazon Marketplace) in anticipation.

Others have already suited up!

Either way, most fans are at least taking the wait with a grain of humor.

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You can also check out GameSpot's coverage of Fallout 76  and Giant Bomb's coverage of Fallout 76. And for all things E3 2018, head to GameSpot and check out its press conference coverage here.