Fight or Kite: Fallout 76’s Nuclear Winter is a blast


Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A multiplayer online game is looking for the new hot thing to drum up interest in it again. This time around, it’s the post-apocalyptic future we expect is at least another one and a half years away, Fallout 76.

Let me start off by noting that if you want to see what the game looks like in action, head over to our stream of it from last week. Like our streamer, I also didn’t pick up Fallout 76 when it came out late last year. Something about the not-so-massively nature of it didn’t sit well with me. But along came a battle royale plus a free weekend and, well, hold my Nuka-Cola – I’m going in!

Features only Fallout can bring to BR

Now, even if you’ve played some of the 800-pound gorillas in the BR space, there are quite a few things that Nuclear Winter does that sets itself apart from the crowd.

The addition of some AI creatures is a nice touch that I wasn’t expecting. While you are roaming about looking for loot, there’s a chance you will come across some familiar mutants. These AI monsters are very few and far between, but it still adds a bit of depth and life to the world you are exploring. What I like about the AI is that they need to be dealt with swiftly; you’ll want to melee them or hit them with the crossbow, the reason being that you don’t want them to take you out – but you also want to kill them quietly. If you shoot off your gun, you’ll instantly alert your opponents to your position.

You can’t think about Fallout without thinking about perks. That’s right, the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system plays a nice role here as well. Rather than having classes or heroes, you can customize your character with the perk system. I really like this much more than the hero setup of other games. With perks, you can pick bonuses and passive effects that will improve your character depending on your preferences. It gives you that feeling that you still own your character rather than that you are playing the same one as everyone else.

Now for the big boy: nukes. Yes, you have the opportunity to drop a nuke on your opponents – how great is that? Just like any other loot in the game, you can search and find nuclear launch codes. Gather four of them (there are dozens all over the map) and find the briefcase (only one in each game) to launch a nuke on the map. The area of effect isn’t as big as in the standard game, but from my experience it was big. The narrator gives you a little bit of warning so you can start to get the lead out and run, but it also adds additional, stronger monsters to the match. It isn’t often that a team actually launches a nuke, so whenever it does happen, it really ramps up the intensity and gives you that sense that things just got real.

Fallout borrows ideas where necessary

Now, with all that said, Bethesda didn’t try to reinvent the wheel with Nuclear Winter. There are plenty of features of BR gameplay that others have established that work and work well.

First up, we do have the basic BR formula – join (or don’t) a small team, find a quaint spot to start on the map, loot to get geared up quickly, run away as the map continues to shrink, be the last team standing, and gloat.

Everyone starts on a level playing field. This is actually pretty huge. Some games that are already live tend to give existing players some sort of advantage going into a new mode, but Bethesda chose wisely here and removed levels and even perks you may already have from existing game modes. Veterans don’t have to look like complete noobs, either, though! They get to carry over cosmetics already unlocked or earned, which is great.

Players can also build structures during a match. This idea is only partially borrowing from BR titles like Fortnite, as the C.A.M.P. system is already a feature of Fallout 76. However, building is also a core component of the Fortnite experience. So, when you talk to a non-Fallout aficionado and mention this feature, she might immediately say, “Oh, so you can build like in Fortnite.” In fact, you can even design your own personal structures in the base game and use those blueprints in Nuclear Winter!

Nuclear Winter feels right at home in the Fallout universe

I mentioned before many of the unique features Nuclear Winter brings to the BR table. But what I really love about them is that they aren’t just neat features that would make any game stand apart; these features just ooze Fallout and fit in so beautifully in the Fallout universe.

The whole experience is themed just perfectly. There is a nice little lore component (very little, but still) wherein you are a member of Vault 51 and you need to battle it out to determine who will be the Overseer. Even the lobby area while you queue is designed perfectly on point and the whole environment is fantastic. Once you start a match and begin to explore the ruins of small towns and settlements, you’ll find bodies that simply crumble upon inspection – exactly what you’d expect after emerging from your vault.

The combat isn’t exactly 100% classic Fallout style, specifically in that the VAT system doesn’t apply to battling players, but the feel of combat is perfect. While you are searching a building for supplies, you suddenly notice someone run past the window. Your heart starts racing as you prepare to face this enemy. Run upstairs? Hide in the corner? This is the wasteland experience.

The pieces are here, so build it right

All this put together and I have to say, Bethesda has really done it right. I was having a really great time in every match. Well, maybe not that first match where I picked a drop-off precisely next to opponents and they beat me down real quick. But it was quick, so I was able to queue up again and get ready for another match-up fast, which was a pleasure.

With that said though, there are things missing, and while it isn’t too late yet – Bethesda could easily drop the ball and run home crying.

Modes – Four-person teams in 52 player matches is good, but consider additional modes. Single player mode free-for-all is a must. Possibly a smaller, quicker version too. Something like five teams of two in a much smaller map. Consider a PvE mode, where the squad fights off an extremely high number of mutants. The options are limitless, so don’t rest on your laurels and let it go to the wastelands!

Barriers to entry need to be low. Look, Bethesda, let’s be honest with one another: You have something that could be special here, but you are literally competing against free. If you have any expectations of this puppy growing up to be a good boy, you are going to need to give it a fighting chance. Fortnite and Apex Legends are both free to play, and I’ve already expressed how important I think that is. If you think players are going to pony up the full price of Fallout 76 just to play Nuclear Winter, then there really is little hope for you. So do it right!

Well, dwellers, waiting in your vaults for my glorious arrival, I had a good time in the Nuclear Winter, but are you open to a new BR experience? Were you able to play during the free weekend? Do you think there is still room left in the market place for a Fallout themed BR or are you already sick of seeing the letters “B” and “R” next to each other?

Every other week, Massively OP’s Sam Kash delivers Fight or Kite, our trip through the state of PvP across the MMORPG industry. Whether he’s sitting in a queue or rolling with the zerg, Sam’s all about the adrenaline rush of a good battle. Because when you boil it down, the whole reason we PvP (other than to pwn noobs) is to have fun fighting a new and unpredictable enemy!
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