In Fallout 76's story, humanity's "best and brightest" are hand-picked to occupy Vault 76 (you're amongst the chosen—call you mom and brag). When the Vault opens 25 years after nuclear war halts, you emerge. Once you blink the sunlight out of your vision, you're free to roam one of the largest open worlds Bethesda's ever created.
Ideally, you're supposed to band together with other survivors, scrounge for supplies, and rebuild America to its pre-war glory. But you're a human, and humans get a "D" average in subjects like "Rationality" and "Predictability." Maybe a "C-," if we're being generous. Fallout 76 players might team up with friends and follow the game's main quest from the get-go, but there's an equal chance they'll do something completely different. Like find a way to be a doink.
Spending time with Fallout 76 at Bethesda's hands-on event last week and talking to other players made me realize how weird people can get when they're allowed to slip their leash in a massive sandbox game. While I spent some time alone in Fallout 76 to see how the game rates as a solo experience, I also spent a lot of time around my group. The developer guiding us acted as a troop leader, pointing out interesting landmarks and answering our questions. We fought together, called each other over to treasure stashes, and shared food and ammo as necessary.
We were just one group, however, and our orderly behavior didn't represent the event as a whole. After talking to several other players, I learned anarchy reigned in many corners of the festivities. I heard everything from "I immediately set out to grief someone" to "I tried to find a nuke" (it's harder than you think) to "I tried to punch a Deathclaw in the taint."
OK, I made that last one up. But during playtime, I did hear a scream of despair from a player who ran afoul of one of the hulking reptiles.
Behaving badly in Fallout 76 is difficult by design, but it's not impossible. I certainly ran into a band of griefers during my playtime, and they dogged me even though I ran away—a clear indication that I had no interest in engaging in PvP. Fallout 76 has mechanics in place to discourage the worst trolls and assholes, but you'll inevitably run into delinquents. People can't resist being a little bad in a virtual world, even if they're upstanding citizens in our tangible realm.
One developer I talked to after the hands-on event admitted Fallout 76 makes it easy to get away from griefers because there's just no way you can write rules and laws for every example of bad behavior. Sure enough, I fast-travelled to a nearby landmark to get away from my tormenters. Nature sounds closed in around me, a welcome change from the rattle of gunfire, but I felt a little let-down. I fought hard to get to the grand steps of The Whitespring Resort (Fallout 76's name for The Greenbrier Resort, which is where the hands-on event took place), and I had to backtrack because some other players decided they wanted to do a little man-hunting. My griefers didn't do much damage even though they pumped a lot of bullets into me, but it just isn't fun to explore an area if a quartet of bandits is following you while setting off rounds.
C'mon, guys! We're supposed to cooperate and rebuild the world! Stooooop! You guuuuys.
The good news is, I doubt running into random trolls with a thirst for blood will be a big problem in Fallout 76. About 20 to 24 people occupy a server at once, all staggered around a map that's filled with interesting landmarks. The Greenbrier / Whitespring Resort was just special to me, my violent shadows, and everyone else playing the game at that moment because it's where the event was being held. Of course we all wanted to see it. I think we all harbored a subconscious hope of experiencing a meta event where our avatars would lock eyes with our real selves and we'd blink at each other in astonishment.
Bethesda's done a lot to try and keep griefers off players' backs and given the sheer size of the game next to the small body count on a server, there's a chance you'll never meet a jerk, ever. That said, I Still Got Shot at by Bullies, and So Can You™. Sign up for a kung-fu course, or just be prepared to fast-travel. It's your best defense.