Yes, it's true - Fallout 76 limits players-per-world to 24. And to some, that's going to disqualify it from MMO status off the bat. I get why, I just hope MMO fans don't write off the game because of this number. Because at its core, it's the best new online RPG experience I've had in ages.
Like Elder Scrolls Online, or perhaps Destiny 1 & 2, Fallout 76 limits the amount of players in an "instance" of the game world to 24. After all, it's supposed to be the brand new post-apocalyptic world - you're the first humans to leave their vaults with the goal of reestablishing humanity and civilization. Appalachia is a vast, hilly, and rough wilderness, and at this point in the Fallout lore there just aren't a lot of people around.
Now, set that limit of players-per-instance aside. Don't let it fool you into thinking this isn't an excellent persistent online RPG. Because from my point of view, it's exactly the kind of sandbox I want - one that is for both PVE fans and PVP fans - one that's for builders and explorers - one that's for crafters and loot hunters.
I've had more fun in Fallout 76 this BETA than I have in most MMOs of late, and I'd hazard a guess that this is because it's not just another quest-hub, dungeon running, gear score online experience. It's a world that you're going to build things up in, one you're going to peel back lore in, and one you're going to grow your character in.
All the while, you can indeed get shot by other players, but this isn't DayZ or Rust. Other people being asses doesn't immediately ruin your fun. Pacifists out there can literally toggle an option to make sure they never accidentally shoot another player. If you don't want to engage in PVP by chance, this is your best bet. Now other players can still shoot you but Bethesda has made it so that when you're first shot by another player, the damage they can do to you is severely limited until you shoot back. This means that accidental headshots won't get you in trouble, and more often than not if another player wants to avoid a fight, they can. Griefing, to my sheer shock and awe, was not possible in FO76's beta.
From a PVE standpoint, the game is absolutely chock-full of quests to find, lore to uncover, and world events to participate in. There's a long storyline to follow, the path of the Overseer, which tells the main story of the game. But major landmarks throughout the world have their own stories as well. NPCs come in the form of robots mainly, but there are people out there. Just don't expect them to be quite what you'd think of as normal.
Crafting and building is easy to pick up and learn. You can find, buy, and receive new crafting plans from all sorts of events and world drops. You can make stuff, find stuff, or just buy stuff from NPCs. You have a private stash that keeps whatever you want to put in it, and is accessible from any other stash in the world - even a stranger's. Your camp is all packed neatly into a little box that you can pick up and bring with you wherever you go.
Want to work for hours on a building to call your own, but aren't sure where to set up permanent residence? Don't panic! Just use a few caps to pick up your camp move it completely to a new place. Heck, Bethesda further avoids griefing by making sure your camp leaves with your character when you log out, and even when you're logged in your camp can't be destroyed by others unless it's done so by a nuke.
My mind is already spinning with just what else I'm going to find in the wide open and massive world Bethesda's made for Fallout 76. There's still so much to explore, so much to do. I can only imagine where the game will go in time with updates/DLC/expansions. Bethesda is avoiding the term MMO because the players-per-server just isn't big enough. I get it. But this persistent online world is one I want to be in for a long time. Here's hoping features like clans/guilds come soon. It makes sense from a lore stance that you're "lone-wolfing" it at first, but as a social game it sure would be nice to organize into groups and even set build permissions on camps so that players could work together to make really special constructions.
Even with the simple four-player groups, friend lists, and "recently met" lists, I've met some really nice folks so far. The Vivox-powered voice chat is fantastic and optional. I wish there was typing-to-chat, but I understand why there's not. Comms through voice is more meaningful and immersive, but there are definitely times when I can't have voice on if my son is in the room - thank you very much Mr. I-Swear-Every-Other-Word-Gamer.
I'm beginning to ramble, but my point is this - I hope Fallout 76 has a free trial, or an open beta weekend, so that the many of you who visit here looking for something more sandbox-like but not a gankfest have something to try out. It's also still a Fallout game at heart, and you never have to feel pressured to group up if you'd rather run the world solo. It's really that fun, and hopefully has a long life ahead of it.