DISCUSSION: Fallout 76 – Six Years Later

Fallout 76 is a game that both frustrates me as well as invites me in. Six years ago, I was one of the early adopters of the video game and it was one of the worst experiences of my gaming career. The world was lifeless, empty, lacking in any real stakes, and most of all felt unfinished. Fallout 76 was set in my home state of West Virginia where I lived fifteen years and yet somehow managed to not only fail to capture any of the places’ uniqueness but didn’t really have any of the kind of hilarious dark humor that it’s just begging to have applied.

Part of the problem was the idea that Fallout 76 would be a playground for players rather than a single player campaign. The idea was that they would interact with one another, be vendors, and create their own fun. Never has a video company more misread what fans wanted from their games since the introduction of Diablo to cellphones in lieu of announcing a new game. Basically, the fans of Fallout wanted to shoot guns and do quests. The wildly divergent leveling and equipment also meant PVP was terrible too.

It didn’t help the excuse for a single player campaign wasn’t exactly inspired either. Basically, some genetic experiments have turned bats into dragons. Yes, they’re called Scorchbeasts but they’re dragons and even incorporate the programming from Skyrim. These dragons are also necromancers spreading a Resident Evil-style plague that turns people into zombies. The “Scorched” are basically feral ghouls who can use guns and want to kill all other life in the Virginia Commonwealth. Then the world. It’s a painfully generic plot that somehow makes dragonslaying boring.

But how does the game stand up six years later? The game has been patched, patched, and patched again with sixteen seasons having been released. A new season is released roughly every three months and they’ve added NPCs, new regions, hundreds of quests, new equipment, as well as personalized Vault dwellings that the player character can customize to their heart’s content.

The changes to Fallout 76 can’t be understated but can be summarized in a very simple statement: the game is fun to play now. The addition of NPCs is just the beginning of the reforms but adds a personal touch to the setting that was previously lacking. You have people to protect in the Foundation Settlers, Crater Raiders, Whitespring Refuge, and the actual living Brotherhood of Steel. The Appalachian Wasteland is no longer so empty, and you have reasons to carry out the various quests you’re given other than boredom.

There are also some good new locations added to the setting with Nuka World providing some fun local color to the otherwise dingy coal mine areas. We finally get to meet the Overseer in person, and she provides some extra places to craft weapons, armor, and materials while encouraging you to seek out inoculations for the new residents of Appalachia. That’s not even getting into the Expeditions system that allows you to visit The Pitt (from Fallout 3) and a New Vegas inspired Atlantic City.

The game has improved in some ways but not in others. The existence of the Vault dwellings (acquired during a quest) provides a nice solution to the hobo-like camps that most players are stuck with. I’d much rather exist in a nice, cool, and enjoyable Vault room to store all my crafting stations and decorations. However, most of the material is locked behind either the Atomic Shop or acquired in-universe plans that limit what you can build. The VATS system still is essentially nonexistent and best ignored.

The introduction of NPCs to talk to also allows your character to voicelessly respond with snark, psychopathic glee, or unexpected characterization like a fanatical loyalty to Vault-Tec. There are even skill checks like the fact I managed to persuade a Raider to take the vaccine against Scorchdom by pointing out various science facts that convince her I know what I’m talking about. These are all welcome and I hope Bethesda will keep adding these things.

The game has an unlimited leveling system where you cap your existing SPECIAL stats at 15 but get new perk cards every five levels. This allows you to experiment with more builds and gradually build up your character into exactly what you want them to be. The fact you can’t do this instantly is also something that’s designed to keep you playing. Leveling enough is fast enough, though, especially if you are part of the multiplayer events.

Do I have any complaints? Well, yes, the game is still a live service slot machine designed to take as much money from the player as possible. You must belong to Xbox Live to play, which is a monthly subscription, and yet there’s an additional subscription you can subscribe to to get in-game bonuses like the NCR Ranger Armor. The main quest is also the most boring one of them all. My biggest annoyance is you can’t acquire repair kits save in the Atomic Shop, which is again designed to take your money, but you can earn the points in-game, at least.

In conclusion, Fallout 76 is now a game that’s worth picking up if you’re on Steam or Console. If you have Amazon Prime, you can acquire a copy of the game for free because they’re being given away as part of the Fallout: The Series promotion. It’s available on Playstation but I note that Bethesda is very much on Team X.

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CT Phipps

CT Phipps

C.T Phipps is a lifelong student of horror, science fiction, and fantasy. An avid tabletop gamer, he discovered this passion led him to write and turned him into a lifelong geek. He's the author of Agent G, Cthulhu Armageddon, Lucifer's Star, Straight Outta Fangton, and The Supervillainy Saga. He is also a frequent contributor to Grimdark Magazine.