I write this from the perspective of someone that once had designs on breaking into storytelling for game design, and had worked on a few go-nowhere projects in the past, but regardless of my credentials I think someone needs to come out and say it.
Fallout 76 *does* have a story, and it is quite well woven throughout the game's quests and background flavor text.
So many people have declared with great conviction that there is no story, that the lack of NPCs somehow make it impossible for the game to tell a story or build a world worth giving any kind of a damn about but this is just not true at all. To the contrary, almost every major faction represented in the game has some interconnection with other factions and pieces of the overall story. The only exception to this that I've found so far has been the Enclave, though it appears the drama from that faction's rise and fall was rapid and self-contained. We have characters that show up again and again, like the Brotherhood member that left to help the Free States or the members of the Responders that are mentioned as being recruited into the Brotherhood. We have stories about corporate intrigue before the war, with Appalachia as the battleground in a war between man and machine in a way that would soon be far more literal than even its participants ever imagined. We're shown the big picture, with the tensions of the pre-war world spilling into the post-war era. Yet, we also learn little things like where the megasloths came from, and we see little trinkets of Halloween bats that would become an ironic symbol of what came later.
But most importantly what we learn are the motives and mentality of the people behind each faction. We learn what sides there are to take when the time comes for us all to choose later in the game's ongoing narrative and this is certainly no accident. Bethesda has presented us with a whole new kind of storytelling and world building here, and it might not be easy for a lot of people to see. What we're given isn't someone else's story, it's the foundation of our own ongoing stories. The world is our sandbox, and we're being given the background and history from which to build our own stories as players.
By breaking with the usual narrative construct, Bethesda has neatly reduced if not circumvented, one of the enduring and often frustrating tropes of massively multiplayer games and RPGs in general. We don't often have an NPC of some sort trying to tell us that we're unique, or that we're the only ones that can help them with something that should only need doing once but is of course offered to every one of the millions of possible players. Top of the World has the most striking example of this trope, and though it is a fun and well written quest it feels rather jarring in contrast to the rest of the game's presentation of its story.
This is almost exactly what I expected we'd be getting from Bethesda from the moment Fallout 76 was announced. The way they revealed it, the way they talked about it, and the material that came out following the announcement all led me to expect *exactly* what we got from a narrative standpoint.
And this brings us to the real problem with Fallout 76. It's not the narrative, it's not the stories, it's not the lack of NPCs, it's not even the lack of branching quests and decision points. It's the fact the presentation they built this story and this world around, was simply *not* meant for multiplayer. So many elements of the game were simply not designed for multiplayer, from the user interface design for the Pip-boy, the naming of plans and components, the poor storage system for plans, notes, holotapes and keys. The absolutely exploitable and unstable backend servers, the apparent total lack of database storage and access time optimization. We're given this great, in-depth story that sprawls across a huge map, with dozens if not hundreds of locations featuring thousands of pieces of flavor and story… but we're not given the proper tools to experience it. And that's even before you get to the bugs that have crippled this game to a truly shameful degree.
Bethesda could save this game with a dozen bug fixes and balance tweaks. That's it. It wouldn't solve all the problems, and would only be a good start, but it would be enough to save this game from sitting in No Man's Sky purgatory or worse for six months to a year. Remove a couple nerfs, or at least dial them back. Fix server stability and eliminate duping. Let us see what plans we already know and give new names to items that actually describe what they are. Let us rename power armor frames in our inventories. Make it easier to find dropped items and meat piles, eliminate load times when looking at containers. Rebalance loot tables to make higher end enemies worth something to fight.
And for the love of the game, Bethesda, if anyone there is reading this, do one thing above all else. If you take something away from us in a nerf or rebalance make damn sure you give us a few things we WANT to soften the blow.
But with that all said, the story is great. I just wish people could experience it without so much pain.
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