I among many gave 76 a shot during the trial last week. Admittedly I and my friends (as probably many were) downloaded it as a meme just to play for a couple hours, come to the same conclusion we did in the beta, and uninstall.
But much to my surprise, that's not what happened. This may be a sorta long post to explain this story so I apologize and i'll shove a tl;dr at the end:
For the first few hours my experience was un-shockingly similar to the beta, the content wasn't engaging, I couldn't care less for the story as my friends and I didn't wanna silence ourselves every time we ran across a holotape, I found myself increasingly frustrated by level locked items, and I became increasingly tired of the total and complete lack of interactable/friendly NPC's. The usual suspects.
But on Day 2 when my friends all took off to play other things, I found myself bored so I logged back onto F76 just to try find that hook, that content branch that had to exist. I was seeing most players who weren't fresh out of the vault over Level 100 the majority of the time, all I could think is that these people had to have been doing something. There had to be quests, a chain of content for me to find and follow which could engage me for that amount of time. I set out into Appalachia, a burly black man in a skimpy red dress and a vault-girl bobblehead (best not to ask).
For some hours it was the same business as the day before, maybe find the occasional quest, have it end with no feeling of conclusion or possibility of continuation. I'd grab my rewards, my XP and then find the next place. But now that I was playing solo I figured i'd just follow the main story, as going off Bethesda's track record, doing so would likely lead me through the more notable game areas and probably introduce me to higher level equipment and plans. I spent the rest of the day following the Overseer's journey, discovering what happened to the Responders, gaining access to Top of the World and earning Rose's trust. I ran the Responder exams, scavenged armor and weapons, took on the Progenitor Wendigo which severely out-powered me (that was a fucking creepy quest btw, absolutely loved it) and more.
The quest design wasn't spectacular but it was acceptable enough that I found my boredom quelled. I still didn't find myself feeling much more powerful after a day of this, but I got myself to Level 30 and it started to feel like a more enjoyable amount of the game was beginning to open up. Better weapons were dropping, I was finally getting Automatic Weapons so the combat became a little faster in pace etc. But I also noticed something significant after all my hours of gameplay… I hadn't run into a single bug that I did in the beta. I genuinely couldn't believe it took me so long to notice, aside from framerate instability and a few disconnects, the game was shockingly functional considering the state that it was in at launch. It was a pleasant surprise to find that in a little over 6 months they had actually managed to fix so many issues, I was borderline impressed.
To take a break from the questing I decided to put a "little" time into my camp, being that I was a bit of a sucker for F4's settlement system. Unsurprisingly I got sucked in, spent quite a while decking out my home and scouring for plans to improve the aesthetic. What started as a collection of workbenches on a rock outside the Penitentiary, became quite something later on. I wanted to try my hand at some RP as that seemed to be the main gripe of the game for me, just being whoever you want; my group and I had been planning to start a weekly Fallout DnD game before downloading 76, we had made our characters and were loving what we had but the game wasn't ready to start yet. Eager to try out my character I adopted the persona in-game, changing my Bethesda handle and attempting to immerse myself in the world of West Virginia.
Charisman, aka Todd Charming, I was baffled that I had never used the name Charisman before as I only ever play charisma builds in Fallout. Obviously a charisma build, he's a looker, a fucker, and trades like nobody else. He specializes in repairing up old items and selling them for probably more than they're worth. I donned a dirty tan suit (seriously, where are all the clean suits in the game? I desire one) and threw on a white-wolf fedora I purchased for 125 caps at a player's vendor. Was it worth that much? it was to me. I was ready to try for the RP experience.
My friends came back on the next day so I got my group back together, quests were out of the window again, however we found new enjoyment in building and sharing our camp designs. We struck on an idea as my pals liked how I was handling the character of Charisman: why not all move our camps together, somewhere centralized, all get into our characters and run a trading hub? We got to work. Settling on the New River Gorge Resort, up the nature trail from Flatwoods on the R59. It was perfect. Right up the road from the starting town, could be seen from the door to Vault 76, this was a good location. I dropped my camp down at the top of the nature trail and started building a central trade store. I would have the trading lodge, somebody else would have an Inn, another an outpost. I built my store using the default wood structures which worked amazingly as they blended in perfectly with the other pre-made structures at the resort, giving the appearance that we had taken over and renovated one of the buildings.
I spent the night on my camp, getting the materials I needed. Pretty soon I had a humble lodge. FREE Workshop access, FREE food and water, radio and instrumental band entertainment, strong defensible concrete walls and turrets to keep the mountain riff-raff out, I wanted to provide an area for new players to go to where they could grab a good amount of starter supplies and be greeted by a friendly face to make those first few hours a little easier; it was looking good. I then filled my vendors with every category of loot for paying visitors and got into character, even making a little desk area for to sit when I saw people coming.
I rehearsed my character intro a few times as I saw new faces entering Flatwoods, just incase they stopped by my camp, long behold they did. A level 3 walked in to see what my place was all about, I gave them the introduction:
"Well hey there stranger, you look new around these parts. The name's Charisman, friends call me Todd, Todd Charming, welcome to the R59 Trading Lodge. Make yourself at home, everything's free from the food to the entertainment as long as it's not in my pockets or my vendors, ya dig?" I have a decent mic and some amateur voice acting experience too so I tried my best to make it authentic.
They shot me a thumbs up emote and a heart, then used my facilities for a while. It wasn't the RP encounter I was hoping for, but it was good by me. I kept this up for a couple hours, made a few sales and all round just had a really good time being a trader. My main hope was that I was adding to these players' immersion, giving them the experience that I was craving out of this game.
Day 5 of the trial, my group hopped back on, we ran around for a bit, doing events, seeing people's camps and gathering more items to sell. I have amassed a decent amount of plans at this stage so I started adding to my camp again. Threw up posters and other decor, lights, better defenses. We were getting more customers and I was making quite a few caps despite the game's best efforts to keep me poor. I spent 1.7K on the plans for the Level Action Rifle, one of my favorite types of weapon and the signature gun I pictured Charisman would have. I was feeling pretty contempt with what I had, outside of a few odds and ends that I could only get through the Atom store, though there was a notable and obvious absence of something throughout the entire week that was missing to complete my RP experience… anyone at all using gamechat. I hadn't come across a single person who was using the voice chat, contrary to my experience in the beta where literally everyone was using it (but that could be to do with the fact that they didn't have a choice).
I was craving a little character interaction, where NPC's couldn't offer me this, I wasn't getting it from players either. It was starting to become painfully obvious that the game desperately needed private servers and mod support for RP communities to congregate.
Until the next day, when I sorta got my wish. Second to the last day of the trial, the last day I would be playing with my group as we all got busy after that. A fresh faced dweller walks into Flatwoods, heads up the nature trail and comes across my trading lodge, this time my whole group is there and we're all in character. Charisman the lead entrepreneur, Red the ghoul muscle and Lucky the freeloading addict. We all had our mics ready for some improvised character interactions around the camp. I hand the player the introduction as I had done many times at this stage, my friends laughing in discord as this is the first they'd heard it, I maintained composure.
"-as long as it's not in my pockets or my vendors, ya dig?"
"yep, sounds good my man" the man replied, with paraphrasing.
FUCK, I was stunned, and we were all genuinely happy that somebody with a mic just walked into our store. We held back laughter and kept it business over voice chat. All of us acting like NPC's, walking around at normal pace, using the odd facility, talking to one another in character. The player stuck around for a while, then next we knew there was somebody else, and another player, and another. Shortly we had 6-7 people wondering around the lodge, using the workshops, the purifiers and buying from my vendors. It was bliss, so we put on the best show that we could conjure.
I had a stint with Lucky where she was trying to get me to feed her meds and alcohol addiction, Charisman of course refused, being a man of class. The player with the mic walked up, (unfortunately I forget his username) and straight up offered to give her vodka for a price, she went for it. This guy just fucking Mama Murphy'd my friend. We were all pissing ourselves laughing with the mics off, I gave a sigh in character and then we continued on. The player came back a few times throughout the night, before walking up to me and thanking me for letting him use my lodge, he told me how he hoped to visit again one day, but he had to go for the night. I had the biggest grin on my face, but I troopered on, giving him a character driven goodbye.
"Thanks for visiting the R59 Trading Lodge pal, be sure to tell your friends, stay safe out there."
He thanked me again and logged off. We knew we'd likely never meet this player again, but we all hoped we would. So to the fresh faced dweller of british origin who for some reason was also playing the game at 3am, I thank you for making our night and entertaining our gameplay fantasy. Even though he had no character of his own, we had a grand time treating him as the protagonist, and I hope his time with Fallout 76 is richer for the experience we offered him. I wish we had recorded it, as this was the most fun I'd had in a video game for some significant time.
We all logged off a couple hours later. Contempt with our time in the trial. Eager to buy the game but adamant to wait for a price reduction as we still felt that the game had a ways to go before it was what we wanted it to be. We agreed to wait for rather a large price cut or the addition of private servers before getting our mitts on copies.
Okay, now to the point of the title. A couple days go past and I find myself really missing the character of Charisman. I tried loading up Fallout Tale of Two Wastelands as this is where I originally got the idea of being a repair and resale guy, cramming together suits of enclave power armor and selling them to vendors for stupid amounts of caps. I loaded up a new save, called myself Charisman and played for a couple hours… couldn't get into it. I thought that was weird, TTW has entertained me for many hundreds of hours, I can't think of a reason why I wouldn't be enjoying it now, hell, the mechanics and systems are much more detailed and enjoyable than FO76's, what's going on here?
I figured I must just be missing camp building and the visual aesthetic, so I installed a few Fallout 4 mods and hopped on there to try get my jollies… Couldn't get into it. I even got the same exact costume and look from 76, did the same build minus some liberties because of the card system, but something wasn't clicking after a few hours of going around…
It was the NPC's. The same characters that had immersed and enthralled me for hundreds upon hundreds of hours and many playthroughs before, were husks to me now…
Every conversation they threw at me was obviously scripted, so there was nothing new, the experience was predictable and I found myself skipping most of the dialogue. I was craving player interaction, I was craving unpredictable conversations and roleplaying encounters. But it was more than just interactions, it dawned on me then more than ever before that all these Bethesda RPG's that I have spent years enjoying never actually really let me do what I wanted. I wanted to be a trader so badly in that moment, not the protagonist trading my loot to another vendor, I wanted to own that market and I wanted to be the one providing that experience. Fallout 3, New Vegas and 4 weren't offering what I wanted… Fallout 76 is. This realization took me back. 76 is every bit the mess that it's made out to be in my opinion, it has core gameplay and balancing issues, its content isn't amazingly gripping, and it gates off valuable cosmetic content behind rather large grind walls or straight up paywalls, but despite that, it's the only thing I wanted to play, because it's one of the few games I know of where the story is truly yours to tell.
I feel as though Fallout 76 has opened a door for me just a little that has been locked for some time, the genuine active desire to tell my own narrative and engage in shared creativity with other people… and it feels great.
Right now, I can't go back to how things were, repeating the same single player narrative over and over, looking for alternative dialogues I'd never seen before and searching for methods of play that have eluded me for years. I still love these games, they're easily some of my favorite games of all time, and I have no doubt that eventually I will feel the desire to experience their stories, settings and characters again. But for now, I don't wanna be the character who experiences somebody else's story, I wanna be the one making it, and for that I am shockingly thankful for my time with the Fallout 76 trial.
I hope to someday soon get back into Charisman's boots and provide the best experience I possibly can to players out there in the world, I look forward to enjoying the character further with the Fallout DnD my group and I shall be playing soon, but to end this post: Above all else I hope that each and every player who rolled through the Route 59 Trading Lodge was immersed, I hope that our roleplay brightened your view of the game and opened you up to the potential of RP interaction.
TL;DR – We RP'd a bunch in the trial, found so much enjoyment doing so that the craving to continue being truly free in that world has at least temporarily numbed me to the singe-player entries in the series. FO76 surprisingly offers for what I feel like is the first time, a truly open RPG experience in the Fallout universe, that is ripe for continuation, and I greatly look forward to the addition of NPC's, choices & consequences, plus private/mod server support. If these features are pulled off well while retaining the near complete freedom of character that 76 currently offers, it will be a game I can see myself playing on a regular basis for many years to come.
Thanks for reading.
-Todd "Charisman" Charming & the R59 Trading Group.
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