About a month ago, my Xbox kicked the bucket and I went out and replaced it with an X, which came bundled with 76. Like basically everyone on Earth, I knew Fallout 76 had a uh… rocky launch. It's well known how buggy and unstable and downright unplayable the game was, as well as Bathesda's multiple PR snafus in the aftermath regarding all kinds of issues. After a few weeks of collecting dust, I finally figured, well, I've got the game, there's no harm in trying it. I'm not gonna add to the many, many tunes about disappointment and bugs and general discontent, though. I just wanted to hit one topic in particular that stood out to me.
Everybody remembers Todd Howard standing on stage and boldly proclaiming that every other human you see will be a player, and everyone could tell you why that idea is stupid. Human players aren't going to stand around handing out quests, they aren't going to go about a mundane schedule to make the world feel real, and they aren't going to run stores 24/7. In a series prized for its roleplaying, having a complete lack of characters to roleplay off of is frustrating and makes the experience feel empty and lonely. You want to Fallout, but you can't Fallout, because there's not enough Fallout in your Fallout.
But now, apparently, human NPCs are getting added in, which makes you figure that was always the plan, and I can't help but wonder how much smoother this would have gone down had Bathesda been transparent about their game plan from day one, because conceptually, the idea of Appalachia being a lonely, unpopulated world at launch isn't a bad one from a story telling and immersion standpoint. Hear me out.
So, let's pretend for a moment, that Howard had instead told everyone at E3, here's the deal: you, the players, are all residents of vault 76. You step out of the vault and enter a world only 25 years post-war. It's not yet the Fallout we know. There's no Brotherhood, no NCR, no Enclave. For all you know, you're the first people to step foot in this new world and there may not be anyone else in it but you anymore.
Everywhere you go, you find echoes of the old world and remnants, the footsteps, of people out there who survived the bombs, but no matter how hard you look, everyone appears long gone. It's just vault 76 for now. You're all alone in this hostile world and your biggest goal is to find other people who survived outside the vault and rebuild.
Then, let's pretend Bathesda had offered us a road map right from the start after dropping that info. A few expansion titles for us to chew over, set to be released periodically throughout the first year, a strategy they intend to follow every year after. Between those expansions, small updates will come, but with each big, new chunk of content, we'll see this world grow and change.
So right now, at the start, Appalachia is lonely, there are no humans living there right now, but only as of launch – "Reclamation Day", the first bit of content. Knowing that won't always be the case, though, maybe wouldn't have made it so shitty, especially if Bathesda had leaned into it and really played it up.
Right now, I'm bumbling about that first neighborhood – Flatlands, or Flatwood, or Fleetwood Mac, whatever it's called. I keep finding holotapes loaded with exposition, right next to the dead body of whoever recorded it. And you know what? The acting in those holotapes is actually pretty good. These Responders, they had something for a little while, they were good people. They were a community. But now, by the time I arrive, they're all dead, and it's actually sad. I feel lonely, listening to them express hope about their future, while knowing things ended badly. My vault dweller is constantly one step behind finding other people. As an atmosphere, that's actually pretty cool. They're just the first generaton in a long, long line of communities this new world will devour.
But then the game is telling me to go receive quests from a corpse, so I can turn it into an automated computer, and it fucks everything up, because now this loneliness I'm feeling isn't atmosphere, it's Bethesda acting like me doing quests for a dead guy I found on the floor is basically the same as getting them from an NPC who reacts to me, because hey, you're the real NPCs! Turning in quests to a terminal isnt the same as joining a faction, its boring, and acting like it's somehow the same is a mistake.
But I just keep thinking, had this quality been embraced and used to the 76's advantage, it would have been a unique Fallout experience. Imagine spending the first few months of this game where all of us are just 76 residents, digging through what's left of the world while we get a handle on the mechanics and systems and map, and initial tech issues at launch are sorted out (tech issues that are minor, not "Holy shit how can you charge me money for this").
Then, at the first big content drop, human NPCs show up in Appalachia. The story, our story, develops. Over the first year, towns start to pop up, factions form. We're basically playing a prequel, and over the course of the game's lifespan, we're watching the world of Fallout that we know slowly take shape in the aftermath of the bombs.
Look, maybe that was always the plan. But with a little more communication and a stronger execution, what feels like misfires could have been strengths. It still doesn't excuse the most egregious problems that weighed the game down at launch, but it as a Fallout experience, it could have been damn cool to live that as a planned approach.
Ah well. As it stands, months after launch and with the game's roughest edges smoothed a little bit, I'm neither here nor there with 76. It isn't, currently, shitty enough to annoy me, or good enough to really suck me in. Mostly its just a little boring with occasionally flourishes of interesting developments. But hopefully, in two years, people will say, hey, 76 is much better now. I suppose I'll jump in here and there along the way, mostly to kill time and hang out with Reggie, my vault dweller who looks like Lil Rel. We shall see what the future holds for 76
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