What I learned from the Fallout 76 Experiment

fallout 6 - What I learned from the Fallout 76 Experiment

So I've always loved this series, and was super excited when hearing of a fallout online game. We've all had that idea at one point, walking through DC or Boston thinking "damn, it would be awesome to play this online." But this would face challenges that other online games don't have, precisely because it's the fallout series. These games, at there core, are about decision making. As a player, you "role play," not only by choosing your weapons and armor, but mostly by creating a backstory to yourself, and making decisions for the wasteland in order to drive it towards one path or the other.

Fallout 76 isn't flawed just because of bugs. Even if all of them get patched, it'll still be missing the most important aspect of any fallout game. At it's core, it is broken. You cannot engage in conversation with NPCs, you cannot "choose" a faction, there aren't really any factions that actually "do" anything or stand for something. Your character will emerge from the vault, and complete the quest, to turn out exactly like all the other players. The only "role playing" decision you can make is "will I be heavy gun, melee, shotgun, or rifle?"

This isn't role playing, and I'm not sure how bethesda can "fix" it.

I had so much fun playing it with friends, for the first few weeks. But the honeymoon period is over, and now my friends have mostly stopped playing. I was the last holdout, but I can't spend more than 30 minutes on it. It's not due to the bugs. It's due to the inherent pointlessness of the plot, the lifelessness of the world, and the lack of belief that I can change or do anything through my choices.

The "quests" of this game include:

– Repair the power stations (Why though? Is there a settlement that could use the power? If we do this a thousand times, will we be making a difference to the world? Nope, you get some plans and ammo.)

– Fetch this or kill that (Why? I could do this a thousand times and my reputation doesn't grow, the game doesn't change, nothing happens.)

– Escort a messenger (Come on, there is literally no point to this.)

– Personal goals. Find better weapons, get more ammo, make more stims. (But after a while you wonder, why? Just prepare for the next fight, to prepare for the next fight, to prepare for scavenging run, to prepare for the next fight? It's entirely circular. You aren't building towards anything)

– The main quest, Kill the Queen. (This is the only quest with possible meaning to it. The scorched plague must be stopped. But even when you finish it, you realize, "nothing happens." The queen battle keeps repeating. You have absolutely no effect on anything.)

What a fallout game should be, a "World-building" experience:

– Faction choosing, making decisions that are ethically tricky, in order to move the world forward, in whatever way we believe is right. In fallout 4 we asked ourselves:

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"Maybe the institute is the best hope for humanity. Even if the synths are sentient, how is slavery worse than what already exists? And this institute has made incredible progress. The teleportation itself could allow for safe trade and travel. And as director of the institute, we could start opening up to the wasteland. We could, through force, build a new civilization?"

"The Brotherhood is our best hope. The Institute is playing with fire, and they've been keeping the commonwealth down for 200 years. They've no intention of helping, they are a plague, and the only force that can practically stop them is the Brotherhood. So what if DC might be under occupation. I'd rather have order, cleansing the commonwealth of all those technological threats, which cannot exist side by side with humans. If we want humans to survive, we can show no mercy, we must have total resolve."


"The Railroad is the only faction trying to fight this crime against life. Institutionalized slavery becoming the basis for a new society cannot be tolerated. No matter what the "benefits" are, the ends never justify the means. We cannot allow ourselves to slip into that way of thinking. It blew up the world once, and it'll do it again."

"The minutemen are our only real chance. The people of the commonwealth must stand together. This Institute/Brotherhood/Railroad war is only a side show. The bigger picture is being ignored. We must protect ourselves, and take our survival into our own hands, not transfer the responsibility to a benevolent master. We've seen it work in California, we can start rebuilding a true state here. The institute and brotherhood have no intention of allowing this to happen. The railroad, though noble in their own right, have no intention of helping the people."

– Decision making, this happens in big and small ways. And each decision has an effect on your game.

In fallout 3, we chose to nuke megaton or save it. This literally changed the world you were in.

Every small conversation you engage in, from telling piper that she should continue pursuing the truth, to showing mercy for Benny, and even handing out purified water to strangers left you hopeful. "This small action made a difference." Eventually you see it in the world. Each choice having consequences and opening opportunities.

No matter what you do, things won't change overnight. But in those games you didn't feel helpless. You didn't feel pointless. You spent countless hours replaying and thinking "I have the power to change my circumstances and the entire world."

Why a fallout online game is difficult, but not impossible, and this isn't it at all

When we playing fallout solo games, we all wondered how we could turn this into an online game. A single character cannot possibly make a decision that affects everything. But together, over time, we should be allowed to move the world in one direction or the other.

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Such a game needs to have world-building elements. It needs factions with conflicting viewpoints and different perspective to choose from. It needs players engaging with those factions, and when a major event is finally here, to have the winning faction actually change some part of the story, for better or worse. It would be an ambitious project. Perhaps the most ambitious online game. But anything less, and it's not "fallout."

Players won't "create their own stories." Not the real stories, with plot, and ethical dilemmas, and heart. Players are no substitute for NPCs, and it's lazy to think so. Players are no substitute for conversation and dialogue. Players are no substitute for world building. The actions and decisions of other players can add to the overall environment very well, they can frustrate you or give you hope, but competing with them can't be the entire purpose. Where is the world? Where is the change? Where is the hope? Where are the decisions and consequence?

I don't know how they fix it. They would need to add completely new areas of the map, with settlements, with decisions, with dialogue. They need to add real factions with different motives. And they need the effects of the decisions being made to change the game. It would be like every six months or so, having a major battle, crisis, or event that will set the stage for the next chapter in the world. And right now, it's clear, bethesda had absolutely no intention or desire to create such a thing. They much prefer a shallow, looter shooter, money maker, under the fallout brand. I hope the developers remember why they got into video games, remember their roots, and start making art again.

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