In the weeks leading up to the release of Fallout 76, a number of text chains developed among my gamer friends. And it seemed like every couple days another nail was entering the coffin: It's online-only, there are no NPCs, there are no traditional quests familiar to fans of Fallout, etc. It was generally agreed among most of us that we'd probably skip this one, especially given the massive fetch quest sim that was 2016's Fallout 4.
But then a funny thing happened—I downloaded the game anyway.
Part of it is that I have a problem with just downloading any new release and letting the chips fall where they may. Part of it is remembering that developer Bethesda has wowed me before; with Fallout 3, with Skyrim. Part of it came after a back-and-forth text convo wherein a buddy pointed out that gamers' concerns over the perceived emptiness of the massive open world of West Virginia that makes up Fallout 76 is actually something we can work with. This is the post-apocalyptic wasteland, after all, and the narrative sets us up as part of a team that emerges from their fallout shelter to reclaim the land. In other words, of course there are no settlements—we are the pioneers.
Oh sure, this is ultimately a thin premise, and I share in the skeptics' misgivings over the traditional Fallout structure, but may I first remind you that Fallout 3 was a wild departure from the series' roots, and then may I point out how there is still plenty to do in Appalachia. All I'm saying is, give Fallout 76 a chance.
First of all, there absolutely are quests, they're just not given by people so much as they are undertaken through circumstance. In the early hours of gameplay, we managed to call in an automated supply drop, visit some of the overseer's personal past, listen to any number of recordings from one-time residents of the area, get a glimpse into the mind of a bookstore owner courting tourism, fight mutants and robots, craft guns and armor, and team up with a couple other players roaming around the wilderness. These seemingly random (it's early in the release window) encounters task players with taking down enemies or scrambling with supplies and will surely evolve over time, but for now they're a great way to play alongside others and up one's arsenal.
This is really what Fallout 76 is all about: putting us together to experience the wasteland with others. This can be accomplished through simply partying up with friends, or even by approaching and offering a team-up to strangers. But—and hear me out here—there's something sort of magical about going it alone. Certainly combat encounters become more difficult, and there's a pervasive sense of loneliness at play, but this actually adds to the fun. Rarely did we find other players outside of our forays into the public events, and rarely did we care. Chalk this up to an Omega Man fantasy, or spin it into a self-soothing philosophy about how we're getting an earlier look at the Fallout universe, but Bethesda wasn't lying about solo play so much as they were wisely tempering expectations. Yes, this is a different experience than we're used to from this series, but given gamers' well-documented ire over similar experiences or staid annual franchises, does that equate to badness?
Bethesda has already said something to the tune of they'd like Fallout 76 to be updatable and playable forever (not hyperbole) but, for now, they've laid a solid foundation that may feel sort of empty for the time being, but could blossom into something spectacular. Of course, if that doesn't work for you, we hear tell that some players out there are volunteering their time to act as NPCs and quest-givers—something we'd love to see Bethesda potentially embrace and support. We'll make sure to get back into the wasteland and tell you more as we learn more.
*SFR is playing Fallout 76 on the Xbox One X.