In Fallout 76, The Lone Wanderer Isn’t So Alone
War is back, and this time it’s… changed?!
When Todd Howard decided to grace audiences with his presence Sunday night at the tail end of Bethesda’s E3 press conference, he brought lots of megaton announcements with him. He revealed a brand new mobile Elder Scrolls game that you can play with one hand, should you need to do something… else while playing. He teased a brand new IP called Starfield, the first new original IP from his studio in 25 years. He was even nice enough to tease the highly-anticipated Elder Scrolls VI, most likely hoping that it will stop people from asking about Elder Scrolls VI. Perhaps most notably, however, he brought a whole lot of Fallout 76 news with him, and finally went into detail about just what exactly that game is.
Aligning with rumors that began circulating following the game’s initial reveal, Fallout 76 is an online Fallout game, which allows you and other players to explore, rebuild, and survive in the same desolate wasteland. Oh, and you can all nuke each other, I guess. And while the addition of online multiplayer is a first for the Fallout franchise that could potentially shake things up dramatically, I cannot help feeling like it removes the sense of lonesomeness and solitude that I have come to enjoy so much about those games.
Look, I’m gonna be frank here: Bethesda’s Fallout games aren’t exactly technical marvels, and I doubt there are many who would disagree with me on that. I don’t constantly revisit a game like Fallout 3 because I’m looking for deep, nuanced gameplay mechanics or polished, refined gunplay (did anyone say VATS?!). I do so because, despite my best efforts, I simply can’t get enough of those depressing and dour post-apocalyptic vibes. When I think back on my time spent with the previous Fallout games, I don’t think about the incalculable number of times that I blew someone’s head off in a ridiculous fashion. I seldom think about the settlements and survivors I met along my journey. Sure, blow up Megaton, what do I care! I think about the time spent wandering those desolate hellscapes of destruction and decay, with nothing to keep me company but my trusty laser pistol and the soothing sounds of my Pip-Boy radio.
Silence is a rare quality to come by in a game these days, especially in a big-budget, AAA game like Fallout. In something like Rare’s Sea Of Thieves, a fun pirate-themed banana eating simulator, it can often be difficult to find time to soak up the game’s whimsical vibes as you sail across the high seas because, well, you’re constantly being assailed with cannonballs by other players in your session. In a massive open world game like Grand Theft Auto V, you likely won’t have long to take in the many breathtaking sights that Los Santos has to offer before receiving a disruptive call from an NPC about a potential mission or, if you’re playing online, getting gunned down by another player. In this sense, that is what I adore so much about the Fallout games. In between completing missions, aiding settlements, and sifting through upgrade menus is a game that allows players to get away from it all; to breathe a little bit, something that multiplayer functionality could negatively impact.
When Fallout 4 released in November, 2015, it received lukewarm reactions from both critics and fans alike. Fewer notable quests, a greater emphasis on gunplay, and brand new base building mechanics that felt a bit too mandatory at times all made Fallout 4 a significantly worse game than its predecessors in my book. Despite these complaints, though, walking down the empty streets of Boston, keeping a watchful eye out for raiders or super mutants as I did so, meant that the thing I loved most about those games was still intact. I was alone and I was surviving. Choosing to toss multiplayer into the mix, however, seems like it is explicitly at odds with that.
In Fallout 76, there are no NPC’s to talk to. There are no settlements to happen upon. Nukes are good? The characters you meet along your journey are all actual people. Any settlements you discover in your travels are ones built either by you or the other players in your session. Any destruction, a result of your or other players doing. It’s an interesting idea – much more interesting than the Fallout Battle Royale game that was rumored following the game’s initial reveal – but it’s an idea that seems to go against not just my own personal desires from the franchise, but the established themes setup in the past games. In Fallout 3, you play as “The Lone Wanderer”, a child in search of their father. As you exit Vault 101 for the very first time, you find yourself in a large, mysterious world, with nothing and no one to tell you where to go. It is a moment that has come to define the games. Such isolation is hard to come by, though, when you toss others into the mix.
As a longtime Fallout fan, I’m both intrigued by and skeptical of Fallout 76. Fallout 4, in many ways, felt a bit too similar to its predecessors for many, but ultimately still retained the feeling of being all on one’s own in a giant post-apocalyptic world, my favorite aspect of the series. To see Bethesda actively attempting to shake things up so significantly is legitimately cool, especially for one of my most beloved franchises, which has, admittedly, felt a bit stagnant as of late. Nevertheless, my complaint still stands. Adding multiplayer to a Fallout game might help breathe some fresh life into the franchise in a big way, but I can’t help feeling like the world will never feel smaller.
Follow all of OK Beast’s E3 2018 coverage here.