Wastelanders breathes new life into a still problematic Fallout 76

Fallout 76 started out in a very shaky manner in 2018. As I pointed out in my review back then, the game was simply not that fun to play due to a number of outstanding problems, mainly the lack of any live NPCs to interact with and the general dull activities the main robots and voice recordings had you do. Bethesda hasn’t stopped working on the game since then, and now a year and change later, it finally put out a substantial free update called Wastelanders: its main goal to bring human life back to Appalachia. 

In that, it mostly succeeds. Whether you’re just starting a new character and heading out Vault 76 or a veteran of the West Virginian wastelands with hundreds of hours under your belt, there’s certainly a stark difference to the game when compared to how it launched, and while it’s still not as polished experience as I would’ve liked, the 40+ hours I’ve spent playing it since its April 15th launch go to show that open-world games can be incredibly fun even when, uhm… broken like Fallout 76 is.

For some reason or another, I lost access to my previous save back from when I originally reviewed Fallout 76, so I started it all over again. It proved to be a great call in the end, considering that the new story content pops up as early as a player steps off the vault. Two human NPCs approach you to ask about some sort of treasure rumored to be located within, and you’re free to be an ass and totally lie to them about it ten minutes into the game. Whatever your response, they point you towards Wayward, a new bar that’s popped up a few miles away from your home base, and thus that’s where your initial human content begins.

The wendigo is just as terrifying as ever…

It’s surprising to think that fake computer people would make that much of a difference in the time playing a game, and that might just be me being tired of being in quarantine due to the recent international viral outbreak, but it helps having someone to “talk” to in this, and it’s been making a huge difference within my time playing Fallout 76. That and the substantial improvement in quest design for the most part, going for more than simple kill, loot, and return slogs, along with some of the quality writing that Bethesda’s known for in their other open-world games like Skyrim, something’s that’s been missing in this particular game.

Outside of merely giving you quests, you also tend to run into other humans a lot during your journey in Appalachia, be it NPCs merely going about their ways like yourself, but now they can also come as a new flavor of enemy variety, breaking up the monotonous Scorcher and mole people line of things to hit really hard or merely shot. Speaking of which, for the first time ever playing a Fallout game, I’ve been focusing on melee attacks, something I’ve only really done playing an Elder Scrolls game.

Maybe that’s because the combat in this game can be downright atrocious when trying to aim a gun and shoot it. I’m not sure it’s the fault of it being constantly online and not allowing you to use proper V.A.T.S, that is, slowing down time and picking specific body parts to shoot during encounters, but I haven’t had a whole lot of fun handling firearms, instead focusing on hitting the ever living shit out of everything with a tricked out rocket-powered sledgehammer. Playing this way benefits for the overall jankiness of the gameplay in Fallout 76 in hilarious ways, thanks to some weird physics that are a trademark of the franchise since moving to FPS, and the thuds and oofs of handling a heavy weapon with little regard for anything around me.

Welcome to Foundation, the home of the Settlers. Get ready to work your ass off!

But let’s get back to the human interaction within the game. Wastelanders introduces two new factions for you to vie for or be an absolute cheat to. The Settlers and Raiders each offer unique benefits and storylines that I’m getting slowly into and that so far have been pretty nuanced and not at all black and white. The Raiders have established themselves in a crash space station and have to be approached by interacting with the atrocious and incredibly annoying Rose — who you should know if you’ve played the game before, a robot who thinks they’re a raider and sends you all over the map in order to do a lot of boring quests. The Settlers, instead, have made a pretty big base for themselves in an industrial park of sorts and have been the first faction I started interacting with.

Funnily enough, both of them are completely oblivious to the Scorcher outbreak you eventually find a cure during the base game’s story, and it ends up being up to you to help them inoculate themselves before partaking into the long reputation level grind their quest lines take you in. I’m relatively early into these myself, but just getting to see the politics that go on in these communities has been positively refreshing, especially comparing it to what I couldn’t find in the original version of Fallout 76 because there wasn’t any. 

Then there are the allies you pick up along the way that eventually move into your mobile C.A.M.P base and offer you a whole new line of quests to work in. Sofia, for instance, is an astronaut that you find hurt and half to death inside a random silo in the swamps who had no idea that the nuclear apocalypse had happened when her ship crash landed in West Virginia. Her story so far has been pretty cool to follow, and I’m looking forward to finding more people to rescue and get to know if their stories are anywhere near as great as hers. To all accounts, these people will also bring romance options to Fallout 76, but so far I’ve yet to open up that option of interaction with her outside of her moving in with me and helping me defend my base from intruders. Ah, right, that might be her way of saying “I like you”, right? The end of the world sure makes one’s senses dull to these things!

You’ll finally meet the Overseer face to face. Must be stinky inside that vault suit after everything she’s been through!

Since coming back to the game I’ve been mostly occupied by discovering map spots and expanding my line of options when moving around, and for the most part, it’s proved to be a whole lot of fun, but a sort of fun that I’ve been creating for myself. As with a lot of games of its ilk, Fallout 76 can be really good for the sort of player that enjoys going at it in their own pace, injecting their experience with their own goals and objectives. In that regard, I can safely say that 2/3s of my total playtime has been pumped into just that.

That’s not to say that people looking to follow a long laundry list of previously designed things to do won’t find anything to partake in this game. Thanks to the new update and the slew of content and revised quest design from the original release, Fallout 76 is as playable of a game in this state as the previous single player entry in the franchise, Fallout 4, even to a fault. The structure of that is plainly obvious not just graphics-wise, down to the focus of crafting and building, along with how everything works when it comes to dealing with inventory. It inherits all of the issues that made that game somewhat inferior when compared to Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas.

For the almost two years that Fallout 76 has been out, Bethesda has been on the Internet’s sights for negative comments, basically on a roll when it comes to blunders and badly communicating with their audience, be it with the game as a whole or the defective collector’s edition items, or even other games and their mixed quality. I will never agree with the sheer amount of violent rage and hate that’s delivered online over a dumb videogame at any point, and the reason that it’s been happening is positively atrocious.

Some quests can get downright bizarre in Wastelanders. Then again, being weird is Fallout’s M.O.

Granted, the company is by no means free of fault when it comes to them delivering a weak game to begin with, even though it’s commendable to see just how much work that’s gone into making Fallout 76 better. I’m positively impressed with how it all went down and just how much I’m enjoying the end product of months of hard work that developers must likely have spent redesigning the game.

That work has in no way influenced the amount of jank within the game, and as with the other open-world games under the Bethesda banner, it’s riddled with small issues, some especially tied to being an online product. Enemy levels can wildly vary within the same location depending on the player level of other people in your world, which influence how good of a time you’ll have diving into some ruins when suddenly mobs twice your character level suddenly rush and destroy you. That was a big problem with the original release that is still ever present now. In my case, exiting the server and entering another solved this most of the times, while on others it forced me to be creative with my approach, usually leading to running for my merry life after completing objectives, when applicable.

If you’re like me and are able to look past all the online vitriol surrounding Fallout 76 and give it a chance, it’s likely to surprise you. Then again, it is a game that benefits from making your own fun and taking your time with it even if its quest structure is totally serviceable as it is without any extra effort on your part. It’s been a long time since a game has 180ed in my personal opinion as this has, and I just can’t wait to jump back into it again. So if you’ll excuse me, I’ll see you somewhere in the wasteland.

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