Fallout 76 releases ‘Wastelanders’ expansion

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Krista Olson-Lehman, Staff Writer

“War never changes.” So goes the introduction to many of Bethesda Softworks “Fallout” titles.

Like so many Fallout titles, your character begins life underground, in the safety of a numbered vault, a fallout shelter designed for the potential of nuclear annihilation in a world war. This game takes place earlier than the previous games. Your vault, Vault 76, is a collection of the brightest minds, prepping to walk out of the vault on “Reclamation Day” and rebuild the world with your combined skills. Taking place in the year 2102, 25 years after a world war has irradiated and marred the landscape, your character is not sure what to expect out there. Vault 76 is located in ‘Appalachia,’ formerly West Virginia. Upon leaving the vault, the landscape is yours to explore, with familiar real-world places and monuments.

I have been a super fan of Fallout video games since a friend talked me into preordering the “Fallout 3” collector’s edition that came in a metal lunch box in 2008. I followed it up with Fallout New Vegas and Fallout 4, respectively.

When Fallout 76 was released in 2018, I had also preordered the game. I was disappointed. With the release of the “Wastelanders” expansion, built right into the game, I gave it another try.

Contrary to the first few titles single player format, Fallout 76 is an open world multiplayer online role-playing game. I will admit that these are not always my cup of tea, as I prefer to play my games without teenage boys yelling obscenities into their headsets, or high-level payers complaining about ‘newbies.’ These kinds of games tend to put large groups of people together who can all hear and speak to each other, and it doesn’t always work out too well for players. An example of another Bethesda title with an online component is the Elder Scrolls series. I have played many of those single player titles, but when playing “The Elder Scrolls Online,” I find the areas crowded with people riding on horses and little skirmishes breaking out all over between players. Its like running though an extremely crowded city of people with terribly uncouth character names, trying to complete a quest to slay a monster and get a reward while some guy is on his microphone yelling rap lyrics.

Luckily, Fallout 76 is not nearly as crowded, and all the times I’ve played it, I didn’t have to hear much of any chatter.

Fallout 76 was missing a really important component of the previous titles. There were no non-playable characters (NPC). Obviously, you would see other online players running about fighting creatures and scavenging for necessities like food, water, weapons, ammo and utility items. But quests were done by following a bread crumb trail of tapes left over from people’s travels, helping you to move forward in the storyline. Stores were run by robots, who despite having good manners come off as flat. Nowhere on the map would you run into an actual person. You’re following the footsteps of one person who is alive, but not in Appalachia, and the recordings of good deeds of people who tried to help the populace but died in the process. No people living in Appalachia, no towns to explore with residents, off beat storefronts and wacky side quests. Don’t get me wrong the original Fallout 76 had plenty of quests, they were just stumbled upon by finding a note in a container or a tape laying on a desk somewhere.

You can complete Fallout 76’s quests without help, if you are so inclined. Originally, you could join in on a quest with others who are on your server to tackle harder areas. If you have friends you play with, the game would allow you to team up with up to three other friends. Fallout 76 uses many servers, keeping the maximum number of people on each server low. It resembles the previous Fallout titles in the styles of questing, giving hints and clues where to go next and using a compass marker to get you to the next stop along the way. But instead of having NPC humans you could choose your dialogue with, you get another tape or another robot telling you precisely what to do. Half the fun of playing Fallout titles is using intimidation on people to get information or sweet talking someone into helping you. Fallout 76 also has events, timed quests where you could enter an area and play with anyone sharing the server with you, all towards a common goal and common rewards.

Fallout 76 also added the ability for people to find old nuclear missile silos and use them to annihilate places on the map, potentially triggering higher level items to be scavenged and a multitude of higher level enemies to defeat.

Building on the settlement experience from Fallout 4, Fallout 76 has a camp ability. You can set up and personalize your camp area with resources and utility benches to make creating and scrapping the items you scavenge a lot easier. Scavenging is a huge part of every Fallout title.

One thing about Fallout 76 I found disappointing in comparison with previous titles is how hard it is to get better weapons and armor. The leveling system uses a card deck of perks that you pick along the way, and when you defeat an enemy and loot the corpse, the items you get are not in good condition and likely need repair. In previous Fallout games you could sell the extra weapons and armor you collected and get enough in game currency to buy upgraded armor and weapons. In this multiplayer online environment, upgrades are hundreds of caps, and the items you sell are worth 2-4 caps. It takes much longer to build up your offensive and defensive power, which can keep you from moving forward in the game if you keep getting clobbered by higher level super mutants before you can reach the next point in your quest. Ammunition is too pricey for low level players to stock up on because of this and dealing with stronger enemies can get frustrating.

Another thing about Fallout 76 that I find less than desirable is the amount of microtransactions you could end up making. Other online games such as “Star Trek Online” have this system of using real money to buy in-game items, but most of those games are free to download. Fallout 76 still has to be purchased, and the Wastelanders content is just newly stitched into the game mechanics. For someone buying this game for the first time, finding out that all the customizations and utility items people are using cost real money via the “atom store” could be very off putting. Those items aren’t necessary, but a lot of these multiplayer online games have social components and players enjoy customizing their characters looks and movements. You have to use real world money to purchase atoms, and the atom store is separate from the in-game currency of caps. Most of these items are purely cosmetic, to make your character look a certain way no matter what armor they are wearing.

The addition of NPCs has been great for Fallout 76. While it still has some of its original pitfalls, its nice to interact with human characters. The dialogue options are not very broad, as the multiplayer environment doesn’t lend itself to the personalized play style a single player environment would. One of the quirks of this is the fact NPCs will allow you to rob their encampments, and merely tell you that you should leave, without any threatening moves.

Also new with Wastelanders is the Fallout 1st subscription. This subscription plan is cost effective if you buy a lot of the customized items in the atom store, as it gives you 1,650 atoms per month as part of your $12.99 per month subscription. You can also purchase a full year at the reduced price of $99.99. This gives you access to private servers as well, allowing you to play with only the players you choose to, increasing the friends you can quest with to 8. Its disappointing that private servers are only available with a paid subscription. I might not mind the multiplayer environment as much if I had some control over it or joined a trusted friend’s server.

A previous addition to Fallout 76, “Nuclear winter” was released in mid 2019. As of this writing it is still in the beta stage. This is a large-scale battle, where up to 52 players choose teams of 4 and battle each other for victory. Many other online games have this style of player versus player combat. In Nuclear Winter, you start out in a different vault, Vault 51, as a circle of fire engulfs the areas surrounding you. This section of the game is separate from the main adventure server.

I think Bethesda did a good job trying to appease the wants of old fans like myself, but still managed to fall a little short of expectation. The online format probably works well for some newer players to the franchise. Older fans like myself still prefer the ability to nuke an entire town for profit or act as the hero of the post-apocalyptic wasteland. Previously, Fallout had a message of morality. The well-developed NPCs had opinions on the way the world had turned out. Decisions you made to be inherently good or evil affected gameplay and the way other NPCs spoke to you or treated you. You could be the master of your destiny in the single player format. In Fallout 76, you’re just one of a few other vault dwellers running around accomplishing quests and potentially blowing things to smithereens. Without that personalized touch, it can feel tedious running around trying to accomplish tasks on quests.

Fallout 76 is a good choice for players that like multiplayer online role playing games, but probably not as fun for those who love single player RPGs.