You’ll notice immediately that the world is much more populated. From the start, you’re greeted by two women scouting Vault 76’s entrance, claiming to be looking for a treasure. After some back and forth, they gave me my first weapon and motioned me off to a nearby bar to check in with the locals. While it’s not exactly a mind-blowing interaction by traditional Fallout standards, the idea of conversing with folks in a meaningful way nudges Fallout 76 slightly closer to that traditional Fallout experience.Though there aren’t a ton of NPCs to meet from the start, the ones you do interact with are actually quite charming and memorable. Duchess plays the role of a hardened barkeep looking for a new start very well, and keeping with Bethesda’s tradition of hiring celebrities for their roles, Jaon Mewes’ Mordecai is full of dumb charm. Although Fallout 76 is built in the Fallout 4 engine, the dialogue harkens back to the Fallout 3 and New Vegas days, where engaging with someone kicks in the classic Bethesda slow zoom and background fade. And though your character is still a mute, you’re given with plenty of options to cycle through.
Now, because Fallout 76 is still an active online experience with other players, I was curious how Bethesda would tackle interactive conversations and decisions. While the solution seems fairly simple, it’s elegant in its execution. Essentially, anything meaningful happens in instanced versions of the world, so when you enter a shop or a cave, you and your party are the only ones there. This allows for scenes to play out as intended with full dynamic camera movement to boot.
The Wastelanders story itself is simple but still interesting. Raiders and Settlers are flocking to Appalachia because, frankly, it’s safer than where they’ve been. It’s up to you as a native to warn these newcomers about the scorched threat that plagues the land.What starts as a linear quest line eventually splits into separate factions, as you complete tasks and daily missions for the two factions, all while earning reputation with them as well. Everyone you meet fits in with the world. I’m particularly drawn to the friendly Settlers who are just trying to keep their people safe while building a new home for themselves in a desolate wasteland. It’s very Fallout. Although, I suppose the Raiders storming in and stealing things by force is also very fitting. Post-apocalypses, amirite?
The big bummer you’ll find with Wastelanders is honestly the fact that vanilla Fallout 76 still exists at all. Meeting NPCs in the wild, only for them to nudge you to join the original 76 story line is a bit of a drag. I found it very strange that there are basically two main storylines now: Wastelanders and vanilla. I was happy ignoring Fallout 76’s original “chasing ghosts” storyline in favor of the new Wastelanders one, that was until Wastelanders quests came to a screeching halt just as it was getting exciting, and required me to rank up to level 20. This is where having a high-level character to avoid the abrupt stop comes in handy.
After fun dialogue moments with interesting NPCs and using a trash-talking severed robot head to fight off scorched, I was suddenly dumped back into the not-so-great Fallout 76, and told I needed to stay there for 11 more levels. It was a huge bummer.I want to meet people, I want to engage in interesting storylines, but now I’m once again taking on menial tasks where I gather water and listen to audio log after audio log from people I’ll never get to meet. These older quests are spiced up however, although usually in minimal ways. For example, clearing the scorched from the Morgantown Airport now ends with you meeting a man who now lives there, claiming he came here looking for his brother and has decided to live where his brother presumably died. It adds a bit of flair but doesn’t drastically alter what was originally there.
Luckily, I am happy to report that once I did get to level 20, Wastelanders took the reins once more and I was thrust back into the post-apocalypse I much prefer to be in. And while I wasn’t allowed to play much beyond opening up the Raiders and Settlers storylines, I’m told from Bethesda that reaching level 20 does, in fact, unlock the full breadth of Wastelanders content.
While Wastelanders is definitely a step in the right direction, it doesn’t suddenly transport you back to Bethesda’s classic Fallout experience. For example, while looking for a gang hideout, I met a father who claimed he didn’t know anything about it. After poking around and speaking to his daughter, I was informed that there was an audio log hidden in the cabin. I found it and discovered the man killed his wife and made a deal with the gang to keep himself and his daughter safe. To my surprise, I was able to confront him about it and he fessed up to his crimes, but when I talked to him again, he resorted back to his normal state of not knowing anything about gang hideout. Wastelanders definitely reminds you that this is a shared-world experience, and you, as one lowly player, are not the center of this world’s attention as you were in previous Fallouts.
Overall, Wastelanders is the jolt of story and interaction that Fallout 76 was desperately missing. Existing characters are more fleshed out, and being tasked to search for someone now occasionally results in you actually finding them instead of just a charred or mangled corpse. The Appalachian roadsides are populated with folks willing to share information on nearby key points that are evolving. For example, I cleared a cave of scorches, and then was told to return a few quests later and discovered the place had now been overrun with mole rats. In this way, what you’re doing actually feels like you have a small impact. Unfortunately, there’s still too much of the old Fallout 76 in here to fully recommend it to folks who were totally turned off by its original form.But with a full story seemingly ahead of me, and an infrastructure in place to deliver holiday events and additional story content, Fallout 76 is in a better place now than it’s ever been. I just hope that Wastelanders keeps the content flowing, and isn’t just there for little story beats cut interstitially around Fallout 76’s bland original storyline. Time will tell, but as of now, I’m very eager to jump back in and explore this slightly new but very improved Fallout 76.
Mark Medina is a huge Fallout fan that can’t wait to explore everything the new and improved Fallout 76 has to offer! You can follow along on his adventures here on Twitter.