Just before E3 this year, Bethesda Game Studios released a short video teasing the newest addition to the critically acclaimed Fallout franchise: Fallout 76. Shortly afterwards, it was announced that Fallout 76 was going to be multiplayer-only, marking a radical change in direction for the celebrated RPG series. The response to this was mixed, to say the least, with Fallout fans all over the world expressing their concern about the decision to stray from the series’ roots. However, Fallout 76 makes more sense than any other Fallout game to date.
The bombs have dropped, and the world has become an apocalyptic wasteland. Tainted by radiation from nuclear activity, nothing is as it was before, and in order to survive, a person must adapt to their surroundings. This is the premise of the Fallout series, in which the player takes on the role of a lone survivor in order to experience the game’s adventure. To date, the series has enjoyed both critical acclaim and commercial success and has become an iconic part of contemporary popular culture. However, the many strengths boasted by the Fallout series thus far are, in a sense, also its weaknesses in relation to the upcoming Fallout 76, for what better way to test humanity’s resolve post-apocalypse than to pit real people against each other in a multiplayer virtual war zone?
In addition to Super Mutants and Radroaches, there have always been human enemies in Fallout. From stock NPCs known as Raiders to three-dimensional antagonists to entire factional institutions, there has been no shortage of examining humanity’s futile attempt to survive in the barren and defeated landscape of Fallout. However, these enemies are ultimately programmed to respond to the commands of artificial intelligence, meaning that their actions occur as the result of prewritten code, as opposed to immediate human input.
This is not the case in Fallout 76, where every character serves as a medium through which the player can act vicariously. Any action undertaken by a character in-game at any given time is an immediate response to the command of a real person. Combine this with the survival and crafting mechanics recently revealed in Fallout 76’s C.A.M.P. trailer, and you’ve got a world in which the player must consciously play the part of an apocalypse survivor in order to survive. True, this was the case in previous installments of the franchise, but now the player must recognize that the actions undertaken by other characters similarly result from the input of other players. As a result, the choices made for the sake of survival stem from human ethics and choices, meaning that Fallout 76 is much more in line with ideating humanity’s response to a forced existence in a borderline inhospitable world on the verge of extinction.
The multiplayer nature of Fallout 76 implies that the game will be focused more on map control than map exploration, which was a prominent feature of previous Fallout titles. Instead of scouring the Wasteland for bobbleheads and comic books, the player will need to look for crafting materials and strategically-viable places to hole up with their group. This is assuming that the player decides to group up in the first place, instead of trying their luck on their own. Although a group of Raiders can be easily incapacitated by the player in previous Fallout games, the groups of enemies the player encounters in Fallout 76 will be smarter, more innovative, and far more merciless. On the other hand, a group can potentially offer an olive branch to a lone wanderer; “Hey there, why don’t you join us? There’s strength in numbers.” Given the nature of the game, either party could betray the other the second the mutual benefit wears thin, but that’s the beauty of all of this in the first place. It’s totally down to the decisions of actual people.
So, although Fallout 76 may not have been what Bethesda fans were expecting, nor was it what they particularly wanted, upon closer inspection, it looks like a truly interesting project. One of the best parts of the Fallout series to date is how well it has designed its companions. What better step forward than to say, “Hey, there’s no companion more realistic and intuitive than another player.” By the same logic, there’s no enemy more capable than a player on the other team, and in the Wasteland, who knows how many teams there are? All you can know for sure is that you’re alive, for now, and you’ve got to do whatever it takes to stay that way. Whether that involves teaming up with some shady types, or detonating a nuclear reactor is irrelevant; you’re alive, and that means you’ve got a chance in the Wasteland.
Fallout 76 will catapult the series in a totally new direction, but that’s really not a bad thing. For the first time, the Wasteland will become the playground and graveyard of actual people with morals, ambitions, and hidden agendas. And, no matter who you think will have your back, at the end of the day, you’re just another lone wanderer.