I'm not sure if I should be feeling so comfortable in the apocalypse. That's the thought that keeps working its way through my mind as I play the first hours of Fallout 76 and its now-foundational rituals. As I leave the nuclear war refuge of the Vault. As I find ugly leather armor. As I get into a series of siege fights against giant mole rats. And as I begin to hoard anything and everything I suspect might be useful later.
- Daniel Starkey
Battlefield V Finds Grandeur in WWII, 64 Players at a Time
- Julie Muncy
With Black Ops 4 , Call of Duty Takes Aim at a Fortnite World
- Julie Muncy
'Red Dead Redemption 2' Reaches for Magic on the Shoulders of Indie Games
Fallout 76 is caught between being an ambitious gesture for Bethesda Softworks, and a conservative one. On the one hand, it's a broad departure for Fallout , moving it into multiplayer territory, away from its history as a solitary, bleak experience. Its post-apocalyptic world is now populated by other players, all doing the same things you are: scavenging, fighting, building. The dynamic changes the core structure of the game, peeling back and broadening the narrative. Most NPCs have been replaced by robots or data logs, some of the in-world challenges supplemented by player-versus-player action and competitive nuclear bomb slinging. (No, really; you can nuke your enemies. It's wild.)
But it also, feels, perhaps more than I was expecting, like Bethesda's other Fallout games. It is in keeping with a slow transformation the series has gone through to being more welcoming, fun, even warm. In its early days, before Bethesda acquired the rights to the franchise, Fallout was a bleak satire of Cold War Americana wrapped in a difficult, inaccessible strategic role-playing game. Under Bethesda's control, it's slowly become something much more consumer-friendly, and in the process is constructing an entirely new identity for itself, one that's built less on satire and more on a sincere embrace of its players and place.
Let me put it this way: Fallout 76 begins with a party, and an implied hangover. You wake up in Vault 76 alone, having slept late, to find the usually bleak setting—a cloistered bunker meant to house people, built by an amoral corporation that often uses these bunkers to carry out social engineering experiments—covered in party hats and confetti. It's self-congratulatory, a series recognizing and adoring its own motifs. A parody not of its setting, but of itself.
Then again, maybe in 2018 the apocalypse has come to seem quaint.
Any irony weakens soon enough, as the game offers gleeful tutorials for building, fighting, and everything else the player will have to do before plunging them into the newest of the franchise's customary wastelands. This one, though, is not very wasteland-like at all. Even after the ravages of nuclear war, West Virginia setting remains idyllic; thick, beautiful foliage greets you, even a quiet wilderness trail. Sure, there are some killer robots, but they feel more like an attraction than a threat. A bit of entertainment on a quiet nature hike. Just you and the end of the world.
I'm still somehow not very far into Fallout 76 , despite having played it for a week; many of its most distinctive features seem reserved for high-level players. But it so far has that feeling of being a relaxing, unthreatening journey into an after-the-end scenario that's far less harrowing than it perhaps should be. Then again, maybe in 2018 the apocalypse has come to seem quaint, now that we've drowned in decades of breathless pop-culture depictions, and as reality becomes ever more dire in ways that might be irreversible.
But there's something that hits me, as I hear a shootout in the distance, as I crouch and pull out my makeshift gun, as I hide in the lush foliage and take a long, deep breath before approaching. It hits me that this doesn't feel harrowing. It feels nice. Fallout 76 is like wearing a comfy pair of pants. And maybe I shouldn't feel this comfortable in the post-apocalyptic wild. But I do. And since it feels so nice, maybe I'll stay a while.
- The DIY tinkerers harnessing the power of AI
- The Butterball Turkey Talk-Line gets new trimmings
- The ‘pink tax’ and how women spend more on NYC transit
- PHOTOS: The secret tools magicians use to fool you
- An aging marathoner tries to run fast after 40
- Hungry for even more deep dives on your next favorite topic? Sign up for the Backchannel newsletter