Don’t Fear ‘Fallout 76’ – Rejoice in the Opportunity it Presents

Ian Dransfield
Games Fallout
Games Fallout

Rejoice, wastelanders – a new post-apocalyptic game in the decades-old Fallout series has been announced by Bethesda — and it’s called Fallout 76. Time to experience joy, happiness and the vague worry that it still won’t be quite as good as New Vegas.

Whatever your feelings though, there’s sure to be a good deal of anticipation from the Fallout faithful among us. While it’s not been very long since Fallout 4 released, we’ll always make more time for wandering through a devastated brown landscape and fending off the locals who want a closer look at our intestines.

But before you get too excited, it looks like this won’t be the new Fallout game that fans were expecting. Sources have told the ever-reliable Jason Schreier of Kotaku that Fallout 76 will in fact, be an online survival-‘em-up ala Rust, or Ark.

Cue the shocked disbelief as thousands of bemused fans sharpen their angry typing fingers to exclaim why Fallout should only ever be a single-player RPG and why this is an outrage and and and… well, you know how quickly these things escalate.

So what exactly can we expect from the mysterious Fallout 76 then?

What Is Fallout 76?

Well, allegedly Fallout 76 began life as a bit of an experiment over at Bethesda HQ, starting out as a multiplayer prototype for Fallout 4 and sprouting into its own entity from there. These sorts of things happen a lot behind the scenes in video games, often with nothing coming from them – but sometimes there’s something there, and these projects grow and evolve into a game all of their own.

It’s not what fans were clamouring for, I think it’s fair to say, and some feathers are being ruffled by these rumours. I get that – I totally understand it. But, of all the series’ out there, of all the developers and publishers hopping on the hype train to Samesville, of all the deflation we might feel when a new thing is announced but the new thing ends up not being what we expected (or just wanted), Fallout 76 bucks that trend – on a personal level, at least.

To me, it makes absolute sense that a Fallout game would adopt a more survivalist tone – that it would include elements of base building, of scavenging and hunting, of just trying to make your way in a (literal) wasteland that will see you dead as soon as let you sleep comfortably that night.

I can see no issue with a setting incorporating these elements, and I might even learn to put up with other players if I get to build my own version of Gecko from Fallout 2.

No, the problem with Fallout 76 comes from the fact ‘online version of traditionally single-player series’ is a poisoned term. I mean, it’s also a clumsy one that’s less of a term and more of a thing I wrote in inverted commas to make it seem like it’s a regularly-spouted idiom, but there you go.

Fallout Online?

Basically, people were tetchy when the Elder Scrolls Online (ES:O) was announced – that’s the elephant in this particular room. As such, this is a situation Bethesda is familiar with. And what happened there? Well, it didn’t go very well for a while, with ES:O fumbling about not really knowing what it wanted to be.

But then something happened that only seems to happen in any big way with online games: it changed. It got better. It’s still alive today, and it’s actually surprisingly good fun even as an avowed member of the I Don’t Play MMOs Club.

There’s a dynamism to making multiplayer games – it’s the always-on, service aspect to things – that means what you’re told it will be, what you’re shown, or like now what’s rumoured to be will always change. Not always for the better, true, but Bethesda has the chops – the recent, demonstrable experience – to listen to the right feedback and implement the right changes.

fallout 4 hockey stick bashing

I’m not 100% sure Fallout 76 will be a great game when it launches. There are too many things up in the air right now – not least of which the fact we, at the time of writing, literally don’t know anything about it for certain beyond that it exists and it has a name.

But with time, effort, and continued development and updates, there’s every chance Fallout 76 could end up being a genuinely great entry to a series I have adored for longer than most of the people stealing my clothes on PUBG have been alive.

Adapt to survive

There’s an argument to be had that this isn’t a fit for the Fallout series in that it’s deviating from the common thread – a single-player RPG telling an epic story of war, conspiracy, and horny robots. But it’s worth throwing this thought-nugget out there: Fallout has been experimenting with its form and indulging in spin-offs ever since it was just a few years old.

Fallout Tactics added multiplayer in 2001, and even though it was largely forgettable – some might say rubbish (I was the one who said that) – it shows there’s precedent for tinkering with the format a bit. Ditto Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel, which attempted to console-ify the old school Fallout format in the way that, really, only Baldur’s Gate ever managed successfully via Dark Alliance.

This experimentation has even reared its head in the Bethesda era of Fallout, with the smartphone release of Fallout Shelter – eventually making its way to PC and Xbox One – showing the studio isn’t one to bury its head in the sand and ignore what’s going on in the wider world of gaming. I mean, you could even make the argument for Fallout VR as something of a flight of fancy for Bethesda; a furtive tinkling of the post-apocalyptic ivories to see what doleful melody might make itself heard.

The War Tags mod in Fallout 4

What I’m saying is: this isn’t out of character, not for the Fallout series, and not for Bethesda as a studio. Yes, from the sounds of things it’s leaping in to an existing genre and going from there rather that creating something completely new, but… is that really an issue? The original Fallout wasn’t the first CRPG – in fact it was initially being developed as a sequel to another game, Wasteland. And Fallout 3 wasn’t exactly the first FPS/RPG hybrid either.

Avoiding the fan Fallout

Nothing the Fallout series has ever done – at least from a broad perspective – has ever been specifically new. What Fallout has always managed to do, though, is be very good at things… at least in the Bethesda era anyway.

There will be another pureFallout game at some point, but as a bit of a diversion I think a Fallout survival game has a lot of potential.

It might not be specifically what most fans wanted (New Vegas 2 or a new CRPG-style game or just anything from Obsidian pls), but it sounds like a setting that makes sense, a game that makes sense, and an experiment that makes sense.

And isn’t it nice when things just make sense?

Now, let’s just hope Fallout 76 doesn’t just have players standing in the nude and hitting a tree for 35 minutes in order to gather wood.

Ian Dransfield
Writer and videoman with a fancy for the retro... but also the new. So everything, really.
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