Dark Tourist: ‘Fallout 76’s Environmental Storytelling is Full of Rads

Adam Mathew
Games PC Gaming
Games PC Gaming Xbox PlayStation Fallout

Ask any fan of Fallout 4 and they’ll tell you straight — the greatest stories in this series are never spoken, they’re scattered all over a floor somewhere. Though there’s an overabundance of holotapes and notes to scoop up in Fallout 76, there’s also an incredible amount of environmental storytelling here. The sordid stuff that Bethesda’s artists and designers are famous for.

Being the earliest game in the Fallout timeline — set a mere 25 years after the bombs dropped, instead of hundreds of years after — Fallout 76 is filled with the fresh detritus of non-vault folk who tried to eke out a living (and failed). Forget quest-giving NPCs. The world has moved on and you’re waking up to smell the ashes. Only ghost stories remain and they’re told passively to the eagle-eyed Vault-dweller with a detective spirit.

We were one such adventurer. While our three teammates kept to the relative safety of Vault 76 in the north west of Appalachia (read: West Virginia), we set our course to the world’s end in the southeast in search of quality Fallout 76 environmental storytelling. Hideously under-leveled and soiling our Vault-Tec-issued jumpsuit, our one man caravan of courage took us to strange, strange new places…

Fallout 76 environmental storytelling doghouse Einstein
Professor Pooch was not in his lab to answer our science-type questions

Paw Intelligence

We’re not five minutes out of Vault 76 when we stumble across an isolated shack in the south east. Upon murdering a pack of skinless dogs we notice something in a nearby dog kennel. “Ruv – 1/2Rguv + Λguv=8πG over c^4 * Tuv” is chalked on the floor, plus there are test tubes and a periodic table pulled inside. We honestly couldn’t tell you why Einstein’s formula for a non-expanding universe interests the kennel’s owner (who may in fact be a mutated super pooch).

Lighthouse to Nowhere

Real-world West Virginia has a navigational aid built in it even though it’s landlocked. We couldn’t tell you why. The Landview Lighthouse makes an appearance in Fallout 76, though, and its uppermost level contained the corpse of a weird cultist named Brother Moncrief.

Seems this zealot has been collecting Firefly goo to light the place up and please The High Priestess. His theory: a goo-powered lighthouse will surely cause “The Great Mothman” to appear.

The Creepy Church in Sutton

Creepy moth-based denominations aside, Appalachia got overly-religious in more mainstream ways elsewhere. We wandered into a town called Sutton and received some very mixed tourist messaging. On the one hand the gates of this ramshackle town / makeshift fort were adorned with a large 666 signs. Beyond the walls and inside the church? A congregation of corpses and the word REPENT carefully written by quite the calligrapher on a wall behind the altar.

We backed out slowly…

Fallout 76 environmental storytelling Greenbrier Hotel Whitespring Resort
It's like The Whitehouse and the hotel from The Shining had a baby. An evil one.

The Greenbrier / Whitespring Resort

Bethesda told us this is a major location in the game (and, incidentally, it’s also the actual real-life place where we stayed on our trip to play Fallout 76). Renamed to The Whitesprings Resort for copyright purposes, The Greenbrier Hotel is an oddity in that its stately grounds and decadent halls have been maintained to perfection.

Why? What are the main directives of its small army of friendly Protectron staff? Also, why is the exact ballroom we’re currently sitting in, playing the game on Xbox One X, locked? And what of the real-life nuke bunker that was built under the hotel in 1962 in an effort to house and protect Congress? So many questions…

The Lake Bar

Curiously, we spotted a makeshift bar in the middle of an evaporated lake. Upon entering we were presented with a friendly sign that said “Welcome! Drinks are on me!” Further investigation revealed a dance floor of sorts set up with a jukebox and half-naked mannequins. In the corner, three corpses were sprawled on a loveseat. Each of their skeletal hands hold a bottle of some description.

Radio Tower Last Stand

Much later still, we stumbled across a prominent radio tower in Appalachia that was absolutely swarming with Super Mutants. Upon clearing them out and ascending the tower we spied a trail of human corpses and a locked safe at the top with a note.

Closer inspection revealed a “screw you” note to the green freaks who had almost certainly trapped in the author. He or she detailed where they had flung the safe key (onto an outhouse roof below).

Somewhat illogically, Angry Note Writer also wrote one final jab at the illiterate Mutants. Sick burn.

Earthquake Shriek Shack

At this point in the journey one of our squaddies radioed about some strange goings on in a completely different part of the map. He said he was in the middle of the woods when he heard distant screams. Upon approaching a shack the bloodcurdling shrieks intensified as a localised earthquake rocked the entire location.

Spooked, he ran. Later, at a post-demo dinner we asked a dev about the phenomenon. He was incredibly excited about us finding it and desperately wanted to reveal “the twist.” We declined. It’ll be the first place we revisit in the B.E.T.A…

Huntersville

While sneaking our way through very hostile enemy territory filled with level 30 foes (we’re lowly level 6 scum) a cool location popped into view. The mountainside town of Huntersville welcomed us with open arms, human cages, and bags of gore.

Inside, it’s clear that a serious battle had been waged. It was still going on, too. Super Mutant skirmishers traded bullets with a swarm of Vertibird drones. The pure chaos prevented us from finding out what happened here. We slunk out of range…

Wavy Willards Waterpark

Somewhere up north, another squaddie gave us live reports of a place called Crocolossus Mountain, a funland short on amusement. Think: Zebra rollercoaster cars, rusty water (possibly bloody) and hordes of Scorched park attendees.

We’ll not spoil what he found when he scaled the rollercoaster track up into the giant plastic crocodile’s mouth. Suffice to say somebody – or something – had set up camp up there. His comms went dead as the ingenious homemade traps kicked in.

Fallout 76 environmental storytelling Watoga
Watoga. End of the line. End of your life, too.

Watoga

The end of our journey took us to the southeastern ghost city of Watoga. Unlike The Greenbrier it’s maintained by utterly savage robots who want to exterminate meatbags like us on sight. Our desperate sprint through its suburbs revealed evidence of a last stand made by some Brotherhood of Steel platoon, but discovering answers here is reserved for none but the most high-levelled players.

And that’s just a brief, three hour odyssey into the irradiated for you. As our time ended with Fallout 76 — climactically, as winged level 65 Scorched Beasts did titanic battle with Deathclaws and Mirelurks — we felt satisfied. In our twisted mind, the environmental storytelling of this West Virginian hellscape is just as John Denver once advertised in Country Roads — almost heaven. We can’t wait to explore more come November 14.

Adam Mathew
I've seen and played it all – from Pong on a black-and-white CRT to the 4K visuals and VR gloriousness of today. My only regret after a decade of writing and 30+ years of gaming: hitchhiking's no longer an option. My thumbs are nubs now.
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