I distinctly remember the vortex of emotions I experienced when Bethesda revealed Fallout 76 back in 2018.
The gameplay trailer, which showcased an idyllic golden Appalachian landscape littered with all manner of creatures and mutated biomes, left an unmistakably good impression. But as a multiplayer title, how would the game play? Fallout 4 had been a stark departure from the franchise’s roots — and yet, thanks to an addictive design, I couldn’t help but love it. If 76 was going to build on the foundation of Fallout 4, it could be Bethesda’s most beautiful and engrossing Fallout entry yet. Or, a massive dud.
Unfortunately, upon release, Fallout 76 was the latter: A game plagued by numerous bugs and glitches that irreparably tarnished Bethesda’s reputation. But, over the next few years, Bethesda would pursue de-dudification in earnest with countless updates and content patches. Now, after waiting nearly three years to play it, I’m happy to report that Fallout 76 — in its current state — is unexpectedly delightful. Here’s why.
Progression Loops Galore
Say it with me, now: Kill, loot, improve!
In a nutshell, that’s the core gameplay loop that made Fallout 4 such a blast. Unlike previous Fallout titles, every junk item in Fallout 4 had utility. Suddenly, collecting three baby rattles meant you could craft some more ammo. Collecting wood meant you could erect more walls and floors to expand your home’s square footage. Whatever the end goal, the kill-loot-improve loop recontextualized the whole world. Now, players were incentivized to slow down and peruse Bethesda’s fastidiously crafted locations for junk materials. And even unremarkable locations — say, an early-game gas station — held valuable junk items, regardless of the player’s level.
The kill-loot-improve gameplay loop lives on in Fallout 76. But the game is also supplemented by many more ancillary progression systems that further incentivize play. Aside from quests, completing micro-challenges earns you S.C.O.R.E. points, and accruing those unlocks tiered rewards. Even legendary items — powerful weapons and armour with randomized beneficial effects that debuted in Fallout 4 — can be traded, bought, and sold with their own currency in 76. Meanwhile, levelling up now unlocks perks that can be added and removed at any time, providing a flexible and modular approach to character building.
In simpler terms, Fallout 76 does a great job of ensuring that your efforts are rewarded. And as a result, whether I played for thirty minutes or three hours, I rarely ended a play session feeling unaccomplished.
The Most Varied, Quirky Fallout World Yet
One of Fallout 76’s biggest surprises is its world. While it isn’t packed with richly-detailed factions or ethical dilemmas, Fallout 76’s world map is easily the most diverse and well-realized in the series.
The golden, serene forests of Appalachia are there. But beyond that, I’ve also encountered dried lakebeds; fluorescent, otherwordly bogs; a ghoulish abandoned waterpark; and rocky, terraced hills flush with ore. This is a game world that embraces its nuclear origin, using the fallout as leverage to craft all manner of strange and distorted places. Suffice to say that if you’ve ever wanted to explore a post-apocalyptic version of X, it’s probably in here.
To further up the ante, Bethesda populated each biome with their largest creature roster yet. In my travels, I’ve been accosted by hideous, bloated toads and shrouded, enigmatic molemen — and I’ve loved every second.
Gameplay to Suit Various Moods and Energy Levels
I’ve had many low-energy nights where I’ve reluctantly booted up Fallout 76 and expected to be overwhelmed: This is a post-apocalyptic game, after all. But because Fallout 76 supports different kinds of play, that’s not always the case.
Want to get wrapped up in quest completion and learn more about the world’s history? You can do that. Want to chill and spend some time improving your home? You can do that. Want to brave the horrific, irradiated planes of recently-nuked blast zones to collect their spoils? You can do that.
Rarely does Fallout 76 demand that you approach it with a certain energy level. Instead, its game world is a landscape of choice, with gameplay options that vary in difficulty and intensity. That might sound like an irreverent departure from the dour gameplay stylings of other post-apocalyptic titles — and it is. After all, Fallout 76’s marketing portrays it as a game about rebuilding the future, not dwelling on what was lost.
Killing Super Mutants is fun and all. But in a world where food is hard to come by, sometimes you just need to tend to your goddamn garden.