It is a secret to no one that the launch of Fallout 76 in late 2018 was an unmitigated disaster, drawing the ire of both fans and critics alike. Technical problems plagued both the Bethesda.net launcher and the game itself, corrupting saves, spawning T-posing, texture-less monsters into the world, and even uninstalling the game as people were playing it. Even when players were able to get to the actual game, there wasn't much to find—the beautiful open-world map didn't compensate for the fact that the world was empty. There were no NPCs in this online multiplayer role-paying game. No factions, no branching quest lines, no dialogue trees, no decisions to make—in short, none of the things people love about Fallout. There was nothing to do but grind, and nothing to grind for but more grinding. Many players have likely not touched the game in the last year and a half and may be interested to see the state of the game now. So what's new since launch week?
Steam Launch and Bug Fixes
With Bethesda allowing anyone who owns Fallout 76 through the Bethesda.net launcher to claim a free Steam copy, those technical problems are a thing of the past. The game runs much more smoothly through Steam and of course comes with the added benefit of playing with your Steam friends. Back at launch, it took up to six or seven minutes to go through the agonizing process of starting the game, waiting for it to load, watching the menu screens lag, and then letting it find a server. This time, within a minute of pressing Play in Steam, I was already loading into Appalachia. Using an RTX 2060 Super, I ran Fallout 76 on Ultra Settings in 1440p at a consistent 60 FPS. I have yet to experience a single frame-rate dip since the Wastelanders expansion. Character models and monsters don't seem to be bugging out as much; in five hours of playtime I encountered only two minor bugs, which is a record low for a Bethesda game.
Fallout 76 Has Improved Visuals
The lighting engine has been overhauled completely. The God rays are quite beautiful, and you'll immediately notice smoother anti-aliasing on the shadows. Color, tone, saturation, and darkness have all been tuned and are much more dynamic in correspondence with the weather and time of day; there's a much starker difference between day and night than a simple blue filter. Textures, while not on par with something like Destiny 2, are much more brightly colored than the muted look Bethesda utilized in Fallout 3 and 4. It's not the best-looking game out there, but it is a sharp improvement over the launch state.
NPCs are Finally Here
The biggest selling point of Wastelanders when Bethesda announced it at E3 2019 was the promise that NPCs were on their way back to Appalachia. Hundreds of human NPCs have populated the game world, bringing life to a once-empty map. NPCs can be seen traveling, building, farming, or fighting to stay alive in the wasteland as they have been in previous installments. They seem to have been strategically placed so that the player is never too far from people, giving at least a solid illusion of being in a living world. Their observations about the world and player are detailed; passerby will, for instance, have different voice lines depending on the kind of weapon you're carrying or the armor you're wearing. Keep your eyes out for some companions on the road—and yes, they're romanceable.
Old-School Dialogue Trees Return After a Decade
Surprisingly, several dozen of the NPCs seem to have comprehensive dialogue trees with branching results. Fallout 76 brings back the old dialogue system of Fallout 3 and New Vegas, with the camera zooming in and centering on the speaker with a (usually fairly long) list of options. Skill checks are embedded in speech once again, so characters utilizing charisma, intelligence, or strength builds can charm, outsmart, or intimidate at their leisure. Or just maybe maxing out your Luck will carry you through. Role-playing in Fallout 76 may actually feel more immersive than in Fallout 4.
Fallout 76 Has A New Main Quest (And New Old Quests)
You'll find the beginnings of the new main quest line right outside Vault 76, so feel free to begin a new character and start fresh. Rumors of a great treasure buried in West Virginia have spread across the East Coast, and several groups of people have come to Appalachia to lay claim to the prize. The quest line, just by nature of featuring actual humans, is more interesting than the base main quest but is also proving to be better written. The old main quest and all side quests are still present and are at their core the same, but human NPCs have been inserted into these locations to give quests the feel of a real Fallout game. Quest instructions are still on holotapes or notes, but those tapes are pointed out to by nearby NPCs through conversation. The addition of NPCs has somewhat smoothly overhauled the entire game.
Factions are Back—With Towns
Two major factions have come to Appalachia: the settlers and the raiders. Decisions made through dialogue and actions affect the faction quests that can be performed as well as the players reputation in the two newly populated cities, the Crater and the Foundation. Just like with previous Fallout titles, the player will need to work their way up the ranks and gain the trust of each faction but must eventually pick a side. Game-changing dialogue decisions take place inside buildings that become instanced versions of the world, where only the player and their teammates exist. This allows cutscenes and extended dialogue to take place without fear of interference from other players or a mole rat attack. Besides the two main factions, you'll find six minor factions: the Blood Eagles, the Mothman Cult, the Secret Service, Blue Ridge Caravan, Free Radicals, and the Responders, each with their own dialog and quests.
Camps and Crafting Have Been Streamlined
The same basic gameplay loop still exists in Fallout 76; do a quest, collect rewards, scrap them, use the resulting items to expand your C.A.M.P., and upgrade your weapons and armor so you can do higher level quests. This has been streamlined a bit by reducing the amount of materials needed to craft the necessities for your C.A.M.P. as well as basic weapons and armor. Cooking food and boiling water are still relatively the same, and although the player seems to get hungry and thirsty faster than before, food and water seems more readily available.
New Weapons, Armor, and Monsters
Even at its lowest point, the detailed monsters have always been one of the draws of the Fallout franchise. Several entirely new creatures as well as dozens of new variants now prowl Appalachia, and with them come new weapons (such as a bow and arrow) as well as new armor and legendary items. Customizability is important in RPGs, and you can indeed customize the hell out of your equipment and loadout.
That's just about everything that's new with the update, but there are likely many more minor improvements below the surface. Find anything cool we didn't catch? Leave us a comment below!