Fallout 76 Wastelanders cover

Saying that “Fallout 76” was a divisive title back in 2018 would be putting it mildly. The first “Fallout” title to be multiplayer focused, it was a game that both fans and critics alike scorned. 

The initial launch of “Fallout 76” was plagued with a litany of issues, from bugs and server crashes to very odd design choices such as forgoing human NPCs entirely for a series known for its memorable, quirky characters.

However, in the wake of this, we have seen the folks over at Bethesda bring a variety of changes to the game over the past year. These updates have included bug fixes, quality of life adjustments, new quests and now with the “Wastelanders” update, we see Bethesda’s latest and biggest change for “Fallout 76” as they attempt to introduce human NPCs and player dialog trees into post-apocalyptic Appalachia.

I’ve spent roughly 8-9 hours playing the “Wastelanders” update, and one thing I can assure you is that, at least based on what I’ve played so far, this update is akin to a large-scale DLC expansion. Now before I get into the meat of what this update has to offer, there are still other issues that need to be addressed. 

While there have been bug fixes and stability improvements to “Fallout 76," there are still certain elements of the game that are bound to irritate certain players. “Fallout 76” is still online-only, junk looting is still the star of the show and survival mechanics such as managing food and water meters are still present. These are core elements of “Fallout 76’s” gameplay, and it is highly unlikely we will ever see some of these mechanics removed in the future.

So, let’s get right down to it: how are the human NPCs in “Fallout 76”? Honestly? Surprisingly good. One aspect about “Fallout 76” I loved was its world and the twisted, mutated version of West Virginia. While past “Fallout” games often leaned in towards barren wastes and ruined cities, “Fallout 76” painted a verdant and heavily mutated vision of Appalachia.

Regions felt interesting and distinct as they often offered up their own unique visual flair, such as the swampy Mire, which featured freakishly large plants where it felt like you had descended into a jungle. 

The problem was that although the world was fascinating in its weirdness, it lacked a certain element needed to really bring it to life. Thankfully, human NPCs finally provide the soul and personality that “Fallout 76” desperately needed.

It’s a relief to finally be able to talk to someone that isn’t a robot in this game. While the writing and voice acting can sometimes range, I found most of it was well written, acted, and engaging. The dialog tree here is also fantastic and lends even more opportunities for roleplaying than “76’s” predecessor, “Fallout 4." I found that you could often have branching conversations with NPCs, and special dialogue options popped up frequently based upon your character’s stats. These speech checks have long been a staple in the “Fallout” franchise and helps lend a personal flavor to your interactions with NPCs.

Now, this being a “Fallout” game, there are of course some bugs that comes with the package. Sometimes, talking with NPCs will lead to a lengthy pause before they resume their lines, as if the game is trying to load their next line of conversation. At times, NPCs will also perform an animation while talking to you, and this could lead to them glitching out a bit and unable to continue talking with you for a moment. 

One of the oddest (and funniest) glitches I encountered seems to happen when an NPC attempts to talk with multiple players at a time. From what I could tell, the NPC would try to switch between looking at me and another player while talking to us. However, she would perform this head-spinning switch at an alarming speed, making her snap her neck to look at us. It was like talking to the girl from “The Exorcist.”

Another point of frustration with the dialogue comes with if you’re playing with friends. In order to make sure your story choices have permanence, “Fallout 76” sets up these indoor “instances” where major dialog and story choices will occur. Thing is, if you’re playing with friends, the instance is only locked to whoever initiates entering the room. While your group leader may talk with the NPC, your friends will unfortunately have to play the awkward third-wheel, and in order for everyone to be able to progress in their quests, the group will have to back out and enter the instance again with each person who has yet to talk with the NPC. 

This is boring for groups of friends who wanted to play together, and its strange to see a game that emphasizes playing with others be so hostile to group play when it comes to story and choices. Thankfully, I mostly played the game by my lonesome, so I never personally had the issue.

Finally, the quest. The base game of “76” primarily had the player chase after quest objectives, running between one corpse to the next as their holotape informs you where to go next. It was super boring and predictable, but “Wastelanders” subverts this design in a fantastic manner. With NPCs to interact with now, quests have opened up in ways for players to approach it. 

For example, in an early quest, I was given the option to speak with a couple of people in order to gain some info about a bandit fortress. I spoke with a farming family that had been exchanging food for protection and convinced them to give me the password to the gate by using my Charisma stat. I then met a lone squatter who claimed he had a way to break into the encampment but would only give me the info if I helped him. Rather than do that, I used my Strength stat to intimidate him into coughing up what he knew. He reluctantly provided me his Stealth Boys I could use to infiltrate the camp and angrily told me to scram. From here, I had the option to talk my way into the camp, infiltrate it “Splinter Cell” style, or guns blazing was always an option.

Finally, at least what I could tell early on with “Wastelanders," your choices really do matter and affect what happens to you and the NPCs you interact with. I won’t spoil anything, but in one of the quests, I had an option to attack some pretty shifty characters. I didn’t trust them, so I went on the offense and took them out. I learned later from other players that by killing this group of people, I had lost an opportunity to do a quest with unique rewards for them. And because there is no save and load option in “Fallout 76," this choice is permanent. 

It’s a stroke of brilliance on Bethesda’s part in how they managed to craft quests with choices while also avoiding the pitfalls of save-scumming.

The big question for many players is whether they should return to “Fallout 76” with this new update. Based upon my early impressions, it depends. For players who were annoyed with certain gameplay loops of the vanilla “76” experience, you might want to reconsider visiting the game. However, for those who are willing to stomach some of the bugs and odd design choices here, they might find themselves surprised with what they find is on offer here. 

As for me, I am going to continue playing “Wastelanders” and will come out with an official review by next week. While I still have some of my gripes, the early hours of “Wastelanders” seems very promising, and I am actually excited to play “Fallout 76” for the first time in over a year.

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