Fallout 76 Review – No Humans Allowed. Well, war has certainly changed. Fallout, the RPG series with a 20-year legacy, finds its latest entry taking another chance at braving a new direction. It puts a major focus on cooperating with other people in a world with perpetual activities that seek to sustain your engagement indefinitely. But Fallout 76 is a game without a strong focus. It introduces significant changes to the set structure of Fallout 4 to make it function as both a single-player and multiplayer experience. In doing so, both styles of play suffer from major compromises that exist only to serve the other, and as a result, both are weak. Fallout 76 can look and feel like its illustrious predecessors at times, but it’s a soulless husk of an experience.
Fallout 76 has no artificial human characters to interact with. The justification is that, because the dwellers of Vault 76 are tasked to be the first to re-enter and reclaim this post-apocalyptic America, there are very few coherent beings. Many of the folks who did survive nuclear annihilation conveniently died shortly before your arrival. Without established characters to populate the world, the vibe of 76 is an eerie one, and it often amplifies one of the series strengths: creating the feeling of desolation and otherness. There’s a curiosity about the familiar but unknown environment that drives you to veer off the beaten path, visit places that once were, attempt to imagine what life might have been like before everything went to hell, and wonder what the hell has happened there since. Exploring a new wasteland and stumbling upon new settings, scenery, and oddities is one of Fallout’s most enjoyable aspects, and it’s 76’s best trait.
However, the lack of inhabitants is also Fallout 76’s biggest problem. The game goes to great efforts to paint a picture that includes towns and cities with different populations and cultures, survivors who have banded together to form factions, and stories of people who managed to survive against all odds. But without having any of those people present to tell their stories personally, 76’s world is limited to being little more than just an environmental exhibit with things to kill. It means the art of conversation is disappointingly absent, but more critically, it means there are no strong emotional anchors to help you become truly invested in the world, a complication that diminishes the game’s other core activities.
The biggest victim is the quest system. Without actually having people with needs and desires, initiating and undertaking quests frequently involves the use of explicit found-object storytelling tools–listening to audio logs, reading notes, and browsing through computer terminals for key information. A quest will often explore the stories of certain characters, but they’re characters that have long since passed, and all you get are long monologues and one-way directives from a person who no longer exists and you can’t interact with. Your actions ultimately won’t affect anyone, or the rest of the world for that matter–every location you visit will be reset with items and enemies regularly–so it’s difficult to stay motivated.