Fallout 76 Wastelanders Review: Masterstroke from Bethesda held back by Fallout 76
SPOILERS: This Fallout 76 Wastelanders review discusses locations, quests and the endgame in Wastelanders (all minor).
In October 2018 Fallout 76 released to overwhelming critical disdain. Many saw it as a monumental failure due to its poor technical state, lack of human NPCs and uninteresting quests. As a huge Fallout fan, I had mixed opinions. Exploring, scavenging and crafting was fun, but the rest sadly was not. Now a year and a half later, we have the game’s biggest update yet: Fallout 76 Wastelanders.
In short, Wastelanders aims to fix every issue from the original game. Human NPCs, dialogue trees, skill-checks and brand new quests have all found their way to post-apocalyptic West Virginia. The end result is an odd one. Wastelanders feels like a hybrid of Fallout 3 and 4 with 76 fighting in the background grasping to re-take control. And to be honest, I wish it would just let go.
Fallout 76 Wastelanders Review
- Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
- Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
- Available: Xbox One/PS4/PC/Steam
- Played On: Xbox One
Returning in Flocks
A year has passed since Fallout 76s main quest and like many Fallout fans, human NPCs are returning to Appalachia in flocks. People are back as rumours of treasure buried in the hills have surfaced. But before anybody sets their eyes on the prize, they must be inoculated to the Scorch plague. I started Wastelanders with my level 33 character so I had already completed the inoculation quest from the base game. If you’re new, be expected to play 76s original content here (and elsewhere in Wastelanders). You quickly meet both new factions; the Settlers at Spruce Knob (Foundation) and the Raiders at the Crashed Space Station (Crater). Both locations are dense, detailed and bustling with life. It felt unbelievably refreshing after spending most of my original Fallout 76 experience wandering the Wasteland alone.
Outside of the two main hubs Bethesda have scattered NPCs liberally across Appalachia. You’ll cross paths with settlers chopping wood or Rangers surveying their surroundings from a lone watch tower. Seeing people on their daily duties adds a surprising layer of realism while stripping back that isolating and lonely experience from the base game. I noticed this the most when revisiting old locations, now containing new NPCs. For example, at Camp McClintlock a new Army Private is running drills. It was perfect talking through his expansive dialogue options, especially when I barked orders at him pretending to be his General. While the quality of dialogue options, writing and voice acting is high, the character animations leave a lot to be desired. Most times characters stare at you dead eyed, moving their eyebrows only slightly when they talk. It’s creepy, unnatural and unfortunately looks last gen.
On occasion, you can recruit wandering NPCs as allies by building unique furniture at your C.A.M.P. A couple of allies even have companion style quest lines to complete. For example, ex-Raider Beckett is happy to team up, but only if you take down his old gang. And Astronaut Daguerre literally comes crashing into your life after her ship malfunctions in space. Both allies are complex with interesting personality traits, like in the brilliant The Outer Worlds. Beckett regrets his troubled past, while Daguerre admits her anxiety keeps her up at night. This kind of human touch was sorely missing from Fallout 76 on launch. I’m glad it’s finally back.
The quests in Wastelanders are far superior to 76, mainly because of human NPCs and the dialogue system. It is hard to stress the difference between ‘being talked at’ in the base game, to ‘being talked to’ in Wastelanders. It helps that conversations now have RPG mechanics too like using charisma to earn extra caps. I was constantly surprised by the variety of options in dialogue throughout every single Wastelanders quest. For example, I convinced an army Sergeant I was proficient in combat as I’m a graduate from Camp McClintlock. Skill checks also exist outside of dialogue, like using high strength to open a jammed door. While this is a tried and tested RPG formula, Wastelanders executes it extremely well.
Unlike the base game, quests are varied in Wastelanders. Some involve dialogue only, as you interrogate three raiders to find a snitch, while others are wacky with lite-puzzle solving, as you conduct a science experiment to build a Robobrain. It reminded me of Fallout 3, New Vegas and even RPG classics like Star Wars KOTOR. In all instances, and especially here, the quest variety keeps gameplay fresh, rather than just go to X, kill Y. When combat is involved, Wastelanders creates unique encounters and objectives. In the Wayward main questline, you fight your way out of a cave using a talking Assaultron head. Another time, with the Settlers, you launch a full scale assault against a Communist bunker hidden beneath Whitesprings golf course. These quests oozed with creativity and highlighted the caliber, talent and passion of the development team at Bethesda.
There are some issues though. Fetch quests are unfortunately common. Sometimes the premise is interesting, but other times it’s utterly generic. The issue is compounded when you’re forced to revisit an area you’ve literally just been to. Clear out the same enemies, run the same route, loot the same containers. If you’re a new player, some of these locations will take a long time to reach, as they’re in the far corners of the map. Within these moments, it feels like unnecessary padding as the game drags it’s heels. Thankfully, the great quests significantly outweigh the average ones, but it can feel like quantity over quality at times.
Once you’ve sided with a faction, the end game of Wastelanders opens up. Here, you run daily faction quests or farm public events for Treasury Notes. Treasury Notes trade for gold and gold trades for rare plans, such as a power armour jetpack. The end result is the most compelling Fallout 76 has ever been, with pools of worthwhile loot to chase. Earning gold is a good enough reason as any to log in every day and work towards the next plan. I’ve already got my eye on the compound bow which feels superb in combat.
It’s clear that Bethesda is aiming to make public events worthwhile. Previously nobody played them, but now the end game gives you a reason to. For the most part Bethesda has succeeded as events are more populated now. I first noticed this when joining three players for the new Riding Shotgun event. It was a blast navigating through claustrophobic tunnels, protecting a pack of brahman from attacking raiders and taking down the three star legendary boss. Other times events are empty, especially for the base game content. Like with most things in Wastelanders, the new additions are far superior than everything which came before.
As Fallout 76 is a live service game, it’s no surprise the end game is a grind. A daily quest gives 3 tickets and it’s about the same for public events. Each ticket is worth 10 gold with plans ranging from 250 to 2,000 gold. Even with an initial boost of gold, I feel the rates are currently too low. Once you’ve completed the daily quests there are no other ways to earn gold other than public events. (You can trade 1,000 caps for 50 gold, but I’ve played Fallout 76 for around 60 hours and I have 2,000 caps in total). More sources of gold are needed to make the end game rewarding. Something as simple as rare gold drops from enemies would create that addictive rush that makes live service games so appealing.
The Main Problem
The main problem with Fallout 76 Wastelanders is Fallout 76, as major flaws haven’t been addressed since launch. The worst offender is combat, with overly aggressive enemies. Ranged enemies are insanely accurate, have unlimited ammo and can fire faster than the speed of light. It makes playing Wastelanders singleplayer a serious uphill battle. You’re always outnumbered, constantly healing and multiple enemies are bombarding you at once. You also burn through precious ammo as all enemies have huge health bars like you’re playing Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. It became so bad during the final mission when a legendary Sentry Bot could kill me with one perfectly aimed rocket. It was almost impossible, even in full power armour and jacked up on chems.
“Throughout most of Wastelanders I was constantly on the back foot, low on ammo and scraping the barrel of my resources just to finish the main quest”
Quite frankly, the whole combat system needs rehauling to make solo play more viable. It’s clear that enemies are designed to take damage from multiple people at once, but oddly the number of people in your party has no effect on an enemies health. If weapon degradation and ammo required lower crafting materials this wouldn’t be an issue as it would be easier to replenish supplies. But they don’t. Throughout most of Wastelanders I was constantly on the back foot, low on ammo and scraping the barrel of my resources just to finish the main quest.
Combat is substantial if you’re in power armour with a heavy weapon. But when starting a quest the level of enemies you’ll encounter is unknown. In Wastelanders I went from decimating level 4 enemies, to struggling against enemies 10 levels higher than me. As a result you’re forced to always carry power armour because it’s never clear. Not only does this take up valuable inventory weight, but it funnels you towards one style of play. And I hate to add fuel to the fire, but Wastelanders still contains bugs (most are minor). However, one major bug deleted my power armour, an issue present since 2018. I lost my metallic suit forever, along with the resources I’d spent crafting it. Through no fault of my own, I had nothing to show for all of my hard work.
Fallout 76 Wastelanders Review – Final Thoughts
Fallout 76 Wastelanders is a return to form for Bethesda. The new quests were genuinely intriguing, enjoyable and all bolstered by a superb dialogue system. The difference between ‘being talked at’ in Fallout 76, to ‘being talked to’ in Wastelanders has never been so apparent. The constant skill checks, in and outside of dialogue, scratches that RPG itch which has been sorely missing from Bethesda games of late. I was constantly surprised at how deep these systems went, as I marvelled at their creative and ingenious implementation.
As it stands the reward rates in the end game are too low. Something as simple as having gold drop from enemies at random would provide that addicting rush that makes live service games so appealing. But like with other elements in Fallout 76, it needs more work. For one, to make single player more accessible the combat system must be completely overhauled. Currently the combat is frustrating at best, and a reason to stop playing at worst.
As I round off my review, I can’t help but wonder what could have been. I love Wastelanders, but not the game it is bolted on to. We’ve had ‘Quests, Dialogue and RPG mechanics 2.0’, now we just need ‘Gameplay 2.0’. When the gameplay has been tweaked, Fallout 76 will reach it’s full potential. And I look forward to the day it does.
For more Fallout 76 content, check out 5 Improvements I’d Like to see for Fallout 76 in 2020 here