When the rumor mill first whispered about a new Fallout game, I was beyond excited. I was more than ready for my next adventure in post-apocalyptic America. Where was Bethesda going to take me next?

Fallout 76 – Official Teaser Trailer
Courtesy of Bethesda Softworks, via YouTube

When Bethesda first announced Fallout 76 at the end of May 2018, the hype level was already reaching fever-pitch. Just before the announcement, Bethesda aired a cryptic — and frankly, bizarre — 24-hour live stream on Twitch featuring a Vault Boy bobblehead in front of a monitor screen with their signature “Please Stand By” alert on it. They released more details about the game during Bethesda’s press conference during E3 2018, including the anticipated release date of November 14, 2018.

Bethesda Wanted to Do Something Different With Fallout 76

There was an initial outcry among Fallout fans when Bethesda announced that Fallout 76 would only feature a multi-player mode; after all, the Fallout series is best known for being a single-player RPG. I have to admit I was skeptical initially, especially when I found out that Bethesda was pushing the multi-player aspect of Fallout 76. I’m not much of a team player – I love my alone time, so I gravitate more towards single-player games. But this was Fallout, so I wanted to give it a chance.

Another controversial aspect of Fallout 76 was the introduction of PvP into the game mechanics. Most Fallout players embrace the “Lone Wanderer” facet of the series, preferring to explore the wasteland with only a single companion, or perhaps a dog. Most of us are in it for the story and have no interest in hunting and killing other players. Fallout 76 was already turning everything on its head – and it wasn’t even released yet!

Fans created a petition calling for Bethesda to incorporate a single-player mode into the game. Nothing would come of this until Bethesda introduced Fallout 1st, a premium membership that gives members access to a private server to play with up to eight friends, among other perks. Fallout 1st costs either $12.99 a month or $99.99 a year, a price I’m more than willing to pay to have a private server.

Fallout 76 Has a Cash Shop, and It’s Here to Stay

The launch of Fallout 76 didn’t go quite as Bethesda planned. The initial release was still rife with bugs carried over from the open-beta phase. Bethesda also received sharp criticism over the price of their Atom Shop items, specifically the Holidays Emote Bundle — a collection of 12 holiday-themed emotes — which, at 50% off, cost a whopping $15. Then there was the Bundle: Comin’ to Town which included a Santa suit, new player icons, a decorative “radstag,” and a Mrs. Claus outfit — not exactly practical, but could be fun to wear during the holiday season — that cost around $20 even after being discounted 33%.

I won’t lie. I am a confessed Atom Shop addict. Now and then, I’ll buy around $10 to $20 worth of Atoms and go on a shopping spree. I also get a generous stipend of 1650 Atoms per month from my Fallout 1st membership, which only adds to the problem. You can also earn a few Atoms by completing in-game challenges. Checking the Atom Shop every week is an excellent practice since Bethesda often gives out at least one free item with each Atom Shop cycle.

Bethesda added an Atom Shop into Fallout 76
Fallout 76 has an Atom Shop that features mostly cosmetic and quality-of-life items, but convenience doesn’t come cheap.

Bethesda’s Notorious Banning Incident

A notorious incident occurred where Bethesda banned many players for allegedly cheating by using mods and exploiting certain loop-holes in the game. However, the problem is many of the people using mods were doing so to fix the bugs that Bethesda failed to address. It’s a well-known fact within the Fallout gaming community that many of the bugs in Bethesda games end up getting fixed by modders in “Unofficial Patches.” Fallout 76 was no exception, but Bethesda was not amused.

Other casualties of the mass-ban were players who were duplicating items, gaining access to the game’s super-secret developer room, or otherwise exploiting the myriad technical issues found in Fallout 76. These players admittedly deserved to get banned, but what garnered the most negative response from players was Bethesda’s reaction. Bethesda closed the accounts without warning and emailed the account owners, asking them to write an essay explaining why cheating and using mod software damages online video games.

Rose is the most obnoxious quest-giver in Fallout 76
Rose, the Raider robot, is probably one of the most obnoxious quest-givers in Fallout 76.

In the Beginning, Fallout 76 Had No Human NPCs

Perhaps the biggest letdown of all was the discovery that Fallout 76 had no human NPCs at all. When players first emerged from the titular Vault 76 and ventured into Appalachia, a vast, apocalyptically beautiful and strangely empty world greeted them. The main storyline quest — and most all other quests, for that matter — were about following instructions in a series of conveniently placed holotapes or dispensed by robots or computer terminals.

It was incredibly disheartening to embark on a quest, knowing that the quest would end with just another dead body no matter how you handled the situation. Also, I wasn’t the only one who felt that it just didn’t feel like Fallout without Raiders and Settlers. The lack of human NPCs left me feeling apathetic towards the game in general. It’s hard to care when everyone around you is dead or a robot.

When Bethesda finally announced they were adding NPCs to Appalachia, people got excited about Fallout 76 again. Like myself, those who had abandoned the game in sheer frustration had their interest piqued and took a second look. I was not disappointed.

Fallout 76 Was Reborn — With People!

Wastelanders,” an expansion freely available to everyone who already owned Fallout 76, released on April 14, 2020, to the delight of Fallout 76 players everywhere. Finally, the world was alive, teeming with random encounters, bloodthirsty Raiders, human settlements with vendors and quest-givers, and everything players had been begging for since the beginning. It was glorious.

And then the grind set in. Earning reputation with either the Raiders or the Settlers takes time — a lot of time — and effort. There aren’t very many daily quests available (one for the Settlers, two for the Raiders), so it takes a ridiculous amount of time to reach the maximum tier. However, I would rather slave away at the reputation grind than have no NPCs at all.

It also tickled me pink that you can gain allies who “live” at your C.A.M.P. and occasionally give you quests. It made my house feel a lot less empty, having an NPC wandering around interacting with my furniture, and greeting me with their friendly chatter every time I came home.

A wandering trader makes himself at home at my C.A.M.P. in Fallout 76.
A wandering trader — introduced in Fallout 76‘s “Wastelanders” expansion — makes himself at home at my C.A.M.P.

Despite all the negative attention and bumps in the road, Bethesda has done an excellent job of redeeming itself, at least in my opinion. Fallout 76 is not a perfect game and likely never will be, but it has come a long way from what it was upon release. My husband and I even purchased his-and-hers subscriptions to Fallout 1st, something I would never have conceived before the release of “Wastelanders.”

So, what’s my final take on Fallout 76, my expectations vs. the reality? I expected Bethesda to deliver a high-quality product, a game with an immersive story worth the time and effort of playing. We ended up getting — at first — a bug-riddled, empty open-world with very little to do or care about.

Thankfully, much of that has improved, and Bethesda is finally on the right track with Fallout 76. I’ve fallen back in love with the game, and I’m thoroughly enjoying the new content introduced with “Wastelanders.” Appalachia is alive, exciting, and dangerous. That’s just the way I like it.

One of my Fallout 76 characters, Sio, posing in front of her C.A.M.P.
One of my Fallout 76 characters, Sio, posing in front of her C.A.M.P.