After hanging up my power armor and bidding not-so-tearful farewell to Fallout 76 late last year, I didn’t figure that I’d see much of Appalachia any time soon, no matter Bethesda’s purported roadmap for the game. The introduction of the Fallout 1st subscription service, while interesting in theory, only soured the situation further. And when the heralded return of NPCs was made known (for real this time, though delayed), my thought was to simply sit back and watch the fireworks ensue.
Only, they didn’t. Perhaps it was a sign of the times, but Fallout 76’s Wastelanders expansion released last week to mild fanfare and decent-ish reviews from the bloggers I read. (On larger sites, reviews remain mixed.) Despite my protestations, I guess you could say I was curious. Curious enough to want to know just how well, or poorly, Appalachia was doing with its new settlers, and raiders. And so, for better or worse, back into the West Virginia wilds I went.
My initial experience with Wastelanders occurred via my first and group-only character, Amelya. After re-obtaining our bearings with the game’s control scheme, me and my husband took off adventuring. And, well, TL;DR, the game felt about the same. Slow leveling and glitches were pretty much par for the course. However, some noted and very pretty changes to the environments were made that provided more daylight…err, blinding daylight in some scenes, but more light nonetheless. If anything had changed, it seemed that enemy scaling felt more even, and thankfully, we didn’t run into any high-level hordes during our session. Inventory management and survival mechanisms remained paramount, and combat, which did involve some new enemies, both human and not, felt as normally “Fallout-ish” as it had before. As far as accepting new Wastelanders quests went, a new mechanism appeared noting that players were entering private instances (nice!), and that only the group leader could interact with quest-givers. Once the group leader accepted a quest, everyone else in the group were denoted as helpers, and off on our merry way we went.
Of the quality-of-life improvements Bethesda made, being able to better see, control, and hide active quests was among the most welcome. As well, going to the map and locating a quest now brought up a list of that particular quests’ objectives; and further, they changed quests’ map icons to distinguish between active and inactive ones. Quest management via the Pip-Boy was also improved, and no longer did you have to go into the map to “untrack” quests. For me and the quest text jumble that almost immediately populated upon loading, this all meant that I could go into my Pip-Boy and deselect all the quests I wanted to ignore while still seeing their icons on the map. Brilliant.
And what of the NPCs? Well, I won’t lie and say it wasn’t jarring to hear random voices breaking through the mountains winds, because it was. Upon starting the game with a new solo character (I’ll get to her in a moment), several of Vault 76’s robotic helpers noted that Appalachia had become rather “loud” as a result of humans returning to the land. I can now say that I did, in fact, miss the relative peace and quiet of a human-less world. Not every random NPC was out for blood, but many of them were. Clearing a town of the mean ol’ raiders that had moved in felt very reminiscent of previous Fallout titles, but it also proved a little annoying. With limited resources as it is, having to use up more of everything – weapons, ammo, and aid – just to get to a particular quest objective was less often than savory. But, on the plus side, voice acting within the new Wastelanders quests remains top-notch, and it’s great that Bethesda returned to using text conversation choices – and some pretty great choices, at that — on the player’s side.
With my initial Wastelanders curiosity sated thanks to grouping with Amelya, I still wanted to know what the game was like from the new-player perspective. And so, I created my solo character, Bianca.
Upon first leaving Vault 76, I was directed to two individuals who just happened to be in the vicinity, trying to, perhaps, snatch up unwitting vault dwellers for some good(?) or evil(?) schemes. Hence the introduction to divide between the settlers and the raiders that Wastelanders promised. I’ve not delved far enough into Wastelanders’ questlines to side with one or the other, but based off of the results of the very first quest I received, I think I’m headed into the settlers camp…maybe. But generally, playing the game on my own has been a mostly positive experience. I had expected to feel underpowered in battle and overwhelmed by everything, but as I mentioned before, scaling feels much better. Aside from the one time I knowingly wandering into an event area with some mid-range enemies – such notifications are much more noticeable, thankfully – I haven’t has as much trouble staying alive as I did with my first few hours with Amelya. I remain at odds with having to “survive,” but I can’t argue with the fact that having to do so at least makes looting more compelling.
As for the first Wastelanders quest I completed, it was interesting enough. It involved a decent bit of exploring, a several amusing conversations, a “dungeon” dive, and plenty of secrets and secret stashes. Completing it provided a nice legendary item, which I’m on the fence about keeping, as far it that goes. And now, Bianca’s been directed to find Vault 76’s overseer, which is in line with what the game asked of new players pre-Wastelanders. Except, it seems I can still “follow her trail” as originally intended or just go right to her. Grouping with Amelya, we were directed to find the overseer immediately, though our unfinished initial quest to find her still sat in the quest queue? It’s a tad confusing, as it still is with some things in Fallout 76.
In the end, Wastelanders is solid, but the underlying game is still Fallout 76. There’s no pretense here about this being “Fallout 5” or anything of the sort. This remains an MMO variant with other player-characters populating and depopulating Appalachia. The general look and feel of the game is better, but it’s far from perfect. And though Wastelanders is single-player friendly, I have to admit that grouping made a lot of the fetching and searching and unlocking seem less burdensome. I’m not sure how the world of Wastelanders may vary through the eyes of either of my characters, but only time will tell. Suffice to say topping Fallout 76 was the right choice for me then, and picking it back up with Wastelanders feels like the right choice for me now. However, since it remains a problematic game, I still don’t know if I would recommend it to anyone who’s been on the fence. If you’re simply dying for a new Fallout fix, there’s a lot to like in Wastelanders, just…be prepared to hit some bumps in the road, because there are many. So. Many.
All images, including lede, taken by author during PS4 gameplay of Fallout 76 © Bethesda Game Studios, Bethesda Game Studios Austin (2018-2020).