When the “One Wasteland for All” patch was released for Fallout 76 in September, despite my best efforts, I was pretty darn excited. With Bethesda’s promise that one could now “experience all that the Appalachian Wasteland [had] to offer no matter [one’s] level” with “re-balanced combat and rewards,” I was ready to tackle all those formerly high-level quests that had been previously out of reach. I was also ready to reap the benefits of doing such, and I saw many a legendary item in my future. Most especially, I was looking forward to finally completing the big Wastelander’s Vault 79 quest with my level 50 team character, Amelya. And as it went, within hours of the release of One Wasteland, of course the Internet was already decrying it. We didn’t get to try things out until about a week after the expansion dropped, so I had plenty of time to learn of the problems it had brought about, the most notable one being the very thing that had been troublesome all along: scaling. Undeterred, however, I retained my unbearably optimistic vision that there was some fun still to be wrung out of tattered and torn Appalachia, and so I convinced my husband, who had all but written off the game, to travel back into the West Virginia wilds to see how things had changed.
Long story short, we didn’t get very far, and we once again nearly flung our Fallout 76 discs at a wall in seething anger. More on that in a moment.
About a month later, in mid-October, Bethesda released a patch to “One Wasteland” that appeared to make the Wasteland more palatable for players under level 50. With that in mind, and with yet more stupid optimism at the helm, I booted up the game with my solo character, Bianca, who had been sitting right around level 36 for what seemed like an e-t-e-r-n-i-t-y.
Long story short, wow…I had a blast! And I’m not even being facetious. I really, truly enjoyed Fallout 76 for, quite possibly, the first time ever.
So what the heck happened? I don’t know the technical nitty gritty behind it all, but these were my experiences.
Upon logging in as Amelya, it took me several minutes to remember where we had left off. After abandoning Vault 79 (the main, new Wasterlanders quest in which one must side with either the settlers or the raiders – we went with the former), we had started up a Brotherhood of Steel quest line, one original to the game and without actual NPCs. We had gotten to a point where we had to locate a series of transmitters that would supposedly lead us to a (now dead) BoS leader. When we had left off pre-One Wasteland, the issue surrounding our non-advancement in the quest was simply that the transmitters were located in one of the known high-level and more difficult regions of the map. In short, the spot was pain in the butt to explore at (relatively) low levels.
However, One Wasteland was supposed to make it so that all regions/enemies scaled proportionately to our levels. So, did it? It did! Oh, it scaled alright; everything scaled…to nearly our exact levels. There we were, rocking level 40-50 gear, taking on level 50 everythings, from ghouls to robots to humans to mole rats. Every enemy ate up our precious bullets like they were candy and absorbed melee hits as if they we were hitting them with pillows. It felt as if we had been knocked back to level 1 and had been tasked with taking on the world with toothpicks and spitballs. Gone was any sense of progression, and any of the gains, even the most minimal ones, that we had so far made. On the flip side, it did seems like we were being better compensated XP-wise in combat, but that didn’t really help. When we leveled up, so did the enemies. It was all so…discouraging.
After struggling for a while just to find all the transmitters, we finally made it to our destination, a hidden cave, with our broken weapons and broken hearts. Things in the cave proved no better, what with it being infested by level 50 Scorched enemies. It was the appearance of two practically bulletproof Mirelurk Kings (which are challenging enemies, even on the best of days) that did us in. My husband further disavowed the game, and I simply felt sad. I suppose I shouldn’t have been at all surprised given the game’s checkered history, but—and I can’t even explain why—some small part of me was inanely desperate to want to like this godforsaken game. But, sigh, perhaps it was just not meant to be.
Fast forward a few weeks to mid-October, and the release of the “fix.” Bethesda’s fix that was supposed to actually re-balance Appalachia in some manner? According to the Internet, yes; however, as I said before, it seemed that the “fix” only applied to characters that ranged between level 1-49. My solo level 36 wastlander, Bianca, fit that bill. Begrudgingly, and with very negative feelings in tow, I pulled out the Fallout 76 disc again, applied the new patch, and hoped to the heavens that I wouldn’t regret, again, my actions.
With the “fix” and Bianca, I had one goal in mind: complete the main Wastelanders-Vault 79 quest. Beforehand with her, I had already sided with the Raiders and made a decent bit of progress with the mission generally. But based on my experiences with Amelya, I figured that I had to be at least level 50-55 to tackle its ending, so I had set Bianca off on the upward grind. Getting back into the game with this new patch, I returned to the Wastelanders missions at as lowly level 36 and didn’t know if I had a snowball’s chance in h-e-double-hockey-sticks of getting anywhere.
Lo and behold, I did it! It still boggles my mind a little, but indeed, I managed to work my way through not only the remaining setup missions but Vault 79 itself, all by myself. The same scaling situation applied – enemies scaled to nearly my exact level, and they leveled up when I did. But overall combat was much more rewarding. In other words, though I was taking on same-level enemies, most felt like they were a few rungs lower. My weapons actually felt like they did decent damage, and I didn’t feel as if I was going to die every few minutes. The XP gains were far better too than they had ever been before. Oh, I still died plenty and dealt with broken weapons and armor, but I never felt as overwhelmed and under-powered as I did with Amelya.
My success with Vault 79, led me to push things a little farther with Bianca. Over the course of a couple double XP weekends, I surprisingly managed to hoist her up to the grand level of 57, which might seem pitiful to some, but to me and my time-crunched self, it was pure victory. I ran though couple additional questlines dealing with the BoS and the Enclave (the Enclave one I’ve yet to fully complete), and finished two “ally” questlines, both of which proved really enjoyable. (It’s not so bad having another friendly face with which to converse in the Wasteland.) With the new update, I revamped my perks to cater more towards what’s become my preferred combat style. (One-handed melee, if you can believe that! I know I almost can’t.) The addition of legendary perks and the few latent bonuses I’m receiving from the game’s S.C.O.R.E. system have been really useful. Indeed, I can honestly say that within those few sessions, I had a wonderful time in Fallout 76.
But…don’t mistake that for all-out praise. The game is still rough. There are glitches and bugs galore. The V.A.T.S system is insistently broken. The near constant rubberbanding of enemy health is supremely frustrating. The game’s survival aspects remain fine but mostly annoying. And general server stability seems tenuous, as best. (I’ve lost two at least two questlines completely thanks to server diconnects.) But I will give credit where credit is due – the game has come a long way since launch, and especially since I start playing it last year.
Circling back around to the crux of pre-patch Fallout 76 of September vs. post-patch Fallout 76 of October, what happened when Bianca made the jump from level 49 to level 50? Well, life in West Virginia was harder for awhile. I wouldn’t say that I immediately felt underpowered, but enemies did seem to turn into bullet sponges, and I still found myself running from most danger. In the early 50s, before I revamped my perks, bad memories of pre-patch frustrations started to surface. But rather than give up totally, that’s when I turned to my perks, and decided to go the melee route, which has worked out well since. I can’t swear off guns completely — laser and plasma weapons feel like they fare much better than the traditional pistols and rifles — but I only now keep one or two in my inventory to use when absolutely necessary.
While I don’t know if I will ever group again in Appalachia, I do hope to keep my positive solo streak going. I am looking forward to Fallout 76’s new content, and I suppose only time will tell if sunny days are ahead in West Virginia.
All images, including lede, taken by author during PS4 gameplay of Fallout 76 © Bethesda Game Studios, Bethesda Game Studios Austin (2018-2020).