When I decided to bid adieu to roaming Fallout 76’s Appalachian wilderness last November in order to spend more quality time with Geralt of Rivia, I didn’t really think much about returning to the wastes. At the time, the release of Fallout 76’s latest expansion, “Steel Dawn,” was just a few weeks away. I was interested in it, sure, but not overly so. As far as Fallout lore goes, I’m not the world’s biggest fan of Steel Dawn’s central characters – the Brotherhood of Steel. So in thinking about the choice to fight monsters with the handsomely wry Geralt or trounce around a battled and bruised West Virginia with a bunch of pseudo-religious-techno zealots, well…Geralt was the clear winner.
That said, my own steely exterior couldn’t pass up Fallout 76’s final double XP weekend of 2020. My solo character, Bianca, sat just shy of level 60, and we had had some good times together in the recent past, what with me finally paying some attention to the game’s perk system and turning her into a melee weapon whiz. Besides, new content was new content, Brotherhood of Steel or no, and double XP made things more palatable. I left The Witcher 3 in as settled a state as possible, and I made my way back to the West Virginia wilds. The new update not only included the BoS, it also came with new building modules called “shelters.” While the BoS story populated my queue not too long after logging in, I actually had to go out and activate the shelters quest.
One thing I’ve not spoken much about in my Fallout 76 posts is the game’s building system. That’s because up to Steel Dawn, I held zero interest in building anything at my Construction and Assembly Mobile Platform (C.A.M.P.). It was nice that I could move my C.A.M.P. around as needed (for a cost), and it was interesting browsing forums and Bethesda’s site for images of players’ own varied and sometimes amazing C.A.M.P. creations. But me build something myself? Meh. Because I didn’t find the process of building all that appealing in Fallout 4, I figured I wouldn’t like it in Fallout 76. But something in my brain clicked when I read that shelters were private interiors in which the game’s wonky building mechanics didn’t necessarily apply. That actually sounded kind of…okay. So, before I sought out the BoS, I ran through the motions to get my own shelter – the free one given out unilaterally. After finding a nice spot in which to stick my C.A.M.P., I placed my shelter entrance, and I started building.
Long story short, I learned two things from my shelter experience: I don’t like shelters, but I do like building! I’ll spare you the gory details, but suffice to say, I have two big issues with shelters: (1) you can’t put “allies” (friends found and helped in the wasteland) in them, and (2) loading into them is a pain. To the second point, the game’s load times are horrendous enough; having to load into my shelter each time I visited only added to the annoyance. Why bother when I could simply build a quick house with everything I needed, plus an ally? (Depending on who they are, allies can give buffs, aids and/or extra quests.)
As far as the act of building goes, trying things out as I did in the shelter spurred me on to create my own Appalachian homestead. Several, in fact! I’ve seen online some people mention that for them, building has served as the “end game,” and I get that now, especially since I now understand how much work it takes to garner special building plans that are strewn about the world map or are only available from different events/quests/etc.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself a little here, because before she turned from a melee madwoman to a carpentry genius, Bianca had a lot of work to do. The Brotherhood of Steel quest was only one among several other unfinished ventures, but I figured I ought to see what the BoS was up to.
The Brotherhood of Steel was not new in Fallout 76. One of the game’s original and more interesting quests involved players following the path of a BoS expedition that had made its way from the west to Appalachia but perished. Who they were and what happened was skillfully revealed as players made their through ways through portions of the world, including the expedition’s very creepy abandoned headquarters in a very creepy former asylum. The BoS faction in Steel Dawn had been sent after this original expedition learn of its fate and reinstate the BoS in Appalachia. Their new headquarters were in a much less creepy, old observatory named Fort Atlas. Three characters served as the main storytellers: surly and righteous Knight Daniel Shin; the practical and technical Scribe Odessa Valdez; and the upstanding (or is she?) and dutiful (maybe?) Paladin Leila Rahmani. Together, they represented the strange sphere in which this BoS faction lived, one caught between the pull of tradition and the need for change.
Steel Dawn can be summed up as excellent but short. I may not have BoS posters adorning my walls, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like a good story that’s ripe with intrigue. Steel Dawn was just that, because if there is one thing that Bethesda’s good at, it’s storytelling and constructing lore. Steel Dawn’s characters and dialogue were top-notch. As I made Bianca very wary of and sarcastic towards the BoS (She don’t take no guff from nobody!),some of the resulting conversation choices were very pointed, and yet, they still fit within the context of what was going on. Oh, and if only there had been more! Within the expansion, we learned so many awesome tidbits, from the secret history of Fort Atlas’s still-functioning observatory, to the fragile state of the BoS, to the real purpose of this BoS faction within Appalachia. And it was all over in a handful of hours. A good, meaty handful of hours, but still.
With things at Fort Atlas calm, and with several more levels under Bianca’s belt (she neared 70 at Steel Dawn’s end – yay double XP!), I decided to clear out some miscellaneous quests that had been sitting in queue for a while (the big “ending” via the Enclave remains. I just don’t have the energy, or levels, or desire, to tackle it yet.) Then I started focusing on the things that are there to supposedly “keep players invested” in Fallout 76: C.A.M.P. building, daily and weekly quests, chasing S.C.O.R.E. points, and doing various atom challenges. As I said, building has been great, and it’s the one thing that keeps Bianca (now a lovely level 102!) busy in Appalachia. I’ve been less thrilled with daily and weekly quests (I despise Daily Ops entirely), which give out S.C.O.R.E. points, but I have made it halfway around the current scoreboard, and some of the bonuses, especially the C.A.M.P.-related ones, from it have been nice and helpful. As far as the atom challenges go, they are mixed bag. At the very least, the ones involving finding things like magazine and bobbleheads have led me to some previously unexplored spots, which has been great for filling up my map, and it’s led to plenty of amusing finds, with which Appalachia is rife, much to Bethesda’s credit.
At this point, I’m not sure of Bianca’s fate in West Virginia. I remain mildly interested in exploring and collecting – finding outfits is my new jam – and another recent update to the game introduced (or reintroduced) some new challenges, but the simple fact is that, without quests, Fallout 76 feels rather…empty. And yet, I’m not ready to give up on its world entirely. No small portion of my brain has been tugging at me to create a new character, one with which I focus on questing (re-questing?), because that is where the game shines brightest. That said, though the game is much better of the version of it I began playing in 2019, it can still be a glitchy nightmare. Guess we’ll see what comes of it this year. And besides, I do hate to keep Geralt waiting…
All images, including lede, taken by author during PS4 gameplay of Fallout 76 © Bethesda Game Studios, Bethesda Game Studios Austin (2018-2021).