I’m still enjoying Fallout 76 partly because it makes it much easier to ignore the things I usually gripe about in MMOs. That’s not to say it isn’t naggy (and the recently added public teams pop up a notification with a noise that startles me almost every time I’m creeping up on something), nor immune to the usual MMO diseases.
But I can largely do my own thing. Like when I inadvertantly ended up far from my camp in an unfamiliar spot and walked all the way home. I doubtless walked past a dozen ‘quest’ bits, and could have run off to do some events, or looked up an achievement or challenge or whatever to make some numbers go up. But instead, I figured I’d take the opportunity to explore and get to know the land better.
I’m not saying it’s the only way to enjoy the game. But it’s certainly a good one. If you go at your own pace, Fallout 76 has a lot of extra fun to uncover.
I feel similarly about a lot of other MMOs, but Fallout 76 has really brought it home, probably because its online bits are built onto the same broad structure as Fallout 3 and The Elder Scrolls. It’s an easy land to wander in, and despite its survival elements, endless guns, and free-roaming players, it’s unusually easy to go unmolested too.
Take the opening. When you leave the vault, because of course you start in a vault, you’re charged by a series of recordings to track down the Overseer, the big boss lady who ran the place while everyone was stuck down there for a few decades.
Naturally, I inferred that this meant it would work like the other Bethesda Fallouts: tracking some dork you’ve been told to care about around the entire game map, repeatedly finding out whenever you arrive anywhere that you just missed them, but hmm, hey, I heard him say he had a friend in Little Hydrojazzton. So I ignored it, and did the morally correct thing of walking off into the woods and never once looking back.
So many players go racing off towards the next quest marker (which I have to periodically remind myself about, since I disabled everything right down to the compass by editing a couple of game files the minute I left the tutorial), considering only the most powerful, profitable, efficient items, and chasing the endless ticking over of bars. It’s sad because if you do that, you miss out on a lot of fun.
I don’t expect everyone, or even many people, to play like I do. And I’ll hit a wall at some point, I’m sure. Once you reach those high levels and get to the powerful, big stuff, it’s a lot harder to go back. Not just because the mathematics of RPGs, especially MMOs, balance fights on the assumption that you’re playing in particular ways, but because, well, it’s fun. I get it. I’m not here to say people are wrong to look for constant excitement and big showstopper set pieces to play through.
Interestingly, by ignoring the expected plot path, I’ve been able to piece together a lot of the game’s world more organically than by following the main story missions. I’ve yet to tangle much with the major factions, but I’ve fought a few, learned about some more, and accidentally shot the first innocent settler I met in the head, and punched the second to death because he wouldn’t shut up about the first. It’s a nice place, and the whole atmosphere is distinctly optimistic compared to the rest of the series.
Ironically, it’s also how I accidentally stumbled into the Overseer, and as far as I’m concerned, this means I’ve completed the story.
Stranded far from my camp, I decided to walk home along a railway track for a few hours. Along the way I hunted some deer. I intervened in a gunfight too late to save a scavenger from gangsters. I admonished a junkie. I had a tense momentary standoff with another player in a creepy animal mask (part of the same long journey where I met Fun Cop). If I worried about XP and damage per second, I would have sprinted past most of that, or fast travelled and missed it entirely.
When I found the Overseer, the whole point of the starting quest, it was by accident. I really wasn’t expecting it at all. She was in a massive house overlooking a town, instantly demonstrating why my character would have avoided her. Oh sure, you want to rebuild, and you just happen to get the fully stocked mansion surrounded by an impoverished town. Definitely getting in on that utopia mate. Nice one. Here’s me sleeping under a tree and living off foraged berries, but no, you go ahead, get yourself a nice new carpet. You deserve it. I’m not going to look for a guillotine blueprint, honest.
“Oh thank god you’re here,” she says, “I almost… it’s just good to see you”. Almost what, boss? Almost went looking for me? Almost sent a messenger? Almost lifted a finger? Almost spent a synaptic impulse on looking away from your tv for a second? She goes on, insisting that I should meet someone downstairs. This is an obvious trap but when she walks downstairs there’s no way to bar her in and torch the mansion, and she does tell me to make myself at home. So I head over to the piano, jam out some tunes for a while, and then leave. Good luck with your whatever, former boss. I have roses to smell.
I’ve kept playing Fallout 76 of course, since my business with the Overseer is done. I found her, she’s fine, she’s up to some nonsense or other. Good for her. I’ve got berries to pick, and rum to brew, and perhaps I’ll head West tomorrow and see what’s behind the mountain. Maybe I’ll have another cool little shootout in that factory. Maybe I’ll start delivering rum to other players and see what happens. There’s no rush. The levels will come when they come.