When Fallout 76 first launched in late 2018, it had its fair share of problems. In addition to a plethora of technical issues that at times made the game unplayable, the game was a general disappointment to both fans of the Fallout franchise and newcomers alike. When I reviewed the game initially, I acknowledged that it was a “decent sandbox” with “compelling exploration”, but also noted the game as a “…glitch-filled mess with a lack of polish and poor game mechanics”. With many other players echoing these concerns, developer Bethesda set itself on a path to fixing its mistakes, promising a handful of free updates/expansions to hopefully turn Fallout 76 around. The first major expansion, the Wastelanders update, finally adds NPCs to the game, as well as brand new questlines and some overhauled game features. It’s good to see Bethesda moving in the right direction, but does the Wastelanders update actually make Fallout 76 a game worth playing?
A Wastelanders Update for All
The Wastelanders update adds a laundry list of new features to Fallout 76, enough so that it will be hard to cover everything in detail here. If you’re curious about everything that’s included in the update, you can check out the full patch notes for the Fallout 76 Wastelanders update at Bethesda’s official site. Generally speaking, there are a plethora of new items and enemies to discover, new locations to explore, and a long list of quality-of-life improvements.
At the forefront of the update’s content is a new main questline that highlights the addition of non-playable characters, featuring a handful of factions and recruitable AI companions. The original main quest from vanilla Fallout 76 has also received some updates, making it a better experience for newcomers. One of my primary complaints with Fallout 76 at launch was that the experience felt lonely for solo players and that the lack of NPCs made the world feel lifeless and hollow. The Wastelanders update is a good step in the direction of fixing that problem, at least in terms of the questing aspect of the game.
Appalachian Treasure Hunting
The narrative of the Wastelanders update revolves mostly around treasure-hunting, or at least the prospect of it. You’ll meet up with some new faces who have arrived in Appalachia, spurred on by the promise of untold riches hidden somewhere in the region. You’ll also meet and talk with the Overseer, the character whose audio logs you’ve been following for the first year of Fallout 76. The journey takes you to a variety of new locations where you’ll encounter a plethora of characters, including the owners of a local drinking hole known as the Wayward Bar, a violent batallion of bandits known as the Raiders, and a group of new survivors called the Settlers. In time, you can even team up with these factions or recruit certain characters via extra side missions.
Overall, I enjoyed the time I spent with the updated questing content, which felt like a big improvement over the vanilla quests. The addition of NPCs makes it easier to become attached to quest lines and locations, plus the new dialogue system makes conversations feel fun and varied. Unfortunately, the content in Wastelanders still pales in comparison to previous Fallout games. While the motivations for questing are more tangible than before, the majority of the gameplay stays the same. You’ll still spend an undue amount of time scavenging and looting garbage, avoiding big groups of enemies, and walking around a desolate and unwelcoming map. The new quests give you some fun distractions along the way, but they don’t fix some of the bigger issues I’ve had with the base game.
Is Wastelanders Worth Returning to Fallout 76?
While the Wastelanders update has definitely improved Fallout 76, the game was immensely underwhelming in the first place. The update is a step in the right direction, but that doesn’t mean it saves Fallout 76 from its wealth of other issues. While some of the moment-to-moment gameplay mechanics might be more sound, the game still has lots of technical issues. Visual pop-in is still frequent and apparent, with more obnoxious visual glitches peppered between. I even ran into one character who had fully melded into the bar he was supposed to be sitting at, which ended up being one of the lesser egregious examples.
Simply put, if you already own Fallout 76 and have abandoned it for whatever reason, the Wastelanders update might be worth jumping back in. At the very least, there are a dozen or so hours of decent questing to be had. That said, I still can’t recommend Fallout 76 to newcomers. Even with the Wastelanders update, the game feels half-finished, lacks inspiration, and can be a chore to play. If you’re interested in jumping into the Fallout franchise, I recommend playing either Fallout 3 or Fallout 4. Unless you’re especially interested in the online connectivity that Fallout 76 offers, there are far better Fallout games to experience. The Wastelanders update has put Fallout 76 on a path towards redemption, but it’s from reaching its goal.