Fallout 76: Post-apocalyptic homebodies

When I came back to Fallout 76 for Wastelanders, I had hoped to like it, but I really didn’t expect to get this much sucked into it. Seriously, for a while there, it was sucking up about 80% of my gaming time, day after day, because I was just so interested in the missions and game world.

I think that a huge draw for me is the sense of going out on expeditions into the unknown. There’s a big element of exploration with F76 (and all the Fallout games), and grabbing some supplies and then hoofing it over a mountain range into an unknown area on a quest for some weirdness or another always made me feel vulnerable, excited, and daring at the same time.

But first things first — I built a house. I was holding off on it for a while, but eventually I knew I really wanted my own home base and would love it once I did it. Probably the longest part of making this was finding the ideal location that wouldn’t be CAMP camped by other players. I ended up making it in a small clearing at the top of a mountain in the starter zone, not too far away from the Vault.

The home-building process went surprisingly easy. I spent some of the free Atoms I’d earned on a contemporary housing set (walls, floors, doors) to make it look less ramshackle, and then constructed a basic 2×2 cabin that you see above. I want to keep the interior full of decorations and homey stuff, with all of the workbenches and whatnot on the outside. It’s a work in progress, but so far I’m pretty pleased with it.

Probably my biggest complaint about Wastelanders is that I still don’t think that the devs have the quest flow just right. For starters, there’s a big gap from when you finish the initial quests until you can start in on the faction ones (you have to reach level 20), which left me wandering around looking for the odd quest to do and mob to kill for XP.

Then, many of the quests that I was given as part of these chains sent me into absurdly dangerous areas. Like, “Hey, you’re level 14 and these are level 52 mobs. Have fun getting past them to your objective!” I had to do more than a few suicide runs to try to frantically dash into structures to click on The Thing and get the next quest step before being gunned down.

Oh! I did see a nuke! Well, I was informed that there was one going off in a couple of minutes, but it was so far into a high-level area that I didn’t have the chance to get there through fast travel. I went to the top of a ridge and was able to see some light in the distance, so I guess that was something.

Really, the quests are pretty excellent even if they’re somewhat rare to find. I stumbled upon this frat one that I thought would be pretty simple, and it turned out to be a many-step quest to find the formula to a secret alcoholic drink that was going to fuel the success of an actual underground speakeasy. Lots of environmental details and humor, even if it was pretty morbid.

And I came upon the room of the most dedicated Nuka Cola fan in the universe as a result.

So yeah, good times all around. I’ve gotten my first CAMP ally (Beckett, who set up shop at a bar that I built for him), started in on the Settler faction quests, and decked myself out with a nasty combat shotgun that mows down mobs like nobody’s business. I feel like I’m getting the hang of the perk system and weapon mods for the first time, and I’m even not that bad at combat any more. Good times.

Fallout 76: Beating friendship into you

I feel that this time around in Fallout 76, I’m playing the game much differently than before. For starters, I got these sweet bottlecap sunglasses that I never, ever want to take off. For another thing, I’m mostly just following questlines and exploring locales along the way instead of trying to be a completionist. I’m also engaging more with the perk system than I did before, trying to build the kind of character that fits my playstyle.

Probably the greatest frustration that I’m encountering isn’t thirst or huger — it’s inventory limitations. It’s just way too easy to load up on so much stuff that your become overencumbered and then can’t fast travel. I have to keep an eye on weight and make frequent trips back to my ever-filling stash before I reach that point, which is tedious. I’m extra frustrated because even when I clean out my bags after a trip, my armor, weapons, ammo, and various aid supplies all add up to 2/3rds of my maximum weight.

I can slowly expand my inventory limit through investing in strength stat points, but I don’t want to go all-in on that. I did manage to get a small backpack through one quest, but that only gave me five more pounds of carry weight, Whoopdie-doo.

I haven’t yet started on a new house, although I really do need to do that. Instead, it’s a lot of nail-biting adventures through dangerous areas that are very hostile to a level 11 newbie. Some of the mines in this game — yes, West Virginia has a LOT of mines — are more tense and claustrophobic than many MMO dungeons I’ve run. Probably the one that had me the most on edge was trying to make my way to to the bottom of a coal mine that was also on fire and had fire zombies everywhere. Good times.

I do like the branching quests and the ever-greater assortment of storytelling devices that the devs are now using. Running missions to help out the folks running the Wayward Inn became a lot more meaningful when I got to know the NPCs there and genuinely cared about them. And there were a couple of really surprising twists along the way which delighted me.

I don’t know who lives at this house, but I do not want to meet them.

So here’s a fun story of maturity in cyberspace. I was finishing up a mission to get through an airport when two other players burst into the room behind me, presumably also on a quest. I turned off voice chat early on, because I do not want to hear mouth-breathers slurring around half-chewed Doritos, so all I have to communicate with others in the game right now are emotes.

I did a friendly wave.

They responded by running up and punching me, over and over again.

Obviously, they were trying to goad me into participating in PvP, but I wasn’t having it. I knew that if I didn’t respond, the damage they did to me was negligible and their time was wasted. I did get a screenshot to commemorate the start of our beautiful friendship, however.

On another quest, I was running an obstacle course through some ruins when this horrid monstrosity leaped out at me and killed me in two blows. That’s me, showing off my backpack while I bleed out on the filth. Cool, eh?

Fallout 76: Does Wastelanders make this a brand-new game?

Not every flaming mess of a game gets a do-over, but occasionally, it does happen. Final Fantasy XIV and No Man’s Sky are prime examples of pulling a complete turnaround, going from extreme disappointments to passionately loved titles. Is that even possible for Fallout 76? Let’s not get carried away with ourselves right now, because this is still Bethesda here, and that studio doesn’t know how to go two days without tripping over its feet and landing with at least one of them in its mouth.

But here’s the wild thing — Fallout 76 appears to be a whole lot better. It’s not a completely new game, but Wastelanders is an amazing step forward. It *feels* fresh and exciting — and whole, in a way that F76 never has.

I started a new character to get the full Wastelanders story experience, going from a Vault nobody to hero of Appalachia in 8,000 easy steps. It took me an evening to reacquaint myself with the strange controls and design of the game, getting back into the habit of salvaging everything and taking the most roundabout ways to get anywhere. At the same time, I was reminded about how beautiful this game can be. Not all the time, but there are some gorgeous vistas.

I’m going to save fuller impressions of all of the new content, including the story, dialog, and NPCs, for a bigger piece I’m writing up for Massively OP, but I’ll say that it’s stunning how much this makes a difference. It’s no longer a shell of a good game; it might well be an actual good game in its own right.

Also, there’s a giant robot here that thinks it’s a cow. “Comforting Moo” indeed. I really want more of a backstory on this thing.

I do have a very long road ahead, but that’s OK. Wastelanders comes at a very good time in my play schedule, when I’m slowing down in LOTRO until the next update comes, so I have more space for it. And I needed something new and exciting to enjoy this spring (can’t imagine why I might need the distraction!).

I absolutely hated the look of my character that I initially came up with. Fortunately, Fallout 76 allows you to completely change your appearance *on the fly*, which is something I’ve never seen in any MMO or online game. So I did a whole lot of tweaking and slidering and fiddling about and came up with a look that is, in my opinion, pretty respectable. I can’t believe how atrocious most of the looks and hairstyles are for the Fallout games.

Anyway, back to the wasteland I go!

Fallout New Vegas: Judge, jury, and tourist

(This is part of my journey going playing through 2010’s Fallout New Vegas. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

I am torn between two desires as I push further into Fallout: New Vegas. The first is to roam forever and fully explore this game map. The Fallout games are like catnip for explorers and completionists, and it does drive me a bit batty when I don’t get to see 100% of everything out there. However, the second desire is to push forward in the plot and make headway on actually completing the game. I don’t want to be in here forever; there are too many other worlds to game (and blog) about!

So I gave myself two weeks to explore. Two weeks to roam aimlessly, pursue unexplored map markers, and level up a tad. It was a good time, more or less, although I didn’t really encounter a lot of super-noteworthy locations. Mostly I shot up radscorpions and got ambushed a few times by the Legion.

And I found this adorable painting. Truly, New Vegas is the burgeoning art scene of the future.

What is a little weird to me is how the world around me seems to be all caught up in this relatively small saga of a rogue courier (me) who somehow escaped death and is now acting as judge and jury over the American southwest. I do like to listen to Radio New Vegas while I play, because every once in a while the DJ will talk about some of the things I’ve done and how it’s impacted the communities.

There is a lot of opportunity during wanders and quests to form opinions of the major factions in the area — namely the Legion, the NCR, and the Great Khans. There’s some good and bad to all of them, although the Legion do seem to be more evil than the rest and the NCR a tad more law-abiding and Boy Scoutish than the others. I particularly liked the above statue at the NCR camp commemorating a great alliance of yesteryear with the Desert Rangers (a nod to Wasteland, I assume).

Meanwhile, my character is beefing up in all sorts of great ways. I’ve accumulated several perks, both from leveling and from hitting various achievements. I am Lord Death now, since I’ve killed so much. That’s going on my business card.

I did swap out Boone for a different companion that I met at a trade stop. Veronica here is a member of the Brotherhood, and I went with her because she seems a lot more personable than the grunty Boone. Plus, she punches things to death with her robot fist, and that never gets old.

Back on the trail of the main storyline, I made my way to Boulder City to broker a peace between the NCR and the Khans in exchange for some info about the jerk that shot me.

See? Everyone seems to know me. I’m like tabloid fodder for the apocalypse. I’m still confused why Benny wanted to kill me over a platinum casino chip, but hopefully I’ll find out some day.

Turning my back to Boulder City, I head into New Vegas proper for the first time in the game. Its bright lights beckon to me — but is it a warning against imminent peril? TUNE IN NEXT TIME FOR RETRO GAMING DUN DUN DUNNNN

Fallout 76: A sharp-dressed woman

I swear, every time I log into Fallout 76, I mystify myself as to why I’m playing. I mean, if you were to criticize this game — and heaven knows that there are plenty out there willing to do just that — I would be on your side. There’s so much WRONG with this game’s design… and yet I still want to play it.

Does that make me sick in the head? Perhaps it’s radiation poisoning.

Or perhaps it’s the fact that when you push past all of the problems, there’s still a satisfying exploration experience here that keeps me poking around. I don’t have to have an agenda during any given session other than “Let’s go see what’s in that place over there” if I don’t want to. And the gradual accumulation of supplies, building up my pathetic base, and finding outfits — such as my new dirty suit, above — is enough for me.

I will defend the game’s character growth system, because I think it’s one of the best of the series, and far, far better than the mess that was Fallout 4’s. Every level you get a new stat point for your SPECIAL which pretty much just gives you a card slot to use. Then you can swap in and out cards as you will to create the best build for your character. It’s very intuitive and flexible — and it makes me look forward to leveling.

I have been starting to lean in the direction of actually doing quests from time to time, just to feed the ravenous hunger I have for narrative in F76. It grates that because of the “no human NPC” rule that Bethesda put into this title, almost all of the quests that I’ve encountered to date are from robots. Is it just me, or are there far too many robots in this game? It’s like I’m in some sort of bizarro scifi wasteland at times where there were never people, just robots living in a robotic world.

I’m still not as keen about exploring some of the more urban areas, but that’s hardly new to Fallout 76. They’re just hard to methodically comb through and usually not very attractive on the eyes. This is why I like the Appalacian setting, since most points of interest are surrounded by nature and kept from being overly large.

My arsenal has been steadily growing. My hunting rifle is really powerful but very slow to fire (which is a distinct minus with this game’s version of VATS), so I almost always gravitate toward my 10mm pistol (weak but rapid firing) or my new automatic pipe rifle, which can spit out 12 bullets very quickly and chew through ammo that I don’t need otherwise. I save my shotgun for truly sticky encounters, such as a pack of super mutants, and if I’m in tight spots or against weaker foes, I still sling my fire axe with impunity.

I kind of wish I would find more in the way of armor, which seems very scarce around the wasteland. I probably should craft some more, but I have to actually force myself to spend time crafting, and that doesn’t happen too often here.

Fallout 76: Medics bring the pain

Probably one of my favorite things about Fallout 76 is finding outfits in the game to wear. I’m not even going to glance at the overpriced cash shop for these because I pick up plenty as I’m going about my adventures. Today’s nifty find was a paramedic outfit. Wee-ohh, wee-ohh, I’m commin’ to rescue you!

It’s hard to explain the appeal of this game, as there’s just as much I don’t like about it as I do. I guess that at the core of it is a semi-relaxing exploration experience of this not-too-drab post-apocalyptic setting, and I enjoy gradually uncovering locations and seeing what’s what in them. Environmental storytelling is pretty interesting to me, even if I leave an area not quite knowing what happened there.

Fallout 76 might be best subtitled as “Clubbing Robots to Death.” That’s what I seem to spend a lot of my time doing, and even though these are voiceless machines of death, I kind of feel bad slamming them around. Also, when did West Virginia get so many robots? It’s like a sci-fi amusement park out here!

I spent an evening’s play session actually spending time building up my base and crafting. I took a cue from one of the loading screens to make this accessible half-building that contains everything I need: a bed to rest, stash, workbenches, vending machine, and several turrets to protect me from invaders. The vending machine’s even drawn in other players, one of whom was nice enough to gift me a set of crafting plans free of charge.

I was really intrigued by the latest patch’s introduction of the Pioneer Scouts, so I made a very long journey to the Scout camp to join up. While I did get a uniform and several quest prompts, I quickly realized that I was too low-level to complete most of it. I guess my backpack’s going to need to wait until another day!

Without any NPCs or cutscenes, environmental storytelling has to carry the heavy burden of narrative in Fallout 76 — for better and for worse. One cemetery contained what looked like the remnants of a death/wicker cult, with tons of corpses having drank rat poison and these weird statues everywhere. Yet there was no explanation, quest, or resolution, which left me unsatisfied.

WE WILL NEVER FORGET YOU MR. PEBBLES

While I love exploring smaller and more intimate locales, I’m less crazy about huge industrial spaces, like this nuclear power plant. To make matters worse, this place was mined all over the entrance, and I blew myself up no less than three times trying to get in there. I hate mines.

Fallout 76: Giving the end of the world another shot

It’s probably safe to say that Fallout 76 was a disappointment to many when it came out last year due to a combination of poor decisions. The biggest of these were bugs, trying to create a weird MMO hybrid design that failed to be social in the least, a lack of a true VATS combat system, and cumbersome PC controls. Bethesda barely gives PC players a second thought, and it shows in the questionable keybinds and inventory UI in its games.

Anyway, while I was disappointed with a game that I had hoped would fill that post-apocalyptic MMO hunger I had, I never thought it was a complete wash — and I was encouraged by hearing the odd report of players who had stuck with it and found a lot of good among the bad. So it was on my radar to return to when it got a few bolstering patches under its hood, and, well, here I am.

Since I never got very far into the game, I had no problems starting over and trying to take this game at face value as a survival-model RPG. This meant slowly progressing through areas, picking up everything not nailed down, scrapping junk, and building up a base of operations. I love the *idea* of a base more than how Fallout 76 institutes it, mainly due (again) to Bethesda’s horrible interface. It’s workable, just not very user friendly. At least this time around I’m sort of getting it and finding that crafting stuff isn’t as difficult as I had made out in my mind.

I’ve also been relying on a melee weapon for these early hours, since it’s usually more than enough for the enemies that I encounter and it saves ammo for a more needed later date. The first play session that I had in the game, another player emoted at me and then left a nice baseball bat for me in an Overseer’s Cache. That’s come in real handy, and I’ve had some fun knocking robots around with it.

Shown: An awesome player base made by Not Me. Not shown: My base, which is a sad, pathetic wooden platform with a couple of things on it.

The more I play, the more the absence of both other players in any large number and the absence of NPCs creates an odd, isolating feel. I’m not a fan. I don’t need tons of either people or friendly mobs, but it’s bizarre how the game bends itself into knots to never show people (you’re usually Too Late to save the humans in any given area) and I don’t get why there aren’t zone chat windows, better grouping tools, or guilds. Any of those would’ve brought the community together, but as it is, I just forget that this is a multiplayer game at all. And that is sad.

The redeeming nature of the game is in that classic Fallout exploration loop. It’s just fun to explore these different thematic areas, such as a wilderness camp that included a ropes and obstacle course and several cabins. I almost made it to the end of the ropes course but kept falling due to the terrible platforming controls.

Looking at the map, I’ve only explored a very small area in total, mostly because I have to keep returning to base camp to offload materials as I get weighed down. I did rejoice the day I found an actual (robot) vendor to buy some of this stuff I’d been saving, as caps are hard to come by in this version of the game.

Another fun activity is playing dress up. In addition to armor pieces, there are certain outfits that can be acquired and equipped. Here I am wearing priest’s vestments (with a Bible tucked in the back, natch). Figured that would be somewhat appropriate!