Wastelanders will appeal to hardcore Fallout fans, but it’s still let down by some of the base game’s biggest issues.
By this point, I doubt anyone needs to be told what a disaster Fallout 76 was for Bethesda, and in multiple ways. When the experimental online game launched, it did so in a broken state and with crippling design flaws, and it did not help that Bethesda could seemingly do nothing right when it came to marketing and PR for the game either. Fallout 76 has become a notorious example of how a single bad release can ruin the reputation of a publisher, developer, and franchise.
To their credit though, Bethesda have stuck with the game through the non-existent good times and the abundant bad, even when most other publishers in the industry would have called something like this a failed experiment, cut their losses, and moved on. After a year and a half of consistent support though comes their biggest update for Fallout 76. Wastelanders is a free large expansion that looks to fix many of the biggest issues the game has been weighed down by since the day of its release. The question, then, is- how successfully does it do that?
"There’s a lot to like about Wastelanders, and it certainly improves the base game by some degree, but many of Fallout 76’s biggest inherent flaws and failings are still present, and they do hurt the experience in significant ways."
Well, it does the best it can with what it has to work with. There’s a lot to like about Wastelanders, and it certainly improves the base game by some degree, but many of Fallout 76’s biggest inherent flaws and failings are still present, and they do hurt the experience in significant ways.
The one area where Wastelanders succeeds without reservations is the NPCs. The lack of any human NPCs whatsoever was one of Fallout 76’s biggest issues. In a world occupied by nothing but holotapes that droned on endlessly and the occasional robot that sold wares to you, Appalachia felt lifeless and drab, and players felt unmotivated to explore (which was a bit of a shame, because Fallout 76 actually has a pretty good map). Another byproduct of there being no human NPCs was an uninteresting narrative, and the lack of personable characters that could give meaning and flavour to the world and the quests in it.
As human NPCs return to Appalachia, so too does much else that was missing. Wastelanders introduces several new characters that sport interesting personalities, backed by good writing and solid voice acting. Having characters you can actually invest in makes a difference, and goes a long way toward not only providing context to the quests you undertake and the things that you do, but actually make you feeling connected to the game’s world. Where before Fallout 76 saw most players going through soulless motions, now there’s actual meaning to your actions.
"Having characters you can actually invest in makes a difference, and goes a long way toward not only providing context to the quests you undertake and the things that you do, but actually make you feeling connected to the game’s world."
A bespoke narrative with actual direction and proper, directed storytelling contributes significantly as well. Best of all is the introduction of classic Fallout-style dialogue choices, which feel like an apology letter not only to Fallout 76 naysayers, but also to those who felt miffed by the simplified dialogue choices of Fallout 4. In bringing all of these things to Fallout 76, Wastelanders feels more like Fallout, where the base game – back when it first launched – felt like it simply did not understand what people liked about the series.
But there’s only so much Wastelanders could have done, because even with all of these improvements, it is still an expansion. It is not a new game- it is very much beholden to the game it adds on to. And that’s where it suffers. Because even though it does fix many of Fallout 76’s major issues, many of them are still prevalent- and they’re just as detrimental to the experience as ever.
The combat, for instance, is still a broken mess. Fallout’s combat in its first person era has never been the best, but the VATS system was a huge boon for it. Fallout 76, being an online game, turned the tactical VATS into a real-time auto-targeting system, and that, obviously hasn’t changed with Wastelanders. That means the combat still feels extremely clunky, and spotty hit detection and the enemies’ atrocious animations only make it worse.
"But there’s only so much Wastelanders could have done, because even with all of these improvements, it is still an expansion. It is not a new game- it is very much beholden to the game it adds on to. And that’s where it suffers."
Fallout 76 also has other systems and mechanics that were never properly fleshed out, and Wastelanders doesn’t do much to fix them. The survival mechanics, for instance, are an ancillary annoyance at best, and other than occasionally scrolling through menus to keep your hunger and thirst meters up, they don’t demand (or even require) any real engagement. The quest design still feels very fetch quest-y, and even though – as I mentioned – the addition of characters, choices, and actual storytelling does contextualize them better and add more flavour to them, what you’re actually doing in most of the quests isn’t always the most interesting.
Then there’s the frame rate, which is, to put it bluntly, horrible- there’s just no other word for it. Fallout 76 buckles constantly and consistently, and it buckles hard, and it does so even when nothing too hectic is going on on the screen. It is an actual impediment that noticeably hampers the gameplay, not only during combat, but even when you’re doing something as simple as moving around to get from point A to point B.
The visuals, too, are obviously something Wastelanders could not have fixed, and they continue to be an issue- mostly because of the bugs, predictably enough. There’s a startling abundance of texture pop-in in this game, clouds suddenly appear out of nowhere, assets in the environments often look completely bland, and all of it can occasionally come together to make the game look like the worst bad trip of your life. Characters’ animations are also extremely janky, and lip syncing is often hilariously bad. At the end of the day, it’s just surprising that such fundamental technical issues haven’t been addressed by Bethesda to any meaningful degree in the year and a half that the game has been out.
"At the end of the day, it’s just surprising that such fundamental technical issues haven’t been addressed by Bethesda to any meaningful degree in the year and a half that the game has been out."
So all said and done, after Wastelanders, is Fallout 76 worth your time and money? Well, it’s certainly made the base game significantly better, in that it can now actually be fun and engaging, and feels like a Fallout experience. That said, in it’s current state, it’s still a hard game to play, mostly because of the technical issues still plague it. Unlike its original launch though, after Wastelanders, it is starting to look like this is a game Bethesda can fix. Though the combat is likely unsalvageable at this point, the technical issues can be polished out, while more expansions in vein of Wastelanders can introduce even more new engaging content. It might take a long while, but Fallout 76 no longer seems like a lost cause. In and of itself, that’s a pretty big achievement.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Well-written, well-voiced, and interesting characters; The introduction of NPCs and actual storytelling introduces much needed flavour and context to the world; Classic Fallout-style dialogue choices.
Combat is still a mess; Horrible frame rate issues; Ridiculous texture pop-in; Tons of visual bugs and glitches; Quest design is still uninspired.
Wastelanders improves Fallout 76 noticeably, but is still bogged down by major issues.