When Fallout 76 released, I was one of the game's defenders. While many fans were busy piling on about the game's many bugs and how empty the world felt, I was merrily exploring the West Virginia waste by myself. Sure, it was buggy and some quests didn't work the way they were supposed to, but to me the world building and atmosphere of the game outweighed a lot of those issues. I was totally fine with the game not including any humans, as the solitude offered felt right and true to the spirit of the franchise. I can be pretty forgiving of bugs when I am enjoying a game, and the quiet world of Fallout 76 entranced me to a point where I was fully onboard, happy to silently explore for a few months.
Playing originally on PlayStation, I finally petered out on Fallout 76 near the endgame. I had reached the point where I simply could not progress the story any further without the assistance of other players. When the game was still new, engaging with others was a bit of a crap shoot, as a lot of folks in Fallout 76 were only there to grief others. I make a habit in every game of turning off the in-game chat, and turning it on just to try to rally some strangers to do a quest didn't feel worth it to me. I decided to walk away from the Wasteland Autumn for a while, hoping to return when the inhabitants had settled down a little bit.
Of course, other games came and went, and years went by without me returning to check in on Fallout. I saw new content being released, and noted it with interest, but still struggled to find the time to take on a repeat play for a game of this magnitude. But last week, I found myself with a bit of quiet time. My wife and kids were out of the house, Fall winds were jingling the windchimes outside, and I realized that it was time to go back to West Virginia.
I didn't want to return to my PlayStation save file, as I knew that simply jumping back in would leave me bewildered. So I downloaded Fallout 76 on Xbox Series X from Game Pass and started a fresh run. And what I found was a stellar experience, mixing everything that I loved about the original release with a wealth of new content. In many ways, coming back to Fallout 76 felt like returning to an old neighborhood you used to live in to find that, though the houses have been repainted by the new people that have moved in, the structure that you knew and loved is still there beneath the surface.
Most of what I remember loving about Fallout 76 is still intact. The initial emergence from the Vault, the early Responders quests that teach the player to cook and fend for themselves, the search for the Overseer's data tapes. But woven into this experience is an entirely new one - with actual people added to the mix to deliver another set of quests that I haven't played before. Playing Fallout 76 now feels like watching the extended version of a Lord of the Rings film; all the stuff you loved is still there, but there is all this other awesome stuff that has been mixed into the pot, creating a new - yet still familiar - experience.
The addition of people to Fallout 76 feels just right. The area surrounding Vault 76 is not overrun with people - they are still relatively rare compared to other Fallout games. But their presence does allow the player to experience the world through a new lens, as the context for some locations is different. I was still going down into the Gauley mine, sniping Scotched and molerats, but now I was in this familiar territory with an entirely different purpose.
I was shocked when, at level 10, I found myself face-to-face with the Vault 76 Overseer. So much of my original playthrough was centered on following in the footsteps of the Overseer, searching for her supply drops and data files. She became a specter in my mind, a long-gone, probably-dead visitor to places I was seeing. Listening to her tapes felt like hearing dispatches from a ghost. And here she was, in the flesh, scolding me for remaining in the vault while my compatriots were out conquering the wastes. It felt very strange to have this person that was built up so highly in my mind harass me for being lazy, telling me to "Get out there and catch up."
Other players have not been an issue either. In my 10-or-so hours in Fallout 76 so far, I've ran into others maybe three or four times. I've stumbled across some of their incredible camps, and realized that I do indeed have a lot of catching up to do. The folks I've encountered, invariably of a high level, have either waved and given me gifts, or scampered off on their own business. No one has attacked me, nor have I had anyone jump up and down in front of me until I give up and fast travel away. It seems like Fallout 76 has aged to the point where most of the trolls and casual players have peeled off, leaving behind a civilized and mature core of devoted fans.
I'm really glad I've decided to dip back into Fallout 76 this fall. The season is right, the game is running great, and the mix of nostalgia and new content is tickling a sweet spot I didn't know I had. Even with all of the big fall releases staring me in the face, I find that I'm more excited to play Fallout 76 than anything else on the new release calendar. They say you can't come home again, but sometimes you can visit, and you might find that the people that have moved in have made the place nicer than you left it.