I haven't played a whole heck of a lot of Fallout 76 since the month or two surrounding its launch. I will occasionally jump back in when a new feature or item arrives, like the entertaining battle royale mode, the little garbage robot you could buy for your camp, or the camera you could use for photographic missions.
But I never stay for very long. And I'd honestly like to! I'm dying to be drawn in and invested in Fallout 76, the way I've always been in the singleplayer Fallout games. With Fallout 76 Wastelanders (opens in new tab) coming in April, I feel like it's an opportunity for the game to engage me in a way that hasn't yet happened.
It's all going to hinge on those human NPCs we've waited so long to meet. Here are five things I need from the NPCs of Wastelanders to make me not just visit Fallout 76 again, but to actually stay for a while.
A reason to care beyond getting new gear
Bethesda recently outlined the ladder of trust (opens in new tab) you can attempt to climb by helping out the raider and settler factions in Wastelanders:
"As your reputation ranks with the Raiders and Settlers increase, people at Crater and Foundation will treat you with more warmth during your interactions, and that faction’s vendors will sell you a wider range of goods. By completing story content, you will also gain access to new vendors that sell plans for a few new faction-themed items which will unlock at certain ranks, like neighborly, friendly, or ally."
I definitely understand the carrot being dangled here—work for a faction and you'll get a physical reward. And don't get me wrong, I love physical rewards. But I don't want to feel compelled to help out a faction just because doing so will result in loot, and it worries me a bit that new vendors, blueprints, and gear are mentioned so prominently.
Loot should be a nice bonus, but not the goal. The goal should be to help out a character or faction because you're invested or at least intrigued in their stories and personalities. (And if you have opposing viewpoints, it should feel natural not to side with them instead of doing what they ask simply because they'll sell you cool armor.) I hope the new NPCs can make me care about them, and I don't just wind up fast-traveling to a map marker, killing a bunch of monsters, and fast-traveling back to see what cool new skins I've unlocked. (Though I do hope to unlock some cool new skins, too. As a bonus!)
No, I'm not talking about the guy in the trench coat who appears and shoots your enemies. (Though I love him dearly (opens in new tab).) I mean strangers with mysteries. Nothing pulls me back into a game like a good mystery—I'm still puzzling over that guy endlessly looking for Gavin in Red Dead Redemption 2, for example. Bethesda knit loads of mysterious environmental storytelling into Fallout 76, and I did really enjoy digging through terminals to uncover long-hidden mysteries.
But in Fallout 76 the mysteries have mostly been about things that happened in the past. Solving the disappearance of a kid from before the bombs dropped was satisfying, but ultimately didn't matter because everyone in the present of Fallout 76 was, y'know, dead. With human NPCs entering the world, it's a fresh chance to make some of the mysteries a bit more urgent and engaging. If I begin following a trail of clues, it can finally end with me being face to face with an actual living person, instead of just a corpse or an ancient log in yet another terminal.
The best choices in RPGs are the toughest choices, and the toughest choices are the ones where no matter what you choose, it feels like it's the wrong choice. Happy endings for deserving characters are great, and punishing evildoers is satisfying as hell (or the opposite, if you're roleplaying a bad guy yourself). But when it comes to the resolution of conflict, life rarely works out neatly, and we're often forced to choose between solutions that feel far less than perfect.
I'm not saying every choice has to be a nightmare to make, but what's more memorable? When everything works out just the way you want it, or those times where you sit staring at your screen, frozen with hesitation because you just can't bear to pick from any of the options you're presented with? I'm not sure how long you can really stare at a screen in Fallout 76 without another player running up and emoting or a mole rat leaping out of the ground to bite your face, but I hope I get the chance to find out because I'm challenged by some really difficult choices.
When I say sexy, I'm not just talking about looks. Yes, I definitely want to get busy and romance these new "allies (opens in new tab)"—and I'm definitely the type of player who will romance as many characters as possible if the option is available.
But let's face it, sexual tension is one of the most elusive elements of games—when you're not just attracted to a character's looks but also their personalities, where you genuinely fear saying or doing the wrong thing that may make them unhappy with you, thus lessening the chances of forming a romantic connection with them. It's tense, it's sexy. It's sexual tension. And it's pretty rare in games because it requires strong writing and a believable performance on the part of the AI-controlled character.
We don't know yet how many of these romances there are, or how they'll work, or if sex is even included in the deal (I rather doubt it). But if I'm looking for a reason to spend more time in a game, having a character I legit have a crush on (and who makes me feel like they have a crush on me) will go a lot further than someone whose disposition just feels like a meter I can fill by clicking the right dialogue option.
It's all well and good that the factions of raiders and settlers have their home bases, and that there are allies we can recruit to hang out at our camps. But I'm hoping there are plenty of weird-ass random humans wandering around Appalachia when Wastelanders arrives, too.
These NPCs don't have to have incredibly deep backstories or a laundry list of quests or new and improved gear to sell me if I help them out. I just want some random people out there in the world, wandering around, to interact with in non-combat situations. Bethesda's original intent with Fallout 76 was that the only humans were the people playing the game. And honestly I've met plenty of nice (and some definitely weird) players. But strangely, it helps a game world to feel more real when there are fake people in it, not just cloistered into a big base somewhere, but roaming free for you to stumble upon and interact with. It also helps when they're weirdos, with the kind of quirks and offbeat personalities that give you something to remember them by. Sure, there are already some weird robots already in Fallout 76, but give me some weird people, too. It'll keep me coming back and looking for more.