Tonight, Bethesda Game Studios’ Todd Howard confirmed that Fallout 76 is an online-only game, fully embracing the model of multiplayer survival-crafting games like Rust and Conan Exiles. There’s plenty to be gained by taking this route with a spin-off from the mainline series of single-player action-RPGs, including an entire audience of gamers who are more interested in a social experience than a solitary one and may never have tried a Fallout game as a result. There is, after all, an explosion in multiplayer games right now in the form of Fortnite, PUBG, and the rest of the battle royale craze.
But there are also a lot of things that have been integral parts of Fallout as we’ve known it, going back at least to the 2008 revival in Fallout 3, if not all the way back to 1997’s Fallout: A Post-Nuclear RPG, that are incompatible with online gaming, and I can already tell I’m going to miss them in Fallout 76.
This will be the first Bethesda-made Fallout that isn’t modded up the proverbial wazoo.
The first is a very mechanical thing: VATS, the pause-and-target system that’s defined the Fallout series’ combat for a decade, can’t exist in a multiplayer environment because you can’t have everybody slowing down time whenever they want. So it’s unsurprising that there’s been no hint of VATS or any sort of replacement in the footage we’ve seen so far – Fallout 76 is a full-on run-and-gun shooter, apparently without a cover system, either.
Another sacrifice is technical, but one that Bethesda’s been more and more supportive of over the past few years: mods. Unless Bethesda plans on allowing us to run our own private servers and mod them – something I’d bet heavily against – this will be the first Bethesda-made Fallout that isn’t modded up the proverbial wazoo. That in of itself makes Fallout 76 loses a lot of the long-term novelty and subtle fixes that Fallout 3, New Vegas, and 4 have benefitted from, especially on PC.
We’re one of many, not the one who matters.
The third thing that immediately comes to mind, and arguably the most important for a Fallout RPG among many of the series’ biggest fans, is the feeling of being the central character of your story – someone who can decide to be the region’s savior or the harbinger of its doom. With “dozens” of people on a single server at a time, that means none of us will be able to call the shots to the extent we’ve been able to in most other Fallout games. We’re one of many, not the one who matters by default. We don’t know yet what kind of NPCs will be on this giant map we’re hearing about, but their fates won’t be up to us alone to determine.
That isn’t inherently bad – obviously, there’s an entire genre of online RPGs built with that situation in mind – but as someone who’s been a Fallout fan for 21 years now, it’s a change I’m not immediately excited about. But I’m certainly willing to give this new take on Fallout a chance to win me over.
That said, it’s okay for Bethesda to make a Fallout game that isn’t explicitly for me and the group of people who already love the series. Expanding the universe beyond a single, narrowly defined genre is a good thing, so long as it intends to keep making the single-player games, too. I just hope that, with Bethesda Game Studios’ rotation now expanding to include a third series with Starfield, it doesn’t take a full decade before we get another one.
You can preorder Fallout 76 in Standard, Deluxe, and Collector’s Editions today on Amazon. The Collector’s Edition includes Full-Scale Wearable T-51 Power Armor Helmet with West Tek Canvas Carrying Bag, Glow-in-the Dark Map, 24 Collectible Figurines, and Steelbook.
Dan Stapleton is IGN’s Reviews Editor. You can follow him on Twitter for gaming rants, lots of random Simpsons references, and terrible puns.