The end of the world can certainly feel lonely sometimes - that's something that we came to realise when strapping in to review Fallout 76 back in 2018. Post-apocalyptic West Virginia felt desolate and empty due to Bethesda's blinkered vision that had the studio stripping out human NPCs in favour of making player interactions more impactful. With the upcoming Wastelanders update, however, Bethesda has responded to the well-voiced call from the community by finally adding NPCs to the game, as well as numerous other fixes, to help get the troubled MMO back on track.
We started Wastelanders by hopping into the character creator, and we celebrated Reclamation Day one more time so we could compare how it felt approaching Fallout 76 for the first time in 2020. After emerging from Vault 76, we encountered two misled treasure hunters who had been swindled out of the last of their caps by a nearby bartender. We set off to find the bar and found ourselves in a precarious situation as a raider had the bar held at gunpoint. We tried to keep things cool as the raider demanded answers about the hidden treasure but it wasn't long before he was put down by the stealthy actions of Mort, an alcoholic ghoul living in the bar.
After formally introducing ourselves, we then got busy devising a plot to drive away the group of treasure-hungry raiders that had been terrorising the bar. One standout quest saw us using the radio in our Pip-Boy to track some of the bar's missing allies and we then had to rescue them by fighting our way through a mine infested with feral ghouls. Another provided a sound introduction to the C.A.M.P system as we had to construct a sign to lure members of the group right to us for some probing questions. We soon hit a wall though, as we had to reach level 20 to advance, so we decided to set our sights on some of the reworked original quests.
When playing through the existing quests it was pleasing to see that NPCs had been added to offset the hollow feeling we had before with only audio logs and computer terminals to interact with. From what we experienced, these interactions didn't drastically shake up things by any means, although they did work to add context in a much more organic fashion. During the 'Into the Fire' quest, for example, we encountered another hopeful Fire Breather who was studying for her knowledge test and through her, we were able to ask for more information on the elite group. Despite this effort, the older quests and the newer additions felt jarringly different due to the much superior method of storytelling that has been employed for the new content.
We found the dialogue itself to be rich in terms of player choice and it offered plenty of depth for those hoping to delve deep into the origins and motivations of the characters. The dialogue also featured a skill check system where certain lines of dialogue would only become available to us if we met the right criteria with specific skills. We remember using our poor strength skill to convince a rival group that we were too weak to drag back some goods on their behalf. We also used our charisma stat when speaking to the pair we met right out the vault to charm them into giving us some supplies and a weapon. This system gave us yet more to ponder when deciding where to invest our precious perk points when levelling up.
As we trudged across the map we also found human characters out in the open-world that either worked to help us or tried to hinder our journey. We traded supplies for whiskey and wine with a pair of drunken scavengers and had to fend off the attack of a group of shovel-wielding cultists. The inclusion of these characters certainly amped up the excitement during the usual long stretches of walking between locations, however, their inclusion did present a few technical issues. The scavengers we mentioned kept glitching into each other and one NPC we encountered on a farm completely disappeared after we tried to speak to them (as if they had been struck by severe social anxiety). These issues crept in more frequently than we would have liked but it is important to note that we were playing through an early build on test servers.
Helping to atone one Fallout 76's many missteps, Wastelanders improves storytelling and immersion tenfold through the inclusion of interactive NPCs. We appreciated how dialogue offered additional depth and player choice with the skill check system, and the revamped older missions felt much less lonely. We did experience our fair share of glitches though and we still can't help but feel like this content should have been included from the get-go. Still, Wastelanders still marks a much-needed step in the right direction for Fallout 76 and we can't wait to see who or what we might meet next time we're out in the wasteland.
The Wastelanders DLC launches on April 14 on PC, PS4, and Xbox One as a free update to Fallout 76, and the content drop coincides with the title's debut on Steam.