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Gaming: Google Stadia goes free; Wastelanders vaults to Fallout 76 & more

By Benjamin Bullard
A Fallout 76 character in Power Armor

Curious about Google Stadia but reluctant to buy a controller and dip your toe in? In a bid to give players more incentive to stay home through the coronavirus pandemic, not to mention see what all the fuss is about over its new, device-agnostic games service, Google has just unlocked free access to its basic Stadia tier — and you don’t even need to buy the controller.

Google decided this week that if you’ve got a Gmail address, you’ve got all you need to sign up to get Stadia for free. Hopping on board now also nets players two months of free access to Stadia Pro, which comes with nine free games (including Destiny 2). To keep things nice and even, Google’s also waiving the Pro fee for current subscribers over the same period.

The Stadia controller isn’t going anywhere, but the free signup lets players bypass the $129 Google Stadia Premiere Edition — which bundles a controller, a Chromecast Ultra, and upgraded video streaming features — and instead dive in with any USB-supported controller or PC mouse/keyboard setup.

“We’re facing some of the most challenging times in recent memory,” Google wrote on the Stadia blog in announcing the news. “Keeping social distance is vital, but staying home for long periods can be difficult and feel isolating. Video games can be a valuable way to socialize with friends and family when you’re stuck at home, so we’re giving gamers in 14 countries free access to Stadia Pro for two months.”

Once you sign up at the Stadia website, you’ll be able to play on any laptop, desktop PC, or Chrome OS tablet. Downloading the Stadia app also opens access to Stadia on any Android or iOS-compatible phone.

The newest major update to Fallout 76 is ready to emerge from Bethesda’s vault, and it’s a biggie. Wastelanders, which aims to answer the fan clamor to bring 76 more in line with its single-player predecessors, brings back fully voiced NPCs, while reintroducing related Fallout staples like factions and branching-dialogue conversation menus.

With Wastelanders’ release into the West Virginia wilds just around the corner, it wouldn’t be a proper launch without a new trailer to get things buzzing. Bethesda’s launch clip serves up a preview of some of the new systems in action, set against the backdrop of a post-apocalyptic bar fight  — the only kind there is in the Fallout universe.

Fallout 76: Wastelanders - Official Trailer 2

The factions look like a revival of a mainstay feature from Fallout’s deeper single-player RPG legacy, while the choices you make in those talks with NPCs add the kind of interaction that, until now, Fallout 76 only delivered via online encounters with other real-life players. Of course the expansion also introduces all-new stories, characters, and locations to the game, including a new main quest line, new weapons, and — a longtime fan favorite — a reputation system.

The Wastelanders expansion is free for anyone who already has a copy of the main game, and it’s coming to Fallout 76 on April 14 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC — with the game’s debut on Steam also falling on the same day.

Fallout: New Vegas and Outer Worlds developer Obsidian has just revealed when players can snag their first gameplay preview of Grounded, the honey-I-shrunk-the-player outdoor survival game it revealed last fall at Microsoft’s X019 conference in London.

Microsoft said this week that early Steam access for Grounded, as well as Xbox Game Preview for Xbox Game Pass Ultimate holders, will kick off on July 28. Grounded also got a new story trailer to go with the news. Check it out below:

Taking on giant insects in your diminutive form actually had some would-be players freaking out at the prospect of going up against the game’s gnarly oversized spiders, so Obsidian tweeted this week that Grounded will even include “an arachnophobia mode to help with those who aren't fans of spiders and still want to enjoy the game.” Can’t say we blame them for thoughtfully giving us the option to blot out the nightmarish sight of gargantuan, ravenous eight-legged freaks.

Obsidian hasn’t yet revealed a final release date, but you can get small in Grounded’s oversized world when the preview debuts for Xbox One and PC starting July 28.