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Fallout 76 and what it means for the future of Fallout

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Jun 16, 2018, 12:04 PM EDT

According to Fallout, war never changes. Fortunately, that's not the case with the Fallout series itself. Bethesda Game Studios' latest installment in the long-running post-apocalyptic RPG franchise, the saga's ninth entry, is back with a whole heap of changes. Acting as a prequel to the entirety of the series, which began in 1997 on PC, this new tale turns everything we know about the popular game on its head, opting for a completely new way to play: This time around, everything is online. 

Gamers who grew up enjoying this traditionally single-player jaunt through irradiated wastelands are having difficulty coming to terms with so much change in a prequel, of all games. And with developer Bethesda opting to take the world of Fallout online to involve as many players as possible, the future of the series is murky at best. Will Bethesda adopt similar approaches to the games after Fallout 76, or is this a one-off experiment?

Let's look at what we know so far. Fallout 76 is the earliest game in the series' timeline, and as such will take place in a much less desecrated world than you might be used to from games like Fallout 4 or Fallout: New Vegas. It's billed as an online survival game, which will put it in the same category as games like DayZ or even Rust, but it won't be as hardcore and unforgiving as those titles, especially since you won't have to contend with zombies or other shambling creatures — usually, anyway. You'll have to deal with other enemies, but that's for you to discover when you play. 

As you no doubt already know from the name alone, Fallout 76 takes place in a nuclear wasteland after the bombs have dropped, but before the original Fallout. Players are exploring a world ravaged by the aftermath of nuclear war, but not much time has passed since the bombs were dropped. The world is much more vibrant than other games in the series, even though it's all basically irradiated.

This will be the largest Fallout game ever made, four times larger than Fallout 4, and set in the hills of West Virginia. With six different regions to explore in the game world, you're one of the first survivors to emerge from a shelter (or vault 76, as the name implies) and step out into the world to see how things have changed. 

You'll be doing much of the same thing you did in previous Fallout games, mainly trying to survive or complete an overarching task during the campaign, but this time you won't be doing it alone. Vault 76 is full of other characters, but this time around it's all a bunch of real players wandering around in the same world you are. You won't find scripted dialogue or NPCs here, apparently, which makes Fallout 76 seem like a game that's ridiculously grand in scope. How can a story be told without these kinds of mechanics, and without the assurance that the game won't just be full of jerks? That's something we're going to have to find out as the "shared world" shooter debuts, a completely new approach for the series. 

Bethesda's Pete Hines has confirmed that there will be a main story to keep everyone on task, such as exploring what happened to everyone who lived in the world after the bombs fell, and the new threats you may be facing. That said, there will absolutely be NPC enemies and bosses, but what kind? We don't know right now. 

To keep yourself safe, you can build up your own base, hoard materials, and arm yourself to the teeth. But you'll only be given a fragile sense of security, with the ability for players to launch nuclear missiles at each other looming overhead. It's going to be a completely tense and insane atmosphere, and after an area is nuked, it will turn into a "high-level zone," which will in turn simply make it more dangerous than it needs to be, with ridiculously difficult enemies.

 With all that in mind, it's safe to say that Fallout 76 will, in many ways, change the landscape of the series going forward. It'd be difficult to go back to the old way of design after introducing these types of design paradigms. But will it work out for Bethesda? Will fans warm to the online requirements, which make Fallout 76 more like an MMORPG than the Fallout games we're familiar with?

We don't know, but one thing's for sure: Bethesda can keep playing that sweet cover of "Take Me Home, Country Roads" to us as many times as they want. 

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