Fallout 76: The Game That Just Didn’t Die

Crawl out through the fallout.

by J.T. Isenhour
Fallout-76-Alive

Fallout 76 had a terrible launch. Bethesda’s multiplayer apocalypse RPG was riddled with bugs and glitches that made the game almost unplayable for many players. There were also many quality-of-life features that were absent from the game that really ruined the experience for most players. Any other game that came out in this state would have been abandoned by the player base and refunded within a week or so. Yet for some reason, Fallout 76 didn’t receive the same treatment. Fallout 76 became the game that just wouldn’t die and is all the better for it.

Stop, Stop, It’s Already Dead

To call the launch of Fallout 76 anything less than a disaster would be underselling it. While many players expect a game to have a few day-one glitches and bugs, Fallout 76 felt like it was more glitch than game. This was the first and last straw for many players who could see the writing on the wall when FO76 launched in such a poor state. However, the loyal few that stuck around were in for an even rougher time.

It seemed like every few weeks after the launch, the game was having new issues. Looking past the day-one glitches and cheaters, players would soon discover the developer room. This room normally shouldn’t be accessed by players and contains every item available as well as some items that players were never supposed to see.

As a poor damage control move, Bethesda started to issue bans to any player’s account that entered the developer room and offered to un-ban accounts if the players told Bethesda how they entered in the first place. Even if you managed to avoid that, a separate exploit would let another player steal your whole inventory just by being close to you. Despite all these issues, though, there were some players that were dedicated enough to keep playing.

Fallout-76-Dead

What would kill Fallout 76 for those last dedicated few players was the game world’s design. With no NPCs in the world outside of robots, FO76 felt very empty. Combine that with players avoiding each other for fear of all their items being stolen and you can see why everyone thought FO76 was doomed. Even a dedicated Fallout fan like myself could tell that game wasn’t going anywhere great and I got out before wasting any more of my time in what felt like a dying world.

The Great Wastelanders Turn-Around

By some miracle, the game persisted. Perhaps it was because some of the Fallout community is so dedicated to the franchise that they could look past all the issues and just wanted an online Fallout game to play with friends. Maybe it was because players had lowered their standards so much that nothing happening with the game phased them. Whatever the reason, people just kept playing no matter what was happening.

Since players were sticking around, it only seemed right that it wasn’t abandoned. There is no way to tell how close Bethesda was to leave Fallout 76 to rot, or if there never was the idea to leave the game alone in the first place. But in April 2020, the game started to receive major updates alongside the regular small bugfix patches. Probably the first big turning point for the game was the Wastelanders update.

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The Wastelanders’ story was quite interesting, encouraging you to explore all of the new life in the game. Immediately after you exit the vault you start to hear rumors of people venturing into the area in order to find a hidden vault full of gold and take it for themselves. Sticking your nose into things will have you getting acquainted with the two main factions that were added, the Raiders and the Settlers.

You will then need to pick a faction to help find the vault and pull off their version of a plan to steal all of the gold in the vault. What the gold would have done for the factions is admittedly questionable but let’s just sweep that away by saying gold is always valuable. This story was great for getting new players involved and taking them to locations across the wasteland, including the new hub cities for both factions.

Before the update, the main story of Fallout 76 was boring. The plot of trying to cure a disease that wiped out all of the other humans in the area sounds cool on paper. But once you completed it nothing changed. No one in-game returned to the wasteland and no one was around to give you any praise for saving the day. With the Wastelanders update, though, we finally had other humans inhabiting the Appalachian Mountains.

Ad Victoriam, For Victory

From that point forwards, Fallout 76 had an upward trend with all the content Bethesda added. A huge game-wide event brought in the Brotherhood of Steel faction and a two-part questline was added with updates in November 2020 and July 2021. This was about the time I started to get back into the game with some friends as we had seen and heard about all of the updates the game had been receiving and wanted to give it another chance.

We also got the addition of seasonal content drops which added in a season-long Battle Pass to give players something to do outside of the main story. The Battle Pass was free for all players with only a few small bonuses locked behind a Fallout 1st subscription. Players were overjoyed with all the new content as well as the promise of regular content drops every season. To many returning players, including myself, this was a great sign for the lifespan of the game.

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We also got seasonal events to go with the content updates. These would normally come out during various holidays throughout the year and added limited-time weapons and cosmetics for players to get from the special events that would appear. It finally felt like all the money and time players had put into the game while it was in a worse state was paying off because it kept the game alive long enough for all of this.

War, War Finally Changes

After the launch of Fallout 76, Bethesda received a lot of bad publicity regarding not only the game itself but also for denying refunds, scamming players that bought collectors editions with different products from what was advertised, and having players personal data leaked. All of these problems lead to Bethesda getting hit with a class action lawsuit that is still ongoing to this day.

So the big question is, why didn’t Fallout 76 die? The answer is a combination of events that were all happening simultaneously.

If we were to look at Team Fortress 2, another game that refused to die, we can see why Fallout 76 persevered. Team Fortress 2 is a game that came out all the way in 2007 and still has over 100,000 daily players. You would expect a game like that to be receiving constant updates to keep it popular, but TF2 has not received a major update in over five years. Yet because the fans are so dedicated to the game, it is still alive with the hope that it will someday be updated.

With that bit of insight into cult classic games, we can understand that no matter what state Fallout 76 was in, it would still have some players playing. Even when FO76 was at its worst state, people were still playing and paying the subscription.

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Even with a small fraction of the fanbase dedicated to playing the game no matter what state it was in, it would never be enough players to rival the 8,000 average players that the game is seeing today. That’s where the other force that kept the game alive comes into play.

Bethesda couldn’t afford to let the game die. Fallout is one of their few major franchises and the community would have a hard time trusting them again with the franchise if the developer jumped ship. Not only did Bethesda need to earn back the trust of the players, but they were forced to stay one way or another.

Both of those reasons combined together are why Fallout 76 didn’t just die. If those dedicated few hadn’t stuck with the game, Bethesda probably would have taken the money and left If people hadn’t kept covering everything that was wrong with the game and shown Bethesda that they were not just going to let this go, Bethesda might not have bothered to update the game. But I feel like without both a dedicated fan base and continuing to hold Bethesda accountable for what was promised, FO76 managed to become the game it is today.

Now Fallout 76 has recently updated with the Pitt expansion and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. Now when someone asks if playing Fallout 76 is worth it, the answer isn’t always a flat-out no. It’s no longer considered to be a waste of money by anyone that owned it.

Fallout 76 has become a prime example of a game that seemed to be dead but wasn’t given up on. Instead, the game was taken care of and brought back to life so well that it has earned a mostly positive review on Steam. The road that the game took to get to the point it’s at now was not an easy one, but it is a road that most games never make it through.

- This article was updated on January 17th, 2023

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