The Appalachian wasteland of Fallout 76 has seen a lot of change in its time. From troubled beginnings, to reintroducing NPCs, and now bringing back fan-favorite faction the Brotherhood of Steel, Appalachia today is a very different place to be. It’s the type of place that even the developers couldn’t have imagined two years ago.
“After we launched Fallout 76 we realized that people really like the quests, characters, and NPCs that Bethesda Games Studios is known for, so we decided pretty quickly to reintroduce them with Wastelanders,” said Jeff Gardiner, project lead of Fallout 76 at Bethesda Game Studios.
To implement quests and characters that fit within the iconic Fallout style took a team of engineers almost a year. Taking this length of time to put in such a highly demanded feature was a risky choice that could have easily waned the attention of potential players. But the studio persisted, crafting the mechanic in its own time.
“We wanted to go back to a more traditional Fallout dialogue system, you know, something that sat right for the conversation you were having,” said Gardiner. “There were some delays deploying this, but we’re of the mindset now that we should delay content and put it out right, rather than trying to adhere to an artificial deadline that we set for ourselves. We want to do what’s right for our fans and for the game.”
The studio was right to wait. When Wastelanders finally introduced NPCs to Appalachia, it also welcomed back players to experience the quests and quality banter that had been lacking from the game’s initial release. With many people now taking an interest in the game, the studio needed to find a way to use the momentum to maintain players in future updates. Gardiner said that “the Wastelanders expansion allowed us to establish a lot of great tools and patterns, and we’re taking that further with the Steel Dawn content.”
Steel Dawn is the latest story expansion for Fallout 76 that sees the return of the Brotherhood of Steel, a familiar faction from past Fallout titles. The Brotherhood is a militant order that aims to preserve technology with a large part of the faction’s origins taking place in West Virginia. Regardless of whether you are a veteran of the franchise or a brand new vault dweller, the content is designed with both types of player in mind.
“When we’re making new content, we look for ways to bring in characters and groups players already know,” said Brianna Schneider, senior quest designer on Fallout 76. “We love those moments when a player can point to a quest they’ve completed, a person they’ve met, or a decision they’ve made and have that reflected in what their character is doing right then. We also have to make sure our stories work for players who might not know all the references or might not have completed the related quests.”
I have played through every modern Fallout game, and I rarely like the Brotherhood of Steel and often ignore as much of their storylines as possible. So I was surprised when the questline of Steel Dawn made me actually want to find out more about the Brotherhood and their time in the West Virginia wasteland beyond the expansion content. The focus on making the content welcoming for both new and old players did exactly what it had intended to do, piquing my interest as an experienced player in a new way that I hadn’t expected.
Given my renewed curiosity in the game, it is reassuring to hear that there are plenty of updates still planned to change up the way the game plays and keep players such as me coming back for more.
“I think, in this game, we can keep experimenting with all sorts of different things,” said Gardiner. “We had Survival mode in for a while, then we took it out, so who knows what the future holds? Maybe we decide to bring them back, or we tweak the game more substantially and add new modes. Honestly, it’s a gift of abundance really. We have to choose from so many different options (that) it’s sometimes hard. So, we look to the community to see what they want from us, and that’s where the focus on building comes from.”
If you have ever played Fallout 76 and stumbled across another player’s C.A.M.P., you will understand exactly why Gardiner has mentioned it as a central focus for development. In many cases, these home bases are elaborate displays of creativity that never cease to inspire. Unlike my C.A.M.P., which is a depressing attempt at minimalism. By which I mean it’s some wooden floors with a sleeping bag on top. Fortunately, Gardiner enlightened me of a future C.A.M.P. addition that may give my setup some extra flair: “A long-requested feature is C.A.M.P. pets and that is still on our radar, so hopefully they’ll come sooner than people expect.”
Pets are not the only content to be implemented based on the wishes of the community. “We always want to know what the players think. We read all the feedback; we take it all very seriously because a big part of being able to turn the game around in 2020 is down to the fans and the community,” said Gardiner.
Given how closely the team listens to player feedback, it comes as a welcome surprise to hear that a Bethesda staple is currently being developed for inclusion in the game. “We’re going to do mods,” said Gardiner. “This is a very big feature that requires a substantive amount of work, especially in a server/client game. We’re getting close to talking about modding in the future and to give some details, but we’re not there yet. We’re super excited about the future of this game because of modding.” I’m sure I am not the only one who cannot wait to witness the majesty of a Thomas the Tank Engine barreling towards me in place of a Deathclaw.
Now that the Brotherhood are in Appalachia, it is a great time to be a Fallout 76 player. The Brotherhood’s storyline in Appalachia may be concluding in 2021, but it could well be the start of developing a game that embodies what people truly love about the Fallout franchise. It may have had a rocky start, but Fallout 76 finally feels like it is on track to becoming what it always had the potential to be. I have said it before, and I will say it again: War never changes, but thankfully, Fallout does.