Bethesda announced major changes coming to Fallout 76 during the company's E3 2019 conference, and despite that game's horrific launch and near-irrelevance since then, it actually sounds like there will be compelling reasons to give it another shot once the Wastelanders expansion rolls out. Fallout 76's release was plagued by a mixture of technical issues and player expectations being let down, with the latter the most difficult to recover from after fans of Bethesda's Fallout franchise felt its latest iteration seemed to shuck all the best parts away, leaving a bare bones experience with none of the hallmarks of a great Bethesda title.
The Fallout 76 Wastelanders expansion will look to change that. Wastelanders will add human NPCs into the game that players can interact with, have dialogue trees with, and get to know. The NPCs will be at the center of a new major questline that's designed to flow like a traditional Fallout quest tree, with branching conversations and options that will leave the player with moral dilemmas. Essentially, players will finally get the chance to build meaningful relationships with characters who aren't controlled by humans, something that's been a feature of the Fallout franchise since well before Bethesda was even developing it.
Will Fallout 76 Wastelanders save the game? It's impossible to tell. The base game is still riddled with the same warts it had when it launched, including controversial Fallout 76 microtransaction prices. Combining traditional Fallout-style content with a more smoothly-run online experience, however, is at least a recipe to avert disaster, something that Bethesda has been trying to do since the Fallout 76 canvas bag incident suddenly brought all of the game's problems—false promises, poor delivery, and shattered expectations—into the real world, too.
Fallout 76 Wastelanders gives the game something that it was missing from the start, however: soul. The biggest complaint of many reviewers was the fact that Fallout 76 presents players with a vast landscape, ripe for revitalization and exploration, and then gives them virtually nothing to do with it. There were few NPCs and even fewer meaningful storyline threads. Even if the idea was for players to build their own story through online play, Fallout 76 has extremely small server sizes, meaning players sometimes never even find each other to interact with during a play session. An easy fix for that hollow feeling is the addition of NPCs who pepper the landscape with distinct personalities and stories, giving players emotional and mental associations with particular parts of the map that help form fond memories of them.
Naturally, the announcement of a Fallout 76 Wastelanders battle royale mode during Bethesda's E3 2019 conference will also make some serious headlines, as the publisher attempts to join what's quickly become one of the most lucrative genres in gaming. Yet the real story emerging from the new expansion is that Fallout 76 could be saved by Bethesda simply making it more like a Fallout game. There's a lesson to be learned there. As it turns out, games with extremely passionate and dedicated community members who have minor gameplay engine expectations—like interactive NPCs and an actual story, for instance—should probably focus on those elements first and build out from them before making drastic innovations in the name of progress. Both approaches have a place, and in the case of Fallout 76, that seems to be side-by-side.