After a year and a half of regrettable design and business decisions (not to mention unending castigation in the media and among the community), Fallout 76 finally did something praiseworthy with its Wastelanders revamp. The expansion was the result of a massive effort to add human NPCs, a new storyline, an ally system, and much-needed quality-of-life features. Riding community goodwill for once, Bethesda followed the expansion up with a roadmap that boasted an LFG system, seasons, and a Brotherhood of Steel storyline.
But one good update isn’t enough to magically make this troubled (yet strangely addictive) game better, which is why Bethesda’s devs are committed to further improving Fallout 76. We sat down with Project Lead Jeff Gardiner and Lead Designer Ferret Baudoin to talk about social tools, level scaling, user interface weirdness, and other hot button topics.
After congratulating the devs for a strong launch with Wastelanders, I asked about the state of the game: Fallout 76’s profitability, its current game population count, and the effect that the expansion had on both of those. The developers were hamstrung from speaking about specific numbers but said that the game was “healthy” and that they were “very happy with Wastelanders’” impact on the game.
“We can say anecdotally that it’s been good for the game, it’s been popular for console, and we’re happy to be on Steam,” Gardiner told me. Speaking of Steam, I asked if Bethesda would remove the requirement to register with the studio’s website before using the game through Valve’s platform. The studio won’t be doing this, as it wants to keep everyone in the same “silo” — something that it claims isn’t uncommon among online games.
I mentioned that Wastelanders helped to patch up a very large hole that was missing in the game since launch, and the general consensus is that it’s a good step to making Fallout 76 feel like a whole game. But what more does the team want to do to shore up this online title?
The devs were very excited to highlight the new looking for team (LFG) system that’s coming with the next patch. By including this intuitive system, players will be able to find team leaders on the map (as designated by purple icons) and quick travel to the ones who are offering to do the type of content that the seeker desires. One common refrain during our talk is that Bethsoft wants to incentivize people rather than punish them with activities, which is why being part of a team for a certain amount of time will bestow a very nice buff that you’ll want to have.
Bethesda said that it is trying to help the game grow into its “single-player MMO” nature as they add this and other features while experimenting with the tools already in the game. The devs are aware that each player comes to the game looking to do different types of content, so flexibility and broad design is paramount.
So speaking of in-game tools, I really wanted to pin the devs down on what I think is a critical omission of Fallout 76: the lack of communication tools to build communities. Why hasn’t Bethesda prioritized working on key social tools — namely guilds and text chat?
This touched a nerve (in a good way!), as the devs said that this was the “number one” most asked question. The answer to that lies with the fact that prior to the Steam launch, a majority of the players actually played on console, so the need for text chat wasn’t quite as pressing.
But this is clearly an issue that isn’t going to go away, nor does the team hope it will; both Gardiner and Baudoin said that the team has had many “conversations” about text chat and the like and that there are long-term plans that may involve tackling this. They said that the LFG system will go a long way to connecting players, although they admitted that it would not help gamers socialize, especially if a player lacked (or chose not to use) voice chat.
“We’re not blind to it,” Baudoin assured me.
Text chat was the number one most-asked question — so what was number two? I got to that when I asked about the bizarre and often uncomfortable difficulty spikes in trying to do quests and encountering mobs on the landscape. Again, this was an issue that the developers are very much aware of and promise that a more immediate solution is already in the works.
It’s called “One Wasteland,” which should totally sound familiar to Elder Scrolls Online players. Similar, but not exactly so, to ESO’s One Tamriel system, One Wasteland aims to normalize content no matter what your level. This is being done via a “brilliant system,” as Gardiner put it, that will adjust the game on the fly around and for players.
The high-level view of One Wasteland is that mobs will be adjusted to a player in real-time, meaning that a level 100 and a level 10 player will take roughly the same amount of time, effort, and bullets to kill that mob (although there is, the devs said, allowance for progression and better gear). Some types of mobs will always be tough, no matter your level — Deathclaws, for instance — while others will always be easier.
Another big change for One Wasteland is the removal of Fallout 76’s negative survival elements. As it stands right now, if you don’t eat or drink for a while in the game, you’ll find yourself struggling on with a heavy debuff. But in One Wasteland, there will be no penalties, only bonuses for those who take the time to quaff and scarf all they find. “We want the flavor of survival without the drudgery,” Gardiner said.
Bethesda wanted to release One Wasteland before Wastelanders but decided to hold it back for further work and testing. It’s currently in internal playtesting and should be coming to the public test realm… well, no date was given, but it sounds like sooner rather than later.
I also pressed the developers on the klunky user interface, which feels to me as if it was made for console and gamepad players first and PC keyboard users a very, very, very distant second. The devs said they’ve made some quality-of-life UI changes so far to keep players from having to keep diving back into menus, such as allowing for more one-button interaction with world objects. The interface team is “open and critical” about this, especially since it has been modding Fallout 4’s interface to work in a different environment.
For the remainder of our time together, we discussed the future of Fallout 76. In addition to the features mentioned about, Baudoin said that he was incredibly excited over the upcoming Brotherhood of Steel storyline. The update, which he considers an expansion, will look at this fan-favorite faction in an earlier era than the Fallout universe has ever done before.
Other projects include revamping the challenge system, more goodies added to the Fallout 1st subscription service, and more rewards for the Nuclear Winter mode. One very intriguing piece of information is that Bethesda has an early pass of private server mods in the works. Want to make your server’s sky purple or change up the rules in some other fun way? If you’re paying for a private shard, you may be able to do that in the future.
As for now, the rest of 2020 will keep Fallout 76 players busy. From seasons to the Brotherhood, from LFG to off-map expeditions, it’s bound to be a thrilling year for this battered game and its bruised players. A big thank-you to Jeff Gardiner and Ferret Baudoin for the candid discussion!