Since its launch in late 2018, Fallout 76 has lacked one element crucial to the series’ identity. The series’ best moments predominantly involved stories of its survivors, the poor souls unfortunate enough to have been exposed to nuclear war and the horrors of its fallout. Fallout 76’s latest free expansion, Wastelanders, attempts to inject some of that humanity into the game by introducing human NPCs and their stories to the auburn hills of Appalachia, while also expanding upon available role-playing options. Taken as a separate part, Wastelanders represents some of the best Fallout content since New Vegas, but Fallout 76’s flawed structure and mechanics prevent it from shining.
It’s been more than a year since I played Fallout 76, and it’s likely that I’m not the only one returning from a prolonged absence now that Wastelanders has launched. This made me decide to start a new character in a bid to see just how much Fallout 76 has changed since then. Wastelanders’ changes are apparent from the start. After the tutorial, you emerge from Vault 76 to something new: Two human travelers, marking the prominent return of human life to West Virginia wasteland, greet you at the entrance to the vault. They mention a treasure rumored to be buried in the hills of Appalachia, which quickly leads you to a newly established bar under the management of Duchess and her party of ragtag brains and brawn. This alternative start to Fallout 76 is more gripping than the previous audio logs that initially introduced you to its world and serves to illustrate how Wastelanders’ content affects the rest of the game.
Initial tutorial quests take you through the broad strokes of Fallout 76’s survival elements and base-building, interspersed with contextual dialogue for each action delivered by a character you can actually interact with. The disembodied audio logs and impersonal robots of the original tutorial are still there if you choose a different route, but running through the same lessons while advancing a more captivating story in Wastelanders make Fallout 76’s opening hours more akin to a traditional Fallout adventure. It can be easy for brand-new players to miss this pair of human NPCs entirely, but for returning players their mere existence will quickly draw you to their new introduction.