As the post-patchpocalypse dust settled back in the second instalment of the ’76 Diaries, I was met with very little time to actually play the game before the second bomb (‘patch’) dropped (‘was released by Bethesda’). It seemed my attempts to grapple with Fallout 76 were doomed to fail.
But, just as unexpectedly as receiving a polyester bag when you thought it would be canvas, I am able to actually sit down and get a few hours into Fallout 76 without a new ultra-patch being released (that’s coming next week). All the joys of boiling water and finding enough screws to make a chair are, finally, there for the taking.
And what joys they are! My exploration of the area surrounding Vault 76 spreads out further, and I come to a nearby town. It is, like literally everywhere else in the game, devoid of living human/ghoul life – bar the odd individual other player who, naturally, runs straight past and entirely ignores me.
In fact, the only time I get some interaction with another real person is when I want to turn all of my garbage into aluminium and adhesive at a work bench. The other player is there, tinkering away, and I... well, I can’t, because he is. Which... makes... sense? I guess?
Swiftly losing confidence in my ability to see this folly through, I try a bit more exploration of the surrounding area. I am, of course, hamstrung by repeated attacks from marauding (‘respawning’) mole rats and hounds, and at one point – when deciding to stop for a minute to check my phone – I look up just as an entire gang of Scorched materialises in front of me and beats me to death. Though not with my own shoes.
But it’s not all rooting through bins and being killed by teleporting hordes – I get to dress up as a ranger and do some volunteer work, like... testing water samples. What joyous fun.
And I’m beside myself with glee (‘fairly happy’) when I stumble across a free bit of power armour. Yes, it doesn’t have any high level trinkets on it, and yes, I only have one power core for it which will run out soon enough and render it useless – but for a brief period I am robo-queen, stomping around and being slightly more hardy than I was mere minutes prior.
It’s in my power armour phase that I encounter what could reasonably be called an ‘event’. I say this because the screen tells me it’s an event, so it has to be true. It’s an exciting affair, standing in a small, walled off area and popping incoming waves of Scorched with one other player.
For the record, in the post-apocalyptic future of Fallout 76, 'exciting' means 'I’m barely staying awake at this point'.
At one point my partner in popping deadheads drops, overwhelmed after I likely did nod off, and I spring to his rescue with a stimpack. I then spend then next half an hour wondering aloud if I should have used one of my nine stimpacks on a total stranger, before coming to the conclusion that – just like everything else in Fallout 76 – I couldn’t care less.
Maybe it’s what I’m meant to feel? Maybe Bethesda wants life in Fallout 76 to feel as hopeless and empty as it likely would after a real nuclear war. Maybe it’s all part of the design: to make everything seem so utterly futile and pointless. Maybe, really, all we will be able to do when an overzealous world leader presses the big red button and we emerge from the ashes is... pick up litter. There'll be plenty of it around, after all.
Or maybe it’s just Fallout 76 isn’t a very good game.
Coming soon – Part 4: is this worth anyone’s time, really?