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After five games over the span of 21 years, the Fallout series has established itself as one of the best post-apocalyptic sci-fi RPGs out there. Given its setting and the fact that the end of the world is arguably the most popular setting in horror and science fiction, it isnt surprising that Fallout touches on the horror genre quite often.
Its not like youd expect a game about journeying through a nuclear wasteland to be filled with sunshine and roses, but Fallout has always surprised gamers with unexpectedly dark sense of humor, truly terrifying storylines, locations, and creatures. Yet, no one describes the series as part of the horror genre, probably because of the not-scary-at-all music and generally bright landscapes.
That all changed with Bethesdas newest entry in the franchise, the online RPG Fallout 76. With the general consensus being that the game is kind of a messy experience that doesnt justify the sacrifices it makes, Im here to argue why what is considered to be the games worst mistake is actually its biggest blessing.
One of the biggest complaints about Fallout 76 is that the lack of NPCs takes away the dramatic weight of the story. Indeed, the lack of NPCs to talk to means you no longer have quests where you can actually make decisions and gain or lose karma points. Gone are the days where you would suffer over having to decide whether to nuke an entire town or not, as you have no one to talk to or to judge you. Instead, the only voices you ever hear in Appalachia are those from other players, robots, and holotape-recordings of long-dead quest givers.
No NPCs and the lack of companions means you have absolutely no one to walk to in Fallout 76. Sure, the whole idea is to have human players replace the NPCs, but the servers have a 24-player size limit and the biggest map size in the franchise, making the experience feel more like The Road than New Vegas. Its quite an isolating experience, one that leaves you completely vulnerable to the hundreds of creatures that can and will kill you at any moment. From the moment you step out of your vault, you are thrown into the harsh and deadly Appalachia region. Unlike previous games in the franchise, there are no towns with NPCs to protect you, no Brotherhood with laser rifles to kill the super mutants chasing you. You are on your own. Appalachia truly feels like a desolated nuclear wasteland, and because its open world, it becomes too easy to wander off from a quest and end up in a radscorpions nest with nothing but a simple pipe-gun and a board as your weapons.
The other big change in Fallout 76 is the emphasis on survival, in the form of a thirst and hunger meter that you must fill. I dont know about you, but I rarely worry about my radiation levels while playing a Fallout game. I completely forget about it until Im 75% radiation or so. But with the addition of hunger and thirst, Im constantly worrying about keeping my character well. Its a small thing, as you dont really suffer that much if your hunger levels go down, but its an added worry to an already stressful and scary experience. Having to resort to eating raw radroach meat is about the worst thing Ive done in this game, but it was either that or starve. For added role-playing, I found the Cannibal perk to be both fun and creepy, as I can simply walk up to a dead moleman, super mutant, or ghoul and eat their raw flesh. It never fails to creep the real players around me.
Confession time. Despite me writing for a horror website, I am quite easily scared. I had to watch a lets play video of Alien Isolation on mute just to find out how the story ended because I was too afraid to continue. Likewise, Ive always loved the Fallout games, but the mere sight of a radroach coming straight towards me or even worse, a Deathclaw terrifies me as much as any proper horror game. But at least I could always pause the game when I got overwhelmed by a group of super mutants or ghouls, not in Fallout 76. Because this is an online game, theres no pausing, nothing to stop the waves of attackers coming your way, and you cant use VATS to take a short break and strategize. One mistake and youre done for. Youre along to fend off against the harsh and endless landscape of post-apocalyptic West Virginia.
Speaking of West Virginia, one of Fallout 76s greatest strengths is in the way it takes West Virginia mythology into the world of the game, making for some of the most horrifying creatures in the history of the franchise. Are ghouls and zombie-like scorched not scary enough for you? How about a Wendigo? Just like the scorched, a wendigo is a human that was mutated by radiation, except looking like a cross between Slenderman and Gollum. Think mutated dogs and two-headed cows are cute? How about a giant rabid sloth, or a headless juggernaut with hands like maces? Fallout 76 makes encountering each new creature a ghastly and surprising experience, as you never know what new creature will jump at you with enough strength to kill you with one punch. Ive played about 60 hours of the game and I feel like I havent encountered even 25% of the games creatures.
Then theres Mothman. Fallout 76 brilliantly teases the existence of this mythological creature throughout the map, as you constantly find churches where the entire congregations appear to have been sacrificed in some dark ritual, with candles forming a circle around the altar, where statues of demon-like beings are clearly being worshiped. In my time exploring Appalachia, Ive found more cult gatherings than Ive found Power Armor. But thats not enough, during one of my travels, I suddenly spotted a set of bright eyes observing me from a distance. Big, bright, red eyes are the only notice you get that the enigmatic Mothman has found you. I jumped and nearly fell off my couch once I realized what was in front of me, yet the Mothman didnt do anything. Reports from other players range from being killed by the half-man-half-moth god, to receiving a blessing by the creature before it takes off. Whatever your encounter ends up as, theres no denying the sense of dread that looms over this enigmatic insect.
Fallout 76 may not have a time-pressing story with impactful decisions, and it may get lonely out there in the wasteland. But it only serves to make this the first horror experience in the franchise, as for the first time you actually feel like you are in a post-apocalyptic and hopeless land full of dangers. Honestly, I never knew how much I wanted this in a Fallout game.