Fallout 4 is not a game known for innovation, but it did make the bold creative choice to cast the player as an anthropomorphic vacuum cleaner. Across the wasteland you went, hoovering up every tin can and test tube in your path. Occasionally you whined about some dust buster named Shaun, but we all knew why you were there. The junk. You had to suck up all the junk.
There was satisfaction to be found in this. You, and only you, could convert the debris of a nuclear apocalypse into weapons, armor, and even entire settlements. Yet this satisfaction was undercut once it became clear your efforts weren’t meaningful. Everything you needed, from weapons to ammo and even shelter, could be found just lying around. You could build, and some people did, but the game didn’t give you a reason to do it.
Bethesda’s new multiplayer sorta-sequel, Fallout 76, adds that much-needed purpose, and makes homesteading one of the game’s key goals.
Life in Fallout 76 is a constant struggle. Well, perhaps ‘struggle’ is too strong a word. The survival elements — which include item degradation, food, water, radiation, and disease — aren’t punishing. Still, they offer a constant push towards crisis. You can take care of your needs without too much trouble, but if you ignore them, you’ll have an issue.
That gives the junk-sucking gameplay new life. Fallout 76 is always tugging at you. You need to eat, drink, build ammo, and repair your gun. Some resources are more common than others, so not every abandoned wrench is valuable, but some resources seem to be in constant demand. Adhesives, for example, are often a precious commodity, since they’re needed to build and repair weapons and armor.
The need to constantly repair, eat, and drink may sound annoying. On the contrary, Fallout 76 has struck an excellent balance. All these needs are constant and just demanding enough to give purpose to your adventures. Yet they’re not so demanding that you feel desperate or weary. The game doesn’t violently rip you out of your comfort zone. Instead, it nudges you, gently, to go see what’s in that wooden crate across the room.
That same nudge will quickly make you want to build a home. Your C.A.M.P., a direct successor to Fallout 4’s settlements that works largely the same but can be placed (almost) anywhere in the world, becomes an important home base because, once again, Fallout 76 doesn’t provide as many comforts as its predecessors.
You’re more likely to run across random threats in the world, including players, and while you can find various crafting tables and even stashes without building a C.A.M.P, you can’t use them in peace or have convenient access to all of them at once. Building a C.A.M.P doesn’t seem all that important at first but, as you gain levels, face greater threats, and crave better stuff, you quickly realize it’s a must-have.
That, of course, puts a further drain on your resources, which now are split between keeping up with your own needs and enhancing your C.A.M.P. The game throws in an additional wrinkle with workshops, capturable points that can be used to mine resources but must be defended by occasional monster attacks and other players.
Or you might want to build a C.A.M.P. just to show off. Players did that in Fallout 4, but the lack of multiplayer meant no one could visit your creation with you. Fallout 76 is multiplayer, of course, so now you can show off. Your C.A.M.P. can be a refuge for you and your friends. It can entice strangers with an inviting faade. Or you can turn it into an intimidating fortress, bristling with barriers and gun turrets, to ward off anything that might try to sneak up on you.
Much shade has been thrown at Fallout 76 for its buggy release and lack of a single-player campaign. That’s justified. The game is buggy, and it does feel empty if you don’t play it with friends.
Still, the game’s resolution of junk mongering is a key triumph. Fallout 4 introduced the concept of turning trash into treasure, but the idea came to an unsatisfying and early end as you quickly found everything you needed to succeed. Fallout 76 provides new purpose to your junk-sucking adventures, and if you’re a greedy loot goblin like me, you’re going to love it.