What If Fallout 76 Isn’t a Video Game at All, but Something Much Darker?

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Much of this story presented firmly tongue-in-cheek.

War. War never changes. On October 23, 2077, the Great War between China, the United States, and the USSR broke out. By the time it ended, two hours later, the world had been forever changed. Humanity’s once-proud cities had been reduced to ash and rubble. Only a handful of humans remained on the surface, clinging to life in the poisoned wastes.

But all was not lost. In the decades before the War, cutting-edge scientific teams across the United States had collaborated against the Red Menace. Some of those projects, like Liberty Prime and FEV, attacked our enemies directly. Some had… other applications. Long before the bombs fell, Vault-Tec’s Obsidian Butte facility had made an astonishing discovery — a portal to another world. A bare handful of Vault-Tec employees managed to leap through this gateway before nuclear fire closed it forever. These freedom-loving researchers found themselves in a world very much like — yet also completely distinct from — their own.

Abandoned and bereft, this small team of researchers headed east. In their own world, they had been the architects of one of the darkest chapters in human history: The Vaults. Pitched to the desperate masses as the only safe refuge in a world gone mad, only a handful of people at Vault-Tec knew the truth. While there were a bare handful of “control” vaults intended to operate normally, most of these facilities had been designed as twisted social or scientific experiments.

Vault 12’s door was impossible to seal. Vault 27 was deliberately filled with twice the population it could sustain. Vault 95 was filled with drug addicts who were given unrestricted access to illegal substances months after the vault was finally sealed. Some vaults were used to test the effects of genetic engineering, drug treatments, or psychological conditioning techniques. One vault was nothing but a single man and a crate full of puppets.

Marooned in this alien world, the Vault-Tec employees knew they could never return to their original studies. The only alternative? Create a virtual vault. Name it after the same pioneering spirit of discovery and adventure that had proven a critical part of the founding myth of two different versions of the United States of America.

Thus, the Vault 76 project was born. Through a still-unexplained series of events, the alt-world doppelgangers may have killed and possibly eaten their counterparts in our own world. There’s no proof they did, but there’s no proof they didn’t, either.

Little by little, the plans for Vault 76 took shape. Unlike the actual vaults of Vault-Tec, this facility would be virtual — a meta-vault accessed via the internet. To cover their own lack of skill, the replacement programming team opted to use the same engine and tools their predecessors in our own universe had leveraged for game creation. Like the physical vaults of old, this new project would appear bright and promising before failing in a number of high-profile ways. These problems would seem obvious and easy to avoid in hindsight, yet prove devilishly difficult to fix in the shipping title. The in-game store would promise not to deploy pay-to-win mechanics, only to make extensive use of them. Much-requested features, like private servers, would eventually be offered — but only for a monthly fee.

Fallout 76

Like the real-world vaults, sadism ran deep in Vault 76. In the real-world, Vault-Tec facilities were deliberately intended to stress their inhabitants. A group of Vault Dwellers with deep fears of nudity would be deliberately assigned to a Vault without any clothing. In Vault 76 — or Fallout 76, as the project is now known — players who invested in purchasing the Collector’s Edition of the game would be shafted with poor quality rewards. Multiple collectable items built in conjunction for the launch would be recalled or slagged as poor quality.

Players who stuck with the game over the long term would be rewarded with the first-ever major content update, only to be hit with a surprise delay just a few weeks later. The delays and problems mount, until even long-time fans of the franchise are left questioning how Bethesda could possibly have so little respect for one of the finest game worlds ever created. Theories fly thick and fast. EA is somehow blamed. No one suspects the truth. In his lair, Evil Todd Howard pokes Good Todd Howard with a stick, threatening to pour a bottle of Nuka-Cola Quantum where the sun don’t shine. Good Todd Howard knows exactly how bad strontium-90 is for you. Good Todd Howard keeps his mouth shut.

All of which is to say: As much as the above is complete and utter claptrap, it explains the long-term evolution of Fallout 76 far better than any other explanation we’ve heard to date. FO76’s collectibles have been recalled for mold contamination and replaced for false advertising (but only after enormous fan outcry). Its patches have been legendary for breaking the game. From the beginning, players have fought the game’s own systems as much as they’ve battled any Appalachian monster. People are so angry about Fallout 76, the handful of players who are actually paying for private servers are reportedly being griefed for it.

I don’t know why any company would do so much damage to its own IP, but hopefully Bethesda realizes what a problem it has created for itself. Players are holding in-game protests and openly declaring their intent to quit the game. The handful of people paying for a Fallout 1st subscription are seen as part of the reason why Bethesda has engaged in such egregious conduct in the first place. The amount of bad faith Bethesda has generated around Fallout is astonishing and the company needs to wake up to the scale of the disaster it’s creating in one of its most prominent IPs.

It really shouldn’t make sense to argue that Bethesda actually turned Fallout 76 into a virtual vault experiment. And yet, here we are.

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