In the course of the last two years, there are few games whose poor launch has become as infamous as that of Fallout 76. Bethesda’s last major RPG release, Fallout 76 launched to extremely negative reviews, due largely to the fact that the game was ridden with bugs, and partially due to poor design decisions, networking problems, and other such factors. Nevertheless, Bethesda has worked long and hard to improve the game since its launch. With the recent release of the Wastelanders DLC, they have finally added human NPCs to the game, whose absence was one of the biggest complaints among fans. Looking ahead to the future, will the Fallout franchise ever be able to recover from the negative impact of Fallout 76?
Bethesda’s Efforts to Fix the Flaws of Fallout 76
Prior to Fallout 76’s launch, the reception to the game among fans was already mixed; few Fallout fans necessarily wanted a Fallout MMORPG, especially one without any human NPCs. There were concerns that the game wouldn’t feel like a Fallout game. This uncertainty meant that when the game launched, opinions turned negative immediately. Bethesda faced enormous amounts of criticism, both from game reviewers and fans on social media. The RPG had serious problems and had clearly released much too early, before the developers had had enough time to fix them. This proved to be a very costly mistake.
In the first few months after the game’s release, Bethesda’s attentions were focused solely on fixing bugs. This meant that core systems, akin to things like the Skyrim alchemy system, went months without receiving needed improvements. Although they made considerable progress after this time, many players had already made up their minds on Fallout 76. While the game has managed to cultivate a dedicated audience, this audience is much, much smaller than those of Bethesda’s previous games. Just as with previous poorly-launched games (No Man’s Sky, for example), the game struggled to change the opinions of people who saw all the negative press at launch, even after things were fixed.
Since then, Bethesda has released several major DLC expansions. The second of these, Nuclear Winter, received significant criticism online for being a battle royale mode, although it is likely that most of those criticising the DLC weren’t active players (among whom reception appeared to be better). The most recent DLC, however, has done a great deal to improve gamers’ opinions. Wastelanders finally adds human NPCs to the game; perhaps the most glaring omission from the original game, and a major point of complaint among franchise fans. Although its launch hasn’t been entirely bug-free, it has probably been Fallout 76’s most successful release. The question remains, however, whether Wastelanders is enough to bring gamers back to Fallout 76, or whether it is too little, too late.
The Future of the Fallout Franchise
Bethesda is currently in a difficult position when it comes to Fallout 76. The studio is reportedly developing both Elder Scrolls VI and Starfield, the latter of which is their next upcoming game. However, both games are still deep in development. Starfield is unlikely to launch until mid-to-late 2021 at the absolute earliest; it could easily be even farther away. The Elder Scrolls VI is unlikely to arrive until at least 1-2 years after Starfield, and once again, this gap could be much longer. As such, with no releases coming in the immediate future, Fallout 76 was clearly meant to be a long-term, live-service game which could tide players over until the launch of Starfield. Its catastrophic launch has meant that it’s very unlikely to fulfill this role. In fact, the launch may have caused irreparable damage to Bethesda’s reputation among fans.
As Bethesda hasn’t given up on improving and adding content to Fallout 76, the studio is likely to continue supporting Fallout 76 for the foreseeable future. Wastelanders may help the game to have a small comeback, but it’s unlikely to change things much for the game’s fortunes. It certainly seems as though the damage has already been done in too many gamers’ eyes. Unfortunately for Fallout fans who aren’t happy with Fallout 76, they’re unlikely to get anything new anytime soon.
Because Bethesda is currently developing two major RPGs at the same time (Starfield & Elder Scrolls VI), in addition to working on Fallout 76, it is extremely unlikely that the studio has the resources or staff to work on another Fallout game as well. That means that the next Fallout game – perhaps Fallout 5 – probably won’t enter development until the completion of Starfield, at the earliest. Of course, both Starfield and Elder Scrolls VI would have to release first, before that game’s own launch. That means that the next Fallout game could be at least five years away from release, or indeed, much longer away. This could have an upside, however. Fallout 76 has caused serious damage to Fallout’s reputation, but this stain should fade somewhat with time. If the next Fallout game doesn’t arrive for half a decade or more, many gamers will perhaps be more willing to return to the franchise than if the game launched later this year. As such, the future of Fallout may not be completely bleak for franchise fans, although they are likely in for a long wait.