When thinking about great Bethesda games, Fallout 3, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and some of the company’s publishing ventures like DOOM likely come to mind. On the other side of the coin is the infamous Fallout 76. This online take on the Fallout formula sounded fun on paper, but it severely missed the mark — at first. Since its rocky release in 2018, Fallout 76 has become one of the developer’s best games, and certainly the most underrated.

Survival and discovery

The main appeal of Fallout 76 is wandering the land of Appalachia, which is based on the state of West Virginia. In it, players are encouraged to explore the wasteland to uncover secrets, along with gear and interesting story elements, too. You might stumble upon a factory filled to the brim with horrifying ghouls, or maybe an NPC who needs your help escaping from a prison cell. The surprises make it fun.

All along the way are intriguing things that might catch your eye. Appalachia is filled with wild locations to explore — my favorite of which is Wavy Willard’s Water Park, featuring a humungous slide attraction called the Crocolossus (consisting of a ridiculous, oversized crocodile). One side quest, Cold Case, actually sends you there to investigate the disappearance of a child. While this mission is mostly a chill experience overall, it ends with an explosive battle against a group of deadly Super Mutants, giving you a nice mix of action and exploration.

But in between the missions, you’re tasked with surviving, and while it can be overwhelming at first, managing resources becomes immensely fun. You start off with nothing, but eventually gain access to lots of different food, drinks, medical supplies, and other resources to keep you alive. The thrill of finding a new stash of Stimpaks (medkits) never gets old!

Better with a buddy

Of course, the biggest change in Fallout 76 is the fact that it’s all online. This means you can stumble upon other real players who may or may not be friendly. Most times, other players are invaluable, and will shower you with gifts or will offer to assist you with quests. This makes Appalachia feel much more like a living, breathing world, full of interesting characters throughout.

The real fun is introduced when tackling missions with other players. I played around 30 hours of Fallout 76 in co-op, and it was such a blast — especially during the action-packed segments later on. When playing with a friend, you can both focus on skills that complement one another, making it much easier to complete missions.

For instance, I’d always run low on Stimpaks since I’d typically get up close and personal when battling enemies. My co-op partner used a cannibalism ability to restore health by literally feasting upon dead foes, meaning he’d often have an excess of Stimpaks available. He would then give me some of his extra Stimpaks to help me out, allowing me to continue playing aggressively. Likewise, I excelled at lockpicking, so I would frequently open safes, yielding goodies for both of us — while my co-op partner spent his skill points on other abilities.

Then, we’d join forces to take down massive beasts, such as a mutated bear or the infamous Deathclaw — a large reptile that stands on its hind legs.

The sheer variety, not just in mission type, but in all the different pieces of gear, along with the various skills make each play session so compelling — more so if you’re alongside a friend. This game started out rough, but eventually turned into an immense amount of fun.

Fallout 76 is available on PlayStation, Xbox, and PC, Xbox Game Pass, and will come to PlayStation Plus on January 3, 2023.

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