If you’ve got a shiny new console or gaming PC, particularly if you’re an Xbox Game Pass subscriber, you might be wondering about the state of Fallout 76 in late 2020. After a disastrous launch, it certainly had a messy couple of years. But with the arrival of Steel Dawn — a free content update that dropped earlier this week — it’s in a better place than ever.
Some critics have gone so far as to call Fallout 76: Wastelanders, the story expansion that went live in April, the best Fallout game Bethesda’s ever made. I wouldn’t take things that far — Fallout 4’s still a better game, especially with the Far Harbor DLC. That said, now’s the perfect time to give Fallout 76 another look.
With non-player characters and story quests added earlier this year, and countless quality-of-life improvements patched into the game since then, it finally feels like the “Fallout 4 with multiplayer” sales pitch it was intended to be.
Enemies in the open world now scale to match your level; it’s easier than ever to group up with other players to pursue common goals (role-playing, public events, and so on); you’re no longer forced to constantly eat and drink to avoid starving to death in the midst of battle.
The dialogue and reputation systems introduced in Wastelanders feel like old-school RPG design — something out of Bethesda classics like Morrowind or Oblivion. You’re given choices that impact your relationship to the world around you, and many of the characters in it. Wastelanders and Steel Dawn have introduced me to NPCs I’ve loved as well as ones I’ve absolutely hated.
It no longer throws you into a world and leaves you to chase down a series of holotapes. It strikes the delicate balance of a good Bethesda Game Studios title, and feels intuitive and inviting. There’s life in the wasteland, now, and no end of things to do.
Like GTA Online after the big heists update of 2016, it feels like 76 has finally found its footing. And there are a lot of things Bethesda can still do to keep things interesting as the months and years go on.
It’s a good time to install it and see how things have evolved. If Steel Dawn is a sign of what’s to come, the game’s best days are still ahead of it.