If you're a fan of Bethesda games, there's a good chance that you've heard over and over again how Lydia is sworn to carry your burdens or that another settlement needs your help, or maybe you've simply been blown up by those mines you so carefully avoided after Dogmeat happily trotted right over them. With the news that the Fallout 76 Wastelanders update is adding NPCs and companions to the not-quite-MMO, you might be wondering what it's going to be like having actual settlers and raiders to talk to (even if technically those real-life players who blew up your first camp could be classified as raiders). I spoke to Jeff Gardiner, project lead on Fallout 76, about what having NPCs in the game means for Fallout 76, what they've learned from Fallout 4, and just how long you can go on chatting to NPCs without making your ears fall off.
War never changes, but NPCs do
With Fallout 76 being a brand-new way to experience the Fallout universe - and considering that new way to play didn't go down too well when it first came out - these NPCs are a little bit different from what we're used to. That's very much intentional, says Gardiner. "We wanted to do something different with 76 than with Fallout 4, it was a shorter dev cycle. And we decided that we really did want to try to make the other players NPCs. So that worked in some ways, and didn’t work in other ways."
No kidding. One of Fallout 76's biggest criticisms - and one that I made in our Fallout 76 review - was that it felt empty without human NPCs milling around, like there wasn't anyone to save the world for. By the sounds of it the shorter, potentially slightly rushed dev cycle meant that the developers themselves missed having NPCs around too. Gardiner told me that "nothing replaces Bethesda story, right? So fans wanted [NPCs]. We wanted to do it. And so we decided earlier this year that we’re going to commit to it".
So, the Wastelanders update has human NPCs, and they sound like they're going to show two wildly different factions which reacted to the nuclear apocalypse in very different ways: the Settlers and the Raiders. "At a very high level, the raiders are the bad ones, and the settlers are the good ones. They both combat for natural resources that are found in West Virginia. We’re keeping the story sort of vague right now. But there will be interactions. You will be choosing sides."
So far that sounds pretty standard, but when Gardiner mentioned that you can mess with your NPCs, a little spark of deviousness lit up in my cold, dead heart. "You’ll be able to double down and double cross. It’s a Fallout game. So you’ll make decisions [that'll have] consequences." Megaton-sized consequences? Gardiner wouldn't say, but there are nukes going spare in the Fallout 76 map…
How Fallout 76 is doing NPCs differently
One of the biggest lessons the Fallout 76 dev team has learnt is to never, ever "have one that says 'I am sworn to carry your burdens' constantly," according to Gardiner. Oh, Lydia. Anyway, because Fallout 76 is kind of an MMO, these aren't going to be the NPCs you're used to fighting alongside in Fallout 4. "They’re going to be a little different in 76 – not necessarily because of things we’ve learned from Fallout 4", Gardiner tells me. "Obviously, we love games with companions … so you’ll be able to romance some of your quests from them." Regardless of whether you're looking for true love, these NPCs won't be like the ones in Fallout 4 where they'd accompany you on missions, Gardiner explained.
"They won’t be following you through the entire game in the same way that the Fallout 4 companions did," he told me. "There are technical limitations on a multiplayer game – we don’t know what’s going to happen with the 24 other players in the server. But you will get a full experience with them." The impression I get is that these NPCs will be around for entire questlines so you can get to know them and get invested in their struggles, rather than treating them as Fetch Quest Giver #27.
Part of how Fallout 76 is going to make you care about NPCs also comes down to the new, larger dialogue options you have when talking to them. Those of you who like to exhaust every single conversation option are going to have plenty to keep you busy, as your chats with NPCs aren't going to be like in Fallout 4. Gardiner told me that instead of having "four options every time" you speak to someone, "we are going back to a Fallout 3 style where you have many different options. Obviously, it’s dependent on the questions you’re getting asked and answering. And also, the Specials are going to play heavily in them. So if you have a high Strength or Perception, there’ll be different options in development".
With Fallout 76 taking cues from Fallout 3 in terms of how it treats NPC interactions, there might even be the option to resort to the laughably idiotic dialogue options that were only available in Fallout 3 to players who seriously neglected their Intelligence. Either way, having dialogue options that change based on your Special characteristics will bring Fallout 76 one step closer to feeling like a traditional Fallout game. When the Wastelanders update goes live this fall, we'll get to see just how much of a difference these new NPCs make - but in Gardiner's own words, "it’s not just NPCs. [Wastelanders is] a real reimagining of the game." Keep those mutated fingers crossed, people… the Fallout 76 we all wanted at launch could finally be on the horizon.