Julie has been playing Fallout 76 with her husband, Alec, for four months now. Alec purchased her the game as an anniversary gift. “Something to do together,” he said. What Alec didn’t expect was for Julie to get wrapped up with a digital Fallout 76 boyfriend.
Julie was upfront about her romance with the NPC, of course. She’ll show up to her husband’s CAMP with a “Lover’s Embrace” buff, which gives a 15% experience boost to her character. “He knows what I was up to,” she said. “And I know he knows.”
Julie fancies herself a “wasteland housewife,” but having her boyfriend out at the CAMP while she makes stimpacks for her husband adds a certain je ne sais quoi to the experience. The new romance option, which was added in the Wastelanders update for the online role-playing game, has changed things for the better for Julie.
This isn’t the first Fallout game to include romance; in the past, you’ve been able to marry NPCs (and even become a porn star). While your options have varied from game to game, Fallout 76’s MMO-style structure has fans hoping for additional content and deeper relationships — and more NPCs to fuck.
Wastelanders brings more fully-fleshed NPCs to Fallout 76, speech checks and all. Players can even have a selection of NPCs at their bases who hang out and chat. Two of these NPCs can be romanced: Beckett, a recovering bad-boy addict and bartender, and Commander Daguerre, an astronaut who has fallen to Earth to find herself in an apocalypse.
Right now, the in-game system is simple. The player acquires the companion as they travel through the world, after completing a couple of simple quests. The companion gives the player an item; if you place the item down in your CAMP, the companion will hang out at your house. The romances are thin and often awkward; as you help them navigate personal situations fraught with trauma, and you can throw in some flirty lines.
But both characters reciprocate your feelings, and hang out at home to stare at you and sigh in admiration. The end result is that the romances feel like cheap romance novels. They’re fun, short, and then easily brushed aside. And that is part of what is fueling fan hunger — folks want more than what’s currently in the game, especially since there’s a new range of interesting NPCs.
Eyes on the prize
“The Fallout franchise has always been horny in like, a weird high school kind of way,” says Ty, a non-binary Fallout fan. They’re right; this is, after all, a series where there is a canon Vault 69. “The whole alt-retro thing with the constant pin-up girl imagery and housewives, characters like Cass from New Vegas, that sort of thing. But it’s also weirdly chaste. I really wanted to romance Boone or Veronica, but I couldn’t. So having that now feels right.”
Ty hopes that Bethesda adds more romances in future — the less straightforward, the better. “I want them to get weird with it. Let me romance robots. Let me romance mutants. Make the multiple romance options canon, so I can be in a throuple at my CAMP.”
While there is some discussion of romance on forums like Reddit, smaller groups congregate on private Facebook groups and Tumblr. There, they can openly gossip about their loves, make suggestions, and pine for NPCs. Fans have reacted well to Johnny Gentleman, the ruthless raider NPC who wears a sharp suit.
“Honestly, I was heartbroken I couldn’t romance Johnny Gentleman,” says Jenn K., a longtime fan of Fallout 76. “It was, by far, the biggest missed opportunity in the game. And it’s so frustrating, because his plot is so horny. He wears a suit, he literally collars you and degrades you for a con at one point, and he’s the hottest guy in the game, period. But I can’t romance him?”
The current system feels like an appetizer. High SPECIAL stats can play into dialogue in the character’s main arc, but romance comes down to hitting the option with “[Flirt]” next to it. “Obviously, we love games with companions … so you’ll be able to romance some of your quests from them,” project lead Jeff Gardner said in an interview with GamesRadar, but he did note that there were technical limitations that give these characters static roles at your CAMP.
Julie is one player who’s happy with her current situation.
“Right now, I have a husband and a boyfriend waiting for me in Appalachia,” she said. “It’s so dumb. It’s the cotton candy of gaming, right? [The romance mechanic] is only probably like 1% of [Bethesda’s] effort on the update but that’s what I love most. I love getting away with it.”
But as we meet more NPCs out in the Wasteland, a small but passionate group of fans hope that we will eventually get to take them home for that coveted Lover’s Embrace.