In the past, Bethesda games like Skyrim and Fallout 4 have allowed players to swipe whatever they want — provided, of course, the item’s owner didn’t catch you. Then things could get messy. In Fallout 76’s new update, Wastelanders, the denizens of Appalachia do not give a single fuck if you rob them blind.
In a recent play session, I reunite with the Overseer of my Vault, who fancies herself a maternal figure. She’s exclaiming about how good it is to see me, and how relieved she is that I’m safe. Meanwhile, I’m just vacuuming up everything around her house. I’m not even looking at her, and the sound of her audio is muffled by constant shuffling noises as I grab dozens of items off her shelves. She’s maintaining the polite fiction that this is an OK way to act and ignoring everything I’m doing. Honestly, it’s kind of like a real trip home to visit mom.
Contrast this, say, Fallout 3, where I stumbled upon a ghoul community. I had just traveled through miles of subway tunnels, and I was out of supplies and near dead. I stopped to rest for a time, and accidentally picked up a guy’s mug off his desk. I was instantly shot to death by six ghouls, and I just kind of sat there for a while, staring at the screen and wondering when was the last time I saved.
Granted, Fallout 76 has never followed the series norm when it comes to item ownership. In previous games, players could pickpocket NPCs to take their stuff — or reverse pickpocket them to stuff their pants full of timed explosives. I can’t do that in Fallout 76; I can only loot a corpse or an environment. Thankfully, Bethesda lets me do the latter as much as I want, any time I want, even if someone is trying to give me a tearful confession about a dead friend.
Unfortunately, this freedom sometimes breaks my immersion. I was welcomed into a raider camp by a wary, savvy group of survivors. They told me they were watching me, and I was on short notice, I nodded, walked past them, and immediately grabbed four typewriters and a big haul of drugs and put them right in my pants.
“You better not cross us,” they said threateningly, as I went ahead and took a full raider set of clothes and knives from a drawer. Somehow, I didn’t really think they would carry through on that threat.
It makes sense that Fallout 76 players can’t mess with NPCs too much. It is, after all, a shared world MMO. The game has previously had issues with a group of players all competing to kill the same enemy for the same quest in the same instance. Vault dwellers had to queue up to kill a Scorched in the emotional culmination of the Overseer’s launch storyline. It was a little awkward having to listen to the audio logs of her crying while you waited patiently for four other people to kill her former beloved turned Scorched zombie. I can’t imagine that system working with actual NPCs with dialogue or quests to give.
Honestly, I’m glad I get to be such an open thief. It’s like Link smashing Hyrulian pots in a Zelda game; the brazen lack of care just kind of seems to come with the RPG territory. Perhaps these denizens have heard of my HOA, knife-wielding wine mom. Either way, I’m just glad I’m less likely to get shot if I hit the wrong button by accident.
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