In 20 years, Fallout has become a juggernaut of a franchise, loaded up with more and more mechanics as it lumbers forward. Bethesda has added more gameplay options in Fallout 76, with online multiplayer, which makes me wonder — what even is this game?
Each successive generation of Fallout has enriched the wasteland with new ways to engage. The original Fallout and Fallout 2 were turn-based RPGs with elements of exploration and stealth. Fallout 3 shifted toward a first-person shooter, which retaining aspects of the previous games. Fallout: New Vegas introduced crafting, as well as a hardcore survival mode. Fallout 4 added a base-defense system with a string of communities you could build up and populate.
And now, Fallout 76 has inherited all of these mechanics, plus multiplayer and non-optional survival. Some of these aspects can be safely ignored, but a majority are essential and unavoidable.
This tracks with an overall trend in big AAA games: Many franchises in recent years have expanded to include new mechanics, like dialogue trees in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, cooking and crafting in Breath of the Wild, and role-playing elements in God of War. We label these games “open-world” because otherwise, their genres would just be a long list of mechanics.
Most games reuse the same systems in order to tell new stories in new locations. Even with dialogue trees, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey still focuses on assassinations, only now in ancient Greece. God of War is still combat-focused, but now you’re messing up Norse enemies.
Fallout is unique because it does the inverse. It reuses the same designs, settings and fresh-from-the-vault stories to experiment with different kinds of gameplay. Because of that, we have to categorize it like we would a movie or TV show — by its aesthetic and plot structure. Despite its long list of mechanics, Fallout 76’s genre is, essentially, Fallout. Watch the video above to learn more.