Despite some initial technical difficulties, this past week Bethesda announced Fallout 76, a new Fallout themed game said to center on the maintenance and survival of one of Vault-Tec’s control vaults, 20 years after the bombs first fell. The trailer, roughly a minute and a half long, pans over the familiar sights of a Vault-Tec bomb shelter before inviting the audience to the grand opening of the titular vault, marking the new beginning of a post-apocalyptic world.
There’s not a lot of information on the game itself yet, but there’s a bit we can glean from hints that already exist in the Fallout universe. While the vaults created by Vault Tec within the series served largely as a social experiment to test the post-apocalyptic population under special conditions, there were a few that were used as “control” vaults. Vault 76 is actually one of them, with a reference first spotted in a Brotherhood of Steel terminal in The Citadel in Fallout 3 (as well as an audio log from a scientist who worked on the vault and was abducted by aliens onto Mothership Zeta). Fallout 4 also makes mention of Vault 76 at the beginning of the game, during a telecast announcing a ceremony celebrating its completion. It is known that Vault 76 was built in the greater Washington D.C. area, presumably Virginia, although the use of “Take Me Home, Country Roads” hints that it might be a little farther away, in West Virginia. It housed 500 occupants, with an opening date set in 2076 in honor of America’s 300th birthday.
There are other control vaults seen in the series, another of which was to open 20 years after a nuclear event; Vault 3, in the New Vegas area, was one of them. Vault 8, from Fallout 2, similarly was a control vault, set to open after 10 years, later giving rise to Vault City. It is said that there are a total of 17 control vaults in the history of Vault Tec, out of a total 122 commissioned.
In a sense, Bethesda has been priming us for Fallout 76 for awhile. In Fallout 4 there’s an example of a fully functional and well-governed vault community, Vault 81, based not on a control vault but instead on an experimental vault whose overseers decided to revolt and instead build a sustainable underground settlement. This happened somewhat in parallel to Fallout Shelter, a mobile game that focused on the mechanical day to day logistics of vault maintenance and survival. The Vault Tec Workshop DLC of Fallout 4 also reinforced this theme by allowing the player to build and maintain an entire vault of their own, Vault 88.
Examining the trailer, I’m not necessarily catching anything that would bear special significance unseen to the eye of a casual Fallout fan. There doesn’t seem to be any “secrets” hidden for those who are well-versed in the lore (though the opening shot of the Pip-Boy does show a date of 2102, a few years after the vault’s expected re-opening date of 2097 and also the same year in Fallout lore that Richard Grey became the Master). The knick knacks and items seen in the footage are consistent with series aesthetic staples established in previous games, including some of the finer details of mint-condition vaults, as seen in Vault 81 in Fallout 4. A quick shot scrolling over some awards mounted on the wall may indicate you play as an Overseer.
I’m a bit surprised at how cranky I’m not about Fallout 76, if that makes sense. Generally I dislike the time and attention Bethesda pays to spin-off titles, and Fallout Shelter straight up pissed me off. But if this is, as the information suggestions, an ARK: Survival Evolved-like approach to Fallout, then I’m pleased they chose to go with a spin-off instead of shoehorning it into a core entry in the series. It’s a more fitting means for exploring an alternate gameplay experience (whereas Fallout 4’s settlements, which I always maintained should have been DLC, were a distraction). Which raises the question: will Fallout 76 become a replacement for the heavy crafting and settlement features seen in Fallout 4? This could be a convenient time to shift away from crafting and settlements before they become an expected part of the main Fallout games.
I also wonder about this so called “online survival RPG” that sources claim Fallout 76 to be. Fallout’s roleplaying sensibilities took a massive hit when Skills were removed in Fallout 4 in favor of leaning into the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system and I honestly don’t think the games will ever be the same if that’s not brought back somehow. Fallout 76 could be a chance to right more than one wrong, in that sense.
Thinking back to how hard they went after the Interplay Fallout MMO, Bethesda seems to have been angling for at least some kind of online Fallout experience for a long time. I suppose this was inevitable, and I’m honestly not as annoyed with it as even I expected me to be. If they take this opportunity to do some course correcting, heck, I might even end up happy about it. Until then, let’s see what Bethesda has to say about Fallout 76 during E3 2018.
Holly Green is the assistant editor of Paste Games and a reporter and semiprofessional photographer. She is also the author of Fry Scores: An Unofficial Guide To Video Game Grub. You can find her work at Gamasutra, Polygon, Unwinnable, and other videogame news publications.