I adore the Fallout series, and I relish Fallout 76. It’s not just the apocalyptic setting, because who doesn’t like to imagine the end of civilisation now and again, but the little stories and culture references found through exploration.
A lack of non-player characters (NPCs) doesn’t mean a lack of story, and the storytelling in Fallout 76 is like an archaeology of the old world before the bombs fell. Bethesda’s writers are experts at taking the extraordinary situations of a post-apocalyptic world but adding a realistic and plausible case that we can genuinely relate to.
Take the case of the Insult Bot random encounter, for example – a robot which has roamed the wasteland since before the bombs fell and was programmed for a social experiment. Its purpose is to observe a target, formulate a custom insult based on the target, and then deliver the insult. It was merely the creation of students at a high school, turning a seemingly arbitrary moment into something entirely plausible.
With the opinion of the title resting negative, I thought it might benefit from presenting to you what I’ve enjoyed so much about the game: the last scraps of civilisation that are the short stories dotted around the Appalachian wasteland. Accompanying The Elder Scrolls series, the sense of exploration and discovery in Fallout is organic enough to be pleasant rather than the now age-old chore of facing a map full of symbols waiting to be ticked off one by one like in Assassin’s Creed or Far Cry.
Here’s a list of my most favourite and impactful little stories, stumbled upon in Fallout 76 along with their locations. There are many packed into Appalachia, but these are the ones that immediately come to mind.
Lost child: East Kanawha Lookout
To the east of Sutton Station is an abadoned lookout tower (which is used by players to reveal locations on the map) that is unremarkable from the exterior. I headed up searching for the usual loot; instead, all I found was a corpse surrounded by a mess of children’s toys – wooden blocks, a toy alien, toy car and toy truck. It was clear a mother and child once lived there and after taking in the desolate sadness of it all, I made my way back down empty-handed.
At the bottom of the tower, I found a mound of dirt not far from the tower steps with a teddy bear and more wooden blocks laid out to form the words ‘MY ANGEL’.
Considering the character of the game, which is generally humorous, I couldn’t help but be moved and saddened by this discovery. However, it stimulated my interest in exploring and finding more hidden narratives, adding greater depth to a game often criticised for lack of story.
Gary: The Whitespring golf club cafe
This reference is for those that have played Fallout 3 and remember Vault 108, or Gary, in particular. The developers continue to have fun with letter blocks in the game, this time spelling out the name of our favourite Vault 108 dweller. This vault was home to a cloning experiment of one man who went by the name of Gary. Unfortunately, the clones began to exhibit psychotic tendencies and eventually rebelled and took over the vault.
If you visited Vault 108, you’ll remember that the clones are deranged and will attack anyone not called Gary. Also, for some reason, they only speak in a subtle array of ways to utter the word ‘Gary.’ It was perfectly normal to be chased through corridors with only the sound of ‘Gary!’ or ‘Gaary…’ echoing behind you.
Throughout Fallout 76 are scattered references to our beloved Gary spelled in wooden blocks, one such example shown above can be found in The Whitespring golf club cafe.
Another sad one: East Mountain Lookout
Ready for your heartstrings to be tugged at again? A couple had taken shelter in this lookout to grow their own crops, and did so very successfully for four years up high in the tower. Heading up the tower is treacherous thanks to potted flowers and growing vegetables scattered around in makeshift plant-beds. But if you persevere and make your way to the top, a heartfelt handwritten letter from a Gerald can be found on a dining room table addressed to his partner, Sandy.
On the nearby bed can both corpses be found with a silver locket on the floor containing a photo and the old man’s walking cane and glasses rested against the bed. It’s not clear whether Gerald died soon after either by heartbreak or suicide, though both corpses lay together with Gerald’s arm reaching out for Sandy close by. A reference in the letter to a ‘world gone crazy down below’ underscores the contrast of their newfound happy lives growing vegetables against the savagery of the apocalypse beneath them.
Nuclear storage for forever: Federal disposal field HZ-21
This was one map location I left unvisited for quite some time even though the map marker is abstract enough to justify an investigation. It was probably close to a hundred hours of gameplay before I got around to making my way over. This construction was composed of substantial concrete spikes piercing out from a pool of glowing nuclear waste on the ground. After battling away some massive enemies, I found a computer terminal.
This fascinating project was actually based in reality. How do you signpost an extremely deadly nuclear waste disposal site in a way that will continue to warn people of the danger contained within for tens of thousands of years, and be sure that it would always be understood? It was called the 10,000 years initiative: designed to provide a warning to people of the future. Languages are lost to time or evolve, and any written or documented warning could become vague or meaningless.
The site is host to gigantic concrete spikes which can withstand weather, erosion and shifting topography. They are designed to invoke a sense of dread and discourage building on top of them. The use of pictograms instead of modern language to clearly convey a sense of danger, transcending any potential language barriers millennia from now.
I found this absolutely fascinating as it’s not something I’ve ever contemplated before. It’s based on the ‘Landscape of Thorns‘ concept by architect Michael Brill, one of several proposed long-time nuclear waste warning messages. Stick thorns on something and nobody will touch it.
Vlad and Mia: random encounter
Vlad and Mia appear as a random encounter in Fallout 76 with the same premise of a seemingly random AI-driven conversation. If you listen for too long, you may hear the topic come round to killing humans, and at this point, it was time to put them down. For more information about the real-life Vlad and Mia read this article.
I thoroughly enjoyed exploring and documenting these tales from the Appalachian wasteland. Fallout 76 continues to surprise me, and Bethesda is continually adding new content and events that deepen the experience. Please share any that I’ve missed and I look forward to discussing more examples with you in the comments!
Often found in front of YouTube watching videos of cats if not playing video games. Loves sprawling open-world games with a soft spot for the Fallout series.