Wednesday, Bethesda announced a $13-a-month (or $99 a year) premium subscription service to Fallout 76, a beleaguered game from last year that was oft-ridiculed before developers later steadied the ship and created a decent community experience. The price tag is attached to two features Fallout fans wanted since the game was announced: the ability to play by yourself or with just your friends without any interference from strangers.
The subscription also adds unlimited storage for crafting materials, a monthly deposit of the game’s in-game currency bought by real-world cash so you can buy virtual items, as well as exclusive items and emotes. Also of note, the player with the Fallout 1st account is the only one who can log into the private server. If they’re logged off, your seven other friends will have to make do in the wild of random players.
The real stinger is the last piece of content you get: a ranger armor outfit that was made iconic by Fallout New Vegas, the beloved 2010 entry made by The Outer Worlds developer Obsidian Entertainment. It’s a game original Fallout fans cite as the last “real” Fallout game, since Bethesda has increasingly turned the franchise closer to its own flagship role-playing games, the Elder Scrolls series.
The word-of-mouth hype surrounding The Outer Worlds paints it as the “real” Fallout experience Fallout fans want, and it’s rooted in truth. Indeed, Outer Worlds plays like the Fallout games of yesteryear.
The game takes place in a post-capitalist society, where megacorporations not only run everything, but have created planetary fandoms — akin to Beyoncé worship — all the while exploiting workers for corporate gain. As the only person to awaken in a ship of creatives frozen in stasis, the player is tasked to tackle the conspiracy behind a galactic corporate infrastructure.
It’s easy to see the metaphor behind the player, but now The Outer Worlds has become a symbol of a dying breed of games: feature-complete packages that put player autonomy at the center of its experience.
I’m not done with The Outer Worlds, but within the first few hours the difference between it and even the single-player Fallout 4 is staggering. Player choice is presented not as strange, binary “good and evil” choices, but rather morality plays that force you to engage with your ethics and the social doctrines you follow.
Even with the first quest to obtain enough energy for your spaceship, the fate of a relatively peaceful worker rebellion is in your hands as you weigh the benefits of capital, the well-being of a small but happy community, or the player’s selfish need to finish the game.
There are metaphors upon metaphors as more decisions and choices branch out in front of you. Players praised how Fallout New Vegas made player choice have real, indelible impact on the game world, and Obsidian Entertainment took that element and ran with it. Every choice brings you a wildly different, but natural, outcome to the galaxy you inhabit, and the various planets you visit.
Now back to Fallout 76, a game that removed the pillars of Fallout games: a quirky story with colorful characters that present you with experience-altering choices. All of this will be added in the upcoming (and free) “Wastelanders” expansion, per Bethesda.
Fallout 76 released last year and what followed was a series of public relations nightmares that made many compare it to Sideshow Bob hitting rakes. The game released with outrage over its microtransactions, a promised canvas bag for special editions that shipped with cheaper material, and Bethesda accidentally leaked personal information of players who preordered the collector’s edition. This was on top of a bevy of bugs and glitches that made the game almost unplayable upon its release.
Bugs have become a staple of Bethesda releases, so much so that the company jokes about it, but Fallout 76 was worse than usual. Obsidian Entertainment also shares that history, with Fallout New Vegas launching at a famously buggy state, and another 2010 release, Alpha Protocol, launching to the same fate.
Not so with The Outer Worlds, which even in a prerelease state runs smoothly and without any of the expected hiccups that come with an open world game.
However, The Outer Worlds’s worlds are smaller than most maps in modern games, funneling the player through sections and cities rather than vast, open fields of nothingness. Instead, the game presents densely packed communities and areas of activities, all ready to flower whatever adventure your choices create.
But when it comes to the new pay service, here’s the real burn for the Fallout faithful: Even if players don’t want to pay the full retail price for The Outer Worlds, the game will be available for all subscribers to Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass service, which charges $10 a month (less than the recurring Fallout 76 fee). The Netlfix-like service gives players access to hundreds of games, including new releases, on the Xbox and PC. First-time subscribers get charged only a buck for the first month. It means you could get an old-school, feature-complete, single-player Fallout experience, the kind we haven’t seen in nine years, for a dollar.
This is not to say Fallout 76 has remained a failure. Again, it’s maintained a small but loyal and joyful community of role players and traders, perfectly content to live in Bethesda’s post-apocalyptic vision of West Virginia. On the Fallout 76 subreddit, the reaction to the news is only beginning to bubble. Some see it as unnecessary and easy to ignore. Others worry about the future of the game, since Bethesda is making a year-later play to keep milking money.
Another top post warns: “Mark this day as the day Bethesda really prove they’re not only idiots, but liars.” And YouTube games industry critic Jim Sterling, who had been chronicling the game’s multiple PR flubs, had a reaction video already up, opening the first few seconds with a breathless cackle.