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‘Fallout 76’ may have online multiplayer but it’s still a desolate wasteland

Fallout 76 Hands-on

All over the internet, people are asking one question.

“Is Fallout 76 an MMO?”

The release of console-friendly online games like GTA V Online and Destiny has paved a path that Bethesda’s upcoming entry to the Fallout series can follow. It’s online, hosts large groups of players on servers, and supplies a thriving open world for them to explore. It has public events and a dynamic level system. It has both player-on-player and player-against-world combat. These are traditional elements of an MMO.

Yet Fallout 76 isn’t an MMO — and many games that have been defined as such in the past don’t fall into the category, either. Fallout 76’s identity crisis isn’t unique, but the way Bethesda handles it could become a template for games like it.

The evolution of open-world games

Skyrim 1

Pete Hines from Bethesda has said Fallout 76 is not an MMO, but if you do a quick Google search, you’ll find plenty of outlets and gamers that think otherwise. This disagreement happens frequently, particularly with games that include an open world and online multiplayer. When these two words are mentioned in the same sentence, people are eager to categorize a game as an MMO. Yet that adds more confusion than clarity.

More on open world games

Destiny is a perfect example. While there are areas of Destiny and Destiny 2 that have online multiplayer interactions, such as the Tower or Raids, these aren’t exactly locations where players can enjoy a living, breathing, interactive world that you’d find in a game like World of Warcraft.

Missions in Destiny are designed in a way that makes it impossible to encounter more than a small number of other players. In fact, most areas don’t require more than a specific number of players to tackle them. That isn’t the mark of a true open-world game that supports massive multiplayer, where the entire experience is built around encouraging large mobs of players to take on obstacles such as raids, bosses, and large, thriving, locales together. Destiny does have elements of an MMO, along with features found in first-person shooters and RPGs, but these elements combine in a new way.

The same is true of Fallout 76.

Worlds defined by the way we play

Fallout 76 Hands-on

So what the heck is Fallout 76, anyway?

Well, it depends on the player. Developers have realized when you give people freedom in games, they find unique ways to play. In Fallout 76, players can hop in solo or with a small group of friends and decide if they’re looking for something casual, challenging, or somewhere in between.

“What a game is, is what the players ultimately make of it. Our job is to give them all the interesting tools.”

In our preview, we found that even though co-op is encouraged, you’re never forced to interact with other players, so individuals looking for a classic Bethesda single-player experience have something to gain from Fallout 76, too. Though not available at launch, Todd Howard has said that private servers are a long-term goal, making it even easier for players to tailor their Fallout 76 experience.

While Fallout 76 isn’t an MMO, it’s structure promises something greater. It combines online connectivity with more personalized gameplay, ensuring you’re not just another moving part on a map going through the same motions as everyone else, but a player with the power to impact the world around you — or not. The beauty is that it’s up to you.

With the promise of dedicated servers (something that MMO players always seem to look for), it seems Bethesda understands how to make an online multiplayer game appeal to the largest subset of players possible. In an interview with USGamer, Todd Howard explained Bethesda’s approach to Fallout 76. “I want them to see the world as their oyster,” he says. “What a game is, is what the players ultimately make of it. Our job is to give them all the interesting tools. We want to design a really interesting world for them to collide with.”

That collision is the point of games like Fallout 76 and Destiny 2. The scale is smaller, and the world less persistent, but narrowing the scope makes each player feel they have more of an effect on the virtual world around them. Fallout 76 seems designed to take advantage of this particular formula which, if successful, could become a roadmap for many games to follow.

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