When I spoke to Jeff Gardiner and Mark Tucker back in June about the future of Fallout 76, they spoke of an upcoming feature that would let players customize the experience to their liking: Fallout Worlds. With the closing of Nuclear Winter mode and the still-missed Survival Mode, this feature was to be a remedy to the problem of canceled features. Instead of Bethesda taking the risk of introducing permanent game modes, players would be able to tailor the ruleset until it suited them, all in a low-risk environment that doesn’t affect Adventure Mode world, stats, or progress.
Now that Fallout Worlds is here, the big question is how the changes affect players on a practical level. While the past few years have seen a slight uptick in new Fallout 76 content, for the most part, the game’s post-release longevity can be attributed to its content communities, like roleplayers and build streamers. The sandbox features that facilitate both offer a wide world of player expression, but their limitations can also be frustrating. Not only do players have to amass enormous amounts of scrapped materials to create CAMPs (which often act as open roleplay settings), they also have to navigate Bethesda’s build rules, which are far less permissive than that of its predecessor, Fallout 4. Between the two, there’s a sense that Bethesda is forcing a laborious gameplay loop in lieu of creating new stories and experiences, and Fallout Worlds, which isolates certain rulesets in thematic public servers that rotate out frequently, is in that vein. It’s not new content, it’s reinvented content, like finding new ways to serve last week’s leftovers. And its relevance remains to be seen.
Public Worlds brings five new rotating servers to the game: Happy Builder, a building-friendly mode that reduces CAMP placement restrictions and relaxes building restrictions; High Risk, a PvP mode that rewards additional loot upon opponents’ deaths and disables Legendary item attributes; Dweller Must Die, which adds “greatly increased enemy difficulty, increased damage, increased equipment durability, and ‘Dark Bog’ weather effects”; Quantum World, a setting that plays on the game’s mutated effects; and Butcher’s Delight, which removes AP costs and adds infinite ammo and dismemberment effects. Between these five servers, along with Custom World (where players can tweak the world’s settings to their liking), players can somewhat fill the void left by the loss of Nuclear Winter and Survival Modes, while enjoying features that would otherwise disrupt Adventure Mode, like permissive building rules.
Gauging the usefulness of such an expansive feature in a multiplayer game is not unlike a game beta: to establish a consensus, you have to reach a lot of people. So as I tested the new features out the past week or so, I sifted through countless online discussions between builders, roleplayers and PVPers, and spoke to key figures in the Fallout 76 community to see how the new content will affect how they play and create content within the game. The big question is not just how fun Fallout Worlds is to the average player, but how helpful it is to the people who have kept the game alive.
Two players who see the potential are married team Ray and Lucy Middlethon. As the leaders of the New Responders faction within the Fallout 76 roleplay, and creators of its machinima (disclosure: I play a character in the Trial of the Warlord series), they intimately know the limitations of the game’s tools, having spent years finding ways to get the most out of them, be it through visual tricks, game workarounds or the creative re-use of features like emoticons. For them, customized settings in Custom World mode can be a boon to the tricky process of filming footage for their videos, which can be affected by everything from limited server space to changing weather and lighting. Custom World’s adjustable settings also allow them to expand upon sets and locations within the greater Fallout 76 lore and flesh them out with fewer building restrictions, such as CAMP height and radius. “For in-game [roleplay],” they told me via Discord, “the opportunities to create events tailored to fit the backdrop or circumstances (a radiation crisis event or a hostile encounter with another group via PVP settings, for example) are absolutely useful and allow for incredible creative flexibility. We are now able to maximize the design and construction of places and situations lore-specific to the Fallout Five-0 New Responders and their partner factions.”
Similarly, another anchor of the Fallout 76 roleplay, Liam Irwin, who runs the Brotherhood of Steel RCAC chapter, says the new content is transformative. His faction operates on an internal system that awards points and ranks based on participation, which rely on the completion of in-game events under the supervision of a higher-ranking officer. For this, the Public World modes, like High Risk or Dweller Must Die, and the customization options of Custom World are ideal: they provide new challenges that the faction can use for cadet training while strengthening their own lore and internal politics. The specificity, in particular, is appealing. Says Irwin, the settings “allow us to do things we couldn’t before, like take away Legendary effects, toggle persistent spawns, and increase difficulty.”
In Custom World, the expanded settings are thorough, allowing the player to control everything from jump height to visual filters. Herein lies the appeal of Fallout Worlds to content creators, especially builders. Not only can players use the looser restrictions to get closer to the pre-existing structures on the map, but the CAMPs can be taller and wider than in Adventure Mode. Combined with the elimination of material costs (reducing the hours of scavenging that normally precipitate every build), it’s not only a great opportunity to experiment with new ideas but also put together more elaborate structures, in turn improving their storytelling ability. In fact, one of the community’s most prolific builders, LoganRTX, whose creations are seen on Twitter and Reddit almost daily, says that the ability to place CAMPs almost anywhere on the map will be a creative goldmine. Another, RAD RUX (who also runs The Dusty Disco, an in-game dance bar from which he streams live DJs sessions on Twitch), predicts the community will see even more of the popular spaceship and watercraft builds, but also those that incorporate existing structures for immersion, like the player-led Watoga Restoration Project. Both anticipate a CAMP building renaissance may be on the way in light of some of these lifted restrictions.
But even among Fallout Worlds supporters, there are misgivings. The player limit in Custom World, in particular, is a setback. Many streaming, roleplay, and machinima projects desperately need bigger private server space to reduce some of their production’s logistical complications. But with only eight people allowed per Custom World, the new customization options, however outwardly helpful, are rendered useless. As the Middlethons say, “Most of our [roleplay] events, whether we are working with our members, our partner factions, or the community at large in quests tailored to give them a unique, large-scale experience, just cannot be done in Worlds.” Bobby Spags, a Councilmember of the Free States Militia faction who collaborates with the Middlethons frequently, agrees. “As long as they keep private worlds to eight people, it’s a complete waste of resources. We can’t take anything from those worlds, or progress, back with us.” He adds, “[Bethesda] should have focused on 24 person private worlds for content creators to make their art in.”
Similarly, the builders are in a tough spot. LoganRTX is optimistic about the looser building restrictions of Custom World but was “hoping for more” when it comes to free build and placement, saying many of the build tricks in Adventure Mode for some of the more elaborate tricks used to create complicated structures still have to be used in Custom World and Happy Builder mode. The lack of permanent build structures (outside of the player’s CAMP) is also an issue. Without a truly open build policy, many anticipated projects will never see fruition. The Free States Militia, for example, a roleplay group that builds on one of Fallout 76 real in-game factions, previously had plans to use the lifted restrictions to “restore” Harper’s Ferry, a key FSM location in the main questline. The New Responders, similarly, were hoping to build a hub world where settings in the roleplay lore could coexist for gaming and filming. But since the structures would simply wipe themselves out after leaving the Happy Builder Public World, and can only be built within the limitations of the player’s available CAMP slots in Custom World, it’s almost pointless to even bother. The tools simply do not exist to make it a truly transformative space.
Among unaffiliated players, there is also concern. Multiple threads in the Fallout 76 hubs on Reddit and the Fallout 76 CAMP group on Facebook have players dismissing Fallout Worlds as “useless.” Many cannot see the sense in playing modes that do not progress their main character or investing time in build modes that prohibit permanent structures. The Happy Builder server was perhaps not the strongest mode that Bethesda could have introduced this new feature with. Without a collaborative group project to work on, it’s hard to see the point of Happy Builder’s relaxed building restrictions. And not getting the XP from either Public or Custom Worlds severely disincentivizes the players from participating in either.
Which is not to say they’re worthless. As the Middlethons point out, if the different Public World modes were permanently accessible (instead of rotating out regularly), they might actually be incorporated into factional usage; the now-defunct Survival Mode, for example, was once used in New Responders cadet training. There’s also hope among many roleplayers that other groups, particularly the Raider faction The Vultures (ran by the infamous Warlord), will make narrative use of these new PVP-focused server modes. But as of my checking in with the Vultures, they have no current plans. And the PVPers I spoke to expressed ambivalence towards the new Public World themes, even the PVP ones. It’s possible that Public Worlds, at least for some, is too little too late.
So, with so many regular players disinterested, and the toolset yet to be perfected for content creators, who is Fallout Worlds for? It’s possible that as the other Public World modes are rolled out in the months to come that the community response will become more positive. But given how disillusioned the player base is with the game’s constant recycling of old material it’s hard to imagine they’ll be placated much longer. Even those trying to engage Fallout Worlds in earnest, like me, are frustrated by the missed potential. It’s as if in trying to be everything to everyone, they wound up pleasing no one at all.
All is not lost. If Bethesda were to address the longstanding issue of private server space and give builders free rein to create structures outside of their personal CAMPs, it would go a long way. And with no new maps or full expansions on the horizon, that might be their best bet to maintain an audience.
But for now, it seems Bethesda and their fans are on two different planets.
Holly Green is the editor-at-large 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.