If it’s January 2023 when you’re reading this, then you’re in luck – Fallout 76 is free to keep this month for all three tiers of PS Plus subscribers! And of course still available on Xbox Game Pass PC and Console. There aren’t a lot of games out there that come with more baggage attached than Fallout 76, and as the world’s biggest Fallout fan, even I have to admit that the launch was an embarrassing disaster. The game was not finished, lacked content, and had so many bugs I genuinely couldn’t tell what was a feature or not. After 20 hours I put it down, devastated that my favorite franchise had fallen so far. But, against my predictions, Todd Howard and Bethesda Game Studios decided to salvage the game rather than throwing it out to die.

I think the conclusion Bethesda reached is that saving the Fallout brand long-term was worth the 2 additional years of 500 developers working tirelessly to fix their broken mess. And frankly, it’s the very least they could do for both their new customers and their lifelong fans, all of whom felt scammed to some degree. Now over 4 years from launch with several huge free expansions, I can confidently say they made the right call. Fallout 76 was well worth salvaging and is absolutely worth playing for fans of Fallout and fans of survival games. Since the 2.0 Launch in April 2020, I’ve put an additional 61 hours into the open-world survival RPG and loved every one of them. If you’re dipping into the Appalachia Wasteland for the first time and don’t really know much about what Fallout 76 even is anymore, here are some tips to get you started!

Monster
The triumphant return of gulpers, the best Fallout monster.

1. Fallout 76 is an MMO (Minuscule Multiplayer Online RPG)

As “The Fallout Guy”, as I am known to all my friends both online and IRL, people always come to me first to talk about the Fallout games. The first question I get about 76 is undoubtedly “Is this an MMO?”. That’s a complicated question, and it bears explaining because I can’t simply say “It’s like Destiny” or “it’s like Sea of Thieves” because it isn’t actually like anything else that exists. Appalachia’s map is around four times the size of Fallout 4, but each server is occupied not by thousands of people – it’s just 20. That’s right. The massive, gorgeous open world is occupied by just 20 human players.

In practice, this means that you can and likely will play Fallout 76 for three or four hours at a time without seeing a single hint that other people exist. It’s very easy to get lost in your own campaign, take down a swarm of ghouls, and then be shocked for a moment to see WaluigiButtMuncher69 and his roving compatriots jumping around on top of an abandoned shack shooting off flares and screaming obscenities.

2. You Can Play Alone

You can play this game solo or with friends with equal efficiency, but if you’re not partied up don’t expect to interact with other humans much. It’s quaint, and I wish more games existed like this. Many of the hallmarks of MMO RPGs are present – daily and weekly tasks, party-based combat, dungeon raids, customizable player housing, and community events – but all on an extremely manageable little scale. You don’t need to pick a server ever – you simply hit continue from the main menu to load into a random server or join the world a friend is already in to party up. Those are all your options.

As someone who’s never played an MMO, server screens scare me and this is a welcome thing to make it more approachable. While all campaign missions from every expac can be completed solo, Community Events are going to mandate collaboration with other players. Whether you’re actually in a party or just show up at the same time, you are not going to be able to kill the giant honey beast on your own. If you’re content to stick to the handcrafted main and side quests, you need never interact with another human. If you’d like to get the most out of the game, time to party up.

Scorchbeast
Have fun fighting this thing on your own.

3. You Should Play in a Party with Friends (or Randos)

When loading into a game, here’s a hot tip you should follow – join a public group immediately. Public groups are made up of up to four players who are not friends and don’t know each other. When in a public group, you can simply continue doing your own campaign and side quests and never interact with your party members. Here’s the benefit, though. You get +25% to XP for events, which is especially huge at lower levels, and you can fast travel to everyone’s C.A.M.P. (player home) for free regardless of where it is on the map. Again, especially at low levels, this is huge.

Fast traveling across the map will usually cost you somewhere from 50-80 caps, and at the beginning when you are scrounging for caps one by one this is an invaluable service. If you join a public group, your party mates will not expect you to interact with them. Join the group, continue what you’re doing, and enjoy free fast travel and the XP boosts. A huge boon is that players of all levels can play together and all enemies scale to make your damage proportional. Level 5 and Level 100 players can play together and all contribute equally to a boss fight! I recommend finding friends to party up if at all possible.

4. Your Character’s Build Should be Constantly Changing

76 tosses out the old level-up systems for cards, which are each things like “+1 to Charisma” or “+25% to laser guns” or “reduce rads from eating by 10%”. These make a huge difference in how your character plays, so changing your build per mission is the way to go, even if you’re rolling solo. However, the real key is that party members can share their perk points with each other. This is a genius mechanic that just works. One party member wants to be your hacker for the mission but another has the perk cards for it? You’re using a machine gun? I’m not, I’ll share my heavy gunner perk points. You share your rad resistance perks since we’re going into a radiation zone. There’s no better feeling in this game than specializing your character for a team mission, rolling out, and blasting through it.

Steel reign
Strap on the power armor lads, the Brotherhood is back!

5. All Expansions Are Free and Smoothly Integrated Into the Game

There are three story expansions for Fallout 76Wastelanders, Steel Dawn, and Steel Reign. Each of these expansions came with a campaign about 8-10 hours long along with a chunk of side quests, radiant quests, new NPCs, new weapons, new monsters, and even new cities. All updates to Fallout 76 have been and will continue to be free through the end of its support in 2028, so when you log in everything is just as it is. Everyone is playing the exact same game with the same content, and nothing is ever locked off or vaulted.

In fact, all the campaigns work together in fun ways too. Wastelanders added a caravan of NPCs into the game that is near a point of interest for the base game campaign, and they’ll comment on what you’re doing in the Steel Reign quest line too, for instance. Side quests from all the chapters are present and waiting for discovery in that classic Bethesda way all around the wasteland, so you’re bound to find something weird and interesting. Dozens of fully voice-acted and fleshed-out NPCs dot the entirety of the wasteland, so you’ll constantly be stumbling into new characters to chat with.

6. The Hardcore RPG Elements of Fallout 3 and New Vegas are Back

I cannot deny I love Fallout 4. While it’s one of my favorite games ever, it is lacking something that make Fallout 3 and New Vegas near-perfect games. Rejoice, gamers, for Todd Howard has heard your cries! Fallout 76 is nothing if not a hardcore RPG, rather than the survival action game with a sprinkling of RPG that was presented in Fallout 4. Perk cards are the new stat points, and keeping the right ones equipped is essential to staying alive. You cannot just rely on being good at shooting – combat victories are heavily reliant on your build going in. Weapon and armor degradation is back from these games, as well. You’ll also see the return of faction reputation meters from New Vegas that are constantly changing based on your actions and will change NPC reactions to your presence.

In addition, your character is once again unvoiced, as requested. There are dozens of NPC characters with long, intricate dialogue trees and frankly some of the best writing Bethesda Game Studios has ever done. Dialogue boxes are back to the way they should be, centering the camera on the speaker with full sentences written out, and many speech options have stat checks built into them just like the old days. While it’s good to evolve some parts of your game, dialogue is a feature that Bethesda perfected in Fallout 3. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Fallout76 Dialogue
[Sarcastic Yes]

7. Buy Local! (Not from NPCs)

Appalachia is filled with NPC vendors both human and robot, willing to exchange precious ammo and scarce purified water for caps. Do not fall for it. When you pay caps to an NPC, they effectively vanish from the player economy. This is how most games work, of course, but Fallout 76 has a great alternative.

At your player house, wherever you place it, you can set up an automated store for free. Load it up with all the things you’d like to sell with a suggested retail price, and wandering passersby will purchase your goods if the price is right. And all those caps go directly to line your pockets, which you can then use to purchase better equipment from a higher-level player’s store, and so forth. It’s sort of an unwritten rule to always search around local C.A.M.P.s first to buy what you need and only seek out NPC vendors if you can’t find it. Keep the player economy constantly growing, and we all benefit!

8. Fallout 76 is Co-Op Only (No PvP)

In another stark contrast to similar games such as Rust or Ark, Fallout 76 features no PvP. While it did launch with PvP, Todd Howard announced with the Wastelanders expansion that virtually no one had used it. Players were almost unanimously opting to only team up and not fight each other. With that, the PvP was removed from the main campaign and pushed to a separate, now defunct Battle Royale mode called Nuclear Winter. While I enjoyed the BR mode enough, it just didn’t attract enough players, reaffirming that most folks just… never wanted PvP in a Fallout game.

76 is a co-op game only now, with a single leftover PvP feature that allows for 1v1 duels if both parties consent to one. I have never once, in my 80 hours in Appalachia, seen or heard of this feature being used. This is a game where level 130 players will set up a shop outside the starting vault with free food and water for newbies, where high-level players drop weapons and armor for low-level ones without a word said. I haven’t played a lot of online games, but this is by far the healthiest and friendliest community I’ve ever seen or heard of for one.

Camp
Bethesda consistently features top base camps on their social media.

9. The Atomic Shop – Do’s and Don’ts

Like every online game, Fallout 76 features a cash shop where you can use real money to buy in-game items. The first thing to note is that with the exception of a single item, every item sold in the Atomic Shop is cosmetic only. The single mechanically useful thing in the shop is a Repair Kit that lets you repair a weapon for free, which is a huge deal, but with there being no PvP it kind of doesn’t matter. The currency for the shop is Atoms, which can be bought with real money or earned by completing your daily, weekly, and seasonal challenges in-game.

You’ll earn atoms at a decent rate, and also note that you unlock cosmetics and mechanical supplies from the free battle pass at a steady rate by just playing. I won’t lie and say it isn’t tempting to spend some money (I spent around $12 on a cabin building supplies set), but the game is very unobtrusive about the shop and doesn’t really remind you it exists regularly. You can spend no money and be just fine, so don’t worry about falling behind others and just concentrate on your own progression. Remember there’s new free items in the shop every week, so go claim them!

10. There’s No Place Like Home

A smart evolution from the settlement building from Fallout 4, 76 allows building literally anywhere at all on the massive map. Simply place down your C.A.M.P. device and begin building! The player home is super customizable, and I’ve spent hours getting my house just right to show off to the rest of the world after finding a lovely spot near a stream on the golf links. Your camp will travel with you seamlessly between servers, and if you load into a server where your usual spot is occupied you can choose anywhere in the world to place the settlement down exactly as it was for free.

It’s easy to forget that 76 is a survival game, and you’ll need to make sure you eat and drink pure water daily as well as get enough sleep. You’ll risk exhaustion, poisoning, diseases, and more that all alter your stats, so make sure you’ve got a stove, water pump, and bed set up in a shelter at the very least. The settlement building mechanics work much better than in Fallout 4 and things snap together much more easier.

Remember to fortify your house! Monsters are constantly roaming the wilds, and they’ll just as soon smash up your meager shack as eat you alive. Having a solid base camp is not optional this time, although it also doesn’t require settlers or constant curation. You also get a persistent underground vault that travels with you, so put your good stuff there where a wandering scorched can’t get it!

There’s never been a better time to get into Fallout 76, and with it now on PS Plus, Xbox Game Pass, and PC Game Pass, you’re out of excuses. Almost heaven… West Virginia…

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