Three years after the initial release of Fallout 76, the game is having something of a renaissance, or at least what you might call a second act. In the past year, it’s received several major updates addressing its biggest issues, adding a season ladder that rewards exclusive C.A.M.P. and character items, as well as NPCs and new mission arcs. The former is perhaps the most impactful change to be made in its history.
Amid the lead-in to E3 2021, I played July’s Steel Reign update through the game’s Public Test Server, then sat down with Project Lead Jeff Gardiner and Design Director Mark Tucker to discuss the future of Fallout 76. What’s in store for private world support? Will Fallout 76 ever get a significant map update? What’s the long term strategy for player vs. player (PvP)? Are there plans to bring back survival mode? The developers lay out the plan for the next few years—or at least, as best as they can for a game whose focus has historically shifted in response to fan demand.
Paste: Let’s talk about the upcoming update to private worlds. Can you share anything about what that might entail? Fans are hoping for larger servers in private worlds, while others like myself hope that Bethesda will open up private worlds to more individualized tools that can be used for content creation purposes.
In your AMA, you mentioned some of the changes include “PvP elements, along with hardcore survival elements”...is this Bethesda’s way of bringing back the survival mode? Does it signify a shift in their strategy for PvP support?
Jeff Gardiner: So right off the bat, with [regards to] increasing server size or private worlds, it’s something we discussed and are actively investigating, but there’s no plan on updating that with the Q3 release. For individual’s worlds, it’s going to stay at 8 players.
In terms of survival and PvP, a lot of the goal of this game originally was [to] include more of those elements and over time we have turned a lot of those off or leave them optional for people. Without spoiling too much, we are hopefully going to give players the tools to recreate a very similar experience on their own.
Paste: Going back to the part about changes to PvP elements in private worlds, is it that where we’ll be seeing the support for PvP in the future?
Mark Tucker: Well, we listen to our fans but we also look and see what they do in our game. Obviously we collect a lot of data on what our players do. And so we have to look at what the vast majority of our players are doing and where it makes sense for us to invest the majority of our development time. While we have a very committed fan base that loves PvP, the overwhelming activity in the game is more centered around the PvE content. It’s a delicate balance for us. We have to look at what the overwhelming majority of players are doing and make sure we’re not allocating too much time away from that. And so that’s been a lot of our focus.
JG: [PvP] is great for people who love it, but for the people who don’t like it and are on the receiving end of it, it can be a terrible experience. So we have tried over the years to balance those two. We’re hoping with [private] worlds we will give options to people. We are hoping to leverage the technology and worlds to give the people who want to engage in a more PvP centric space [the tools] to do that on their own. But that game as a whole, we are planning on keeping “carebear,” or whatever they used to call it, [where] it’s not really an active, engaged part of the game as much. But we’re hoping to support that in a more individualistic way for the people who want to engage in it.
Paste: Let’s go back to the part about imbuing private worlds with an element of control. Now you were kind of saying that in regards to survival mode. But if I can add to that: Many fans, content creators in particular, would love to have some additional elements of control within their private worlds—for example, control over the time of day and weather. Has the team given any thought to that?
JG: We have talked about modding Fallout 76 for a long time. And we are hoping—without revealing too much—that worlds are the first step in that direction.
Paste: Personally, I have a long history with the mod community and Fallout so that’s something I really like to hear.
JG: We’ve been talking about it for a long time. It’s like what Mark was alluding to. With a live service, gains are always a push-pull. Our eyes are bigger than our stomachs, and we want to do everything, but we have to make smart decisions. We’re trying with 76, over time, to take cautious steps in different directions with every patch we put out. We have done a lot of updates to the game now. And we’re more than willing to experiment with things and in trying new stuff out and cutting the stuff that isn’t working.
Paste: The season ladder and updates show a promising focus on adding new content, be it the new questlines or with the smaller Events or Daily Events. But what are the long-term plans beyond that? The longevity of The Elder Scrolls Online, for example, could arguably be attributed to the scope of its new content. Will Fallout 76 ever see new locations? And by that I mean, fully realized spaces and not individualized off-map locations, as with Expeditions.
MT: It’s not something we’d ever rule out. Even as a player of our game, that would be something I would love too, right? The expeditions are kind of our immediate inroads to getting players more interesting locations and things to explore and see and do. They’ll create a nice window into the Fallout universe because we can go to a lot of different locations, and it’s fun to see these different locations at this point in the timeline.
The door has not shut on that, but that would be a much further out initiative for us. In the short term, we’re really excited about Expeditions and the play loops that they’re going to provide. There’s still a lot of story and exploration and NPCs. All the things you expect to find in a Fallout game will be there. I think [Expeditions] will be a breath of fresh air for the game, I think it does give us a tool to provide a lot of really different locations over time, which in some ways is a benefit. We might be able to do it at a more frequent basis, versus, you know, just one giant new landmass kind of thing. So there are definitely pros and cons to it. But this is the immediate direction that we’ll be taking.
JG: Yeah, and we definitely understand that content is king. So we’re also exploring new events and all sorts of other things that will bolster West Virginia, which is still a large landmass in and of itself, as much as we can.
MT: And there’s another thing to consider. Since we’ve shipped, we [have made] changes to our existing world. It’s a unique thing that we can do with our game that the other games prior really weren’t able to do. Having the world change over time can provide a lot of fresh air and a breath of excitement and new opportunities for exploration and story.
Paste: I’m so sad to see that season 5 will be the conclusion of the Brotherhood of Steel storyline, but I love that the content updates have fleshed them out more as a faction. As a member of the Fallout 76 roleplay community on PlayStation 4, I know how much players have gravitated towards and aligned themselves with these groups, and I think leaning into that aspect of the game’s narrative is good for long-term engagement. With the game and community’s focus on factions, will we see any more detailed support for factions in the future, in terms of quest lines? There are rumors that a few things are in store for the Enclave, for example.
MT: As far as factual support, that’s something that we have a lot of ongoing discussions about. And we have some early ideas that we’re looking into, for you know, further out, about how to possibly expand that in that area of the game, to add in more factions and explore different factions that we haven’t really explored much in the game or haven’t really explored since release. So, those are all things that are definitely on the table. I don’t have any specific details to provide today on that though.
Paste: So, tell me more about these Legendary module updates. These will be used to create four and five-star weapons, yes? Can you explain what each subsequent star awarded to a piece of weaponry or armor does to its stat base and why this is so significant? Will 4 and 5-star weapons be included in any drops, or will those only be craftable?
MT: With the four stars, what’s interesting, kind of taking a step back. With this Steel Reign update, we’re expanding the three stars [Legendary crafting] into the Power Armor items. So that’s going to add a lot more build variety and versatility. Moving forward to four stars, some of our original plans we’re rethinking a little bit.
And that’s really heavily based on our player feedback from the public test server. What I would have told you a few weeks ago…it’s changing. That said, with four stars… there’s always going to be the player expectation of power gain, right? So we want to make sure that we’re meeting that expectation. It’s tricky because we have very powerful builds already. There’s only so far we can go. But I will say we’re gonna do our best to meet that expectation. There’s still a lot that we’re rethinking and a lot of that was based on some really great feedback from our PTS players. And so we listened and we’re adjusting.
Paste: Legendary Armor seems to be the feature fans are most excited about for the Steel Reign season. I noticed on the recent update notes that Unyielding had been nerfed! A lot of people will be heartbroken about that. Weapons seem to have been given new mods with the Legendary upgrades. Are there any plans to bring any LA-specific mods into the mix?
MT: Yeah, so we have added new mods to the weapons. For the power armor mods, for the most part, I believe we’ve adapted the ones that make sense off of the armor mods—I’m drawing a blank right now honestly, if we have added any new ones into the power mods, I’d have to go back and review that. But we are planning for the future. Once we move into the four stars, we have plans to add more mods across the board. As far as balancing and adjustments, like changing things for Power Armor versus armor, we’re seeing and learning what the differences are with adding these mods onto the Power Armor versus armor, and, you know, we have to make adjustments. So we try to be as transparent as we can on that with them as to why we’re doing it. Across the board, we’ve actually boosted a great majority of the legendary mods, especially the ones that weren’t as popular as before. We’ve really tried to avoid nerfing. And actually, for the vast majority of the changes we’ve made, going into Steel Reign, are actually improvements.
JG: We learned that lesson early on. We try to be much more additive than negative in terms of fixing things, by adding benefit to things that are weak, instead of removing power from things that are strong. There are always outliers that you can’t quite do that with without a huge sea change to the game. So occasionally we do have to nerf but we take it very seriously, like Mark said.
Paste: Let’s talk social system support. Some fans are expressing a desire for guild support, which would be ideal for the game’s format in terms of building and shared material resources. Is there an eye to larger raid format, like, to use Elder Scrolls Online for a comparison reference, like Trials where you can actually have a coordinated effort of a team of eight, not just people who coincidentally show up and do things with you? So more structure, in other words. Is that something we can ever look forward to within this game?
JG: We can’t answer that specifically. But Mark and I talk nearly daily about long-term plans to increase the ability for folks to play this game together. And it is not on the immediate horizon. But we can promise you [that the] long-term vision of this game is to add more and more features that allow players to play together because it just makes the game better. It makes everything more fun.
Next year we’re going to be able to tackle some of those bigger issues in a very succinct, substantive way. Honestly, it’s funny, because in the early days of this game, I think we tried to make this sort of a non-MMO MMO, if that makes any sense. Like we were trying to make it a different kind of game. And so while there’s inclination there to take some [from] MMO systems, we do resist that often. But at the same time, things like just basic communication, that doesn’t make the game an MMO. It just makes the game more fun for people to play. And so Mark and I are always looking for ways to do that within the resources.
MT: A couple of things I wanted to add to that. Well, going back to my lack of answer on the mods for Power Armor, we do have new mods for Legendary Power Armor, I was able to quickly look that information up. But we do have new mods for Power Armor, quite a few actually.
In addition to that, as Jeff was kind of alluding, we have a unique game in that it is played by many people, kind of like an MMO. But then we have a lot of players that play it a little bit more like a traditional single-player Fallout game. And so we have this interesting hybrid, it’s not really a true MMO. We definitely are thinking a lot about how to push our social systems and give players the kinds of things that you’re talking about. But our solution might be a little different than what traditional MMO offers. As Jeff pointed out, we are talking about this on a very regular basis. It is very important. And yeah, so we’ll find people who play together stay together. That’s absolutely true.
Paste: Unlimited Ranks seems like a great way to keep players interested long after they’ve finished the ladder. Are there any plans to let new players catch up on the past season ladders? You guys have some great rewards hidden in there but not all of them are available for purchase later. Those greenhouse walls in particular. Is there a timeline for getting these items in the bullion vendors or will they simply end up in the Atomic Shop?
JG: On those, we put as many of those to the gold shop as we feel good about. I’ll make a note of the green shop walls and find out if we can get them somewhere. That’s the kind of thing that’s probably just an oversight, I’ll be honest.
MT: I would echo what you’re saying. Our goal is to try to get most of it into the gold bullion play loop. It’s interesting, though, sometimes, if players are asking for it to go into the Atomic Shop, we may choose to do that as well. We’ll listen to our players and, you know, see what we can do to accommodate that. But I can’t specifically say when or where those are in the schedule lineup for, that’s I just that I that’s a level of detail that I don’t have.
Paste: Camp slots: any word on the final number, and are there any plans to allow underground shelters to be separate from individual camp slots? Is Bethesda open to expanding the number of character slots in the future? Any chance we’ll be allowed to have more than one companion at our camps?
MT: I’m trying to remember what the engineering limit was on the camp slots. I believe we’re putting in the ability for four more.
JG: For a total of five camps. I don’t know if this is a spoiler or not, but I don’t care. That’s coming in Update 28 with Steel Reign. That might be expanded on from there, but there are back end database concerns. We put as many of those up as we could. To be clear, the next four are for sale.
Right now, we’re sticking to one companion per camp. But I think pets are going to be separate.
MT: Pets are going to be their own slot. So they would be in addition to the companions but right now we are not planning in the immediate future to expand the number of companions. There’s a lot of technical limitations that really prevent us from going down that path, which is not a great answer that you want to hear. But we are planning to let you have a pet and a companion.
Paste: What’s the five-year plan for Fallout 76?
JG: Well, we can’t share details. But anytime you look at anything in life, five years down the road, I think it’s a lot of wishlist things. Fallout 76 is definitely going to be in existence for five years, I’ll tell you that. The reason you don’t want to put a lot in stone in a five-year, like, let’s say two or three, four years down the line is because you want to be wrapped with the fans, right? And so what the game realities are showing you. So sometimes you fall in love with a feature, and then you finally get around to making it in two years. And I’ll remind people like just because Mark or I approved something years ago, doesn’t mean it’s still “yes,” years later. We always need to be re-evaluating ourselves based on current realities. And so we definitely have plans well into next year, and probably the year after, but those will change based on PTS [feedback], based on all sorts of things. But we definitely have plans. And we’re definitely looking forward to supporting this game for years and years to come. Right, Mark?
MT: Yeah, no, that’s it. We listen to our players, we do have a long-term vision for the game. We adapt, and we pivot, based on what our players are doing in the game. And what they’re saying.
JG: And so what we want to do, too, honestly, we are fans of our own game, so, you know, we’ll play the game and say, “that’d be so cool if we did this.” And then, a lot of people will find a fan who already thought of it and it’s like “see, we can justify it now, let’s do it.” This game has been so wonderful because of the interaction with the fans. Honestly, it was difficult at first, I won’t lie. But that was all very fair. These days, it’s awesome to put stuff out and see what people have done with it, like giving people the freedom and the creativity to explore this world. And however many different tools we can give them like, it’s a wonder, it really is.
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.