Last month we gave you an in-depth look at the Fallout 76 update Steel Reign, discussing the new quest mission and features coming to the game with Project Lead Jeff Gardiner and Design Director Mark Tucker. Steel Reign made its debut this past week, marking the conclusion of a key Brotherhood of Steel storyline, while padding out some of the sorely underdeveloped aspects of the game’s crafting system. It is one of the many, steady batches of new content that have continued to refine Fallout 76 since its initial release, transforming the game from its initial chaotic roots.
The Seasons updates of the past year or so have been a well-timed return to the kind of mission-based DLC that once dominated Fallout post-release content. While not as meaty as a core expansion, Steel Reign, which is the second of a two-part questline centered on the Brotherhood of Steel, is nonetheless a welcome change of pace. In a game that is admittedly repetitive in its post-campaign material, it and its predecessor Broken Steel have not only added weight to the game’s faction-heavy narrative but also, mercifully, given players something new to do.
Picking up where its predecessor left off, Steel Reign follows the Brotherhood of Steel as a rift between their two leaders threatens to divide the faction in two. Will you side with Paladin Shin and stay true to the group’s sworn purpose to keep the Wastelanders from obtaining technology, despite the zero-sum value it places on human life? Or will you sympathize with Paladin Rahmani and sever ties with the old ways in favor of embracing altruism? The path to making that final decision takes us through a tale that explores some of the darker sides of scientific experimentation, weaving together the origins of Fallout’s Forced Evolutionary Virus into a story that ultimately unfolds into the premise established by the original games.
While I’m not a huge fan of how hamfistedly certain historic Fallout factions are shoehorned into Fallout 76, it’s been enjoyable to revisit some of these groups in the game. To their credit, the writers have worked hard to justify their presence. Be it the Brotherhood or the Enclave, it’s intriguing to get insight on the immediate post-War years of their existence (whether my head considers them canon or not). What dampens the experience is how abrupt it is. For how short they are, the chapters are delivered a little too far apart. I first played Steel Reign on the Public Test Server on PC before release, and the effect of coming back into the story without a refresher and with little memory of the preceding events was almost disorienting, like trying to do homework after taking a nap.
With the official multiplatform release on July 7, I was able to replay the content on PlayStation 4, where I had not yet completed the Broken Steel quest, and it was a better experience in that the momentum from the conflict between Paladin Rahmani and Paladin Shin carried over cohesively. All told, the arcs only take about three to four hours each to play. Both have perhaps signified a shift back towards the series’ previous nuance by giving the player a branching narrative option, a former hallmark of the series’ writing that took a back seat with the removal of the Skills system in Fallout 4. Picking up from some of the subtler narrative improvements established by the Wastelanders update from last year, key mission objectives also broaden the game’s RPG aspects by adding SPECIAL stat checks to dialogue and mission options, again harkening back to some of the freedom of choice supported in earlier games. In terms of adding substance, it’s been a slow but steady return to complexity, and Steel Reign makes a valid contribution.
Hardcore fans of Fallout 76 have long noted that improvements to the Legendary crafting system were on the way. For years, Legendary armor and weapons, which display a potential base strength of five gold stars, have topped out at 3, despite the presence of items like Legendary modules that would seemingly bridge the gap. With the new Legendary Cores, now awarded during certain Public Events, players can take an ordinary item and not only imbue it as a Legendary but also add star tiers and roll for Legendary effects, providing a boon to those who resent those long, encumbered trips to The Rusty Pick to trade Legendaries for Scrip. Whereas receiving or purchasing a Legendary item is, for the most part, a gamble (in that you get what you get), this system allows players to simply start with the item they want and re-roll its effects, essentially cutting out hundreds of hours of grinding or shopping for just the right piece. This key change boosts the game’s Scrip and Legendary economy by giving players a better reason to accumulate currency for Legendary Modules, be it completing Public Events or selling off old Legendary items. Not only have I been spending more Scrip, but I’ve also been caring more about how my Legendaries affect my player build and incorporating it into my strategy. Similarly, many of my teammates have already spent hours crafting and re-crafting just to get that one special effect (Bloodied 3-star NW Scoped Laser Rifle, anyone?), and Public Event participation right now is thriving.
It’s satisfying to see Fallout 76 mature into itself. The Legendary crafting system was one of those areas where you could almost see how the designers were giving themselves room to grow. With Legendary effects now extending to Power Armor and four and five-star tier Legendary crafting on the horizon for later this year, there’s still room to expand. What I’d like to see next is for the narrative-based content to get a little more heft so the long wait between updates doesn’t seem so anti-climatic. Playing Broken Steel and Steel Reign side by side highlighted just how much the time between chapters weakens the story. But all told, despite Fallout 76’s age, it’s clear the stream of new material will march on. And to that end, Steel Reign is a strong pillar in its support.
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.