When Todd Howard took the stage Sunday night to begin Bethesda's E3 show, many were expecting a reference to Fallout 76. Bethesda is usually pretty good at reading the temperature of the room, and Howard is one of the better public speakers of the gaming industry. Any normal company would at least mention the game's debacle of a launch, so what would a fan-focused one like Bethesda do?
Announce that the plan to save Fallout 76 is to turn it into a regular Fallout game, apparently.
The first thing shown was Wastelanders, a free expansion coming this fall. It kicks off what Bethesda is calling year two of Fallout 76. According to the presenters, year one was the story of how Vault 76's people, the players, reclaimed Appalachia. Now that we've been killing Scorchbeasts for a year, the land is safe enough for other people to return.
That's right, Fallout 76 is about to achieve the bare minimum of a Fallout game: human NPCs and actual dialogue trees. The crowd went wild, however, because giving Fallout 76 the basic elements of previous games is the best thing Bethesda can do for the ailing MMO. (Or because the people in the crowd were diehard Bethesda fans and content creators specially invited to the show.)
That's not all. Bethesda has another trick up its sleeve, one that's coming much sooner. Because this is 2019, and you know how to jumpstart a game's player numbers? Make it into a battle royale!
The Nuclear Winter mode is Fallout 76's take on the domineering genre, pitting players against each other in 52-player matches inside a ring of fire (complete with Johnny Cash vocals). The winner will be made Overseer of their own Vault, which apparently comes with its own exclusive perks.
Finally, to promote this aggressive restructuring of the game, Bethesda is making it free from June 10th-17th. This includes a sneak peek at the Nuclear Winter battle royale.
There was a lot of speculation going into E3 about how Bethesda would choose to handle Fallout 76. Would the game go free-to-play? Or would it hidden away the way Anthem was at EA Play? The answer is a lot more ambitious than anyone could have expected. Rather than simply give up and try to cash in via seedy microtransactions, Bethesda looks to be making a genuine effort on Fallout 76. Actual NPCs and battle royale are not exactly innovative additions, but they do show that Bethesda is listening.