Apocalypse #6: Fallout 76: Steel Reign
Initial release: 2021
Platforms: PC/Playstation 4/XBox One
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
Say what you will about Bethesda, but despite Fallout 76’s disastrous release, they’ve been tweaking it ever since; the early state of the game is a distant memory compared to what it’s become.
(While Steel Reign is the subject of this review, it doesn’t really add all that much to the game outside of story content. That task went instead to the “Locked & Loaded” update, an overhaul to core gameplay elements released in April 2021. As such I’m reviewing both as a unit.)
Let’s get the gameplay changes out of the way first. If, like me, you haven’t played the game since February, and you get back in for Steel Reign, you’ll notice a few major changes, the first one being the ability to have more than one CAMP (though not at the same time.) This is a pretty welcome change; you’re no longer bound to a single CAMP that you must rebuild if you want to move. You start off with two, and can buy more in the Atom Shop, up to 10. You can also choose whether it appears on the map or not, and you can even rename it!
The other new feature, and perhaps the final nail in the coffin for the survival RPG that this game used to be, is the much-requested SPECIAL loadout system. Just place a special punchcard machine in your CAMP and you can set up your stat points and perk cars to your liking. While the leveling system is essentially the same as it was before, you are now free to move your stat points around without having to spend levels doing so, which allows you to correct mistakes and be more flexible with your builds, as well as make specialized loadouts.
Like the CAMP slots, you get two loadout slots (the first one occupied by your existing stat and perk spread) and you can buy more in the shop. It’s a good option for players who’ve cleared out the story content and are looking to just fuck around with builds. Purists might argue that this goes against the spirit of Fallout’s RPG roots; I would argue that just because Fallout 76 isn’t really an RPG anymore doesn’t mean it was ever supposed to be one anyway. This game was always an experiment, a testbed for new ideas, and Bethesda clearly have their own designs in mind for this game.
There’s a lot about Year 1 76 that i miss, and I really hope that Bethesda includes an option to emulate that era of the game in its upcoming plan for private modded instances later this September. But probably not; and in the meantime, the game is still fantastic. [They did not.]
Which leads us to Steel Reign, proper, which serves as the back half of the Brotherhood of Steel storyline. Quibbles about the way Bethesda keeps reusing old factions and elements aside, Steel Reign starts out simply enough with you reporting for duty at Fort Atlas. Your bosses are trying to be civil with each other but there’s still a big split in leadership, and the rank and file don’t know who to report to anymore. Meanwhile, the mutant problem seems to be getting worse. Finding the source of the issue will result in some big changes happening.
As you might imagine, the big choice comes down to who you side with: Knight Shin or Paladin Rahmani, though the issue that finally drives them apart for good seems to have more nuance than your dialogue options can offer you, which is par for the course with Bethesda. Regardless, it’s a decent little questline, complete with finally getting to peek inside Vault 96 (especially if you missed the vault raids before Bethesda removed them.) While it sends you back to AMS headquarters (previously used in a Wastelanders quest) it’s a brief visit.
Probably the best part of the questline is early on, when you accompany Shin and two initiates to investigate a mutant nest. Things go badly, and Shin gets more characterization than he’s had throughout Steel Dawn, which ultimately feels more rewarding than the story’s finale. While Steel Reign doesn’t do much besides conclude a storyline Bethesda started in February, story content is story content, and if nothing else it’s an indicator that Bethesda intends to keep telling more stories about post-war Appalachia.