Welcome to Upping Your Game – a source for tips and tricks to telling better stories at the table. With this series of articles, we will be exploring different ways to experience the wastelands of Fallout with friends. This was a suggestion from a friend so I’ll start with a short explanation.
A few months ago, I was picking some brains for ideas for this series. I told my friends I was going to be writing about story-telling through gaming and asked what topics I should discuss. One of them gave me this little gem: “You should figure out how to make Fallout 76 good!”
Now, I don’t want to go and disparage Fallout 76. A good portion of the world has already done that and I’m not really into beating dead, irradiated horses. Besides, I haven’t played it. I looked at it and recognized it wasn’t for me. However, the idea stuck in my craw. Lots of people were disappointing in Fallout 76 because they wanted to explore the wasteland with friends. There is definitely a desire to make something like this work, so why didn’t it?
Well, again, I didn’t play it. Though the general consensus, beyond technical and game-play issues, was that the storytelling was not engaging. Most players blamed the lack of NPCs, but I think the issues lies deeper than that. I think it is the same issue holding back Fallout 4. There are tons of options, customization, stats and perks, but none of them impact the story. A character with a low intelligence has all the same dialogue options as a character with high intelligence, the branching narrative is simple at best, and the character’s over all impact on the world is minor. Agency is at the heart of storytelling in Fallout and the way missions and choice has been implemented in the new games is surprisingly linear.
This is not to say these games don’t have their moments. There are some surprisingly effective horror set-pieces in Fallout 4 and I have heard that some of the log-based quests in Fallout 76 are very engaging. However, these are all examples of linear storytelling. Linearity isn’t bad, it’s just not what many people are looking for in a game like this. The excitement surrounding the announcement and release of The Outerworlds shows how rabid gamers are for narrative choice in their RPGs.
So, how do we solve this problem? Beyond getting Obsidian to make the next Fallout game, I think the answer is to change mediums. Moving to a tabletop RPG would solve both the desire to play with a group and give the players far more agency in the wasteland. But this opens up a new question; what system do we use? In my next article we will start with the most obvious option: licensed products.