'Fallout 76' NPCs: Human Interaction, Holotapes, and a New Type of Story
I cry every time I play Fallout 3, and not just because it’s always been my dream for Liam Neeson to be my father. The stories are well written, well told, and supported by real arcs with real characters. That’s how Bethesda has done it for years with each new iteration of Fallout and The Elder Scrolls. But even though these games have unique storylines, they all rely heavily on the same narrative device: NPCs. So it’s a pretty big deal that Fallout 76 will feature a total of zero human NPCs. None. Not a one. Zilch.
NPC stands for “non-player character.” So every villager, trader, knight, king, elf, and even dragon in Skyrim — except for the one you’re playing as — is an NPC. Most of these game feature hundreds of non-player characters. That’s how the stories are told. You find a character who points you towards a town where you find someone else who shares a rumor about a guy in this castle, and then voila, the tale unfolds.
Fallout 76, while still filled with quests, relies on pre-written conversations instead. When your player enters the world there are only deadly creatures and robots to meet. You will have, basically, no conversations with other computer-controlled characters. Instead, you’ll have to talk to other real people who are working without a script and have their own interests in mind.
To that end, Fallout 76 provides you with a menu of emotes to cover the basics of human communication with simple options like “Let’s trade” and “Yes,” which trigger character animations while displaying the relevant symbol over your head. So, in theory, you can get through human interactions without ever saying a word, but if you want to get any deeper you’ll need to speak up.
That doesn’t mean there won’t be stories. It just means Bethesda’s developers had to completely reimagine how video game storytelling works. Want to dive deep into the lore? You’ll have that option thanks to hours of holotape recordings and countless terminal entries saved on various computers scattered throughout Appalachia.
The stories are there, you just have to find them. Which, for some players, is not going to sound very sexy.
It’s important to note that this choice doesn’t seem to be done out of laziness. Instead of writing a fluid story with interesting side quests, Bethesda had to create a massive world that allows players to discover details and insert themselves into the story at their own pace.
And while there are no human NPCs, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any characters. Bethesda says Fallout 76 will, surprisingly, have the most unique voice actors of any other Fallout game ever. That alone truly illustrates how many freakin’ holotapes there are.
The best metaphor for Fallout 76’s new approach to storytelling might be Dungeons & Dragons. The base game is fairly limited. There are goals, stats, and metrics to track your progress, but ultimately there’s little overarching motivation. It’s up to the players to develop their own characters and backstory, and for the entire group to really invest in creating a unique narrative together. It can be an incredibly rewarding experience, but it’s not going to be everybody’s cup of Nuka Cola.
Ultimately, the game will feel the best when you are playing with friends who are willing to put in the same amount of energy as you are. The story will build itself when you are role playing alongside like-minded players. Without that, however, your experience is going to be dictated by strangers, which probably won’t be as fun as walking the Capital Wasteland solo looking for Liam Neeson.
Fallout 76 launches November 14. Pre-order it now to check out the beta later this month.