Bethesda has announced the next iteration in the Fallout universe, and it’s not a direct sequel to Fallout 5 or a remake of a previous title like Fallout 3 or Fallout New Vegas. The next Fallout title, Fallout 76, will revolve around Vault 76 — a “control vault” located in West Virginia that opened just 20 years after the Great War in the Fallout universe.
Bethesda’s launch trailer provides no clues as to the game’s focus or structure, but sources that spoke to Kotaku were willing to shed some light. Fallout 76 is an open-world survival game, similar to DayZ and Rust, with Ark: Survival Evolved also mentioned as a possible influence. The game began as an open-world concept of a what a multiplayer title based on FO4 might look like, and has evolved substantially since then. It’s also said to combine the base-building concepts from FO4 with quests and an overarching story, though it’s not clear how much of a resemblance there’ll be to the single-player, narrative-focused campaigns of the earlier Fallout games.
As far as setting, this is new territory for Bethesda. The primary games of the Fallout timeline have been set no earlier than 2161, 84 years after the Great War of 2077. That war — a nuclear exchange between the United States and China, for reasons that have never been explained and don’t really matter — fundamentally reshaped the world. The post-Fallout 2 games have all taken place in the bombed-out ruins of an alternate-future, 1950s-centric version of America in which fusion-powered automobiles, home robots, and AI (at various levels of proficiency) were all commonplace, but the transistor was never invented and electronics were never really miniaturized.
To safeguard at least some of the US population (and conduct hellish experiments on non-consenting individuals), the Vault-Tec Corporation built dozens of high-tech “Vaults” across the 13 Commonwealths that made up the United States. A handful of these vaults, including Vault 76, were designed to function normally and opened after a designated amount of time had passed. The rest were designed as social experiments of various sorts, in which residents were exposed to various toxins, denied critical care or resources to measure how they coped with deprivation, or simply used as lab rats in efforts to cure disease or measure human responses to various drugs. Vault 76, as a control vault, was one of just 17 vaults that were actually intended to save a small number of lives. The Fallout universe, in case you aren’t getting the picture, doesn’t exactly take a bright view of human nature — at least, not prior to the Great War.
In Vault 76’s case, it was supposed to open just 20 years after the bombs fell (a screenshot from the launch trailer refers to a date of 2102, implying the vault actually opened five years late). This is quite early in the Fallout timeline; the inhabitants of what would become Vault City (a location you visit in Fallout 2, in 2241), only emerged and founded their town in 2091. By 2161 (the time of the earliest Fallout), the world had begun to rebuild, with new tribes, towns, and fledgling governments digging out from underneath the radiation. By 2287 (the date of Fallout 4), nations like the New California Republic are the size of modern states and travel by airship is possible, if rare. By jumping all the way back to the earliest days of the Fallout universe, Bethesda has freed itself to tell stories unencumbered by questions of what’s happening elsewhere around the United States.
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