Lots of people have been surprised by the various missing games from Xbox's E3 conference – a new Fable, some news on The Initiative's project or a sliver of something from Age of Empires IV. My biggest shock? No Fallout 76 for Xbox Game Pass.
OK, fine. Maybe putting Bethesda's biggest reputational disaster in recent memory on the Xbox E3 stage would have been catastrophic. But certainly somewhere in Microsoft's myriad announcement snippets, interviews, Wire posts and Inside Xbox streams following the conference itself, there may have been an opportunity to announce that Fallout 76 is headed to Xbox's increasingly popular Xbox Game Pass service.
Why should Xbox and Bethesda consider this move? Well, take a look at this week's Xbox Gameplay Chart. One of the most significant movements is the re-entry of Fallout 76 into the top 40, all the way up to 15. Not too much of a shock, considering that Fallout 76 just concluded a free trial period to get people into the game and playing the new mode "Nuclear Winter", a Fallout take on Battle Royale. It's actually not half bad as Battle Royales go — while it's not as innovative as Apex Legends, it borrows enough from both Fortnite and PUBG to be a solid experience. We're talking about a day one pre-Beta mode here too, in a game synonymous with "broken launch". It's a minor miracle to report that I actually had some fun with it.
What surprised me more was the fun I had in the game's existing Adventure mode. It's obvious that whatever major bugs were plaguing that notorious launch have been largely patched up, as I experienced no noticeable issues. What's more, the game's relatively small and tight-knit community have created a land of jolly cooperation; in several hours of play I encountered no hostile players, even once I passed the level cap that allowed me to be hostile to others. One player cheerily gave me a thumbs up emote while gunning down the overpowered enemy chasing me across Appalachia, and another used a series of convenient symbols to silently explain the trade system to me. The three of us collaborated on a local event to take down some glitching robots — once I dusted myself off, I set my C.A.M.P. up between my new friends and made them my neighbours.
It was this bizarre, blind-leading-the-blind communal experience which reminded me of those few precious moments when I felt the same warmth on the oceans blue. That's right, it reminded me of the good parts of Sea of Thieves.
Fallout 76 and Sea of Thieves share many problems, not least of which being that their pre-launch fan bases were expecting something different. A lot of die-hard brand loyalists that could have been there to uplift the games into the mainstream consciousness instead turned their backs and spread their ire across the internet. And it's a shame, because conceptually both games make quite a lot of sense — strangers building their own stories together in a shared sandbox has worked perfectly well in the past. Adding a pirate or a Fallout twist to that formula should have been enough to set them apart, if they had been handled well.
The key difference between these two properties is that Bethesda are still trying to sell Fallout 76 to people as a premium product, albeit at a handsome discount. There are plenty of free or extremely cheap ways to enter a fantasy world where the onus is on the player to craft some sense of narrative. To pitch either game as a full AAA release was always doomed to fail. Sea of Thieves got a slightly less sharp stick from its audience because the game was already in Game Pass on release. Rare didn't have to worry so much about immediate loss of players thanks to refunds and trade-ins — people simply dropped off, but as long as they still subscribed to the Pass, there was a way to tempt them back in with substantial updates. It certainly worked with me.
And now, finally, we've seen a similar reaction with Fallout 76 this weekend. Despite months and months of being a laughing stock, one batch of new content and a commitment to further improvements on the E3 stage has been enough to get everyone playing Fallout 76 over its free weekend. And remarkably, a lot of people are enjoying it; it's amazing how your opinion on an experience can change when you don't feel like you've wasted a ton of money on it.
So the natural next step is to unlock that Xbox Game Pass vault. We know the service has a proven track record for lifting a game's profile — look at the renewed interest in the sadly overlooked Metro Exodus in this week's Xbox Gameplay Chart. We know that Game Pass can take a floundering property like Sea of Thieves and, over the course of a year, keep its progress part of the industry conversation as it finds its way forward. Microsoft clearly have a good relationship with Bethesda given that a large number of the latter's big titles have turned up in Game Pass already.
It's bound to happen sooner or later — but with the game seeing a spike in renewed interest thanks to its new content, I'd argue that the timing has never been better. Get Fallout 76 into Xbox Game Pass now Todd, in this brief window of positive publicity. Give it a chance to begin again.