The question that comes up every time you encounter this recurring narrative—and, again, it’s everywhere, from opulent resort hotels, to the last missives of unionizing miners burned away by the bombs, to bullying robotic carnival barkers—is whether Bethesda realizes that it’s engaging in an almost flagellating degree of self-criticism in the process. After all, the game’s automation theme was presumably chosen not just because it fits Fallout’s greater fiction, but because it also makes it easier for designers to execute their vision of a world entirely devoid of human characters outside a player’s control.
Even as you pick up audio logs, newspaper articles, and all the other storytelling detritus of a human-free world—all screaming about the evils of automation—the game itself embraces its easy conveniences with a terrifying fervor. Fallout has always excelled at indirect and environmental storytelling, so who needs to write a lot of tricky dialogue choices and branching story paths when a soulless robot can take all that work off your hands? The disconnect between the anti-automation narrative, and the actual experience of playing Fallout 76, ends up feeling surreal.