The Blistering Stupidity of Fallout 3, Part 1

By Shamus
on Jun 10, 2015
Filed under:
Shamus Plays

This is going to be a ~7,000 word series on someBecause listing ALL the things wrong with it would take 200 years. of the things wrong with the central story of Fallout 3. Yes, I know this is a celebrated and beloved game. It made a bunch of GOTY lists back in 2008, and still appears on lists of favorites today. To be honest, I liked it too. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to pretend that the entire story wasn’t a giant heap of sophomoric tripe. None of it fit together, none of it made sense, and it was filled with awful, frustrating situations where you were forced to do stupid things because doing something smart would resolve the problem without requiring the player to go out and shoot things.

If you’re one of those people that can’t stand to hear people say bad things about stuff you like, then this is going to be hard for you. I’ve broken the series into five parts to help soften the blow.

Good luck!

(Yes, I covered a lot of these points way back in 2010 when we covered Fallout 3 on Spoiler Warning. But I wanted a version of this rant that people could take in without needing to sit through 15 hours of 480p video.)

A fundamental misunderstanding.

I loved the pulp-comic look of the art in the original Fallout.

The original Fallout game was a gritty world where you explore the vast California desert in search of a water purification chip. It drew influences from Mad Max, campy 50’s sci-fi movies, and pulpy comics of the same era. It had a streak of pitch-black comedy running throughout it. It wasn’t about the 1950’s, it was about the future that the 1950’s anticipated. It was a game that took place in the future of the past.

Bethesda saw this template and concluded that a Fallout game needed to take place in the desert, it needed to be about water, it should contain screwball comedy, and that it should be the 1950’s forever.

In Fallout 1, you needed a water chip to save the lives of your people who lived in an underground vault. In Fallout 3 you’re trying to clean water for a wasteland that you have no reason to care about, for people who seem to be doing okay without your help, because your idiot dad told you too. (Yes, Dad is an idiot. I know he sounds smart because he’s got the voice of Liam Neeson, and Liam Neeson can make anything sound brilliant, but trust me: Dad is a bone-head. We’ll get to him later.)

They tried to keep the “desert” concept, but moved the game to Washington D.C. where a desert motif makes no sense. They tried to keep the pulp sc-fi tone, but it was often undercut by Bethesda’s putty-faced NPC’s, horrendous washed out color paletteSay what you like about how primitive the 2D Fallout games looked, they had color that POPPED., and blunt attempts at photo-realism. They completely misunderstood the humor, replacing ‘dark comedy’ with ‘goofball situations’. And finally, the whole 50’s thing was greatly exaggerated and then rendered nonsensical by moving the timeline forward to 200 years after the war.

This fundamental misunderstanding of the Fallout tone and themes infuses the game and is the source of nearly every major design failing.

FYI, 200 Years is actually a very long time.

Just in case you thought I was overselling the pulp sci-fi vibe of the original game, here’s some of the game art.

The original Fallout was a setting where we were just a single generation away from the Old World. People still remembered it, and it still shaped the way people thought. People were still sifting through the ashes, trying to cling to the ruined world. They were still dressing, speaking, and thinking like people from a retro-50’s future. But that tension between the old world and the new can only last so long. It certainly isn’t going to survive for 200 years.

Two hundred years ago, men wore knee-high stockings, powdered wigs, and got married at 14 years old. 200 years is a long time, and technology has transformed us and our culture in countless ways. The change would be at least that dramatic in the other direction, moving from a world of plenty to a world of ruin. To put it another way: 200 years after a nuclear war, people aren’t going to be forming greaser gangs.

200 years after the bombs fell, the old world should just be gone. But no. In Fallout 3 people still dress the same, stores still have Old World food on the shelves, the old machines still work, and people still talk about the war the way we discuss 9/11. Nobody has made any new music, culture, customs, clothingI guess raiders have their painspike armor. Which means the only culture to develop in the last 200 years has been from the psychotic cannibal raiders., or tools. They haven’t even swept the dang floor.

In this world the bombs fell, people crawled out of the rubble and formed little towns, and then nothing happened for the next 190 years.

Note that I’m NOT saying that the Bethesda writers should have made up some crazy future-world with all new cultures. If they did, it would barely feel like earth. It might feel something like Zeno Clash, but it certainly wouldn’t feel like the Mad Max / 50’s pulp sci-fi mashup the series is known for. I’m saying that they shouldn’t have moved the story forward 200 years. The Fallout world makes the most sense while you’ve still got some people around to remember the war. The farther you get from N-Day, the harder it is to maintain that unique Fallout flavor, the harder it is to conceive how society would develop, and the harder it is to justify having old-world customs, attitudes, gadgets, and food.

Why was this done? So that the events of Fallout 3 wouldn’t conflict with the events of the previous two games? This 200 year thing is a really ugly hack to solve that problem. And it was a waste, since they ended up retconning and altering lots of big ideas from the earlier games anyway.

Since the writer could barely make a single quest that didn’t implode under the weight of its internal contradictions, they should have made things as easy on themselves and just stuck to the “one generation after the war” idea the series began with. Like all the other missteps, it was a move that caused more problems than it solved and riddled the whole thing with plot holes.

EDIT: It’s been pointed out to me that the first game takes place ~80 years after the bombs fell. I was basing my timeline on the original Fallout Intro Movie, which states that: “Your family was part of that group that entered vault 13. Imprisoned safely behind a large vault door and beneath a mountain of stone, a generation has lived without knowledge of the outside world.” 80+ years is a bit longer than a “generation”, but there’s no point in arguing over contradictory lore. The point stands that in the world of Fallout 3, we have way too many years of nothing at all happening. Fallout 1 had Shady Sands and the Hub, places where humanity was scraping together some kind of new society. In this game people just sit in a pile of rubble, generation after generation.

What we’re NOT going to complain about.

We’re not going to complain about the artistic vandalism of the built-in green filter, even thought I REALLY want to.

I’m not here to pick apart the science of Fallout. I’m not here to go all Neil deGrasse Tyson on the retro-future fantasy science that the Fallout setting rests on. In the real world decontaminating radioactive water is supposedly not that hardSo I’ve heard. Never tried it myself. but if the writers say that radiation in Fallout sticks to water, then I can accept that just as easily as plasma rifles and deathclaws. I’m not asking for a simulation of real-world physics, but just asking the world stick to its own rules.

In short: It’s fine if green barrels explode like dynamite in Doom, but if a Cacodemon knocks over a glass of water I still expect the glass to hit the floor and break. Having “different” rules doesn’t mean a story has “no rules”.

I’m also not going to nitpick problems with scope or scale. Yes, two Brahamin is not enough cattle for a community of a dozen, a tiny garden can’t feed a whole family, and Tenpenny Tower is actually only a five-minute walk from Megaton. That’s fine. It’s all fine. We understand that in a videogame you explore on foot, some abstraction and compression of space is required. We can accept that a five-meter plot is “a farm”, five cows is “a ranch”, five houses is “a town”, and a mile is “a really long way”.

I’m also not going to complain about how stupid the Vaults areAside from that dig about greaser gangs I did a minute ago.. Yes, the politics and culture of Vault 101 are drivel, but it’s harmless drivel. Once you get out of the Vault it’s easy to ignore and doesn’t constantly generate more plot holes as the story goes on. Vault 101 is silly, not broken.

We’re also not going to complain about Little Lamplight, because that would just distract us from the task at hand. Yes, Lamplight is really infuriating, but like 101 it’s kind of self-contained. Besides, properly deconstructing Lamplight would take another entire article.

Next time we’ll dig into the setting of the game and look at where it all went wrong.

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[1] Because listing ALL the things wrong with it would take 200 years.

[2] Say what you like about how primitive the 2D Fallout games looked, they had color that POPPED.

[3] I guess raiders have their painspike armor. Which means the only culture to develop in the last 200 years has been from the psychotic cannibal raiders.

[4] So I’ve heard. Never tried it myself.

[5] Aside from that dig about greaser gangs I did a minute ago.

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  1. Joey says:

    Ooh, I’m looking forward to this. There was a time when I played Fallout 3 almost religiously, sinking hundreds upon hundreds of hours into the setting. I was late to the Spoiler Warning party, so I missed all your insightful commentary and deconstruction on this game.

    And you make a lot of good points about the problems of setting the game 200 years after the original games. I feel if they wanted to do a time skip that still solved the “conflicting canon” problem, they could have just jumped it forward twenty years, or fifty years at a stretch. That way, it’d be reasonable to accept that at least a few people would be alive that remember the bombs falling (excluding the ghouls, who seem to be long-lived from my understanding.) It’s like using a sledgehammer to swat a fly; it’s an overtly destructive, unnecessarily huge solution to a problem that wasn’t guaranteed to bother everyone, and in the end it just leaves a big mess out of everything.

    • James says:

      The worse thing is Fallout New Vegas is what about 10 years after Fallout 3 and it survives fine being 200 years after the war, mostly because the only person to talk about the bombs was Robert Edwin House and he remembers the war.

      This is ignoring the phrase that should not be mentioned.

      Speaking of 200 years isn’t Skyrim like a full century or two after oblivion and literally no technological progress is made, like at all.

      • Skyrim is more plausibly in a state of technological stasis, or at least retarded development. 800AD and 1000AD are in fact quite similar, at least from a modern point of view, for instance. Skyrim has “magic”, but it seems to be pretty much only useful for breaking things, and seems unlikely to produce further advancements at any useful speed.

        In Fallout’s case, it isn’t that it is an era of rapid technological progress… in fact the idea that anybody anywhere would be discovering anything and advancing anything is actually a bit of a flaw in the genre, or, if you prefer, merely “SCIENCE!” and not how real science could work. In Fallout’s case, it’s just that you can’t have a society that is “5 years after the bomb” for 200 years. In 200 years, with poor technology, poor culture, and just generally literally poor people, “The Big War” will be at best 50/50 mythological, if not more myth than that. There will be people who literally believe it never happened and is just a story. Many of them. And the more time goes on, the more numerous they will become.

        And it’s probably worth pointing out this isn’t a science thing. This is a people thing. That’s why it’s so weird to us, I think. Plasma rifles, sure, robots with AI in an era of vacuum tube computers, that’s just part of the milieu, but, well, the reason “war… war never changes” is that “people… people never change”. Even when cast into a fictional world like Fallout. The people are wrong. Also stupid. But it’s the wrong that really hurts.

        • Lazlo says:

          That’s kind of what I was going to say as well. From my understanding, it takes at least a masters degree to be able to distinguish *this* Egyptian culture from *that* Egyptian culture from 5 thousand years earlier. Technological acceleration goes back as well as forward (I posit that this creates a limited period of time where science fiction can exist: between the point where the world doesn’t change noticeably within a human lifetime, and the point where the world changes radically within the time it takes to write a book) I’d also think it’s at least reasonable to believe that the existence of magic or a sufficiently advanced technology (that’s a technology that you have access to, but don’t have the infrastructure to create or repair) could exacerbate a kind of stagnation – most of the world is agrarian, but some things can be simply taken care of by magic.

          That said, the idea of 50’s tech that lasts 200 years does seem a bit of a stretch. It’s currently 53 years after the end of production of the B-52, and while I could be wrong, I strongly suspect that among the 80-ish that are still flying (out of 744 built), there are fairly few original factory parts.

          • psivamp says:

            Egyptian culture is sort of a special case. In their art, it’s difficult to distinguish between eras because the mark of a good artist in their culture was to be as indistinguishable from their past as possible.

            I don’t know how much they achieved technologically. I read some giant art history text for fun because I’m a nerd.

          • Psy says:

            Running 200 year old equipment is not that far fetched, early 19th century steam engines have been refurbished for heritage railways and are operational. That said it would mean pre-war equipment would require major repairs before it would work again thus you would more likely see functional pre-war equipment in settlements and far less so in the wasteland.

            • AileTheAlien says:

              Yeah, but the older the technology, the easier it is to keep running. The solder in the tiny circuit boards we make today will cause short circuits by tin whiskers in like 20 years. The chunky stuff from the 80s took longer to be damaged by the same whiskers, because the distances were so much bigger compared to those tiny pieces of migrated-solder. A modern car engine’s going to take a lot of work to get going after 200 years, if it hasn’t rusted completely to dust, but a steam engine has bigger parts, and some of it will be brass which doesn’t corrode the way that iron rusts.

              • Psy says:

                Yet the fallout universe take place in a 1950’s vision of the future, meaning electronics in Fallout haven’t reached the transistor.

                • Sleeping Dragon says:

                  Them vacuum tubes are not known for being particularly durable either. Though, again, we could argue that they were improved upon in the “50’s future”. The fact that not everything has been looted down to bare walls is what annoys me more.

                  • Peter H. Coffin says:

                    And the robots and computers available in the game are far too sophisticated to be running on only vacuum tubes and point-to-point wiring. Orbital satellites that do more than beep radio signals (Brotherhood of Steel vs Enclave uses them) pretty much REQUIRE microchips, which were more or less created to meet the demands of the space program of our history. And you couldn’t put enough vacuum tubes in NORAD’s HQ to make Mr House work the way he does.

                    • Psy says:

                      Fallout went with a 1950’s sci-fi motif, the water chip from Fallout 1 is run on vacuum tubs. We are just suppose to accept a world running technology from 1950’s science fiction and if you accept the motif it works, just like how steam punk works.

                    • Tom says:

                      They missed an opportunity, then – it would be rather an impressive setpiece to be able to wander into a vast warehouse rammed wall to wall, floor to ceiling with all the necessary vacuum tubes for that. It would be even better and make for a rich environment if you took health damage from all the blistering heat they would all be giving off!

              • ehlijen says:

                Plus, computer aided design these days allows us to build things exactly as durable as they need to be. That makes what we build resource efficient, lighter and cheaper, but less likely to survive adverse conditions.

                We don’t face such conditions, and we live in a world where spares and replacements are readily available, so building things to last generally isn’t done when the item isn’t intended for emergency use (and even then, they are built with the assumption that help isn’t far away).

          • Tom says:

            Ironically, *SOME* older technology actually has a longer working life than some newer stuff (When they were making the movie Sunshine, and asked experts for advice on what kind of technology one would use in a long-distance space mission, it was suggested that one should probably scour old warehouses for microchips made in the late 80s, because they apparently last a lot longer in service than ones made today! Vacuum tubes also don’t exactly “fail” the way semiconductors do; most of the time they just lose gain very gradually, so vacuum tube equipment often never actually stops working altogether for quite a long time, it just gradually drifts out of calibration and loses capacity – which, with a little creative license, allows for amusing possibilities like senile robots…), BUT, that’s under ideal conditions, not heavy usage by unskilled people in survival conditions in a harsh, irradiated wasteland, and many other components wouldn’t last long, even carefully stored and unused. Many early plastics were not chemically stable and would chemically decay all by themselves to become uselessly cracked and brittle in a couple of decades (Hell, even some modern ones will still do it, especially in sunlight; this was rather nicely included in the art design of both Portal 1 & 2, as a subtle indicator as to how long it’s been since Glados took over. You can’t really tell how long it’s been from the concrete or metal wall panels, but you can from the plastic). Vacuum tubes and metal parts left lying around in the open desert will probably last centuries (I’ve heard of a couple of WWII era planes lost in the desert that were found, still in practically working condition, decades later), but things like capacitors and resistors were made of those early, short-lived plastics, natural rubber and even WAX PAPER in some cases, and that stuff’ll decay or go brittle in no time, even sealed up in a dry cellar untouched by scavengers and daylight alike.

            After 200 years, SOME 50s technology might be in damn good condition and still work (stuff made of glass, ceramics, natural fibres and metals, mostly), but other stuff would fail. Ironically, the older stuff would probably last longer than the newest stuff.

            That’s perhaps another source of the weirdness in the Fallout 3 world – the UNIFORMITY of everything. All buildings and technology are at a similar level of disrepair and damage. In reality (and also just in a more INTERESTING game environment), there should be odd pockets of stuff that’s in remarkably better condition than its surroundings. There should be occasional 19th century brick and stone buildings that look almost new, surrounded by newer concrete structures that are little more than piles of dust and rebar (modern concrete structures are not built to last without ongoing maintenance). There should be steel-framed buildings that withstood the bomb blasts much better than the weaker ones around them, but then decayed over the decades. There should be huge surpluses of certain electronic and mechanical components that never wear out, versus certain key parts that are fragile and short-lived (Fallout 1 did this with the water chip, of course). Hell, as implied above, some areas (the inhabited ones) should just be CLEANER than the others. After two hundred years, there should be BEATEN PATHS to follow, even some actual built roads.

            And the really idiotic thing about making the world so damn uniform is that the writers made it much harder on themselves to come up with anything interesting in terms of plot or world-building. Interesting things are, by definition, not uniform (except in a chaotic world where pockets of uniformity are themselves remarkable). Those occasional intact, older buildings? Strategic value, historical value, aesthetic value, landmarks, town hubs, possible sites to find fragile items protected from the elements, the list goes on. Those beaten paths? They must go somewhere interesting, or at least populous! Those rare parts? There should be tinkerers in workshops all over the place trying to figure out how to replicate them out of raw materials, or how to make them or other useful new things out of those piles of high quality surplus parts that nobody knows what else to do with.

        • 4th Dimension says:

          About people not remembering the world before the bombs fell.
          I do agree their conception of that world would be seriosly flawed, but what would actually happen is that the period before the bombs would become a sort of a mythical age, like Rome was to middle ages people. They would see hese building (more like ruins) made from materials and tehniques that are completly strange to them and they would wonder what was it like to live in them. Some tech might survive, the tech that enterprising groups of engineers managed to revert to using mechanical power, like damns that don’t power the electric turbines but use the mechanical force od wader for milling and such. Basically a scaled down version of BoS.
          But they certanly would not be going raiders armed with plasma weapons casually burning through it’s ammo. Nuclear bombs that anyone understands how to set off or dissarm and such. And old buildings wouldn’t look shelled but they would be rubble, mostly the reinforced stuff might remain, and some bouldings that have been extensivly patched by normal materials, stone, wood and primitive cement.
          Also everything wouldn’t be dirty all the time with skorchmarks every where. In cities they probably will be starting their own new styles of building look.

          • Except they wouldn’t see the buildings, everything would be completely destroyed/overgrown except what was being actively maintained. If you go to the site of 200-year-old buildings in America that weren’t maintained, even the foundation is invisible unless someone digs it up. A frame building without even a cement foundation? Fuggedaboutit. You’d have to do some serious digging to prove such a thing ever existed.

            Even the skyscrapers and so forth would just be rubble buried under a layer of soil with plants growing on it; it’d just look like small hills or barrows. The tough stuff that might still be visible would probably be highway bridges and oddball structures like sports arenas. A stadium would actually make a pretty sweet defensible spot for a town.

            • 4th DImension says:

              I didn’t say, I think, that entire cities of these would be visible, but if you have a structure the size of an apartment block or skyskraper even in it’s collapsed state it’s going to make a pretty bit mountain of debris. Also most of the still standing sound buildings will probably be patched and repatched to be used.

            • Basilios says:

              A stadium would indeed make a very good defensible spot for a town: it happened a number of time after the fall of the Roman Empire. In some cities, such as Lucca in Italy, the amphitheatre became the nucleus of a smaller, easier to defend settlement.

        • Grudgeal says:

          Things did change a fair bit between 800 and 1000. But they weren’t big, revolutionary changes like you’d expect after a worldwide up-ending like happened directly following the fall of rome and the rise of Islam 200-400 years earlier. They were more the gradual slow processes that we find in, say, making more modern cars and planes and not the invention of the car/plane themselves.

          The idea that even a medieval world would stay in stasis over 200 years is rather preposterous. 2000, like in the Elder Scrolls, is lunacy.

          • Grudgeal says:

            Oh, drat, wrong comment replied to. To contribute meaningfully to 4th Dimension’s comment:

            The raiders and whatnot is what I see as clear influences by Mad Max. Lots of madmen in leather firing lots of ammunition and worshiping in the cult of V8 is sort of a part of the whole post-apocalypse ‘thing’.

          • Friend of Dragons says:

            I think I remember them saying that part of the reason they included those somewhat mechanized lumber mills in Skyrim is that they wanted to show signs of a little technological advancement since Oblivion.

          • Wide And Nerdy says:

            I think Skyrim’s stagnation could be justified. As was pointed out, magic is very destructive and a more immediate means to power. You’re also contending with other intelligent species and humans are not the apex predators. That’s a lot of things differing from the real world that could cause development to take unexpected turns.

            Fallout 3’s on the other hand, there’s just no way. They have robots with generalized artificial intelligence and computer archives. They have factories. They should have been able to rebuild by now. After all, America went from colonies to close to what we have today in 240 years and we had to invent and then build all of the tech and infrastructure to make it possible. They have a huge head-start even after all the bombing. The Brotherhood of Steel is not sufficient justification.

            • Supahewok says:

              No. It took hundreds of years for Europe to recover, repopulate, and regain technology lost in the fall of the Roman Empire. And those people didn’t have to deal with radiation, which makes sustainable farming incredibly difficult in areas with fallout, and mutated animals that were far more dangerous than anything nature intended.

              The population loss alone is incredibly significant. So much lost knowledge, with the bits that are left in the Vaults separated by hundreds of miles with no knowledge of where the others were. A dispersed and much reduced labor force. We’re talking over 99% population loss worldwide, probably, and at least 90% in the States. There’s no quick recovery from that. The Black Plague killed a third of Europe, which sent them back decades, and didn’t leave ongoing hazards that require advanced technology to deal with. Nuclear apocalypse is at least an order of magnitude greater than that.

              Robots and automation do you no good if you can’t get to them and you don’t know how to use them. Especially if they’re crazy and have guns, like in the Fallout universe.

              • 4th DImension says:

                I think what W&N wanted to say that despite living in shacks and being born 200 years after anyone could recieve norml education, a LOT of people seem to know how all these bots, factories and tech works. If you know how to repair a PLASMA rifle you should have a lot of general mechanics and electronics knowledge, enough to start putting together some viable mechanization.
                Basically the lore says that such knowledge is rare, but the gameplay says otherwise.

                • Wide And Nerdy says:

                  Exactly and at Fallout’s level of tech, you’re much farther along the curve of the law of accelerating returns so recovery should be faster, especially since this level of radiation wouldn’t linger for nearly this long. And we’d have hunted the dangerous mutants down to a manageable level by now, even the Super Mutants (barring the ones that have retained their intelligence and self control but there aren’t enough of them)

              • ehlijen says:

                It’s not really an issue of whether civilisation has recovered. The most common activity of the player in F3 is to raid prewar buildings and facilities. F1 and 2 had that, too, yes, but in very select circumstances with justifications. In neither game would you walk down the street and search a prewar gas station for food and ammo.

                Honestly, I think trying to merge the overland map and the area maps into one seamless whole is partially at fault here.
                It necessitated a shrinking of the game world which resulted in treasure caches guarded by monsters set within sight of nearby settlements, while the map separation for interiors meant all buildings needed to be separated from the outside by being fully intact with loading screen doors (considering how many bombs were supposed to fall on DC, that’s an aweful lot of factories with intact roofs).

                Being an open 3d world added immersion, but it also took some immersion way again trying to retain the player convenience that the separate world map fast travel offered.

        • mechaninja says:

          I would like to suggest that one or two centuries of magic not producing a handful of nerds that find ways to use said magic – even if it is only good for breaking things – to do more things is about the most implausible thing ever proposed in all of the history of forever.

          I mean, coal (and oil and nuclear power) is technically only good for breaking things, and look at where that has taken us.

          Hmmm, I may be overstating the case a bit on the timeline. 100 or 200 years NOW is a ton of time for things to happen, but probably 800-1000AD there wouldn’t have been as much information storage going on as in the last 200 years of our history.

          But still, there ought to be that one guy with the magic powered carriage and his apprentice, you know?

          • 4th Dimension says:

            One of the reasons for the stasis is that there was no reason for improving the infrastructure. Nobody was forcing them to get better efficiency since Empire was basically without foes.

            While that nerd might have ideas, it’s unlikely anyone would take him on offer to help since it would sound wierd (and other mages would probably frown on using magic on “frivolous” things) and magnates wouldn’t have any need for more efficiency when throughput problems can be solved by throwing more labour and slaves at the problem.

            • Majromax says:

              > While that nerd might have ideas, it’s unlikely anyone would take him on offer to help since it would sound wierd

              I beg to differ here.

              One of the first, most fundamental uses of the steam engine was to drain water from mines, which vastly increased the accessible ores and thus yields. Explosives were also developed for a similar purpose.

              One or the other of those would be an appropriate use of TES’s magic, even if it is only good for destruction.

              Any two-bit miner with a dozen slaves would become a vastly richer two-bit miner with a dozen slaves if they had a mage of moderate ability on the payroll.

      • Joe Informatico says:

        Skyrim’s just following the typical Standard Medieval European Fantasy (SMEF) template. This often has a few baked-in assumptions:

        -Weapons and armour used centuries apart in real-history exist side-by-side in the setting, but even though gunpowder weapons were also used around the same time, you rarely see them in SMEF settings.

        -There’s often a few areas, often sea-going vessels and urban centres, that are plucked from the Renaissance period and dropped into a pseudo-medieval setting.

        -Centuries or millennia will pass in the history of the setting without any technological or genuine social-change (e.g. if most societies are monarchies, they’ll stay monarchies).

        -This is partly influenced by outdated perspectives of the real-world medieval period as a time of stasis or regression (it largely wasn’t), and the influence of Tolkien. Middle-Earth is the ur-example of the SMEF, but Tolkien wasn’t trying to write anything historically authentic–he was writing in the style of medieval legends and epics, which were romanticized versions of their subject matter. E.g., The Iliad was a poem by Greeks of the 8th century (or slightly earlier) BCE romanticizing events that took place about 400 years earlier. Morte d’Arthur was Mallory mythologizing legendary figures from a thousand years before. The film 300 is a modern example of the same. You wouldn’t use any of these works as a definitive record of the allegedly historical events they deal with, because none of them intended to be a historical record.

        • mechaninja says:

          If you’re interested in a conflict between magic and gunpowder (as used by mages), look up the Powder Mage trilogy. It feels a little sophmorically written when you started your sci-fi reading career with Asimov, but it’s worth some time and it isn’t huge like GoT or something.

    • Syal says:

      But… they set it on the other side of the country. There isn’t any “conflicting canon” problem; all the canon is stuck over there on the West Coast.

      • Deadpool says:

        There SHOULDN’T be any conflicting cannon but… Every faction from California shows up in DC for illogical reasons.

        The problem is that Bethesda kinda HAD to. They took a beloved, cult classic and bought the rights to the sequel then made a game that looks, feels and plays COMPLETELY different from it.

        Take away Enclave and Brotherhood of Steel and Super Mutants and Deathclaws and all the other things that were California exclusive and made no sense being in DC and the game would be LITERALLY Oblivion with Guns.

        • Syal says:

          But even with the Enclave and the Brotherhood and whatnot, there’s no conflicting canon, because when you have two branches of a group with that much distance in between them they’re likely to be very different from each other anyway. Add in the lack of phones and they don’t even have to be aware of what happened in the first two games.

          And Super Mutants you can lampshade; have a conversation where you find out they’re a creation of an East Coast madman called ‘The Mister’, who was trying to take over the world but was thwarted by [insert thing here].

        • Radio Silence says:

          I’d argue that they didn’t /have/ to in all cases, and that even in the act of drawing from previous Fallout resources they could have made a lot more sense.

          They didn’t /need/ Super Mutants at all, and they certainly didn’t need to re-invent that wheel to include them (a pack of Mutants moving East would make plenty of sense after the Master’s death, and we see that in both F2 and New Vegas, they didn’t just stay in California and wait to die off).

          They didn’t /need/ the Brotherhood of Steel, nor did they need to contort them into an implausibly legitimate Arthurian Round Table of Really Good Guys, but that’s another rant.

          The Enclave actually made sense as an inclusion (and can all by themselves justify a Brotherhood presence at some point in the story given past hostilities and dangers), since they’d have some interest in D.C. and attendant facilities, but they way they used them as schizophrenic Nazi stand-ins was absurd and wasteful.

          They /really/ didn’t need the giant magical Britta filter as a plot hook. There are hundreds of motivations with which they could have moved him (just plain /food/, for instance, and/or the FEV as a central MacGuffin which would have covered a fair amount of the Enclave’s involvement and, heck, Super Mutants), and thus the player, with, but they were stuck on filling a checklist of Fallout Things that turned the whole production into what amounted to commercial fan-fic with all the sensible things shoved to one side to make room for all the perceived Must Do items.

          Honestly, I think the Water thing was really what did everything in from the moment they set to writing. Once you start exploring almost /any other/ possible main hook, you can pretty easily start to see how things could have been done in a saner way while still /being/ a Fallout game/story.

      • John Law says:

        To be honest, this is why I was never *that* upset about Fallout 3’s deviations from the earlier games. Yeah, there are some pretty glaring plotholes, but I always felt the fact that it was set so far away from the rest of the series gave it fairly free reign to shake things up.

        They explain why the BoS are so different, the Super Mutants appear to be a separate “batch” from the Master’s ones, and it makes sense that the Enclave would have a presence in Washington DC. Most of the complains I’ve seen about those particular inclusions felt a bit “fanboyish” to me, so I haven’t paid them much mind.

        I’d still like to know what the issue is with a water purifier as the main source of conflict (the idea, not the execution), since to me it seems as good a macguffin as any other.

        • Radio Silence says:

          My problem isn’t the deviations per se, it’s how they both failed to deviate at all (by explicitly including things they didn’t have to like Super Mutants, for example, instead of exploring some other horror risen from the corpse of the Great War) and failed to deviate in meaningfully interesting ways or deviated in ways that themselves felt fan-ficcy more than well considered, interesting or relevant to the themes and stories being told (“What if the Vault Experiment was using the FEV to make Super Mutants before the Master did?! What if instead of a well intentioned terrorist hive mind guiding them they were all just generic brutes except the one smart good guy to join the player as a special stand-out from the crowd? Wouldn’t that be another cool, generic, ugly, brute of a foe to fight instead of something genuinely nuanced? We won’t even have to spend much time rigging their faces ’cause the player won’t expect to have to talk with any of them because they won’t be part of the story except for camping on a MacGuffin!”)

          No one part of the premises they used are inherently bad, it’s not a problem of them ‘contradicting’ anything as such, but the way they frame and present things adds up to a lot of ‘meh’ on it’s own.

          I was really looking forward to seeing what Bethesda would do with the East Coast and a relatively fresh slate to build on, and what we got amounted to mediocre commercial fan-fic.

          A fun and pretty game, sure, but also a lot of very expensive missed opportunities. You say moving to the East Coast gave them room to shake things up, and you’re right. I still say it still only came out barely stirred and lukewarm.

          • Tom says:

            This. I think maybe because they were a different developer inheriting a popular property, they were afraid not to include all the iconic stuff from the originals, however nonsensical it was in this context and however much it made them look like a bunch of uncreative fan-fic hacks warming over other people’s played-out ideas. Perhaps they felt they had to include that stuff otherwise it wouldn’t *be* Fallout. I think that even though they gained legal ownership of the property, they didn’t have the confidence to take “creative ownership,” if you will, and add anything really new to it, leaving them doomed to simply reshuffle concepts that were already there, give it a 3D engine and update the artwork a bit, in which case they should really have just done a straight remake of the original story.

            Perhaps if the original developers had done it, they wouldn’t have been afraid to cut loose from the earlier games. They wouldn’t feel any need to *prove* to fans that it’s genuine Fallout, because they created the originals – they KNOW what’s Fallout and what isn’t.

        • Sleeping Dragon says:

          I imagine Shamoose will deconstruct the crap out of the water purifier, and I actually wrote a lengthy rant, but the short of it is: both BoS and Enclave are waging a war for who’s going to kill themself by pressing a button to waste a priceless piece of technology to turn on a machine that nobody really needs.

      • Wide And Nerdy says:

        If anything, that’s another reason to keep the timeline close to N-day. If its only been 10 years or so, its much more believable that events on the East Coast would be isolated from events on the West Coast. But 200 years after (190 years after the original game) its much more likely that events have spread enough to have contradictions.

      • ehlijen says:

        Fallout Tactics was over on the east. Not that any cares about that game’s canon, though.

        • Michael says:

          It starts in Chicago and works it’s way out to somewhere in Colorado, as I remember it.

          Also, as I remember, it’s explicitly not canon.

          • ehlijen says:

            And yet, it gave us the punch gun of Caesar’s face fame :)

            • Michael says:

              Kinda. I mean, the original Fallout games were pretty sparse when it came to specing for Unarmed. Fallout 2 dealt with that by adding a lot of unlockable attacks, but that was, somewhat obviously, less of an option for Tactics. With New Vegas the system isn’t really built for lots of attack options, so expanding the unarmored weapon lists makes sense.

              Tactics also doesn’t get a lot of praise for the thing it did pretty well, which was variety. I remember shotguns in particular had about a dozen different ammo types by end game, and there were a lot of weapons. Too often there was only one top tier choice, but even from the opening zone, you always had options on how you’d go about your murdering, compared to a similar game, like the original X-COM.

              That said, Fallout Tactics is pretty clearly a different setting from the numbered games (and NV). It’s ironically a lot closer to Wasteland. There’s cultural stuff that points towards an end of the world in a pseudo 70s or 80s. Vehicles run on gasoline instead of fusion cells, the Vaults are a military project run out of NORAD instead of Corporate America run amok. The social experimentation system for the vaults is missing.

              I mean, it’s not really a bad setting, but it is an alternate Fallout timeline, where nothing’s quite the same. And, in both, someone said, “hey, I want to punch people with a shotgun,” and proceeded to strap one to their wrist. Which isn’t really that surprising given both worlds also have talking deathclaws.

              • ehlijen says:

                The punch gun was pretty much added so unarmed builds could remain viable against the endgame enemies (using the shotgun EMP shells). All the weapon skills had something EMP like that was good against the robots.

                And yeah, it was a game much closer to Jagged Alliance than to Fallout, which I liked but I wouldn’t assume that’s a automatic overlap in interests for most.

  2. Jokerman says:

    Sorry… nitpick time.

    Its Neeson, not Nesson.

  3. James says:

    But we know that every single child in Lamplight dies at the hands of the enclave, right guys right?

    • Nimas says:

      Ha ha, how foolish. Of course they didn’t. They all died at the hands of Cuftbert. He waited outside little lamplight until they finally aged ‘enough’ so they weren’t invincible and then dropped a fatman on them.

      • MichaelGC says:

        Diligence. Not one of the more-commonly acknowledged Cuftbertian characteristics. As is fortitude – must have been so tiring to stand there, stock still & ramrod straight, staring-ever-staring at that same nondescript section of rock wall, with only the fire of his ire to sustain him, for over a decade.

        “I wonder,” he must have thought, more than once, as the cries of ‘Mungo!’ rang in his ears, “is there a mod that’ll let me wait longer than a sodding day at a time?”

  4. Syal says:

    I’m liking the idea of the world moving on into some kind of futuristic setting, with the ghoul communities still dressing and acting like they’re from the 50’s.

    • 4th Dimension says:

      That would make sense that Ghouls would try to stick to whatever shreds of humanity they have left by trying to recreate the society of the Old World. But even they would need to adapt.

  5. JackTheStripper says:

    “Next time we’ll dig into the setting of the game and look at where it all went wrong.”

    So next it’ll be a single word article: “Bethesda.”

  6. hborrgg says:

    Taken by itself, I’m not so sure that the setting being “200 years later” involves fallout 3 breaking its own rules. As far as realism goes, sure, it makes no sense whatsoever, but as far as the game’s logic goes this is a society where everyone apparently decided collectively that 50s culture was the best and stuck with it for another 100+ years. It doesn’t seem that unreasonable to assume that culture still hasn’t changed much 200 years later.

    • Matt Downie says:

      Yeah, I can suspend my disbelief about the culture. But I really think they should have gotten around to tidying up the loose rubble at some point in the last 200 years, and finished looting the nearby supermarket, and given the various skeletons decent burials, and so on.

      • ? says:

        What really grinds my gears about “200 years after the war” is that we don’t see pretty much any human settlement older than one generation. Tenpenny Tower? Nobody looted it until Tenpenny immigrated from Europe apparently. Citadel? Who would take interest in Pentagon, srsly. Rivet City? You can meet the founder! Canterbury Commons? The founder is the first person you talk to!(also I can’t get over the fact that this ‘city’ consist of 4 pre-war houses, instead being center of commerce like the Hub in first game…) Temple of the Union? They didn’t even finish moving in. At least with Paradise Falls couple of generations of slavers are mentioned. Big Town is supposed to consist of everyone who grew up in Little Lamplight since the war, yet there are only teenagers there and place looks like established last month. Only Megaton and Underworld seem to be there from the beginning ( and technically Underworld is also first generation :P). If they intended the setting to be 200 years after the bombs, why did they design every location like it was only 50 years?

        • A detail that they should have included to cover it (and what I assumed while playing it) was that for about the past 100 years, the Capital Wasteland was nigh uninhabitable due to radioactivity, pollution, etc. and where that wasn’t a big problem, lawlessness (raiders) and monsters abound. Even the radioactive water could be hand-waved if it had been established that the basin was constantly getting run-off or contaminants from somewhere (the book “The World Without Us” talks about this a bit, as all of our storage tanks full of volatile and toxic materials slowly degrade and leak). Even the desertification could be explained due to climatic changes from the war and/or time. Ergo, it wasn’t “settled” until about 100 years post-nuke.

          I think many also discount the effect of several heavily-armed factions in an area and how that hinders repairing things, restoring things, and generally trying to claw one’s way out of the rubble.

          On a note about the 200-year-old food: I still see that as a joke from the original game. I figured it was poking fun at how processed foods often had enough preservatives to be MRE’s, and then you add in a dose of radiation to kill off any bacteria, and you’ve got some mummified deviled eggs.

          Also, having recently had the F3 season of Spoiler Warning on in the background, one thing the cast seemed to forget was that the old world “stopped” on the brink of war where paranoia and patriotism were running high. Under those conditions, it’s not too big a stretch to find robots programmed to murder anyone without a valid metro ticket and so on.

          • Michael says:

            There’s probably some snide and tasteless joke to be had about murdering turnstile jumpers not being that far off modern day DC. So, suggesting that a timeline which never really advanced off the Red Menace, and was still facing Nuclear annihilation in the 2080s… isn’t really that weird.

            At a certain level, the problems with Fallout 3 boil down to, it’s an environment to play around in first, and a world second. Which is also why so many of Skyrim’s dungeons are just a loop with a one way drop at the end. It’s a massive amusement park ride, designed to drop you off where you came in. Fallout 3 doesn’t have as much of that specific symptom, but the game is an electronic equivalent of a massive playset. With very little attention paid to how the setting actually fits together.

            Individual pieces make sense. Like the murderous laser robots. Sometimes the direct consequences for those pieces carry over. But it only really degenerates into nonsense as a gestalt.

            I think, in the past, I’ve said Fallout 3 looks like a fan game, and I know I’ve read that perception elsewhere. But, I’m kind of inclined to back off that now. It’s not really a fan work. Yes, Bethesda has said they were all huge fans of the franchise… really? How convenient.

            Fallout 3 looks a lot like people taking all of the surface level material from Fallout 1 and 2, and slapping it onto a playset without really thinking about or understanding the materiel… and then we get here going, “but, none of this makes sense.”

            This is what happens when someone looks at a property and says, “hey, we could turn this thing into real money,” and then saying, “but we’re really huge fans,” as marketing.

            Anyway, sorry, that turned into a weird tangent there.

          • Tom says:

            The problem with the food isn’t that it lasted 200 years; as you say, the preservative gag covers that.

            The problem is, in 200 years, why has nobody else come by and eaten any of it yet? (Maybe there’s a good reason. Maybe one of the endgame slides should just be a picture of the player character bent over in the wasteland violently throwing up all the ancient food he or she scarfed down, dryly narrated by Ron Perlman of course)

    • Majere says:

      This is further supported by the fact that the people who made the game and the people who enjoy it all reached a pretty similar conclusion regarding the 50s aesthetic re: it being the best thing that should be maintained as long as possible.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Except that people still manage to do things in a very short amount of time.Dad manages to invent new technology in 10 years.Yet we are to assume that if a bunch of people can invent new stuff in 10 years,even more people cannot invent nothing new in 20 times as long?Thats how internal logic breaks.

      • hborrgg says:

        Except his invention relied on the theoretical geck macguffin. Many inventions end up being the result of some sort of catalyst, for instance it’s hard to invent the steam engine, but it’s not that hard to invent new applications for the steam engine.

        I’m sure even you or I could easily come up with some amazing new invention if only we had a magic plot device to power it.

  7. Joshua says:

    I never played any of the Fallouts, but I heard they were the spiritual successor to Wasteland, which I *did* play somewhere in the early 90s. Does anyone know how close the games actually are to each other?

    • “Spiritual successor” is the correct relationship. Both are post-nuclear-apocalypse western RPGs in eras where that was not common, but are otherwise unrelated.

      Fallout 3 dilutes the Wasteland stuff into unrecognizability, if for no other reason than the difference between a late 1980s party-based turn-based top-down RPG is just too different from the tech of Fallout 3 to be comparable. If Fallout 3’s story is “bad”, Wasteland’s is just, you know, skeletal.

      By the by… you, uh, know about this, right? I mean, I hate to assume you don’t but it seems reasonably likely that if you did you might have mentioned it…. (I haven’t played it much yet… I was waiting for the Linux version to stabilize, and now I’m just sort of waiting for the GOTY edition before I go too crazy. My tentative plan is to wait for the Wasteland 2 GOTY edition, then start walking through the recent resurgence of WRPGS one at a time once their “final” versions are out.)

    • Orillion says:

      From my understanding of Fallouts 1 and 2 and Wasteland (keeping in mind I’ve never played any of those) the Fallouts are pretty much Wasteland with better graphics and different stories.

      Edit: Come to think of it, Wasteland probably let you make a party like Wasteland 2 did, I’m guessing. Pretty sure all the party members you get in Fallout(s) are acquired during game play.

      • Wasteland has a *much* narrower military-focused idea behind it and holds together much better from a technical standpoint. Wasteland 2 is kind of hilarious in this regard because you can actually ask for a technical explanation of certain things if you really want them and the game will provide and likely bore your shoes off. It even asks you “are you SURE you want me to explain how we can triangulate the location of a radio signal using 3 sources?” and if you say “yes I’m sure!” you get FIVE PAGES OF ELECTRICAL JARGON. It’s beautiful. :D

  8. Amstrad says:

    I like to pretend to myself that the 200 years thing is a typo someone made somewhere.. they just typed a 2 instead of a 1 right? It’s only 100 years after the bombs.. right!?

    Edit: Then I go and look at the timeline for the original two games and, it’s just as bad. Fallout is 2161, 84 years after the war and Fallout 2 is 2241, 80 years after the first game.. so 3 being 200 years after the war is actually a reasonable decision by Bethsoft. The real concern then is that they clung too close to the 50s cultural feel.

    • I dropped a zero mentally; 20 vaguely makes sense, though even then I frankly expect all grocery stores to be cleaned out 20 days after the bombs… 20 minutes in some cases.

    • Jabrwock says:

      Yeah, 200 years isn’t such a stretch when you find out that Fallout 2 was over 160 years after the bombs fell. Italy was pretty much a wreck for a long time after the Roman Empire fell.

      F2 was believable in that societies were forming, communities were being built, new local tech was being developed, etc.

      New Vegas makes sense in the timeline. There’s been enough time for new civilizations (New California, Caesar’s Legion, etc) to form, and for entire cities to spring up. It would have been nice to see more cities other than New Vegas, but you get to see how civilization is starting to rebuild.

      F3 however, seems like it really had no advancement/recovery whatsoever.

      • J.M. Alexia says:

        I definitely enjoyed NV’s story and setting more than… well, any other game associated with Bethesda. Which can possibly be linked to Obsidian’s involvement.

        The base game had a nice sense of people advancing, rebuilding society. I liked all the different ways it interpreted the past, like with the Kings, the various casino gangs, the Khans… and in some, especially the Great Khans themselves, it felt like there was actual history there, like stuff had happened since the War.

        The DLCs were even better about it. Dead Money had stagnation as a core part of the place, it hadn’t changed or been too looted because everyone died trying to. Honest Hearts continued that sense of history moving forward, new things happening… change. And of course Lonesome Road was the most interesting, showing how a community was built up, and then destroyed.

        Honestly, thinking back on it I can’t remember any major changes or history referenced in Fallout 3. Megaton and Rivet City were just… bland. Stagnant. Aside from aforementioned MacGuffin.

    • Disc says:

      This, plus the fact there’s barely any actual NPCs in the original Fallout that you can talk to and who would be verifiably from that era besides Harold. And he was 5 years old when the bombs fell according to The Vault wiki. The Master might have been older than that but you don’t exactly get to have him reminisce about the past.

      “it’s just as bad. ”

      I’d hesitate to call it inherently bad, but each to his own. Personally I found exploring a new strange world and witnessing how humanity has fared through an apocalypse always more interesting in the series, rather than the when. I don’t think the timeline is nearly as important as having a world that makes internal sense. Fallout 1 and 2 didn’t really have too many untouched places. And when they were, they were either very difficult to reach (i.e. Glow) or people just weren’t aware of its location or that it even existed.

    • Decius says:

      Don’t forget the events of Fallout:Brotherhood of Steel.

      My guess is that that group eventually became Cesare’s Legion after a couple of generations; all the power armor and high-tech stuff breaks, and some scribe takes over after styling himself after some books, and then everyone who remembered the way things used to be dies off.

      • Adam says:

        Without spoiling too much, Honest Hearts does have some explanation for how Caesar’s Legion came to be, from as an objective an in-universe source as one could reasonably hope for. You’re not far from the mark, although it wasn’t BoS that spawned Caesar, and it’s a more recent development. (Think decades, not centuries.)

    • Humanoid says:

      Shady Sands looks a fair bit more advanced than Megaton, or indeed any Fallout 3 settlement. The former looks like an earnest attempt by some people to make a home for themselves. The latter looks like some people taking some emergency shelter for a short period of time.

  9. SoranMBane says:

    Oh, you have NO idea how excited I am for these. I remember really liking Fallout 3 the first time I played it, and didn’t notice any of the things wrong with it until I got to that ending. And then everything just kind of fell apart, and every subsequent attempt at a playthough left an increasingly bitter taste in my mouth, because I could just never quite shake the knowledge that, no matter what I did, it was all going to end in pointless stupidity anyway. Now I have almost nothing left but an unholy resentment towards this game that I used to love.

    So, this week is promising to be quite therapeutic for me. Maybe I’ll even play some extra Fallout: New Vegas to help the healing along even more.

  10. Deadpool says:

    “Why was this done? So that the events of Fallout 3 wouldn’t conflict with the events of the previous two games?”

    This was revealed during development for New Vegas.

    In an interview, Obsidian said they wanted New Vegas to happen closer to Fallout 2, and technically before (or concurrent with) Fallout 3. Bethesda did not let them. It is company policy (for SOME reason) that sequels move time FORWARD: Every game has to take place some time after the previous one. They will not do prequels.

    The why for THAT, however, remains unclear. But we’re one step closer I guess…

    • IFS says:

      Perhaps the heads of Bethesda are chronovores who feed on the passing of time in their games and going back down the timeline would give them indigestion?

      Other than that I’ve got nothing.

    • Thomas says:

      I’m guessing they want to keep the timeline narrative fairly simple for the casual fans. I bet some people would never pick up that a game was set before the last one.

      Of course the mess that up with what they actually do with the lore in game :p

  11. Adam Phant says:

    On the animation side of things, I watched the introduction for Fallout 1 last night. The animation is dated as you’d expect from mid-90s CGI. But what really stood out to me was Vault 13’s elder looking putty-faced. Him staring at us while he talks, like how it goes in Fallout 3. The animations being weirdly choppy, like in Fallout 3.

    It was like Bethesda watched the introduction of Fallout 1 and based all of their art on that dated CGI. ’twas quite surreal.

  12. Decius says:

    Who is keeping track of the number of years elapsed since the war? Are they credible?

    • Disc says:

      There’s the semi-official timeline which covers pretty much everything ever that can be considered an official source. I.e. all the games and then some, including the Fallout Bible which is all sorts of filler background lore by Chris Avellone for the first two games.

      Not all of it is necessarily canon, especially in regards to Fallout Tactics and Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel, but it’s put up there anyway until proven officially otherwise. The Fallout Bible and the first two games are generally treated as canon, given the references in Fallout 3 and New Vegas.

      “Are they credible?”

      Well, within the framework, I think the West Coast history is pretty coherent. The Fallout 3/4 a.k.a East Coast.. and currently exists almost entirely in a separate vacuum. Which is a good thing since New Vegas as it is would probably have never happened otherwise. The assumption is that it all happens in the same world, but effectively it might as well be two different series. I’d prefer to keep the two separate, but I’m afraid it’s only a matter of time before the two clash.. assuming the series keeps going and doesn’t die off.

  13. Grudgeal says:

    I think someone in Spoiler Warning or the comment section said during your F3 season that the whole game felt like fanfiction: It’s written by someone who were fans of the original games but didn’t entirely ‘get it’. They weren’t able to extrapolate and create an original, organic extension to the Fallout setting, and instead just ripped familiar elements and names wholesale from Fallout and stuck it into the Oblivion engine without thinking of how the world or the game’s story or tone would function at all.

    I’ve yet to come up with a better analogy for what F3 is.

  14. Daemian Lucifer says:

    If you’re one of those people that can’t stand to hear people say bad things about stuff you like, then why are you reading this blog?

    Fixed that for you.

  15. Andy_Panthro says:

    The timeline issue kinda reminds me of the Ultima games (specifically Ultima VII: The Black Gate). In U7, you arrive back in Britannia some 200 years after you had previously visited (assuming Ultima 6 here, I’m not sure how canon Ultima Underworld or the Worlds of Ultima games are).

    Most of the people there think that you (the Avatar of Virtue) are basically just a legend, and the pseudo-religion you helped form is now far less important. People are moving on, magic is less useful, there have been years of relative peace and a certain amount of technological progress (the game does drop a few hints that it’s moving past the middle ages and into the renaissance era or similar).

    Unfortunately (for me at least), there was no future Ultima game that explored the Renaissance or a move to a more modern setting, instead we got a game set outside Britannia (not a bad thing in itself, but a flawed game), and a final game that was a poor ending to a great series.

    Of course the Ultima universe canon is a difficult thing to chart, with some rather screwball stuff in there and various bits that contradict one another.

    • Humanoid says:

      Well technically there were the two Worlds of Ultima games, the latter of which explored Mars in a Victorian-era world. (The earlier one was about DINOSAURS!) The games were made in the Ultima 6 engine, and so predate the advancements in Ultima 7, but still, it’s future-Ultima of a sort.

    • Sleeping Dragon says:

      Enjoy the Elder Scrolls timeline when if you think you’re just about to make sense of it a Dragon Break happens.

  16. Epopisces says:

    The 200 years thing: this is why I could never accept The Old Republic. It tried to pretend that 1000 years before the movies you had identical cultural personalities (note I don’t count sith/jedi which are religions: I mean corellia, mandalor, etc) identical technology (occasionally shaped *slightly* differently), and, well, ultimately all the same cliches.

    Meanwhile according to the (now de-canonized) book lore technology at least adapted rapidly in the century following the battle of yavin. Heck, even in 20 years there were a number of changes.

  17. Ron says:

    I just recently replayed the entirety of Fallout 3. Despite the fact that the game’s plot and writing are awful, the world is actually pretty empty, it completely misses everything I love about the first game, and there are a total of about 20 poorly writte side quests, I still enjoy playing it.

    It is not only the worst Fallout game, but the worst Bethesda game in recent memory. The only reason we put up with this is because Bethesda is the only company developing games of this sort. I really wish that some other companies would use Bethesda’s engines and give us some more options.

    • I’d say Skyrim was worse, both from a story perspective and a mechanics perspective. You don’t realize how you miss parts of the karma system until you wipe out a Jarl’s men and he reacts to you just as if you’d saved them from a dragon attack.

      • Humanoid says:

        Meanwhile, Skyrim is the only Bethesda game I can honestly say I enjoyed, ever. Probably largely because it made it easier to ignore the plot and just go off doing your own thing without bothering you too much.

        As for the earlier games, I’m indifferent about Morrowind (played maybe 20-30 hours), strongly dislike Fallout 3 (less than 10 hours), and despise Oblivion (1-2 hours and makes my top 3 worst games ever list).

        • One helpful (and challenging) bit to try with F3 that avoids some of Dad’s early plot and makes Three Dog a little less of a jerk to you is to not go looking for Dad at GNR. I think you can just go to Rivet City and get his location in Vault 112 and rescue him.

          What this does is that if you decide to go see Three Dog, he doesn’t hold non-information about your dad over your head, and he has to cough up the key to a pretty nice weapons stash you can’t otherwise get to without “cheating.” It’s in a cave/shelter somewhere with a locked gate, but I think I read you can kind of get some of the items through the bars by knocking the loose items around via explosives.

      • Sleeping Dragon says:

        To me the essential difference is that Fallout 3 story was particularly stupid and poorly thought out while Skyrim’s story was particularly bland and generic.

  18. Ravens Cry says:

    I love your long form screeds, Shamus, and it will be a pleasure to read this. :)

  19. The reason the Old World had to be in a 50’s “stasis” mode was that if it didn’t, you’d have to explain how tech in Fallout 1 had somehow magically advanced beyond green screens, cars with fins, and black-and-white TV’s after the bombs fell. If we loaded up Fallout 3 and found the remains of laptops, iPods, etc. then we’d be complaining that apparently the area we explore in F1 & 2 were 50 years behind the rest of the country for no apparent reason.

    Also, the Atompunk vacuum-tube tech fits with a lot of the things we were told during the Cold War. Like how Russian MiGs were more likely to survive an EMP and keep flying because their tech did run on tubes whereas our fighter jets’ microchips would get fried.

    As for society not advancing in 200 years, you’re looking at a civilization where most of the population is killed, nearly all of the infrastructure is damaged, if not destroyed, communications are cut, resources that were already stretched thin are now unavailable, and (due to the war) weapons are readily available to anyone who wants to go put on leather and rob whatever settlements remain. This doesn’t even mention the mutants running around.

    It doesn’t excuse every decision, but it’s something to keep in mind.

    • Psy says:

      Well fallout before the bomb is suppose to be the future as envisioned by the first half of the twentieth century.

      As for society not advancing in 200 years, in Fallout 1 it did. We say settlements that had established themselves and by Fallout 2 we had the formation of the NCR and saw that things were rapidly rebuilding.

      • But not where bombs fell, correct? There wasn’t active settlement in The Glow (and still isn’t, is there?) or anywhere else near a crater.

        DC was hit pretty hard, with at least two unexploded nukes/warheads in the area I can think of, apart from the military base that’s chock full of the things. So I’d say that even if you could remove the mutants and monsters, the place would just be overall detrimental to your health to live near, and may not have been livable for quite some time before.

        • krellen says:

          I do not remember the source, but I remember hearing somewhere that the Glow was actually settled by the ghouls of Necropolis after the Super Mutants chased them out of Necropolis.

          • krellen says:

            Having thought on it, this source might be an assumption I made based on “Dayglow” being listed as a state of the NCR in Fallout 2 coupled with the Fallout Bible‘s description of said.

        • guy says:

          The Glow was special; as a major buried research site it took a direct hit from a bunker-buster nuke in a ground burst. Even Fallout 1 had settlements in the ruins of major cities that could not possibly have avoided being nuked.

      • Humanoid says:

        And in New Vegas we learn that the NCR, though unseen, is now a strong, self-sufficient and generally prosperous nation with a strong industrial base. I’d equate it perhaps to being an Industrial Age society, where Fallout 1 was Tool Age, and Fallout 3 is Stone Age.

  20. Phantos says:

    I just bought Fallout 3 again. While it downloads, I will read this article and hopefully remind myself why that was a poor financial decision.

    (On the other hand, at least I didn’t buy Oblivion again).

  21. Phantos says:

    This, The Last Of Us and Skyrim suffer from the same problem: they set an arbitrary date for the game to take place after BIG IMPORTANT EVENTS, but still set everything as if that only happened five minutes ago.

    It’s to the point where I think game devs just decide this stuff because they think “X Years Later” sounds cool, without stopping to consider if that’s necessary or even beneficial to what they’re doing.

    I mean, I know radiation can last a long time. Look at Chernobyl(or for a more recent example, Japan…) But the thing I liked the most about the Fallout 4 trailer?

    Clear skies.

    THAT’S what Fallout is to me: Picking up the pieces and recovering. If it’s 20 years later, then it makes sense for most of the world to still be green and grey and pulsing with radiation. But after 200 years, I think the Earth would at least be a little more hospitable than it’s portrayed in Fallout 3(inexplicable gangs notwithstanding). And if the game takes place in a particularly bad area, then why/how would anything be living there at all?

    • It’d take place there because if a place was irradiated and uninhabitable for a long time, then it stands to reason there’s more to salvage/recover. Also “bad areas” are needed for combat-oriented RPGs or there’d be no combat without having the police coming after you.

  22. acronix says:

    I believe the reason they went for 200 years was because tehy wanted to ‘continue’ the chronology of the previous Fallout games. Fallout 1 was one generation apart from the war, Fallout 2 was two generations apart. Fallout 3 probably wanted to be three or four generations apart to ‘continue’ with the theme. Because that’s totally central to the Fallout theme, eh?

  23. Mark says:

    I am someone who disliked Fallout 3. I felt it only superficially contained the elements of a Fallout game but completely missed the mark in almost every other way. (New Vegas, however, was very much the sequel I’d been hoping for, despite being saddled with the F3 engine.)

    However, I feel that ripping F3 to shreds for being set 200 years after the bombs is unfair. F1 was set nearly 100 years afterwards – at least three generations later – not the single generation stated in this post. But the world depicted in F1 suggests that civilisation was essentially completely destroyed, and is only just beginning to rebuild now that people are emerging from the Vaults. And it makes sense that the people inside the Vaults would have been trapped in a state of arrested development that whole time.

    F2 depicted a world that had believably advanced from the state it was in in F1. The NCR had formed out of the tiny town you encounter in F1, and has built cities and towns. And in New Vegas it’s suggested that they’re now a proper little nation that is expanding into Nevada.

    So F3, I think, can be criticised for depicting the East Coast as being well behind the West. There might be some argument that maybe the East Coast Vaults are only just now opening, but it probably doesn’t hold up to well. But it’s wrong to suggest that it’s set 200 years later. It’s set only 36 years after F2.

    • krellen says:

      The issue isn’t that it’s 200 years later, but that it’s 200 years later but doesn’t acknowledge that progression of time. Fallout 1 was a hundred years later, and there were cities – legitimate cities – built anew in the wastes. The Boneyard (and Necropolis) were the only settlements centred around pre-War cities; Shady Sands, the Hub, and Junktown were all new settlements with no relation to the pre-War landscape.

      The same holds for Fallout 2; most of those places were also new, post-War buildings. Fallout 2 even had the decency to show us an entirely post-War settlement in Vault City.

      Contrast this with Fallout 3, where everyone is living in ruins, no one has built anything (except for Megaton, and even that is entirely centred around a post-War relic), and not even a single tree has apparently grown in 200 years. The problem isn’t the timeline explicitly, but everything the timeline implies, but lacks.

      • Mark says:

        Not showing the progression of time in F3 is a legitimate complaint, and I agree with it.

        But this article posits that Bethesda is the one who jumped time forward from the nukes by 200 years, when F2 was already set nearly 170 years after the nukes.

        It also posits that 200 years after a nuclear apocalypse, civilisation would have built itself back up into something completely new and unrecognisable, which I don’t agree with. Rebuilding the world in the ashes of the Old World would likely be a very long and difficult process.

        And I feel that F1, F2 and New Vegas reflect this.

        F3 doesn’t, and that is a problem. The East Coast is way behind the West Coast. It doesn’t really make sense. But I don’t feel like it’s quite as big a deal as this article makes it out to be.

        • Shamus says:

          I’ve never heard the “100 years” figure. I based my thoughts on the opening of Fallout 1:

          “Your family was part of that group that entered vault 13. Imprisoned safely behind a large vault door and beneath a mountain of stone, a generation has lived without knowledge of the outside world.”

          It says “your family” and not “your ancestors”. It also says “a generation”, which is an informal measure of time usually talking about something like 20-40 years.

          If some other part of the game (or maybe the Fallout bible?) claims it’s been 100 years, then I’d call that an inconsistency in the game itself.

          While I can’t argue that one number is objectively better than the other, “a generation” always felt about right to me.

          • Mark says:

            The original source for the date of the nukes appears to be this:


            Which is an object from F1 (also included in F3).

            And on the map screen of F1, the date (2162) is displayed in the top right corner.

            So yes, that’s an inconsistency in the original game. At least as far as “a generation” goes (although there’s a lot of confusion about what the term “generation” actually means). I also wouldn’t call my 90 year old grandmother “my ancestor”. Technically she is, but the term “ancestor” is usually reserved for people who died before living memory. I’d call her my family.

            (The war happening in 2077 is something that’s always been a little problematic for me, even way back when I was first playing F1 and F2. It suffers from the same issues you raise about F3: it suggests that, apart from nuclear powered cars, civilisation had barely advanced from the 1950s in more than a century. In a more believable alternate future, the nukes would have dropped in the 1990s or something.)

            But I’m not saying that F3 is somehow a great game because of this. I disliked it so much I never finished it, and I’m generally not a fan of Bethesda games. But I understand why they did this: they were introducing the Fallout franchise to a whole new audience, and wanted to include as many of the elements from the original games as they could while still being able to call it a sequel.

            They did a pretty terrible job of this (as I said, the inclusion of those elements only superficially made it resemble a Fallout). They probably should have said “This is set around the same time as F1, but way over on the opposite coast.”

          • Von Krieger says:

            “A generation has lived without knowledge of the outside world” isn’t using the term as a unit of time. Rather using lived in the past tense meaning that a whole generation was born, grew old, and died in the vaults.

            • ehlijen says:

              That’s what I thought it was meant to mean, too. As in, the player is now part of the second generation that did not have the benefit of teachers with living memory of the outside world.

              Your great grand parents where the first in the vault. They taught their kids, who taught their kids who now just taught you. Ie you are down to third hand information about the apocalypse.

  24. Kreek says:

    but i really WANT to hear your complaints about little lamplight!

    honestly, that area wouldnt have been so bad if

    A) children were allowed to be killed (without mods) instead of mysteriously coated in gun/bullet reflecting plot armor


    B) it wasnt somewhere you absolutely had to deal with in the main story, thus forcing you to go there to progress

  25. Somniorum says:

    “Yes, Dad is an idiot. I know he sounds smart because he’s got the voice of Liam Neeson, and Liam Neeson can make anything sound brilliant”

    Not in my opinion…

    When I was playing this game, a good way through, I started thinking of just how crummy so much of the voice acting was, and I recall thinking in particular about how dull and lifeless the main character’s dad sounded.

    Then I looked it up and found out it was Neeson and was floored.

    If they can’t manage to get Neeson to give a good performance, something is seriously wrong with their directing.

  26. Muelnet says:

    I’m going to parrot what some other people said in that I don’t think you can criticize it for being 200 years after the bombs. The better criticism is not the length of time but that they don’t consider how that length of time has affected things. The games were never set “right after the bombs fell” the first one was something like 84 years after the bombs, Fallout 2 was about 160.

    The real crime was that they didn’t think about what happened in the 200 years since the bombs fell and aped post-apocalyptic ideas from movies that were set closer to the apocalypse. For instance, I know you aren’t going to talk about Little Lamplight, but after watching “Beyond Thunderdome” recently (don’t make my mistakes, don’t watch Beyond Thunderdome for any reason ever) it was pretty clear to me that Little Lamplight was probably based on the group of kids that Max runs into after being exiled from Bartertown. It almost made sense in Beyond Thunderdome (it still didn’t really make sense, and I could go into a whole thing about that, but not now), but 200 years after the war it made no sense, so they had to make up that thing about the kids kicking out the older kids for no reason.

    Slightly unrelated, but on the subject of Beyond Thunderdome, the boomers quest in Fallout: New Vegas where you have to listen to the kid tell the story about the history of his people is ripped straight from Beyond Thunderdome. Watch, if you dare

    • Having a city of kids could have been a powerful thing in F3, if it had been set up properly. They could’ve kept its origins the same, but have the place evolve into a “dumping ground” for the wasteland’s unwanted kids. The slavers and raiders wait until the residents come of age and then drag them off to Paradise Falls. If they want to try and escape, they go to Big Town (I would’ve had a tunnel or something making this an attractive option, instead of leaving by the front gate).

      Rather than the “Mayor” antagonize you and refuse to help because they’re a snot-nosed kid, they should have been hesitant to do so for fear of ticking off the raiders/slavers who really ran Little Lamplight.

      It’s like Bethesda (and frankly, a lot of movies) have these setpieces they want but they don’t go the extra step of having some creative types come in and try to figure out a halfway decent explanation for why it exists.

  27. Mephane says:

    I’m also not going to nitpick problems with scope or scale. Yes, two Brahamin is not enough cattle for a community of a dozen, a tiny garden can’t feed a whole family, and Tenpenny Tower is actually only a five-minute walk from Megaton. That’s fine. It’s all fine. We understand that in a videogame you explore on foot, some abstraction and compression of space is required. We can accept that a five-meter plot is “a farm”, five cows is “a ranch”, five houses is “a town”, and a mile is “a really long way”.

    But I am going to. Not particular with regards to Fallout 3, because I haven’t played the game, because the copies you normally get here in Germany (on Steam, too) are apparently censored and I was never sufficiently excited about the game to bother with importing from the UK or USA. Anyway.

    Improper scale in video games. One of my pet peeves. There is imho a massive difference between presenting 5 huts as a “town” and compressing a city like New York to 10% of its actual size. The former would house an entirely unsustainably small community, the latter may not be the real deal, but will get the message across believably without having to go all the way to full, real scale.

    There needs to be at least some semblance of real sizes. In Warcraft, Goldshire is meant to be a busy town, in WoW, it consists of 3 houses, one of which is a metalsmith workshop, one is a tavern, and only one house is an actual home where people live. If they’d just added a dozen extra homes (could even be closed so you don’t need to model the interior), you’d at least get the feeling that this may not be three random buildings in the middle of a forest.
    And the game wasn’t even consistent. Stormwind was big enough to actually feel like a city, even though it was still unrealistically small, no one would ever mistake it for a random assortment of huts in the wilderness. The farms of Westfall would never be enough to feed the population of the already undersized Stormwind, but the area is large enough and has a big number of individual farms that the message comes across – this sprawling landscape of farms is where the food for the big city comes from.

    But of course I would personally prefer to always go full scale. Not out lof a purist viewpoint that things ought to be realistic, but because a city or landscape of real scale, or one sufficiently close to it promotes entirely different approaches to the gameplay. Take Fuel, for example. Its vast game area is still technically totally undersized if you consider how close the different types of landscape are to each other, but the individual features are of a realistic scale. A mountain isn’t a small hill, but an actual, gigantic mass of rock and dirt which may not be that inviting to your car racing. A supposedly large lake isn’t implemented as a small pond that you can just quickly drive around to the other side.

    Good examples of still somewhat unrealistic but at least believable scale are Just Cause 2, Saints Row 3 and 4 (not sure about 1+2), GTA 4 and 5. Yes, it is no accident that these games also happen to be open world games; if you want to provide the player with open game space, you have to take scale seriously. But even if are making just a linear shooter, it is entirely possible to build the backdrop with a keen eye for realism; a good example for that is Space Marine – 100% linear corridor shooter, but it provides lots of big, vast scenery that successfully conveys a sense for the sheer scale of the world and the things that exist within it (for example the Titan, or the massive building with the ground-to-orbit cannon, and of course the final section on the huge tower and the the boss fight that ends with both you and the villain falling from all the way down the height of the tower, still fighting (btw one of the rare occasions where I found QTE appropriate, although lots of people didn’t like it, I found it a very good solution)). Half Life 2 should also be mentioned here, its vast backdrops were groundbreaking at the time.


    A propos game space – space games are the worst in this regard. I would exempt RTS in general because they are usually at least one level of abstraction away from what would actually happen anyway, so I can accept an unrealistically tiny planet or solar system much easier there. But when it is a first person or third person game where you command a huge Star Trek style starship or pilot a small Star Wars style fighter, going through solar systems so small that would it fit 3000 times between the Earth and the Moon, with planets of a few kilometeres diameter, the entire setting suffers. Space is this vast, cold and hostile environment of mostly nothing, in which float, separated by enormous distance, islands that are relatively miniscule but still gigantic in absolute terms, and getting stranded out there is a common scenario, but it doesn’t work if everything is just a stone’s throw away.

    A particularly bad example is Freelancer. Sometimes it seems the developers didn’t even try; they even used real world units, so that it became blatantly obvious that this Earth-like world is just 30km away from its star. If you can’t provide realistic scale, at least mask it as best as you can.

    In the X games, at least planets are made as backdrops, still probably unrealistically small but you don’t just casually fly around them, they are set far enough away so that it feels like the place your are flying around is just a tiny fraction of the vast volume in which space stations and ships orbit. Freelancer’s predecessor, Starlancer, actually got this right, too. I remember a mission that took place in the orbit of Saturn, and the gas giant really seemed to be this unimaginably gigantic ball of gas and ice and dust far, far away yet still completely dominating the backdrop. I have no idea why they dropped that approach for the new game, in favour of a comically undersized game world.

    At this point, I just have to mention Elite Dangerous. The game has been boasting its full scale procedural replica of the entire Milky Way galaxy, stars, planets, moons and systems to actual scale and in correspondingly staggering numbers, which has been my personal selling point in the first place. The game promised to go the extra mile of as much scientific accuracy as possible – and they delivered. I’ve been playing it since the Alpha stage and still I sometimes pause and marvel at the sheer boldness of its scale. I think the game spoiled all future space games for me, because I won’t ever be able to accept a 5km sphere as a “planet”, or a 50kmx50km grid as a “solar system” again.

    I understand not every game can afford to and needs an entire galaxy of realistic proportions, so my advice for future space games (not that any game devs would listen to me) is to stick to something more managable, and design your game and story around it. It is entirely possible for your regular game to model a single full scale solar system, and instead of instant interstellar hyperdrives you might provide ships with warp engines of very limited capability, or even flight at STL speeds only and skip the travelling between planets in a short cutscene. Or you could build your story about interstellar travel happening through gigantic (many kilometers in diameter – again, scale matters) stargates in solar orbit, expensive to build and the construction fleet has to arrive at the destination at sublight speeds first, and hence there are only a handful of systems available, which individually can be modelled at real scale – bam, instant story reason for why you can only visit so few systems, and you directly expand on that in future DLC, expansion packs, or sequels, bad adding extra systems because “in the meantime the construction fleet has arrived and completed their work”.

    This would also avoid the problem of a galaxy where you somehow have hyperdrives fast enough to fly all the way across quickly to construct your jumpgates all over the place, yet somehow still haven’t colonized more than a few dozen systems already and the player ship (of course… groan) doesn’t have an actual hyperdrive, or only gets it near the end of the game as a plot device (often by being some alien tech salvaged from a wreck, that can only be used once to get to the special place where that galaxy-ending doomsday weapon waits for us to destroy it…).

    In other words, and this doesn’t apply just to space games, but to all games that model a game world, even if just as mere scenery – rather than pretending to provide a scale that just isn’t there, why not go smaller, but stick to realistic scale within that limited (but still big) game space? If you can only model a tiny village, then don’t pretend it is a sprawling urban metropolis – let it be the tiny village that it is. And never try to present 3 houses as a “town”.

    • ehlijen says:

      One reason why fighter space games tend to use very small game spaces is because the fighters are actually ridiculously slow.

      Space shooters generally focus on gun combat at visual range, because that’s what the star wars movies gave us and that’s what looks cool.

      The thing is, as was discovered during the Korean war, LOS gun combat just plain doesn’t work once you get past a certain speed. So the fighters in those games are kept slow (though screen effects are added to make you feel fast).

      Take Freespace: the superfast interceptors are noted as ~80m/s in speed. That’s less than 300kph. With afterburners they might just outrun a spitfire…maybe.

      Any faster, and gunplay stops being fun. But to make players able to get places with that speed, everything needs to happen in a small space.

      The military, mission driven space shooters are mostly get around that by simply setting each mission in a tiny space around something important, but open space games that want to keep the gunplay need to shrink the world or running away from anything becomes too easy.

  28. Sean Riley says:

    In the spirit of contrariness, I’m going to pinpoint the two things I feel Fallout 3 did right, by contrast to New Vegas: It actually took the goddamn time for an act 1, and as a result it did a decent job defining the main character’s motivations. Your relationship with your father is well-established — I think the framing of it is clunky, but it’s there and the game takes its time in making sure you understand that there’s a lot of love between the two of you.

    As such, when the instigating moment of the plot is issued, the logic of the games plot from there is also clear to the player — “Find my dad” as a plot makes sense, since the Vault Dweller has nobody else to turn to, and the vanishing of a loving parent is mysterious. Once you find your dad and things go to hell again, ‘finish my dad’s work’ isn’t a stretch as a final goal.

    Don’t get me wrong, the execution of all the plots is pants, but the basic arc of them is sensible and emotionally coherent. As a result, I finished Fallout 3, even though I didn’t think it was a great game.

    By contrast, New Vegas botches both of those goals royally. Who the heck ARE you as the courier? I know literally nothing, except that I’m a courier. I have been shot and left for dead. What’s the expectation here? I assume I work for a company (which you find out you do, the Mojave Express)… am I meant to report back? Am I meant to get back the package, is this expected of me? It’s never made clear.

    The game assumes you’ll want revenge. It assumes you should be recovering the chip. It does nothing to make the player want either. The lack of a proper first act hurts like hell here; the bullshit in medias res opening basically removes any chance Benny has to be a hateable opponent, robbing the early act of a lot of momentum. And the game takes no time to create any sense of duty regarding obtaining the chip, either. And it could have done that, even with the in medias res opening! Put in our possessions an invoice for the delivery of the chip, payable upon delivery! If you really wanna ram it home, throw in an IOU with a threatening note on it!

    But let’s just at least run with the assumptions. Fine. The logical arc here then is that the courier would want to hunt down Benny, get revenge, recover the chip, and deliver it to the original receiver. Who turns out to be House. OK, groovy. Delivered.

    Then the game basically begins, with the real scenario it’s gunning for: Who do you support in the takeover of Hoover Dam?

    And it hasn’t once taken even the slightest bit of time to give you a stake in any of them.

    The NCR? Shit, they’re blank slates as far as I could see. Should my courier see them as an intrusive face of the New Civilization, destroying a wild west frontier I love? I have no idea!

    Caesar’s Legion? OK, they’re assholes. I don’t know why anyone playing the game would side with them, since they’re abundantly made clear to be assholes and are just as much the New Civilization as the NCR is, but should my courier be wanting to help them? I have no idea!

    House? I did just get him the chip. But that was my job! I did it! I am square with the House.

    As such, I’ve just never finished Fallout: New Vegas. I have no idea why I’m meant to. Nothing about the game ever gives me some idea about why my character should be doing anything, beyond reporting back to Mojave Express and asking for the next assignment.

    I get the idea that the Courier is a blank slate. But so is the Vault Dweller. In neither case are we forced to be any particular person — We can devise our strengths and weaknesses, our ideals and methods. Done right, New Vegas could have found a way to make the initial part of the storyline right (Seriously, giving us a proper act 1 would have done wonders) while using the quest for Benny-Vengeance to introduce characters who would shape our opinions on the NCR-Legion-House throwdown and give us reason to care about it.

    But it does none of that. And that’s why; in spite of the more diverse gameplay, in spite of the better worldbuilding, in spite of the general lesser stupid… I still prefer Fallout 3.

    • Microwaviblerabbit says:

      New Vegas is weird because it expects the player to create their own motivations. It shows you a world, then asks you who to support. This is why it is such a good game to roleplay in. Unfortunately, the flipside of this is that the game really expects you to seek out more information yourself, especially as a new player, by talking with everyone and completing all the sidequests in the first act.

      The game tries to ‘suggest’ this by tying information about the man who shot you with various sidequests, but I do agree it does fail to give the player more motivation than revenge/curiosity.

      It does highlight the major difference between Bethesda and Obsidian though. If Bethesda had made the first act, they would have forced the player into unskippable cutscenes with unkillable, unlikeable characters. Obsidian instead relies on the player being interested in their world, and the characters in it.

      • Xapi says:

        I agree. By the time it came to that desition, I had my fair idea of what House, the NCR and Ceasar’s Legion was all about, and I had good reasons to side with each (ok, not CL, unless you count “roplaying a sadist a-hole” as a reason).

        You can string all of them along in the main plot until rather advanced in it, so you can take your time to know them and decide.

      • J.M. Alexia says:

        I really liked New Vegas, and the way they did things, and I think part of that is because I did get into character. I honestly didn’t care about that stupid little chip, what I cared about was that some asshole shot me in the head, and I refused to let them get away with that!

        I explore the world, kill some people, interact with the locals, and generally do my best to give everyone a bad day, because I’m playing a character that finds enjoyment in the suffering of others. I get to New Vegas at last, and immediately go after Benny. He offers me a deal, I’m willing to accept because I’m also greedy. And then of course, you know, betrayal, so I’m even more determined to hunt him down.

        I went Independent Vegas, by the way, and the fact that independence was an option is probably what sold me most on that game. I could in fact say, “Screw you!” to every single faction in the game, which I gleefully did. My motivation, as the character I was playing, was to be completely selfish and bloodthirsty, and the game let me.

        Of course, I can see why if you didn’t have those built-in motivations it might be harder to get behind some parts of the story, but if you have a character already in mind, it really does get you hooked quite quickly.

        Honestly though, I think the DLCs actually do a better job, even if there was the occasional bit of railroading. Dead Money had greed as a motivation, and then revenge on Elijah. Honest Hearts had player greed again, and then you could actually just betray everyone and leave anyways. Old World Blues had curiosity, then railroading, then sweet sweet vengeance. By the time I was done with all those in my playthrough, the references to Lonesome Road had gotten me curious enough to go straight for it, and that DLC… well I could write a whole rant about how much I love Lonesome Road and what it does with player choice and motivation. “You can go home, Courier.”

      • Sean Riley says:

        That’s a nicer way of putting it than I did, which is “Bethesda actually put in the work to MAKE you care about it, Obsidian just assumes you will.” ;)

        (Both are equally valid interpretations, but I prefer the Bethesda approach here. In everything else, I prefer the Obsidian one.)

  29. This makes me want to go play Fallout 1/2 (which alas just went into storage with the majority of the rest of my crap while I’m between houses). :( Given I haven’t played them before, how well do they hold up now? I tried Baldur’s Gate not that long ago and kind of bounced off it partly because it hasn’t aged particularly well; I’m worried I’ll find the original Fallouts similarly impenetrable now.

    • Humanoid says:

      Hard to say for those who’ve played it way back in the day. Have a look at some screenshots of it with the hi-res patch running (which essentially just zooms out the map). Mechanically hard to say, the only personal annoyance is that in Fallout 1 you can’t shove NPCs out of the way.

      • Xapi says:

        I hadn’t played it before, tried to, and it was really a drag.

        The controls are dated and cluncky and everything takes too much time.

        Modern PC games have spoiled me.

        I had the same reaction to a replay of Planescape: Torment, wich is still, in my youthful memories, the BEST. GAME. EVER.

  30. Blovsk says:

    LITTLE LAMPLIGHT… if ever a single main quest-compulsory area punched a game’s theme, lore, setting, gameplay, agency and tone in the nuts harder I’ve yet to see it.

  31. Alec says:

    As always, what I come to this site hoping to get.
    Also, yay someone remembers Cacodemons.

  32. Smejki says:

    I agree but as your note says older Fallouts are also quite far from the war.
    Fallout 1 takes place 84 years after war, Fallout 2 happens 164 years after the war. So that is not that different from F3’s 200 years.

    However there are clear differences in approach to the theme between old Fs and F3.

    1) There’s a clear world development between F1 and F2.

    The games are a whole human life apart and there is exactly just one human from F1 alive in F2 (that Shady Sans girl who now runs NCR now). See? Where the dirty small village of Shady Sands was is now the most developed city-state. This is the only non-vault location you revisit but if you look at the whole world you see there a clear difference as well. While in F1 you were visiting places on the level of development of F2’s Modoc and Redding, F2 also has much more developed towns like San Fran, New Reno. The advancement didn’t happen to just that one location, it happened everywhere in the world but that one location serves well as a reference point you can use to extrapolate and what all changes happened in the whole world.

    The world of F3 feels even less developed than that of Fallout 1. It feels like everybody in the world has just picked all the junk and tried to build a provisional rain shelter. Well maybe except for the ship-city.

    2) The only NPC able to talk about old stuff are long-living ghouls and mutants.

    They were the main source of historicity in the postapo world. And even then they were mainly sticking to their own history which could easily predate anyone alive thus making them quite melancholic and the main source of old wisdom.

    In F3 many people know quite a lot of stuff about the Old World and thinking about it seems to occupy decent part of their life. Ghouls are for shooting and for calling you smoothskin (in order to present you a very shallow and disfunctional metaphor of racism). And we also learn that all it takes to become one is just standing in a nuclear blastwave for a few seconds (OMG!). Supermutants are just a shooting target.

    3) The emphasis of the 50s retrofuturism in F1 and 2 was on visuals, state of technology and science.

    Nobody cared for historical dresses, historical furniture, or historical art. In F1 everyone wore ordinary everyday clothes they may have easily made themselves, lived in houses filled with mainly primitive wooden furniture and the Muses were silent. People cared for themselves and for others. Even in F1 you didn’t feel like nobody cleaned up their shit for the 200 years and crap from the Old World is everywhere like you feel in F3. It felt like people were trying to survive and build something for future generations (instead of just talking about it the whole bloody time)

  33. ogg says:

    Cool, looking forward to more of this, very much enjoyed your writing on Fable 2.

  34. Kdansky says:

    One thing that has always pissed me off to no end about Fallout is the desert theme. If you have a non-desert to begin with (e.g. where Fallout 3 is situated), and then drop a few atom bombs, then you don’t get desert. You get Chernobyl. Just google some pictures, there is a great travel record by a guy on a motorcycle.

    To sum up: It’s a jungle. Everything is green and overgrown. It looks more like Last of Us or Crysis 3 than Fallout 3.

    So I lost my suspension of disbelief when I saw the first screenshots. That’s quicker than Mass Effect 2, which otherwise would hold the record with its “failed during intro”.

  35. Nonesuch says:

    My biggest resource related pet-peeve in the fallout series has always been this. You see those open houses with no roof or walls, basically just timber frames standing out in the open? Those shouldn’t be there. That wood burns, that timber can be used to shore up houses that aren’t falling apart. It’d actually be funny to see a bunch of mailboxes still sitting there in front of piles of useless bits of masonry (though that could still be used, somewhere, even if it’s just for a piled stone wall) that used to be houses. Vegas at least had their absurd junk wall. There were people squatting in some of those old buildings. By the same token, I’m surprised that Vault 15 (home of shady sands) wasn’t as picked over as it might have been, unless things were actually bolted to the floor (and even then, that might not have stopped people). Moving the computers and things that would require the vault infrastructure makes no sense of course, but bed frames, dressers? Any kind of cloth? All things that could have been moved after they settled. The Khans at least give you an idea of why they might not have been going back, and it looks like they might have hit the Vault for supplies a few times after leaving.

  36. J Kerr says:

    fyi, there is an interesting thread @ neogaf about this article.


  37. Kelley Rathjen says:

    So what I’ve learned from fallout 4 is that the bombs fell in the year 2077 which makes zero sense! I can understand the story that in the 1950’s technology evolved to quickly and a few years later it was our undoing but to think the 1950’s theme stuck for 120 plus years without any further advancements in technology or music is Beyond ridiculous! No Led Zeppelin?? None of that? Really? It was just people listening to the ink spots for that many years and no one ever picked up a guitar? John Lennon and Paul McCartney were never born?? The 1969 Camaro was never created just the rocket 69? Don’t get me wrong I love playing this game but it’s themes and stories make no sense. I mean the “minutemen”??? lol come on!

    • Daniel says:

      It is pretty silly when you think about it that way, but you have to remember, 2077 as it exists in the Fallout universe is supposed to look like what the people of the 1950s thought the future may look like.

  38. Rafael says:

    Hi, very entertaining read. But now that Fallout 4 has been released, when we have an analysis of Fallout 4’s stupidity? Has it improved over Fallout 3 or is it just as stupid?

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