Bethesda NEVER Understood Fallout

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Jan 28, 2020

Filed under: Column 216 comments

Bethesda NEVER understood Fallout. Yes, I know this is a really popular franchise and I’m risking furious nerd wrath by criticizing it, but I used up all my positivity in the last video. If you want to hear me love a game you could always go back and watch that one again. 

See, the problem with Bethesda’s Fallout is that…

Link (YouTube)

Hang on. I think we need to do a little refresher on this particular IP. I know a lot of people already know this, but if we don’t cover this now then the discussion will get hopelessly sidetracked. So to avoid confusion, let’s talk about how this crazy franchise got started.

In 1997, developer Interplay releases Fallout: A Post Nuclear Role Playing Game. It’s an open-world turn-based role-playing video game. This game is played on a hex grid with an isometric view. At this point, things take a turn. Some of the Interplay developers leave and start their own studio, Troika. Meanwhile, the company “Interplay” is actually two different things. There’s Interplay the publisher, and Interplay the developer. This is confusing, but luckily the studio part is re-branded Black Isle and the remaining team goes on to make Fallout 2 in 1998. Then the IP is handed off to a couple of other studios to make combat-focused spinoff games. These games are like the Star Wars Holiday Special. They’re weird, out of print, hard to find, and most fans are happy to pretend they don’t exist.

After this, the Black Isle studio closes. Publisher Interplay closes.  Troika closes. Everyone closes. It’s the end of the golden age of PC roleplaying games.

The IP is in limbo until Bethesda buys it up and releases Fallout 3 in 2008, turning the franchise into a 3D shooter. Old-time Fallout fans disparagingly call it “Oblivion with Guns”, but it doesn’t matter. The idea of a 3D first-person Fallout game is a huge hit and the game goes on to be a massive blockbuster and a critical darling. Old Fallout fans like me are sore about it, but it doesn’t matter because we’re hopelessly outnumbered by the new fans. Bethesda literally doesn’t need us.

A funny thing happened while all of this was going on. Those folks from Black Isle went on to start their own studio, which they called Obsidian Entertainment. They are, arguably, the original creators of the franchise. Or some of them. So Bethesda loans them the license and in 2010 Obsidian releases Fallout: New Vegas. Then in 2015 Bethesda returns with Fallout 4. Then in 2018, they gave us Fallout 76, and then… you know what? We don’t have time to talk about Fallout 76. Nobody does. Let’s just move on.

So that’s the history of the franchise. The problem here is that I really want to bash Bethesda for misunderstanding the series, but from experience I know the first defense against my arguments will be that many of these same things were done by Black Isle / Obsidian. And who am I to disagree with the creators?

For the record, I’m not crazy about some of the creative decisions they made in Fallout 2, and while I liked New Vegas I’m not going to pretend it was a perfect game. Yes, some of my criticism can be applied to the non-Bethesda games, but I’m not going to make a big spreadsheet of creative sins and work out which studios or creative individuals should be blamed. Bethesda owns the property. They’re in charge of ensuring quality, brand recognition, and maintaining the tone and lore of the franchise. We can haggle over where the bad ideas came from, but ultimately blame has to end up in the lap of publisher and rights holder Bethesda.

Okay? Okay. Let’s commence with the bitching and moaning. My first gripe is that…

1. Fallout is Not About the 1950s

In Bethesda’s games, the idea seems to be that Fallout takes place in a world where the bombs fell in the 1950s. Or rather, in a world where the culture of the 1950s lasted an extra 120 years, and even endured through the apocalypse. That’s actually a backwards way of thinking about it. The first Fallout game was actually a really clever  example of retrofuturism. To explain what I’m talking about, take a look at these images:

These are concept drawings made by artists in 1899, speculating on what the world of 2000 would look like. The time difference between these artists and the world they were imagining is almost as extreme as the time difference between the 1950s and the day the bombs fell on the world of Fallout. 

As silly as they look now, to the people at the tail end of the Victorian period, these images of the year 2000 really did look like the future. 

In 1979, when people saw the Buck Rogers television show, they saw the future. When we look at that same show today, we see 1979. When we see Blade Runner 2049, we see the future. When the people of 2049 watch that same movie, they’ll see 2017.  

Getting back to those images of the year 2000. Imagine if someone drew these pictures today. In fact, imagine if we made a game out of these images. A world where law enforcement chases down smugglers with helicopter backpacks and city blocks migrate around with the help of massive steam engines while the mail is delivered by postmen zooming around on birdlike flying machines. If we made that game here in the world of 2020, then it would be an example of retrofuturism. We’re remembering the future of the past.

And that’s what the world of Fallout is. It’s not the 1950s. It’s the year 2077 as the people of the 1950s would have imagined it

But wait! It’s actually more complicated than that. It’s actually the world of 2077 as the people of 1997 imagined the people of 1950 would have imagined it. Actually, it’s even more subtle. It’s that world, but then that world was nuked into rubble, and spent 84 years trying to claw its way back towards civilization. 

The world of 2077 was a vacuum-tube powered extrapolation of the future, and that world was obliterated by nuclear holocaust. The opening of the first game drives this point home. We start out watching advertisements for the products of 2077 on a black and white television, but then the camera pulls back and we can see that the old world is ruined. The bombs fell on this chrome-plated retro-future, and the world of Mad Max emerged from the rubble. The shocking contrast between these two cultures is core to the feel of the world. 

You roam all over the place in Fallout 1, and you meet a lot of strange people. But nowhere in that voyage do you meet comical throwbacks to the old world. You don’t meet any greaser gangs. There aren’t any old-timey prohibition-era gangsters with tommy guns. No pinstripe suits, no letterman jackets, no horn-rim glasses, no pompadour haircuts or beehive hairdos, no baseball players, no sundresses, no neckties, no newsies, and not a single gumshoe. There aren’t any wacky DJs playing 200 year old doo-wop songs. The game is not subtle about this. The old world is fucking gone. Like, that’s the point.

But then Bethesda got their hands on the Fallout license and they somehow thought it was about a 1950s-flavored apocalypse. That’s multiple layers of wrong. They took the 50s thing way too literally and too far, and then they brought it into the post-war ruins where it makes absolutely no senseThey also pulled some of the post-apocalyptic stuff into the pre-war history. They retconned it so that Jet was a pre-war invention, which was not originally the case. In a setting designed to create a stark contrast between pre/post nuclear war, you should not blend the two together!. I don’t know if Bethesda did this because they don’t understand the setting, or if they thought it would be funny. 

Which brings me to the next thing Bethesda doesn’t understand…

2. The Humor

Swattah swattah SWATTA! Getcha swattah here!
Swattah swattah SWATTA! Getcha swattah here!

Fallout 1 was a game infused with dark humor, like movies by the Coen Brothers. The humor mostly comes from seeing simple misunderstandings or dim-wittedness spiral into shocking danger and violence. Bethesda never really got that, and so their humorous characters are more like wacky goofballs from a Naked Gun movie. 

Just to drive this point home, I want to contrast two examples that revolve around the use of sports equipment in the post-apocalypse. In Fallout 4, we meet this guy.

He sounds like a baseball player. He’s dressed like a baseball player. He’s obsessed with his misunderstood version of baseball that he thinks people played before the war. He makes and sells baseball bats. He’s goofy and absurd. How can this guy ever sell enough baseball bats to feed himself? He makes no sense. Fallout 4 takes place in Boston, real-world Bostonians are stereotypically baseball fans, therefore we get this guy. A one-note joke character. A wacky goofball.

Contrast that with the way the legion uses old-world sports equipment in Fallout New Vegas. You can find Legion soldiers running around in football gear, but they’re not treated as joke characters. They don’t see themselves as football players. They don’t talk in football idioms or act like a football team. They don’t know about old-world football and they don’t care what the gear was originally used for. They just found some sports equipment and realized it would make for good armor. The humor comes from the absurdity of seeing these harmless and mundane objects adopted unironically by an army of vicious murderers and slavemasters. Again, this fits with the theme that the old world died and Mad Max rose out of the ashes. 

Which brings me to my next problem, which is that Bethesda’s world suffers from a horrible case of…

3. Cultural Stagnation

In the original, you could never zoom this far out. In fact, you couldn't zoom at all. You can look at the control bar on the bottom to get an idea of how big your original view was. 640x480 ain't a lot of pixels!
In the original, you could never zoom this far out. In fact, you couldn't zoom at all. You can look at the control bar on the bottom to get an idea of how big your original view was. 640x480 ain't a lot of pixels!

Their entire world is ridiculously stagnant. To show you what I’m talking about, check out the above image of Shady Sands from the original Fallout. This is likely the first major location the player will visit. You can see that the inhabitants have built things. They have a well for fresh drinking water and irrigation. They have both crops and livestock. They’ve built post-war tools. They have beds to sleep in, houses to shelter them from the elements, and they have walls around the city for defense. They’ve even made a latrine.  

The village doesn’t get many visitors. It’s on the edge of the playable gameworld and there’s little reason for anyone to pass this way. That makes it kind of insular and the inhabitants are naturally guarded. 

You can look at this place and understand everything you need to know about Shady Sands. This is the society that people had managed to build for themselves in the 80 or so years since the bombs fell. It’s a throwback to small pre-industrial village life, with a few pre-war tools and ideas mixed in. You’ll notice that the ground isn’t piled high with rubble and the inhabitants aren’t ankle-deep in garbage. Which makes sense, since people, you know, live here.

This world is a mile wide and a molecule deep.
This world is a mile wide and a molecule deep.

Now let’s consider the Drumlin Diner in Fallout 4, which takes place 130 years later. That’s 210 years after the bombs fell. The world of Fallout 4 is as far from the war as we are from Napoleon. The diner is run by Trudy. She runs it as a sort of general store. She lives out here, all by herself. Well, I guess she has a son. Who owns a letterman jacket because, again, Bethesda thinks this game is about the 1950s even though that makes no sense whatsoever. 

Anyway, her building offers no privacy or protection from the elements. She doesn’t have a bed to sleep in. She has no way to obtain food except through trade, which is inexplicable since she shouldn’t have any. She produces no goods so she shouldn’t have anything to offer in trade. 

The floor is littered with trash. There’s a prewar skeleton in one of the booths. That would make sense if this was an untouched ruin, but this woman lives here. It’s been 210 years since the bombs fell, and nobody ever swept the floor or cleared out the skeleton? There’s a broom in the corner of the room that evidently hasn’t been touched in two centuries. Nobody ever boarded up the windows? Built a fence? Dug a latrine? Planted a garden? Created a path for fetching water from the nearby stream? 

In the world of Fallout 4, it looks like people crawled out of the rubble after the bombs fell and then spent the next 200 years shooting each other from behind heaps of rubble and wading through ankle-deep trash everywhere. People have supposedly been living in these places for over two centuries, but they look identical to the untouched ruins. 

This was supposed to be a series about the wild world that emerged from the ashes of nuclear fire, but Bethesda thought the series was about the ashes themselves. The first Fallout was very interested in worldbuilding and speculating about the kind of society that might emerge after the apocalypse. When you looked around the world, you could understand how it worked. The problem with Bethesda’s worldbuilding is that they didn’t actually build anything. Bethesda just wants to make rubble-themed shooting galleries.

On top of the stagnation within the world, Bethesda’s games also suffer from…

4. Creative Stagnation

Wow. This game is WILD. I can't imagine what kinds of crazy stuff we'll find in the sequels.
Wow. This game is WILD. I can't imagine what kinds of crazy stuff we'll find in the sequels.

The first Fallout game took place in Southern California. It featured radscorpions, deathclaws, super mutants, and a small cult of technology fetishists called the Brotherhood of Steel. The locals used bottlecaps as an ad-hoc currency.

Then the second game came out, with the same lineup. At the time, I accepted this as a necessity of the short development cycle. The games were exactly a year apart, so I guess some asset reuse was inevitable. And it was understandable within the world. Fallout 2 still took place in California. Scorpions aren’t too much of a stretch. Perhaps the deathclaws and Brotherhood of Steel migrated? And yeah, the events of Fallout 1 killed the source of the supermutants, but maybe there were still some stragglers left over. I saw it as a missed opportunity to do something different, but fine.

But then Bethesda got the license. They set the next game 2,500 miles away in Washington DC, and the next one even further away, in Boston. Despite this, they brought the same collection of radscorpions, deathclaws, supermutants, and even the Brotherhood of Steel. This makes a lot less sense. I mean, scorpions don’t live within a thousand miles of the northeast. They even kept the idea of using bottlecaps as currency. It would make much more sense – and be much more interesting – if all of the various isolated regions would each come up with different things to use as currency. But Bethesda was just reflexively copying all of the superficial elements without thinking about how the world works. 

Oh. It's literally the same shit again. And again. Forever. I am not longer intrigued.
Oh. It's literally the same shit again. And again. Forever. I am not longer intrigued.

People usually respond to this criticism by trying to invent explanations for how all of this is possible. Maybe scorpions migrated. Maybe the changing climate and mutations make it so that scorpions can live this far north. And it’s not impossible for the Brotherhood to migrate this far east. Same goes for deathclaws. And Bethesda created a new way to create super mutants to explain why they’re still around. 

And fine. Come up with all the excuses you like. My problem isn’t that you can’t justify this in the lore, it’s that it massively limits the setting. If it’s radscorpions, deathclaws, bottlecaps, and Brotherhood on the west coast, and if all that same crap exists on the east coast, then that sort of suggests that this stuff is everywhere. Fallout 1 made it seem like we were just exploring one tiny corner of a vast unknown wasteland, but now Fallout 3 tells us that the wasteland is incredibly homogenous and predictable. Yes, they added Mirelurks and a couple of other new monsters, but we still have the same major elements at the center of the world. 

I want to stress that this isn’t just about giving us new monsters to shoot. This is part of telling a story. You don’t just create a quest like, “Hey, this monster sucks please go kill it for me.” You introduce a problem, question, or mystery and you let the player follow the plot points until they discover the answer. And then they shoot the monster. This is the pattern that the first game followed. Super mutants and deathclaws weren’t just creatures to shoot for experience points. The deathclaw was a red herring in the mystery of what was happening to the trade caravans. The super mutants were one of many clues along the trail to the ultimate villain of the first game. But now these creatures are two hundred years old and everyone knows about them. When one of them appears it isn’t a story, it’s a cameo. Bethesda should make up new freaks so we can have new stories. 

Explore strange new worlds, discover the same old life, again and again, having the same adventure over and over until cancellation.
Explore strange new worlds, discover the same old life, again and again, having the same adventure over and over until cancellation.

In the pilot of Star Trek, the crew has a run-in with these giant forehead aliens called the Talosians. The captain gets himself into trouble, but the crew works it out and everyone makes it back to the ship. They run into the forehead gang a second time a few episodes later and have another adventure, but the Talosians aren’t the stars of the show.

But imagine if these guys were the whole show. The second episode, they go to a planet and meet the foreheadians again. The third episode, they beam down to a new planet and meet more foreheads. Fourth episode: New planet, same old foreheads. To the audience, it would feel like the whole galaxy was just these forehead guys, and we’d be a lot less curious about what we were going to discover on the next away mission. It would be a much less interesting show than the one we got.

Back in the silver age of comic books, we used to have anthology comics that were short stories of science fiction or fantasy. Maybe these things are still around. I don’t know. I haven’t been to the comic shop in a long time. Anyway, these books didn’t feature the same monsters month after month. Instead, each issue was a new situation with a new mystery. A new monster and a new surprise. I wasn’t born until 1971 so most of these were a little before my time, but I’ve read a few. They’re actually similar to the Star Trek “planet of the week” approach to storytelling. Show us something new and fun and maybe a bit scary, and have a protagonist figure out how to deal with it. The original Fallout deliberately referenced these comics in its loading screens. 

That’s key to the appeal of crawling out of a vault to discover an untamed wasteland: You have no idea what sort of horrors you’re going to find. Or at least, you shouldn’t. 

Main quest? Institute what? I have no idea what you're talking about. To me this game is Post-Apocalyptic Trash Picking Comics Collector 2015.
Main quest? Institute what? I have no idea what you're talking about. To me this game is Post-Apocalyptic Trash Picking Comics Collector 2015.

In fact, Bethesda even referenced these anthology comics within Fallout 4. Around the world you can find these comic book covers and you can collect them to boost your stats. The thing is, these covers are really interesting! Bethesda should have taken the creativity that went into these covers and put it into the game itself. Far too often I find myself saying, “Yup. Looks like it’s Deathclaw-O’clock again.” It would be a lot more exciting if I found myself saying, “Wow. What is THAT thing? I don’t know how it works and I’m not sure I want to pick a fight with it.” Since the art assets get re-made every time, there’s no advantage to creating an endless string of games with ever higher resolution versions of the same dang  monsters.

Bethesda took the suspense and trepidation of exploring an unknown wasteland and turned it into a theme park of references and callbacks. I’m not mad that they retconned ways for super mutants to exist on the east coast, I’m disappointed that we’re meeting more super mutants instead of something new and different. It’s not like the original Fallout used up all the good ideas for post-apocalyptic monsters and cults. There are an endless number of wild stories you could tell with the setup of exiting a vault and discovering a savage wasteland full of mutated creatures. Bethesda found themselves with the keys to this franchise of endless possibility, and they decided to go with a plan that was simultaneously the least interesting and most nonsensical. 

I don’t think it was intentional, but you can see the change in creative priorities by looking at the box covers. In the titles made by old-school development teams, the cover shows a character against a background that represents the setting. In Bethesda’s games, it’s just power armor.  Note also how the Bethesda covers are all monochrome, while the old-school games have a colorful and contrasting background. The old-school games were speculative fiction that focused on worldbuilding, while the new games don’t give a damn about worldbuilding and just want to create a fun playground for shooting shit. 

I’m not saying that the Bethesda games are terrible because they don’t have pictures of buildings on the cover. I’m just saying it’s interesting how the covers reflect the creative sensibilities of the different teams.

So now you’re going to ask…

Why am I Complaining About This?

I'm not showing you this because I'm proud. I'm just trying to show that I've suffered for my art.
I'm not showing you this because I'm proud. I'm just trying to show that I've suffered for my art.

I know I’ve been dumping all over a couple of popular games. I want to make it clear that I don’t think the Bethesda games are complete trash. In fact I really enjoyed Fallout 4. You don’t play a game for over 1,000 hours because you hate it. I think that collecting power armor was really a really fun activity. Diamond City doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it looks brilliant. The idea of allowing the player to name a weapon, customize it, and upgrade it over time was fantastic. Despite my earlier griping, I think Detective Nick Valentine was a cool character. I loved collecting comics, and that sort of became the main quest for me when I realized the story was drivel. The base building was an underbaked idea at launch, but with a few mods and a bit of DLC it’s great. The glowing sea was a little toothless in terms of radiation threat, but visually it was wonderfully ominous. This haunted hellscape felt like an idea that would have been right at home in the old Fallout games. The new deathclaw design is completely brilliant. 

So if I like the games so much, why am I complaining? Well, here’s the thing…

Imagine if the Dark Souls series was sold to a new developer, and imagine they changed the game. Instead of playing as a doomed nobody, you’re playing as a Chosen One hero. Instead of methodical punishing combat, the gameplay is fast paced and empowering. Instead of ending on a melancholy note, the game ends when you triumphantly push back the darkness and return the lands to peace and prosperity. Maybe throw in a love interest, a wacky comedy sidekick, and a few minigames.

Now, none of those ideas are inherently terrible. In fact, this sounds like a pretty standard template for a AAA blockbuster. You could even argue that a happy fun version Dark Souls would sell better than the original because it appeals to more mainstream sensibilities. But no matter how good Happy Souls might be, it would be a bad Souls game because it runs counter to everything the original was designed to accomplish.

That’s the problem with Bethesda’s Fallout games. The original had incredible worldbuilding, an interesting story, a streak of clever gallows humor, and a unique tone. Bethesda’s Fallout has a lot going for it, but it’s missing everything that made the original so special. 

It’s tragic, but this seems to happen a lot. One writer comes along and builds a fascinating and complex world, and then the property gets handed off to a new writer that only has the most superficial understanding of the source material. The new writer can’t come up with new stuff that fits with the old, so the franchise spirals into incoherency or self-reference. It happened to Mass Effect. It happened to Game of Thrones. It happened to Deus Ex. It happened to Dragon Age. And it happened to Fallout. Heck, it even happened to Star Wars, even though New Hope and Phantom Menace had the same writer! I don’t know. Maybe I shouldn’t bring up Star Wars. It’s a crazy cultural aberration that breaks all the rules.

At any rate, I’m sad that Fallout has become the Brotherhood vs. Supermutants comedy hour, and I’m even more sad that developers and publishers don’t value writing the way they used to. Bethesda could be making games that are just as fun to play, but are also more interesting to inhabit and think about.

Or maybe they can’t. Either way, it bugs me and I wish they’d do better.



[1] They also pulled some of the post-apocalyptic stuff into the pre-war history. They retconned it so that Jet was a pre-war invention, which was not originally the case. In a setting designed to create a stark contrast between pre/post nuclear war, you should not blend the two together!

From The Archives:

216 thoughts on “Bethesda NEVER Understood Fallout

  1. ivan says:

    So, the following was inspired by one comment on the video, not exactly directly relevant to the topic at hand, but I wanted to share, so here you are.

    I’m someone with incredibly high expectations for ES6. No, wait, that’s not what I have, I kinda have low expectations. What I do have is high standards, and Bethesda are the ones who gave me those expectations, via the marketing line for Fallout 76.

    Allow me to explain. In the interviews, Todd Howard (Tod) kept talking about how 76 was going to be a collaborative effort between many or all of Bethesda’s studios. For the purposes of my being excited, I latched on to mentions of Arkane and ID, in particular. ID fantastic Engine programmers and creators of amazing combat systems. The new Doom, need I say more.

    Arkane, creators of the most fluid movement systems in any game I have ever played, and some of the most freeing systems for physically interacting with a game world. Go back and have a look at how Corvo MOVES in Dishonored, even without powers. How he jumps, sprints, slides, and fluidly grabs and hauls himself up and over ledges. Then go find Dark Messiah (unfortunately not yet on GOG, though there is a petition or whatever they’re called), or even just the demo, and try kicking some orcs off ledges, or into spikes, or down ramps, or into other orcs. Or into an ice slick that you made with your magic, which they will slip on, and then slide off a ledge, etc etc all that stuff I said above.

    Anyways, point is, when Tod said all that absolutely bullshit guff about how all Beth’s studios were working on 76, what that conjured for me was a Bethesda open world, where the combat is made by ID, and Arkane designed how you move around in that world. Climbing bethesda mountains might not be a hillarious joke in that game, it might be a pretty fun aspect. In a modern Bethesda game you time is generally occupied with 3 main activities: fighting enemies, moving around, and inventory management (including looting in this). With this theoretical game, I’m theorising how Beth could maximise the fun of 2 out of those 3 things, anyone with ideas for the 3rd, which studio Beth should buy to get to work on this game as well, I’d be interested to hear.

    Anyways, 76 obviously was not that game I hoped for, and yes there’d be less guns for ID to bring their expertise to for ES6, but the rest still applies. I don’t expect it, but I hope for it, and I’ll be let down by anything less, especially since Bethesda really needs to kick it out of the ground to win back the prestige and fan favourite status they lost with 76.

    But seriously, how does Skyrim not have a kick button? How often I get to a ledge, and theres an enemy standing over it, and I have no options besides attacking with my weapons, or my magic, or whatever. My character has feet. I know, because I can see them when I go 3rd person.

    1. Mousazz says:

      Typolice: It’s id Software. pronounced like “did” or “kid”. As in, Sigmund Freud’s psychological concept of the id, ego and superego in the psyche.

      EDIT: apparently, the font doesn’t recognize IPA letters, as it puts a question mark in over the ‘i’ in /?d/

    2. Dreadjaws says:

      Dark Messiah is on Steam, though.

    3. Syal says:

      The Skyrim character who is carrying 300 pounds of enchanted sand and wolf armpits is going to have a bad time throwing one foot forward at speed.

      (FusRoDah is built for ledges. Unless you’ve forgotten you equipped the “run fast” one and accidentally hurl yourself into the abyss.)

      1. Nimrandir says:

        I have to admit that I had more fun shouting people off ledges than I would have had in kicking them off.

        Have you tried imagining Unrelenting Force as part of a Rockettes routine?

        1. ivan says:

          Well, firstly, unless you spec hard into Illusion, Unrelenting Force isn’t a stealth move. And also, it requires unlocking the Dragons into the open world, to get the 3rd word that lets you punt ppl off places.

          But anyway, regardless of that last bit, most of what I was talking about is the hypothetical ES6. So, are you assuming ES6 will have Shouts too? That’s worrying in itself. May as well just be Skyrim 2 at that point.

          1. Syal says:

            I think they’ll make a Shout-equivalent spell, or a charge-up attack, or a perk for heavy weapons or shields. Enemy ragdolls are too fun to abandon.

            1. ivan says:

              Well, perhaps it’ll occur to them that the player character has hands and feet, arms and legs, for pushing and kicking. Again, why the fuck do i need spells and shouts, to knock someone off a cliff?

            2. Kamica says:

              “Too fun to abandon” has never stopped Bethesda before… *Points at the entire magic system of Morrowind and Skyrim* (Specifically the utility spells and spell/enchantment crafting)

  2. Thomas says:

    YouTube put this at the top of my recommendations again, they’ve figured out I like watching them.

    I also think the videos have been getting better. The visual stuff felt relevant this time and I liked how the script was in sync with the visual stuff too.

    1. The Puzzler says:

      I don’t always watch the videos, but this one appeared for me as a YouTube recommendation before it appeared as a readable article, which was enough to make me click on it.

  3. Infinitron says:

    In the world of Fallout 4, it looks like people crawled out of the rubble after the bombs fell and then spent the next 200 years shooting each other from behind heaps of rubble and wading through ankle-deep trash everywhere. People have supposedly been living in these places for over two centuries, but they look identical to the untouched ruins.

    I believe this is why some desperate fans invented the headcanon that the East Coast was hit by massive numbers of tactical nukes that rendered the entire region uninhabitable until shortly before FO3/FO4 began.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      I mean, pretty much all of this stuff only makes sense if the “200 years” thing is actually “200 days”. Rubble? People who remember the old world? Alliances and affiliations from the old world? Tech that has neither disintegrated nor been re-created in a new factory? All of it. :S

      1. Radkatsu says:

        This is in fact the case. There’s been rumours for years that the game was meant to be 20 years after, but at the last minute they changed it to 200 because otherwise they couldn’t have super mutants or BoS or whatever.

        Ironic when you consider they just went ahead and did that ANYWAY in Fallout 76.

    2. QQ says:

      FO3 really got me with looking at say, Pripyat a few decades after abandonment, and how DC looked 200 years on considering it’s a swamp. Sure, wasteland with some buildings up makes sense in the dry, barely inhabited parts of California, but… swamp! DC looks like it does thanks to some serious human intervention, it was a muddy mosquito-filled hellhole until cumulative drainage projects and air conditioning.

      I know it’s been over a decade since FO3 but it’s always been emblematic of what Bethesda was going for versus Interplay.

    3. shoeboxjeddy says:

      That headcanon… isn’t terrible considering ’76 has player characters cooking off many nukes a week, for funsies.

  4. Mattias42 says:

    Whole article on the front again, boss.

    Also, minor type I spotted: In the original, you could never zoon this far out. In fact, you couldn’t zoom at all.

  5. Lino says:

    Whole article on the front page, boss.


    I’d like to thank my agent, the academy, and all the people that made this great achievement possible!

    EDIT 2: Noooooooooooooo!!!!! Ninja’d… I was THIS close :(

    Great video, by the way.

    1. Philadelphus says:

      This is the kind of thing I read the comments for.

  6. Lino says:


    This world is a mile wide and a molecule deep.

    Incidentally, this is why I never finished Skyrim – once I had gone to a couple of dungeons, it all started feeling the same. No matter how much theoretically interesting things there were (vampires, mysterious Daedra dungeons…), to me it all felt extremely shallow and mundane.

    1. tmtvl says:

      Also, “taslking” under the picture of Shamus’ comic collection.

    2. Trystan de Lyonesse says:

      I had the same problem. Skyrim felt like theme park with a lot of samey attractions with different flavor and decorations.
      Almost all quests lead to dungeon crawling and killing mooks, characters are one note, new lore is boring. I felt no purpose or motivation to go to the next dungeon, and no content after finishing one.

      1. BlueHorus says:

        It also adds to the argument that Bethesda really don’t think about what they’re writing.
        I remember a Skyrim quest in which I met a guy hiding in his ancestral family tomb. One of the corpses got up (as they do) and he immediately cried ‘Gods, what is that?’ or similar.

        Dude, it’s a Draugr. I’ve killed 15 of them today already.
        ….wait, what are you – 20? Older? How have you never met a drau – do you just never leave home? I thought this was your family tomb!

        There’s a very similar experience with a Frostbite Spider in the tutorial, no less. That soldier had apparently never seen one, but 5 levels into the game I was practically tripping over them in the wilderness.

        1. Trystan de Lyonesse says:

          Basically they write separate quests and later throw them in the world, without any consideration of it. Each dungeon crawl exits on its own, for the purpose of player being able to go through it at any moment, without burden of plot, lore, etc.

          1. RCN says:

            Bethesda’s just really needs a lore manager that would then write a central reference documentation for everything in the world for other writers to use.

            If they do have this… they have to better enforce it on their writers.

          2. baud says:

            But it doesn’t excuse the fact that the in-game NPCs don’t give the illusion they’re inhabiting this world, because they act as if they just been teleported from another fictional universe.

            1. Trystan de Lyonesse says:

              They are there to dispense quest and buy loot. And that’s especially true to Fallout 4.

          3. Tom says:

            The most memorable and extreme example I can recall of the “Bethesda Approach” is in the major guild quests in Oblivion. It must be over a decade since I’ve booted that sucker up, but this one sticks with you:

            If you join the thieves’ guild and progress far enough, at one point you’ll be tasked with stealing an item from the arch-mage’s quarters at the university. If, however, you’ve already completed the mages’ guild quest, YOU will be the arch-mage at this point. Now, whilst that doesn’t actually corrupt the quest logic and break the game or anything, which I suppose by itself is abnormally good robustness by Bethesda’s usual standards, it does make that mission somewhat less than the epic heist it’s supposed to be – you just nip home to get the mcguffin and come right back again – but what’s most glaring about the whole situation is that the game ABSOLUTELY REFUSES TO ADDRESS THIS FARCICAL STATE OF AFFAIRS, SHOULD IT ARISE. As I recall, there is no special dialogue or text whatsoever, from any in-game character or document, acknowledging the total absurdity of this situation, and there’s CERTAINLY no dialogue option to just say, to the moron giving you the quest who evidently knows all about the arch-mage’s personal quarters but not who the arch-mage actually is, even when he’s talking directly to him, anything along the lines of: “Dude, seriously? How about we just skip this one?”

        2. Syal says:

          Skyrim travelers are all legally blind. They’ve never seen anything before, their whole world is blobs.

        3. Gethsemani says:

          The Draugr thing is actually consistent with the lore. There’s several lore tidbits in the game, through books, letters etc., that suggest that the Draugr rising from their graves is a relatively new occurrence, at least in the numbers they are rising in in game. Couple this with the loading screen tip that states that Draugr are bound to the wills of the Dragon Priests, guys who are rising again because Al’duin is back, and there’s actually a good explanation as to why some random guy might not have faced a risen undead before.

          1. FluffySquirrel says:

            If that was the case though.. why are most of these tombs still heavily populated and full of loot? You’d think bandits would have raided the hell out of them if there were no defenders

            1. BlueHorus says:

              There’s certainly enough bandits around. They must outnumber the normal citizens of Skyrim by at least 2:1!

            2. Radkatsu says:

              No worries, they’re all locked with sophisticated combination systems that not even the most genius of geniuses could possibly crack.

  7. Thomas says:

    I take the point that it’s a poor sequel, but I don’t think Bethesda changed it to be set in the 50’s because they misunderstood the franchise. I think it was a deliberate (wildly successful) creative choice to soft reboot the series in a way they that would connect with a mass audience.

    Bethesda are really good at capturing a cultural zeitgeist. It’s not a logical thing, and it’s not easy to explain, so it gets overlooked, but it works. The marketing for Fallout 3 was stuffed full of 50’s and people are it up – you still see people referring to it as some of their favourite trailers ever. You see it in the enthusiasm amongst cosplayers and the crazy popularity of fallout merchandise.

    It was the same for Skyrim. They didn’t do a great job at world building but they did an AMAZING job at capturing the theme of ‘Vikings’ in a way that penetrated deeply into pop culture.

    It’s something which studios which are better at world building suck at. Obsidian didn’t manage it in New Vegas, and they didn’t manage it in Outer Worlds. One reason (of many) why the Outer Worlds has been a bit of a flash in the pan is they failed to capture the cultural zeitgeist with their mad science vibe in the same way Bethesda did with their 50’s theme.

    But your video made me see that Bethesda can’t evolve the themes they create. With the Elder Scrolls they can do a different theme each time. But with Fallout they’re locked into one theme, and with no ability to evolve, the series is going to bleed dry

    1. galacticplumber says:

      Going to? As in future tense? Look at 76. It already happened. At least I think we can all agree this had better be as bad as it gets.

      1. Thomas says:

        Fallout 76 was Bethesda trying to cash-in with a cheap asset recycle. Even if the world building or theme had been great the game would have failed because it was a broken mess released years too early.

        Its Fallout 5 I’m curious about

        1. Chad Miller says:

          I find it hard to stomach that fans of worldbuilding and storytelling hold out any hope at all after Fallout 4. My distaste of that game actually saved me from falling for Fallout 76.

          1. CloverMan-88 says:

            I remember playing Fallout 4 and wondering when something interesting is finally going to happen. I was expecting a boring introduction to the world, but my patience was wearing thin. And then I looked at my
            total playtime. Which was 25h.

            I was shocked.

            In all this time the game didn’t show me a single interesting quest, character, location, not even a cool item! I immediately uninstalled it and never looked back.

            1. Trystan de Lyonesse says:

              I remember this feelings. I’ve expected something interesting with each new location or character, but there’s no payoff to anything. Eventually I’ve managed to reach Vault 81, and I found out that it contains actual non-hostile NPCs and quests, dumb and poorly written, but boy, oh boy, it felt like an actual RPG for a moment. But one hour later I found myself back at the kill-loot-build pattern and that’s the moment when I dropped the game.

              1. Chad Miller says:

                It’s unfortunate; Fallout 4 has just enough bits that are trying just hard enough that it strings you along and it’s very easy to beat the game before realizing that it’s never going to turn into a Fallout game.

                For me the “this is almost good” moment was Human Error/Covenant. At the time I was playing it I noticed a lot of flaws, but when I was rage-uninstalling due to the unrepentant awfulness of Diamond City Blues I found myself thinking “I miss Covenant.”

                1. Thomas says:

                  “Games that never quite get good” is a good Diecast question. There’s nothing worse than a game that feels like the best bits are just around the corner and eventually you realise it will never show up.

                  That’s how Andromeda felt for me. I was waiting for all the world busy work to feel meaningful … and it didn’t.

                2. Trystan de Lyonesse says:

                  I enjoyed Human Error too, before it ended up in a shootout. As you already said it was “almost good” moment. Quest was interesting in the beginning, but in the end choice was simply to kill everybody or not, it was wasted.
                  Oh, and also main premise of the quest is based on synths plot, and this whole cheep and wrong Blade Runner ripoff makes me infuriated.

          2. Jaden says:

            You guys just aren’t big enough fans of the world to understand the love

    2. Christian wolfe says:

      I’m pretty sure I once read a quote from William Gibson in regards to cyberpunk and steampunk, in which he remarked on how both genres were about exploring how technologies affect interactions between people, but then followed that with a simple explanation about how/why both genres ultimately became remembered mainly for their visual aesthetic.

      I feel that this fits Fallout as well.

      Also, I say this half jokingly, but Bethesda’s take on Fallout feels like what you get if all you did was show a development team the opening video of Fallout 2.

      ALSO also, I am one of those people who likes Fallout 1 significantly more than it’s sequels, even 2, and yet I actually had a ton of fun with 76. Yes I know I am weird

      1. Chad Miller says:

        I am one of those people who likes Fallout 1 significantly more than it’s sequels, even 2

        It’s odd; this is a low-key popular opinion among people who played the earlier games (myself included!) and yet most old-school fans treat it as this unassailable consensus that 2 was superior. Yet I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone lay out the case explicitly and at length like you’d usually expect to find for an opinion this commonly held.

        1. Thomas says:

          “Games that never quite get good” is a good Diecast question. There’s nothing worse than a game that feels like the best bits are just around the corner and eventually you realise it will never show up.

          That’s how Andromeda felt for me. I was waiting for all the world busy work to feel meaningful … and it didn’t.

        2. Syal says:

          Yet I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone lay out the case explicitly and at length like you’d usually expect to find for an opinion this commonly held.

          I don’t think it’s better in a way that lends itself to long form. It had more of everything and didn’t have a time limit that would remove parts of the game. It’s less sensible and has an overload of pop culture references but it’s more fun to play.

          1. Chad Miller says:

            I think my comment is being taken as the inverse of what was intended.

            Normally when Fallout 2 vs. Fallout 1 comes up, people mention Fallout 2’s superiority as though it were a universally-held opinion. It clearly isn’t, but you hardly ever see discussion of the reasons why. That seems ripe for long-form.

            Personally, not only do I prefer Fallout 1, I think it’s actually aged better. I wish every RPG designer played Fallout 1 but the reasons people prefer Fallout 2 gradually become less relevant the further we get from the 1990s.

            1. Asdasd says:

              Weird, I can’t say I’ve ever seen a discussion where Fallout 2 is favoured. It’s always considered to have lost the ‘essence’ of Fallout, or people are mad that there’s a Star Trek easter egg or whatever. Mention Fallout 2 on RPG Codex (truly the mother’s basement of self-styled ‘old school fans’) if you ever want to see a great wailing and gnashing of the teeth.

              Personally I think both games are great.

        3. TemporalMagnanimity says:

          I think that it’s because Fallout 2 is a mechanical improvement to 1 (e.g. push your friends out of the way), there is way more stuff to do and your actions be somewhat more depraved than anything you can do in 1.

    3. Trystan de Lyonesse says:

      I’d rather call it an aesthetics, not a theme. I might be wrong, but I understand the word “theme” more as a narrative ideas and their development.
      But you’re right. Bethesda managed to nail aesthetics in Skyrim and Fallout both, on a shallow, mass-appealing level though, but they managed. Skyrim gives me nausea, because I’m familiar with real early medieval cultures, and I hate pop culture image of it, but I found F3 and F4 unconsciously appealing to me in idea behind the 50’s aesthetics, despite understanding, that it makes no sense in the world and doesn’t look as good as it should.

      1. Thomas says:

        You’re right aesthetics is the better word. I’d been thinking about Magic the Gathering which ‘themes’ it’s sets in a similar way to Bethesda.

      2. Hector says:

        I also find the Medeuval period genuinely fascinating – one reason I adore Kingdom Come: Deliverance. Better Slyrim than Skyrim.

        I don’t think Shamus looked at it, which is a shame because it really seems like it would be right up his alley.

        1. tmtvl says:

          Well, with the Schnapps of Game-Saving I think it would’ve been quite a hard sell for him. You know how he likes his creature comforts.

          1. Trystan de Lyonesse says:

            There’s a mod to fix it.

            By the way, booze-saving was the dumbest idea in KCD.

            1. Hector says:

              In any case, you no longer need them after the first major update so it’s moot at this point.

      3. noga says:

        It’s not only visual though. Bethesda uses the theme -in the sense of theme parks- also in the dialogue, quests, lore and so forth as well as the sound effects and music (Jeremy Soule is always great). Its in themes in the deeper meaning, what literature teachers call “what the story is REALLY about” that they lack. Aesthetics could be used greatly to world-build, to tell stories and to control moods. But, once you stay in their worlds enough at least, Bethesda’s aesthetics are also skin-deep, uniform and uninspired. It’s like the difference between factory-made and handcraft. Which well I guess those world are to large extent, but I don’t think we should blame procedural generation alone for this.

    4. Topher Corbett says:

      Yes, they make Reddit bait for normies and it sucks. Obsidian deliberately does not do that because they actually care about games.

      1. Thomas says:

        I think Obsidian tried very hard to copy Bethesda doing it with Outer Worlds and failed, because they care about money just like everyone else. (And I love Obsidian)

        Plus everyone liked it because they liked it. Why should it not count as caring when you make a game that a bunch of people really enjoy a game, but some of us don’t?

  8. Christopher says:

    Imagine if the Dark Souls series was sold to a new developer, and imagine they changed the game. Instead of playing as a doomed nobody, you’re playing as a Chosen One hero. Instead of methodical punishing combat, the gameplay is fast paced and empowering. Instead of ending on a melancholy note, the game ends when you triumphantly push back the darkness and return the lands to peace and prosperity. Maybe throw in a love interest, a wacky comedy sidekick, and a few minigames.

    I would like to say “Ahah, like Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order!”, but considering the timeline, the one thing that game can’t do is return the lands to peace and prosperity.

    1. galacticplumber says:

      Different series, same genre. Carrying the analogy, you can make a theoretical dudes in armor game with all the clear intention to copy the base idea screwed in any number of ways and no one will care. In fact there are plenty of non-theoretical screw-ups that demonstrate this.

      It only matters if you directly defile the series you’re trying to ride.

    2. Rob says:

      (Jedi: Fallen Order ending spoilers below)

      I think Fallen Order perfectly demonstrates why I dislike interquels, and Star War’s post-ROTS, pre-ANH content in particular. It’s hard to get invested in the plot when you know the ending will have to match the status quo of A New Hope. J:FO’s ending in particular feels like it was chosen solely because the alternative must fail given the audience’s knowledge of the OT, rather than it being what the characters would have decided given what we know of them.

      I wish that rather than using it as an excuse to wipe the board clean for their own works, Disney had embraced that whole “Legends” idea and allowed non-canonical “What If?” spin-offs. The Force users in J:FO each have flaws that would make them terrible choices to establish a New Order, and that’s what would have made it fun. There’s so much room for character development in the sequels, between Dark Side temptations, trying to establish a new Order without the flaws of the old one, friction due to the three’s contrasting personalities and backgrounds, the constant looming threat of Vader, etc. This could have led to a compelling alternate universe. Instead that entire plotline is briefly teased before being unceremoniously discarded in a single short cutscene.

      1. shoeboxjeddy says:

        The Force Unleashed 2 is why I don’t like your idea. Establish a very silly, hard turn into non-canon and then… never continue it because nobody bought the game and those who did did not like it. If you’re staying in canon, you are forced to at least finish your train of thought in some way.

  9. Trevor says:

    I think a bigger question is, “Yes, but why does it work?”

    I agree with nearly every one of your points. But very few of them really bothered me while playing the game. It is completely non-sensical that Trudy has done no cleaning up in her home/store since the bombs and there’s still a dead body in one of the booths. If this setting were in a movie, we would make fun of it and meme it constantly. But among Fallout 4 players, no one really notices or cares. I want to move on and see what’s going on in that old bowling alley next.

    I, too, put hundreds of hours into Fallout 4 and had a great time doing so. And I agree with the critiques in the video. So for me the question is how Betheseda manages to keep all the balls in the air and players distracted enough that their experience is not ruined by jankiness, non-sensicality, or even fridge logic. Because they’re really good at that.

    1. galacticplumber says:

      Simple really. The core gameplay loop is legitimately quite engrossing where you can get lost in your own personal headspace, the freedom comfortingly easygoing, and any real problems you have also have mod support.

      For a contrast look at 76, where core aspects of gameplay don’t function adequately, multiplayer ruins the chance to get lost in your own head, and there’s no possibility of mods to fix any issues you have.

      They had a magic trick to hook a lot of people on a basically serviceable product with a bad story. They took a sledgehammer to that trick.

    2. Dreadjaws says:

      I think the point Shamus is trying to make is that yes, these things work for a larger audience, but the majority of original Fallout fans do notice and care about these issues because it’s precisely what they like. The point is not that this doesn’t work, but that it doesn’t work as an entry of this particular franchise.

      1. Echo Tango says:

        It totally works as an entry of the franchise. You curmudgeonly old farts just don’t realize that Fallout 1, 2, and New Vegas were abberations. If you want world-building so much, why not just play pen-and-paper games? Stop interfering with our wacky 1950s murder-simulator collect-a-thons, gosh.

        1. tmtvl says:

          Heh, kids who say that don’t realize that would mean that before F4 was released 3 out of 4 games were supposedly “aberrations”.

          1. Echo Tango says:

            Obviously you just don’t know how numbers work. Four is bigger than three. And seventy six is even bigger – therefore, the new games are the majority of the Fallout franchise.

            1. Mikko Lukkarinen says:

              Dang, if my math is right, I’ve played only about 9/86ths of the franchise… How do you convert NV and Tactics into numbers?

              1. Gautsu says:

                Don’t forget Brotherhood of Steel on the consoles

                1. The Wind King says:

                  I wish I could

              2. Duoae says:

                New Vegas is clearly 3.5. Fallout Tactics was 2.5 and Brotherhood of steel was 2.25…

    3. tmtvl says:

      That depends on the player. I like FNV, dislike F3, and hated F4 so much I got my first (and so far only) Steam refund for it. Different players have different tolerances for stupidity and jank.

    4. Leviathan902 says:

      Regarding “why does it work?”
      Putting aside the fact that it doesn’t work for a lot of people (myself included), I think it simply comes down to the fact that for a lot of people, having a big open world to run around in and loot and shoot (or slash) is enough.

      In alot of cases it doesn’t matter if the gameplay is shallow and repetitive, it doesn’t matter if the story is gobbledy-gook and the world is nonsense. Provide people with loot and shoot content and they will consume it. Period.

      This is reflected in the fact that so much of the big-budget games in the AAA space this generation fall into that category. Everything from Ubisoft Collect-A-Thons to Destiny and the Division to, yes, Fallout and Elder Scrolls.

      This isn’t to say that it’s bad and you shouldn’t like it or anything. But I think to say “why does it work” is the same thing you could ask about nearly all these other loot and shoot games. Clearly something about it scratches an itch for a lot of people.

      1. Echo Tango says:

        Agreed. You could release a loot-shoot Flintstones Vitamins game, and it would sell like hot-cakes.

        1. Higher_Peanut says:

          Don’t give whomever owns Hana Barabera any ideas. We know how media juggernauts get with franchises. On the other hand it does look like something fun to watch from a distance.

        2. Syal says:

          Man, now I’m remembering Ehrgeiz Story Mode where stats on level-up are based on the nutritional value of the foods you’ve eaten.

      2. Asdasd says:

        I can see it. It’s a bit like how in board games, it really bothers some people when the theme is ‘pasted on’ (doesn’t seem to have any bearing on/integration with the mechanics.) Other people couldn’t care less about themeing at all and only care about the mechanics, while a third group might assess the qualities of both in isolation.

        In the same way, you might like the open world shootybang of Fallout 4, and the wacky aesthetic of Fallout 4, and never spend too much time thinking about why they don’t make much sense in combination.

        1. Hector says:

          I certainly did enjoy both. The game has a lot of value in it plus some unique ideas. It’s just that the whole is less than the sum if it’s parts precisely because the core game is just generic lootershootering.

      3. Trystan de Lyonesse says:

        Collect-A-Thons, looter-shooters and other games with a short gratifying game loop work the same way as mobile games, like Candy Crash, work. You can run through one dungeon for a half of hour, kill the boss and get your loot, or you can spend hours and hours exploring world and collecting loot. These games give a lot of fun with a little investment from the player. Lore and setting work as a flavor and plot exists solely on purpose to create cheapest drama. Gameplay is simple and accessible.
        These type of games are the games people will plug in coming home from work/school, or whenever they have a free hour and don’t have time to recall lore, plot, controls, combat combinations, etc.

        1. Tom says:

          In other words, they’re of that class of time-and-attention-consuming but minimally-stimulating media I like to summarise as “intellectual junkfood.” (IIRC, I think Shamus favours the term “nothingburger.”) They’re literally a waste of time and mental effort, by design. (and today, quite often also deliberately addictive, by design) I can’t stand ’em.

          If I’ve only got half an hour to play after work, I’d prefer if at all possible to do something uniquely stimulating and personally enriching with it rather than plod mechanically through one of many interminable skinner-box variations running on muscle memory and rote-learned behaviour, watching a few numbers go up slightly at the end – and if I need to take more than half an hour to relearn mechanics and get into the zone, then I *won’t* play until I can set aside a proper length of time to sit down and do it justice. The way I’ve come to see it, if a game or other activity is not worth several hours of my attention in one go at the end of the week, it’s not worth the same amount spread out in small chunks throughout the week either – especially because if you actually log such sessions and tally them up, they often have a nasty tendency to add up to a much bigger number.

          This is all, of course, 100% mere subjective opinion.

      4. Syal says:

        In alot of cases it doesn’t matter if the gameplay is shallow and repetitive, it doesn’t matter if the story is gobbledy-gook and the world is nonsense. Provide people with loot and shoot content and they will consume it. Period.

        See also Mount And Blade, where the plot is “You’re here now, do stuff maybe.”

        1. Kestrellius says:

          You just installed
          Our writing’s lazy
          But here’s some shootloot
          So do stuff maybe

    5. Trystan de Lyonesse says:

      I think it does a good job distracting you with a next piece of scenery, nonsensical quest, gunfight etc. If you play it fast enough, you won’t have time to overthink anything. And intended game pacing is quite fast, dialogues are short and dynamic, locations are tightly placed on the map and you bump into some enemies every 3-5 minutes of the game.

      1. Chad Miller says:

        If you play it fast enough, you won’t have time to overthink anything.

        I keep hearing this, but this game found a way to irritate me with plotholes while I’m running and gunning my way through a building during the Hunter/Hunted quest. To wit:

        * I’m only here because I’ve tracked a Synth Courser to this building

        * Despite the fact that the Gunners are under attack from the Courser and I’m here to kill the Courser, the Gunners attack me immediately

        * Turrets are also attacking me. I guess the Courser teleported past those or something? Whatever.

        * A voice over an intercom barks orders to the Gunners, basically telling them to attack me even though the Courser is attacking whoever is giving the orders. I can’t help but notice that Gunners are currently patrolling empty hallways just in case I show up and try to…help them kill the being they’re trying to kill

        * I get to the end of the “dungeon” and kill the Courser. The Gunners continue to be hostile to me for killing the being they were trying to kill. I release the synth the Courser was tracking and she says, “Thank you for saving me from those mercenaries!”

        * “MERCENARIES?!?” I think. “Who paid them to do any of this?” At this point I can’t resist searching my memory any known faction in the game that would pay the Gunners to behave this way. This transitions to me trying to think of any occasion in the entire game that any member of the Gunners is behaving like they’ve been paid to do anything (the answer is MacReady, if you pay him to join you)

        And that’s how Fallout 4 is the only game I can think of where I found myself frowning at the plot while I was shooting mooks.

        On a related note, I’ve been playing video games since the ATARI 2600 and Skyrim is the only game I’ve ever played where the dialogue was too boring not to skip. I don’t think I’ll ever finish that one.

        1. BlueHorus says:

          The Blistering Stupidity of Fallout 4

          Come On Shamus. You know you want to.

          You’ll get comments! You’ll get readers!

          Do it.

          1. Trystan de Lyonesse says:

            This “Do it” fits better.

        2. Trystan de Lyonesse says:

          See, you’re applying logic and thinking to this game, and game requires you not to.
          The whole idea of synth coursers tracking rogue synth is dumb. And the whole idea of synths in Fallout makes no sense. And nothing at all in Fallout 4 makes any sense. Game’s aggressively stupid to extent that it’s insulting.

      2. Nimrandir says:

        That works up until the radiant quest generation sends you to clear out the Corvega plant for the fifth time. I’m fairly sure that wasn’t intended to make me side with the Institute.

    6. Biggus Rickus says:

      As someone who came to Fallout 3 long after its release, I don’t think it works very well. The game plays terribly, and I found the Capitol Wasteland ugly and uninteresting. I had a similar problem with Oblivion. At the same time, I thoroughly enjoyed Skyrim and Fallout 4. The moment-to-moment interaction with the world, mainly combat, but also movement or just interacting with people and things, feels better than in their predecessors. Neither is perfect or even especially good by objective standards, but they are less clumsy than any other sandbox games I’ve tried. It’s the desire to see the next area or get the next unique item or whatever that drives the enjoyment. The stories in both games conflict with those elements, though it’s less obnoxiously obtrusive in Skyrim. I’m curious if others will be as underwhelmed by them in a few years as I am by Oblivion and Fallout 3.

    7. guy says:

      It has pretty solid moment-to-moment looting and shooting, and while they’re not very deep a lot of the quests and characters have an entertaining gimmick that holds up for the twenty minutes you spend on them.

      1. GloatingSwine says:

        The shooting in Fallout 3 is pretty abysmal. It’s clunky because of rng spread on weapons, the enemy behaviours are simplistic, and the balance is terrible which makes most of the weapons feel useless. (Especially with Broken Steel which adds enemies with a zillion hitpoints that get special bonus armour ignoring damage because accidentally armour is too good)

        The game largely appears to be intended for you to use VATS a lot, which bypasses a lot of the problems (but not the weapon balance).

        New Vegas adding reliable iron sights reducing/removing spread and improving balance making more weapons feel more useful improved matters, but it still had to contend with the simplistic enemy behaviours.

    8. GoStu says:

      Keep the player busy.

      Run here, go there, speak to that person. Next quest arrow’s up, go there, shoot the mooks between here and it. One of the mooks had a star by its name and dropped a unique piece of loot! Appraise loot. Retreat to home base. Appraise secondary loot. Modify weapon. Check settlement. Fix settlement. Begin planning next adventure. Get message from Preston that another fucking settlement is under attack by some shit they can handle on their own. Defend settlement. Open journal, flick to quest entry, next quest arrow up. Shoot mooks…

      Basically, I think it works because the absolute core of the Shoot & Salvage gameplay works tolerably. Shoot thing, scavenge materials, come home and use materials on armor, weapons, and base. Discover a shortage and go do things yourself.

      Add an overarching story you can work on OR deliberately and happily ignore, plus some procedurally-generated shitass quests to forcibly answer the question of “where to next?” that you hadn’t quite articulated yet.

  10. Crokus Younghand says:

    Shamus, the link to this page on the youtube video’s description is wrong.

  11. Dreadjaws says:

    Being Fallout 4 the first game in the franchise I played I enjoyed it quite a bit. Yes, I ignored the main quest entirely, only bumping into it regularly by accident and yes, I had to mod the game to make it playable beyond the first few hours, but in general I had a good time with it until I stopped, which was around the time the paid mod store was introduced and they forced a 2+GB asset download on everyone, even if you weren’t interested in the store (having at the time a very limited internet I simply paused the download and forgot about the game entirely).

    That being said, I know that if I had been a fan of the originals I would be very upset with Bethesda’s entries. I recognize the feeling perfectly: it’s the same one I had with the Mass Effect franchise. They sacrificed gameplay depth and worldbuilding for mass appeal. I get it from a business perspective, but as a fan I’m most definitely not happy.

  12. Pax says:

    I was in the interesting position of being both a Fallout and an Elder Scrolls fan when Fallout 3 came out, so I’ve had a kind of like-annoyed relationship with them from the start. I’ve somewhat reconciled this by realising that the Bethesda Fallout games are Fallout-themed spin-offs done in the style of Elder Scrolls. That said, since hearsay claims that the higher-ups at Bethesda bought the Fallout franchise for Todd when he wanted to make a post-apoc game, I kinda wish instead they’d made their own spiritual successor, the way Fallout followed Wasteland. Still, at least we got Fallout New Vegas, which I generally consider the true Fallout 3, considering it’s the actual follow up to the original setting and all of it’s inhabitants and themes.

  13. Echo Tango says:

    Did anyone besides me actually enjoy Fallout Tactics? It’s story was a bit wonky, but it had pretty decent levels, and you were always moving onto something new, by virtue of the mobile-caravan-military-camp thing they set everything up with. Plus it had new[1] critters, robots, and other non-standard things to interact with! :)

    [1] It also had some of the old stuff, I think. I don’t think I’ve played it since high-school…because I couldn’t get the copy I bought on GOG to run in Linux? I should try that out again some time…

    1. Tablis says:

      I also did. The story was nearly non-existent, it caught my attention only at the very end. It was pure camp, which actually fits Fallout world pretty well. The battle system was nice, not very deep, but entertaining. Half of the RPG stuff was useless though, they made a big mistake by leaving it as it was from mainline Fallouts.

      1. Echo Tango says:

        Yeah, they probably should have had a lot deeper or more specialized combat skills, and eliminated or combined some of the non-combat stuff. Something not many RPGs have done yet[1], is having multiple skills add up to the same skill-check, or the same requirements to use some equipment. Like, 2-handed plus energy weapons to use a plasma rifle, or 1-handed plus melee to use a big knife. Especially in the combat skills, the Fallout games have always felt like some stuff was shoe-horned into the not-quite-right skill, and I always dreamed of a Fallout game with skills that overlapped in sensible ways. Fallout Tactics could have used something like this[2]:
        – 2-handed
        – 1-handed
        – melee
        – thrown
        – projectile-drop [3]
        – explosives [4]
        – weapon-handling [5]
        – medic [6]
        – gunsmithing [7]
        – sneak
        – outdoorsman [8]
        – pilot
        – persuasion [9]

        [1] The Outer Worlds is the only one I know of, both recently, and in the last couple decades. From Let’s-Plays I’ve seen, you’d have checks like laser + repair, to fix your laser-gun, or persuasion + melee to intimidate someone.
        [2] I bet I came up with a similar list back in high-school…
        [3] Lead-based guns, maybe plasma-based guns, and gauss-rifle.
        [4] Both traps and missiles.
        [5] You’d need more skill for bulkier, longer, or rapid-fire guns. “Heavy weapons” would just be strength-score, rather than a skill.
        [6] “First aid” would be lower-skill, “doctor” would be higher skill; Even in the other games, this never made sense to me.
        [7] Low-skill would be routine maintenance; High-skill would be crafting new guns or mods.
        [8] Even in a hummer, you could argue this helps you find water, and keep your health high. Plus, shoot the non-robot enemies in the game.
        [9] Basically, combine “barter” and “speech”, from other games.

    2. CloverMan-88 says:

      I loved it! Sure, I wish it had story and quests, but the core design was excellent.
      Party building was a lot of fun, real time combat make you feel like a real baddass when you executed a good ambush or just allowed your team to now down weak mooks, level design was intricate and intriguing, like a deadly puzzle box. And I loved all the different vehicles, I found them really immersive. I think the game was good, it’s just that if there was a proper rpg on top of that excellent combat engine this could have been the best fallout game in the series.

    3. tmtvl says:

      I liked it, even though it wasn’t the Fallout counterpart to Final Fantasy Tactics that I hoped it would be. Still, it’s one of the rare Western tactical RPGs that isn’t just another D&D game and for that I give it props.

    4. TemporalMagnanimity says:

      I wanted to enjoy it, but I really dislike RTWP. It’s a shame because I wish the first two games also allowed you to control your squad members and the weapons were cool too.

      1. Syal says:

        I’m pretty sure there’s an option to turn it into Fallout 1 and 2 style movement, unless they added that for re-release or something. I definitely didn’t play it in real time.

        1. Echo Tango says:

          There’s definitely a turn-based mode – in fact, you can do continuous mode, individual-turns mode, and team-based turns mode. The wiki doesn’t mention a patch, but I think you’re correct. I seem to recall continuous mode being the only option until one of the early patches. Nowadays, that means you’d have a short time where you didn’t have the patch, but back then I think patches were a lot more error-prone, slower to be released, and…only from semi-sketchy websites, because even professionals didn’t have readily-available hosting all the time? ^^;

  14. Kylroy says:

    Fallout Tactics is forgotten mostly for being way, way different than FO 1 & 2. (As opposed to the game made in the Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance engine, which was just awful.) I thought it was OK, but incredibly wrongheaded in it’s core game design: the turn-based combat engine of FO 1 & 2 works really well *except* in really large fights…so why use it to make a game of nothing *but* large fights? The came up with enough workarounds to make it playable, but it felt like a major case of hammering with a wrench.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      There’s lots of games with team-oriented gameplay that works well; For example, see all the X-COMs, the spiritual-successor Phoenix Point coming out next year, Invisible Inc (mostly stealth, but combat is viable, and it’s all team-based), Mario + Rabbids. Turn-based is pretty much the only way to do team-oriented actions (combat or non-combat), unless you want to do real-time-with-pause like X-COM Apocalypse.

      1. Ninety-Three says:

        Kylroy didn’t say that turn-based team combat can never work, he said that the Fallout engine wasn’t good for large fights.

        Turn-based is pretty much the only way to do team-oriented actions

        The only way, except for the entire genres of RTS and multiplayer FPS.

        1. Echo Tango says:

          1) The original games used a different engine from Fallout Tactics’. 2) The engine should be considered after the gameplay you’re trying to accomplish. You can make, license, and modify engines to whatever you want to make, but the actual gameplay should be dictated by artistic concerns first. 3) I wouldn’t even call this an “engine” – the limiting thing in the original Fallouts is more like the UI over top of an engine, that’s ill-suited to team-based gameplay.

      2. Lino says:

        I really like team-based tactics games (my favourite is the Commandos series), but I don’t get to play many, since I really don’t like turn-based combat. The only games that have done it well, in my opinion), are Frozen Synapse and Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun.

        1. Liessa says:

          Desperados. Old, but still brilliant, and the guys who made Shadow Tactics are doing a sequel to it. Also Robin Hood: The Legend of Sherwood by the same company.

          1. Lino says:

            Oh, yes, I remember loving that Robin Hood game as a kid! I’ve also been meaning to play that Desperados game, and I’m also looking forward to the sequel (and really hope we get to play as that cat from the trailer!). I’m also waiting on a sequel to Commandos which should happen sometime soon. Fingers crossed!

          2. Philadelphus says:

            Welp, that Desperadoes III is going on the wishlist. Shadow Tactics was my first introduction to the real-time tactics genre, and even though I’m still pretty bad at it I enjoyed it enough to automatically check out anything they make in the same mold.

      3. DeadlyDark says:

        Or Brigade E5 / 7.62

    2. Chad Miller says:

      Tactics wasn’t turn-based. I may have gotten farther in that game if it had been.

      1. Mikko Lukkarinen says:

        I don’t remember if the setting was off by default, and I just always changed it, but Fallout Tactics was turn-based. It did have the option to do combat in real time with recharging action points, but I don’t remember ever starting on that setting…

        1. Chad Miller says:

          I don’t remember if the setting was off by default, and I just always changed it

          This must be it. I know the one battle (yes, literally one battle) I played wasn’t turn-based. I remember thinking non-turn based + friendly fire was enough to quit the game that early, and I know I didn’t (and wouldn’t have) changed settings to make that happen.

          1. Mikko Lukkarinen says:

            Just checked the GOG version and yea, it was set to real time (or “continuous turn-based”) combat by default. That sucks.

    3. Paul says:

      It’s not that forgotten.
      FO4’s BoS seemed to be largely inspired by Tactics’ BoS which was very militant and imperialistic (albeit not xenophobic). Bethesda even brought back the blimps that are mentioned in Tactics’ intro.

  15. Darren says:

    One quibble: to my knowledge, David Gaider was in charge of Dragon Age from at least Awakenings through Inquisition. One of the reasons that Varric is so prominent in both DA2 and Inquisition is that he’s Gaider’s favorite character. I don’t know if Gaider had much oversight of Origins, which feels the least like the others, but if we’re talking about video game franchises it might be the one with the most consistent authorial direction. He even wrote some of the spin-off comics and novels!

    Preemptive defense: yes, I know he didn’t write every piece of dialogue or story beats. But there aren’t many RPGs where you could say that one person wrote everything.

    1. Liessa says:

      I thought that as well. The focus of the main plot shifted in the later games (with everything becoming about the Mage/Templar conflict, whereas that was just one of many conflicts in DA:O), and the gameplay also changed somewhat (for the worse, IMO), but overall I’d say the major themes remained fairly consistent – certainly more so than in the Mass Effect series. The problems with Dragon Age II and Inquisition were down to other things than incoherent writing.

      1. Trystan de Lyonesse says:

        Gaider was against darkspawn in DA:O, it was planned to be more about politics, society, etc, but executives asked to add some orks hordes for player to kill. So I think this shift is reasonable. Can’t say much more, because I feel distaste for DA II and Inquisition, and played only about 1-2 hours each of them.

        1. Ninety-Three says:

          I think DA2’s incredibly rushed development schedule should give it a mulligan on questions of authorial intent or direction. Where it ended up was mostly a product of the “make a Bioware game in 16 months” constraint, rather than what anyone intended to do with the franchise. There’s a very obvious parallel to Fallout 2 here, which got a pass from Shamus on its reused enemies due to the short development time.

          1. Trystan de Lyonesse says:

            Well, Fallout 2 is still great, and tried to be as different as it could with the same assets. While DA II looks different, and not in better way, than DA:O. Actually I even think, that DA II will be much more better and deeper, if Bioware just reused assets, from the first game and concentrated more on plot, characters and world’s reactivity.

  16. BlueHorus says:

    [Trudy] doesn’t have a bed to sleep in. She has no way to obtain food except through trade, which is inexplicable since she shouldn’t have any. She produces no goods so she shouldn’t have anything to offer in trade.

    The floor is littered with trash. There’s a prewar skeleton in one of the booths…
    …it’s been 210 years since the bombs fell, and nobody ever swept the floor or cleared out the skeleton?

    Shamus, that’s her husband. He’s the only guy who could stand being around her for any period of time.
    Besides, it’s well known that making your shop APPEAR busy is a great way to get more customers – that’s why restaurants often put the first customers they get right next to the window.

    1. Richard says:

      And never let them leave, presumably…

  17. Benden says:

    This video was exactly what I hoped this series could become. The sight gags, the synced and meaningful footage, the visual storytelling of the clips… fantastic work. I hope the algorithm finds it. I have tried to help.

    1. Trevor says:

      Agreed. This was the first video where I felt that the video was stronger than the article.

    2. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

      In re: Algorithm. It was first on my recommended feet yesterday morning. It might just take some time for the algorithm to get enough data to feed it out to people.

    3. Lino says:

      I shared it on r/gaming, but it doesn’t seem to have gained much traction. I’ll try reposting it with a snappier title. Maybe that would get it some upvotes…

      1. Shamus says:

        Very much appreciated!

        Every little bit helps.

      2. Liessa says:

        You could try r/pcgaming as well. I know the Fallout series isn’t just for PC, but that subreddit seems a lot more critical of AAA games in general, so this kind of video might resonate with them.

      3. PPX14 says:

        This kind of thing is perfect for r/PatientGamers

  18. guy says:

    Fallout 2 actually ditched bottlecaps as currency, replacing them with NCR gold coins. Led to a funny quest where you went hunting a buried treasure and found a massive stash of bottlecaps, which were completely worthless.

  19. tmtvl says:

    For those of more venerable age, like myself, what’s worse: Fallout 76, or Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel?

    1. Echo Tango says:

      I’d argue it’s Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood Of Steel as best, then either Fallout 76 or Fallout: Brotherhood Of Steel (the 3rd-person action game) as tied for really-awful.

    2. jpuroila says:

      I actually kind of liked Brotherhood of Steel? Of course, I was just a kid when I played it, but if you ignore the fact that it’s a Fallout game, it’s not too bad.

  20. Sleeping Dragon says:

    But Shamus, the reason why all this junk is there in FO4 is that people who left the vaults before were stuck in MMOs and so couldn’t persistenly impact the world in any significant way!

    1. Echo Tango says:

      And the nukes stopped the people outside the vaults from rebuilding society!

  21. MelTorefas says:

    I loved this article. Reading stuff like this fascinates me, since the only Fallout game I ever played was 1, back when it was new*. All the stuff you are saying about 1 is spot on for me. The sheer sense of wonder the game produced has never been equaled by anything I have played since, and imparted in me a lasting love for post-apocalyptic settings. But I never got around to playing 2; it looked too much like 1, and something about that just felt off. I think you hit the nail on the head: it was a missed opportunity.

    By the time Fallout 3 came around I took one look, shrugged, and moved on. I have never been a fan of Bethesda’s open world games; I came to Morrowind too late, and was turned off by janky controls. I found Oblivion and Skyrim endlessly repetitive and lacking in anything compelling enough to get me to care about playing. A Fallout game made by these people wasn’t even remotely interesting to me, and everything I have read about the games since their release (admittedly mostly on this site) has done nothing to inspire me to try them.

    So listening to you analyze the extreme differences at the heart of the pre- and post- Bethesda Fallouts is a lot of fun. I wish I could afford to support you with more than words right now, but, alas. >.<

    *I did try to replay the game a decade later, but was turned off by the inventory system. I still need to give the Steam re-release a try, though.

  22. Melted says:

    Couple of typos:

    small cult of tech nology fetishists


    all of the superficial elements without thinking about the world works.

    That aside, this got me pretty interested in the original Fallout!

  23. tomato says:

    Isn’t this old news?

    1. Echo Tango says:

      For people who are deeply invested in the original games, or the story, world-building, etc, this might be. For people who only know about the newer games, or who only played the games casually (running around shooting things, and exploding stuff), this wouldn’t be. I know I played the original games like this, and only started caring about the world, characters, verisimilitude, and similar aspects of games, when I was well into my 20s, and moreso in my 30s. Part of that, was seeing that there was something missing from the newer games, which got me thinking more critically about the previous ones.

  24. Don Alsafi says:

    Tiny nitpick here:

    They run into the forehead gang a second time a few episodes later and have another adventure, but the Talosians aren’t the stars of the show.

    Actually, the Talosians NEVER appeared again in ST:TOS. (I guess they do in the new ST: Discovery?) They do appear in the TOS two-parter “The Menagerie”, but that was basically just re-using the footage of the never-aired pilot with a newly written and filmed framing story.

    All of which just underscores your point, of course…!

    1. Drathnoxis says:

      Although, Star Trek has no shortage of forehead aliens. Klingons and Romulans get an awful lot of screen time and even Voyager, set 70,000 light-years away, has trouble getting away from using Romulans as the main antagonist.

      Also, the original series does go to an awful lot of planets that are “exactly like Earth, but…”

    2. Sartharina says:

      Star Trek very much became the “Romulans, Klingons, Federation, and Ferengi Comedy Hour” as the series went on, inasmuch as Fallout is “Supermutants, Deathclaws, Brotherhood of Steel, and Enclave”. In fact, I’m kind of bothered by Shamus being bothered by the influence of the Brotherhood of Steel. They were set up as major force in the setting by the second game, and both spin-offs emphasized their rise to being an influential superpower in the remains of the U.S.

      The Enclave, being the remnants of the U.S. Government, also made sense with being a major factor. And, the games didn’t just stick with those – Bethesda introduced the Institute as a post-war power faction in Fallout 3 and 4, along with the whole Underground Railroad, and… well, every faction BUT the BoS in Fallout 4.

      It also made sense that the scenes of Fallout 3 and 4 would have more emphasis on the World That Was. Of course, it was a design decision to put them in the Capital Wasteland and Boston, but we also got Pittsburg repopulated and rebuilt (Bad intro, but great concept), and new cults. Fallout 3 was deliberately a retread of Fallout 1, but that’s for the same reason Star Wars: Episode 1 and 7 were retreads of 4: it’s to give the audiences a familiar restarting point to get everything ‘back as it was’, to say, “Yes, this is the Fallout you all know and love. Some of the original ideas, and some of our own.”. And then they go do their own thing for the sequels. And, when inheriting an IP, you don’t have the audience trust to do anything significant.

      But anyway – Fallout 1 and 2 were essentially set in the middle of Nodamnwhere, California. Meanwhile, Fallout 3 and 4 were set in the cultural hearts of the United States, with all sorts of significant cultural remainders from the past that people don’t want to give up just yet. And, there’s a LOT more structure left that’s been gutted. The ‘still stocked, but also inhabited” diners and grocery stores were dumb, as was the lack of repurposing of the School’s rooms (Though they did a half-attempt to make it a passable home), But using “Shady Sands” as the example of a Fallout community is disingenuous when Fallout 1 literally had Junktown.

      1. Shamus says:

        “In fact, I’m kind of bothered by Shamus being bothered by the influence of the Brotherhood of Steel.”

        Like I said in the video: FINE. You CAN justify the Brotherhood. The problem is that:

        1) It makes the setting feel small, limited, and homogeneous.
        2) It robs us of the sense of mystery and wonder that comes from discovering the unknown.

        “But using “Shady Sands” as the example of a Fallout community is disingenuous when Fallout 1 literally had Junktown.”

        The word “disingenuous” implies that I was deliberately being deceptive. Is that the word you intended to use?

        In any case, Junktown was Junktown because it was built in, and out of, a literal junkyard. Despite that, it doesn’t look like a filth hole. They didn’t just build a shack on top of a mound of garbage and then live there, generation after generation. The place is shabby, but the people don’t live like animals. They have homes with walls and doors and furniture and they sweep the floors and keep the vermin out. They stripped the cars for supplies and then stacked the frames around the city to make a wall.

        Junktown also has a reason to exist. It’s a service-based economy with gambling, booze, pit fighting, and prostitution. I’m not really sold on the idea that a service-based town can exist in such a small society, but it’s something. The hub is to the south, and they have extensive farming. And the trade caravans explicitly visit Junktown. (Also, the caravans are a brilliant idea that shows the new world adapting old-world junk. They cut cars in half and had animals pull the back of the car like a chariot. THAT’S the kinda cool stuff I want to see.)

        Meanwhile, in Bethesda’s world, EVERY town is junk town. It’s 120 years later, yet these people have built nothing. They live in trash, they’re wearing 200 year old clothes, there’s no kind a government. (Contrast with New Vegas, where 3 different governments are fighting over one high-value resource.) They produce no goods, the population hubs have no source of food, and the only job anyone has is selling junk back and forth between each other. The entire setting is silly and child-like in its construction.

        Anyway, the point stands that Bethesda only understands the property in the most superficial way possible. They made Trashworld: The Game, decked everyone out in 200 year old plaid suits, and then moved the timeline ahead two centuries to make everything maximally dumb and nonsensical.

      2. Chad Miller says:

        Fallout 3 was deliberately a retread of Fallout 1, but that’s for the same reason Star Wars: Episode 1 and 7 were retreads of 4: it’s to give the audiences a familiar restarting point to get everything ‘back as it was’, to say, “Yes, this is the Fallout you all know and love. Some of the original ideas, and some of our own.”

        I agree with this (and left a similar comment on the YouTube video). I’ll even go so far as to say that Bethesda deserves a bit more credit for FO3 than they get from the die-hard fans for this exact reason.

        That said, I think the actual implementation of Super Mutants is a whiff, and actually has the opposite affect from intended. Just not for the reasons most people cite. By way of analogy: comic book movie characters often have this exact same problem, where they have to balance the needs of the movie they’re in with fan expectations carrying over from earlier media. So some specific, poorly received examples:

        Juggernaut (X-Men 3): In the movie he’s a mutant instead of getting his powers from the Gem of Cyttorak. He also has no relationship to Charles Xavier instead of being his stepbrother. People complained about the mutant thing (even though a magic gem would have been completely wrong for the Singer X-men films), but I think it would have been received far better if they didn’t take someone with a familial relationship with one of the most important characters in the setting and reduce him to “smashes things, spouts an Internet meme.”

        Joker (Suicide Squad): He’s Jared Leto with tattoos and a grill. People thought he was lame for those reasons, but I think the real reason he’s lame is that he never jokes. His name is The Joker but really he’s just an asshole who talks funny and wears weird clothes.

        Deadpool (X-Men Origins: Wolverine): Yes, it’s kind of weird how they gave him all those powers from other mutants, right down to putting retractable Wolverine katanas in his arms instead of just, uh, using katanas. But the real crime, the thing that makes it clear they just looked at a list of popular characters without consulting anyone who actually understands them, was the part where they took “The Merc With a Mouth” and removed his mouth. Deadpool fans were actively mad at his inclusion in the movie, and for good reason!

        So, back to Fallout 3. The Enclave is basically the same as they were in Fallout 2, right down to having basically the same plan. The Brotherhood of Steel is a reasonable extrapolation from earlier games even if it’s arguably not as interesting. Ghouls got some weird retcons (fun fact for those who didn’t play Fallout 1: The fact that ghouls need water is a plot point relevant to the main quest) but they still mostly retained the spirit of ghouls and are memorable in their own right (that distinctive gravel-voice of theirs is entirely Bethesda’s doing as far as I know).

        But Super Mutants? Much like the comic book examples, a lot of people complain about aesthetic or lore changes, but I think that misses the point. I’d be fine if Bethesda just outright said “we’re ignoring all previous canon and rebooting the entire universe,” but even with such a hard reboot Bethesda’s Super Mutants would still irritate me. And it’s pretty much identical to the Juggernaut example above. In Fallout 1 they were a proto-civilization important to the main plot. Some of them are dumb brutes but they are generally depicted as an organization with ideals and long-term goals (in Fallout 2, Marcus even maintains that they were in the right but allies with your human self anyway because he’s a graceful loser) They’re even responsible for the California Wasteland’s most popular religion (until Fallout 2 decided it wanted to make Scientology jokes). In Fallout 3 it just feels like someone said “FPS needs big dumb guys that can shoot, let’s make big ugly dumb guys and call them Super Mutants.” and then called it a day. They could have been called Ultramen or Stronks or something and we might not have even noticed their supposed inspiration.

        Fallout 4 gave them a little more personality but still overall made things worse. You can find a “Supermutant’s Orders” document that simply says “KILL. LOOT. RETURN.” I know this is meant as a silly throwaway joke, but as someone familiar with the original game it’s almost a personal affront. Like someone saying “Remember one of the coolest things in the original game?” and then blowing a raspberry at you for liking it. And don’t even get me started on giving suicide bombers to a species that can’t reproduce.

        1. Matt says:

          I think a lot of this boils down to good and bad writing. The dirty secret of mass-market genre media is, I suspect, that retreads and “more of the same” is pretty much fine, as long as it is done well. “Just write well,” isn’t really actionable advice, but it is the truth, I think. Fallout 3 isn’t a lesser work than the originals because it re-uses super mutants and doesn’t try to do anything new, it’s a lesser work because the main plot is nonsensical, the super mutants are used poorly, and the barest thought was given to detailing the setting and how it all works.

      3. Echo Tango says:

        Fallout 3 was deliberately a retread of Fallout 1, but that’s for the same reason Star Wars: Episode 1 and 7 were retreads of 4: it’s to give the audiences a familiar restarting point to get everything ‘back as it was’, to say, “Yes, this is the Fallout you all know and love.

        Making a game for fans who only want to see the same old stuff, is the core reason that the new games are shallow, superficially-similar games. The creators are checking off items on a checklist (water-crisis, combat armor, ghouls…), rather than building up a world that makes sense. They’re games made for people who are picking up the game for half an hour before supper after work, or just spending a weekend blowing up raiders; For people who want to reminisce, or talk about these wacky characters their friends know about, not for people who want to be challenged to think critically by the game.

        I don’t like those types of games, but the two can co-exist harmoniously. Instead of only having one studio working on one game, license out the property to other studios. Both Warhammer and Warhammer 40k do this, by licensing out small pieces of the world, characters, etc. We could have smaller studios making games more like the original Fallout games, with unique worlds, characters, and new locations, but which have one or two items to tie them back to the original games. Maybe one small post-apocalyptic Burger Time-style game has you cooking rad-roach burgers, igunana-on-a-stick, etc, and only has (by license agreement) one picture of power-armor in one cutscene, or only references Deathclaws by name in text, without showing them on-screen. (Everything else they do has to be newly-invented characters, items, etc.) Big studios could have more and larger parts of the Fallout universe, with Bethesda themselves producing their massive games with appeal to their chosen audience.

      4. krellen says:

        The Brotherhood were NOT set up as being a major force in the second game. They were explicitly set up as being a minor non-power in the second game. They had literally one agent, who had to contract outside help to find out what happened to their bases, and in the end-game slides were written off as a small research group in the NCR afterwards.

        Fallout: Tactics established the Brotherhood as a major player heading east, but no one – not even Bethesda – considers Tactics to be canon.

        (And I’m not sure where you get the “middle of damn nowhere CA” idea, given that Fallout 1 features Los Angeles (the Boneyard) and Fallout 2 features Reno, Nevada (admittedly the smaller of the Nevadan features.))

  25. Matt says:

    I’m not entirely sure I grasp the point with Fallout not being about the 1950s. Thematically, of course, it has more to do with the 80s and 90s (resource scarcity, environmental decay, a fatalistic look at nuclear war, etc.). But if this is the post-apocalyptic retro-future of the 1950s, why wouldn’t the aesthetics of that period predominate? If a person in the 1950s imagines the future, they probably imagine that diners still exist and mostly resemble their own diners, just with robots as the waiters. We can see this from the 1899 speculative drawings of the future – the maid still dresses like a maid from 1899, she just uses techno-marvel to do her work. So a ruined 1950s retro-future city probably would have a bombed out diner, formerly staffed by a robot that is now scrap in the corner. The aesthetics of nu-Fallout make sense from that perspective. If you want to have a retro-futuristic setting, you need the aesthetic hallmarks of the period you are invoking. That means greaser jackets, diners, and cars with fins.

    Apart from that argument, I think Bethesda made the right choice with the aesthetics because it is more fun and memorable than a more realistic take. In The Road Warrior, the raiders all wear S&M leather and have funky-colored mohawks because its evocative of the punk scene prevalent at the time, cranked to 11. It would, of course, be terribly impractical to manage such a look in the real apocalypse. Similarly, patched-up letterman jackets serve the same purpose in nu-Fallout, rather than everyone wearing poorly-dyed or drab linens woven since the bombs fell.

    Now, that said, I absolutely have the same problems as Shamus with regards to, “What do they eat?” and “why hasn’t anyone moved this skeleton in 200 years?”

    1. Ninety-Three says:

      If you want to have a retro-futuristic setting, you need the aesthetic hallmarks of the period you are invoking. That means greaser jackets, diners, and cars with fins.

      The cars have fins, because they were made before the bombs fell and sat there gathering rust for a few centuries. But why does everyone have pompadours and prohibition-style gangsters and old-timey radio shows? Those people were born two hundred years after the apocalypse and are inexplicably continuing to live out a culture that was reduced to cinders eight generations ago. That’s what Shamus means with it not being about the 1950s: Fallout 1 and 2 were set in the ruins of a 1950s retrofuture but they were about the unique culture that had emerged as a result of rebuilding society after the apocalypse. Fallout 3 and 4 are about people still living like it’s 1950.

      1. Microwaviblerabbit says:

        I think NV shows the conflict between these two modes best. On one hand you have the NCR and Legion who are completely new cultures that grew after the bombs fell.

        On the other you have the people of New Vegas like the Kings who are literally living a 50s lifestyle.

        It is much better justified in NV (the Kings are basically an Elvis cult) but I think it shows the conflict between old and new Fallout. Obsidian was stuck trying to appeal to both sets of fans.

        1. beleester says:

          All the Strip factions are copying bits of pre-war Vegas, but it’s sort of a forced aesthetic. Benny mentions that the Chairmen used to be just another desert tribe, then Mr. House rolled up with a dozen Securitrons and said “Hey, I need some people to run a casino. Put on these suits and start practicing your 50’s slang.”

          It’s pretty clever, because it means they can have all the Vegas glitz and glamor they want, but they also tie it in with the theme of letting go of the past – all the Vegas glitter exists only because a pre-War survivor with more power than sense is trying to copy Old Vegas exactly as it was.

          The downside to this approach is that it’s extremely artificial – it’s saying “We know it’s stupid, but we’re going to make it the stupidity of a person in the setting instead of the writers.” But a lot of Fallout fans really like the 50’s aesthetic (it’s what makes it feel like Fallout rather than Mad Max), so it would be nice to come up with some reasons for it to exist unironically. For instance, you could say that having pre-War stuff is a status symbol, so people tend to design stuff that *looks* like it came from the 50’s even when it was actually made after the war.

          1. Echo Tango says:

            The original Fallout (drink!) is Mad Max – a post-apocalyptic world, with a story to tell. (I mean, the leather jacket is already an easter-egg reference to the original film, for a literal “is”.) The contrast, is that while the Mad Max films all (to greater or lesser success), tried to tell interesting new stories with a central theme and character to tie them together, the Fallout franchise is wallowing in shallow call-backs and repetition.

        2. BlueHorus says:

          One thing that I loved about the Kings in New Vegas was that they didn’t GET the person they were emulating. If you talk to the leader of the Kings, he thinks that Elvis was some kind of religious figure (or…king). Who was an exemplar of virtues that the King thinks are good, conveniently.

          Meanwhile, the rest of the Kings gang act like, well a gang. They’ll wear the clothes, but don’t really care much about the aesthetic or the ‘virtues’ of their leader. The King’s best friend is a straight-up drug-addicted asshole.

          It’s still forced, for sure, but you can tell someone made an effort in NV to integrate the idea of an Elvis cult into the world. In a Bethesda game, no-one would have bothered.

          1. Microwaviblerabbit says:

            The Bethesda equivalent is the Atom Cats. They are like the Kings except they have the ability to modify and fix suits of power armor at the same level as the brotherhood. Cause they love hots rods and power armor is their hot rods.

            No explanation is given why they have these skills, or how they got them. In NV the NCR couldn’t use brotherhood power armor or train their troops to use it, but these handful of people living in an isolated garage have mastered it all.

            1. Radkatsu says:

              “the NCR couldn’t use brotherhood power armor or train their troops to use it”

              To the point where they had to strip all the servos and things out and have their soldiers wear it as a suit of EXTREMELY heavy armour. I bet those guys are RIPPED. That, or they’ll spend the rest of their lives in hospital suffering from hernias and other issues.

              1. stylesrj says:

                Maybe the NCR’s stock is so limited in supply that they can’t afford to send out proper armoured battalions into the desert. I mean there was that one person behind the Ranger Monument that wears one adorned with a bear’s head.
                And since the desert requires a bit more mobility, like the Rangers, the best that can be done is you get some strong folk, put them in a big suit of armour and use them as guards. Because patrolling the Mojave in heavy would definitely make you wish for a nuclear winter.
                And you don’t need Power Armour to stand on duty as you’re not going to be moving much.

                Meanwhile the Atom Cats are working on Power Armour for their own little enclave… they’d probably have a very hard time equipping a proper combat unit with that… or working in an organisation that does that… good thing the Institute prevents organisation.

      2. Matt says:

        Perhaps we just expect different things of the setting. I don’t see them as living like it’s the 1950s, but rather living as scavengers while copying the styles of the 50s because a) its in the ruins around them and b) a retro-futuristic setting should evoke the proper period. Obviously its a little impractical and the timeline is poorly justified. The former is an appropriate setting conceit (like capes on a super hero) and the latter is just an error that I try to look past. It makes a lot more sense when the action occurs 25-75 years after the bombs, as in Fallout 76.

        If I think about what makes sense for 200 years after the apocalypse, I get a post-post-apocalyptic setting, one that would have few elements of retro-futurism because nothing from the Old World would still work or exist. The ruins would all be torn down and re-purposed, the wilderness would be mostly tamed, and we’d get more into conflicts between nation states and large organizations. Maybe this is what you think should happen, but it wouldn’t resemble any incarnation of Fallout and I think it should probably be its own thing.

        1. Echo Tango says:

          You’ve followed the words but missed the point – you’re correct that a world 200 years later would logically not look like a Fallout game. So the studio making the game shouldn’t set things that far in the future! If they’re making a game to cater to 1950s-reminiscing, or to call back to things from previous games, they can do that while still having a world that makes sense.

          1. Matt says:

            Of course they shouldn’t set it 200 years in the future, I said as much when I wrote that the timeline was poorly justified. I consider that a mistake in setting design, best ignored, in order to appreciate what they were trying to do. Maybe that’s too generous to the studio, but I think of it like how I ignore that TIE Fighters would have terrible visibility from the cockpit. In a reboot (or if you run a tabletop Fallout game, as I’m trying to do), you just retcon it.

            To rephrase my initial confusion, which may have been somewhat muddled: why shouldn’t we expect the people of a retro-future wasteland to emulate the style of the pre-war people? That’s what retro-futurism is, to my mind: a change of technology, but a similarity of lifestyle and aesthetic. Maybe it’s all just meant to be incidental to a tale of new societies and cultures in the post-apocalypse, but I think that makes the setting less distinctive. And really, aren’t the most memorable factions just LARPing as a dead culture with a post-nuclear twist? Why is it okay to emulate an order of knights and clerics (but with power armor) or the Roman Empire (but as marauding raiders), but not the 1950s, which is a far more recent period in history?

            1. Chad Miller says:

              I think there’s a distinction between “this 50’s stuff appeared right before the bombs fell” and “that 50’s stuff still permeates the post-apocalyptic society.”

              That said, part of the reason Bethesda put some of this stuff in wasn’t because they were retconning; they were filling in blanks. Say what you will about the old timey music on the Pip Boy radio, but the first Fallout game had essentially no art at all, and the second game had porn movies and that was about it. I can’t begrudge Bethesda wanting to inject a bit more flavor into the setting; it just would have been nice if they had done it in a more thoughtful way.

              1. Microwaviblerabbit says:

                The pip boy radio is a good idea for gameplay. You can have radio messages picked up the player who then finds out about a quest or investigates the signal. Even now on an emergency the primary method of sending out messages is radio.

                I think that naturally led to radio stations as an option. Most people when they go on their commute in real life listen to music or the radio. So add some alternatives to background music.

                In my opinion the problem is Three Dog. Enclave radio is just propaganda. Agatha is her playing the violin. These don’t really have any lore problems. Three Dog constantly judges the player and is a plot critical NPC. His music selection basically says no new music was made from the 50s to 2077. There isn’t even a line saying this was all that survived. 50s theme, 50s music.

                I do think his music is fun and catchy, and if you are wandering through the wasteland it helps with the long commute. But it does raise issues about cultural stagnation.

    2. Adrian Burt says:

      To understand Fallout you need to understand the man who created it: Brian Fargo. Brian started the whole post-nuclear role-playing thing in the early 1990’s with Wasteland a game set after a contemporary nuclear war. The game came out early enough in the 90’s that it was able to ride the coattails of the Cold War, the memory and fear of a nuclear war was still there even in the Berlin Wall was down.

      Then Brian wanted to make a sequel to Wasteland but he sold the rights to EA and they weren’t interested in a sequel. Brian was still interested in making another post-nuclear role-playing game even if it wasn’t another Wasteland but any game he made now would need to be different enough from the Wasteland to placate EA’s lawyers.

      See the thing about Brian Fargo is that he’s a Baby Boomer, he grew up with the Cold War, with Duck and Cover, he lived through the juxtaposition of how atomic power could save or destroy the world. Fallout is derived from his memories of childhood in the Cold War, Fallout is a vision of his past’s worst case scenario future. Fallout isn’t a future were it was the 50’s forever, Fallout is the worst possible future people growing up in the 50’s realistically thought about.

      And this choice for a retrofuturist made a lot of sense for a game released in 1997 because now the Cold War is long gone and the threat of nuclear war is over and people are looking at a future ruined either by computer malfunctions or pollution, not nuclear war. So Fallout is built on the fears of the past not the present to make its setting carry emotional resonance, it’s a nostalgia trip for 30-year olds who remember Red Dawn.

      But taking one man’s idiosyncratic vision built off childhood fear and nostalgia is really hard to keep when you change creators. It’s almost impossible to keep that vision if a different group of people have to deliver it to a studio of over 200 employees who need to make a cohesive work of art. So Bethesda dumbed down Fallout until it was a world cultural trapped in the 50’s forever. I don’t know if the dumbing down was a structural issue or if the people at the top legitimately did not understand Fallout but it’s what it is now. Fallout is a theme park now, complete with fun money and a gift shop.

      1. Matt says:

        This is an interesting history and analysis, but I’m not sure Bethesda is responsible for keeping Fallout “trapped in the 50’s forever.” Even in the original, the bombs fell in 2077 and, at that time, the culture of the US and its technological aesthetic were retro-futuristic. That means either 110 years of stagnation, or some kind of wholesale resurgence of the style after a period of being unfashionable. Bethesda has gone further with the 50s style design in architecture and clothing, but I’m not convinced that’s unwarranted (that’s what makes the setting retro-futuristic, I think) or makes the setting a theme park. Poor use of setting assets and a lack of attention to setting detail (“What do they eat?”) makes it a theme park.

        1. Microwaviblerabbit says:

          Bethesda is Medieval Times and the originals and NV are an actual castle run by a historical society.

      2. Infinitron says:

        Wasteland was released in 1988. Brian Fargo was born in 1962, more of a borderline boomer. I’m not sure he deserves that much credit for Wasteland beyond the big picture idea of making a Mad Max-esque post-apocalyptic RPG. The most important designer on the game was probably Michael Stackpole, today mainly known for his BattleTech and Star Wars novels. As for Fallout, that was first and foremost the vision of Tim Cain, though clearly it was made to tie in with Wasteland at some point during its development.

  26. Plays The Thing says:

    *applause* Bravo Shamus and Co.

    I was as pretty critical about your editing in the last post with the charts, and I was hoping this one might be a little
    better, but honestly it blew me away. You are cutting rhythmically with your writing, you’ve got supportive visuals for everything, and best of all you are using your visuals to deepen your argument. I particularly loved:

    There aren’t any old-timey prohibition-era gangsters with tommy guns. No pinstripe suits, no letterman jackets, no horn-rim glasses, no pompadour haircuts or beehive hairdos, no baseball players, no sundresses, no neckties, no newsies, and not a single gumshoe.

    With each example having an accompanying screenshot. In the blogpost I would have had to click all the links but in the video the visuals give me all the relevant information and it did it quickly, rhythmically, and without distracting from your writing. Now that’s a good use of the medium. This one made me want to watch it, and not just read the post, and I’ve even read pieces of this argument you’ve made in other posts about Fallout.

    I have no idea how much more work this represented (you used a lot of screenshots instead of footage so hopefully not too much) but if this is the quality going forward sign me up.

  27. Jason says:

    The garbage all over the place kills me. I think that’s one of my biggest problems with the setting. There are a few towns in some of the games where people have started to build new settlements, but you still find places like your example where someone is living in a building that looks like it’s been untouched for over 100 years.
    Or like in Fallout 3 where there’s a grocery store filled with raiders that still has edible cans of food on the shelves.
    It’s like the developers who built the environment didn’t talk to the writers at all. The environment is great if it’s supposed to be an abandoned ruin, but not so great if people are supposed to have been living there for years.

    What makes more sense is a society that’s been rebuilt using the stuff leftover from the past. Like buildings made out of mismatched materials that are recognizable. Doors and windows of existing buildings should be replaced with whatever material is at hand, not just left broken. If raiders are going to live in a grocery store, the shelves should all be gone (or repurposed into beds or something) and it should actually look like a living space inside. It shouldn’t look like an abandoned grocery store that someone just spent one night in.

    A counter example to Fallout is The Walking Dead. At the beginning of the show, they could scavenge for supplies because most things had been left untouched. But in later seasons, they’re building small towns and farming for food. And that’s only over the course of a few years after the end of society. People aren’t sitting around in burned out diners with skeletons and garbage from before the zombie outbreak.

    1. Microwaviblerabbit says:

      I think one of the central problems of Fallout 4 is that the settlement mechanic pushes the player towards the world of the walking dead, and settlements with walls, farms, water purifiers, power and guards while a lot of the NPCs in the game like Trudy just sit in bombed out ruins. If Trudy’s diner had been designated a settlement location with the tools given in game any player could fix all the issues.

      Every time I would be sent to a new settlement and they would say “we are being harassed by X” and it is a literal shack with a few plants I felt like Caesar from NV teaching tribals the basics of warfare. Build walls. Post sentries. Plant enough crops so everyone has food. Generators can be made out of some tin cans and a fire extinguisher. Has everyone in the last 200 years forgotten how to build anything?

      1. Jason says:

        I played both Fallout 3 and New Vegas to the end of the main quest (and most of the NV DLC too).
        I only played Fallout 4 for a couple of hours and got bored with it.
        I had Fallout 1 back when it originally came out, but I don’t think I got that far, so I can’t really compare it to Fallout 3.

        I’m curious about peoples experience with Wasteland 2. I own it on Steam, but have never played it. It looks like it adheres more to the original Fallout formula than the Bethesda games do.

        1. Syal says:

          (My experience with Wasteland 2 is it consistently crashes on startup.)

        2. krellen says:

          Wasteland 2 is, roughly, Fallout 2.5, which is why I was disappointed in it; I was backing it to get Wasteland 2, not Fallout, but most of the backers were there for Fallout because they weren’t old enough for Wasteland.

          1. Wide And Nerdy says:

            It didn’t have Fallout 2’s excessive level of pop culture references though. I feel like at least its humor is closer in tone to the first game. Maybe halfway between 1 and 2.

      2. Chad Miller says:

        I think one of the central problems of Fallout 4 is that the settlement mechanic pushes the player towards the world of the walking dead, and settlements with walls, farms, water purifiers, power and guards while a lot of the NPCs in the game like Trudy just sit in bombed out ruins.

        There’s also the issue that this settlement building mechanic is directly at odds with the entire main quest.

        1. Microwaviblerabbit says:

          The minutemen and their ending is this weird combination of Yes Man and rebuilding society that I agree doesn’t really mix with the rest of the game. Because you as the player can decide whatever your settlements look like you can end up in weird situations.

          I got bored with the main story and stopped progressing it and I instead spent my time building settlements and setting up trade routes. By the end of it I had turned Sanctuary into a larger settlement than Diamond City. I was literally King of the wasteland.

          Settlements also completely break the game. By the end I had so many water purifiers in Sanctuary that I had over 1000 production. This was without mods or dlc. It made James from Fallout 3 look like a complete moron and completely undermined Fallout 3’s story.

  28. Clive Howlitzer says:

    I love articles like these.

      1. Stella Brando says:

        Me three.

  29. Nimrandir says:

    Darn it, Shamus. I got three games over the holidays, and then you make a video reminding me how I never finished New Vegas!? You monster!

    On a serious note: did the release schedule shift for this one? It popped up on my YouTube recommendations last night.

  30. Mr. Wolf says:

    I find point 3 to be the most pertinent, but also the most understandable, since the misrepresentation existed long before Bethesda go involved. It existed from the moment you saw Fallout on the store shelf (and if you never saw it on a store shelf, GET OFF O’ MY LAWN!).

    Despite what the tagline of Fallout 1 might have you believe, Fallout has never been a “A Post-Nuclear Role-Playing Game”, but rather “A Post-Post-Nuclear Role-Playing Game”. It was never about surviving in the irradiated ruins of the old world, or even about rebuilding society. That already happened, before you left the Vault, before the game began. The game was about the societies that had come to exist after the rebuilding phase, how they interact, and how they conflict.

    Or maybe I just imagined all that. It’s been a while.

  31. Khazidhea says:

    Main quest? Institute what? I have no idea what you’re talking about. To me this game is Post-Apocalyptic Trash Picking Comics Collector 2015.

    I picked up Fallout 4 at release (or pretty close to), which is a rarity for me nowadays. I got played til I got out of the vault, then bounced off it hard. Didn’t pick it up again til over a year later (which is for the best really, fan-mods for the game are pretty much essential for these games). Plowed through the main story til I got to settlement building, which I hated (along with the main quests and npcs introduced so far).
    So I looked up what might be interesting to do and installed mods to find all the collectables (and maybe some interesting items?), and finally the game became a joy to play. Roaming the wilderness in whatever direction I pleased, enjoying environmental storytelling, with little to no contact with npcs and sidequests. I should have stopped 70 to 100 hours later, when I was pretty much ‘done’, having thoroughly enjoyed the game. But mistakenly I decided to continue on with the ‘real game’ just to finish it off, which left a bitter taste in my mouth about the game as a whole.

  32. Microwaviblerabbit says:

    I think it is interesting how with NV Obsidian subverted the expectations of Bethesda Fallout. As Shamus said Bethesda added BoS, Super Mutants, etc to Fallout 3 and 4 as their default.

    In Fallout NV the theme of these elements seems to them dying out and disappearing to be replaced by new factions. The BoS is one bunker that in most endings is wiped out. The Enclave are a handful of old people who have all moved on. Super Mutants are rare only appearing in a few set locations.

    1. Platypus says:

      Tbf i think that might be as much Obsidian not wanting their game to feel like Fallout 3.5 than a deliberate subversion of Bethesda fallout, really as shamus says its focus. Obsidan focuses from the ground up around telling a story and uses guns lasers and cool set pieces to take from you through each story telling oppurtunity whilst Bethesda focuses on the guns and lasers and uses the story as an excuse for MOAR guns and lasers and cool set pieces. Ultimately id argue Bethesda would benefit from just scrapping a central story pretty much entirely and focusing of creating cool zany places and quest lines that are played for laughs rather than an pretense that any of it matters, maybe hiring whoever did old world blues from FNV to help with the writing would be the beat idea for them :P

      1. Microwaviblerabbit says:

        I think Bethesda needs an editor. For every good idea – collectible magazines, glowing sea, power armor as a mech suit, they have a couple of bad ones – annoying child settlement that mocks you, baseball guy, adding super Mutants everywhere, terrible moral choice system, horrific enemy balancing, story beats that make no sense, 4 option dialogue system.

        I know with NV it had a very small team of people who were guiding the world and keeping it cohesive. Bethesda seems to completely lack this and hands off set pieces to different groups. You see this in other things they have made. In Skyrim the Dark Brotherhood quests are great, and the Thieves Guild is trash.

        I don’t know if this is getting worse over time.

        1. Chad Miller says:

          It would be nice to think that the problem could be solved with someone committed to filtering out bad material, but first they would need people at the top who can tell good from bad. I like to cite this video (the guy on stage is one of the top creatives at Bethesda right now):

          I’m far from the only person to come away from that video saying “wow, that guy has no taste”. At about 30 minutes in he starts doting on one sidequest in particular. That sidequest is so bad I literally uninstalled the game over it.

          1. Microwaviblerabbit says:

            I think it is interesting that he talks a lot about how in Fallout 4 the theme is suspicion and how a player should be worried if someone is a synth. At literally no point in the game does an ally betray you cause they are a synth.

            All of the major synth reveals are telegraphed and you are told someone is a synth before you confront them. They are either already hostile or they never attack you.

            In Skyrim there are a number of random encounters where you meet enemies (such as bandits or vampires) pretending to be friendly soliders. There is nothing like this in Fallout 4.

            Furthermore, the institute does not have any intentional infiltrators in any of the main factions. The only hidden synth doesn’t know they are a synth and doesn’t betray anyone. Arguably you betray them.

            Instead like every other faction the institute sends waves of troops to attack things. They don’t even do the NV thing where the Legion sends a character to meet the player in hostile location.

  33. TLN says:

    I imagine someone else already mentioned this, but in Fallout 2 the NCR have started minting coins and those have replaced the (now useless) bottle caps. Somewhere between 2208 (BoS) and 2241 (Fallout 2) the NCR succeeded in replacing the bottle cap even in towns they had no control over, and although I guess it makes a certain kind of sense since NCR hasn’t come anywhere near the east coast by 2277, it’s really just another thing that shows the creative stagnation of Bethesda.

    I’ve seen people blame the transfer to 3D for why Fallout 3 doesn’t have even one town that comes close to being as big The Hub (over a 100 year earlier!), but like, they were clearly able to! Oblivion is another bad game running on the same engine but it had the Imperial City which at least kinda FELT like a proper city. Instead there are probably about as many people living in any of the big cities in Fallout 2 as there are in the entire capital wasteland in Fallout 3. It feels lazy, and I will never understand how people could get so into it.

  34. Tablis says:

    To be fair, Bethesda added a new significant concept in Fallout 4: synths (which briefly appeared in Fallout 3 too). They are copy-pasted from the cyberpunk genre, they do not seem to have anything to add to the subject, but it’s new. Of course it does not change Shamus’ main point, as it is not even close to being enough. I remember when i finished playing Fallout 3 I just wished now they reestablished the brand and they’ll do something wild next time. Maybe even leave the US, come back to to the possible China invasion, create some wild new threat. I don’t know, anything, really. New Vegas wasn’t this, but I was still pleased. However, after seeing advertisements for the next Bethesda Fallouts, my desire to engage with the series died completely. As Shamus said, they have new customers now, they do not need people like me anymore, but if they were reasonable people, they should have noticed that New Vegas is nearly universally loved, so making next spin-off like this wouldn’t cost them anything and could make wonders for the brand.

    1. Trystan de Lyonesse says:

      Writer saw Blade Runner and shoved it into the game, without understanding of movie’s themes and ideas. That’s not how introducing new concepts works. I’m ok with synths in F3, because it’s essentially only a reference to BR, and there’s two of them, and we are told that they’re experimental androids, and not artificial humans undistinguishable from real ones.

      1. Matt says:

        I’ve always had a problem with synths, because they seem too high-tech. The rest of the robots we see are obviously clunky, artificial beings. Something as sleek and graceful as a synth is out of place, even before they can be made virtually indistinguishable from humans. I think they could work, as you mention, as a few experimental units, perhaps the endeavor of a renegade mad scientist at the Institute. As a well-known “race” that even has their own faction dedicated to their civil rights? It didn’t work for me.

        1. TLN says:

          Agreed, it’s just another part of the “Bethesda doesn’t understand the setting”. It’s not really about liking Synths or not, but they’re very obviously out of place compared to everything else.

    2. Microwaviblerabbit says:

      I think a lot of Fallout 4 can be chalked up to people love NV so we should be like that. NV has four main factions and four endings therefore Fallout 4 should too for example without understanding why NV works.

      A hallmark of earlier Fallout games and NV is being able to talk to NPCs and they explaining their lives, factions, and their place in the world in a comprehensive manner. Fallout 4 tries to do this but is so hampered by the stupid 4 choice dialogue system and voice acted main character it only manages a tiny bit.

      Far Harbour is the best DLC for Fallout 4 because it seems to get this better than the base game. It does what Shamus talked about and introduces a whole bunch of new enemy types that are different from the standard Fallout foes. It also underscores synths and why they matter in a much better way than the base game.

  35. Wide And Nerdy says:

    I know I’m late but in Bethesda’s defense, I see it this way with companies that buy IP.

    When you buy the IP rights to Fallout, you aren’t just buying the rights to a post-apocalyptic retrofuture. You’re buying Deathclaws, the Brotherhood of Steel, Stimpacks, the Rule System, Vault-Tec, the Vault Boy, Super Mutants, etc.

    You’re buying the rights to use all this specific stuff that was in the first two games. Not using that stuff would be wasting money especially when you’re making such a transition in gameplay and you need to convince people that, yes, this is still a Fallout game.

    Its kind of like Disney buying the rights to Marvel and then being expected to not use Thor, Captain America, Black Widow, Iron Man, Captain Marvel, Dr Strange, or Scarlet Witch but instead “come up with your own original new heroes and just use the setting.”

    Granted the setting of Fallout has a little more of an identity without the specific elements you don’t want reused than does the Marvel Universe which is basically just a copy of our world assuming there was life in the universe and with a little more tech thrown in (that never seems to make the lives of the average Joe any different from ours)

    But the point is, they bought the rights to a specific thing, they want to use all of what they bought. Now the big mistake was moving the action to the East Coast if they were going to do that. They should have had a game on the West Coast to establish their Fallout cred, where they could justify using this stuff, then they should have moved the action to the East Coast and introduced new stuff after fans had come to accept Bethesda as the makers of Fallout.

    1. Norzan says:

      Then why didn’t they just do a game in the West Coast? It would explained the Super Mutants, the Deathclaws and all the other stuff Bethesda reused from the first two games. Because they were established already in those games.

      Instead Bethesda got this hard on for the East Coast and decided to write a bunch of contrived nonsense to justify stuff in the East Coast that only made sense to be in the West Coast.

    2. Mr. Wolf says:

      Its kind of like Disney buying the rights to Marvel and then being expected to not use Thor, Captain America, Black Widow, Iron Man, Captain Marvel, Dr Strange, or Scarlet Witch but instead “come up with your own original new heroes and just use the setting.”

      Conversely you might say it’s like Disney buying Lucasfilm and making Star Wars films with the same plots, the same character archetypes, the same factions and the exact same villain.

      It’s not that reusing old ideas is a bad thing, it’s when you use too many old ideas that you start looking like an unimaginative hack.

  36. Lino says:

    I’m a bit late to the party, but I made a thread sharing the video in the Fallout subreddit – if we get enough upvotes, it might get front-paged. If any pf you have made similar threads – post them here. With enough upvotes, it could give the video quite the exposure.

    On a related note – seems like the Algorithm has finally started noticing his videos! Woot-woot!

  37. Radkatsu says:

    Shamus: in the event you see this comment, if you’ve not seen this Youtube, you should absolutely check his content out: NeverKnowsBest. He did an hour and forty minute video on the whole Fallout franchise. I think you’ll like it. He specifically covers Fallout 2 and makes the case that that game is a major contributor to why Bethesda misunderstood the franchise so much.

    1. Norzan says:

      I have seen that argument being thrown around to justify the ridiculous stuff in Fallout 3 and nope, it doesn’t make sense. You see, it would make sense if Fallout 2 was the only Fallout game in existence but it isn’t. Fallout 1 exists and Fallout 1 wasn’t as wacky as Fallout 2, it was actually pretty grim.

      Bethesda chose to be similar to Fallout 2 in Fallout 3, they weren’t forced. They had Fallout 1 as a reference as well. Not to mention, Fallout 2 is nowhere near as wacky as Fallout 3. First, a lot of the easter eggs and weird stuff are out of the way. You have to go out of your way to see a lot of that stuff. Second, the wacky stuff is nowhere as ridiculous as the ones in Fallout 3. And in Fallout 3 the wacky stuff is in the main story, because how poorly written and nonsensical it is.

      1. Chad Miller says:

        Eh, I find it’s common that people who liked Fallout 2 don’t even find it conceivable that other people wouldn’t. It’s consistently rated higher.

        Second, the wacky stuff is nowhere as ridiculous as the ones in Fallout 3.

        I actually find Fallout 2’s wackiness more ridiculous. It’s actually less respectful of player agency and immersion than Fallout 3 much of time time! Among other things, you have evil merchants who won’t deal with you if you’re not evil enough, multiple characters whose names are thinly-veiled references to 90’s celebrities, a stand-up comedian who tells jokes about the character select screen, a Monty Python joke so forced that the game has to take you out of your car and inexplicably dump you on the other end of a ravine just to parade you through it, a cult that exists solely for an extended Scientology “joke”, an entire encounter that makes no sense without intimate knowledge of No Mutants Allowed drama, the Holy Frag Grenade because they couldn’t stop at one laborious Monty Python reference, unexplained time travel, etc.

        There were spots of nice worldbuilding in Fallout 2, but the silliness is so dense and relentless that I found it impossible to maintain any sense of immersion. And say what you will about Fallout 3’s railroady plot, but at least that game never had my character spontaneously start talking without my input.

        1. Decius says:

          You prefer the city where you get jailed for sneaking around outside, but loitering in the mayor/sheriff’s store until he goes to bed makes everything free?

          Oh, and Mad Max’s dog is hanging around.

          1. Chad Miller says:

            Re: The Junktown store: I’m far more forgiving of silliness as a result of holes in game mechanics than I am of silliness that was written into the story on purpose. It’s still a flaw, but a far less damaging one for me.

            And I’m a lot more accepting of someone naming their dog after the Mad Max dog somehow than I am of, say, a “celebrity couple” that accidentally has names resembling Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, or a puzzle solution that implies my leather hut village full of cargo-culting savages has somehow seen The Silence of the Lambs.

      2. Radkatsu says:

        “Bethesda chose to be similar to Fallout 2 in Fallout 3, they weren’t forced.”

        Yes. THAT’S THE POINT. It can be reasonably assumed that Bethesda would’ve looked at forums, websites, reviews, whatever while deciding what to do with their new property, and they’d have seen all the glowing praise FO2 got at the time from various sources, and all the people saying it’s their favourite Fallout.

        So if Bethesda then went on to decide that hey, people really liked Fallout 2, let’s do a similar tone, and went on to incorporate all the stupid shit in 2, it’s therefore, as I said, a major contributing factor to why Fallout 3 came out the way it did.

        I also completely agree with Chad below. 2’s wacky nonsense is WAY worse, not least of which because so much of it is jokes and memes that were dated by the time the game came out, never mind today. I dislike Fallout 3 a great deal, but at least it largely avoids that sort of referential humour on such a blatant level.

  38. Mike P. says:

    Given your level of sadness around people not writing good writing, it’s time for my apparently regularly scheduled plug for Trails in the Sky/Trails of Cold Steel. Falcom is a JRPG company that, oh, 15 years or so ago, maybe more, said to themselves “We are a small company. We’re not going to be able to compete on flash and bombast. But you know what we can compete on? Writing. So we’re going to lean in on that.” And they have. For nine games (six currently released in the west.) And it shows.

    Shamus, seriously, you should play them.

    1. Radkatsu says:

      Indeed, great games. I know the guy who translated Cold Steel 1 and 2 ;)

      I’d highly recommend keeping an eye on Zero/Ao no Kiseki’s fan translations as well, they’re required for Cold Steel 3 and 4. Falcom doesn’t care about spoilers or whether people over here have played those games, and they’re never likely to be localised officially, but they’re pretty much essential to understanding CS3 and 4 ;_;

      1. Mike P. says:

        I’ve played Zero and Ao with the fan translation, and I sortof disagree that they are critical to understanding Cold Steel 3; Helpful, certainly, and they add a lot of nice context and “who are these people anyway” but I felt that overall CS3 handled those sections adequately even for people who haven’t played the Crossbell games. I can’t speak for CS4 though, and it looks like it might lean in a bit more since it has more returning characters and villains.

        Also, Zero/Ao just got a PS4 “remaster” type thing in Japan, so who knows, maybe they’ll localize them this time…

        1. Radkatsu says:

          CS4 is the main one that requires knowledge of Zero/Ao. I’ve not played it (kinda difficult when it’s not localised yet and my Japanese is terrible, heh), but since I have a friend who’s the world’s biggest Falcom fan, understands Japanese (he translated CS1 and 2, after all), and has played all the games… yeah, I trust what he says about it.

  39. Duoae says:

    Congratulations on the success of this video! I think there’s been a lot of things that’ve lead to this and i think you’ll be in a more positive frame of mind going forward, hopefully :)
    Also, as of this moment, the YouTube video has a total of 666 comments – clearly a sign that you sold your soul to Bethesda!

  40. Lumina says:

    This was interesting. Fallout 3 was the first Fallout game I’d played and I thought it was terrible for all the reasons you’ve pointed out here and elsewhere. I think at the time I said “it didn’t live up to its own setting.” Even without reference to the previous games it fails all on its own, but now I understand why fans of the originals were so mad lol. kind of like how I feel about the Mass Effect series

  41. @Shamus check out Jack Septiceye playing this very unique game
    The gameplay is basically you helping a sign character move from sign to sing through varying enviroments.

  42. Zeta Kai says:

    Wow, the view count on this video just skyrocketed over the past week. Did you touch a nerve there, Shamus? If so, then you should try & do it again.

    1. Christopher says:

      Holy cow, should’ve expected the Bethesda crowd to take an interest but that’s a huge spike in numbers for sure

  43. Damian says:

    The thing that got me was in Fallout 3 when one of the NPCs in Rivet City said that her job was to “sweep the floors… keep the place clean.” I literally panned my view around to confirm that she was, in fact, standing on the same rubble- and litter-strewn corridor as Everywhere Else.

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