As someone who has played the Fallout games since the first one and has found enjoyment in almost all of them (I did not play the isometric spinoff games), I have always found that there was a very large difference between the original games and Fallout, but not only in terms of storytelling or gameplay. I always thought that there was a very large difference in tone and exactly what kind of stories the developers wanted to tell. I wanted to share my thoughts on what each company thinks Fallout should be and what the franchise is actually about and, hopefully, get your input on the matter too.
I think there is a common misconception with the what genre the original Fallout games (and New Vegas) are. People usually call Fallout a “post-apocalyptic” game and, while this is true to an extend, the games take place so long after the nuclear war that society has largely been reestablished. It’s more correct to call the Fallout games a post-post-apocalyptic game. Fallout originally was less about the everyday struggles of survival like scavenging for supplies and more about the new societies that formed. How does humanity develop after such a change to our world? Do we follow the old patterns and risk the same problems we had before? Or do we try something new which might be frowned upon if seen through the lens of a “more civilized” time before the nuclear war?
For better or worse, Bethesda seems to have a different point of view on this matter. They seem to want to tell stories of survival and how these communities formed and seem to be more focused on the lawlessness of an untamed world. A perhaps superficial example that shows this is crime and punishment. In the newer Fallout games, including New Vegas, crime is punished by death, no matter the transgression. Be seen committing a crime and people will pull out their guns and start shooting. In Fallout 1, Junktown has a prison. If the player is caught committing a crime, they can submit and go to jail before having to fight to the death. I realize this is a thing in other Bethesda games, but the fact that you could go to jail in Oblivion, could not in Fallout 3 but then could again in Skyrim shows that removing jail as an option was a deliberate choice. I believe it was to set the tone of the game.
When looking at the stories of Fallout 3, 4 and 76, it seems the focus is on rebuilding and establishing new orders to the world, as opposed to living in the conflicts that come as a result of already existing societies.
Fallout 3 has the player deciding the fate of the Capital Wasteland and helping bring peace to a dirty, ruined place. Despite taking place two hundred years after the war, the Capital Wasteland is made up of tiny communities and there is no sense of a greater order such as the NCR having been established anywhere. The player must join the Brotherhood to make the land a good starting point for civilization.
Fallout 4 showed the player the world before the bombs fell to put them in the position of being a newcomer to the world; despite the world having already been wrecked for a long time, the player may as well be in a freshly destroyed world. This is also extended in the fact that the Commonwealth seems to be made up of, at best, small towns that are barely hanging on to civilization. There are no thriving communities, no real order and it is up to the player to, basically, bring order and give the world a fresh start to start establishing order, whichever that may be.
Finally, Fallout 76 puts the player into one of the first vaults to open and bring new people to the wasteland. Despite others having survived without the vault, West Virginia is very empty and the entire theme is about rebuilding and starting something new. I cannot say much more about 76 as I have not actually played the game myself to experience the story.
In conclusion, the Fallout franchise was originally created to tell stories of communities being developed after a war that wiped the slate clean. Humanity rebuilt, established new communities and has to deal with the new way things are now. Bethesda seems to have a different direction for the story, which if, of course, absolutely fine. I just thought it was an interesting contrast: one vision wants to focus on what happens after the rebuilding whilst the other wants to focus on the actual process of rebuilding. All games have interesting stories to tell, but they tell different kinds of stories, depending on their focus.
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