The Fallout Debate – A Personal Essay

fallout 1 - The Fallout Debate - A Personal Essay

I’m honestly not certain on the best way to start this off, so I’m just going to write what comes to mind until I begin getting to the point. Fallout. This is a game series we all (perhaps used to) love. A look into a post-apocalyptic world following a war between the United States and China over natural resources, which ended in multiple nuclear warheads being detonated. I suppose if you are, or were a fan, you’d be aware of the setting by now, so I won’t spend ages explaining it again. What I’m writing about today is the debate between each of the individual games themselves, as in the recent years it has become an odd and yet very personal subject to me. You see I am a Bethesda fan in general, not just Fallout, and following the release of Fallout 76 there sure were a lot of very negative things said not just about the game and the PR surrounding it, but about Bethesda as a whole, which bled into their other titles as well, such as The Elder Scrolls. Now out of all of Bethesda’s game series, TES is by far my favorite, the one I’m most invested in. And it’s because of this that I felt as if I was being personally attacked simply for being a Bethesda fan after 76 was released. This was mostly because of people lashing out at Bethesda as a whole, and there were others who simply found an excuse to loudly voice their opinion on Bethesda. I came to realize it was not really a personal attack, of course. In 2019 it’s apparently so strange and unbelievable to be a Bethesda fan that people being excited during BE3 were called paid actors and corporate shills. The fact that people can’t seem to accept that not everyone shares their viewpoints and opinions is baffling to me. All of that has calmed down quite a bit by now though. I’m actually able to check out a Fallout 76 video on youtube without all of the comments talking about how terrible the game and Bethesda is. It’s very refreshing and relieving to me. In recent weeks it’s become more and more evident to me however that many still consider Fallout 4 a bad game. Others believe Fallout 3 is a bad game even. Some see the latter as being better than the former in every way. None of this seemed to be directed at Bethesda because of the release of 76, and so I became interested. You see I had just recently been playing New Vegas and FO4 as well, so I was naturally more intrigued. I got to thinking about the reasons why people have the opinions they do about each of the games. “Fallout 4’s story isn’t good.” “Fallout 3 is better than Fallout 4.” “New Vegas is the best modern Fallout game.” Things like that. And ultimately it has driven me to write this personal essay about it.

When it comes to the three games in question I’m genuinely unsure of which one is my favorite. Well, allow me to reiterate. Between New Vegas and FO4 I am unable to decide. I will explain why I have excluded Fallout 3 later. NV is generally accepted as the best of the modern titles, and I am inclined to agree. The storytelling, the raw importance of certain skills and handicaps for not picking others, the amount of weapon choice and the true uniqueness of special weapons. I truly do not believe that Fallout 3 or 4 beat New Vegas in terms of raw quality, though I do still have my gripes with it. Trying to play NV without fast travel, as I’ve come to enjoy a lot due to more opportunities to stumble across something or a new place and simply explore, is just awful. I find it this way mostly because of how movement works in NV. Oblivion and Fallout 3 have the same problem, to be fair. Gunplay leaves quite a bit to be desired, and I’ve found this especially apparent thanks to my recent playthrough, where I missed upwards of ten shots with a long range rifle despite having sights trained perfectly on the target for each one. And I have a personal issue with the karma system that I will also get into later. By comparison to the first two points I’ve made, Fallout 4 improves on both of them heavily. Movement works and feels great and it doesn’t feel sluggish and slow, even in power armor. Gunplay has been accepted as being vastly superior to New Vegas by most players anyway, so I don’t even really need to explain why it’s such an improvement. Yet despite this, New Vegas obviously does things better than Fallout 4 just the same, which is what makes the decision of which is my favorite more difficult. But I’ve got a bit of explaining to do, as I mentioned earlier.

Why do I not consider Fallout 3 a contender for my favorite title? Well it’s relatively simple, actually. Fallout 3’s main story is void of actual choices. Sure, you could send Fawkes in to turn on the purifier instead, unless you’re playing without Broken Steel. And you can choose to side with the Enclave a bit later in, though they just murder you regardless. You’re locked to the entirety of the storyline, with no important deviations to be made. What if you wanted to play a truly bad person and poison the purifier, with or without the Enclave? You don’t get to do that. What if you wanted to just destroy the purifier, making you an enemy of the Brotherhood? Well, you can’t do that. Oh, but you can try to convince Autumn at the end of the game to give up! No, not really. You can just let him go, sure, but otherwise you just have to kill him, even if you pass a speech check. Now don’t get me wrong, Fallout 3 has some great side quests, and some great DLC storylines at that, but I can’t ever get over the fact that you are tied to the exact same allegiance with the Brotherhood of Steel no matter what you try to do. Now compare that to Fallout 4’s story. You know, the one many people consider inferior in every way for some reason. You get to choose between four different factions to end the main story with. You can do things for each and every one of them provided you don’t go too far down the main storyline with one side or the other. The Minutemen are generally an exception to the whole “side with one side, make the other sides mad” thing, but I’ve got more to say about them later. You get to learn more about and understand the motives for each side, and ultimately the decision for which you support is yours to make. And the story itself which leads you to meet each of these factions and learn about them in the first place is a good one, if maybe a little far fetched with the cryo stasis and son kidnapping thing. And here’s a fun fact as well; you can completely ignore meeting the Brotherhood of Steel at all if you so choose to. You can actually do the same with the Minutemen as well provided you don’t visit Concord. This means you can effectively skip out of being involved with either of those factions in the first place, leaving only the Railroad and the Institute, which are both directly tied to the flow of the story. In the end, you get much more choice with how you want to go about progressing the story, which factions you do so with, things like that. Immediately a step up from Fallout 3, which gives you basically no choice at all unless you enjoy being murdered by the Enclave. And there are some good side quests in Fallout 4 as well. Same goes for Far Harbor, and maybe even Nuka World.


I mentioned that I dislike the karma system, and the reason why plays into why I believe Fallout 4’s story from a writing perspective is quite a bit better than people make it out to be. I’ve made a more in-depth version of what I’m about to say on a review of FO4 as a whole, so I’m just going to give a somewhat quick explanation. In New Vegas, and even Fallout 3, when you do something such as steal, you gain bad karma. When you help out an innocent person in the middle of the wasteland, you gain good karma. When you support a faction such as the NCR you tend to gain some animosity from other factions such as Caesar’s Legion and the Great Khans. And when you support Caesar’s Legion you generally gain the animosity of most of the available factions, at least that’s how it went in my experience. The problem I find with this isn’t that you become the enemy of other factions, it’s that the game through the karma system just flat out tells you when you’re doing something that’s good or bad. And when a faction like the Legion earns you the animosity of a lot of the other available factions out there, you generally just accept that you’re being the bad guy at that point. Whenever I decide I want to play Legion I am always prepared for many other factions to hate me for it, and I expect the karma system to tell me exactly which ones don’t like me. That is the problem. There shouldn’t have to be a system in the game to tell you when the guys you’re supporting are the enemies of many other guys out in the wastes. I believe that is something you should have to figure out for yourself. And just as well, I believe you should have to decide which faction you support on a moral level as well. When you are able to personally identify with a specific faction choice, you come up with ways to morally rationalize some of the not-so-good things they tend to do. For example, look at the Brotherhood, the Institute, and the Railroad. Each one of these factions have good and bad things that they do/have done, and ultimately it’s up to you to decide which one you support above the others. There isn’t a karma system to tell you when you’ve pissed off one side, at most there is a prompt before you start the Beryllium Agitator mission on either the Brotherhood or Institute side, which is there to warn you before you do something to make the other side mad, as opposed to it simply telling you “You are now the enemy of these guys pretty much forever.”

With the available three factions I have mentioned in Fallout 4, it becomes entirely up to you to decide which is better than the others, or which ones are worse than the other. Which side you identify with on a mortal and perhaps even personal level. I believe this to be the key in truly appreciating Fallout 4’s main story, what makes it good. The game’s main story strikes me heavily as a story of personal morality and what might be best, or worst, for the Commonwealth. And many, if not all of the major choices which can lead to prosperity or calamity, are on you, and what you believe. It’s not dictated by some karma system, or even so clearly shown to you which is blatantly evil or good. Even the Minutemen, which are around no matter what you do, are affected by your choices in the main story, at least in some form. Side with the Brotherhood, Railroad, or even the Minutemen for the Institute Invasion and don’t activate the evac? Well, you’ve betrayed the trust of the man who believed you to be the leader the Minutemen needed in order to unite the Commonwealth together once again, and you’ve also tarnished the name of the Minutemen forever due to the murder of Institute civilians. Even if the world around you isn’t affected much by your choice in the end, ultimately it has had an effect on the people you’ve met in some way shape or form. And in the end you’re left wondering if you even made the right choice. Far Harbor even continues this theme of personal morality driving the story forward. Should the Children of Atom be “evicted?” Should Acadia be razed by Far Harbor or perhaps even the Brotherhood or the Institute depending on your main story choices? Or should you allow DiMA to go against his own moral code if it could result in peace across the Island? These choices are left up to you, and what you choose to do will stick with you in some way shape or form. It’s because of this that I cannot understand people who believe Fallout 4’s main story is vastly inferior to Fallout 3’s. But I’d like to get back to something I referenced at the start of all of this. A realization of sorts.

“Fallout 4’s story isn’t good.” “Fallout 3 is better than Fallout 4.” “New Vegas is the best modern Fallout game.” These opinions, these statements if you will, bothered me for a good little while, and still kind of do to an extent. But I’ve realized something that changes the way I perceive all of this discussion, this debate.

By debating these three games, comparing their stories, gameplay, and other things of that sort, you are, in a way, acknowledging that each of these games is good in at least some aspect. Or perhaps it’s even a bit deeper than that. By debating why Fallout 3’s story is superior to Fallout 4’s, or vice versa, you aren’t necessarily making a case for why one or the other is flat out bad, you’re making a case for why one is worse. You are saying that both of these stories are good, but are simply debating why one is perhaps better than the other. By looking at it this way, or rather it simply being this way, really changes how one looks at these debates and discussions going forward. Now, it certainly is different if you say something like “Fallout 4 is an objectively terrible game” or “New Vegas is the only good modern Fallout game” because those are saying that one is bad and one is good, with no real debate involved. They are mere statements from people who can’t see the other side of a discussion, in my opinion. In the end they’re allowed to say what they want, of course. But to me, they don’t have a place in any real discussion on these games. And now, to circle back to the game mentioned at the start of this, Fallout 76. I have not seen ANYONE try to discuss or debate why this game is better or worse than another of the series, and to me that clearly shows that it is not good. Or at least, it isn’t good yet. I still feel that Fallout 76 deserves a major chance to prove itself worthy of the other games, but only time will tell if they are able to prove such a thing. But hey, we’ve seen other games come back from the brink of obscurity or controversy before, so who’s to say Fallout 76 won’t turn out the same way?

In conclusion, now that I’ve come to this realization, and I’ve been able to hopefully spread it to even a few other people, I can finally view everything in the discussions without feeling the way I did before. And it feels great.

I know that a TL;DR is usually proper etiquette, but I don't feel like adding one to this because I feel it wouldn't properly convey what I've written and how I feel about all of this. Some things simply can't be shortened for the sake of saving a few minutes.

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