California Literary Review

The Dialogue Tree

A Video Game Blog

Setting Fallout 4 Part 1 (of 2) – How the West Was Fun

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September 11th, 2012 at 10:03 am

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I know I promised to write about sex last time, but if there’s anything I’ve been forced to learn through the most lovely of tortures we like to call dating, it’s that teasing things out can build up the excitement, and hopefully lead to a bigger payoff in the end. Besides, sex in gaming, like a Texan, is such a large and loaded concept that it’s been tough how best to tackle it without turning it into a small novel or getting shot in the process.

So with an interest in (relative) brevity in mind, I’m going to talk about something completely different, and that’s going to be Fallout.

Fallout 1 Cover

Please stand by.

A couple months ago I took the train up to Portland, Oregon, in a desperate attempt to find . . . something.

While ostensibly the trip was about joining my sister on her summer road trip through the Pacific Northwest to get some family bonding in before adulthood separated us yet again, I also needed to remove the despairing Los Angeles smog from my lungs and clear my head. All while enjoying some of the fine company and coffee the region has to offer, of course.

So I’m bouncing north along the rails of a Starlight Express coach car when I find myself falling in love. Not with any of my fellow passengers, charming as they were. No, I’m falling head over heels in love with the countryside that hurtles slowly past my window.

The train moves quickly of course. But the grand majesty of the seemingly endless mountains, hairy with pines and redwoods, the sheer size of them causes the pastoral beauty to linger; the ant looks long at the man when he trundles past. Yet, as humbled and awed by the rolling, endless ranges as I am, and despite this being my first northerly wander past the meridian of San Francisco, everything is strangely familiar.

I was here once before, just not really.

Klamath Falls, Modoc, Redding; I passed through or near all these cities, and I know the names by heart. Despite the fact that I’d never been to them and for the vast majority of the American populace, they’re inconsequential points on a map rarely examined. Why? Because of Fallout 2 of course. This patchwork of peaks I passed through, it’s the setting for what many still consider to be the great American CRPG (other than perhaps Planescape Torment, though I’d argue that it works best as a complicated adventure game).

Yup, that’s the map screen I remember.

It’s a happy disillusionment to see that these places are real and alive and beautiful, instead of being the bombed out shells of a desolate post-nuclear ruin that was my only prior envisioning. A silly thought, I know. But my initial impressions of these places was so linked to the game and the truth so disparate it was something of a shock.

I’ve been through most of the Southwestern states and seen most of the major sites – the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Four Corners – and having crisscrossed the Mojave more than a few times, I’m more accustomed to the vast expanses of the desert with their scattered brush than looming mountains and lush green trees. Wide ranges of near lifelessness baked and bleached by the sun, this was my backyard. On some level, that’s what I must have thought this place would resemble as well.

Isn’t that truly what the wastes of Fallout are? Desert rampant? Desert overgrown? Desert unleashed by nuclear fire upon all the green we take for granted?

Not so different from a Nevada dusk.

Promo art for Fallout 3 set in future Virginia. Or a forgotten Arizona rest stop today.

The next thought hits me like a plasma rifle critical to my brain’s combat inhibitor. These particular wheres of the games, these cyclopean deserts wrought from annihilation, are so inseparable as to be fundamental. At its core, Fallout isn’t so much science fiction as it is a Western.

Sure, on the surface Fallout seems like sci-fi and is thus defined by its unique technology. Technology derived from the McCarthy-era fifties, a time of atomic science that barely understood the effects of radiation. Of computer science that couldn’t fathom miniaturization. Of the unchecked optimism of The Jetsons dashed against the Cold War thermonuclear horror of The Day After and Them!

If taken at face value, the physical setting of any particular game wouldn’t seem to matter so much as the retro robots, archaically advanced laser pistols, or giant fire-breathing mutant ants. You could theoretically put a Fallout game in England, Tokyo, or Brazil if that’s all that mattered. I’ve heard such arguments before.

But to do so would be to miss the point more than your Facebook friend who thinks articles by The Onion are real.

All the hallmarks of the Western are there. Thirstily wandering along at a calculated pace in the waste, sleeping under the stars in the wilderness, taking the role of the unknown gunman who wanders into town to solves everyone’s problems with a hail of gunfire before drifting out like a tumbleweed, the reintroduction of tribal culture set apart from homesteaders on the fringes of societies where law is thin and it’s best to travel with a gun on your belt even if you’d prefer never to use it. Arguably (and that’s exactly what I’m doing) this gameplay is as important, if not more important than the tools used or enemies fought.

More than most games, Fallout captures the nature of rugged individualism idolized in the Westerns of old. It’s a tale of the frontier. Only it’s a new frontier built atop a forgotten history.

American history.

Let’s be frank as Horrigan. This was made rather explicit in Fallout 3. If you missed this, you missed the point.

Not only is every Fallout set in the U.S., but 3 of the 5 officially recognized Fallout games (no one cares about BoS [Brotherhood of Steel], as it was a PoS) take place in familiar Western settings. The first was set in Southern California, with some bleed through into Mexico and Arizona. The second, as my travels reminded me, in the Northern California region bleeding through to Southern Oregon and Western Nevada. New Vegas, well that one should be obvious.

The two that weren’t, Fallout 3 and Tactics, are also the two most controversial amongst hardcore Fallout fans, and I think it’s because (aside from the fact that they marked major gameplay departures) they lacked a bit of this Western magic.

Because the wild west isn’t just about big open spaces and lawlessness. You can do that anywhere thanks to the atomic fire provided by Fallout‘s backstory. No, it’s also about the culture of unique spirituality and quirky insanity that thrives in the Southwest of the U.S. like nowhere else.

The type of insanity that makes bringing a golf club to a gunfight seem like a good idea.

The desert is a hard place, and it breeds hardy people. For the folks who live in the Southwest, a place already closer to the end of the world out there than most of America, what would the nuclear war that kicks off the Fallout series truly change, culturally?

Moreover, deserts (in general) create an understanding of existential emptiness not found elsewhere down the other back roads and dirt trails of the United States. Separating yourself from society in the woods or the swamps and you’re still surrounded by life and nature and all the noise they bring. Do so in Sonora and, well, there’s simply less. You connect to the stars in the sky and to the immense enveloping darkness without end upon nightfall, and little else (hope you brought a blanket by the way, it gets cold fast).

There’s an ineffable quality to this region where Native traditions still have sway. A sense of the mystic, of being closer to earth. It often attracts a type that’s a breed apart.

Not just in the types of folks who want to sing Kumbaya with coyotes on a vision quest, but also often the types who live off the grid, and ones who might be bit odd or off their rockers. Essentially, the types who make up most of the supporting cast in the Fallout games.

But again, there’s a desert difference. These folks are often more willing to connect to a stranger, to listen and nod rather than rave. The paranoia and bonkers bred in the desert is simply more Art Bell than Glenn Beck.

The Tribals of Fallout 2 and the New Vegas expansion Honest Hearts highlighted a slowly resurrecting kooky mysticism in the Fallout games pretty directly. Something that’s based again, primarily on local culture in the Southwest

This is a primary reason, apart from mere physical location, that Fallout 3 and Tactics are so different from the other three Western games.

They lack a certain sincerity. A light touch of affection to the often cynical portrayals of the small town wasteland oddballs that the series derives a lot of its humor from. A sense of humor that I add, is as vital to the series as the decaying Atom Punk decorum, the retro-future tech or the gunslinging gameplay. It’s an irreverent silliness that’s incredibly necessary, as it prevents the sheer weight of the dying world the games exist in from becoming completely overbearing.

It’s not that the Eastern Fallouts weren’t funny or that they were bad, it’s just that they were missing this certain extra . . . something. In the case of Tactics, it was probably because most of the RPG was stripped out of it. But for Fallout 3, it really truly comes down to location, location, location.

Climbing through the ruins of Los Angeles in Fallout 1, it’s difficult to feel too bad. L.A.’s a city of impermanence that centers around vacuous cults of personality and vanity, and The Boneyard, a settlement replacing it, features a religious order that worships an unseen “Master” who attempts to create “physical perfection” with the Super Mutants while having no singular identity of his own. The joke is obvious – nothing has really changed.

Climbing through the ruins of Washington D.C. in Fallout 3 on the other hand, it’s difficult not get depressed. As you sift through a sacked Smithsonian and notice that the Lincoln Memorial’s head has been decapitated by slave traders? Seeing the loss of all this American History, the loss of our cultural identity – it hurts.

Oh, but we did get a giant robot parody of Optimus Prime! Who ruined any challenge the ending sequence might have had. Eh . . . fair trade?

This then, is why the setting of a Fallout matters most of all. Attachment and cultural significance. When you have too much history attached, it becomes horrible to see it dashed to pieces.

The two genres most dominant in Fallout – Post-Apocalypse and Western – are rather the same thing in a lot of ways. The frontier life is almost indistinguishable from living in a shattered civilization, apart from the technology available. Fallout is simply a Western epic but with lasers, and a well made one at that (unlike certain Favreau helmed projects).

But while the Frontier Westerns are about the freedom of new lands and the promise of a new life found within wild borders, post-apocalyptic tales most often dwell in the anarchy of old lands and the slow death of the last among them. Fallout, in attempting to be the post-apocalypse with a sense of humor, had to find a way to coexist between these two extremes. It’s through the Southwestern setting, and all that came with it, that I feel Fallout found its true identity, it’s true balance.

The heart of the desert, a place centered on the nothingness of empty space and the total freedom the player has to choose in this void. There is no major history to decay, for the place is timeless; there is no culture to lose, for the people are ongoing.

Because again, Fallout isn’t simply about being sad about an apocalypse, it’s also about reveling in it. Laughing at it. Screwing with it. Not actually feeling at all bad that the world ended up dead-ending.

It was Zombieland before there was Zombieland. Only it also had lasers, giant mutant lizards, nuclear explosions and a Doctor Who cameo (and even zombies, sort of). Way before that was cool.

It’s badass. It’s American. It’s a Western.

So basically, if you thought Fallout 3 was better than New Vegas, you’re categorically wrong about what this series is.

But of course, Bethesda Game Studios is based in well, Bethesda, Maryland. With their East Coast perspective there’s a good chance they’ll do something dumb like set the next Fallout in Boston or something.

Westerns don’t work in Beantown Bethesda! Who ever heard of such a thing? (Ok, there’s Copper I guess, but that’s it, right?)

*sigh*

In the off chance there is justice in the universe, they’ll realize that aside from diction coaches and anyone who hates the New England Patriots, few would really want to see a decimated downtown Boston. As with Washington D.C., it’s one of the centers of American history. Watching that get wiped out isn’t particularly conducive to having a good time.

If that happens, they’re going to need alternates. Which I’ll be more than happy to provide. Maybe.

Until then, this is Mr. New Vegas, and each and every one of you is wonderful in your own special way.

NEXT: 5 Places to Set Fallout 4 that are better than Boston
CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE TO PART 2

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000411197035 Tyler Von Kramer

    Yes, i enjoyed Fallout 3 much more than New Vegas. Does that mean i’m not a Fallout fan?

  • Anonymous

    I’m playing Fallout 3 for the fourth playthrough right now….once and done for New Vegas. Definitely like the feel of 3 much, much better. If the francise is supposed to be like New Vegas, I’m hardly interested.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Adam-Thomas/100001441833000 Adam Thomas

    No of course you’re still a fan. My argument shouldn’t invalidate your opinion. Though I’d love to hear why someone would prefer Fallout 3 to 1,2, or New Vegas. It just feels . . . wrong. On many different levels.

  • Anonym

    very interesting thoughts,
    If I understand well your main argument is that fallout is about having a good time with apocalypse, so it is counterproductive to enlight the sad aspects of it… but i never perceived this game this way, in any title… i always felt that this game with its vision of the apocalypse and the human nature has at its core a heart of nostalgia and sandness… and i felt this particularly in new vegas and fallout 1 (that are also the two i most liked). Surely vegas is always the same before and after the bombs but the apocalypse failed at all to change humans as well… history is always repeated in the strangest and deepest way and this is sad or at least I perceive it so…
    Humour and having a good time are very important but i’m not sure that they are all fallout is about… (together with atom punk, rpg mechanics, retro-tech and the wasteland). Maybe the game would suffer from keeping out this deep feeling of sadness as much as it would suffer from keeping the humour part out… Obviously i could be well wrong, also because i’m not american and not familiar with american culture so i could easily fail to understand it… just expressing my thoughts and curious if i’m the only one to have perceived (or imagined from nothing) this other aspect of fallout.
    Maybe setting a fallout game in a part of USA other than the southwest would be a bad choice (and i agree fallout 3 fails to properly link to the previous title for this reason) but maybe it would be for other reasons.

    also, not to forget that in fallout 3 the lincoln memorial continues to keep his symbolic status… maybe the head of the statue is never more (at first) but wouldn’t it be more and more sad if no one would keep in memory american history at all? But Lincoln is perceived as a great man also after the apocalypse, so in a way the statue is “spiritually” intact

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Adam-Thomas/100001441833000 Adam Thomas

    That’s part of my point, certainly. But perhaps what I’m failing to get across isn’t that it’s simply that Fallout is ABOUT having a good time with the apocalypse, but that it’s at least ABLE to.

    If you’ve read say, The Road, or seen A Boy and His Dog, or many other Apocalyptic tales that are serious about the subject matter, it becomes all too easy to see a story that spends too much time revealing the utter pointlessness and nihilism of the situation, which seems to me to be the obvious, and weaker, choice.

    Fallout, by sticking to places that are less damaged (still devastated, just less so) and are more capable of survival in both skill and importantly, attitude, is able to create a more neutral apocalypse that while, yes it can get nostalgic or melancholy at times, is simply also capable of a greater range of themes than if it was always serious or set in a place that constantly reminds the player of what the world loses when society is destroyed.

    Fallout 3, for all it’s good points, also showed us a world that was burdened so heavily with historical loss, that it became difficult (for this American at least) to absorb much else. It had positivity and hope too, but it’s humor often skewed toward being cruel or mean rather than playfulness, and often ended up showing how pathetic its characters were rather than resolute (the AntAgonizer quest comes to mind). It was, in many ways a “Gritty Reboot” of Fallout, and the last thing Fallout needs is more grit, as it’s practically drowning in it already.

  • ChaosRevanLord

    I have played all of the Fallout games and i did in fact enjoy 3 much more than the others although i enjoyed 1 and 2 a lot i really liked the mood of 3 a lot more although it lacked the twisted sense of humor that fallout is known and loved for the general feel that 3 gave off was a lot better the cultural impact shook close to home and it should its post apocalyptic and that makes a great feel but it still had the adventure and a little of the humor that make fallout differrent than just a plain old deppressing post-apoc game. P.S. I also read a lot of post-apoc literature it interests me and over time i have learned about how a post-apoc story should feel and how it shouldn’t and every fallout did a great job with it 1,2, and NV could have used more seriousness whilst 3 and perhaps tactics could have used more of that hilarious messed up humor that was shocased so much in the NV DLC Old World Blues and in 1, and 2.

  • Tyler

    If you played Fallout 3 before New Vegas (like me), I think you would come off with a different idea of what the Fallout series was, and that would probably be why I like it more. I do feel that after reading this, I learned quite a bit of what the themes are in these games and do have a different take on them. Love the series and the article. Thanks.

  • http://twitter.com/badrobotbrain Matt Bryant

    Thank you for expressing my own thoughts more succinctly than I ever could. I grew up playing Fallout, and while I enjoyed mechanics of Fallout 3, I felt like something wasn’t quite right. It wasn’t until playing New Vegas that I realized it was that special brand of quirkiness that was missing from F3. Don’t get me wrong, New Vegas isn’t without it’s faults—freezes, bugs, and a really slow walk-speed—but it brought fond memories of my youth more than F3 could.

    I don’t totally agree that Fallout should be unique to the west, but it does work better in less pretentious places. I can’t wait to see your setting ideas, personally, being from Nebraska I can totally see a midwest adventure in the Fallout universe—from the Rockies to the Mississippi perhaps. There’s plenty of oddballs around here who’s personalities would carry through to the post apocalypse.

  • Anonym

    Maybe the problem is that Bethesda isn’t that good as Obsidian, is it? They genuinely tried to capture the spirit of fallout, i think (and visually they did a masterwork), but failed in many aspects. Then Obsidian did so a good job in mixing humour and sadness together, as to become i think the more closer to the original first title in all the series.
    A Bethesda fallout without the melancholy the setting automatically carries, would just feature the poor attempts to humour… On the other part if Obsidian would make an east coast fallout, they may succeed with mixing the “natural” melancholy of the setting with a big load of fallout-style humour. So maybe you’re right and fallout is at home in the southwest, but would you exclude that with good developing, writing and all an east-coast fallout could be a proper one?

  • Alex O

    Main reason I loved Fallout 3 more than new vegas was the fact that it was much more raw and gritty. Truly captured what a real apocalypse would be which would be very depressing and little humor .

  • Mordak5

    Sorry to say that I preferred Fallout 3, I found wandering the Capital wasteland, and the Metro Tunnels, to be very atmospheric, compared to New Vegas. I did fing New Vegas to have better game mechanics though.

  • corrosivechains

    I’ll just copy/paste the message I left on the Nexus concerning this article:

    “I’m not adverse to having a game set in the Boston area, but there is
    definitely a greater feel in the western setting games. Even if you
    didn’t like the aesthetics behind New Vegas (which you must remember
    there were a lot of things that had to be cut to the bone in New Vegas,
    the strip being a prime example), it actually felt like there was a
    building up to the story, there really was a world before that’d been
    fleshed out. And not just the pre-war history, but hearing about the
    Hub, and Sac-Town, etc. A history beyond history. And the characters
    definitely had much more “character” than they had in Fallout 3.

    On
    the other hand though Fallout 3 was aesthetically gorgeous. It
    captured the look of a post-apocolyptic world splendidly. It was
    immersive in that sense, you’d look around just at the “flora and fauna”
    and get sucked in. Was just sad that when you started talking to
    people, it was like a boot to the immersion face :P. That and there
    wasn’t a sense of consequence to your actions.

    I personally am in
    the boat that Fallout 4 should take place in Seattle, because yes, I’ve
    lived in Washington state my whole life…but there have been 2 games
    now which where going to take place, if not the majority of the time, a
    healthy chunk of it, in and around WA. There are assets to be used from
    the defunct FOOL/V13, as well as a history that was fleshed out in the
    cancelled Fallout Extreme. But in all honesty though, I’m not sure I’d
    want the Bethesda team to do the Seattle/Western Washington setting.

    Let
    them have the East, and keep hiring Black Isle to do the West. When we
    all end up meeting in the middle down the road, then we can decide
    whether we war it out, or meld together, in true Fallout fashion.

    Edit: Also, Joshua Graham. Coolest..NPC…ever. And I’m Atheist/Agnostic :P”

    I feel a lot of the initial story of this series was supposed to be centered around the NCR and their expansionist push, and how they were to become the “New America”, for good or for ill. It would be interesting though to see Bethsoft come up with a true eastern counterpart for the NCR, one that isn’t expressly good(kind of how we’re supposed to see factions like BoS and the Followers) or inherintly evil(Enclave/Caesar’s Legion), but a giant gray blob mirroring the NCR untill they inevitably overlap.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=25400264 Karl Amundson

    Deep south anyone? Texas, Louisiana, Georgia?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Adam-Thomas/100001441833000 Adam Thomas

    That does sort of seem to be the intent with the mysterious Commonwealth doesn’t it? In fact, building up on that plot point is probably the main reason to continue an “Eastern” series, but I’ll get to that speculation in the next article.

  • thatguy

    I disagree entirely. Fallout 3 was better because of the setting, New Vegas had a lot of emptyness while the capital wasteland did not. New Vegas had a sense of order and civilization, while in the capital wasteland it was hard to come by. Not to mention the super mutants didn’t look as goofy. The story itself was better and the whole game felt like more of a survival type thing and also a do what you want thing as opposed to New Vegas which felt less like survival even in hardcore mode. Everything you did effected a factions view towards you which I did not like if there were no witnesses how did the faction know it was me? I hope fallout 4 is set in boston, the urban city streets that are in ruin make a much better setting and connect to the player so much more.

  • Dielag

    Honestly, I think Bethesda simply wouldn’t be able to recreate the western feel of the earlier games. I don’t mind them doing their own thing on the east coast, or the depressing symbolism in Fallout 3. I actually think the dark, gritty east complements the bright, quirky west. Just my opinion.

  • Anon

    Maybe I am wrong, but this seems like an insanely biased article from someone living in the western region. If I am, I apologize for that, but that is how it comes off upon the first reading.

    I loved every game in the Fallout series aside from New Vegas (many factors as to why that game aggravated me, but that’s neither here nor there) and found that the Capital Wasteland was the best setting since the original Fallout. Fallout 2 just felt like I was traveling in the same areas all over again, and New Vegas just didn’t feel as large or as expansive as Fallout 3. The Capital had its mountainous region, it’s desolate flatlands, it’s harrowing suburbs, the destroyed city ruins, and the foreboding and disturbingly ruined White House, the crumbling Capital, torn Washington Monument, decapitated Lincoln Memorial, converted Jefferson Memorial.

    A return to the west and/or a desert setting would be a bad move for Bethesda who likes diversity within their franchises. Look at Cyrodil in Oblivion and Skyrim in… Skyrim.  Two vastly different locals in the same
    world and right next to each other. Boston wouldn’t be a bad choice due to the rich American history in the area, as well as one of the more popular and curious side-quests from Fallout 3, “The Replicated Man” which referred to the Commonwealth (Boston) as well as the Institute (MIT). The doctor who added your father talks about traveling there as well.  Another fan favorite setting from Fallout 3 was Point Lookout, and many have said that setting a Fallout in the Florida Everglades would be a very new experience. Hell, NYC would be perfect as long as the earth’s axis wasn’t shifted to have it submerged.

    Seattle is an interesting choice. I believe it was to be the setting of Interplay’s Fallout Online and there are a few concept art images that showed a gorgeously destroyed futuristic Seattle. Any major urban center would be a good choice as long as it hasn’t been done before or seem too similar to a previous location.

  • Cag93

    Can we at least agree that Fallout 3 had better music? :)

  • UbuRoi

    3 was terrible but I disagree it had anything to do with the setting. D.C. would have been a fine place to plop down a fallout installment. The problem was everything else about it. It was basically a walk through a “look what we did ain’t it clever?” land. No, no it wasn’t.
    There was no sense of survival to it either. Everything was so plentiful and so easy to come by, I couldn’t help but wonder why everyone else there didn’t have buckets of cash and gear like I did. If they were poor it was only because they didn’t bother to walk ten feet and pick something up. Honestly walking around felt like being in a world where nobody was bothering to even slightly try. (and not in that depressing having given up sort of way) With Fallout 1&2 I felt like if I stopped playing, their world would go on. With 3, if I stopped, they stopped. A good game world is not handing you everything and a quest arrow that must be followed. Place all the broken cups and old books you want, you just have an empty hollow game. And I’m sorry but “role playing” is not me having to dream up fantastical reasons a water beggar won’t walk ten feet and get his own water and the town is suddenly liking me for giving him water when they won’t walk ten feet and do it themselves or invite him in.

  • Ranger

    Most of what you have said here is completely subjective and you have also seemed to miss the point of the article entirely.

  • Reiyichi

    hmmmm…. California Literary Review… could what those 2 games (Tactics and NV) be missing is, oh um… California?! Sorry, but all I see here is a biased journalist. The wasteland is SUPPOSED to be depressing, if the world -really- did get nuked and people found a way to live on the surface again, what is the first thing that you can think of that will most definetely be defaced? Our beloved monuments. Who would stop them? I am personally fine with having any of the new Fallouts set wherever Bethesda wants to set them in. I would however like to see many of the same elements from NV return, perhaps improved upon. FO3 was a great game, just not as realistic in the fact that there were really no grey areas. NV fixed that with the reputation system… NV also lacked in that there were too few people out in the wasteland and cities as well, I mean, c’mon it is over 200 years after the bombs dropped, it cant still be THAT desolate? Still, when it comes down to it, I would play NV again over FO3, just because of the silly morality system in FO3. Everything is not so cut and dry like that… Still am happy to see any other city in America host FO4, just so long as the Reputation system returns, as well as an improved modding system, that would be awesome.

  • DoggyWrath

    I’m a veteran of 2, 3 and Vegas (and like them in that order). I think 2 had the best humor and sense of scale; That’s one thing I really miss about modern games: the feeling of travelling for days across the world map. Any veteran of 2 can relate when I say how much of a difference that ol’ Chryslus Highwayman made. Anyway, while I agree that the western Fallouts were more silly, I don’t think New Vegas captures the feeling of Fallout 2 quite right. Maybe I wasn’t getting it, but in 2 there was always a sense of lawlessness and desolation, even smack dab in San Fran or the NCR. In 2 and 3 every trek to another town felt like an epic week-long journey across the wilderness, the difference being that in 2 I had Sulik talking to his nose bone, my robomutt complaining about his old master being a *********, and Marcus complaining about the party farting……. So yes, I fully agree that the silliness is an integral part of the Fallout franchise, but personally I want to see that trademark silliness done right in an urban setting. Even though 3 didn’t have the right brand of Fallout Farce, my two fondest memories of the series are 1: every conversation with Sulik and Harold, and 2: walking with Dogmeat through the Hubris Comics building in 3, desperately searching for traps as he growls and a dozen red dots pop up on my radar. I was hoping to see those two aspects of the series merged in New Vegas, but I was so disappointed with it that the only reason I could play it was because of the PC mods. You talk about fallout being an epic, free-roaming western, but NV just didn’t have that epic freedom to me, so I have to respectfully disagree with you on some points. Hopefully Fallout 4 will bridge the gap between 2/3 and NV

    PS: Since Dogmeat has appeared in 3 games and the first Dogmeat survived a disintegration force field (“died” in 1, but pops up in a rare random encounter in 2), wouldn’t it be somewhat weird but not surprising if he turned out to be a time-travelling Godmutt? Call me crazy, but this IS a series involving a crazy tribal with a possessed nose-bone and enough Monty Python references to choke a Deathclaw.

  • DoggyWrath

    Sorry for double-posting, I’m not registered and can’t edit posts. I’d just like to say that even though I was disappointed with New Vegas, Old World Blues is the best DLC I’ve ever played. Good humor involving some floating brain jars *ahem* self-servicing with a sound gun…… good apocalyptic ruins with the labs and such. Old World Blues is kind of what I hoped New Vegas would have been from the start. I actually laughed a lot, then the next minute I was running for my life from the doctor’s “teddys”- A bunch of lobotomized raider wackos brandishing energy axes.

  • Jabberwok

    Awesome writeup. Captures both the spirit of Fallout, as well as my own experience of the Southwest. Couldn’t agree more.

  • Mr. Mireles

    I didnt like how the author assumes Fallout must be treated as a location, rather than a universe capable of various locations, which evoke completely different feelings. I really am confused of how he talks about the western setting capable of achieving balance with the postapocalyptic theme. Take New Vegas, for example, if you played the game, you probably know that most of the bombs headed torwards the area were detroyed before impact, so what really caused damage to the area was the panicked population. This whole bit of backstory was wasted, if you were to completely remove it, and say every single bomb made it to the area, then play the game knowing this, it wouldnt make a single bloody difference on how you perceived the setting, why? Because the game takes place on a desert, which, as the author accurately pointed out, its really not that different from postapocalypse. In my honest opinion, Fallout 3 is a welcome change to the series, achieving perfect balance between this sad, apocalyptic feel, and the characteristic humor and retro style of the series, a balance that its western counterparts can not achieve, because their western setting merges too well with its postapocalyptic theme. This is not something bad at all, it merely lets for different locations to exist and, of course, evoke different feelings. At the end of the day, Fallout is still, indeed, Fallout.

  • Woverdude

    That’s what I’m wishing for. :-)

  • http://twitter.com/NicoGamin Daniel Jørgensen

    Well, in my opinion, Fallout: New Vegas is my favourite. I haven’t managed to play the first or the second one, but between Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas (I’ll begin shorten them now. FNV = Fallout: New Vegas and F3 = Fallout 3), I would’ve chosen FNV. Reason being; I played FNV before F3, and got used to FNV first. The way FNV looks, I think it’s more interesting than F3 (I’m not saying that F3 is bad or anything, I just feel like FNV is more NOOB friendly). FNV drags you into the story they second you start the game, in F3, I didn’t feel like I was dragged into the story, as much as in FNV, you start up being borned, grow up to be 16, get a Pip-boy, etc. In FNV, you are shot in the head, wake up at Doc. Mitchell’s house, and start up by getting in a fight with or against the Powder Gangsters. It’s more exiting for a new player to start with some real combat rather can shooting a cockroach with a BB-gun?
    I know I sound like a hater against F3 again, but I’m just saying things that comes up from my mind. Fallout 3 had a better world, I must say, the buildings and the feeling of a Post-Apocalyptic World was there all the time. In Fallout New Vegas, the world has been getting better, that’s simple to see, with the colors, the monsters (there are not as many monsters, as there are in F3), there are more people in FNV, which makes it more of a friendly game for us noobs.
    On Steam, I have achieved all FNV achievements in less than 160 hours, loads of other people have used over 1000+ hours on getting them, on F3, I barely get any of them, because the story is not interesting at all, “Search for your dad.”, there are some of these quests in FNV; but when the main story line is about finding your dad, I was dissapointed. In FNV, you start of wanting revenge on Benny, and get the job done (the Platinum Chip). Right here, you already know that you’re about to travel from Goodsprings to The Strip, where Benny is hiding. I know, I know, that there are loads of Side Quests in both games, but they are more open in FNV. It’s much more simple to go to Novac, get the “Come Fly With Me” quest, to get some action, (for me at least, because I’ve only completed F3 by doing the main story line).
    I think FNV is a short game, but more interesting game, because it’s easier to get into than F3. It has it’s downsides, with DLCs and everything, but it’s not Horsearmor… I recommend FNV for the newer players of the Fallout games, because it’s so much easier to play, and Ammo is no problem in this game, you can spray as much as you want, and you still find Ammo everywhere.
    F3 is a great game, I recommend it if you want a real challenge, as Ammo is damn hard to find, monsters are everywhere, and you aren’t safe.

    I know some of the lines in this comment is a little messed up, because I was writing straight from my mind, but I hope people understand what I mean. :)

  • Raelizer

    we need one based here in texas, can do something with NASA and whatnot

  • mrgame

    fallout is not all western my friend, they should do all parts of the USA until they branch to different country’s playing the same damn settings of the west will get old as hell. theres only so many quests one can do about killing raiders and stopping caravans from being robbed. western style is a good style but to right off the rest is just kinda boring. i want to see the whole untied states that’s been destroyed not the desert in every game

  • http://www.facebook.com/frolicsomegaiety Wiley Rabinowitz

    Nope.

  • KyraV

    sounds good, as long as it gives me that feel from point lookout. that was awesome. the Bayou :D

  • Ein

    The main problem as I see it with the setting of Fallout 3 and Tactics is to a large extent that it simply wasn’t utilized at all. It’s not so much that Fallout is a series of Westerns as it is that nothing else has been done with the setting.

    When i first heard Fallout 3 was going to be set in the DC area it brought to mind images of vast radioactive over growth, an oppressive over abundance of life with small communities of people carved into the landscape. Populated with G-Men and ultra patriots, cults of the eagle and so on.

    But rather when we step out into the wasteland after escaping our elaborate hole in the ground we find ourselves in a cut and paste adventure. The DC setting does nothing to establish it’s self. Rather than Government Spooks and Communist Spies we have Cowboys and frontier justice that seems horribly misplaced amongst all the urban decay.

  • rg

    As a -DEVOUT- Fallout fan, I’m not ashamed to admit that I was a -TAD- disappointed in New Vegas. I’m not saying it’s a bad game. I’m not saying it isn’t better than Fallout 3. What I am saying, however, is that it wasn’t quite enough. From day 1, while I was absolutely overjoyed to have a new Fallout, the game just blasted you with all of the corners that were cut. Now, it’s hard to fault Obsidian, because they were doing the best they could with the tools they had, but there were actual steps BACKWARD from Fallout 3, which is inexcusable for a game that came out several years AFTER its predecessor. And I’m not just talking about the glaring technical issues that rendered the game nearly unplayable for the first week. The writing in New Vegas FAR outclassed that of Fallout 3, but sadly, that’s where any actual improvements over Fallout 3 end. The gameplay was almost exactly the same (complete with the SAME technical issues that plagued Fallout 3), the graphics and models were exactly the same, save for a very small amount of new models that were added, and most importantly of all (and this is the BIGGEST step backward, and actually pertains to this model), the atmosphere absolutely PALED in comparison to that of Fallout 3. The capitol wasteland LOOKED awesome. It FELT awesome. It WAS awesome. Bethesda poured their heart and soul into making that place an absolute masterpiece, and that’s why I get a little irritated when I see so much Bethesda hate. The Mojave just couldn’t compare. It’s a flat expanse of nothingness. There isn’t even anything to explore! As you mentioned, a lot of the “feel” of Fallout revolves around being a small cog in humankind’s attempt to reclaim the world they broke, yet you are utterly independent and alone. I think your point kind of works against your argument in this respect, as the Capitol Wasteland captured that feeling of desperation, of trying to survive in an entire world that wants you dead, of trying to rebuild and survive, where the Mojave just… didn’t really do too much of anything in that respect. Furthermore, while I’m ranting, who says a “Western” has to be located in the West? A “Western” refers to a TYPE of story, not necessarily the location. Lots of movies that aren’t “Westerns” take place on the West coast of the United States. Similarly, there are lots of Westerns that do not take place in the Western United States. Your article kind of failed to explain why not being on the West Coast would be a bad thing (aside from stating that you believe it would mean that Fallout would some how lose its “Western” elements, which is kind of silly). As long as there’s a stake to claim on a given frontier, you’ve got yourself a “Western”.

    Anyways, I’ve gone on long enough.

    TL;DR: New Vegas should’ve been better than it was, although the stellar writing was more than enough to pick up the slack for what it lacked.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1218023373 Adam Cooper

    I was given a copy of Fallout 3 by chance in July, it was my first introduction to the series. I never played 1 or 2 nor do I doubt I will ever have access to them. Now I consider 3 one of my favorite games of all time. I found the story very deep and moving and while I enjoy the improvements in New Vegas (just got it a week ago) I can’t help but want them to be added to 3.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1218023373 Adam Cooper

    I should add that love cold war stuff, radiation and nuclear related tech. Fallout 3 fit me like a glove. New Vegas is nice, but I don’t want the next one to be another western. Stick with the retro-future cold war suburbia theme.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1218023373 Adam Cooper

    yes, love it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/KWHorner Kyle Horner

    I agree with the premise of this article – that Fallout is both a western and a post-apocalyptic setting. I also agree that Boston is a subpar location for FO4, but for different reasons.
    I feel that Bethesda can achieve (and should strive to achieve) the core implications of the “Western” genre without setting FO4 and the subsequent games in the American Southwest. Let’s be honest here – do we really want to play THAT game over and over? While the merits of FO3 versus FO:NV are debatable (and I agree, rightly fall in New Vegas’ favor), the Capital Wasteland did prove that you could have a compelling and engaging story in the Fallout Universe without setting the narrative in southern California. I don’t particularly long for another divergent rememberance of historical landmarks ravaged by the innappropriate use of the atom by mankind, but that doesn’t mean the East Coast is an invalid setting for Fallout.
    No, where I take issue with FO4 being set in Boston is purely on canonical terms; namely The Institute, creators of androids that appear human, is located very near Boston. While I felt “The Replicated Man” was a fun quest in FO3, I also feel like it was the most “un-Fallout” aspect of that game. In a world of 1950’s sci-fi whimsy, Bladerunner-esque replicants simply have no place and I cannot fathom how Bethesda can ignore what they have made as canon if they select Boston as the backdrop any more than I can stomach the thought of dealing with technology that is arguably anachronistic for the setting. This is blasphemy of the highest order; this is “Darth Vader was the person who actually built C3PO” kind of shennanigans.
    It’s a fine line Bethesda will be straddling if they select Boston as the location of the next installment of Fallout. I hold hope that it could be done tastefully, but the other side of that narrow line is a tank full of sharks that I sincerely hope the franchise isn’t attempting to jump.

  • http://www.facebook.com/KWHorner Kyle Horner

    I would both love and hate for FO4 to take place in Seattle because A) I live here (the love part) and B) my tabletop Fallout game takes place in Washington (the hate part). as much as I’d love to see the Post-War sights of my city, I’d hate to have canon contradict my own story I’m telling :P

  • http://www.facebook.com/taylor.stewart.733450 Taylor Stewart

    Fallout New Vegas was terrible, the only useful additions being gun modifications and iron sites. Did anyone find the ammo creation tom-foolery useful? I found it to be unnecessary, clunky fodder added for its own sake. The story was forgettable and weak, the location was repetitive, uninspiring and largely uninhabited by anything other than annoying large reptiles and insects. It was far too easy even on “hardcore”. The factions were pointless too. The music was wretched, omg how I hate country and western…

    FO4 needs more grit, more consequence, more difficulty (as in any at all – I played FO NV on hardcore and the highest difficulty and yawned, FO3 was too easy too but at least it had atmosphere and a superior main quest).

  • ben green

    they need a new hightech fraction like brotherhood of steel technology is the best!!!!!

  • Snap

    I agree. Androids don’t fit into the Fallout Universe

  • http://www.facebook.com/secrestsquirrel Jacob P Secrest

    There is nothing wrong with setting a Western-esque story in a post-apocalyptic East, because in the apocalypse everything would be a desert. Although of course New Vegas did the Western thing way better for a lot of reasons.

    My problem is setting any Fallout game in a major city that has any major standing structures. New Vegas worked because Mr. House saved it and Fallout 3 worked because presumably there was some a government anti-nuclear grid that saved it, but who the hell would save Boston?

    I want Bethesda to keep making Fallout games in the East while Obsidian make Western ones and just see how the series and the two regions develop from there. There is room in Fallout fandom for both worlds.

  • http://www.facebook.com/secrestsquirrel Jacob P Secrest

    That said Fallout 4 will almost certainly be in Boston. I am fairly sure it is going to be part of the region now called the Commonwealth which is basically Boston. There was too much Commonwealth name dropping in Fallout 3 for Fallout 4 to not be there.

  • meddler

    Well, the article is written from the perspective of a fan of the original Black Isle Fallout games, which is the point. It was bleak and meloncholy, but with plenty of humor that ranged from dark to outright silly. Those games had a level of narrative depth that I too felt FO3 lacked. I think Adam hits on one of the reasons for this, but there are others:

    1. Bethesda has always been better world builders than storytellers.
    2. Obsidian, who made New Vegas, had a number of former Black Isle employees, specifically a handful who had worked on Van Buren (Black Isles codename for the FO3 game they had in development before they went under and sold the IP).

    3. The older games, based on older technology, were constructed differently. The advent of first person shooting is great, but it creates a mechanical focus based on reaction. The pacing is based on the action. In the old turn-based style, the opposite was almost true. It was up to the narrative alone to deliver the pacing. The action, which was based on more thoughtful calculation, took its pacing cues from the narrative.

    Point #3 here is important, and difficult to resolve. It’s why a studio like Bethesda can be so amazing at sandbox world-building but fall so utterly flat in terms of narrative structure. The detail-heavy mechanics of a sandbox RPG almost force a contradiction to a tight narrative structure.

    On the other hand, sandbox world-builders like Rockstar who go lighter on the RPG elements are able to tell a tighter narrative, as are more linear world-builders like BioWare (at least until ME3’s ending). The combination of detailed game mechanics and a fully sandbox style open world make tight storytelling almost impossible, and its why games like FO3 will never feel as narratively tight as FO1 and FO2.

    Then again, I do agree that stylistcally, FONV felt much more natural than FO3, but while the core of the game seemed to work better, it was so close to completely broken around the edges that almost all of that good work was undone. If they’d been given an extra six months of development time, I think it could have been a vastly superior game. As it was, I felt it succeeded in many of the areas FO3 failed, but also failed in many of the areas where FO3 succeeded.

  • Explorerbc

    Excellent article, from a true fallout fan, a spot-on analysis on why Fallout games are great. Unfortunatelly Bethesda aka “the average rpgs studio” will be making 4 and they will probably as you said miss all the great things of the franchise (they put vampires in 3 ffs) but are gonna get praised anyway by those new fanboys who think tokyo is a good idea. I can’t understand how some people prefer f3 over obsidian’s masterpiece of a game , new vegas.

  • robthom

    Worst blog post ever.

  • Livvvv

    from the perspective of a british player of the series, the sense of American history (which I find extremely interesting) being literally wiped out was what made Fallout 3 a better game than Fallout New Vegas. They’re close, but all the things I liked about Fallout 3 are the things you listed as being it’s downfalls – how heavily the idea of nuclear apocolypse hangs, how depressing sifting through decimated history is. I loved it. If something can move you like that, then it’s doing something right. Having said that, the first thing I thought when I played F:NV was that it was like a Western and a little easier to stomach – and I love that too. It’s funny and sprawling and brilliant.

  • Jason

    I agree on some points, but I still loved Fallout 3. Liberty Prime is THE coolest robot in the series. How can you not love a giant robot, throwing nukes like footballs, who says “Democracy is not negotiable!”?! I don’t care where the next games are set as long as they’re good games and we have more Fallout!

    I also didn’t think F3 was depressing. I saw it as hopeful. I loved the fact that I was charged with retrieving the Declaration of Independence. As an American, that mission made me feel like I was doing something extremely important in a way a lot of games don’t.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with this perfectly. Fallout three doesn’t seem to be a departure from the rest of the series so much as an equivalent. For the exact reasons that make the original, western games great it would be pointless to try and recreate the same thing on the east coast. While the west attracts one kind of fringe person that fits the fallout feel, the east attracts another. The fundamental difference between the two geographic halves is that nothing changed in the west, as was stated above, while in the east, everything changed. The west is seeing a return to a frontier feeling that never truly left and that’s why one sees thing like tribals and raiders. The east however is a polar opposit and requires a juxtaposition. It’s fall would be a lot harder and create more chaos due to its greater advancement than the west which is he main reason for the difference between the two: the east is nothing but a hellhole. It would be in an understandably worse way than the west therefore the driving forces would be less about vying for power of what’s there and more about reining in the quagmire of violence and despair that it can’t help but be. Take that and put it in a place like DC for all the heart wrenching depictions of society’s fall one could ask for and its understandable that it would be laking in the comedic flare of the rest. My, very long-winded, point being that it is very posible to create a fallout game with much greater relevance that stays much truer to the series than 3, but only provided one keeps the cultural diferences in mind when doing so. On another note these things makes the west and east sort of opposites heading on a collision coarse in the distant or near future. The differences in what I stated and the similarities in their mannerisms and moral ambiguity will make for an interesting conflict down the road. An occurrence that I think could only happen because fallout is not the story on one region of America but rather the whole of the United States. Personally I think the east and west colliding either in battle or unity would symbolize America finally becoming whole again and erasing the wounds of the greatest and worst war of all. (Although I disagree that that would be the last fallout game)

  • Brian

    Thanks, enjoyed reading your articles. Fallout 3 was my first fallout game. I loved it and I felt a little disappointed by FO New Vegas afterwards. I think it’s because I live and grew up around DC, and seeing it destroyed provided an impact and emotional aspect that made the game more engrossing.

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