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Year of Fallout: Series Retrospective


Context

At the end of 2020, in a COVID fugue state, I decided to replay Fallout 3, which then spiraled into playing the entirety of the series in 2021. For reasons I guess.

Here was the play order and links to my individual posts on each game:

FO3 > FO1 > FO76 > FO2 > FO4 > FOT > FONV

And now it's time for the postmortem. The finale. The final thoughts:


What IS Fallout?

Lets just start off with the most loaded and charged question imaginable. Should be fine.

The question of what is and isn't Fallout, and what is and isn't a Fallout game, is probably the most contentious in Fallout fan circles.

Opinions range on what games are true Fallout games, from people who say FO 1 & 2 were the only true Fallout Games, people who say only FO1 was the true fallout game, people who say 1,2,NV were the true fallout games, people who say any of the new post FO3 games are true fallout games, and many in between.

So of course, I am here to end all debate with my starling and infallible opinion.

At the end of the day, they're all kinda right. Really, the question isn't "What Is Fallout?", the better question is "What is Fallout to you."

My year of playing these games has shown me that despite some underlying DNA, each of these games are so different from each other in their own unique ways that you can pretty much pick and choose what you want Fallout to be.

Want a gritty post apocalypse story focusing on humanity and its challenges against the wasteland and itself, with rare sparks of humor? Well then you want Fallout 1, Fallout 3, and Fallout 4.

Want a deep roleplaying experience where your character can truly express itself? Well, that's mostly regulated to Fallout New Vegas, with some smatterings in FO1 and FO2.

Want an open world to explore the ruins and stories of a now dead world? FO3 and 4 will be your thing.

This is what creates the problem and the fandom Dividebullbearbullbear . The only primary DNA shared by the games is its setting and retro-futuristic background, beyond that they vary wildly; and often people base what is a "true" Fallout game based on their first. This isn't even touching on what Fallout games are good as games on their own, regardless of franchise.

It's a thorny issue I won't be able to "answer" or "solve" but honestly my opinion is it doesn't matter. Most of the games have their own charm in their own way, and trying to gatekeep what is and isn't a Fallout game is both a silly exercise, and a wasted one for a long list of reasons.

Enjoy what you enjoy, skip what you don't. Stop getting angry at people who like different things than you.


So My Actual Thoughts Now

With that hot button issue put to bed truly and forever with no possible disagreement, how do I feel about the series after playing through all of it?

Well I'm a bit burned out on it, obviously.

But beyond the burn out, I think there's something oddly wonderful about how different each game is, even if there are a few I intensely disliked. Seeing how these various teams and studios have interpreted the world of Fallout in their own way is kind of magical. They all saw different things worth tossing and different things worth keeping about the franchise to bring their own vision to light. While some games are alike mechanically (FO1 and FO2, FO3 and NV) they are never truly alike in personality. This leads to a situation where if you want to enjoy some of the games you either need to enjoy what they're trying to do from the outset, or try and shift your expectations for what they are.

Further, going from the beginning of the franchise you see just how jumbled together this franchise truly is. How every team is just adding cool ideas they have into the mix, sometimes for the better sometimes for the worse. Its what feeds into that core issue of "what is fallout" because Fallout has been reinterpreted a 7+ times over the literal decades. Everyone is laying down the tracks as the train goes forward, but for the most part, it works.

Plus despite being jumbled together, it's really obvious playing through the series how much reverence every game has for the original, for Fallout 1. From FONV literally using its music (something I didn't even notice till this franchise playthrough), to FO4 having a companion that seems to be a subtle reference to FO1's first "real" quest. Even if they don't interpret it in a way you enjoy, its clear everyone has a love for the original that kick started the franchise.


Time For a List, People Love Lists

With all of that rambling aside, after playing each game and sitting on it for a bit the last week or so, if I had to order the games from my least favorite to most favorite, this would be it. This isn't to say these games are necessarily terrible or the best, just how I feel about them and why.

So, from Least Liked to Most Liked:

Fallout Tactics

Nothing about this game connected with me. If I played in the turn based mode the game was a dull slog, if I played in the real time mode, it was an uncontrollable mess. I've softened a bit on it since I wrote my original post, but at the end of the day I never felt like I was really having fun with the game, and I have no drive to ever replay it in my life.

Fallout 2

Oh boy I know this will be the contentious one. But Fallout 2, largely, just doesn't work for me. The dated parts of Fallout 1 aren't helped by being nearly four to five times the game length, the writing is often dated in a bad or straight up cringeworthy and weirdly horny, and the early and late game experience were equally miserable for me for different reasons. BUT, I did enjoy the mid game section from a writing/player choice point of view (Modoc, Gecko, VC, NCR, Vault 13).

Fallout 76

Fallout 76 ABOVE Fallout 2? Heresy. Yeah well, sorry not sorry. Fallout 76 is a messy, jank ridden online title with a massive heap of missed potential. BUT I did enjoy more of my time with it than the other two, and by that metric alone it wins. Appalachia is a beautiful game world filled with sometimes pants-wetting enemy encounters. Wandering and exploring that game world is often fun and beautiful/creepy, and the writing of the later added NPCs, along with the usage of your SPECIAL in dialogue, was pretty good too. But it is, as I said, janky and buggy, even this far after launch; further the MMO-lite elements just hurt it in my opinion (though the actual community game are super nice). It could've been way better, it wasn't, but it's not the worst game I've played.

Fallout 3

We're now firmly in "I enjoy this game" territory. Fallout 3 has an enjoyably explorable world filled with atmospheric stories of the end of civilization, and some truly cool or good side quests. The gunplay is surprisingly fun, and the roleplaying parts of it are still pretty enjoyable. But it is hurt by pretty miserable worldbuilding only eclipsed by FOT in bad quality and an eh main story whose only redeemable part is the main antagonists. I still enjoy it though, even now. Also it has some pretty good DLC in the form of Point Lookout, Broken Steel, and The Pitt.

Fallout 4

Fallout 4 takes the parts that work in Fallout 3 (exploration of a dead world, gunplay) and enhances them. Combat has never felt better in the franchise, settlements are (to me) really fun, the factions are better handled than in FO3, the game boasts pretty well written/enjoyable companions, and the game boasts some really good side quests. Though it is hurt by a story that varies wildly in quality (from "pretty good" to "pretty trash") that lacks a cathartic ending or meaningful beginning. Other pain points include a lack of a good end game, a half baked progression system, and a not great handling of its main character. But overall its a solid game that I enjoy playing. It also boasts solid DLC, especially Far Harbor.

Fallout 1

While I'll probably play Fallout 4 and 3 more in the future than I will Fallout 1, Fallout 1 wins out over those two purely for how much I can't stop thinking about how much I enjoyed my time with it. It may have aged parts, but it doesn't overstay its welcome time wise so those parts don't grate as much. The progression from "dude with a knife and 10mm pistol" to "power armor wearing, plasma rifle wielding badass" is extremely satisfying. The story (including its many side quests) are simple but enjoyable for executing that simplicity with grace and subtlety, and with one exception the worldbuilding is never as good as it is in Fallout 1. Fallout 1 is just a tried and true classic marred by an aged UI and a bit of a learning cliff. I didn't expect to love this game as much as I do now when I began this, but hey, here we are.

Fallout New Vegas

Wow, super controversial opinion, but Fallout New Vegas is good, actually. Jokes aside, New Vegas is just undeniably great. From how it allows you to create a character that is truly yours via its amazing skill/dialogue system, to how it has overhauled FO3's combat to be even more satisfying and meaninful, to how it has the best worldbuilding and story telling in the series. Fallout New Vegas is roleplaying lightning in a bottle, and it easily climbs to the top of the franchise for me in terms of how much I love it. I won't say its perfect, it has definitely aged graphically, travel can be a bit tedious in the desert, and it has by far the one of the worst DLC of the modern Fallouts, but none of that really undercuts its pervasive charm and excellence. If Fallout as a franchise exists merely to have lead to Fallout New Vegas, that is completely worth it in my eyes.


Conclusion and Wrap Up

My time with the Fallout franchise stretches back to my literal childhood, and I've enjoyed getting to revisit in such a thorough way this year. The journey surprised me in ways I didn't expect, with games I thought I was sure to love or at least enjoy (FO2, FOT) becoming some of my least favorites, and games I thought I disliked (FO1, FO76) becoming some of my favorites, or at least not hating them as much as I thought in 76's case.

Fallout has a wide variety of games in its franchise, with a wide variety in quality that differs even person by person. I've had people tell me that I shouldn't bother with any game except 1,2,NV, and I've had people say they could only really enjoy 3 and 4. And honestly I think that's a wonderful thing. Fallout has something for loads of people, and I'm glad I got to experience all of it (even if I didn't ENJOY all of it).

That said, I'll be taking a break from guns and mutants for a while. I think I miss swords and magic.

So, all that said, what do you think? How WRONG am I, especially about FO2? Or do you largely agree with my tepid-tea temperature takes?

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Bonus Thoughts: Fallout Shelter: I dunno man. I can't form a hard and strong opinion on a loot box mobile game. Making a vault is cute, but most mobile games are kinda eh by their nature. It's fine? I guess. Yeah. Its fine. I dunno, throw it between Fallout 76 and 3. It's critcally okay.

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