Fallout Critique: Sequel vs. Spinoff

Ever since the release of New Vegas (and even before it) I've noticed a disturbing trend: instead of examining games and formulating opinions on these examinations, gamers have a tendency to ignore facts and just go with whatever the developers or PR people say. I'm referring, of course, to the question of whether Fallout: New Vegas is a spin-off or a sequel.

Todd Howard and Pete Hines, of course, have stated that New Vegas is a spin-off and Fallout 3 is a sequel. On a few occassions some of Obsidian's own developers have also referred to their game as a spin-off. 

But is it one?

The name would make you think so. After all, 3 comes after 2, not New Vegas. However, such a reasoning is faulty. Using that logic, Quake II is a direct sequel to Quake, because id never explicitly stated that it is a spin-off. Another example disproving indiscriminate application of this logic is Thief: Deadly Shadows: since it does not have the number 3 in its name, then it must be a spin-off, because 3 comes after 2, not Deadly Shadows. As such, the reasoning that it's a number that defines a sequel is absurd. The content of the game decides that.

Before I proceed further, let's define what makes a sequel, basing on what they usually are (eg. System Shock 2, Bioshock 2, Tiberian Sun, Red Alert 2, Fallout 2 etc. ad infinitum):

  • A sequel continues the storyline of the preceding game. 
  • A sequel features at least some of the characters/organization/technology/etc. present in the preceding game. 
  • A sequel conforms to the rules laid out by the preceding games (eg. in relation to technology level). 
Armed with this knowledge, let's examine Fallout 3 and New Vegas.

Fallout 3 is set in Washington, D.C., on the opposite end of the North American continent. The distance between the Capital Wasteland and the Core Region means that it is impossible for the game to continue the storyline and indeed, it does not. In Fallout 3 only the Brotherhood of Steel, the Enclave and the supermutants are factions that might be considered as making a return and even those could've been replaced by completely new factions with no loss to the game whatsoever, as apart from a handful of throwaway lines from Eden and Lyons, the history of the Core Region after the Enclave's defeat is completely ignored. Fallout 3 doesn't even conform to the rules laid out in classic Fallouts, by introducing eg. feral ghouls, nuclear powered cars, the Fat Man and most importantly, presenting the Capital Wasteland as a lawless, disorganized warzone, two centuries after the war, when on the other coast, the NCR is blossoming.

So, to summarize:
  • Does Fallout 3 continue the storyline of the classic Fallouts? No. It's a standalone story in a completely independent setting, far away from the Core Region. 
  • Does Fallout 3 feature at least some of the characters/organization/technology/etc. present in the preceding game? No, with the exception of Harold, the Brotherhood and the Enclave (orks are not included in the tally). 
  • Does Fallout 3 conform to the rules laid out by the preceding games? Somewhat. While a great amount of content indeed expands the universe in a way consistent with classic Fallouts, there are several contradiction of the rules, most of them resulting from not researching the setting. 

Fallout: New Vegas, on the other hand, is set in the Mojave Wasteland, which is far closer to the Core Region than the Capital Wasteland, practically next door. It continues the storyline of the Core Region, explaining what happened between 2241 and 2281, detailing these events and incorporating them into the narrative of the game. The foremost examples are the NCR/Brotherhood war and the Mojave campaign, as well as the birth of the Caesar's Legion. In addition to continuing the storyline, New Vegas features many of the organizations that were present in classic Fallouts, for example, the aforementioned original Brotherhood of Steel and the New California Republic, the Followers of the Apocalypse, Crimson Caravan, the Gun Runners and remnants of the Master's Army make an appearance, while many more (Far Go Traders, Wrights, Bishops etc.) are mentioned. Characters from classic Fallouts have several mentions (Tandi, Aradesh, Seth, Bishop Child, Master, Rose etc.), as do settlements that made an appearance in the classics (Boneyard, Hub, Klamath, Shady Sands, Junktown,Redding, New Reno etc.). Where Fallout 3 was a standalone game, where playing previous games in the series was not needed, Fallout: New Vegas is a game that embraces its predecessors and while playing the classics is still optional, 
one needs to play them to properly appreciate the setting and storyline in New Vegas, no doubts about it. On the subject of conforming to the rules of the previous games: while New Vegas does inherit some silliness from Fallout 3 in the form of legacy content, overall, it adheres to the rules to a far greater extent than the supposed sequel, for example, the the Brotherhood is a monastic, xenophobic order, completely in line with its portrayal in the classics, civilization is recovering rapidly and overall, the game is governed more by the rule of reason, rather than of cool.

Let's summarize: 

  • Does Fallout: New Vegas continue the storyline of the classic Fallouts? Yes. Not only is it set in the proximity of the Core Region, it also explains what happened to it and the surrounding areas between 2241 and 2281. 
  • Does Fallout: New Vegas feature at least some of the characters/organization/technologies/etc. present in the preceding game? Definitely. One of the characters even makes a return after 40 years. 
  • Does Fallout: New Vegas conform to the rules laid out by the preceding games? For the most part yes. Contradictions are still present, but they are far fewer in number and less severe than in Fallout 3

As I demonstrated above, Fallout 3 cannot be considered a sequel to Fallout 2, since they have nothing in common, sans the Enclave (the Brotherhood was a footnote in the game, so I do not count it). Fallout: New Vegason the other hand, cannot be considered a spin-off, because it has so much in common with Fallout 2, enough to safely say that it is a sequel.

Therefore, Fallout: New Vegas by logic and reason, should be considered a direct sequel to Fallout 2, whereasFallout 3 should be treated as a spin-off. Any other claim is a violation of common sense and basic rules of logic, no matter if it's made by a developer, a fan or Jesus himself.

Anyone who thinks that a claim made by a developer holds more water than facts is... Well, I don't think I have to say how we call people who ignore reason and logic.


Fallout Critique: Lone Wanderer

Welcome to the first in a series of blog posts entitled '''Fallout Critique''', since I'm tired of reposting the same stuff every time someone comes and tries to prove me wrong with an insightful thought I've seen before several tens of times.

This first issue is dedicated to the Lone Wanderer, the 19 year old vault dweller who just loves his daddy soooo much that his first thought after barely escaping slaughtering experienced Vault 101 security officers with ease with a bat and/or 10mm pistol is "Oh my, where's my daddy? I need to find him! That conveniently placed giant pile of junk on the horizon must have clues!". Then he proceeds to slaughter his way through the game, killing stuff left and right after becoming an unkillable Lord Death of Murder Mountain at level 5 thanks to the game's complete lack of balance.

But ad rem.


When it comes to Fallout games, two game protagonists come directly from a Vault: the Vault Dweller (Fallout 1) and the Lone Wanderer (Fallout 3). However, this is where the similarities end. Where the Vault Dweller is a blank slate you are free to fill in with your own backstory (or choose any of the three pre-made character: Max, Natalia or Albert), within certain rather generous limits, namely you grew up in a Vault and were chosen to seek out the water chip, the Lone Wanderer is a pre-made character.

Now, I know that you can pretend he's not, but play-pretend is not roleplaying. In Fallout 3, the developers force you to play as a 19 year old teenager who looks for his dad and can't possibly hate him for leaving him to die in the Vault, as with all his intellect, he could not figure out that the fascist Overseer, whose sanity is quite shaky, would go ballistic and hurt his child in retaliation. The game does not permit you to stray from the role of loving offspring. You are not allowed to define your character as you like, hell, you can't even ''hate'' your father or call him out on his bullshit. This brings me to the next point...

Choices, choices...

In addition to having a pre-set background, you simply cannot define your character through the choices you make in the game. Most sidequests have only one correct way of solving them, but they're not the primary culprit. The biggest issue is the main story, where you are not given any choice at all. Let's go through the paces, shall we?
  1. You must find your father.
  2. You must be a loving, obedient child and follow in his footsteps and help reactivate Project Purity.
  3. You must hate the Enclave after your father decides to be a moron and blow up his life's work
  4. You must help the Brotherhood.
  5. You must be captured by the Enclave and escape.
  6. You must take the modified FEV.
  7. You must destroy the Enclave with overwhelming force and make a superficial choice.
  8. You must aid the Brotherhood in destroying Adams Air Force Base.
Seems innocuous, right? If this was in a standalone linear shooter, then sure, it's actually a halfway decent story. However, ''Fallout'' was always known for its freedom and actual roleplaying qualities. Here is where stuff gets dicey.

The lack of choice in the story is not excusable in a Fallout RPG. Yes, you can argue that you can choose who inputs the Project Purity code, whether or not to put in the modified FEV or who to blow up with the satellite, but ask yourself, why would your character do that? After all, the entire plot is based on the assumption that you're playing a 19 year old who loves his father and hates the Enclave after his father kills himself, refusing to give the Purifier to the only people ith the means to distribute the water. Why give the choice if you're not going to give a rationale for it? Or even give an explanation as to why the player would give it?

Why can't you choose to support the Enclave? After all, they have the weapons and equipment to bring order and civilization to the wasteland. Why are you forced to fight them? In this place various posters pipe up ''But they hate mutants! Read the terminals! Talk to Eden!'', instead of stopping for a minute, thinking and realizing that I'm criticizing the design choices made by Bethesda. If you were given the opportunity to join the Enclave, then they wouldn't have designed the game with the intent on making the Enclave as villanous as possible.

Hell, even when Col. Autumn explains his plan to you, you can't join him. If you give him the code, he shoots you, because the developers want to make you hate him ''real hard''. It's also completely out-of-character for him to shoot people for ''cooperating''. Why aren't you given the choice to join him? Hell, even if you defeat the Enclave at the Purifier, why can't you have a change of heart and support the Enclave and join them ''against'' the Brotherhood?

No, nuking the Pentagon at the end of BS does not make you an Enclave supporter.

Now let's compare that to Fallout 1:
  1. You must find the water chip.
  2. You must confront the mutant leader.
  3. You must destroy the Vats '''if''' you do not join the Unity.
Note that I wrote "confront", not destroy. The reason is simple: unlike Fallout 3, you can talk to the Master, hear him out and then decide whether or not his plan is rational and ''join'' his forces, becoming a super mutant.

Furthermore, the number of essential steps is minimal. Fallout 1 does not have a linear story, unlike its spin-off. Here, you create your own story and shape the wastelands as you see fit. You make actual choices as to how to handle the problems of the cities or you can ignore them wholesale. And ultimately, you can ''join'' the supposed enemy. It isn't a choice given out of the blue, you are given ample explanation by the Master and Unity-aligned characters as to why you should join the Unity.

Simply put, Fallout 1 truly allowed you to shape your character as you wanted him to be, starting with the rather broad template of a Vault Dweller. In Fallout 3, you are forced to play as a 19 year old Vault Dweller who loves his dad and absolutely hates the Enclave and gladly supports the Brotherhood in everything they do because the developers said so.

No, two completely random options to poison the Potomac and nuke the Pentagon do not make your character any more deep than randomly killing people in real life makes you a philosopher.

Musings over.