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the Enclave and the supermutants are factions that might be considered as making a return and even those could've been replaced by completely new factions with no loss to the game whatsoever, as apart from a handful of throwaway lines from Eden and Lyons, the history of the Core Region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.


  1. I really dig your reasoning.

    In my brief playing of FO3 I kept looking for what I call "the good ol' Fallout", but I kept meeting characters that have familiar names and titles yet nothing ever clicked, really. New Vegas rectified that for me a little as the minor references (in addition to the obvious factions etc) really made the place come alive. It was very rewarding to meet minor characters who are originally from the Hub or Boneyard, not just the Fallout 2 locations and factions. Not to mention Marcus, who's still alive and kicking.

    In comparison, Harold in FO3 was a forced, sad and unfunny reference to the previous games compared to those. If they hadn't made him into a tree, he might have made a better appearance in New Vegas. Why not as a diplomatic envoy for the Gecko power plant ghouls, discussing terms for bringing in their experienced specialists for Dam maintenance/optimization.

    I really enjoy reading your Fallout Critique articles :) Kudos!

  2. I've only played 3 and NV, and am only mildly aware of the content of 1 and 2. While I appreciate your argument, I think, overall, it's moot.

    My thoughts:
    -Could New Vegas have happened without the events of 1 and 2? Yes. Would a Courier still be murdered (attempted) when they tried to deliver a parcel to a client New Vegas, and then seek revenge on his assailants? Most Likely.

    -Silent Hill comes to mind. SH 1-4 are all numbered, but only 1 and 3 have any correlation to each other (directly). 2 and 4 are just events that happened to people who had some connection to the town. Fortunately, the developers realized after 4, that naming them by number was needless, and called them what they were. They were stories that happened within a world. Yes, there are characters who span multiple games (and I'm not talking about Pyramid Head, Nurses, etc).

    -I reference Silent Hill ultimately to point out that I feel that they're just stories within a world. Continuation of story and references are just plot devices that could actually happen naturally anyway. They're all taking place in a set timeline, so it's always probable that stories could intersect.

    -While unlikely, it is POSSIBLE that The Lone Wanderer and The Courier could interact with each other. We only specifically know what happened to the characters during the events of the game. NV does say what The Courier does after the events of "NV," but F3 only says that he keeps wandering. Who's to say that he doesn't find his way to Mojave?

    -Ultimately, I'm saying that terms like "spin-off" or "sequel" are unnecessary in this case. They are events that take place in the "World Of Fallout."


Comments, opinions and consults welcome.