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.


  1. Oh Tag, when I was reading your article about how linear Fallout 3's story is, I took a small trip back to Fallout 2.

    The Chosen One:
    Is from Arroyo
    His parents and even grand parents have been pre-set
    He is respected in the town
    He loves his Elder

    In Fallout 2 you must:
    Help the town of Arroyo, be a loving tribal to your village or you will fail the game.
    You must hate the Enclave and destroy them.
    You must fight Frank Horrigan
    You must get the G.E.C.K

    As anyone with a brain has probably noticed there's a reason Fallout 2 is not listed in your argument, because it doesn't have many big choices as well, in fact it has fewer big choices. In Fallout 3 you could at least convince Autumn to leave, so you didn't have to fight him, at least you could aid the Enclave by doing the President's biding. Fallout 2 is just as bad as Fallout 3 in the big decision department, Fallout 1 is close as well, the only one that did it right was Fallout: New Vegas.

    1. Yes, Fallout 2 and Fallout are a bit more restrictive than Fallout 3, but still offer a lot more freedom than Fallout 3.

      I'm baffled that you are directly comparing the Lone Wanderer and the Chosen One and drawing the conclusion that they're similiar. How? For starters, the Chosen One's origin is summed up by:

      1. Comes from Arroyo
      2. Descendant from the Vault Dweller
      3. Chosen One of the village

      That's it. Everything else is up to the player to decide, including age, relations to members of the village and their mission, as early as Arroyo, Klamath and the Den.

      The same goes for the story. You either did not play the game (likely) or did not pay attention (also likely). The only required action is to destroy the Enclave. The GECK quest can be entirely ignored and skipped. The part about the Enclave is particularly funny, as the organization is effectively a Nazi-like dictatorship that wants to commit global genocide, including killing the Chosen One. How can you even compare it to the railroad killfest that is Fallout 3 is beyond me. Even more so considering the main part of Fallout 2, that is, resolving the struggle for control over NorCal between New Reno, NCR and Vault City.

      Same goes for Fallout 1, where you can also join the Master.

      Do your research, please.

  2. I have played the first two games, I had three playthrough's on Fallout and two on Fallout 2. I was introduced to the series by Fallout 3 so forgive my knowledge about the GECK, as I haven't played the first two as much as Fallout 3 and New Vegas.

    I know why Bethesda decided to go the route of giving you a background because they thought the idea of growing up in a Vault in Fallout 1 was great and wanted to recapture that. They actually wanted to show you what it was like growing up in a vault, as I have seen them say in several interviews. While you saw Fallout's beginning as a blank slate, Bethesda saw it as wasted potential. Whether this was intentional or not the opening of Fallout 3 captured the feeling that most players had, being sent into the wasteland not knowing anything about the outside, what the factions where and the laws of the world where. I admire Fallout 3's opening and even though I want blank slates for future Fallouts I thought Fallout 3's opening was needed.

    Extra Question: Do you have any faith in Bethesda at all to create a great Fallout game? After all it was their first try, and Interplay/Black Isle/Obsidian only got it truly right on their third try.

    1. Growing up in a Vault was never the focus of Fallout. Fallout never wasted that potential, because it was never there to begin with.

      As for the extra question, the original Fallout all got it right. It defined the setting and laid out everything. New Vegas improves on it, but doesn't get it any more right than the original.

      Bethesda can make a good Fallout game, if they get their priorities right, ie. focus on RPG mechanics, good story, choices and consequences, rather than the superficial elements (like marriage; seriously?).


Comments, opinions and consults welcome.