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Themes in the Fallout series

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In the Fallout series, there are many shared themes among many of the canonical games among their plots, location settings, and other game content.

Shared themes

War Never Changes

If war doesn't change, men must change, and so must their symbols. Even if it is nothing at all, know what you follow, Courier…

Ulysses - Final Message, Lonesome Road

Ubiquitous across almost, if not all, Fallout games canon or otherwise. The most prevalent theme in the series and probably what most normal people think of when they think Fallout. Fallout proposes the idea that no matter how much society and culture changes, war is a fact of life for humanity and is doomed to violence in all its forms. From some of the most prosperous to the most starved peoples, different cultures and groups will still go to war for anything; from petroleum to water, or land to ideologies, cultures will find their reasons to wage war.[1]

Survival and Society

No matter how or no matter the cost, people find their ways to survive. Whether it's through farming near desert-like land, scavenging the Old World, or taking what they need by force from others, people find their way to survive. Humanity, despite having the worst thrown at it and even being toppled from the top of the food chain for a time, will survive the Great War. An emphasis in several games is also put on the food and water needed by people to survive and the difficulty in acquiring these resources after an apocalypse.[2]

Recreating the New World in the Image of the Old

Near every single faction has taken influence from previous cultures. In Fallout, culture has heavily regressed and taken on characteristics of long-dead, archaic cultures. Even one of the most technologically advanced culture has modeled themselves after the knights of yore. Other distinctly regressed cultures are that of the town of Shady Sands, which aesthetically appears to be taking from ancient Levant culture, but their religion, Dharma, also takes from Buddhism. Even raider groups have modeled themselves after old cultures, such as the Khans which live the lifestyle of Mongol warriors. This theme is continued in most Fallouts with either recurring factions or new factions and locations, such as the New California Republic basing themselves off the long fallen United States, the Enclave which claims to be the descendants of the United States government from before the war, and Caesar's Legion which was modeled from the Roman Empire to just name a few.

However, there are also twists on this theme, such as Vault City, which on the surface could be seen as the perfectly realized retro-future sci-fi town imagined pre-war but falls into the same traps of the of pre-war modern society with rampant xenophobia, corruption, and bureaucracy. New Vegas also embodies this, with Robert House utilizing his knowledge of the Old World in order to fashion a semi-new one.

Fallout and Fallout 2

Given the short release window between Fallout 1 and Fallout 2, it's not hard to see that the first two Fallouts tread similar ground. While Fallout laid much of the groundwork noted above, Fallout 2 expanded upon those themes and, at times, twisted those same themes into something entirely new.

Post-Post-Apocalypse

A term coined by Chris Avellone to describe the Fallout series, Fallout 1 and Fallout 2 look beyond a society that is still suffering from the apocalypse of long ago, instead focusing on what has risen beyond it, and the success stories of those outside the Vaults. Some societies thrived, such as the growth of Shady Sands from a Vault 15 remnants settlement, into the New California Republic. Other stories feature the revitalization of cultures of different kinds, some good, some bad, from the Followers of the Apocalypse providing knowledge and culture, to New Reno's crime families investing in some area of the Old World, whether it's dealing with the Enclave, to the drug trade resurgence in the form of Jet. Minor groups can also be seen embracing their own societal progression, like the Khans, Shi, or Hubologists.

Fallout 3

Paranoia

Paranoia was, and still is, an ever-present feeling of the Old World American public, and wastelanders 200 years later. From the Chinese to the Enclave, suspicious characters and natures have taken their toll on the world.

Ethics and Morality

Arguably the game with the biggest emphasis on the Karma system, Fallout 3 deeply examines what it means to be moral in a post-apocalypse. Throughout the game, your morals are questioned in many of the major quests. Should Harold be put out of his misery or kept alive and in unending pain so he can bring plant life back to the Capital Wasteland?[3] Should the people at Vault 112 who are under the thumb of Stanislaus Braun be put out of their misery or left as his playing things?[4] Quests also subvert the morality of the path taken, such as the now infamous Tenpenny Tower quest with the ending that requires the most work ends in the complete massacre of all human residents. Many of the quests simply test the morality of the player by judging what the player chooses in a quest and how morally they behave.

The actions of The Lone Wanderer come to a head during both the mid point of meeting up with James at Project Purity, where the current karma standing is evaluated approvingly with good karma or disapprovingly with bad karma, and at the very end of the game where the current karma standing directly affects the ending.

Sacrifice

In order to attain a goal, many sacrifices must be made along the way.

Fallout: New Vegas

Fallout: New Vegas two primary themes during initial development were "greed as a savage force" and "rigging the game".[5][6] However, as development progressed, a new theme was identified and became prominent in the writing organically. Obsidian Entertainment decided to hone in on this theme more and developed it further to one of the main themes of Fallout: New Vegas.

Greed as a Savage Force

"Money makes the world go round." Even 200 years after the Great War, this phrase is still as true as it was before. While worth more subjective than ever in 2281, the want for more of what is not had is stronger than ever before. Greed encapsulates nearly everything; it is the monument that stands the tallest and casts the darkest shadow of daily life in New Vegas. Every form of greed is accommodated in Vegas, avarice, gluttony, lust, and sloth, are all on display. From the near unregulated lust and laziness of the Strip, or the unending hunger for more territory and more wealth from already prosperous nations and tribes. Greed knows every corner of the Mojave and touches every individual inhabitant with the fear of never having enough. The violence and absolute savagery caused by greed are all too common for the area, murder to keep water for crops,[7] corporate dealings to destroy competitions,[8], the abandonment of others in a death trap for more fame in an institution,[9] and killing for insignificant bottle caps are just a few of the crimes caused by greed.[10]

Rigging the Game

Bull and Bear over the Dam, at each other's throats... but a light from Vegas? Ball spinning on the wheel, more than two at the table, placing bets. All lose in different ways, a dam of corpses, towns of corpses, scattered across the sand. But whose, in what shares? Even the dealer doesn't know.

The Forecaster, Fallout: New Vegas

Luck is for losers and only the lazy let life decide their outcome. The winners of this game stack the deck or load the dice. "The game was rigged from the start." is the line spoken by Benny as he attempts to execute the Courier. That is because Benny tipped the odds of finding the Platinum Chip by hacking a Securitron that informed him on who had the package. He rigged the game in his favor. Of course, that isn't the end for the Courier. A hunt for Benny is the initial driving force, and with careful and keen insight can turn the tables on Benny on his own turf at The Tops.[11] But once the Courier's personal vendetta is achieved, the game becomes the game for Hoover Dam. Each faction questline focuses on "rigging the game" for Hoover Dam in the favor of each respective faction by either opening new avenues and closing alternatives for factions to take. And the game can be rigged both ways, and the Courier can be their own ace in the hole, just as they turned the tables on Benny.

Living in the past or embracing the future

Finding it, though, that's not the hard part. It's letting go.

Elijah, Dead Money ending

The world of Fallout is stuck and it knows, even before the Great War when the 50s American Dream mindset was dominating society into the year 2077. "Old World Blues or New World Hope?" This is the question never asked, but always addressed in Fallout: New Vegas, as the NCR, House, and Caesar's Legion both embody Old World nostalgia of various forms, the NCR of American democracy,[12] House as RobCo Industries and capitalism,[13] and the Legion as the Roman Empire,[14] but also New World Hope in some ways, the NCR bringing order and justice in fair, if largely corrupt and taxing, ways, House bringing about a new age of technology and advancement at the cost of his authoritarian rule, and Caesar's Legion utilizing justice in the form of strength and harsh discipline.

This is further driven home by the companions. All companions are haunted by their past and need the help of an outside force to in either living with their past mistakes and traumas or letting go and moving on. Craig Boone is remorseful of his time in the NCR and his part in the Bitter Springs Massacre and is further tortured when his wife and the only person who eased his mind from his crimes is taken from him by Caesar's Legion.[15] Arcade Gannon is torn between his Enclave origins and his upholding his father's legacy or forging his own path in life through medicine.[16] Rose of Sharon Cassidy has tied her self down to her failed business in the Mojave and can't even think of letting it go or else she'll lose one of the last connections she has to her father.[17] Veronica Santangelo has been looking less and less fondly at the Brotherhood of Steel chapter she grew up with that refuses to look past the Codex and do anything about their situation.[18] Raul Tejada is stuck between moving on from his past as an avenging hero Vaquero of the wastelands or moving on and making the world better through the work he does repairing machines.[19][20] Lily Bowen is in a twofold battle with her past human life and life under the Master, she takes psychotic depressants to keep her mind in check, but she enjoys seeing her grandchildren more than anything else.[21] Rex's old brain is degrading more and more as time passes and needs a replacement to stay alive. Replacing, however, would mean a new Rex with a different personality.[22] And ED-E is a remnant of the dead Enclave that must be chosen to help either the Brotherhood of Steel or the Followers of the Apocalypse - two antithetical groups that represent both regression and progression.[23]

Fallout 4

Mankind Redefined

The everpresent boogiemen of the Commonwealth, the Institute and their Synths are the omnipresent factor in Commonwealth life. The Institute has created these synthetic humans and has been using them to replace normal people, largely in leadership positions throughout some groups and settlements, which in turn has created a cloud of paranoia within the Commonwealth. The existence of synths have been demonized and vilified in various incidents and stories as the "robotic" killers of the Institute that bends the Commonwealth to their will. The Institute's Coursers and replacement operations are also a constant fear of the average wastelander. This has affected the culture of the Commonwealth into one of suspicion of one's own family and friends.[24] Although many cases turn out to be tragic cases of mistaken identity, this hasn't stopped groups like the Covenant from acting on their own to rout out any possible synths they find.[25] And the Brotherhood of Steel mounting a war against the Institute and the synths that they view as an abomination unto humanity.

However, this is far from the truth. While the Institute made the synths, the synths are nothing but slaves. Synths are people and are capable of free thought, forming their own opinions, feeling pain and a range of emotions, and caring for other beings than themselves. This is best seen through the all escaped and memory wiped synths in-game that have all chosen radically different paths in life and have forged their own identities outside of the influence of the Institute.[26] It is also observable in the mindwiped, Institute spy Danse who, despite learning his nature of being a synth, is still adamant in his Brotherhood taught ideals.[27]

Family

Family is the one thing you will always have, but can always be taken from you no matter what. Throughout Fallout 4, families are united, created, destroyed, or torn apart, including the protagonist's, first with their spouse at the hands of Kellogg, then their son, Shaun.

Out of Place and Out of Time

MSJ CTHT.png

Fish out of water. This is the best description of the protagonist's sudden transition from a peaceful Saturday morning with their spouse and child to nuclear war to waking up 210 years after the war. The protagonist also has lost time regarding the last shreds of normality they had, including the loss of both their spouse and child. Along their journey, the Sole Survivor will encounter echos of this with Nick Valentine who is an exact copy of a pre-war detective, and Curie who has been trapped in Vault 81 (though not in cryostorage) for as long as the Sole Survivor. Even quests and locations echo this back at the Sole Survivor, like the quest Kid in a Fridge where a kid trapped in his refrigerator for 210 years needs to find his family, and Jamaica Plain's treasured time capsule.

Fallout 76

Rebuilding America

"For when the fighting has stopped, and the fallout has settled. You must rebuild." America has collapsed, and must be rebuilt, and can be viewed as both the best and worst of society, with the ultra-patriotic Enclave, who created a majority of the threats to Appalachia in a vain attempt to nuke China once more. To the Responders and Brotherhood of Steel, typical American citizens and Armed Forces members who happened to have the same goal of rebuilding America in their own image, but inevitably ended up conflicting in various methods and ways. No faction could set aside differences and work together for the greater good, which ultimately led to the deaths of almost all humans in Appalachia apart from the Residents still inside Vault 76.

Working together for the betterment of all

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The Haves and the Havenots

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Fallout Tactics

Freedom in Exchange for Security

During the course of the game, the player will protect several towns and settlements from various threats, but by doing so the town needs to pay a "protection" that introduces a permanent Brotherhood of Steel presence to the town and martial law. The fascist practices of the Midwestern Brotherhood are explained with General Simon Barnaky who lost his wife, Maria Barnaky, to the perils of the world and thus dedicated his life to making the world safer for everyone, but to do so would be the sacrifice of freedom. Simon's view is inflexible and similarly, the Calculator is just as inflexible due to its programming and seeks to eliminate all life to protect itself and world.

References

  1. Fallout intro: "The Romans waged war to gather slaves and wealth. Spain built an empire from its lust for gold and territory. Hitler shaped a battered Germany into an economic superpower.
    But war never changes.
    In the 21st century, war was still waged over the resources that could be acquired. Only this time, the spoils of war were also its weapons: Petroleum and Uranium. For these resources, China would invade Alaska, the US would annex Canada, and the European Commonwealth would dissolve into quarreling, bickering nation-states, bent on controlling the last remaining resources on Earth."
  2. Of particular note Fallout and Fallout 3 emphasize the need of water, and Fallout 2 and Fallout: New Vegas emphasize the need for land to grow crops.
  3. Oasis
  4. Tranquility Lane
  5. Behind the Bright Lights & Big City
  6. Fallout: New Vegas themes from design document
  7. The White Wash
  8. Heartache by the Number
  9. There Stands the Grass
  10. The Legend of the Star and A Valuable Lesson
  11. Ring-a-Ding-Ding!
  12. Aaron Kimball: "There are some back home who ask me, "But who are we protecting? What is Nevada to us?" Sometimes we forget that the light of our society shines beyond our borders. Sometimes we take those privileges for granted that our forebears fought so hard to achieve. We must always remember that wherever Californians stand, we carry our principles with us: equal respect, representation, and protection under the laws of a just republic. This was the same fire that burned in the heart of the Old World that preceded us. We are the heirs of that civilization, torchbearers eastward of the Pacific, into the darkness of this wasted land."
    (Aaron Kimball's dialogue) Note: This is an excerpt from his speech at Hoover Dam in Fallout: New Vegas.
  13. The Courier: "What was Vegas like before the war?"
    Robert House: "It was a place of splendor. As magnificent as today's Strip may seem, it's but a shadow of the neon paradise that was Las Vegas. I grew up not far from here, and though I traveled the old world extensively, I never found another place like it."
    (Robert House's dialogue)
  14. The Courier: "Surely, the NCR is a powerful foe?"
    Caesar: "Of course. The most powerful my Legion has faced. Also the first to which I am ideologically opposed. Until now, every tribe I've conquered has been so backwards and stunted, enslavement has been a gift bestowed upon them. My conquest of the Mojave will be a glorious triumph, marking the transition of the Legion from a basically nomadic tribe to a genuine empire. Just as my namesake campaigned in Gaul before he crossed the Rubicon, so have I campaigned, and will cross the Colorado."
    (Caesar's dialogue)
  15. The Courier: "Maybe you can make up for your mistakes."
    Craig Boone: "A murderer who does good deeds is still a murderer. And he'll still get his judgment. I left the NCR when my tour was up. Had enough of war. Decided I was gonna start over. None of it made a difference in the end."
    (Craig Boone's dialogue)
  16. The Courier: "I'm sure your father would be proud of you."
    Arcade Gannon: "I wonder if he would. It's pointless, I know, but sometimes I wonder what he wanted me to be. Maybe being a doctor in the middle of Nevada wasn't exactly what he had in mind for his little boy. I grew up without him. I'll always feel like something is missing from my life. But you're right. It's not like I'm the only kid in the wasteland who's grown up without a dad. Johnson always said my father was a good man. If that's the only thing about me that's like him, that's enough for me."
    (Arcade Gannon's dialogue)
  17. The Courier: "I have the offer letter here, the terms are fair."
    Rose of Sharon Cassidy: "Alice McLafferty, eh? No, I see the zeroes... and I know she's good for them. Still, it's not about the money. Dad'd spin like a twister if he ever heard I sold our name for anything."
    (Rose of Sharon Cassidy's dialogue)
  18. Veronica Santangelo: "Waiting in a hole for everyone else to die. This is a dead end for us."
    .(Veronica Santangelo's dialogue)
  19. The Courier: "So what did you do?"
    Raul Tejada: "I left Mexico City behind. I made my way out to the Gulf Coast, eventually I found an old Petro-Chico refinery nobody had claimed. I stayed there for a little while, and I thought a lot about my life. I thought about the guns I'd lived by and what they'd gotten me. I decided my guns hadn't gotten me anything, and it was time to give it up. I took off that old vaquero outfit, and put on a Petro-Chico jumpsuit. The name tag said "Miguel," so I started using the name myself. Eventually I made it to Arizona... but that's another story, boss."
    (Raul Tejada's dialogue)
  20. Old School Ghoul and the final decision
  21. Lily and Leo
  22. Nothin' But a Hound Dog
  23. ED-E My Love
  24. Talks from STORY: Emil Pagliarulo, writer and lead designer of Fallout 4 and Skyrim
  25. Human Error
  26. Sturges a minuteman mechanic, Gabriel a raider leader at Libertalia, Magnolia a singer at Goodneighbor, and Glory a Railroad agent.
  27. Blind Betrayal