Fallout has become one of the biggest gaming franchises to emerge in the last ten years. From the AAA blockbuster video games to mobile spin-offs, fan films, and several warehouses full of merchandise, it has become a staple of the gaming market.
Originating from the classic isometric RPG made by Black Isle Studios (who later became Obsidian – more on them later), Bethesda purchased the rights from Interplay back in 2007 (for a cool $5.75million USD) and haven’t looked back since.
The post-apocalyptic genre is a tried and tested one – but the Fallout series has proven it’s arguably king of the nuclear hill with its 1950s retrofuturistic charm, dark humour, and immersive world – as well as a dedicated modding fan base who want the franchise to improve.
But which game out of the modern franchise is better?
We will be looking at the main games in the revamped Fallout trilogy, namely Fallout 3, Fallout: New Vegas, and Fallout 4.
On this occasion though, we will sadly be excluding the original games like Fallout 1, Fallout 2 and Fallout: Tactics as well as any spin-offs like Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel – we don’t have all day.
And no, we won’t do Fallout: Shelter either – but for different reasons…
Let us start with the game that kicked it all off – the original “Elder Scrolls with guns” game. Still being played today, Fallout 3 arguably set the benchmark of what a modern RPG-shooter is.
It’s so hard to try and recreate the overwhelming sense of hype when the first previews and trailers came out for this game – but the fact remains that it was incredibly anticipated.
The amount of content in Fallout 3 was great at the time. We were so used to Bethesda giving out fantastical content via the Elder Scrolls games, but this was a real shift in tone for the developer. With swearing, gore, and everything in between, Fallout – in a certain way – was more of a mature game than its fantasy counterpart.
The story itself isn’t particularly innovative – with runaway Liam Neeson as your dad, you set out to find him while either being a goody saviour of the wastes or the biggest knob on the planet.
Fallout 3 was good at giving you choices that did matter in the grand scheme of the game. Whether it be saving slaves from the clutches of evil or literally blowing up a town with a nuclear bomb, the scope of how good or how evil you could choose to be was incredible.
At the time this was quite inspiring – gaming as whole was entering a period where moral complexity and a more consequential choice of actions were growing in demand.
But looking back on it, Fallout 3 could have a Fable-esque feel to it, where essentially you can only either be holistic good or hideously evil, with not much in-between. You had to choose between the opposing extremes of the moral spectrum, without much room for nuance.
Though the game does try to hit you with some hard choices, and there are enough side quests to give you plenty of room to explore and forge your own path. The way the game tracks this is great though – often through the now famous radio stations, which provide the best atmospheric music ever in a game (Butcher Pete, anyone?).
As with any last-gen game, the graphics haven’t particularly aged well and some of the gameplay is a tad clunky. The shooter element of it is particularly notorious as being troublesome – especially compared to its more advanced offspring (more on them later) but it often adds to the tension and drama of taking on a legion of Super Mutants.
The fact that Fallout 3 is still being modded to this day and is being called for a remastering shows how popular it still is, and although it is often criticised for being what is wrong with most modern RPGs, its incredible influence can’t be ignored.
Fallout: New Vegas
So remember how we mentioned Black Isle Studio became Obsidian? Well, using the Bethesda engine, and having an eye kept on them by the developer themselves, Obsidian was responsible for producing the sort-of sequel, Fallout: New Vegas.
Controversial opinion time: Obsidian is a better RPG-maker than Bethesda.
Sure, Bethesda is very progressive and really push what you can do from a technical standpoint. But when it actually comes to the story and the content, Obsidian really do outshine them.
This is most clear in Fallout: New Vegas – for good reason too, as some of the workers in Obsidian had also worked on the original Fallout series, thus a nice full circle came about.
New Vegas carries over a lot of the same problems from Fallout 3 in the limitations to the combat and the game can crash and lag. I remember installing Fallout: New Vegas for the first time and, lo and behold, there were some game-breaking bugs and glitches that did kinda ruin it. Although patches fix bugs, they can never fix the memories.
It is also pretty common knowledge that New Vegas was an unfinished project – between untapped potential companions and locations that should feel like they have more purpose – it does feel like at times New Vegas is only 90% complete.
Which is a shame because that 90% is frickin’ awesome.
The base vanilla game of New Vegas is loaded with content – quests, unique characters, weaponry, locations – all of which enhance the lore and give the world tons of immersion; something which Fallout 3 did well, but New Vegas excelled at.
Key differences include character reputations, how you have the option of not following stereotype good guy/bad guy models, a multitude of different endings with tons of variations, companion quests, unmarked quests, and quests which could finish several ways.
You could tell this game was made with love – which makes it even more of a shame that we didn’t get the finished product (like Metal Gear Solid V – in what world are two acts a complete story?).
Obviously if you’re a PC gamer you’re probably like “Whaaat. I can just mod it and get that sweet, sweet restored content.” You can, and you should! But spare a thought for the console gamers.
With no real links to the main Bethesda Fallout universe, and more of a sequel to the older Fallouts, this is very much a standalone game within this list. Doesn’t make it any less fantastic, though.
Now, this is a difficult one.
I will be the first to tell you I boarded the Fallout 4 hype train with a ticket in hand… there was a lot to be excited about.
To see Fallout on a next gen console with it’s bulkier aesthetics and improved combat was droolworthy.
Settlement building was the other plus, having the ability to create your own little town in a post-apocalypse was a dream come true. Couple that with more customisation options and it felt like you could take on the world.
The story was better too, with twists and turns and genuinely weighing up the options of what side to choose before the endgame.
Above all this, the introduction of mods into a console game was mind-blowing – to the point where that is what Fallout 4 may be most remembered for.
So what’s wrong?
In my last article, which we will cheaply plug here, I talked about a term called Masseffectitication. Taking a what was once a long dialogue tree filled with extensive options and oversimplyfing it.
Fallout 4 does this to the extreme, to the point where you have no idea what you are saying. It’s becoming a common problem in RPGs. Credit to the great protagonist voice acting who give sterling performances – but it is something that doesn’t stop nagging you if you are used to the old design.
Other than that, there were times when Fallout 4 felt like a real grind. In a game trying to make sure you feel important, there are times where do you feel like your choices really don’t matter.
As stated before – Bethesda are great from a technical standpoint, but there was something not right about this game, something not quite… Fallout.
Which was better?
Each Fallout brings something every other entry lacks, so it is hard to pick one clear winner.
Fallout 3 is a bar-setter, a classic, something which you can go back to and see where a peak was reached. There are a few outdated attributes to it now, but it is very much a game of the times.
Fallout 4 is on the opposite end of the spectrum, it’s a product of the modern-day, mainstream gaming landscape of when it was released. By no means a bad game with certainly a lot of great moments, I feel as though the overhype killed it a bit, and couldn’t live up to its high expectations.
So, ironically enough, the winner of this series of Sequel Wars is the one non-Bethesda game of the modern Fallout series.
Although not the most advanced game in the world, New Vegas is the game with the most content, most lore, arguably best DLC, and above all, most passion put into it.
So, the story-richer game wins this round. If you think otherwise, or just want to discuss more Fallout, do give us a message, as long as there’s no Johnny Guitar.