Fallout 5 may still be a ways off, with Bethesda working on Starfield and The Elder Scrolls 6 for the foreseeable future. However, when the next game in the satirical post-apocalyptic series arrives, it will need to hit the ground running to restore the series’ reputation after the disappointing reception of Fallout 76 and some of the major flaws in Fallout 4.
Fallout 5 should take a leaf out of BioShock’s book. There’s one key element of the BioShock series that used to be present in the Fallout games, but has fallen to the wayside in Bethesda’s additions to the franchise. Taking inspiration from BioShock doesn’t come without risks, however, with BioShock going through its own changes that could make it more similar to Fallout.
The philosophy of the Fallout games developed by Bethesda Game Studios pack a considerably weaker punch than Fallout 1 and 2. The first two games had prominent anticapitalistic themes and stronger, more complicated philosophical differences between its main factions. The lack of this in Bethesda’s Fallout games becomes particularly evident when comparing them to Fallout: New Vegas, developed by Obsidian.
In New Vegas, the two major factions are the New California Republic and Caesar’s Legion. The NCR is attempting to rebuild pre-war American capitalist democracy despite it being that structure that led America to Nuclear Armageddon, a point quite convincingly made by Mr. House himself. The Legion, on the other hand, is a murderous cult of personality gaining traction in the face of the NCR’s utterly ineffective opposition.
In Fallout 4, it’s far less clear what the ideological position of factions like the Minutemen and the Brotherhood of Steel are, despite the Brotherhood having a clearer philosophy in past Fallout games. Even the question of Synth consciousness which divides the Institute from the Railroad is left up to the interpretation of the player, with definitive moral judgements made on the matter. The fact that Fallout 4’s factions are open to greater interpretation doesn’t make them more interesting. Ultimately, it just means they have less to say.
Some critics have even pointed out that Obsidian’s The Outer Worlds, which poised itself as Fallout’s spiritual successor in the satirical sci-fi genre, has a greater understanding of the original Fallout games’ anticapitalistic themes than Bethesda either understands or is willing to risk commenting on. It’s the BioShock series, however, which could be a great guiding light for Fallout 5.
BioShock has never pulled any punches with the depictions of the philosophies it takes on, or showing where the developers supposedly stand. The first game takes place in the Objectivist dystopia of Rapture, a city built under the sea by extreme free-market capitalist Andrew Ryan. It’s clear from Ryan’s extremely unsympathetic depiction and Rapture’s ultimate collapse where the storytellers stand on Ayn Rand and Objectivism.
In BioShock: Infinite, the franchise tackled American nationalism and racism in Columbia, a city in the sky. Infinite didn’t hold back from depicting the extreme ugliness of its focal philosophy. There’s even a scene where the player is given a baseball at a fair, before it’s revealed that they’re being encouraged to throw it at an interracial couple being tortured for the crowd’s amusement. The game goes as far as to reference real historical events like the Boxer Rebellion in China and the massacre of the Lakota people by the United States Army at Wounded Knee, which the protagonist Booker DeWitt himself participated in.
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