Black Isles are the brains behind the classic isometric, top-down, turn-based RPG that is Fallout. Eventually, the employees would come to form Obsidian, while Bethesda turned the beloved cult hit into the 3D FPS giant we know and love. However, Bethesda never truly embraced the anti-capitalist overtones of the franchise in the same way that Obsidian did with New Vegas and its spiritual successor, The Outer Worlds.
New Vegas’ embracing of its heavily pro-socialist message was clear, with its factions standing tall as a clear sign of capitalism at its peak resulting in society at staggering incompetence. The Outer Worlds took this a step further by dropping the dystopian nuclear wasteland in favor of a futuristic, colonized space that was unjustly horrible to its inhabitants – perhaps a little too real for comfort, even if heavily exaggerated for effect. Fallout 4? Bethesda seemed to be more interested in the question of AI’s sentience.
Do highly complex, free-thinking AI deserve rights? The Railroad and Institute served to ask these questions which is by no means a poor approach in of itself – Bethesda was bringing ‘new’ ideas to the table, keeping the franchise fresh or, at the very least, trying to. The problem therein lies in the other factions that they wrote, whether that is the Brotherhood of Steel or the Minutemen. The latter appeared to be a representative of socialism and its benefits, an antithesis to capitalism. However, it ultimately boiled down to repetitive defense quests. The Minutemen was an overlooked, underdeveloped part of Fallout 4 that didn’t add anything of value to the conversation.
Their conflict with the Brotherhood of Steel served to represent – at a base level – the conflict between fascism and socialism. Ultimately, it boils down to the expected, safe route of a gunslinger fight much like any other Minutemen quest without much nuance or depth into the conversation being had. Compare this to the NCR, who themselves are a desperate attempt to rebuild the system that failed the world the first time, and the Legion, an insight into the darker sides of an empire hell-bent on domination.
New Vegas’ factions serve to highlight the problem with capitalism in two folds – the NCR is a desperate attempt to cling to the past with sexism running rampant, damage to nature – an eco-friendly message more relevant than ever – and the refugee crisis they themselves have brought upon California, as well as the unprecedented levels of poverty. It doesn’t end there, however, as New Vegas is also home to Mr. House, whose very base of operations is The Strip, a hotspot for shopping, gambling, and other capitalist ventures that empty your wallet. His corruption is tenfold, and his status is that of a leech bleeding his citizens dry as those in the outskirts suffer whilst the rich live a life of lavish luxory.
The Outer Worlds? It’s just as much a point of contention as corporations rule the future of mankind, with Spacer’s Choice completely controlling every facet of their employee’s lives. Given that they are, in essence, a monopoly, with very few other corporations having any hold, this presents a clear-cut problem. Naturally, it leads to the birth of the marauders you fight, the very bandits that, in any other title, would boil down to generic cannon fodder you face in the outskirts of towns. They only exist because of the terrible working conditions, whether that’s the denial of medical service, the almost fascist rule that refuses to let them speak-out against their corporate overlords, and the very control over their diet – seriously, being forced to live off canned mushrooms would make anybody turn to banditry.
But why does it matter? Surely, diverting away from the themes of prior games keeps things fresh rather than letting the franchise get into a rut of repetition. Well, that’s arguably true, especially if they put as much care into the ideas they present in Fallout 4 with the Institute as Obsidian do with their take on capitalism in The Outer Worlds. However, Fallout’s entire dystopia is a result of the past’s indulgence in capitalism, with an emphasis on the 50s fetishization of the buy-and-sell model – as well as the McCarthyism level of anti-communist fear that cultivated in Fallout 3’s Liberty Prime.
Capitalism is at the foundation of Fallout’s very world. The games that start in the vaults, whether it’s 1’s more tame approach in the study of prolonged isolation, 3’s intent to never let anybody leave, or 4’s deceptive cryogen, are standing proof that Vaults represent greed and privilege. Even 4 shows the masses trying to get in.
However, a huge part of Vault Tec’s mythos doesn’t just lie in the rich having the chance to survive over the poor but corporations using unknowing subjects for horrific tests with the aim of profit, a real-world problem. However, 4 only truly scratches the surface, with the aforementioned opening scene and the salesman who got you a spot becoming a ghoul. The playable character never truly addresses the problem. Whereas in The Outer Worlds, you’re put in cryogen for future colonization, forgotten about by the corporations, and subsequently rescued by a third party who is deemed wanted. The goal of the game? To get everyone else out or side with the corps for profit. It’s delved into much more than Fallout 4, which simply uses it like a vehicle to get the playable character from past to future.
Fallout 4’s barebones attempt to address capitalism, likely to try and remain neutral in an ever-changingpolitical climate that fears communism and socialism, isn’t the biggest issue with Bethesda. Rather, it extends beyond the games and into the real world.
Fallout 76 began as a barebones, Rust-like online entry into the world of Fallout. However, it quickly grew into a cash-grab that rivaled EA’s worst tendencies, with it launching at full-price and then requiring Fallout 1st for private servers, a subscription that cost $15 a month. This created, funnily enough, in-game class warfare, as players who paid for the service suddenly had the upper hand over those who did not. Toppled with Bethesda’s attempt to monetize mods, whether in their own in-game store or on Steam Workshop and suddenly any anti-capitalist themes they implement lose weight and legitimacy as the sincerity is brought into question. How can they truly understand the themes with actions such as the ones mentioned?
It’s clear that Obsidian, through both New Vegas and The Outer Worlds, understand these integral themes much better. The Outer Worlds going forward will be a series that explores these real-world, truly meaningful ideas in a better, more constructive light, whereas Fallout appears to be continuing its spiral of watering down factions and opting for more surface-level, aesthetic choices. Perhaps, ironically enough, with Microsoft now owning the two companies and Bethesda’s IPs, they can give Obsidian the reigns to Fallout or, at the very, very least, let them make another game, albeit without the rush and sliced bonuses this time.
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