Fallout 76’s Approach To Nukes Seems Like A Shift For The Series

Fallout 76’s Approach To Nukes Seems Like A Shift For The Series

Fallout 76 will have nukes. Provided players find the keys, they will be able to fire these nukes off whenever they please. This gameplay feature, announced at yesterday’s Bethesda press conference, is presumably meant to encourage player-created drama in the upcoming online survival game.

It’s also the clearest signal yet that the Fallout series, under Bethesda’s leadership, has forgotten where it came from.

During the presentation for Fallout 76 yesterday during Bethesda’s E3 press conference, executive producer Todd Howard announced that one of the key features for the game would be nuclear missile silos strewn throughout the game world. Devious players can use these silos to fire nukes, provided they find a complete activation key. Fired missiles can devastate player settlements and creations.

“Why don’t we put multiple nuclear missile sites on the map,” Howard explained to a chuckling crowd. “And then let all of you do whatever you want with them?”

It’s an exciting idea that tempts players with the destructive power that first ruined the Fallout world. It asks them to decide if they will abstain from mass violence or give into their inner troll.

But as much as this idea could lead to wild moments for players, it marks a clear paradigm shift from the series’ tone and attitude towards nuclear war.

Fallout‘s relationship with nukes has always been complicated, particularly throughout Bethesda’s games.

Fallout 3‘s Capital Wasteland bears the most visible and tragic scars of any location in the franchise, but the first major moral choice of the game once leaving Vault 101 is a reductive one between detonating the atomic bomb in the centre of Megaton’s town square or turning the man attempting to hire you for the job over to the authorities.

In Fallout 3, nukes are are bad, yes, but if you want to nuke the main hub town within an hour or two of the game, go for it. Do you like blowing shit up? Here’s the Fatman mini-nuke launcher: All the spectacle and power without any of the horrific consequences.

Previous Fallout games, especially those made by Interplay and Obsidian Entertainment, saw nuclear war as something else. Nuclear detonation clearly marks the divide between the Old World and the new one. Fallout used to ask a question: Was the Old World, with all of it excess, any worse that the Wasteland?

Pre-War times, as communicated in games such as the original Fallout and occasionally Fallout 3, were understood as an indulgent period in human history. The series’ lore suggests that technological comforts led to complacency while racism and jingoism lurked beneath the surface.

In 1997’s Fallout, the Brotherhood of Steel’s zealous safeguarding of Pre-War technology is an extension of the same hoarding and gluttony that helped bring about the Great War, the cataclysmic nuclear war that annihilated civilisation.

The Brotherhood is a diverse group of intellectuals and stalwart knights, but they are also paranoid, distrustful of outsiders, and overwhelmingly militaristic. The Brotherhood is the technocratic, war-hungry offspring of American military values.

This got lost in Fallout 3, which created a splinter group of unambiguously good Brotherhood soldiers. But the game occasionally understood how poisonous the Old World’s militarism was. Fallout 3‘s Operation Anchorage DLC primarily takes place in a simulated version of the Battle of Anchorage commissioned by the egomaniacal General Constantine Chase.

The resulting simulacrum brims with American exceptionalism rhetoric and cartoonish depictions of the Chinese invaders. The simulation is self-aggrandising, and the player is meant to understand it’s little more than propaganda. America yearned for dominance, and that yearning courted disaster.

This understanding of the Pre-War world changed in Fallout 4. The player could choose between two different characters: A male war veteran or a female criminal prosecutor, both blissfully unaware of their roles supporting a withering American state.

When the bombs fall and they flee to their vault, they are cryogenically frozen. They awaken over two hundred years later to embark on a journey to save their son Shaun. The protagonist’s chief motivation is a return to an idealised yesteryear, reuniting with the remnants of their nuclear family and rebuilding the life they had before.

Fallout 4 uses its Massachusetts setting to lift images of American history without grappling with their implications. We get an android smuggling ring called the Railroad hiding at the end of Boston’s Freedom Trail, a battle in the shadows of the Bunker Hill monument, and futuristic Minutemen.

These images invoke America’s founding moments, but they signify an uncritical yearning for the past that stands apart from previous Fallout games. What does the Wasteland achieve in reviving this history? We never learn, nor do we ever get the sense that the protagonist’s quest for Pre-War comfort is anything other than admirable.

What we’ve seen of Fallout 76 so far contains an earnestness that is a natural extension of Fallout 4‘s uncritical excavation of American iconography and “golly gee” wistfulness.

The reveal trailer plays “Country Roads” by John Denver. The song has been adopted as something of an unofficial anthem for the state of West Virginia in real life. The music is coupled with sweeping landscape shots and images of a pristine Vault. It is Reclamation Day, we are told. The day when vault dwellers open their doors and embrace the most American of pastimes: Conquest and colonisation.

The tone is earnest – what might have been satire in previous games is presented genuinely this time. We, as players, are the American vanguard, cleansing the wild Wasteland and restoring, to the best of our abilities, the cancerous vestiges of the Old World. What better tool for establishing our dominance and might than the nukes that brought us down in the first place?

Fallout 76‘s decision to give players the ability to carelessly detonate nukes could be seen as a more pronounced version of the frivolity of previous Bethesda titles, those games in which nukes are tools rather than rhetorical devices that serve a point about America’s history.

It’s a frivolity that clashes with the series as originally designed by Interplay Entertainment, who painted nukes and their use as an evil that scarred the world. They were a failing of the Old World, not to be taken lightly.

There’s an interpretation of Fallout 76‘s nukes that sees the carelessness of their potential use as a commentary on the moral ineptitude of the Pre-War world that so readily dropped the bombs. But the end result is mostly a pretty explosion for players to look at, the way the series has seen nukes since Fallout 4 and parts of Fallout 3.

Fallout 76’s Approach To Nukes Seems Like A Shift For The Series

Fallout has always straddled the line between serious reflections and wacky antics. It’s the reason that Fallout 3‘s morally ambiguous DLC The Pitt lives side by side with the sci-fi romp Mothership Zeta.

The Fallout experience encompasses a spectrum of the excessive and insightful. It’s how the Fatman can remain in New Vegas – Obsidian Entertainment’s fantastic spin-off title – even as the New Vegas add-on Lonesome Road‘s climax gives the player the keys to a silo, antagonist Ulysses urging them to use the devastating power of nukes to wipe the New California Republic and Caesar’s Legion off the map and reset the status quo yet again.

Perhaps Fallout 76‘s frivolity will live side by side with New Vegas‘ iconoclasm. Maybe the constant, player-created nuclear fury will be a commentary in itself. Maybe it will just be a ton of fun. We’ll know when we see the game.

But just as the Wasteland picks up symbols – the bear-laden flag of the New California Republic, the terminology of the Underground Railroad, colonial militia uniforms – Bethesda takes series iconography and tosses it into a blender until all the context is lost. In Fallout 76‘s case, this means nukes.

In New Vegas, Ulysses asks, “Who are you, that do not know your history?” When I imagine the series’ nukes reduced to emergent play troll toys, I have to ask Bethesda the same.


  • Let’s not kid ourselves, the people who made and wrote the lore behind Fallout 1/2 and TES 1/2/3 are not the same people making and writing the newer Fallouts and TESes.

    War never changes, but writing teams do.

    • Except Michael Kirkbride still contributes to the lore of TES despite leaving Bethesda after the release of Skryim (he started with the original Redguard). I can’t speak for the longevity of any Fallout writers though.

  • Oh look, more hang-wringing over something that barely matters.

    Fallout has always straddled the line between serious reflections and wacky antics.
    Yeah, because Fallout has always had such a serious approach to nuclear war… with its super mutants, ghouls, water chips, and everything like that.

    Fallout’s relationship with nuclear war has always been on the silly side, because it’s rooted in a 50s/60s time period of American exceptionalism and nuclear diplomacy. It’s a caricature of the alleged reality of the Cold War turned hot. It’s not Threads, it’s not even The Day After. It’s just an interesting setting for a post-nuclear war game, in a world that’s fairly ambiguous. And yes, New Vegas is ultimately the same – it isn’t particularly poignant or introspective or anything of the sort. It comes with its own Fallout ridiculousness.

    We don’t yet know the implications of using nukes in Fallout 76 but in the period soon after the War their use as an discriminate tool to ‘reclaim the wasteland’ fits with the Fallout universe – abuse and exploitation of nuclear energy for dubious goals. Attempting to extract too much meaning, or even worse in attempting to extrapolate parallels to the current day, is giving the entire series way too much credit.

    • Fuck nuanced analysis of cultural texts. Fuck caring about the meaning and implication between massive tonal shifts in continuing stories. None of it matters.

      • Fuck nuanced analysis of cultural texts.
        Dude, it’s Fallout, it’s a video game. It won’t stand up with The Iliad or Beowulf.

        • Shakespeare was considered to be lowbrow trash entertainment in the time he was alive. His plays were the equivalent of daytime soap operas. That’s why so many of his plays are a lot longer than they need to be. He was paid per page. The Simpsons is a stupid cartoon about an idiot family. It’s also one of the strongest and most enduring cultural touchstones in 20th century media.
          All of this stuff is relevant. If it’s something people love, they spend their lives with it and it becomes part of our cultural language, then it’s important.

          You don’t have to care about the analysis if it’s not interesting to you, but don’t shit on the people who do.

          • Shakespeare is hardly held up as a commentary on attitudes towards nuclear war – it isn’t 1984 so much as it is classic entertainment. Fallout, as I stated earlier, it isn’t Threads or the more-sanitised The Day After and never will be, because it has way too much silliness to be taken seriously as a kind of social commentary. It’s always been on the ridiculous side – which is why I suggest that this ‘analysis’ is building off a shaky foundation and reading way too much into a fairly simple series. Not that you can’t be ridiculous and still have a point (e.g. Animal Farm) but Fallout has too much of the former and not enough of the latter.

            The suggestion that Fallout has ever had anything solid or poignant to say is drawing a long bow; it only does at the most superficial level, like a quick high school essay. I love the series and think it’s at its best when it’s being subtle, but it’s hardly worth analysing in this kind of depth. The substance simply isn’t there, especially from a game that hasn’t even been released!

          • Shakespeare is held up as a commentary on the society of its day. Shakespeare had all kinds of humour that was considered pretty much pornography at the time. Hamlet dumps his fiancee by calling her a whore, then tells her dad he’s her pimp by calling him a fishmonger. That’s some silly shit in a story about mental illness where literally every major character is murdered. It doesn’t matter what the subject matter is, really. Comics are important. Games are important. Transformers was and still is important.

            Fallout has always been philosophical. It has always been humourous in the most wry and dark way. It showed the worst of human nature in a way that was funny and uncomfortable. The original could even be called subversive. Hell, it’s based on a Harlan Elison story that was meant to be a parody of right wing political ideals of the 1970s and the fear of the Red Menace. This kind of analysis of text is nothing new. It just didn’t turn up on gaming websites until recently because people only cared enough about books and movies to bother.
            Here is a paper about it how Fallout 3 and the teachings of Aristotle: http://gamestudies.org/0902/articles/schulzke

            The entire point of this article is that modern Fallout games have a completely different mindset. One that disregards or even misses the subtle ideological and thematic thrust of the earlier games and the source material. You don’t have to like it and you don’t have to care, but if a similar thing were written about a movie or book series, you could be published in an academic resource.

          • I totally disagree that Fallout has any significantly interesting or poignant points to make about nuclear war. It’s so wrapped up in its silly supernatants and ghouls and hyperparody of red menace fear that it isn’t going to be held up in 100 years as good social commentary.

            You are free to disagree and claim it will be, but I’m also totally free to critise the author’s article and disagree with your assertions. Disagreement is not ‘shitting’ over people with a different opinion.

          • It’s all in the way you frame things. When you kick off your commentary with “oh look, more hand-wringing”, you are tinting the whole post with disdain towards something that you clearly consider disingenuous and overblown. It is entirely possible to disagree with the idea that a videogame may have philosophical intent and cultural relevance without dismissing those who propose they do.

            As for me, I agree with pokedad. All art is significant as an insightful (consciously or subconsciously) take on the artist’s zeitgest. “Silliness” or other attributes that may be seen as lowbrow in a piece of art do not take away from it. In fact, it’s just another informative datum on the kind of entertainment enjoyed by the era’s people. Try discussing with a scholar, for example, that something as silly and stupid as Krazy Kat is not a cultural touchstone of the 20s.

  • But… You can blow up the Master with a nuked in Fallout 1 and use a nuclear explosion to kill the Enclave in Fallout 2.

  • An essay from someone lamenting that the Fallout series isn’t what it used to be. I’ve never seen one of those on the internet before…

    While the story lines (whatever they are) may be made canon, as this is a multiplayer game, certainly none of the player’s actions can be considered canon I’d say. This isn’t meant as a full Fallout game in the series. It’s a multiplayer game. For people to have fun with. Including dropping a nuke on someone if they want. Don’t take it so seriously

    Fallout 76’s decision to give players the ability to carelessly detonate nukes could be seen as a more pronounced version of the frivolity of previous Bethesda titles, those games in which nukes are tools rather than rhetorical devices that serve a point about America’s history.

    It’s a frivolity that clashes with the series as originally designed by Interplay Entertainment, who painted nukes and their use as an evil that scarred the world. They were a failing of the Old World, not to be taken lightly.

    Is it just me or has this generation of games just been full of people whinging that games aren’t what they want them to be and go against what’s come before them. Maybe they just put explodable nukes into the game because they thought it’d be fun.

    • No Mutants Allowed have been bitching about Bethesda games for something like over 20 years.

      20 years ago I was on the Elder Scrolls forums bitching because Oblivion was not Morrowind too, but then I kind of got over it. I enjoyed Skyrim and even loved Fallout 4.

      And now I’m pretty happy an actual AAA developer has decided to try their hand at the survival crafting genre in a setting I’ve always loved.

      • Corrections, before anyone else does : So NMA was created when the first two fallouts were released, and wouldn’t have really started bitching until 10 years ago when Fallout 3 was released.

        Obivion was 12 years ago.

        Still, a long time ago.

        • Fallout is 21 lol it’s old, She’s right about the tone though, Fallout was never about America, It was set in America but America was the old destroyed world, Old Fallout games were worldly, Ron use to say “War, War never changes” Like a introduction to a documentary, In Fallout 4 & Fallout 76, It sounds like a pro American patriotism speech, It’s jarring how far removed the tonal shifts lead you.

          • First thing i noticed upon leaving vault 101 was a communist sputnik satellite (Eyebot) broadcasting American patriotism, It was really dumb, Like a American Bald Eagle being the symbol of soviet era Russia, Bethesda haven’t been the best custodians of the Fallout brand, Maybe look at why ppl have concerns or are “Bitching” about Bethesda’s Fallout, Bethesda didn’t even celebrate Fallout’s 21 years of existence.

          • But Bethesda did bring the Fallout brand back from the dead & like all things bought back from the dead, It changed a little, Am i glad they revived the series, Yes but Fallout 76 is not the experience i grew up playing, Yeah i’m disappointed but ppl are allowed to be excited for Fallout 76, They may even love it but i’m alittle taken back by it’s changes.

    • People have always “whined”. An easy way to corroborate this is how all the hubbub over The Last Jedi was also used almost verbatim back in TESB days. The only difference is that nowadays some of the people “whining” are doing it about stuff that nobody cared before back in the day such as social justice or emotional awareness, so we now get in addition to it all, the whiners whining about these new whiners.

      Or you could just call them “opinions” and let people have them without being dismissive. You disagree? That’s perfectly fine. Feel free to elaborate why, or just say that you do disagree and spare yourself the discussion. Just try to avoid reductionist ad hominem.

  • Talk about reading into it too much. It’s a game. You can blow stuff up and change the landscape. Looks cool.

    Fallout was never entirely serious.

  • I don’t understand the people offended by the idea of dropping bombs on people, but at the same time the mechanic seems stupid as fuck. Like do you know what will make offline raiding even more palatable? Destroying their base with a single missile that irradiates your base while offline.

    Seems like brilliant game design.

    • Maybe you can avoid your base being destroyed while you’re away by buying nuke insurance with real money?

    • It’s seems like they’re following the multyplayer trend without doing their research into what makes & breaks multyplayer gameplay. They’re in a bubble, It’s hubris. Hopefully it’ll work out right in private servers because it’s not going to work as a shared world.

  • As long as we’re reading too much into things, perhaps they are actually making a statement about war and human nature?

    The world was destroyed in the first place because warring parties kept fighting and trying to 1-up each other with ever more powerful weapons, eventually wiping each other out with nukes. Years later people emerge from their bunkers and start to disagree on how to run this new world. They end up going their own ways and set up their own factions, go to war with each other using ever more powerful weapons, and then one day the nukes fly and the cycle starts again, because war… war never changes…

    …or its a game, so lighten up and enjoy the pretty mushroom clouds?

  • I feel like a lot of the foundational elements being used to support the argument in this article are mistaken or at least a bit misguided, but I’m honestly weary of dealing with all the negativity lately. E3 brings out the worst in people, as they rush to be the first to declare why everything is terrible or disappointing or how awful it is that some company didn’t spend $50M developing a game exactly right just for them.

    The thing that really stood out for me and set the tone for the rest of the article was this.

    The Brotherhood is a diverse group of intellectuals and stalwart knights, but they are also paranoid, distrustful of outsiders, and overwhelmingly militaristic. The Brotherhood is the technocratic, war-hungry offspring of American military values.

    Parts of this are right, but most is really not what the west coast Brotherhood was like at all. The Brotherhood are the opposite of technocratic, war-hungry or even connected to American military values. The Brotherhood’s founding principles are diametrically opposed to these three descriptors you’ve given. Especially the hoarding of pre-war technology, which they do specifically to prevent it being used to harm people again like it was in the war.

    The ‘pristine vault’ thing bugs me too. Not all of the vaults were tongue-in-cheek at the narrative level or cruel experiments at the in-universe level. Even in the first game there’s reference to control vaults that were designed to do exactly what they were advertised to do – ‘earnestly’ protect their occupants and release them 20 years after the bombs had fallen. Vault 76 is one of those vaults, it fits cleanly into the established themes and lore around the vaults, and it seems like such an odd complaint that it’s somehow too ‘earnest’.

    Other parts of this article’s recounting of Fallout themes and principles feel as off to me as the BoS and Vault 76 ones do. As others have pointed out, live nuclear bombs have featured in and can be detonated in both the first and second games. Even those aside, the missiles in F76 are tiny compared to the ones that were used in the war. Even factoring that most nuclear weapons were in the 500kt range in 2077, the ones shown in the game are clearly much smaller than even that.

    The article’s well written and all, I just think the premises are built on misunderstandings that have led to an odd conclusion, one I don’t really agree with.

    • Just to expand on the vault thing without going into edit moderation, Vault 8 was a control vault, and appeared in Fallout 2. It worked exactly the same way Vault 76 did, except it was set to open after 10 years instead of 20. There’s no horror story at all from Vault 8, it functioned exactly as advertised, it opened on time and its occupants spread out to help rebuild the wasteland, exactly like they describe Vault 76 and its occupants.

      Why the author thinks the idea behind Vault 76 is too earnest and missing the point of the original games is beyond me, when an almost identical story appeared in Fallout 2.

  • Let’s look at it another way…Howard and co are playing the ultimate dev troll by putting usable weapons of mass destruction into an mp online game. That’s going to really piss off a lot of players when they lose everything they have worked for, and it is without question the most morally bankrupt dev decision these people have made. What’s next, a school to shoot up?

    I’m betting Beth have actually given up on the single player format for rpg’s, realising they can’t compete against games like Witcher 3 and KCD.

    • He also specifically stated that there is no loss or punishment for dying.
      From the sounds of things once your base is saved, it’s just a matter of plopping it down once again even after it has been destroyed.

      Not sure where the whole ‘dev troll’ idea is coming from.

      I’m not Bethesda fanboy. I’m most certainly planted comfortably on the “Fallout 1&2 were the greatest gaming experiences of all time” side of the fence but to say that Bethesda can’t compete with Witcher series and KCD? That’s a stretch. That’s a Mr. Stretch, stretched to his limits and leaking that sticky gel crap from a tiny cut size stretch.

      You dev trollin’ son.

    • In a separate statement, Howard said they do plan to support mods in future, but not for launch.

      • Ah good to know.

        Did he mention how that might work in terms of the online component? will we have an offline or ‘solo-online’ mode for mods? or maybe custom servers?

        • Better if I just give you the quote.

          “We love mods, and so we are 100 percent committed to doing that in 76 as well,” Howard said. “We will not be able to do that at launch though. Our goal for launch—this is really new for us—is have a well-running, robust service, and then some period later, we’re currently still designing what that service looks like, you’ll be able to have your own private world and be able to mod it and do all of that.

          “With our games, that’s where the long-term life of them really is. That is trickier when you get into an online world, but we’re definitely committed to that. It just won’t be at launch.”

      • Yeah…they have to wait for the creation club employees to make them…or do you doubt the CC only suggestion?

        • Considering the servers are dedicated, loose file mods are really unlikely to be supported. They’ll probably use the same kind of mod registry they have for Skyrim and Fallout 4.

          Creation Club is a different thing, it’s about how mods are made rather than how they’re distributed. I doubt they’d be limited to CC mods only, they haven’t done that anywhere else to date.

  • It’s actually pretty simple from where I’m sitting. Conan Exiles has Divine Avatars, Fallout 76 has nukes. Different skins, same effect. A game adds a new thing, following games of the same style ape it. Game Dev History 101.

  • The female protagonist of Fallout 4 isn’t a criminal prosecutor she’s actually a defence attorney who from cut notes is getting back into her job and is taking on hard luck cases.

    As for Fallout 76.. I’ll wait till they introduce private servers and the construction kit. I plan to have a pile of slaughtered vault dwellers outside the starting vault and a group that hates humans as being responsible for the war who are the ones the character will eventually nuke.

  • Yeah…. nah. I thoroughly disagree (though your opinion is just as valid, I’m not here to complain about the complaint!) I’ve played em all: 1, 2, Tactics, 3, New Vegas, 4 and Shelter. And I dig each and every one of them, not despite each games’ stylistic and thematic differences but because of them. Just like the way many people who witness or experience the same event will have wildly different recollections of how n why something happened and it will mean something different to each of those people too. Some folks find humour tragedy (either to cope or, be an insensitive prick. It’s still valid regardless) while others will be moved, stunned or irreparably damaged by it. Just as different game Devs/writers have given us something different in each game even though it’s the same universe and that’s what I want. Fun. Different types of fun. And different themes and points of view too. If each Fallout was the same as 1 or 3 or whatever I’d have been bored to years by now. I won’t lie, another rpg heavy Fallout where I can charm my way through the wasteland as a charismatic doctor or whatever would be sweet. BUT I ALSO KNOW THAT THIS GAME ISNT JUST MADE FOR ME. If a GAME eats someone up so bad that they’re all “Fuck you, dev! You didn’t make the game I want!” Then maybe they should learn to make their own if it’s that big a deal. Stories change, games change, people change. Good.

  • Like the content or not, this article has brought about some really interesting responses.

  • The only way to stop a bad guy with a nuke is to have a good guy with a nuke.
    It’s our God given right to bear nukes.

  • These seem to be only very small yield nukes which have been in the lore before. Either way people will find a way to exploit the game and get unlimited nukes happening, probably on day one. Going to make playing this game rather unpleasant if your a base builder.

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