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I love everything about Fallout, except the games

The Fallout hype train is in the station, and I was very much on board until I tried New Vegas again and hated almost every minute of it.

An armored person wearing a helmet with goggles stands holding up a gun on a cloudy red background as a flag with a bear flies behind them

A gunshot echoes in the night, reverberating off of worn cliff faces, ringing for miles. “The game was rigged from the start” are (probably) the last words you hear before the world goes black. Death, it seems, has caught up with you. And yet, a few moments later, you awaken in a battered old house, miraculously nursed back to health, vengeful and ready to take on the world. The beginning of Fallout New Vegas never gets old.

And yet, just a few hours later, that magic has disappeared for me. While the wartorn Mojave initially appeared enticing, brimming with mystery and dark, forgotten secrets, now it’s a droning sea of brown and gray. Most of my time is spent fiddling around in my Pip Boy’s menus, repairing weapons that feel like pea shooters, and crafting ammo to take down spongy enemies. While a part of me wants to dive back into Fallout New Vegas every time I finish work, I just can’t bring myself to boot up Obsidian’s age-old RPG, or even Bethesda’s more modern Fallout 4.

And this isn’t a first for me. I’ve tried New Vegas and Fallout 4 several times over the years and always end up feeling the same way. Aesthetically, Fallout is perfect for me: I love that 1940s post-WWII posterity vibe, I studied nuclear warfare at university (the course was called ‘Atomic Dreams,’ who wouldn’t want to check it out), and the idea of seeing how Armageddon affects the average person is as fascinating as it is terrifying. Fallout’s post-apocalyptic vision of America should be the nuclear dystopia for me, yet I can’t bring myself to explore it.

My friends told me “the game just isn’t built for you,” and I somewhat accepted that at first. Yet, diving in once again, Fallout is made for me. Are all of those Fallout 4 builds too complex? I play Diablo and League of Legends; I know a good build from a bad one. Are open-world games just too open for you? I class games like Dragon Age and The Saboteur as some of my favorites. Is it the survival crafting and the shooting? I’ve played far too many FPS games in my time. On paper, Fallout should be exactly what I’m looking for, given it’s a mashup of my favorite genres. So why can’t I stick with it?

I’ve pondered it and pondered it, and I keep coming back to the same thing: the tech and core gameplay fail the writing and worldbuilding. My lovely colleague, Danielle Rose, even felt a similar way with Starfield – you tell a woman her husband is dead, and she barely flinches. It’s the same in Fallout, which, by nature, already feels hopeless. I trailed across vast expanses of desert before cresting a hill and finally seeing New Vegas sprawled out before me. While my arrival initially felt exciting and full of promise, that was soon dampened when I hit the city streets and was greeted with blank, staring faces.

And yet, New Vegas’ writing in particular is so good. Those snappy one-liners make me laugh out loud, and the game boasts more enjoyably zany interactions with inanimate objects than I ever could have hoped for. But the writing has to bend over backward to sell a world and vision that New Vegas – and even the more recent Fallout 4 – cannot quite bring to life elsewhere.

I love everything about Fallout, except the games: A photo of a post-apocalyptic landscape in a town called Goodsprings

And I’m no stranger to jank. Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines is one of my favorite games of all time. Game-breaking bugs and aged visuals be damned, I never once felt like Troika’s characters and world were anything less than real. Jeanette, Therese, Velvet Velour; they all have distinct personalities yet feel totally of a piece and, importantly, emote believably. The same can be said for the world itself, which – while arguably rudimental by today’s standards – is steeped in atmosphere and encourages your creativity. By comparison, the gameplay and exploration in Fallout New Vegas and 4 is often plodding and ultimately feels like a means to an end.

Much like the hundreds of thousands of players now hopping on the Fallout games, I returned to the fray after bingeing Amazon Prime’s series in a single weekend. While total newbies will likely struggle with the vastness, complex systems, and, let’s be real, the jank, the larger problem for me is that the Fallout games seldom make me feel anything.

A woman with tied-back brown hair wearing a blue and yellow jumpsuit with '33' on the back walks through a door into a ruined cityscape

I’ve bought the Fallout Magic: The Gathering cards, I’ve been frantically searching for little Vault Boy pyjamas; I love Fallout, I really do. The show is bursting with so much personality that it made me want to get involved. Yet, my return to New Vegas and 4 has most certainly caused some fallout between us (ha ha). It hasn’t dampened my love for the franchise, but it’s certainly left me a little deflated.

With the Fallout 5 release date likely still years away to make room for The Elder Scrolls 6, I’ll need to content myself with the TV show and various fan games. I do love MMOs, so maybe I’ll give 76 a spin and see what happens. Until then, I’ll stick to watching New Vegas playthroughs from afar and (atomic) dreaming of Fallout London.