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The Fallout TV Series Is Fun, But It Really Wants You To Know That It’s Fallout

"There's Yum Yum deviled eggs! There's stimpacks! That's a Yao Guai!"

Amazon

Now more than ever, Hollywood lusts after reliable IP from which to mine the majority of its ideas, and after hollowing out superhero comics, it’s turned its insatiable appetite toward video games. On the upside, this means studios are investing actual money and effort into adaptations, resulting in prestige fare like HBO’s The Last of Us and now Amazon’s Fallout TV show. Our first impressions? It’s good! But it also really, really wants you to know it’s Fallout, perhaps to its own detriment. On this week’s episode of Aftermath Hours, we discuss the show’s first few episodes.

This week we’re joined by Dave Oshry, Fallout expert and founder of Dusk publisher New Blood Interactive, to talk about what works and what doesn’t in the Fallout TV show. It looks great and follows some surprisingly compelling characters, but it’s also very Bethesda-era Fallout, heavily reliant on iconography and references (Stimpacks! Nuka Cola! The Junk Jet from Fallout 4!) in a way that can be distracting, bordering on nonsensical. Dave makes the great point, however, that Fallout embarked on this path even before Bethesda took the reins with Fallout 3, so perhaps things were always destined to end up here. 

We also discuss the evolution of Bethesda and the lessons the company could learn from Starfield (probably the wrong ones), and then later we – minus Dave – talk about how we all wound up in New York, The Big Apple, The Greatest City In The World, Baybee. Oh, and we recommend some movies. 

You can find this week's episode below and on Spotify, Apple, or wherever else you prefer to listen to podcasts. If you like what you hear, make sure to leave a review so that when we’re all wandering irradiated wastelands a few decades from now, we can at least say that we had a popular podcast, once.

Here’s an excerpt from our conversation:

Nathan: I both like and don't like that The Ghoul effectively has VATS and the "bloody mess" perk, specifically. It's clear that the show is trying to pay homage to both of those things with this character; when I saw it at first I was like "I get what you're doing, but this is also really hokey. If I had not played these games before, I'd be like 'Why can he do all of this? Why are his bullets extra powerful?'” It makes perfect sense if you're somebody who's played the games, but in that context [of a TV show] it's kind of confusing. It's an issue with the show in general: Why are stimpacks basically magic? Why is that person using a weapon that fires baby doll arms? It works if you're someone who likes the games, but I'm not sure if it works if you aren't.

Chris: I'm curious about that too. I wonder how much it holds together for people who [haven't played the games]. Riley was in chat saying he kept watching it and being mad because he knew they were referencing something that he wasn't privy to.

Gita: That's the Riley experience.

Dave: The whole show is like [the meme where] Rick Dalton points at the screen from Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. Every five minutes, I'm like "There's Yum Yum deviled eggs! There's stimpacks! That's a Yao Guai! There's an Assaultron in the sand!"

Gita: My husband pointed out that they never explain the Vaults in the first episode. I can imagine someone like my mom and dad – who, for whatever reason, whenever I tell them to watch a television show, they never start from the beginning; they start from the episode that's most recently aired – [would struggle].

I don't know! Nathan, you're giving me a look like I can explain this behavior.

Dave: As someone who's now on episode five, there is backstory. There are flashbacks to the old world. I think they're getting deeper into the weeds of Vault-Tec, which is something I actually think is not explored enough in the games. Vault-Tec and RobCo and the capitalist stuff that went on and how this happened – how Vault-Tec took over the world and why they did all these weird experiments. I think they're getting into that stuff, which is good, because if you just do wander-around-the-wasteland-shoot-people-have-fun adventures, you're gonna run out of steam pretty quickly.

Gita: Yeah, but if you're opening the Fallout wiki to read the entire list of all the Vault experiments that they do, then you're probably the ideal target audience for this television show.

Dave: Absolutely.

Chris: I guess part of it is also that there's, like, two-style humor. There's very different styles of humor in this series as well, and I think we've entered into the sort of broader style [in the show], which is: it's about goofy shit. I think there's a dryness to Fallout 2, New Vegas, and 1. They still do stupid crap, but [not so overtly].

Dave: Yeah, you'd usually have to have the Wild Wasteland trait or find the pop culture references in those games. Fallout 76 actually plays it really straight and dry. I love 76 so much. Play it as a single-player game, I'm telling you.

Nathan: I might! This is reinvigorating my interest in Fallout a little bit.

Gita: Yeah, I had kinda lost interest in Fallout, but now I'm thinking maybe I should play Fallout 1 and 2 again. Maybe I should play New Vegas again.

Dave: Speaking of people who care way too much about things, Fallout London, the full-sized game mod, is coming out in, like, two weeks. Normally those mod projects don't make it across the finish line. They hire, like, 40 people and take seven years, and then they're like "Sorry, we couldn't finish it." Like Skywind or Skyblivion or Fallout 4: New Vegas, which is remaking all of New Vegas in Fallout 4. They're never gonna finish that.

But Fallout London, a full-sized Fallout 4 total conversion mod, is coming out soon. They announced that Neil Newbon [Astarion from Baldur's Gate 3] is in the voice cast coming hot off his BAFTA win today. They made Fallout in London! I'm more excited to play that than I am to play whatever Fallout 5 is going to be, because whatever Fallout 5 is going to be probably won't be what I want.

Chris: If it's gonna be like Starfield, then no, [I don't want it].

Dave: I don't want to talk about Starfield.

Chris: This is the thing: I really don't like Fallout 4 because it became a game about systems, and then that's all Starfield was. The sort of Reddit-bait clip of "Oh, look at what I did with my base" is not a whole game. It's not a whole cohesive game with a good plot.

Dave: Fallout 4 still had the magic of “You can go walk in any direction and get into an adventure.” Unfortunately in Starfield, you can't do that because there's no adventure to have and nowhere to fly to. In 4 you could still walk off in a certain direction and know you're gonna find some cool, bespoke location, and you're gonna loot everything and scrap it and maybe come out with a cool weapon and think "That was a cool place. Where was I going again?" Because that's the magic they still have, and they can't do that in a game that does not have one bespoke world. 

Gita: Chris, Nathan, and I have talked about this topic already, but weirdly the game that is giving me that right now is Dragon's Dogma 2.

Nathan: Dragon's Dogma! Dragon's Dogma!

Gita: It has a completely different tone and completely different lore -- none of the iconographic design of something like Fallout -- but it's giving me [that experience of] "I'm on the way to something, but I see a cave over there, so I'm gonna fight a chimera and then I'm gonna loot all these chests and find a secret, and there's a statue over here, and oh my god I'm on the other side of the map."

Nathan: I'm gonna climb a guy!

Dave: That's that magic.

Chris: What I was getting at earlier, though, is I don't like Fallout 4, but I like the DLC a lot.

Dave: Far Harbor. And they brought a lot of the Far Harbor stuff to 76.

Chris: Which is why I believe you. And the thing about it is, I believe there are people within Bethesda who are capable of telling good stories. I don't think the people who are in charge enable them to do what they can. I think the reason why New Vegas is so beloved is that it's smaller scale. It starts off with somebody shooting you in the head; he's a scumbag, and he left you for dead. Go find him. That's a good motivation.

You get to Fallout 3 and 4, and it's like the whole world is depending on you. Fuck that. I want to go find my Water Chip. 

Dave: Speaking of Water Chip, I don't know what episode you're at, but Water Chip comes up. Again, they're playing the hits. I went to see Iron Maiden once, and I was not aware that they were just gonna play stuff from the year 2000 and on. We were all standing there like "You guys are gonna play 'Two Minutes To Midnight' and 'The Trooper' and stuff, right?" Because nobody knows Iron Maiden songs past the year 2000. Eventually they did for the encore, but it's like, you know what you've got to do, right? Nobody's coming to see your new stuff. 

So when Bethesda or [executive producer] Jonathan Nolan play the hits, I'm not mad. That's what I want from a Fallout show. And the details? All the details are there, even -- and I'm getting into later episodes -- when they interact with Mister Handy more, when they're in the Super Duper Mart. Literally everything is there. I like it. It doesn't feel pander-y. It feels like how it should feel. Because if it wasn't there, I'd be like "Where's this? Where's that? Where are the hits?"

(Podcast production by Multitude.)

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