Fallout: New Vegas is the outlier of the modern Fallouts. While it shares the same alternate-history and wasteland of Fallout 3, 4, and even 76, thematically, it is a world apart.
While the other Fallout outings focus on grand, large institutions, such as the military and the government, New Vegas also looks at this, but takes a microscope to those that have to live under the shadows of these factions.
Sure enough, the major players are here. There’s the NCR, the Brotherhood of Steel, Caesar's Legion—but the groups aren’t the attraction. The draw of New Vegas is either the people and leaders within those groups, or the outsiders who have their lives impacted every day by the group’s existence.
Walk into the brothel on Westside, and you find the hard-ass Pretty Sarah, and an escaped slave from the Legion, Jimmy, who works for her. They strike up an unlikely friendship due to their shared trauma at the hands of the Legion and the chaotic gang known as the Fiends. These two factions don’t even interact with each other, but the people they leave in their wake do.
On the flip side, there’s the starting area, Goodsprings, where the biggest concern isn’t the slavers on the other side of the river (Easy Pete and co. don’t even know how to pronounce Caesar) but escaped prisoners from a nearby NCR prison. This is how the game communicates to you that the NCR is overstretched, it shows you the real consequences on the people it neglects. And true to form, if you find yourself helping out the NCR near Vegas, there is no mention of the prisoners. The people of Goodsprings are still of no concern to them.
So why did I just open this anniversary piece with all that gushing, and what does this have to do with a much wanted Fallout: New Vegas 2? Well, what I’m trying to say is that 2010’s New Vegas has already explored every inch of life in the Mojave Desert, so for its 10th birthday, let’s dive into how it did this so well. But also, now that Microsoft has acquired Bethesda, let’s look at what Obsidian could do with another Fallout—and why that shouldn’t just be New Vegas 2.
The Real Fallout 3
Fallout: New Vegas was released for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC in 2010. Noticeably different from the other modern Fallouts, it was developed by Obsidian Entertainment, rather than Bethesda. This is important because Obsidian is a company mainly comprised of developers from the first two Fallouts in the late 1990s, when they worked at Black Isle Studios.
Going back in time briefly, the first two games in the series were released in 1997 and ‘98 respectively. Following some serious financial troubles at Black Isle Studios, they shut down in 2003, right in the middle of the development of Van Buren—the codename for the original Fallout 3. As part of the closure, the IPs were sold off, and as we all know, Bethesda scooped up the post-apocalyptic series, releasing its own Fallout 3 in 2008.
This launched the series into the mainstream, but since Bethesda was too busy on Skyrim to capitalize on the success, it handed the reigns over to Obsidian, giving us Fallout: New Vegas... in a rushed 18-month development. But we’re not here to talk about that today.
Now, I opened this piece saying that New Vegas is the outlier of the modern Fallouts. But when you play the classics, you realize that 3 and 4 are the outliers of the entire series. Fallout 1 and 2 flow together seamlessly, even while dealing with very different themes. The first is set in a completely isolated wasteland focused purely on survival, and the second features a population that is desperately trying to recreate the decadence of the pre-war world. New Vegas is the culmination of both, juxtaposing the people desperately trying to get by with the Vegas strip, where those very same people throw their caps down the drain in a bid to escape poverty and live the high life.
The first Fallout showed humanity stripped down to its very core. Settlements with no communication, fought by an enemy—the Super Mutants—that only sees value in what physical labor a person can provide, making the weaker humans obsolete. Free from that enemy in Fallout 2, humanity goes in the absolute other direction, only finding value in money and material goods. New Vegas acts as a sort of “remake” of them both, which says goodbye to this period in the Fallout lore, as the conflicts that this environment has created (the NCR trying to recreate the old ways, the Legion demanding all be useful to society, and the Strip just trying to have fun) come head to head, and only one remains.
New Vegas was the perfect goodbye to these themes. The Great War went full circle, and ended with multiple hyper-capitalist factions destroying each other for power. If Microsoft gives Obsidian the reigns on the Fallout IP once more, we need to move far, far away from the Mojave. But what’s that going to look like?
The New Capital Wasteland
"If you want to see the fate of democracies, look out the windows," so says Mr. House, so self-assured.
Moments after he says this, the player can take a bunch of drugs, and beat his shriveled body to death with a golf club. Such is the way of the wasteland.
Despite this, Mr. House’s arrogance is a layer to the world of Fallout that would be brilliant to explore. We’ve seen the effects of trying to reclaim the American dream on the wasteland, so why not take a look at trying to establish a coherent society through a democracy? Sure we’ve skimmed the surface with this, as seen with the Enclave in Fallout 2 and 3, but it really does feel like a proxy-government could be the centerpiece of a new Obsidian game in the series (although it is a shame Bethesda already claimed Washington as a setting…).
Politics isn’t the main focus of New Vegas, but we do see its effects. Isolationism drives Veronica from her home in the Brotherhood of Steel. A trading dispute sees Cass directionless, drinking away her life. Failed military strategy killed Boone’s wife. But other than that, the game mostly centers on how New Vegas itself impacts people, so maybe it’s time we replace the appeals of gambling to the reach of politics.
Fallout 2, for its many virtues, was so vast that it barely gave much time to the Enclave. When you take them on at the end of the game, you hardly get any time to sit down with President Richardson to understand why they feel the need to “purify” the Wasteland. How they internally justify gunning families down, and imprisoning your entire village.
Fallout 3 wasn’t any better. We know that they want to poison the water supply, but unlike Mr. House in New Vegas, we don’t really get to sit down and have a conversation about their ideology—just a speech check to convince the A.I. President Eden to off himself.
This is what Obsidian need to do if they get to play with the franchise again: create a New Capital Wasteland. Alright, maybe have a catchier name, but really dive into a faction that acts as a government and has complete power. How does party politics even work in a world where everyone has their own arsenal of mini nukes? It could be a completely bastardized version of American democracy, where an entire New-Vegas-like city is filled to the brim with jingoism and self-important career politicians. Like the NCR on jet.
This would be familiar ground for Obsidian. While The Outer Worlds was also mostly concerned with the effects of greed, The Board essentially operate as a government, deciding what conditions people live in, and even who lives and dies. In this, we see dictators who only view human beings as valuable when they’re working hard and paying their taxes. Whereas New Vegas citizens were encouraged to live a life of decadence, Obsidian could take The Outer Worlds approach to the post-apocalyptic setting and move away from wastelanders being told to strive for a life of luxury, and instead being told they should be grateful to live at all. It would certainly shake up how more freedom-loving factions such as the Minutemen, Great Khans, and the Followers of the Apocalypse would interact with the world, and would also breathe new life into the Brotherhood of Steel, who already largely live like this, just on a miniature scale.
We hear so much about the land the NCR annexed and how it disregarded tribes such as the Great Khans, but we could really explore the impact that this uprooting and culture clash has, as a group try and “tame” the wasteland and really look at whether what they’re doing should actually be called “taming” at all.
Their base could be as loud and obnoxious as the Lucky 38—seen for miles around, neon lights shining to let you know they have the power. It can be a beacon of hope for those who want to change the world, or a castle for tyrants.
Saying Goodbye to the Strip
“Finding it, though, that's not the hard part. It's letting go.”
The tale of New Vegas is over. Perhaps one day, we could do with a remake to restore some of the content that got left behind, but other than that, this chapter in Fallout history is closed.
All the factions that die in New Vegas die because they were stuck living in the past. As Father Elijah puts it in the DLC Dead Money, the NCR, Legion, Brotherhood of Steel, and Mr. House were all after a “bright, shining monument luring treasure hunters to their doom. An illusion that you can begin again, change your fortunes.” But all it does is seal their fate.
The Brotherhood wouldn’t accept newcomers, the NCR wouldn’t stop expanding, the Legion wouldn’t plan beyond their glorious leader’s life, and Mr. House refused to acknowledge the threat of some courier blasting some Dean Martin on a Pip Boy.
The point is, New Vegas is all about moving on, and it’s time we did too. Ten years ago, we got the definitive game of war, greed, and loss. With The Outer Worlds and the upcoming Avowed, it’s clear Obsidian have different stories to tell. With any luck, Microsoft and Bethesda will let them tell these stories in the Fallout universe once more.