This week Bethesda officially announced Nuka World, a final piece of Fallout 4 DLC arriving to the game at the end of this month. Centered on a Nuka Cola theme park, players will encounter new enemies, weapon mods, and challenges, all carnival themed, while rising up the ranks of a Raider faction to ultimately become their leader.
I already hate it.
Hyperbolic headline and hysterics aside, Nuka World is a fitting end to post-release Fallout 4 content. If you’ve resigned yourself to Fallout’s goofy fate as Saints Row 5: Nuclear Wasteland, Nuka World, with its kitschy robot mascots, wacky weapon mods, and derelict carnival rides, will not bother you. The DLC will be just another backdrop for bangy shooty murder antics that don’t inspire much thought.
But for those of us who enjoyed the series for its horror sci-fi infused criticism of jingoism and post war domestic idealism, it may come as the final chapter in a book filled with disappointment.
Fallout 4 had some big shoes to fill following Fallout: New Vegas. The four part DLC arc spanning Dead Money, Honest Hearts, Old World Blues and The Lonesome Road stands out as some of the best writing in the entire series. Released in an era where post-release game content was seen mostly as a shameless money grab, it masterfully wove the story’s arc into the base game’s framework in a way that was both intriguing and non-invasive, evoking curiosity with a tension and attention to detail that suggested the writers were deeply invested in the Fallout universe lore. Few games have managed to meet the prevailing standards of DLC quite like New Vegas did. It respected both the player’s money and time.
Fallout 4 DLC, meanwhile, is focused on Workshop content. The most story-driven chapter, Far Harbor, is their best effort. The nautical themed story, set in Maine, embraces the change of setting integral to Fallout DLC and revisits one of the game’s best characters and storylines. The rest, however, including Automatron, Wasteland Workshop, Contraptions Workshop and Vault Tec Workshop, exist mostly to add buildable items to your settlements, expanding your options in lighting, materials and decor. Many of the items are reused assets, while others build on entire new themes, like the robots of Automatron or the vault renovating of Vault Tech Workshop. In general they do not offer the meaty, narrative-based adventures of previous downloadable Fallout content, like Old World Blues, The Lonesome Road, or even Mothership Zeta or Operation: Anchorage.
The flimsiness of the DLC adds to a growing sense that Bethesda is now in the business of making Fallout “themed” content. While obviously the game has been out of the hands of its original writers for a long time (Bethesda purchased the series from Interplay in 2007 and passionate series mainstays like Chris Avellone are long gone), this latest shift into the new generation of Fallout creators becomes glaringly obvious with their lack of investment in the lore. Automatron bizarrely ignores previous Mechanist canon. Wasteland Workshop and Contraptions Workshop offer no context or explanation for their additions. Vault Tec Workshop makes an admirable stab at offering a valid, canon-based context for its presence, but unfortunately lacks substance, rendering its references to Fallout 3 a shallow name drop. And the whole of Fallout 4, with its crafting and settlements, features such an intense shift in objective that it can be hard to decipher what Bethesda’s intent for the series was with Fallout 4. Is it about rebuilding society, as the settlements feature suggest? Or is it about wacky adventures in a campy post apocalyptic setting? Whatever the case, both seem foreign and out of place for a series that first appealed to me for its Pandora’s Box like sensation of forbidden exploration.
In a way, Fallout died with New Vegas. While Fallout can never go back to the isometric turn based gameplay of the original games, New Vegas made a valid lore-based effort at reconciling the series’ West Coast past and East Coast future. It showed that even after Fallout 3 there was a chance at course correction. But maybe that was a fluke, a mirage conjured on the power and quality of Obsidian’s writing. I know that the feelings I’m experiencing are what original Fallout and Fallout 2 fans felt about Fallout 3, how Oblivion fans might have felt about Skyrim, maybe even what Arena and Daggerfall fans felt about Morrowind. My frustration is not unique, in fact, I probably deserve it. Oh god, I totally deserve it. And it’s possible that after New Vegas, my personal standards for Fallout DLC are just too damn high.
But there are times it seems as though Bethesda is chasing the success of other publishers. For example, their recently launched desktop app and their forays into mobile with Fallout Shelter and The Elder Scrolls: Legends. Both the interface of the app and Legends’ similarity to Hearthstone would suggest Blizzard is on Bethesda’s radar. But the difference between Bethesda and Blizzard is, Blizzard is committed to refining a game until it meets expectations, both pre and post release. This is why Diablo III is a successful example in development course-correction and why World of Warcraft has been one of the most popular games for over a decade. But Bethesda is focused on streamlining the development process to keep costs low and re-using assets to do so. For example, a recent GDC talk with Fallout 4 designers highlighting the company’s use of modeling kits praised the kit’s’ ability to reduce production times. However, reading between the lines, the company’s reluctance towards “hero pieces” (that is, art assets that are only used once in a game) hints at an underlying resentment towards artists who require a nebulous amount of production time. Combined with the fact that much of Fallout 4’s DLC has spawned from reusable assets monetized as Workshop content, the resultant cut corners are beginning to show. Maybe efficiency has come at the cost of creativity.
I could be wrong about Nuka World. The trailer isn’t that long and it’s never wise to make split second decisions based on brief first impressions. A setting is a setting, right? Anything can look like Fallout with the right coat of dilapidated paint. Maybe Nuka World will have a sinister but intriguing story that makes me forgive all the filler. Maybe I’ll come to see Nuka World as a darkly irreverent comment on the futility of life. Maybe I’m being too hard on Nuka World because I’m so disappointed by all the other DLC so far.
But for now I’m pretty sure Fallout is dead. And Nuka World is what finally did it in.
Holly Green is a reporter, editor, and semiprofessional photographer living in Seattle, WA. She is also the author of Fry Scores: An Unofficial Guide To Video Game Grub. You can find her work at Gameranx, Polygon, Unwinnable, and other videogame news publications.