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Analysis / Fallout

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So, what's the message we're supposed to get from the Fallout series? Well, it's right there in the intro sequence: "War... War never changes."... But was does that actually mean? Does war really not change, or is it the manner of which war is waged that doesn't change? What's it all about?

Fallout as a world isn't just a setting meant to be the framework on which you make other, smaller and selfcontained stories; it's a setting that wants to tell a story right from the beginning. This is unlike a setting Warhammer 40,000 (a similarly pulpy and retro-futuristic setting), where the world never changes, because that would ruin the setting in which hundreds of stories are taking place at once - it's just a vessel for other, individual stories. But Fallout couldn't be further from that. Fallout, as a series, is about change, how people reacts to changes thrust upon them, and how they deal with the ability to facilitate change themselves. All games in the series feature these themes at their cores. Yes, there are stories about lost sons, exile and suave men in checkered suits that seem the most apparent, but those stories are only the stories told about or protagonists - No, the real protagonist of the main story of Fallout is the US Wasteland itself.

In each game, the player wanders a wasteland, or rather a part of the wasteland, which is in the middle of some sort of schism that throws it into turmoil and heavy changes; and if it isn't immediatly apparent when you start, your character is sure to bring that change. In each game, the player has the ability to join several factions, help wastelanders and eradicate scores of evil mutants and Raiders, something very few other characters in the setting does. So, no matter what, when the player leaves the wasteland, they've changed it, and brought about changes for the people around you. The most obvious case of this is between Fallout 1 to 2, where the western wasteland has become more civilized, since the player did something about the Master's army in the first game. Then, in Fallout: New Vegas, the player will encounter the NCR, a state that the player brought about earlier in the series. Let that sink in for a moment - Because one guy became a hero and blew some mutant army up (and did a load of things on the side), a damn STATE was formed, civilizing an entire former US state! That's huge! You've been changing everything from the start off! How's that for "Never Changes", huh?!

But that brings up an interesting question... Why doesn't war change then? So much has been changed by so few people, so why doesn't war change?

  • Because, in the end, people have to fight over resources and ideology. War is going to be a constant so long as people disagree. You're changing the stage curtains, not the play. It's worth noting, though, that Ulysses makes a claim that even if war never changes, men can change.

  • As stated before, we as people will find a way and an excuse to kill each other. It's not the hows that never change. It's the whys.

"Pure" humanity and the Enclave's ideology.

The concept of "pure" humans in the Fallout universe has always fascinated me, and here I will attempt to discuss it as best as I can. Considering I am not a scientist, my understanding of genetics is not perfect, but I like to think I know enough to analyse this concept of the franchise.

What are "pure" humans?

In the context of the Fallout universe, pure (or prime) humans are humans that have little to no genetic impact resulting from the Great War and its consequences (specifically the FEV, nuclear fallout and any other toxins or contaminants). This refers to humans living in sealed Vaults and in the Enclave, and may also possibly include the Brotherhood of Steel (as they are quite insular and descended from a US Army unit that was sheltered in military bunkers in the Great War) or certain groups that left Vaults long after the Great War (such as the Boomer tribe) when radiation and toxins had long since largely settled down.

In the backstory of the Fallout universe, during the Great War, the West Tek research facility in Southern California suffered a direct hit from a nuclear weapon, which burst open its FEV reserves and spread them in the atmosphere, but the radiation from the warhead mutated the FEV and it was subsequently diluted, so its effects were much more subtle and less dramatic than the regular FEV effects that should be expected.

In practice there aren't any meaningful differences between "pure" and "mutated" humans. The only time it's actually relevant is in the context of mutating humans into Super Mutants (in Fallout 1), bioweapons (Fallout 2 and Fallout 3) and creating 3rd Gen Synths (in Fallout 4).

  • In Fallout 1 it's a plot point that average wastelanders, exposed to wasteland conditions, make inferior mutants, who are at best dumb as bricks, and at worst are brain dead or utterly grotesque and useless for anything. Thus the Master seeks out Vaults as they are a source of "pure" humans that produce perfect mutants who are strong, healthy and also of above-average intelligence (like the Lieutenant). The Lieutenant theorizes that this is because the FEV that escaped the West Tek facility acted as a sort of "vaccine" that causes exposure to FEV to fail, but the correct reason is that the FEV released from West Tek damaged certain genetic sequences that later cause FEV exposure to fail to produce good mutants.

  • Fallout 2 featured a modified FEV strain called Curling-13, which caused a gruesome but relatively quick death on the "mutated" Arroyo subjects, and a gruesome and drawn out death on the "pure" Vault 13 subjects. There was no case of survival, but a vaccine existed that provided complete immunity to FEV Curling-13. The virus only targeted humans and human-based mutants, and would have left plant, animal, fungal and microbial life alone. This virus was supposed to be airborne and injected into the jetstream from the Poseidon Oil Rig. Thankfully, this plan was stopped by the Chosen One.

  • Fallout 3 meanwhile featured a refined Curling-13 strain that bypassed the need for vaccination and instead targeted directly any "impure" humans while leaving "pure" ones unharmed. It also left alone non-human life. This version is spread only through Project Purity, making it much more limited in scope, but is implied to eventually spread and cover all the globe.


A mutation is any permanent deviation from the normal genetic structure of an organism. Literally everyone is a mutant. Human individuals are estimated to have around a hundred of genetic anomalies, the vast majority of which are benign and sometimes impossible to detect. Every second you exist, from the moment you are conceived to the moment you die, your body's cells replicate themselves and your genetic code, which is like copying a book letter by letter, and there's 3.2 billion letters. Which means inevitably as you live your cells will make mistakes here and there. This isn't as bad as it sounds, the body has methods to "proofread" and "fix" DNA, and if that doesn't work, cells have mechanisms (like apoptosis) to commit suicide so they don't become cancerous. And if their suicide mechanisms don't work, the body's immune system can take them out, and if that doesn't work, well, a random mutation isn't necessarily bad.

And that's just mutations from your regular basic body functions. Now imagine all the external sources of mutations. Smoking messes up your mouth, throat and lungs, and forces them to heal at an abnormally higher rate, increasing the risk of cancer note . Certain viruses also damage human DNA note , and then there's the issue of radiation.