- When Fallout 76 came out, it was lambasted almost immediately as the worst Fallout game ever made, with unflattering comparisons to Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel (the previous undisputed title holder in the eyes of fans) for its buggy gameplay, lack of story, and mangling of the lore. Other fans countered that it simply marked the culmination of trends that had been going on throughout the Bethesda era of the series, with some even going back all the way to the acclaimed first two games.
- Fallout 76 earned a lot of derision for its complete removal of human NPCs, leaving only Apocalyptic Logs for fleshing out characters. This was heralded in Fallout 3, which offered significantly less dialogue than the prior games, and Fallout 4, which offered even less than that. Thing is, "significantly less than Fallout 2" is still a lot, so it didn't raise as many eyebrows, and there were still a large number of well-written characters to interact with in both 3 and 4.
- Fallout 3 significantly retooled the gameplay from an isometric turn-based game to a first-person one with a noticeably heavier focus on action. This did get a fair amount of They Changed It, Now It Sucks! complaints, but it was broadly accepted, because the game, simply put, was still an RPG with many potential builds or ways to characterize yourself, albeit one that now drew more from Bethesda's The Elder Scrolls and other contemporary action RPGs. Fallout: New Vegas fleshed out the roleplay aspects even further, bringing them close to the level of the first two games and arguably deepening them with the survival-focused Hardcore mode, proving in the process that there was nothing really wrong with the engine (not to mention, the original Fallout engine had little to brag about). But Fallout 4 reworked the leveling and stat system considerably and refocused the game even further around combat, turning the skills into perks while downplaying the importance of stats, which gutted a lot of the RPG side of the equation. Furthermore, the weaker conversation system killed a lot of the story aspects as well, and without the karma system, there were fewer opportunities for the protagonist to define themselves beyond what the story demanded. When Fallout 76 effectively stripped out the story entirely, the game was left with little more than combat, base-building, and a handful of RPG Elements. Not being able to lean on VATS also made it evident just how lackluster the gunplay in the Bethesda-era Fallout games really was.
- The early games stuck pretty firmly to their War Is Hell message, but often had trouble maintaining it. While it was possible to get through the whole game without killing anyone personally, you could also blow any character into a pile of Ludicrous Gibs with a large arsenal of weapons. On the other hand, many of the best rewards and endings were found by playing it safe and avoiding direct conflict, the actual combat system wasn't great, and the villains were invariably people who sought out violence as a first resort. But as Actionized Sequel after Actionized Sequel came out, the focus shifted far more towards "blowing up people for fun and profit", culminating in Fallout 76, where taking control of and using one of the same nuclear weapons that killed most of humanity is your primary objective.
- By a similar count, the first few games dipped themselves in a Raygun Gothic aesthetic that conjured up visions of old-school 1950s Americana and Patriotic Fervor. But they were also a dark and twisted satire of that ideal, and Pre-War America was near-universally treated as hypocritical, violent, imperialistic, and prejuduced. As the series went on, though, the Patriotic Fervor elements of the series became increasingly less satirical. Though there were still attempts made, such as the Mass Fusion subplot in 4, they were counterbalanced by the cartoonishly overblown nationalism and associated imagery being either played straight or treated in such a manner that they might as well have been. Compare the treatment of Frank Horrigan and Liberty Prime, for an example. Both are marvels of old American super-science and in-universe Memetic Badasses with cartoonishly violent personalities that embody the warlike nature of America, but where Frank is the Final Boss of Fallout 2 and a Complete Monster, Liberty Prime assists the protagonist and keeping him around is an objective in multiple games, meaning that, even though he's technically utilized against the genocidal remnants of the American government in his first appearance, not many people remembered him that way. Furthermore, Bethesda Softworks and Zenimax's growing obsession with Fallout's branding, plastering things like Nuka-Cola or Vault Boys everywhere they could manage, saw things that were meant to satirize the hyper-capitalist ideals of Pre-War America being taken and used to sell merch. The result was a series originally meant to lampoon patriotic '50s nostalgia now trading heavily on its aesthetic without irony. The drippingly patriotic introduction to Fallout 76, in which America's tricentennial is celebrated with the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the completion of Vault 76 (a video that, in past games, would probably have been presented as a piece of in-universe propaganda), was merely the point at which it seemed that the last traces of satire were scrubbed from the series.
- Fallout 76 was accused of resting on aging gameplay mechanics that had grown uninspired and derivative. The Bethesda-era Fallout games, like all Bethesda titles, are all famous for reusing the same engine (to a lesser extent, this even goes back to Fallout 2, which mostly just tweaked the mechanics of the first game). The problem is that all of the previous well-regarded Fallout games had RPG Elements, the VATS system, interesting NPCs, and well-written quests and stories. All of these were extraordinarily stripped-down or removed from 76, leaving only the things that people complained about for so many years with little of the old charm.
- Ditto for the bugs, which Bethesda games have always been notorious for. The thing was, in the past the series' thriving and robust modding community was able to step in and fix broken gameplay mechanics through unofficial patches. Many fans felt that modders saved even Bethesda's buggiest releases, and that mods were necessary to get the best possible experience. Fallout 76, on the other hand, was an online-only game and thus couldn't be modded, meaning that not only could modders not bail out Bethesda this time, but the strain of running an always-online experience created new avenues for Bethesda's programming to go wrong.
- New Vegas was also extremely buggy when it was released. However, Obsidian was very quick to roll out patches and careful to make sure new patches didn't reintroduce old bugs, where Bethesda just wasn't.
- When Fallout 3 came out, one of the more common gripes from old-school fans was the apparent lack of advancement of the setting - despite the change from the West Coast to the East Coast and the timeline jumping forward by several decades, plenty of things from the old games are present that really shouldn't be there (such as caps, Super Mutants, the Brotherhood, and the Enclave), often having undergone Flanderization in the process, while the Capital Wasteland itself feels far less developed in terms of civilization than the West Coast (such as the prominence of old pre-War buildings that are still covered in rubble, even when they're still in use). This was largely tamped down, though, because 3 was meant to be a reintroduction to the series, and the reaction would likely have been even worse if the first new Fallout game in a decade didn't feel post-apocalyptic and lacked any iconic elements. However, 4 was seen as having largely doubled down on these elements to the point of introducing multiple Series Continuity Errors (including several characters who operate clearly-successful businesses out of rubble-covered buildings with skeletons in them that the owner just strangely refuses to remove), and the fanbase proved significantly less forgiving. It didn't help that New Vegas had avoided most of those same problems in the interim, nor that most of Bethesda's new additions to the series lore got at best a lukewarm reception or were seen as largely derivative. When 76 announced that another game would somehow crowbar in the Enclave, Super Mutants, the Brotherhood, and caps, before most of those things should even exist, much less have expanded to West Virginia, the jokes about how Bethesda can't make anything new became a lot less niche.
- Every game has featured some degree of retconning, continuity errors, or problematic lore. Even the first game has some funky continuity in places (deathclaws are treated as borderline cryptids in the Hub but are common knowledge in the Boneyard). Later games, though, tended to retcon more important things in dumber ways and for dumber reasons—for instance, 4 accidentally introduced that Jet is a pre-war invention (making the impact of an entire questline and main character of 2 null and void), that ghouls don't need food or water (rendering the entire question of the Necropolis in 1 pointless), and that Enclave power armor is pre-war (meaning the Enclave apparently just sat on their butts for over a century). This relates to the above, as some of the silliest retcons were the result of attempts to add in "iconic" factions. 76's retcon that the Brotherhood somehow managed to fully establish their organization and expand from California to West Virginia in less than thirty years, with the only reason given being a Hand Wave of them having a satellite, was just the point where even fans who hadn't played the old games realized things couldn't add up.
- Fallout 4:
- The protagonist's rather heavy backstory and motivation to rescue their son was widely criticized, with people noting that it constrained roleplay heavily and consumed the plot. But providing the protagonist with some level of backstory and an overarching goal they set out to achieve was the case in every prior Fallout. The difference was that in the prior games, the level of backstory had essentially been "you are a vault dweller/tribe member/courier", and there was enough leeway in dialogue to have your character just not really care about that goal. Fallout 4, on the other hand, more decisively defines your character's background and their feelings on their missing baby, which disappointed anyone who wanted to roleplay as something besides a concerned parent. At the same time, this also put it seemingly in competition with other RPGs with well-defined protagonists, such as The Witcher or Deus Ex, causing the Sole Survivor to fall short; they were too well-defined to be a blank slate and too underwritten to be interesting in their own right. Making things even more problematic was the very unfocused sandbox structure of 4 — why would the protagonist speak so urgently of finding their child, and then spend the next month building settlements or hunting super mutants?
- Fallout: New Vegas downplayed the importance of the Karma Meter, with a player's karma only affecting a handful of perks and whether the ending describes them as a prick or not. It was widely seen as a good move, as it helped get away from the many Stupid Evil and Black and White Morality moments of 3, and moved the game in the direction of the more intriguingly grey factions. When Fallout 4 did away with the karma system entirely, though, it became a real problem, as the developers were no longer obligated to provide "good karma/bad karma" opportunities in the game. Without the need to let the player act out and be a jerk, a lot of other roleplay aspects fell by the wayside, leading to 4's memetically railroaded conversations. It didn't help that 4's factions just weren't as popular as New Vegas's, meaning defining oneself by faction loyalty felt like a lost cause.
- The ending got a universally cold reception for being seen as barebones, but really, pretty much every Fallout game has a pretty barebones ending, usually being little more than a slideshow of still frames and a narrator. The difference was that prior endings tended to treat themselves as a checklist for the player's actions, hence the "slideshow" presentation. 4's ending lacked that checklist, and as a result ended up being two very similar dull-looking cutscenes, with the only choice that made a difference being whether the player joined the Institute or not.
- The number of quests that amounted to "go there, kill those" or "go there, find this, kill those along the way" were generally lambasted, but every game has had its fair share of them. The difference was that the majority of prior quests tended to let the player resolve them in a variety of ways, while most quests in 4 lacked that flexibility. The addition of "radiant quests" that were universally the above two didn't help at all.
- One of the more common critiques of Fallout 3's story is that you have no option to join the Enclave and are effectively railroaded into wiping them out. This was true in Fallout 2 as well, but the Enclave in 2 are established as more or less a death cult worshiping the old United States, and they regard the player character as a degenerate who must be exterminated for the good of humanity. Asking to join them would effectively be a Press X to Die button. By contrast, the Enclave in 3 are nowhere near as evil, have nowhere near as much reason to hate the PC, and seem to just be another imperialist power among many in the wasteland. They do have a plan that approaches the genocidal nature of their plan in 2, but most of the Enclave is not on board with it, and you can stop it halfway through the game and they'll keep going. Indeed, bafflingly, you can help the most unreasonable factions of the Enclave accomplish that plan, which will kill you, but you can't join the more reasonable factions that only want to control the water supply, (which, not for nothing, is the exact same goal that the Brotherhood of Steel, aka the Good Guys, have) making it an even more baffling place to draw the line.
- Fallout 2 is generally very well-loved, but if there's one very vocal complaint about it, it's the excess of pop culture references and humor. The first game had its fair share of this, like being able to randomly encounter the TARDIS or troopers quoting movies on occasion, but these were more Easter Eggs than anything, and they were used fairly sparingly or still made some sense in context. In the second game, they show up a lot more and are much easier to find, which often damages the game's dramatic tone and story — after all, it's a little hard to take the plight of a slave seriously when they're blatantly quoting Back to the Future. It's not for no reason that New Vegas essentially provided the option to turn the silly stuff off by locking a lot of it behind the "Wild Wasteland" trait.
Franchise Original Sin / Fallout