What if: Fallout 5 plays before the bombs are dropped?

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Todd Howard has a “one-pager” for Fallout 5. Perhaps Bethesda Game Studios is working on bringing this original design document to life, or perhaps it has turned development over to another studio, as Obsidian did for Fallout: New Vegas did. Either way, the developers probably have a clue what this is about. And we don’t.

This gives us a once in a lifetime opportunity to come up with an idea that will scare you: the idea of ​​a Fallout 5 set in the world before the bombs fall. The excerpts from the pre-war world of Fallout were always the most gripping narrative element. The very first thing the original CRPG shows you is a world that clings to the imagery and happy public broadcasts of our real post-war America, even though it’s been bombed into a fine paste. How and why did this culture come about?

In this first RPG, and indeed in all of its sequels, an alternate story timeline traces the exhaustion of resources and superpowers fighting over the rest, which of course leads to a huge nuclear war that leaves the world irreparably brown. What was life like in those years, from the 2050s to the 2070s?

It was definitely different from life in Fallouts 1-4. Nation-states still ruled their people, law and order did not seem to have completely collapsed and were nevertheless exposed to massive unrest. There were minor nuclear conflicts, ground invasions fought by armored soldiers, shady government experiments, and vaults hastily blown up in preparation for an impending nuclear holocaust. And all along America insisted on the rosy 1950s optimism we see in the Fallout 4 prologue and hear in Vault-Tec videos. It is a society that refuses to accept its reality even as it plans its devastating graduation.

Tell me this is no better than walking around another nuclear city looking for bottle caps in a bungalow full of skeletons.

Even in the relative safety of the US homeland, fighting is plausible

Additionally, a pre-apocalyptic setting is a notable exit for the broader gaming industry. By now we have explored every possible aspect of worlds destroyed by atomic bombs: human greed, weather events, epidemics, zombies, megacorporations, climate change and famine. They are presented to us in various shades of brown, gray and green and tell stories about rudimentary societies in which life is cheap, cars are weapons-grade and shoulder pads are the be-all and end-all of men’s fashion.

Post-apocalyptic settings are overused in pop culture because they allow creators so easily to rewrite the rules of society. The pre-apocalypse, on the other hand, is new territory. It’s an open target for some social comment from Adam Curtis, if that’s your thing – what does a world on the verge of collapse look like, and would we even see it coming? Fallout offers a unique opportunity to examine these questions as we know the world after the atomic bomb so well.

There are of course problems with a pre-war Fallout 5. The first is that we’ve already seen this world for about ten minutes in Fallout 4 and it wasn’t particularly addicting. The mitigating factor there, however, is that it was largely spent manipulating sliders to adjust the width of someone’s nose in a bathroom mirror to match yours, and then putting them in a safe. There were colors there for a few minutes and a glimpse of normal life before the bombs hit, but it would hardly be said that this intro showed us the world before the Great War.

Vault-Tec Rep on your doorstep from Fallout 4's pre-war intro

The second, and perhaps most important, problem is that every system, element, and gameplay element in a Fallout game since 1997 has been designed with a post-apocalyptic environment in mind. I admit, that seems like a bit of a hurdle at first. There would be no RadAway because there would be no radiation. Ghouls wouldn’t exist. You wouldn’t wear a pip boy or blue jumpsuit, bottle caps would just be worthless bottle caps, and who would you spend three VATS points on for hitting the head with a spiked baseball bat? Why should there even be spikes nailed into your baseball bat?

What does a world on the brink of collapse look like and would we even see it coming?

Let’s go back to the turmoil of the 2050s to 2070s. In December 2053, Tel Aviv will be destroyed by nuclear weapons, and Europe and the Middle East will trade a few bombs with each other the following January. So parts of the world are already irradiated. A year later, 122 nuclear bunkers are put into operation by the US government.

Skirmishes broke out between the US and China over the next two decades, first in Alaska and then, in 2074, in China itself. That gives us armed conflict. War. So you can count on Ron Perlman’s harsh voice-over to tell us the war never changes, and our pre-apocalypse Fallout 5 makes cults like the Children of Atom a little more familiar. Even in the relative safety of the US homeland, fighting could plausibly break out. It’s a big country, and it’s hard to imagine that there aren’t pockets of it that have fallen into lawlessness while the world is forgotten.

That gives us just enough mandate to establish a recognizably combat-oriented Fallout 5 in the period just before the Great War. A chance to explore the creative vision that Leonard Boyarsky, Tim Cain, Jason Anderson, Scott Campbell and Chris Taylor first formulated in 1997, just from a slightly different perspective.

We’re right to fear prequels after Jar-Jar, but we can’t keep shooting mutants in crumbling diners forever. Our franchise-saturated minds are conditioned to expect the same game in a new engine, but Fallout has the rare ability to withstand greater exploration and experimentation. Let’s see, if for no other reason than to discourage Fallout 5 reviewers from using that quote about the war in their intros.

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