The Nukes of 'Fallout 76' Are Where Power Fantasies Hit a Breaking Point


Postscript is Cameron Kunzelman's weekly column about endings, apocalypses, deaths, bosses, and all sorts of other finalities.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at


Bethesda has never actually understood what made Fallout special, and furthermore never particularly cared to learn. They have now gone past the point of parody in their misunderstanding of the franchise they own.


so, because nukes are primarily a means by which to create high-level areas, with a side effect of destroying other players’ shit, here is what I think they should have done:

launch sequences should be initiated accidentally, as random side effects of completing quests on the server. for example, a player would be going through some normal quest, and at the end they use a terminal, or plug in a sprocket or whatever. they should get the ‘quest complete’ notice per usual and the XP or whatever associated with it, but additionally, oh shit! warning sirens! everyone’s pipboys light up and warn them: LAUNCH SEQUENCE INITIATED! and a countdown begins - like, 20 minutes or something.

All players on the server now know that they have to scramble to work together in order to STOP the launch, because no one knows where it is going to go - it’s just a rogue nuke. ALTERNATIVELY, players with devious intent could try to sabotage the other players trying to stop the launch, but no one gets direct control over the nuke.

Because the reward for stopping the launch is so great (like, maybe they can pull the ore out of the warhead or some shit), there is greater incentive to stop the launch than to let it happen. However, because stopping the launch is hard (it could use the same steps already designed in the game to launch it, which sounds hard!), there is still a good chance it will happen, resulting in the high-level area after detonation.

I feel like this would dramatically alter the tone in a meaningful way that is more consistent with what Fallout is thematically about.


Bethesda doesn’t care. They don’t care about this world and its lore beyond branding potential, they don’t care about making a coherent story and they’ve demonstrated these things repeatedly. Launchable nukes seems pretty par for the course.

I think I used up all my anger on 3 & 4. Now I’m just bored and annoyed.

@Zukzuk probably best to quit while you’re ahead, dude


Fallout is historically a series about how nukes are terrible and it’s a massive tone shift for 76 to legitimize their use and encourage them as a power fantasy when even bethesda’s fallout 3 gave you cartoonish amounts of “evil” karma for detonating a nuke. It’s really nasty, and I definitely won’t be playing 76 because of it.


The games I think of when I think about how games handle nukes are Introversion Software’s Defcon and Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. (Pardon me while I over-analyze them a bit.)

Defcon is a straightforward adaptation of the theme of the film WarGames into a competitive strategy game where, as the official marketing says, “everybody dies, everybody loses, you just have to make sure you lose the least.” Bombers, submarines, and ICBMs are presented abstractly as simple vector shapes on a map. Once the nukes start to hit (which is inevitable, as there’s no mechanic for deescalation or peaceful resolution), it displays death counts as each city is destroyed: 4 million here, 6 million there. Introversion carefully avoids turning nukes into spectacle, counting on the player to understand the horror of the apocalypse that is being simulated. In practice, though, I think it may have fallen into a similar trap to Fallout 76 in making nukes a practical mechanic. Defcon is intended to convey the perversity of the logic of nuclear war, but in practicing that logic repeatedly in a session-based game it’s possible to grow accustomed to it.

In the most famous scene in Modern Warfare, the player is in the role of a US Marine whose helicopter is knocked out of the sky by a nearby nuclear blast. The player then controls him as he crawls out of the wreckage into a street filled with burning cars and dying soldiers, with the mushroom cloud framed in the center of the skybox. He stumbles to his feet, then collapses, and the screen fades to white. This was considered groundbreaking. The FPS genre is built on making the player feel powerful and allowing them to fight to victory, but here was a scene where the player character fails and dies, because not even a player can fight a nuke and win. I really think this can be read as a thematically sound (or at least interesting) handling of nuclear weapons and agency: nukes aren’t a tool or an enemy, they’re the end. But it seems to have been received by players as a shocking, spectacular set-piece, or as a novel game-narrative twist. When Infinity Ward tried to one-up themselves in Modern Warfare 2, the resulting “No Russian” mission was all shocking spectacle with very little coherent meaning at all.


The usage of nuclear weapon imagery within the brands and iconography of the pre-war world in Fallout wasn’t purely a tongue-in-cheek “wow isn’t this darkly comedic”, it was showing how far gone that world was in attempting to rationalize the reality of a society that adopted ruthless military force in order to maintain its eternal golden age of consumerism. Taking a quote from Noah Gervais describing it:

They consumed and consumed until there was nothing left, and then blew that nothing into ash.

Products like Nuka-Cola and Sugar Bombs exist to make that reality seem normal, the same way (for example) Nerf toys styled after various firearms exist to make the prevalence of guns in America seem normal, or the way several Call of Duty games portray the imperialistic overreach of the American military as seemingly normal.

That iconography probably seems weird and ridiculous to an outsider, but ours would probably be equally strange from the outside looking in.


This is a big part of the setting that I don’t think gets brought up enough when the games are analyzed. It’s not a world where someone invented power armor and then a huge nuclear war happened, it’s a world they actually fulfilled that promise of mastering the atom for a ton of not-war-related applications but still (literally) blew it anyway. So that heavy criticism of not nuclear energy itself but of that veneer and concept that a utopia can ever exist is baked into it right from the beginning, and would be there no matter how the game’s apocalypse happened.

Part of why Fallout 1 is amazing is because it’s ending is ice cold in how it has its cake and eats it too. You become the ultimate wasteland badass through the course of the game, and while there are some scenarios in it where you can sneak around or find some alternate way of doing a thing, in general you become the ultimate wasteland badass by killing a ton of people. But then as you level up and find better stuff and eventually overcome the big bad, you get exiled from the home you were spending the entire game trying to save because of how much the wasteland has changed you, that blew me away because while I’d played plenty of games with downer endings before* this was the first one I played to handle its whole endgame so effectively that you both get the allpowerful slayer catharsis but to still have the game on that note.

Regarding that Gamespot tweet, I don’t know if over-analyzing is the right word, but rather I do think the reason so many analysis articles of a game come off like that (I mean this globally, I know I complain a lot about this in my posts but nothing personal against Waypoint/everyone here or I wouldn’t be reading it regularly :slight_smile: ) is because they feel reactionary to the game’s marketing first and hype machine first.

With that in mind, I got Fallout and Fallout 2, both of those games blew my mind. I bought the first one blind on a whim when it first came out and it devoured me, so I got the second one immediately after. Both games are awesome, but I wouldn’t fault Gamespot for making that tweet at all. I mean Fallout was a series in which the original game had a lot to say, but it still had a sequel where their reasons to buy the game prioritized these key features:

But even this game had stuff going on in it, hell even the all combat all the time spinoff Fallout Tactics: The Brotherhood of Steel did too. Which made Fallout 3’s appearances of the Brotherhood extra hilarious because even Tactics had the faction of the brotherhood you worked for portrayed as just flat out fascist sacks of shit.

I understand why though, once you’ve made game as great as Fallout where else do you go but more of everything and more player control over stuff? You can even see that change in the games’ respective manuals, with the first written in a more passively in-character user manual kind of way.

Bethesda kind of painted themselves into the same corner. Like, New Vegas exists, Fallout 4 happened, in lieu of anything new to potentially say or be about (and in lieu of there even being NPCs in the game) this is it:

Fallout: The One With the Nukes.

Bethesda understands exactly what makes Fallout special, just not that makes it Actually Good.

In that respect, I’d say big budget video game sequels are a lot closer to their cinematic brethren than most people give them credit for.

Sometimes I look at stuff like Fallout 76 though and just think I’m too old to enjoy this. You couldn’t pay me to play a lot of the big budget games that come out. Bringing up The Day After reminded me of this - prior to its premier, there were disclaimers and word that one should absolutely not let their kids see it because of how traumatic it could be. In reality most of it would go over a kids’ head. Meanwhile…it effected adults so much that US and Russian nuclear policy was directly effected by it.

The Day After was a first, but Fallout 1 came out in 1997. Fallout 76 is the eighth Fallout game but it may as well be the 76th for how far away it inevitably must be from its ancestor.


The Fallout games I’ve played (3, NV, 4) all seemed to be based around trying to make a positive change in a terrible world for the sake of the pockets of good people within it. All of the people who were worth saving were pretty much powerless, and those with power (Raiders, Brotherhood of Steel, The Institute, The Legion, Gunners, The Strip) were all corrupted by it in various ways.

Now here comes Fallout 76 where everyone has an absurd amount of power and is an anonymous person on the internet. Obviously, I don’t know the main story of this game, but it’s going to be hard to give a solid reason to make a change in this open world if everyone is a violent asshole.

The sad part is, I really like Fallout’s combination of survival, FPS, and RPG gameplay so I will probably end up playing this. I’ll just wait a year and hope that the bugs are ironed out and the only people still playing are into roleplaying, because I can look past Bethesda’s wack-ass writing if the systems and community are good enough to incentivize me into surviving the wasteland.


This makes me want to live in the timeline where they pull a Wizardry IV and have all of the enemies in the Fallout after this one be players’ characters from 76.


The main problem I have with this article is that I feel it is actually a criticism of weapons in games as a whole (which is valid and I agree with), with nukes just incidentally being the subject of the article.

No point that he raises about the horror that weapons inflict is peculiar to nukes;

a 7.62 will also kill you “no matter your skill, your knowledge, your thoughts, your feelings, your uniqueness, your love (…). It will probably be painful”

“No matter who you are, no matter how powerful you think you are, the reality is that nuclear war will either destroy you or make your life unlivable in its current shape” A single bullet will do the same. Any weapon can do this.

If your criticism is with weapons, don’t try to bend it around one type, in one game. Also, Cameron expresses that he is “not morally outraged” by the depiction of weapons, but the entire tone of the article seems to flow from a central (and valid) moral protest. Why claim otherwise?

It is true that any strategic weapon has a context different from other weapons, but I do not feel this point is specifically explored in the article. A battle rifle or tank, is, theoretically, designed specifically to prevail in contest with another device of similar type. They are not designed outside of the scope of battle - whereas nuclear and biogenic weapons are optimized for maximum destruction, and historically, have been deployed specifically for this purpose.

Treating the latter as the former (as games naturally do, as they are generally contests between warriors) is a lie, a dangerous one, and is something to be rightfully upset by.

I feel like a better example way to illustrate his point would be to compare the depiction of nukes in Fallout 76’ to the depiction of disease in Pandemic (Z-Man Games, 2008).

What are the implications of gamifying an unstoppable, incurable disease, with the sole purpose of achieving maximum devastation? Should something so horrifying be in the realm of “fun”?


Hey just a heads up, the author of the article’s name is “Cameron”


Not in the same way as a nuke. You can survive a bullet, it’s even entirely possible to survive a bullet without any significant physical aftermath. A bullet generally once fired just hits one person.

But nuclear weapons don’t just destroy you, they destroy the ground you walk on and turn it into poison. Nuclear weapons destroy entire generations with birth defects. Nuclear weapons can destroy cities in a matter of minutes.

There’s a reason even gun nuts write horror stories about nuclear weapons. It’s a weapon with the very real power to wipe out all human life on the planet.

I get what you’re saying, but the sheer scale of a nuclear weapon makes their gamification about a million times more horrifying, even in cultures where fire arms are fetishized.


I feel like Bethesda painted themselves in a corner just by the mere existence of a PvP multiplayer Fallout. Any version of that game which did not involve player-controlled nukes would be seen (understandably, I think) as a cop-out. I may be mistaken, but I don’t think there’s been a Fallout game yet that didn’t allow the player the opportunity to launch (or at least detonate) a nuclear weapon. Not having them in 76 would be a constant, glaring omission. Still, while we haven’t fully seen them in practice - in all the previews they’ve been intentionally detonated by the demo handler - it’s hard to see how they will be given the same weight they were in the various single-player games. (A quick spoiler for a 20-year-old game - but is my memory correct that Fallout 1 is the only game in the series where you can use a nuke to “win” by destroying The Master’s base?)

I understand that nuclear weapons come with an existential dread that don’t accompany other weapons. Nevertheless, unexploded ordinance - and landmines in particular - cause multiple thousands of casualties each year and, for all intents and purposes, leave land every bit as uninhabitable as nuclear weapons do (in many ways they may be more insidious, as a person may not realize their farm or well has been booby-trapped until it’s too late.)

People are able to suspend their disbelief around the use of mines/mortars/etc. in games in a way they can’t or won’t around nukes. I’m not going to pretend to understand the psychology around that, although I imagine the mushroom cloud has something to do with it.

Full disclosure: I am probably going to play Fallout 76, if for no other reason than I know and love many people in and from West Virginia, and so can’t imagine foregoing my one chance to actually play a game set there. So, maybe I’m just rationalizing to myself that it’s not as bad as Cam and many of the commenters here are taking it. edit: a missing word or two


Ooof. Dumb mistake on my part. Sorry, it was late but I still should have paid more attention.


Even somehow divorcing the idea of nukes being “cool” and “epic”, isn’t half the point of Fallout that the nukes were a result of power that essentially got out of control, and that Vault-Tec made the situation even worse out of pure greed? I get that Bethesda wanted to encourage some sort of PvP incentives, but there has to be another way to contextualize those incentives in this world.


I do actually think there is something to what you’re saying re: mines and weapons of that nature, especially considering that their collective death toll is large and their applications are particularly inhumane; however, I have to note that this highlights maybe the biggest discrepancy between thermonuclear warheads and “standard” munitions.

If the numbers that showed up from a cursory google are true, It would take thousands of individual landmines spread across several years of use to equal the damage and devastation that two nukes did in days. As costly as any weapon can be, the nuke outdoes it by orders of magnitude. And that’s not even including the decades of horror that arrive from countries simply having and testing nukes.

Given that, I don’t think it’s so much a suspension of disbelief as much as it is a scale completely shifted to one side. Even in a culture where war violence can be seen as exciting or fun, the line between mortaring a base in a game like MGSV and launching a nuke is still pretty thick.

Is there room for depicting the former in a way that is more accurate to the tragedies that occur in real-life? Absolutely. With nukes, however, anything less than “instantaneous and large-scale annihilation” stretches the truth, and I think many fear that, especially in 2018, forgoing that impact could result in tactless opinions of what is quite possibly humanity’s only production that could end us all within a few bad decisions.


I agree with this also.

I can understand the difference being not as relevant in the context of a video game though. Plenty of people will only see it in those terms and “activate limited bomb thing = every enemy on the screen dies” is as old as video games are. So it’s easy to see why someone would see the nuke usage in 76 as just a cool cosmetic difference rather than a thematic one or one that shows a total course change for the series.

I never actually played Fallout 4 though, it was one of those games I figured I’d get when it got cheap but just never got around to it. New Vegas was the real Fallout 3 to me so after playing that (and even that game had some issues) I wasn’t too confident in what Bethesda could do on its own again.

76, I’ve seen some people talk about playing it not to its full multiplayer potential favorably since it becomes an emptier King’s Field/Breath of the Wild sort of game, which honestly something I’d enjoy way more than any kind of only multiplayer.


If I’m reading the articles about it correctly, the effect of the nuke on the map is temporary and after some period of time it’ll revert to normal. I guess it’d be hard to have an MMO otherwise, but that seems particularly silly. The idea that you’re doing this in order to loot the irradiated crater afterward is also pretty gross and kind of starts to sound like the popular conception of the neutron bomb. It’s probably too charitable to imagine this mechanic as anything making a statement on actual nukes, though. These nukes are Fallout nukes, not real ones.


Off topic kinda but I’m writing an essay on nuclear weapons at the moment and damn does that introduction paragraph put mine to shame.