Exploring the apocalypse has become something of a staple in the video game industry. There are a few major players in the space that end up dominating most conversations about the genre: Fallout and Wasteland. The two series are actually closely intertwined despite seeming to be very different entities.
The Fallout series actually owes much to Wasteland, thanks to developer Interplay's decision to take its canceled role-playing game Meantime (for the Apple II) and Commodore 64 and turn it into a new project. Much of what was scrapped from Meantime actually became the basis on which the Fallout series was built. The two series continued on, however, and though they sprang from the same digital loins, they continued down two wildly different paths.
On one hand, Fallout grew into the more "serious,” hardened open-world adventure of the two over the years as new studios took over development and priorities changed. Interplay eventually parted ways with Fallout as it entered the hands of Bethesda Softworks, and Wasteland continued.
But the pair remain integral as games that turn players loose in exploring the apocalypse. There's room for them to co-exist, but is there a clear winner, after all? We're taking a look at that question now.
Fallout vs. Wasteland: The newest entries
We can start by comparing the two series' latest entries, Fallout 76 and Wasteland 3. Fallout 76 has had what many will call a troubled history. Ever since it debuted with the admirable goal of serving up an MMO version of the RPG series with no NPCs and an always-online story path, it's been plagued with issues that never really seemed to befall "normal" Fallout titles.
Set in an open world as a prequel to all of the Fallout games that came before, it takes place 25 years after the Great War, welcoming ex-Vault 76 residents into the world and tasking them with venturing through Appalachia to repopulate the Wasteland. While there are hints of humor throughout, the tone is mostly serious -- this is the beginning of Fallout proper, and as such, should set the stage. There's plenty of talk about the war that brought this nuclear apocalypse about, as well as opportunities to get to know Vault-Tec in its infancy. Unfortunately, despite its intriguing premise, the game has done little to endear itself to fans.
Wasteland 3 is a worthy revival for the series, throwing players into a meaty system that offers character creation, recruitable characters, and a wide variety of weapons, skills, and branching dialogue choices. You explore the frozen wastes of Colorado, following a group called the Ranger Squad as they work to bring the king-like figure, the Patriarch and his three lost children. Of course, the children aren't innocent little lambs, and the Patriarch is a bit of a garbage person – you probably could have guessed that. The choice is yours along the way: walk the straight and narrow or fire off lie after lie?
Across an adventure rife with pigs wearing makeup, giant robotic Ronald Reagan statues, robots with speech impediments, and singing noodle vendors (all fully-voiced) you can shoot, sneak, or talk your way out of every situation you come across. Humor is king, and there's always a laugh right around the corner, be it a prisoner who has clearly gone mad describing how bugs on the wall taste or an acolyte who follows the "Gipper" himself.
You can shoot first and ask questions later, but you won't want to when the dialogue in Wasteland 3 is so hilarious and twisted. You never know quite what you're going to see or hear next, from rockabilly renditions of the "Green Acres" theme to the national anthem with a country twang. There's time to laugh, and there's time to wipe away some tears and laugh some more.
Fallout vs. Wasteland: Overall quality
The Fallout series is one of the most widely-recognized out of the current crop of franchises. Show someone a Vault Boy with his grinning face and they'll know what it's from immediately. Mention Wasteland, however, and that spark of recognition fizzles out. It's not because there's one clear-cut winner over the other.
It's because Fallout has a brand and sticking power, as well as major cinematic moments and memorable content that we've cherished over the years. While Wasteland has offered much of the same, it hasn't always had the same kind of backing as Fallout, so it hasn’t reached the same wide audience.
Who can forget making huge decisions in Fallout regarding what to do with a live nuke? Who remembers scrambling to save your family and child at the beginning of Fallout 4 when Vault-Tec comes to call? These are pivotal moments and characters in Fallout that gamers came together for and discussed time and time again.
That's not to say that Wasteland hasn't achieved the same longevity. There are several intriguing personalities within the world, and scenes just like that of Fallout will cement themselves in your memory and not let go. However, in terms of the overall narrative, characters, and crafted storylines, Fallout wins.
Fallout vs. Wasteland: Tone
The Fallout series is no stranger to humor, but it's vastly different from the games it spun off from. As it moved away from isometric, point-and-click gameplay for more of a first-person vibe over the years, it's also opted for more dramatic storytelling and grotesque combat with horror elements. It's flashier and home to bigger worlds with iconic style, but you'll be guffawing far less after emerging from a Vault. Keep in mind, however, that you’ll also be working to forget the bleak reality: you’re doing your best to go on living after a cataclysmic event. It’s hard to want to laugh after that, after all.
Wasteland is rife with joke after joke, and the silliness rarely stops, except for a few moments where there's an important decision to consider here and there. But it's largely a franchise based on the ridiculousness of each situation. Imagine facing off against a giant robotic president's brain in a jar. Perhaps you couldn't even fathom exploding pigs running toward you with a full face of makeup. Wasteland is all about combining humor with the grotesque, and in doing so, it gives you a unique sense of foreboding as if the end of the world were truly here.
Though being serious is certainly appreciated in the face of nuclear war and its ramifications, it’s much easier to want to push through hours of gameplay when you can kick back and laugh a bit about your predicament. In this, Wasteland takes the cake because it’s so much more engaging when you can wear a smile on your face throughout all the carnage.
Fallout vs. Wasteland: Gameplay
Fallout may have begun life as an isometric RPG, but it has ended up changing significantly over the years. From humble beginnings that included point-and-click movement across a grid-like field to an all-out set of 3D environments, it has metamorphosed into a completely different type of game over time, one that has only continued to evolve to color the type of game it’s grown into. Much of your time is spent traversing the wide wasteland, grabbing supplies and items, scavenging for crafting parts, and destroying enemies that pop up.
This can range from mutated monsters to ghouls and everything in between -- down to radroaches. Combat is relegated to the VATS system, where you can aim at a series of different parts of your enemies, and you’ll connect with them depending on the percentage that pops based on where you’re shooting, where you’re located, and what kind of weapon you’re using. Scattered between these encounters are periods where you choose certain dialogue options and move the story along, peppered with cut scenes.
Wasteland is a much different affair and has remained largely the same over the years, though it’s gotten more cinematic as well. Both exploration and combat take place across the same grid. Exploration is done in a top-down manner, as are conversations and important, pivotal plot moments. You’ve got a good idea as to where you want to take the fight in terms of cover and other aspects with this type of gameplay. There are still branching conversational paths, and cutscenes as well as important reveals, but you’ll mostly be dealing with top-down navigation instead of first-person.
Although Wasteland is a direct offshoot of Fallout and brings plenty of inventive additions, in the end, Fallout is the most engaging entry of the nuclear apocalypse video game genre. From recognizable characters and situations to all-encompassing first-person views, a somber tone with occasional jokes thrown in for good measure, and the almighty Vault Boy, it’s clear Fallout is the game more will gravitate to, at least for the time being.
The two games couldn't be more different, and it’s easier than ever to see how these siblings have emerged over the years, thanks to their decidedly different “upbringings” with other developers. Wasteland 3 proves less of a firm hand under Bethesda has meant more freedom to explore creativity and humor, while Fallout has edged closer to the “blockbuster wannabe” category, even opting to explore MMO-like mechanics with Fallout 76.
Fallout still ends up winning this face-off thanks to an accomplished and storied background -- though you certainly shouldn’t sleep on Wasteland, either.