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The Fallout TV show treads the best path a video game adaptation can take

What did I do after I rolled the credits on this show? I installed Fallout 4 and New Vegas. Enough said?

A split image; the lone wanderer and dog from Fallout 4 on the left, and the scientist and dog from Fallout TV series on the right.
Image credit: VG247/Bethesda

Video game adaptations are now, officially, big business. It’s been hit-or-miss for years, to be fair - for every Detective Pikachu there’s an Assassin’s Creed, just as in the 90s Mortal Kombat and Super Mario Bros released practically side-by-side.

But the ratio of good-to-bad is shifting; more and more creative houses ‘get it’, and are treating gaming properties with the respect they so richly deserve. It’s a good time to be a fan of video games who is also interested in seeing their favorite characters and worlds replicated in other mediums.

Let’s cut to the chase. The Fallout TV show is really rather good. It does the two things that it needs to do incredibly well; be satisfying to fans of the games with knowledge of Fallout’s world and lore, and stands alone perfectly well as its own self-enclosed story - a perfect first introduction for Fallout fans.

Much of this strength is solidified in Fallout’s very foundations. Each Fallout story takes place in the same universe - but its fractured, ruined world and broad timeline means that rarely do any two stories interact.

This suits the show: rather than a re-tread of a story we’ve seen like The Last of Us or a new take on the franchise lore like Resident Evil, Fallout’s TV show takes place in the same world as the games. Events of the games - especially the too often forgotten first two - are referenced quite a few times. At the same time, however, this is an entirely stand-alone story, just as Fallout 4 stands completely separate from Fallout 3, which stands apart from New Vegas, and so on.

The ghoul in the Fallout TV Show.
Keeping your nose clean, huh? | Image credit: VG247/Bethesda/Amazon

The show basically revolves around a trio of protagonists, thus sort of splitting the difference between the different character archetypes we might role-play in the games. Lucy (Ella Purnell, best known for her stunning Yellowjackets performance) takes the classic protagonist route – a native vault-dweller who is spurred to leave that underground haven to discover the truth of the world. She’s naive and sweet, unaware of the broken nature of the people and world above.

But, so too is Maximus (Aaron Clifton Moten), a squire of the recurring Brotherhood of Steel ‘faction’. The Brotherhood has a narrow world view, and so too does Maximus. Lucy is oblivious to the ferocity of the world, but her entire vault-dwelling life has been geared towards preparing her to fight to repopulate the world - literally and metaphorically both. Meanwhile, Maximus was forged by the irradiated wasteland, knowing that nobody can be trusted - but he was also raised among such militaristic religious fervor that he doesn’t know how sex works. You can see how this pair would interact; it’s fun.

The third protagonist is The Ghoul (Walton Goggins), a gunslinging bounty hunter that actually was around before the bombs dropped. His story both before and after the war is explored gradually as the series unfolds, revealing how a kindly and charming Hollywood star and family man can be turned into a monster - and perhaps return from the brink. Along the way, fans might even learn a revelation or two about Vault-Tec, and some new truths about the Fallout world at large.

Ella Purnell as Lucy in Amazon's Fallout TV series.
Bunker down. | Image credit: VG247/Vanity Fair/Amazon

Anyway, the point is this: these three are a joy. Ultimately, it all also feels surprisingly authentic to the texture and timbre of the games. The trio’s stories criss-cross and eventually converge in a way that feels reminiscent of the tumbling nature of each game’s factional quest lines, for instance.

As characters, they feel like they’d easily belong in the games, while also stepping beyond the ‘sketches’ that video game characters often are, granted a more human dimension by writing and portrayals alike. Lucy’s sweet naivety and attempts to resolve everything amicably, only to be moved to violence, feels quite honest to the dialogue and head-popping nature of the Fallout games.

The Fallout series creators and writers deserve a great deal of credit - as does Todd Howard and the Bethesda team involved in helping to shepard the show to their screens. They’ve accomplished something rare - a show that is going to be rewarding for newcomers and fans of the game alike, but in different ways.

Lucy in Amazon's Fallout TV Show.
You can't argue with the production design. | Image credit: VG247/Amazon

I sat and watched this with my wife, who basically doesn’t play video games and has never touched a Fallout game in her life. She enjoyed this as a stand-alone TV show.

“It’s a bit weird and quirky, but it’s good,” she mused after the first two episodes, which is a pretty glowing review from someone who generally doesn’t watch science fiction of any description. I came at it from a different angle – a little bit of ‘there’s a thing I recognize’ joy, sure, but mostly I was fascinated in seeing a world I know and enjoy from a whole new perspective.

As a gamer, there’s something particularly exciting, I think, about stuff like this being canon to the games. While I doubt this show will be ‘required reading’ for Fallout 5, it’s clear that events depicted in this game will be important to the series’ future in some ways - and even those events not important add wonderful new color to the Fallout universe.

I dare say that the show will make some new players out of people who fall in love with it, too - which should always be a key secondary aim of such a spin-off. The primary aim, however, should be to make something that is just good in its own right. Tick, Tick. Fallout’s done it. In fact, the only bit of it that isn’t entirely self-enclosed is the story the show spins up - plenty of road is left for another season, with the final shot of the show something that’ll make some in the fanbase achieve an excitement level on par with nuclear fission.

Perhaps the best thing I can say, in conclusion, is this: there’s a lot of good games out right now. I’m nursing a Balatro addiction. I need to mop up the last few trophies in Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth. I want to enjoy a full Dragon’s Dogma 2 play-through without the pressure of a looming review deadline.

But what did I do after I rolled the credits on this show? Well, I installed Fallout 4 and New Vegas. That should tell you a lot. It’s a must-watch.

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