With 'Fallout First,' Fallout has lived long enough to become the villain

Fallout 76
Fallout 76 (Image credit: Bethesda Game Studios)

When it comes to video games that have overt political commentary, Fallout is a franchise that often comes to the top of our minds. With its satirical depictions of capitalist ideologies, its unnerving stories of corporations exploiting customers, and its harrowing depiction of a nuclear apocalypse birthed by a war over resources, Fallout has been cautioning against rampant consumerism since its inception.

Yet, it seems that Bethesda, the franchise's current developer and publisher, either doesn't understand this core theme or simply doesn't care. With its announcement of 'Fallout First', a subscription-based membership for Fallout 76 that has negligible benefits and an absurdly high price, it has become abundantly clear what Bethesda's goal is. Like the many capitalistic masterminds that existed before Fallout's Great War, Bethesda seeks to squeeze every last cent out of its consumer base.

The core of Fallout

A nuclear bomb explosion from Fallout 4's prologue cutscene.

A nuclear bomb explosion from Fallout 4's prologue cutscene. (Image credit: Bethesda Game Studios)

The cautionary attitude towards consumerism is a core part of Fallout's DNA.

Throughout the various Fallout titles over the years, one of the strongest and most recurring themes in their narratives is the idea that unrestrained, uncontrolled capitalism will inevitably lead to a collapse of society. If consumption becomes our civilization's core facet, Fallout argues, then we will endlessly consume, with little regard to the consequences. Values beyond profit will disappear; people are no longer people, but rather are exploitable consumers. This capitalistic grind will continue until there's nothing left to consume, at which point we will go to war with each other over what remains. What follows will be a broken, ugly skeleton of what we once had, scorched by the flames of nuclear bombs. And we'll likely keep making the same mistake, even after nearly blasting ourselves to extinction.

It's undeniable that this cautionary attitude toward consumerism is a massive part of the franchise's DNA, especially when you consider the existence of unethical characters like Fallout 3's Allistair Tenpenny, who tasks the player with blowing up a town, so people live at his luxury hotel instead. Bethesda, though, has ironically gone forward with decisions in real life that contradict the very message that the Fallout games contain.

The irony is almost too rich for words

The Vault Boy, once a parody of marketing iconography, has now lost all meaning.

The Vault Boy, once a parody of marketing iconography, has now lost all meaning. (Image credit: Bethesda Game Studios)

The way that Bethesda is attempting to drain the wallets of its consumers with high pricing and underwhelming content with the Fallout First memberships is indicative of its fundamental lack of understanding regarding what makes the Fallout franchise Fallout in the first place. It's the latest in a long line of questionable and controversial monetization systems put in place by the company. In truth, Bethesda has had everyone's eyebrows raised ever since it implemented the "paid mods" Creation Club system in Fallout 4 and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Player concerns only continued to worsen over time as Fallout 76 ended up having a full-blown microtransaction store, complete with pay-to-win elements added down the line.

It's impossible not to think about the ironic relarionship between Bethesda's greedy monetization scandals and the fact that the core thesis of Fallout itself is a condemnation of manipulative capitalistic behaviors. We're not going to start the Great War over the Fallout First subscriptions, true. But even so, the attitude behind it — treating customers poorly and trying to get them hooked on purchasing everything in sight — is very much the same.

The irony of it is almost comical, though also disappointing.

It's difficult not to laugh a little bit when thinking about the situation, given the circumstances. It's fascinating how Fallout, thanks to Bethesda's controversial decisions, has now become what it was warning us about all along. Bethesda has even taken to slapping the Vault Boy iconography onto everything they sell. This is a character which, ironically, is seen as a parody of marketing symbols meant to entice buyers. Now that's literally what Bethesda uses him for. If that doesn't put Bethesda's comical mishandling of the Fallout franchise into perspective, I don't know what does. I do know one thing, though, and that's that if Fallout fans want to work against Bethesda's gross monetization scheming, they should avoid buying a Fallout First subscription. You'd be significantly better off using your money to get The Outer Worlds instead, as its developer Obsidian Entertainment is currently home to many of the minds behind the Fallout games that had meaning.

Brendan Lowry

Brendan Lowry is a Windows Central writer and Oakland University graduate with a burning passion for video games, of which he's been an avid fan since childhood. You'll find him doing reviews, editorials, and general coverage on everything Xbox and PC. Follow him on Twitter.