Bethesda director reveals new Fallout 4 connection to first game, making its main character complicit in a war crime [UPDATED]

Fallout 4
(Image credit: Bethesda Game Studios)

What you need to know

  • Update: Emil Pagliarulo has posted a follow-up thread to the original reveal, walking back what was originally said and stating that "not every bit of Fallout info I share is automatically canon." His complete statement can be found below.
  • Bethesda studio design director and Fallout 4 designer and writer Emil Pagliarulo has revealed a new connection between Fallout 4 and Interplay Entertainment's original Fallout game from 1997.
  • Specifically, it's been confirmed that the soldier seen laughing as another executes a prisoner of war in Fallout's opening cutscene is Nate, Fallout 4's male playable character.
  • In that scene, the execution was shown in a US-controlled propaganda news broadcast, in which it was said that "our dedicated boys keep the peace in newly annexed Canada."

Update 4/13/24 @ 2:25 p.m. PT / 5:25 p.m. ET: Bethesda studio design director Emil Pagliarulo has posted a new statement in a thread on X (Twitter) about the new Fallout 4 lore, walking it back and noting that "not every bit of Fallout info I share is automatically canon." Here are his full comments:

"Oof. I wanted to share what I thought was a cool Fallout tidbit without realizing how divisive it might be. I should have. I get dumb when I get excited…and I get excited a lot. Not every bit of Fallout info I share is automatically canon. Nate is NOT a war criminal!

When you're world and character building, you have a LOT of head canon. You're always sorting ideas. Early on, we talked about that being Nate, in that video. He had been through hell as a soldier. Every day was another unknown horror. This was one of them.

So, internally, it was a cool nod to OG Fallout and a way to fictionally frame the character. It wasn't shared with the player because it was never meant to be who YOU think Nate is. For a player, Nate's soldier past is whatever you think it is. THAT is canon."

Original article: All the entries in the Fallout franchise have memorable intros that set the stage for the post-apocalyptic RPG experience their players are about to jump into, but to me, none are as striking as the one from the game that started it all: Interplay Entertainment's 1997 RPG, Fallout. Its opening cutscene begins with the melancholic melody of The Ink Spots' "Maybe" and a short, cheerful ad for Vault-Tec's nuclear bunkers that cuts to an unsettling state-controlled news broadcast in which two power armor-clad US soldiers "keep the peace in newly annexed Canada" by executing a prisoner of war, then laugh and wave at the camera before comically large "BUY WAR BONDS" text flashes and the camera starts to zoom out. Soon, it's revealed that these commercials were playing on a TV from before the "Great War"; and as the last of its power as well as The Ink Spots' notes fades away, the viewer is left with nothing but the harrowing sight of a destroyed city and the eerie sound of the howling wind.

It's a shocking scene that instantly conveys the dark tone and humor of Fallout, as well as its distinctly anti-imperialist and anti-war themes. Now, though, we've learned something new about it: it has a direct connection to Fallout 4, the fourth mainline sequel to the original game released by Bethesda Game Studios in 2015. Specifically, it's been revealed that Fallout 4's male player character, a soldier named Nate, was one of the troops who killed the man in the propaganda broadcast. Bethesda's studio design director and Fallout 4 writer and designer Emil Pagliarulo announced this on Saturday morning amid all the hype for the new Fallout TV show.

"Given the great vibes recently, and the millions of amazing Fallout fans (that's you!) I feel like the time is right to finally share an unknown link between Fallout 1 and Fallout 4," he wrote on X (Twitter), sharing relevant screenshots. "Remember the Fallout 1 opening movie? Annexation of Canada? SAME. GUY. (No, NOT the shooter!)"

This new tidbit of lore explicitly makes Nate complicit to a war crime, and is quite a dark addition to a backstory I always thought of as pretty neutral and morally ambiguous. Fallout 4's intro simply portrays Nate as a soldier afraid of the looming war between the US and China that would eventually engulf the world in nuclear fire — and if you ask me, the fact we didn't know anything more about his character was a good thing since he's the "blank slate" vehicle for our post-apocalyptic roleplaying.

Ultimately, I just don't see the point of this connection. Pagliarulo says that "the TV show perfectly illustrates that inherently good people, especially in the Fallout universe, can do some pretty shitty things to adapt and survive," which is a point I wholeheartedly agree with; what makes me raise an eyebrow is that Nate's laughter indicates he enjoyed the execution he was a part of, and didn't just stand by because he was ordered to. I suppose he could have been commanded to chuckle for the sake of the propaganda, but...meh.

For someone like me who takes the character roleplaying aspect of RPGs pretty seriously, this makes it harder to shape a story for "my Nate" unless I choose to ignore his backstory and pretend he's someone else. And hey, I'm happy to do that — the "Start Me Up" Alternate Start mod has had a permanent spot in my load orders for years — but it's a bit annoying this new connection affects how I perceive the vanilla character. Good thing I usually play as his wife Nora, anyway.

Nate, the playable male character in Fallout 4, speaking with his family's Mr. Handy robot Codsworth. (Image credit: Bethesda Game Studios)

Notably, the surprise drop of this lore came days after the debut of Amazon's Fallout TV show, which has received universal acclaim from fans and critics alike (don't miss our review). Its popularity has led to a Fallout player count resurgence across all the games, and if you've never played them, there's a franchise-wise sale going on you can take advantage of from now until April 21. Fallout 4 is also getting a free next-gen update later in April, so you've got that to look forward to if you're planning to head back to the Commonwealth or step out of Vault 111 into it for the first time.

It's worth noting that every Fallout game other than Fallout 4 VR is also available to play through Xbox Game Pass, which is Microsoft's all-you-can-eat gaming subscription service. Interplay's Fallout, Fallout 2, and Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel are only available on PC and PC Game Pass, while the rest of series is on Xbox and PC and both the console and PC versions of the service; with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, you'll get access to everything on both platforms.

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.