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‘Fallout’ series review: The vault is open, and all are welcome

Carljoe Javier

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‘Fallout’ series review: The vault is open, and all are welcome

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It's a fresh and exciting must-watch adaptation that both fans of the video game franchise and those that didn't play the game will enjoy

MANILA, Philippines – Amazon’s Fallout, an adaptation of a juggernaut video gaming franchise, is going to be another of this year’s must-watch series.

I was thinking that it might be entering a space that feels saturated. For fans of the game, this is something they wouldn’t think twice about watching. But for non-gamers or those who haven’t played it, it does play in fairly familiar ground. And yet, it gets so much right and makes a lot of it feel fresh and exciting.

As of this writing, I’ve only seen the first two episodes, but those were enough to sell me on watching through all eight.

Treading familiar ground and adding touches and tropes is par of the course for video games. But there’s an experience and game loop that keep players engaged, and very rarely do these game loops translate to a viewing experience like film (although I might be totally wrong here, given the amount of time some people spend watching game streams, but I think that’s a different aesthetic from film/TV viewing). I think that’s why despite some recent successful video game adaptations — The Last of Us is top of mind — it’s easy to remember a time when they were patently awful to mid in quality.

Complex and charming

Fallout as a standout game that mixes traditional RPG elements with shoot-and-loot gameplay and a tremendous lore, means that it has a lot of base ingredients for its team, led by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, to work from. What I worried about was that it enters a space that has to have been exciting 10-15 years ago, but on paper is starting to feel tired. Do we really need another post-apocalyptic sci-fi series? Do we need a show about the remnants of humanity trying to survive in a dire landscape? Do we need more violent wasteland narratives punctuated by need drops?

Well, Fallout show us that when it’s all done at such a high quality, yes – we could use more if it’s this good.

One of the charming elements, which creates a wonderful dissonance, in the games, is the branding around the vaults, this art deco retro-futurist aesthetic found in the vaults. Its bright colors and naive touches are a perfect counterpoint to the nuclear wasteland of the world that surrounds it. The series leans into these dissonances, forcing together not just the design aesthetics, but the existence of conflicting philosophies of the world, represented by groups of people that include descendants of those who survived on the surface, the Brotherhood of Steel, and the Vault Dwellers.

This is all to say that there’s some real complexity to how the world is presented. Of course there’s lore from more games and spin-offs than you can count on your hand. But what’s also great is you don’t need to know any of that lore at all. If you played the game, you will be happy with the easter eggs, with the various elements that are clear nods to the source material. If you didn’t play the game, it doesn’t matter.

The first two episodes shift between three POV dwellers, with each perspective providing a unique outlook to the world of Fallout. We get Ella Purnell’s Vault Dweller, Lucy; Aaron Moten’s Maximus who is an aspirant in The Brotherhood of Steel; and Walton Goggins’s The Ghoul, who is a mutant used to the brutality of the surface. Great casting on these three, especially with Purnell’s big eyes and ability to portray innocence and naïveté, contrasted against Goggins who has throughout his career played rogues, rakes and ghouls of some fashion. Moten’s no slouch either, conveying a complexity to what could easily be a cliche military trainee narrative.

There’s way more to this series than just people surviving the post-apocalyptic wasteland, but I think giving any more story than the set-up is going to spoil the experience for viewers, especially since all the episodes drop at once.

The thing about Fallout as a game, and something it embraces as a series, is the aforementioned dissonance. It’s dire, but it isn’t all dire. Things are bleak and violent. And yet, because of the survival of the Vaults, and even the detritus from them, there are flashes of color, optimism, and hope. Everything is a mess and the world burned 200 years ago, and yet there are still people making lives and struggling for things, be they survival, beliefs, or even aspirations.

This understanding boosts the series, as it gives us really interesting pieces that work for both character and in world-building. We are fully immersed in a world that, however awful it is, is interesting and something to behold.

One thing I noticed while watching the first two episodes was how tightly packed it all was. When I checked my watch at just over an hour at the end of the first episode, I was really impressed. There had been so much story covered that it felt like I had watched a full-length film. If the series maintains that kind of quality, then this is going to into some really bold and interesting places.

I can tell from these first two episodes I’ll be binge-watching it all when it drops, and I think a lot of people are going to be happy when they do too. –

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