Fallout Review – A very S.P.E.C.I.A.L. adaptation

Reviewed on April 10, 2024

After over 4 years since its announcement, Amazon Prime Video’s live-action TV series based on Bethesda’s beloved Fallout video game franchise has finally arrived. Pleasantly, the show (which I’m going to address as Fallout (2024) to hopefully reduce confusion) absolutely does justice to the famous brand, using the new medium to tell an engaging (if occasionally derivative) story and explore new aspects of the setting that the games never could. While the series definitely benefits from an existing investment in the games’ lore and setting, it never relies on it, and makes for an enjoyably intense, funny and occasionally very gorey romp through Fallout’s wastelands that should appeal to newcomers and fans alike.

Set over 200 years following a nuclear holocaust that has reduced America to an irradiated wasteland, the series initially follows a vault dweller called Lucy MacLean (portrayed by Ella Purnell in an endearing performance miles removed from her intense voice-acting role as Jinx in Netflix’s Arcane). Lucy has grown up in Vault 33, an underground sanctuary where a small community of humans has been living in safety from the radioactive threats from above since the bombs fell. Following an external threat, Lucy decides to leave her sheltered life within Vault 33 and venture out into the wasteland on a rescue mission. Throughout her quest, she encounters a plucky member of the Brotherhood of Steel, Maximus (played by Aaron Moten), as well as an enigmatic gunslinging Ghoul (played by Walton Goggins).

I found Lucy to be a really fun protagonist; her infectious, wholesome naivety made for a funny and often dramatic contrast with the weathered cynicism of the surface dwellers that she comes across. Furthermore, the various trials that she encounters which threaten to corrupt her steadfast morals played nicely as an analogue to the many moral choices players are faced with in the games.

Ella Purnell in particular has excellent chemistry with the other main leads with whom she spends most of her screentime. Her many back-and-forths about morality with Goggins’ surly Ghoul were a particular standout. Many members of the supporting cast, such as Chris Parnell, Leslie Uggams and Matt Berry, were also a delight.

While, according to Todd Howard, Fallout (2024) doesn’t follow the plots of any specific game in the series (and is intended to be canon to the games’ universe and take place alongside them), the show’s plot takes more than a few cues from one specific entry in the franchise (although I’ll obscure which one to avoid unnecessary spoilers). This isn’t necessarily a problem and is particularly unlikely to be of any consequence to newcomers to the franchise. However, it does somewhat contradict Todd’s comments on how the series is supposed to complement the games’ storylines and may cause fans to see some of the twists coming a mile away.

One of the show’s main strengths is an aspect that HBO’s The Last of Us adaptation also succeeded with, which was exploring elements of the setting that the games’ formats simply couldn’t. With the games typically hurrying the player out of the vault as soon as possible (if they feature a vault in the first place) and taking place long after the world has gone to Hell, the series uses its multiple protagonists and numerous flashback sequences to really flesh out the world and lore. It was particularly compelling to get an extended experience of Fallout’s weird “The Jetsons”-esque 1950s sci-fi universe set before the bombs dropped, as well as an exploration of society in Vault 33 via an ongoing subplot featuring Lucy’s brother Norm while she is on her quest.

In terms of nailing the tone and iconography of the games, Fallout (2024) accomplishes it in spades. Possibly a consequence of Fallout 3 and 4 director Todd Howard’s presence as an Executive Producer on the series, the TV show hems closely to the franchise’s iconic outfits and set design, with each jumpsuit, T60 Power Armour and Pip-Boy feeling ripped straight from the games. Nearly all of the locations feel, if not directly taken from the games, then at least strongly inspired by them, with the town of Filly and Vault 33 feeling intricate and detailed enough to be true to the sorts of places you would have delved through as the Lone Wanderer in Fallout 3.

I hope you love classic tunes, as Fallout (2024) is chock full of golden oldies by artists such as Johnny Cash and The Ink Spots to punctuate both the action and dramatic scenes, as well as strongly evoking the games’ retro soundtrack. Ramid Djawadi’s actual score for the show is no slouch either, adapting many iconic tracks from the games.

“The action also nails Fallout’s trademark over-the-top gore and black comedy, with exploding heads and limbs galore.”

The action also nails Fallout’s trademark over-the-top gore and black comedy, with exploding heads and limbs galore. The mix of practical effects and CGI to bring the franchise’s iconic ghouls to life (Walton Goggins’ character in particular) is also very well done. The show is probably not for the more squeamish viewer, but for those concerned that the jump to live-action would necessitate toning down the visuals, you needn’t have worried.

If there is a complaint to be made, the pacing can feel somewhat slow at times. Despite only 8 episodes and a fairly brisk runtime per episode after the pilot, the need to squeeze in so many plotlines and flashbacks results in many of those plotlines, particularly Norm’s, taking several episodes for anything meaningful to happen. It also feels somewhat limited in scope, probably to ease in viewers less familiar with Fallout’s lore and to keep the cast list relatively lean. The show doesn’t have a particularly large number of different factions to keep track of. This at least makes the plot fairly easy to follow, but fans of the games’ often large numbers of competing factions with their own convoluted agendas may find Fallout (2024)’s depiction of the Wasteland feeling kind of small and underpopulated by comparison.

Despite these minor issues, Fallout (2024) overall is another very satisfying adaptation of a video game to a live-action medium. Due to its more low-brow and high-concept premise, I’m not necessarily expecting it to reach the kind of Emmy acclaim that HBO’s The Last of Us adaptation achieved, but it hits a nice middle ground of being quite approachable for newcomers while providing enough lore and iconic elements to draw in longtime fans. This first season sets a strong foundation, and I am certainly looking forward to where the show might go next.

All episodes of the first season of Fallout (2024) are now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.