I'll Never Forgive Fallout 4 For What It Did To Ghouls (2024)

Highlights

  • Fallout 4 lacks the eerie loneliness of its predecessors, turning feral ghouls from terrifying to forgettable enemies that waste ammo.
  • Ghouls in Fallout 4 are no longer scary, with a sanitised appearance that lacks the prejudice and fear present in earlier games.
  • Bethesda's decisions in Fallout 4 reflect a gentrification of the ghoul characters, making them less meaningful and more normalized in society.

I have now revisited all the modern Fallout games following the success of Amazon’s TV show, with the fourth entry last on my list of radioactive journeys into the past. I wrote about how it deserves a second chance just a few weeks ago, and I still stand by that notion, but Fallout 4 doesn’t hold a candle to Fallout 3 or New Vegas. Bethesda made a number of decisions about the future of the series with this game, and not all of them were for the best.

A spoken protagonist, reliance on half-baked building mechanics, and a world that lacks the loneliness and dread of its predecessors left fans with a sour taste in their mouths that is yet to subside. Fallout 4 isn’t a bad game, but it also wasn’t what a lot of us wanted it to be, nor does it advance the Bethesda formula nearly enough to feel like a true step forward. Most of all, though, I hate what it did to my precious ghouls.

Crawling In My (Smooth) Skin

If you aren’t familiar with ghouls, they’re human beings that have either been subject to obscene amounts of radiation, or were in direct contact with atomic bombs as they dropped and lived to tell the tale. While they’re granted extended lifespans, their skin also starts to peel away, and it’s only a matter of time until they turn feral. As a ghoul enters the feral stages, their memories fade, their speech becomes slurred, and they soon resemble nothing more than aggressive zombies. We see this in the TV adaptation as well, which shows us how Cooper Howard has to rely on a continuous stream of drugs to prevent himself from decaying.

Feral ghouls are terrifying creatures in Fallout 3 and New Vegas. I’ll never forget when I first encountered a horde of them in the metro tunnels. You hear them first as horrific screeches echo throughout the winding underground labyrinth, letting you know that they are aware of your presence, and it is only a matter of time until you’ll need to fight. They’re functionally nothing more than walking corpses, so taking them out individually is trivial, but a dozen ghouls biting at your heels is still terrifying. When they’re more powerful or imbued with lethal levels of radiation, these brief fights transform into enduring battles.

Compare these encounters to those in Fallout 4, and the personality is lost. Ghouls are still mindless victims of radiation with a desire to kill, but instead of exaggerated corpses riddled with bleak burns and wrinkles, they’re grey, rag-covered spectres who aren’t nearly as scary.

The game will still throw different variants at you, but whenever I encounter feral ghouls in this game I have to roll my eyes and accept that I’m about to waste loads of ammo on enemies that just aren’t worth it. It’s the same with raiders in the fourth instalment – there is something disappointingly sterile about their visual design that fits too snugly into the more saturated open world.

Fallout Has Only Gone And Gentrified The Ghoul

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Ghouls aren’t scary anymore, and in a universe where they are continually mocked or killed without consequence, that’s a problem. This brings us to the still-conscious ghouls who speak to you throughout the campaign, which are equally sanitised in their appearance.

When I first encountered a ghoul in Fallout 3, I was taken aback. The camera forces you up close and personal with them during dialogue, and each one you encounter still deals with peeling skin, a rotting voice, and a place in this destroyed world where they are doomed to prejudice. Take Gob, a bartender at Moriarty’s Saloon in the Town of Megaton. You are free to call him a disgusting freak when you first meet him, and he’ll recoil in fear as if you’re set to strike him across the face.

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He’s used to being treated like dirt, and even 200 years since the bombs fell, most ghouls are. New Vegas builds on this philosophy, but Fallout 4 doesn’t do nearly enough with it. Maybe ghouls have become more normalised in society, or having a spoken protagonist made Bethesda less willing to dish out death threats to random NPCs.

Like their feral counterparts, regular ghouls also don’t look as gross anymore. They’re clean and presentable, as the Amazon show builds upon this with Walt Goggins’ cowboy that the majority of the fandom is still thirsting over. Ghouls used to be hard to look at, but those with a kind heart could see beyond the aesthetics and get to know the person beneath it all, even as they’d become hardened by centuries of seeing the apocalypse pass them by. Ghouls used to be scary and meaningful in the Fallout universe, and now they just feel like another part of the aesthetic, like Nuka Cola or Mr. Handy. I wish they meant more.

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Fallout 3

Fallout 3 takes place in a ruined area around Washington D.C. two hundred years after the Great War. In a game met with critical acclaim, you must traverse this wasteland looking for your father, while solving the mystery of his disappearance.

I'll Never Forgive Fallout 4 For What It Did To Ghouls (2024)

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