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Can a Fallout TV Series Even Work?

While technically old news, Amazon is bankrolling a Fallout TV series. The newer news is that it starts filming this year. The guy behind Westworld is doing the first episode, and… well, if say much more, this paragraph will be longer than the original article.

Fallout is one of my favorite gaming franchises of all time. I have played all the major releases, including less popular ones like Brotherhood of Steel and, ahem, Fallout 76. It really wasn’t until the release of Fallout 3 before I realized that that was the sort of experience I had been waiting my entire life for: post-apocalyptic hoarding simulator. I didn’t need to have a quest to be motivated to explore a cave – the possibility of extra duct tape and aluminum cans was enough. And chasing that similar sense of satisfaction fueled my drive into and through practically every survival game that has been released.

I have zero clue how in the world they will translate Fallout to the TV screen.

Some people have mentioned that Fallout might be well-positioned to capitalize on the cultural zeitgeist of the day, e.g. the dangers of unrestrained jingoism. But that actually seems more like a problem: it’s going to seem too on-the-nose despite the source material always having those elements of dark irony. Vault-Tec running unethical experiments on their customers doesn’t quite cut the same way when we have Facebook and other social media doing similar things in the real world.

This is to say nothing on what sort of tone they will go for. I could easily see a Fallout TV ending up more of a slapstick apocalypse romp, with Bottlecap mines, Fat Man launchers, and Stimpaks magically healing broken limbs. Or I could see them trying to leverage more of the darker side of the series, Father in the Cave and similar tragic pathos. But in the latter case… where does the Nuka-Cola, caps as currency, Pip-Boys and the like come in? Super Mutants and Mr. Handy? If you aren’t including that sort of thing, I’m not sure what the point of it is being branded Fallout.

I just don’t see it. The world of Fallout could support little mini-arcs World War Z-style (the book), but an overarching narrative? Or even following the events of one of the games? New Vegas probably has the most coherent plot and story beats, especially if they include some of the DLCs. Well, maybe not the one where your brains are scooped out and you end up getting a teleportation device. Fallout 4 is a more modern tale, especially with the notion of synths and the philosophical questions surrounding them… but also prominently features teleportation by the end. It works in game form, but I don’t see it getting a pass on the screen.

God, I just imagined the first time they bring up a VATS-like effect and aim a Railway Rifle round at someone’s eyeball. There’s no way this doesn’t end up being goofy nonsense. Which I guess will be on brand, but nevertheless feels like the worst of all possible worlds. Which… is also on brand.

Impression: Magic: Legends

It’s bad.

Syp is giving Cryptic some additional grace, but the open beta for Magic: Legends is perhaps the worst open beta for a game I have played. Sure, there are objectively worse ones out there, but the first impression missed so hard that it’s flying off into space.

What is Magic: Legends (M:L)? Once upon a time, it was supposedly going to be an MMO based in the Magic: the Gathering universe. Instead, we’re getting an isometric ARPG in the literal vein of Diablo. Which… is not the worst thing in the world. I have played all games in the Diablo franchise, along with Torchlight 1 & 2, and dabbled in Path of Exile. Do UnderMine and Children of Morta count? I don’t do any legendary-grinding in these games, but am otherwise fully onboard with the general gameplay.

At first blush, M:L looks just like those games. A lot of mouse clicking to move around and attack, some special abilities, extremely gorgeous backgrounds, and so on. I can forgive the 20 FPS given that it is beta – something is clearly not optimized – but there are two things that kills the experience.

First, there is no loot. At least, there hasn’t been after 2+ hours of play. There are artifact slots and such, so that I know these things exist somewhere, but items and gear do not drop from enemies normally. Sometimes there is gold, most times there is nothing. I do not need a full set of gear from every mob, but I have no real idea what the moment-to-moment motivation for the game is supposed to be without that dopamine hit, or chance thereof.

This is especially problematic given the second issue: the gameplay isn’t fun. Characters have three baseline abilities based on their class. All other abilities are tied to “cards” that you slot into your “deck,” like in traditional Magic. And just like in traditional Magic, what cards you draw are random. Using an ability causes it to both go on cooldown and be shuffled back into the deck and new ability replace it.

So… chew on that a minute. You are playing Diablo 3 or Path of Exile or whatever, and each time you use an ability, it disappears from your bar and is replaced by something else entirely. You are then stuck with those abilities until you use them on something else, or perhaps just cast it on the ground. Oh, and you are also limited by your mana meter, so it’s not like you can rapidly cycle through abilities either. Do that over and over, clearing an entire map, and enjoy the 500g and zero items you receive. Then go spend that currency buying booster packs of random abilities to slot into your deck. Whee!

I kinda get what devs might be going for here. Having dead abilities is a natural consequence of deck building; presumably you would want a deck with a lot of AoE cards if you’re farming, then swap out for more single-target abilities for bosses. Things might get better once you unlock more than two ability slots too. And by going straight for currency farming at the beginning, there is no bait-and-switch that happens to the average player once they hit the endgame.

At the same time, it feels like a colossal disaster in progress. Pushing buttons isn’t fun, the loot isn’t fun, and the monetization strategy isn’t fun. How much can realistically change in Open beta? If the answer isn’t “the whole damn thing” then Cryptic is in trouble.