Oh Fallout, what an unfortunate series of events that has befallen you as of late. The series first hit store shelves way back in 1997 to critical and commercial success. Interplay Studios were able to accomplish something truly special with the original Fallout, creating a rich post-apocalyptic universe full of war, turmoil, anger, greed, and violence. Interplay Studios headed the series until the less-than-stellar release of 2004's Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel (not to be confused with Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel.) Unfortunately, Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel was panned by critics and was partially to blame for the shifting of the IP's rights from Interplay Studios to Bethesda in 2006. Under the watchful guise of Bethesda, the Fallout series has hit all-time highs with releases like Fallout 3, and the lowest of the lows with Fallout 76. One thing stayed the same throughout each iteration of the series, however, regardless of who owned it: The Vault-Tec Corporation branded Vaults.
Vault-Tec Corporation is responsible for building the infamous Vaults within the Fallout universe. Over 100 vaults were commissioned in Vault-Tec by the US government, the earliest of which (to our knowledge) was completed in 2031 in West Virginia. These Vaults were designed to be self-sustaining hubs for the continuation of human existence in the event of a devastating nuclear apocalypse. The Vaults were built as a precaution in the face of the Euro-Middle Eastern War after nuclear weapons were utilized in the conflict. On the surface (pun intended) these Vaults seem like a concerned company's innocuous attempt to preserve themselves and humanity at the brink of our extinction. Dig a little bit deeper, however, and the abject horrors of Vault-Tec's underground oases become quickly apparent.
While Vault-Tec may have genuinely wanted to preserve human life after the devastating events of a nuclear war, the real reason for the Vault's existence is far more nefarious. Vault-Tec built their many Vaults to experiment on the humans inhabiting them in all manner of twisted and horrendous ways. In almost all circumstances, the Vault dwellers had no idea what they signed up for when they agreed to spend their post-apocalyptic days in the safety of the vaults, oblivious to the tests and tortures they were being subjected to. On rare occasions, the overseer (the defacto leader of the Vaults) may have been aware of Vault-Tec's true intentions, but often even they were in the dark about what awful conditions their Vault was going through.
The Vaults in Obsidian Entertainment's masterpiece Fallout: New Vegas are no exception. Based in the Mojave Desert, the player character - known colloquially as "The Courier" - will come across six of these abominations in their travels. They are Vault 21, Vault 22, Vault 19, Vault 34, Vault 3, and Vault 11. While all six of these horrors have their own particular brand of terrifying, some definitely are scarier than others.
Vault 21 is the least horrifying and least tragic tale of all the other Vaults in the Mojave. Vault 21 is located right in downtown New Vegas, and the experiment done within the dungeon perfectly encapsulates the spirit of New Vegas itself. Vault-Tec wanted to see how a society running purely off of chance would do for itself. As such, every room in Vault 21 was designed symmetrically, and everyone inside was treated as equals. All disputes were settled by gambling, with the winner dictating what their prize was and how it was implemented.
It was due to this hierarchy that Vault 21 was eventually changed into a hotel/gift shop located on the New Vegas strip. Mr. House (the individual in charge of New Vegas) got in touch with the residents of the Vault, who put it to a vote of whether or not they should open their doors and contact the gambling monarch. After many hours of blackjack, those in favor of opening the Vault to the Wastes won, and the Vault was ultimately filled up with concrete and sealed off, save for a few rooms that are rented out as a tourist attraction for those who come to the city. This once equal society was now a honeypot for the mysterious Mr. House, who profited off the interest in Vault-Tec goods.
Vault 3 is yet another anomaly in the Vaults of the Mojave, as the event that destroyed the vault and its inhabitants didn't happen until 2281, the year in which the Courier finds themselves. Vault-Tec would occasionally create Vaults that would work as advertised - safe havens for inhabitants to live out their lives in relative safety while the radiation-ravaged world outside continued on. These Vaults served as control groups, giving Vault-Tec data to which they could compare their more dubious experiments. Vault 3 was one of these control groups.
Its inhabitants lived in relative ignorance of the devastation outside their walls. Unfortunately, they suffered a water leak, forcing them to send one of theirs out for help. Fate would have it that the individuals they ran into first were the Fiends, bloodthirsty chem addicts hellbent on finding their next fix no matter what. The Fiends, led by the vicious Motor-Runner, raided Vault 3 and massacred the residents down to the last, taking Vault 3 as their new base of operations and sealing its fate, so to speak.
Some Vault-Tec experiments used substances or chemicals to alter the behavior of their inhabitants. Others would demand the residents do insanely brutal and ruthless tasks in order to continue their existence within the Vault's walls. The people responsible for Vault 19 decided to use good ol' fashioned paranoia and tribalism to see their evil machinations come to fruition.
Vault 19 was unique in that it had two separate overseers each in control of two distinct sectors, known as Red and Blue. The ultimate goal of Vault-Tec was to see how easily they could introduce paranoia with non-violent and non-chemical means. Records found on the original inhabitants' terminals tell a tale of strange noises, abnormal drafts of funny-smelling air coming out of the vents above the inhabitant's beds, lights flickering seemingly in code, and multiple accusations of the Vault's doctor poisoning or otherwise drugging them. This was one of the occasions of the overseer(s) knowing exactly what was going on, feeding into the paranoia while reporting back to Vault-Tec.
We don't know exactly what happened to the Vault Dwellers doomed to Vault 19, but when the Courier arrives, the Mojave Powder Gangers have taken over the Vault after finding it abandoned. Whether it was the inhabitants turning on each other, a malfunction in the water system poisoning them, or some other influence such as the deadly fire geckos that call the Vault their home, we'll never know.
Vault-Tec decided to go a different route with Vault 34, centering the Vault's ecosystem around firearms and gun culture. There was a large armory filled to the brim with weapons accessible by the overseer, as well as a significant amount of recreational facilities available for the Vault dwellers to use. These facilities, including a large pool, were created at the expense of living space, making Vault 34 one of the more cramped Vaults as far as personal domiciles were concerned.
Aside from their love of guns, life in Vault 34 proceeded relatively unabated. It went so well, in fact, that overpopulation quickly became a rising concern, as more Vault dwellers started families. The overseer foresaw the overpopulation issue reaching a head, and as such decided to lock off the armory and restrict access from the Vault dwellers themselves. Many dwellers considered this to be an infringement on their right to defend themselves, so a revolution began. During the chaos, a group of Vault dwellers escaped, starting the Mojave Wasteland's Boomer faction. This explains their obsession with firearms and explosives, as well as where they got the training to use the weapons they wield so dangerously.
Due to their escape, the Overseer ordered the Vault's doors be shut permanently, with guards posted around the clock to prevent anyone else from leaving. With the Vault's ever-growing population, things eventually came to a head, and years later the remaining Vault dwellers attempted to overthrow the overseer, and in doing so, damaged the Vault's reactor cooling vents. This not only resulted in dangerous amounts of radiation leaking into the Vault, but may have caused the main exit to become sealed shut, trapping the residents inside.
Over time, the dwellers succumbed to the radiation, transforming into feral ghouls. This includes the overseer, now ghoulified, who can be found deep within the Vault, still defiantly guarding the controls to the armory.
As the Courier approaches Vault 22, it's immediately clear that something is "off" about the Mojave desert surrounding its entrance. Instead of the usual sand and dirt, there are mounds of greenery encompassing the massive door leading into the mountain. It seems like an oasis in an otherwise desolate wasteland, but as the Courier gets closer, a large sign reading "STAY OUT! The plants kill!" can be seen just before finding the entrance.
Unlike many of the Vaults found throughout the Mojave, Vault 22's entrance is open, the massive Vault door pushed aside by the numerous plants growing out of it. The Vault is overrun with plant life - countless plots of greenery grow out of every locker and computer desk throughout each hallway. "The plants kill" can be taken quite literally, as massive poisonous Venus fly traps can be found throughout Vault 22, coming to life when the Courier approaches. These spore plants will either try to take a bite of the Courier or spit their poisonous spores at them, neither of which are ideal scenarios.
In true Last of Us fashion, Vault 22's downfall was a fungal infection. Beauveria mordicana was originally designed as a pest control agent, originally designed in the Big MT research facility as shown in the Old World Blues DLC. Despite its intended use, the pesticide was more than capable of infecting humans, resulting in the disaster that was Vault 22.
The real horrors, however, come from the Spore Carriers. The previous Vault Dwellers who inhaled these fungal spores have become twisted abominations, their bodies mutated into a disturbing combination of human and horticulture. They are mindless and endlessly aggressive, attacking anyone and anything other than the Giant Mantises that share their dwelling with them. They respond to anyone brave enough to travel the Vault's hallowed halls with ultimate violence, and can only be stopped by force. Every bit of humanity seems to have disappeared from them, replaced only with an endless need to spread the spores and infect more organisms to become like them.
Eventually the Vault was abandoned, with the dwellers who escaped resorting to deplorable tactics such as slavery and cannibalism to survive out in the unforgiving wastes.
Vault-Tec didn't create any monstrosities in Vault 11 using nefarious pseudo-scientific experimentation. They didn't use chemicals or other substances to drug the inhabitants into submission. They didn't even use tribal manipulation to pit the dwellers against each other in a brutal civil war. All Vault-Tec did was tell the original overseer that each year one dweller must be sacrificed. That was subsequently enough to spiral Vault 11 into disastrous violence.
As the Courier makes their way into the entrance of Vault 11, they will find four corpses strewn about the entrance, along with a few audio logs to explain the final moments of the Vault's inhabitants. These audio logs explain that the five remaining members of the Vault think they deserve to die for what they did while inside the Vault, and all but one is in agreement that their life should end to make up for the atrocities committed within the Vault's walls. There's a disagreement, followed by four gunshots, and an exasperated sigh.
Audio and text logs found throughout Vault 11 piece together what horrible acts transpired that drove those four individuals to end their own lives. Plastered on the walls are dozens of propaganda posters referencing the upcoming election for overseer. Except something is off - these posters are explaining all of the awful things these candidates have done, instead of the boisterously positive reasons why they would make a good leader. This is because the punishment for the first overseer refusing to inform the populace of the decision to sacrifice one of their numbers is that the overseer himself was the first one to be chosen to be sacrificed. Afterwards, the Vault dwellers decided that whoever is voted overseer is the one who will be a lamb to the slaughter.
This led to the immediate rise of pseudo-political powers, known as voting blocs. These voting blocks sought to influence the nominations in their favor and to get rid of those who opposed them by democratic election. These political powers led to horrible practices like blackmail and sexual coercion to dictate elections.
The final overseer, a woman who had been sexually abused at the hands of the most powerful bloc's owner, systematically murdered those responsible for her and her husband's misery. Her justifiably odious actions got her the election she desperately desired, and her first act as overseer was to dictate that the following sacrifices would be chosen via the Vault's computer system at random. Sensing their vacuum closing, the most powerful voter bloc staged an armed coup that resulted in the death of nearly all the inhabitants of the Vault.
The kicker? All of this could have been avoided. The experiment Vault-Tec was running wasn't to see whether or not the inhabitants would sacrifice their neighbors, but rather how long it would take for the inhabitants to choose not to sacrifice one of their own. The individuals found dead at the entrance were the last of the Vault's inhabitants. They had to decide to die by suicide, choosing to not sacrifice anyone instead of playing into Vault-Tec's game. In abstaining from the sacrifice, they were rewarded with the freedom to leave the Vault at any time and were congratulated for their selfless actions.
Vault-Tec didn't care how many cows were led to the slaughter if it meant figuring out the social habits of those who called their Vaults home. They truly are one of the most ruthless companies in video game history, and the glittering streets of New Vegas did little to absolve the inhabitants of Nevada from Vault-Tec's atrocities. The worst part is that the company's ventures were all for not - Vault-Tec was dissolved after the war, with the bigwigs being absorbed into the ever-growing Enclave. It requires a shockingly sadistic organization to take advantage of those so desperate for safety at the end of the world, and Vault-Tec is nothing if not genuinely and truly evil.
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