The Future Dreams of the Past (and I dream of a good DLC): Fallout 4’s Vault-Tec Workshop DLC

Major spoilers related to the intentions of Vault-Tec and the Vault-Tec Workshop DLC.

It’s June 2015. Hype is building for the next Fallout game, Fallout 4, the next in an acclaimed series of video games depicting a fictional fractured post-apocalyptic, post-cold war United States where political, religious, pseudo-religious, socioeconomic and even academic factions vie for a place in the supremely desolate fragments of a retrofuturistic 1950s superpower that nonetheless carry the undeniable warmth of the postwar cultural and consumerist phenomenon, complete with derelict diners and rusted suburban idealism.

At the centre of the player’s It’s All Over But the Crying backed post-apocalyptic world is the Vault-Tec Vault. The Vaults are pre-war fallout shelters, designed on the surface to be perfect havens for the last remnants of humanity after the destruction of civilisation. The vast majority of which were in fact, however designed as nefarious social experiments by the military-industrial-congressional complex whose ulterior motives included total dominion over a revitalised post-apocalyptic new world.

Vault 81’s Vault Door (Fallout 4)

When I say at the centre, I mean the player starts in one every game, and many of the most compelling stories in the Fallout games revolve around the Vaults, the remnants of which contain a wealth of pre-war technology that could sustain any budding faction indefinitely.

Some of the most interesting Vaults include: a vault which demanded one sacrifice every year, failing which all residents would be killed (they wouldn’t), a vault filled with compulsive gamblers in which conflicts are resolved through gambling, a vault vastly overstocked with freely available weapons and ammunition, and a vault filled with drug addicts with a massive surplus of drugs.

Vault 81’s entrance

Honestly, I play Fallout for the vaults. Where was I? Back in June 2015, Bethesda Softworks, the developers of the Fallout series release Fallout Shelter, a charming mobile game in which you get to build and run your own Vault-Tec Vault! The game’s gameplay is simple and effective, though I’d question its long-term play value.

You plonk down vault rooms which all connect together in a contiguous, tightly packed Vault. Most rooms produce resources in amounts relative to their upgrade level and the number of people working on them. These resources are harvested by the player with a tap, accompanied by another satisfying sound-bite. Your vault dwellers spend most of their time doing their assigned jobs, but also eat and fend off attackers. In this way, it reminds me of a simpler, stationary FTL.

A late game Fallout Shelter Vault

I played Fallout Shelter for some hours, but it wasn’t the Fallout I was craving. Now it’s July, and BethSoft is poised to release the Vault-Tec Workshop Fallout 4 DLC. It’s a DLC which extends the Fallout 4 settlement system to allow you to make your own vaults, nefarious testing and all! There are even rumours that it’s based off what BethSoft learned from Fallout Shelter.

When it’s released on July 26th, I’m actually in San Francisco for work, but when I reach my native London, I download the DLC and get stuck in.

Fallout 4: Vault-Tec Workshop

The DLC itself costs $4.99 USD unless you have the Fallout 4 season pass, in which case it’s free. It adds a myriad of prewar and vault themed objects to put in your existing settlements, and yes, a vault. Well, the vault actually starts as a colossal cave.

You can then use the snap-fit vault components to build your own vault. Or try to. The system used for building the vaults is the same one used for making simple settlement structures and not really at all cut out for making complex intertwining subterranean megastrucutres. The pieces take a while to get to understand, and don’t fit snugly into the space you’re given to build in.

A settlement built in Fallout 4’s Settlement minigame

Once you’ve built the skeleton of your vault with all your rooms, constructed furniture, clutter, gone through the excruciating difficulty of lighting your vault, you may notice something. Your vault doesn’t look anything like a vault. It looks like a dead, dark metal hole pretending to be a settlement. The lighting is completely wrong. The vault is still lit like a cave. Here’s a picture of Vault 81's (a real vault) atrium, and my atrium, after several 10s of hours of gameplay:

The lively atrium for Vault 81
The atrium for my vault, Vault 88

Once you’ve added people in, it doesn’t act anything like a vault either: your settlers have no AI packages for any of the rooms and wander around aimlessly, stopping only to make a beeline to a random bed to fall asleep for a random amount of time. Despite including a population management system to allow you to assign jobs to your residents, there aren’t any jobs to give them aside from farming or manning the occasional static object.

A settler of the vault, whom I startled whilst staring at a wall

Once your vault is constructed, you can enlist the vault’s overseer to perform tests on your residents. Oh– I mean resident. There’s only one resident you can perform tests on, and ‘testing’ making a selection from (up to) three rather uninteresting cookie cutter options from a computer: a moral good one, and two evil ones with different outcomes and waiting 24h. Once you’ve done 3 tests, you’re done.

Two of the rewards for tests: a gambling machine and an exercise machine.

Once you’ve completed the quests, you can reproduce your test apparatus for your wider population to use. I really wouldn’t recommend this. BethSoft have recorded about 2 different lines for the settlers to use when they interact with these machines and they will echo through your halls constantly, since using the machines is basically the only thing they do. None of these really have any effect on a properly managed settlement anyway.

Beyond building a vault, there’s a huge space you can explore. I think it’s the most vast cave network in the game, and you can build in nearly all of it. The key word there is ‘can’. After building a small vault, you’ll be able to place a few small outposts perhaps before the game decides you’ve placed too much. Honestly, I think the toughest thing about the caves is not that, but how as soon as you leave your vault it immediately makes it apparent that you’re not really buried underground, but are contained in a bunch of modules strung together floating in space.

Vault 88 caves

So that’s the Vault-Tec workshop DLC. I’d call it disappointing. It’s pretty cool to have pre-war objects for your other settlements, though oddly most items from the in-game vaults are not included in the DLC. I leave you with some pictures of the cold, dark hole that is my vault:

modules floating in space
(this is a fully functional generator)
(the same generator in vault 81… why can’t I have these cool animations?)