(You can check out my previous look at West Coast Super Mutants here.)
When Fallout 3 was released in 2008, Bethesda set the series on a course that would take it in a whole new direction. Some would call it a derailment, and that the calamitous train wreck has been skidding to an inevitable halt ever since, but that’s neither here nor there. The point is that by setting the series on the East Coast, as opposed to the West Coast where the original creators had first developed the series, they were given an open field to create their own unique spin on the series. Except they didn’t really do that, and one of the areas that this is most obvious is with the Super Mutants.
East Coast Super Mutants can be broken into three distinct factions; the Vault 87 Super Mutants from Fallout 3, the Institute Super Mutants from Fallout 4 and the Huntersville Super Mutants from Fallout 76. While the West Coast Super Mutants have a rich backstory and deep roots within the lore of the series, their East Coast cousins were given a bare bones backstory that barely justifiied their existence as cannibalistic monsters that exist purely for your character to kill without a second thought. They’re just there. They want to kill you. You’d better kill them.
East Coast Super Mutants are each created with a variant strain of the Forced Evolutionary Virus, it’s a little narrative element that allows Bethesda to tweak their appearance a little in each game. As video game graphics improve, development teams and artistic styles change, it’s inevitable that creatures will start to look a little different. It also allows these Super Mutants to be a little different from those Super Mutants, which gives you a little wiggle room in terms of the lore. A variant strain of FEV accounts for all of this. It’s probably the greatest choice Bethesda made in regards to their inclusion of the Super Mutants, which… is saying something.
East Coast Super Mutants have lost all sexual characteristics, they’re more green in color and their mutations look more uniform and less haphazardly deformed than their West Coast kin. While they’re all still drastically stronger than humans, the intelligence of West Coast Super Mutants depended on their levels of radiation exposure, but the Vault 87 Super Mutants are uniformly stupid (bar one) while the Institute and Huntersville Super Mutants are still fairly intelligent. While they’re all sterile like those on the West Coast, East Coast Super Mutants have the unique trait of continuing to grow as they age. This results in the gargantuan, and painfully stupid, Super Mutant Behemoths.
The weird thing about East Coast Super Mutants is that they’re all basically created as monsters for your characters to kill. Whatever paper-thin story is attached to them is there to justify their presence, rather than add any depth to them as a faction or build the greater story of the series. Gone are the Super Mutants who were created to replace humanity as superior mutated beings, now we have literal man-eating monsters who have no leadership, no background and attack you because that’s just what monsters do. Bethesda have included the odd intelligent Super Mutant in each of their games, but it’s always an aberrant being who has no clear reason for being smarter and less violent than their mutated brethren. They’re 2D monsters that want to take over the radioactive wasteland, because that’s the surface level villainy that Bethesda deals in.
Vault 87 was built in D.C., which places it in the Capital Wasteland of Fallout 3. The original clandestine project of Vault 87 was the Evolutionary Experimentation Program (EEP) where researchers would test the effects of a unique strain of FEV on the inhabitants of the vault. How Vault-Tec got their hands on FEV we’ll never know, but they did. So there. The main thing with Vault 87 is that these experiments were going on before the Great War, as noted by pressure for results from Mariposa and Vault-Tec’s head office. Vault 87 was directly hit by a nuclear weapon during the Great War, and so the inhabitants were sealed inside and unable to leave due to extreme radiation.
All of this is problematic, for various reasons.
First of all, why were there people living in a Vault before the Great War began? You fled to a Vault in the event of the Great War kicking off, you didn’t just rent a room and live there for the great views. When Vault Dwellers were snatched away to be experimented upon, the researchers tried to cover up their deaths by listing them as “Undefined/Unexplained.” After dozens of unexplained deaths, you’d think the other Vault Dwellers would catch wise and just leave the Vault, especially if the Great War hadn’t even happened yet.
Second, the Vault was directly hit by a nuclear weapon so the Vault door was damaged and could no longer be used. The inhabitants of Vault 87 weren’t so much “safe” in a Vault, as they were “trapped” in one… but they kept on doing the experiments anyway, I guess? The only way in and out of the Vault was this emergency exit that links to a cave system known as Little Lamplight. The problem here is that children have been living in Little Lamplight since the Great War, and if that’s the only exit from Vault 87 then how have the Super Mutants been kidnapping people and bringing them back to the Vault for 200 years? How are there kids living in the only exit from the Vault? It doesn’t make any sense.
And that’s the main thing, Vault 87 is the source of Super Mutants in the Capital Wasteland. The original test subjects must have overthrown the scientists at some point and escaped the Vault, somehow, and started bringing Wastelanders back to the Vault to put through the same process that they went through. Never mind the fact that there’s no logical way for them to come in and out of the Vault, they’ve been going out into the Capital Wasteland and kidnapping people for 200 years because that’s just what they’ve always done? There’s no leadership directing them, they locked up the one Super Mutant smart enough to be a leader, so how and why have they maintained this bizarre mission for over two centuries?
Even worse than the Vault 87 Super Mutants of Fallout 3, are the Institute Super Mutants of Fallout 4. They’ve been plaguing the Commonwealth since the Great War, and it’s only after you access the Institute that you discover that they’re to blame… but their reason for creating the Super Mutants are as weak as the milk of human kindness.
The Institute have been experimenting on FEV since the Great War, they tweaked it around a lot to see what different results they could get and after they were done with each experiment they dumped the test subject on the surface. At a certain point they decided that they’d learnt all they could from FEV, and so Wastelanders that were kidnapped and replaced with Synths were mutated with FEV simply to get rid of them in a fashion that was useful. That’s right, instead of getting rid of their experiments after they were done with them, and even after they’d learnt all they could from FEV, the Institute was growing the Commonwealth Wasteland’s Super Mutant population one Super Mutant at a time by letting them loose on the surface.
As far as reasons for a species to existence go, this is an absolute joke. On the one hand the Institute claims to want peace for the Commonwealth and strives for the betterment of mankind, saying that they’re humanities last and best hope. On the other hand they’re dumping mutant monsters on the surface… because reasons? It flies in the face of the Institutes entire character as a faction, and it’s an absurd reason for the Super Mutants to exist in Fallout 4. They’re nothing more than rampaging monsters that have no way to increase their own population, they only ever grow whenever the Institute does another experiment and dumps more of their number on the surface.
We could of had something of a culture for the Super Mutants that hinted at their true origins from within the Institute. Super Mutants could all whisper of the white rooms of their birth, the Institute labs, followed by magically appearing on the surface after they were teleported there. Super Mutants could pray for more of their number to appear before a big battle or after a terrible defeat. Anything at all to hint at their origins but also to hint at some sort of culture beyond being man-eating monsters. Because as it stands, they’re literally just created for shits and giggles. The Institute creates them to cause problems on the surface, they have no deeper purpose beyond being there for your character to kill.
The Huntersville Super Mutants of Appalachia from Fallout 76 are just as weak in terms of story as the rest of their East Coast counterparts. Despite the fact that the military seized control of the FEV experiments from West-Tek a year before the Great War, and built the Mariposa military base specifically to house and research FEV, West-Tek decided to experiment on the town of Huntersville by dumping FEV into their water supply. Why build an underground military base to contain a virus on one side of the country, and then dump it into a town’s water supply on the other side of the country? I get that you need to do research on the virus, but those seem like mutually exclusive approaches and one of them is being conducted by a company that shouldn’t even have the virus.
Along with this, it was just the towns original inhabitants that were infected, because there are terminal logs that tell the story of how the FEV was neutralized by the researchers after the Great War. Once those original Super Mutants are all dead, that’s in for the Huntersville Super Mutants. Considering the real world town of Huntersville only had a population of 73 in the last census, how many Super Mutants could their possibly be in Appalachia? I’m sure each player will kill dozens, if not hundreds, of Super Mutants while playing Fallout 76… how many will we have to kill before their set and non-renewable number is inevitably wiped out?
In terms of the lore, the Huntersville Super Mutants don’t only not work well with the lore from Fallout 1 and 2, but they don’t even work with Bethesda’s own lore from Fallout 3 and 4. If East Coast Super Mutants continue to grow and turn into Behemoths as they age, and we’ve already got Behemoths in Fallout 76 which is only 25 years after they were created, then why aren’t half the Super Mutants in Fallout 3 and 4 Behemoths as well? If it takes less than 25 years to turn into a Behemoth, and both those games are set over 200 years after the Great War, then both the Capital Wasteland and Commonwealth should be right-royally fucked by Behemoths.
This is the problem with Bethesda, they’re so focused on brand recognition that they’re refusing to move away from what made Fallout great in the first place… even when it doesn’t make sense. They don’t want to take a risk and try to make anything original and great, so instead they’re pandering to fanboy nostalgia and casual gamers with the attention span of gnats. They’re like the old royalty of Europe who were so obsessed with the purity of lineage that they started inbreeding, and before they knew it they had these mutated freaks on the throne who shouldn’t have existed. That’s what Fallout is today, it’s still Fallout but it’s a little too much Fallout with not enough fresh genes in the mix to make it something good, let alone stable. We’ve got Deathclaws, the Brotherhood of Steel, the Enclave and Super Mutants where they shouldn’t be, all because Bethesda is too scared to try something new.
Instead of going out and trying to find a girlfriend, and risk rejection, Bethesda just stays at home and bangs its cousin…