Super Mutants

Fallout Deconstructed - East Coast Super Mutants

(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.

KILL. LOOT. RETURN.

KILL. LOOT. RETURN.

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.

Do they explore the existential horror that goes along with never dying but continuing to grow while becoming every more senile?   No…

Do they explore the existential horror that goes along with never dying but continuing to grow while becoming every more senile?

No…

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.

Don’t get me wrong, Erikson is a cool character… but he’s literally made calm by a mist that turns humans savage and violent.   Zero sense = made.

Don’t get me wrong, Erikson is a cool character… but he’s literally made calm by a mist that turns humans savage and violent.

Zero sense = made.

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.

Obviously, the mutation process didn’t always go according to plan…

Obviously, the mutation process didn’t always go according to plan…

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.

West Coast Super Mutants had a military base under their control, so their heavy weapons made sense.   But this?

West Coast Super Mutants had a military base under their control, so their heavy weapons made sense.

But this?

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.

Either those wooden supports survived the direct nuclear blast… or the radiation wasn’t bad enough to stop someone setting them up afterwards.

Either those wooden supports survived the direct nuclear blast… or the radiation wasn’t bad enough to stop someone setting them up afterwards.

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?

Who put the radiation signs up?

Who put the radiation signs up?

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.

Test tube Super Mutants… why?!

Test tube Super Mutants… why?!

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.

They have an innate understanding of crafting armor and defenses… somehow?

They have an innate understanding of crafting armor and defenses… somehow?

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.

Look at its form, it doesn’t even look like a mutation… It looks like it was born like this.   West Coast Super Mutants were visibly imperfect, which was the whole point!

Look at its form, it doesn’t even look like a mutation… It looks like it was born like this.

West Coast Super Mutants were visibly imperfect, which was the whole point!

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…

Radiation ain’t the only thing that causes mutations…

Radiation ain’t the only thing that causes mutations…

Fallout Deconstructed - West Coast Super Mutants

When Fallout first arrived back in 1997, it was the Super Mutants that were the primary threat in the Wasteland. But the Super Mutants actually had an appropriately horrific and sordid history before the events of Fallout 1, and they would continue along this trend for over a century until Fallout: New Vegas. The Super Mutants, like the Brotherhood of Steel, have deep roots within the Fallout canon that stretch back to before the Great War. These roots were tapped into by the original creators, and largely ignored by the developers that followed. Because of this, there are primarily two distinct types of Super Mutants - West Coast and East coast. This post will focus on the original, and the best, West Coast Super Mutants.

They’re big and they’re heavily armed.

They’re big and they’re heavily armed.

Standing on average at ten and a half feet tall, Super Mutants tend weigh in at around 800 pounds, or 363 kilograms, of pure muscle. Although typically greyish/green in color, there was an elite faction of West Coast Super Mutants, dubbed ‘Nightkin’, who have blue due to prolonged use of Stealth Boys. Super Mutant mutations have done away with recessive genes that generally cause genetic issues in humans, and their DNA has been modified to bring about the optimum combination of traits on a genetic level. They heal from wounds much faster than humans and are all but immune to radiation and death from old age. When they’re created perfectly, a Super Mutant maintains the intelligence they had in their former lives as a human and tends to begin life as an all round superior being.

Lou - super intelligent, well spoken, and a leader of the Super Mutants.

Lou - super intelligent, well spoken, and a leader of the Super Mutants.

Things don’t always go perfectly, however, and when an inferior Super Mutant is created they still get all the physical traits but they lose most of their intelligence. A primary drawback of the mutation process is that the Super Mutants are made infertile, and despite not dying of old age they are prone to senility. Along with this, those elite Nightkin who turned blue due to prolonged use of Stealth Boys also developed some serious mental disorders as a result of being invisible for such long periods of time. Super Mutants may be strong and near unkillable, but they’re also deeply flawed and imperfect beings. They’re less a genetically viable race and more super solider mules that’re created specifically for war and not much else. They may be well suited to the harsh life of the wasteland but they don’t exactly have it easy. It’s not just their genetic drawbacks that make this the case either, because they’ve got quite the checkered history.

The Nightkin… most of these guys were batshit insane.

The Nightkin… most of these guys were batshit insane.

Before the Great War, in 2073, there was a company called West-Tek that was researching a way to make the American population immune to any sort of biological attack that might be instigated by China. This was called the Pan-Immunity Virion Project, or PVP for short. It was an attempt to fill out an individuals DNA to make them immune to any sort of pathogens. While it did work, there were some noticeable side effects among the animal test subjects. Both the test subject’s size and intelligence dramatically increased, as well as their aggression levels. The virus was re-dubbed the Forced Evolutionary Virus, or FEV for short, and the scientists began delving into these side effects. It didn’t take long for the government to notice the possible military applications for this project and so they seized control of the project, to capitalize on these possible applications as well as from fear of potential espionage.

All roads lead to Mariposa…

All roads lead to Mariposa…

Mariposa Military base was built specifically to house and work on the FEV Project. And nine months before the Great War, at the start of 2077, the military started doing human testing on military volunteers. The horrors that transpired within Mariposa were such that once the military personnel stationed there learnt of their extent, they executed all the scientists involved and went rogue. This is the beginning of the Brotherhood of Steel. The Great War kicked off a few days later.

Decades later, in 2102, a man by the name of Richard Grey breaks into Mariposa Military Base to try to discover the source of the brutal attacks on his caravans. While most of his group is killed, Richard is knocked into a vat of FEV and spends a good while submerged in the mutagenic goop. He may have fallen in a man of rather dubious character, but upon his eventual escape he became the unhinged mutant freak known as The Master. He started out absorbing the flesh and minds of anything that wandered into Mariposa while simultaneously merging with the base’s computer network via a neural up-link. Eventually he started experimenting with the FEV, “dipping” other humans into it and studying the results. This is the birth of the Super Mutants as we knew them in the first Fallout game.

You can bring a plank of wood to a gun fight when you’re a genetically superior being…

You can bring a plank of wood to a gun fight when you’re a genetically superior being…

The Super Mutants were mostly dumb, brutish hulks that increased in size and strength but also lost most of their intelligence. A rare few, roughly one in six, were able to retain their intelligence though, and so The Master theorized that the deciding factor was the subjects radiation exposure. He himself was originally an exile from Vault 8, far to the north, and so his radiation levels were far lower than most wastelanders. Subjects with minimal exposure to radiation tended to yield far better results than those who had a lifetime of radiation stored in their flesh. For anyone who knows Fallout the meaning of this should be clear, those who lived in Vaults would make far better Super Mutants than those who grew up in the Wasteland.

In 2155, with the aid of a cult he’d aligned himself with, Richard Grey would eventually move south to the L.A. Boneyard where he would take up residence in a Vault of his own. Super Mutants are great and all but even the intelligent ones couldn’t do what a fanatical human cultist could; infiltrate wasteland settlements and bring them down from within. And what self-respecting villain would forego the chance at an underground lair? Eventually The Master would build a cathedral atop the Vault and forevermore the cult was presented as an honest religion dubbed “Children of the Cathedral.” Few knew of the Cathedral’s connection to The Master, his Super Mutant army or his grand designs of wasteland Unification.

Would you want to be part of any Utopian plan that this thing cooked up?

Would you want to be part of any Utopian plan that this thing cooked up?

The thing with the Super Mutants is that they’re a direct threat to your character, the Vault Dweller, and his whole community Vault 13. The Master and his Super Mutants are looking for pure humans with minimal radiation exposure, which means that the Vault Dweller’s Vault is a prime target. With this in mind, even if you complete your initial goal of repairing your Vault’s water purification chip, you’re sent back out to take care of the far more dangerous threat that The Master and his Super Mutants pose. To keep this from spiraling any further, in 2161 the Vault Dweller eventually destroys Mariposa as well as the Cathedral and The Master’s Vault beneath it. The source of the Super Mutant threat, as far as the wasteland is aware of, is taken care of.

After the events of Fallout 1, the Super Mutants are scattered. Many form roving war-bands or even armies of their own, going on to become a scourge on the wasteland. A massive force wanders across the mountains far to the east, which leads to the events of Fallout Tactics. For the most part though, with their creator dead and their sole method of their creation seemingly destroyed, the Super Mutants faded into the background of wasteland normalcy. Like humans, some were good, most were bad and they just started living life as best they could. A prime example of this was the town of Broken Hills, a mining town comprised of humans, Ghouls and Super Mutants. Broken Hills was founded by a Super Mutant and a Brotherhood of Steel Paladin, a sure enough narrative nod to the fact that the conflict between the two factions was a thing of the past by this point. Life was never easy in Broken Hills, and tensions always ran high, but the town could survive as long as level heads prevailed… and as long as there was still uranium to mine.

Spoilers - the uranium eventually, inevitably, ran out.

Spoilers - the uranium eventually, inevitably, ran out.

Jump forward to 2236, five years before the events of Fallout 2. The ruins of Mariposa are discovered by the Enclave. They’re a faction that’s a continuation of the US government, so they’ve got access to some seriously high-tech weapons and armor, as well as all the old pre-war records. With the aid of human and Super Mutant slaves, they begin excavation of the ruins and eventually discover some of the still-potent FEV. Mutations begin to occur among the human slaves, as well as some of the Enclave personnel and eventually Mariposa is abandoned. After a slight altercation with a squad of Enclave soldiers left behind to kill everything within the base, the new Super Mutant community begins in earnest. Remnants of the first-generation Super Mutants, as well as the newly created second generation, just wanted to stay down in the ruins of Mariposa and live in peace… and they did… until the Chosen One, the protagonist of Fallout 2, showed up.

By the time of Fallout: New Vegas, in 2281, the Super Mutants have openly been a part of the wasteland for over a century. They’re not exactly accepted, often being treated worse than Ghouls, but they’re not instantly shot on sight either. Sometimes a Super Mutant might live peacefully with humans, or they might live together in their own Super Mutant communities and try their best to maintain peaceful relations with their human and Ghoul neighbors. They’re just trying to survive in the wasteland like everyone else, some may do so as peacefully as possible while others take a more violent and selfish path.

Broken Hills may have died, but it’s Super Mutant founder, Marcus, moved to the Mojave Wasteland and started over.

Broken Hills may have died, but it’s Super Mutant founder, Marcus, moved to the Mojave Wasteland and started over.

This is the thing about Super Mutants, they’re not just mindless monsters for your characters to kill. They’re an imperfect species that’s going to die out unless they find a way to propagate, either through use of FEV or by solving their sterility issues. In Fallout 1, 2 and New Vegas (and Tactics, as well, if you accept it as canon) they’re a fully fleshed out and flawed people that have drives and a history of their own. They’ve got a sorry past, being created by The Master as tools to bring about his demented vision of a genetically unified wasteland… but they’ve moved beyond that. They’re not all good and they’re not all bad, neither are they haphazardly created idiotic brutes that eat humans... like Bethesda turned them into on the East Coast.

Okay… technically, the split-personality Super Mutant Dog/God will eat corpses, but they’re just such well written characters!

Okay… technically, the split-personality Super Mutant Dog/God will eat corpses, but they’re just such well written characters!

Take a look at my break down of East Coast Super Mutants here.