Old World Blues translates Fallout to grand strategy

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Democracy is on the brink of collapse. Caesar’s Legion, the authoritarian slave state across the Colorado River, has launched a massive assault on the last, best chance for freedom in the post-apocalyptic world of Fallout. It’s a grim certainty in Old World Blues that the New California Republic will fight Caesar’s Legion: they’re the wasteland’s two superpowers, diametrically opposed ideologically, each expanding towards the other. I just thought I was better prepared. While Caesar was annihilating every ill-defended tribe to the west, I was rearming, inviting new states into the republic, and admittedly annexing a few tribes myself. With the game paused, I assess my options, reorganise my armies and ask, finally, does democracy die in 2279?

Old World Blues is a mod for Hearts of Iron IV which transports the World War II grand strategy game hundreds of years forward into the post-apocalyptic American west coast of the Fallout series. Players select a faction in the year 2275 and attempt to survive and thrive in the west coast wasteland. Structurally, it’s similar to Hearts of Iron IV, but the content and style has been transformed. Old World Blues is tremendously fun, comparable in quality to the standard Hearts of Iron IV game, and it does a terrific job of translating Fallout to grand strategy.

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Currently, nine factions in Old World Blues have unique focus trees – that is, their own web of events to navigate – mainly those with a role in an existing Fallout game. The variety among these nine is impressive: unconstrained by the need for historical accuracy, the mod team have done a stellar job of making each unique, with their own divergent focuses, types of unit, researched technologies and crises. Many of them have their own faction art, character pictures and voice lines.

When I started a game as Vault City, I was surprised to find I had only one unit of infantry to defend my borders against the five surrounding tribes and an extremely shallow pool of manpower with which to train more. However, almost as soon as a Vault City campaign begins, you’re confronted with an irreversible event that decides its future. Ghouls, the city’s oppressed underclass, take up arms in rebellion.
Simultaneously, The Brain, a giant evil rat, attacks the city with an army of mutants. Vault City’s leader, its national spirit, and what national focuses it can select in the future are determined by who wins.

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Every available option has its own ways of marshalling more troops or making your standing army, the poorly equipped descendants of vault security, more formidable. The Brain can breed mutants to fight for him or abduct the residents of neighbouring tribes for experiments and the ghouls can mobilize new migrants. I chose to maintain the status quo as the lesser of three evils and the greater of three bonuses – a bonus to research and the potential to get even more.

Vault City begins the game as an isolationist, hyper-advanced society with a disdain for wastelanders. By maintaining the status quo, I reaffirmed this: the discounts to research allowed me to jump ahead of time to get advanced weapons and robots early. When I accessed population controls, which loosened the requirements for Vault City citizenship, I could finally grow my army.

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Due to my advanced research I overestimated my troops’ abilities versus the apparently crude tribals around me. It was a very Vault City mistake to make, and it ended with my civilization being wiped from the map. I declared war on the Yakuza, my enemy to the south. Initially, my robot armies and advanced weapons made short work of the more conventional tribal warriors, but as I advanced my manpower reserves dwindled to nothing. Even though the Yakuza were losing more men per battle, each of their causalities meant less. They could replace troops, I didn’t have any new recruits of my own. I was overstretched and under supplied. The Yakuza counter-attack annihilated my weakened armies and they conquered all my territory.

As well as making for thrilling play, the diversity of factions in Old World Blues encourages roleplay. I could have equipped Vault City’s armies with melee weapons which are as viable an option for your troops as laser rifles or traditional guns. Given that all the text in events, descriptions and the national focus tree alludes to Vault City as a civilization technologically superior to its rivals however, it feels immediately wrong to pivot to troops armed with knives, clubs and other junk. Vault City has a very particular identity whether it’s led by the elitist First Citizen Lynette or an intelligent rat. The game does a great job both of communicating that identity and of making me disinclined to betray it.

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That is not to say Old World Blues is proscriptive. Not only is there a great deal of variety in how each faction can be played, some even offer choices about how the faction responded to events prior to 2275, when the game begins. As New Vegas, these choices are focused on how Mr. House responded to nuclear warfare: did he prioritize protecting the suburbs, or military industry? Did he use an old, stable operating system or a new but incomplete operating system to run the Securitrons? Which tribes did Mr. House invite to operate the casinos?

My greatest success in Old World Blues has been achieved when I’ve planned how I want my civilization to develop as opposed to making decisions as they arise. As New Vegas, I knew I wanted to invite neighbouring raiders the Great Khans and the Fiends into my inner circle, and ultimately replace zombie capitalist Mr. House with his subordinate Benny. The first goal was trivial to achieve, since it just meant picking the Khans and Fields over the canonically correct casino operators. Replacing Mr. House is only slightly more complex, though again your candidates are determined by who you invite into New Vegas during the game’s opening moments.

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I was interested in Benny particularly because of the event listed at the end of his branch: The Nevada Pact, which allows New Vegas to head an alliance formed from a constellation of city-states like New Reno, the Desert Rangers and the aforementioned Vault City. Achieving this objective had mixed results. At the time that I completed it, the New California Republic and Caesar’s Legion were at war. The Rangers appear to have been allied with the NCR, but when my offer to join the Nevada Pact arrived they agreed. However, they were still at war with Caesar’s Legion so I was invited to help. The Nevada Pact, which the game contextualises as a way of avoiding domination by the NCR was, hilariously, dragged to war against their enemies the moment it was born.

I was saved from immediate extinction only because a tiny neutral faction occupied the zone between our territories and refused to let either side’s troops through. Inexplicably, months into the war the NCR decided to annex these neutrals which had the effect of giving Caesar’s Legion direct access to my territory, since they were already at war with the NCR. I was fighting for my life, intending to hold the Legion off until the NCR advanced so far into their territory they collapsed.

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New Vegas’ unique robots the Securitrons are quick and powerful, but they’re also almost irreplaceable during wartime. Each unit costs 240 medium robot equipment which is both time-consuming to produce and expensive in terms of metal, fuel and electronics. In Old World Blues (as in Hearts of Iron IV) if you have an insufficient amount of a particular resource, you’ve got to trade the production of one of your civilian factories to someone else to get their surplus. However, civilian factories are also used to build arms factories (the things that actually build the robot parts) and repair arms factories that are damaged, so trading them away is risky. Shortly after the war started, I was trading away half my factories.

Deliverance came not due to the NCR, who spent the war in a stalemate, but because I managed to outflank the Legion. New Vegas is on the west side of the Colorado, accessible to Caesar’s Legion only by crossing at Hoover Dam. By sending my secondary army composed of human thugs and Great Khans south through the NCR, I was able to approach from the other side of the Dam and crush the attacking force.

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These kinds of manoeuvers are not possible to the same degree in vanilla Hearts of Iron IV. Changes to the effect of terrain is one of the most dramatic made in Old World Blues. Since it takes place on one continent, North America, it’s not possible to ford wide rivers like the Colorado except at designated crossing points or to march your armies through mountain ranges. This has the effect of literally splitting the map in places and often makes it easier for smaller factions to thrive. An individual Securitron will beat a Legionary, but if the Legion could pour across the Colorado anywhere New Vegas would quickly have been surrounded and swamped, since Caesar’s Legion had five times my troops.

I encountered the same system to my detriment as the NCR. One of the NCR’s early focuses allows them to attack a group of raiders called the Scorpions, a necessary step both to securing the front line with the Legion and accessing the wealth of New Vegas. I positioned my armies on their north and south borders, confident of victory since the NCR dwarfs the Scorpions in size and military strength. I forgot to cover one crossing point of the river between us: the mistake likely cost thousands of lives, prolonged the war by months and hurt my manufacturing. Even though I made good progress advancing into the Scorpions’ territory, the gap allowed their armies to maraud around my cities, wrecking factories and killing isolated troops who hadn’t reached their army. I won at a needlessly inflated cost.

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As the NCR the options on your focus tree will lead you to New Vegas but it’s up to you how you get there. You can delay it and pick focuses which allow you to incorporate tribes like the Baja to the south or race to Hoover Dam as fast as possible. In my first game, I focused on cleaning up my borders, admitting new states to my faction, and befriending the Brotherhood. Unfortunately, as the NCR you’re all but guaranteed to fight Caesar’s Legion, which is at never-ending war as it devours every tribe nearby. When I zoomed out from my defence-oriented nation focused on peaceful incorporation, I was staring at a gargantuan legion which had already made its way to New Vegas.

I had to annex minor factions for my own security. The Rapids, an apparently peaceful tribe, were the first receive a declaration of war. They bordered both the NCR and Caesar’s Legion so it was lucky they ended up as citizens of the NCR rather than slaves of Caesar. The Mojave Raiders I have even less reason to regret: they were working on a focus called ‘Terrorize Locals’ when I declared against them.

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As I mentioned, I had every expectation of fighting Caesar’s Legion, I just didn’t expect their troops would be quite so good. My armies were larger than theirs, and yet almost as soon as they attacked they were pushing across the Colorado at our shared crossing points. My allies offered little help except to offer to lend-lease me useless basic melee weapons. In June they captured Dayglow, in July The Boneyard.

The NCR survived numerous crises: the invasion of the Scorpions, deadlock at the polls which led to the elevation of President Kimball, battles with the Mojave branch of the Brotherhood of Steel, and the loss of Hoover Dam. 2279 was the final year of its existence due to poor decision making. Specifically, I listened to the message at the start of the game which warned me that the AI were incompetent as the Legion and offered me the chance to compensate them with bonuses. If Caesar is touring his new conquests, building a palace in Shady Sands and a victory arch in The Boneyard, it’s because the NCR was led astray by bad advice.

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Old World Blues is not finished. Admirably, however, rather than create an entirely playable world map with missing game components, the mod team have developed the west coast (the settings of Fallout, Fallout 2 and Fallout: New Vegas) to a very high standard with plans to expand eastward in the future. It’s a surprisingly successful translation of a series with no grand strategy heritage. Its factions retain the often cartoonish personality of the Fallout games; they’re impressively diverse to play and to play against. It succeeds at encouraging roleplay and challenges players with a few strategic problems absent from Hearts of Iron IV such as the impassable terrain features. It’s among the best mods for Hearts of Iron IV, and a successful and creative marriage of a series and a new genre.

You can download Old World Blues from the Steam Workshop. For more great mods, check out our guide to the best Fallout 4 mods.

36 Comments

  1. MiniMatt says:

    Oh my.

    Hearts of Iron keeps fluttering its gunpowder-singed eyelashes at me but I always veer away before purchase. But with this mod my resistance is crushed.

  2. morganjah says:

    Hearts of Iron IV is so much better with mods like this. The Kaiserreich mod was great. This looks even better. It’s for mods like this that I wish there was some kind of intermediate state in which they could sell them, thereby motivating talented people into creating mods, like this one, without Paradox hijacking them, breaking it up into 16 DLC’s, and using it to fund their pension plan, rather than compensating the mod team.

    • TheOx129 says:

      Kaiserreich is good fun, but it’s a bit of a mess in terms of overall design, which I think is largely due to a combination of too many cooks in the kitchen and trying to awkwardly bolt on mechanics from the Hearts of Iron II/Darkest Hour version of the mod, rather than redesigning some of the fundamentals to gel better with the mechanics in HoI4.

      Granted, it’s still an alpha (and what an alpha it is!) and they’ve made some recent changes that are for the better (e.g., shortening the average focus length from 70 days to 56), but a lot of the minor nations remain mind-numbingly boring to play (I hope you enjoy spending years in-game going through focuses solely to un-screw your economy after the German stock market crash) and the dev team still doesn’t seem like they’ve gotten the hang of determining what should be an event versus a focus or decision.

      For my alt-history shenanigans, I have a lot of love to give Après Moi, Le Déluge, which uses a Napoleonic victory in the 19th century as the main point of divergence, so that timeline’s Second World War instead becomes one of maintaining or challenging French hegemony. I know some folks aren’t big on the lack of unique focus trees, but I find it a very well-designed mod that really utilizes the more sandboxy mechanics in HoI4 to great effect.

      If you can tolerate some wonky English and missing localizations, I also recommend Weltkrieg: Legacy of the Kaiserreich. It uses the typical “what if the Central Powers won WWI” POD that Kaiserreich does, but it’s a very different – I would say more grounded – alt-history than the latter.

      • morganjah says:

        Thanks! I’ll try those. I had a blast playing the American factions in the civil war, but it kind of petered out for me as it after uniting America.
        I’ll try the others.

  3. Monggerel says:

    Man, that is cool as all get out.

    Hope they never add Fallout 4.

    • Wednesday says:

      Why? You can’t hate 4 that much that the inclusion of the Commonwealth would ruin it for you?

      I mean, I had issues with that game too, but it wasn’t the in game factions that pissed me off.

      • Werthead says:

        Yeah, Fallout 4 has a lot of problems, but the factions are perfectly fine and decently Fallout-ish. I think the old-skool Fallout writers even said on social media they liked them and thought they fitted in (their opinions on the game’s focus on FPS action and settlement building were less clear).

      • Monggerel says:

        I disagree completely.
        The Railroad in particular was just… offensive. It reminded me of that one time GTA used the 1992 Los Angeles Riots as a shitty plot point.
        The Institute are… infinitely powerful and immensely stupid, doing everything for shits and giggles with no discernible goals, spreading fear and paranoia for… research? No? Well, I guess they have infinite resources so, whatever.

        The Brotherhood of Steel are… fine. They’re pretty much what I would expect from them, and they’re already in the game anyway. I wouldn’t mind several separate Brotherhood factions, either. This chapter went full feudal, which is well within their scope. B+ uninspired but perfectly competent.

        And the Minutemen… are fine too. Cosmic horror levels of boring, but basically a passable faction.

        So, that gives us… the BoS, already present, and the Minutemen, already forgotten. I refuse to accept the Railroad as a valid faction for inclusion (or, indeed, the entire Synth storyline of F4), and I guess the Institute could be included… with their mechanical niche, the “isolationist tech powerhouse”, already better fulfilled by both Vault City and the Brotherhood.

        That all said, if the Scorpions are a faction unto themselves, I stand on a rather somewhat rickety construction here.

        Let’s just go with the totally existing Talking Deathclaws instead.

        • April March says:

          It reminded me of that one time GTA used the 1992 Los Angeles Riots as a shitty plot point.

          As a plot point it was shitty, but as a game mechanic, driving around a Los Santos plunged in chaos, with cars abandoned everywhere and violence around every corner, was one of the few truly interesting moments in the franchise’s history.

          • Monggerel says:

            You’re totally right: it was easily the best part of the game.
            A by-then familiar and relatively peaceful city suddenly becoming a city-wide war zone: however poorly thought out its inclusion in the game, gameplay-wise, it was probably the best thing GTA has ever done with its open worlds. It was actually scary; I don’t think any game before or since has managed to depict the complete dissolution of all law and the downfall of civilization itself in a more visceral fashion, precisely because the player themselves, GTA maniac that they are, was relying on those very rules to navigate the game world.
            Car randomly peppered by assault rifle fire and pelted with molotovs? Carjacked and beaten to a pulp? And good luck walking around on foot on the street without someone blowing a hole in your abdomen. Shit. I haven’t played San Andreas in at least twelve years and I still vividly remember all that.

        • someone132 says:

          What about the non-playable factions like Gunners and Triggermen?

          Actually, as someone who didn’t play F4, can someone tell me the reason why were they non-playable in the first place? What makes a large group of well-trained, non-ideological mercs like Gunners or even ghoul Mafia Triggermen worse custodians of the Boston area than the alternatives like a ghoul-hating Brotherhood, insane Institute that seriously began creating mindless supermutants AGAIN, the Railroad that only needs to “save” synths (rather than, say, humans) because their infiltrator reprogrammed them to desire freedom in the first place, and want to destroy Institute (which will stop the creation of synths they claim to save), or the useless Minutemen who are at best comparable to FNV’s Scorpions in their power without the player getting involved?

          • Monggerel says:

            Or, the Children of the Atom! You know, the cult that no, seriously, actually worships nuclear radiation! Yeah, they’re in there too!

            It’s like someone threw darts at the brainstorming whiteboard. Even ignoring the stupidity of it all (what do they eat? well, whatever they scavenge in two hundred year old trash cans), there’s simply not enough *there* of these factions to consider them as (fictional) political entities: they have no interests, no goals, no populations, no nothing. Just… things, that happen.
            I guess, at the end of the day, you can always just make more interesting stuff up about them. Can’t exactly argue against that.

  4. Wednesday says:

    This looks excellent. The Game of Thrones mod for Crusader Kings 2 was also brilliant, so much so that many of it’s systems ended up worked into the base game.

    Might give this a spin.

  5. briangw says:

    I really want to like HoI4 and have been trying to understand the tutorial but it’s nothing but frustrating. I know there are a lot of Let’s Plays out there but any good suggestive LPs or guides to assist a newb?

    • gi_ty says:

      I think I watched some of quill18’s early videos to point where I understood the economy and interdependencies. If you go with him start with the earlier videos where he is still figuring out things himself the later ones might leave you scratching your head. He starts to gloss over some of the mechanics later on.

    • undeniable_sausage says:

      When i was struggling with the game this guide helped me the most. It’s a lot more in depth than the average hoi4 guide though.

  6. dontnormally says:

    If only Stellaris felt anything like this.

    It’s a bit of a shame.

  7. ItAintNecessarilySo says:

    Having played almost every Major and a few Minor nations on the map I just would like to say that enjoy this mod a lot!

    What I miss in this review though is the the fact that this mod inspired a lot of submods made by other modders. This kind of enthousiasm keeps mods like this alive and ensures it will just gets better in my opinion.

    • morganjah says:

      Which sub-mods do you recommend?

      • ItAintNecessarilySo says:

        In terms of gameplay the equipment overhaul submod and the support robots. They integrated/build on some of the other gameplay mods like the reworked Doctrines. Most other Mods I like are just flavor and sprites. Also don’t forget the OWB music mod! (although I think it’s integrated as well).

  8. Universal Quitter says:

    Assuming they do eventually fill in the east coast, I hope the Republic of Dave gets included as a Jan Mayen-esque joke faction.

  9. Grizzly says:

    This is a cool article.

  10. Evan_ says:

    Whoa! That’s exactly the thing you never knew you always wanted to happen!

  11. someone132 says:

    This is a very cool idea, and I am also tempted to get HOI4 just to play this.

    However, I also think the factions’ capabilities are going a little far in this relative to the FNV lore. I am not referring to, say, Scorpions being a faction (weren’t they just a group of a couple dozen thugs in Freeside, led by a girl you tragically couldn’t even talk to, and who could be wiped out outright?) but to the idea a total victory of any faction over the remains of the whole US (as opposed to local territories like Mojave) was actually possible.

    The impression I got from FNV is that neither the Legion nor the NCR have any hope of taking over all of each other’s territory. NCR is too overstretched to protect its “core” territory, and they best they can hope for is that you kill Caesar, Lanius and others so that Legion falls apart into tribes that are STILL too powerful for them to defeat. Equally, even Lanius can be convinced with perfect Barter that taking over Hoover Dam is fruitless, because they won’t be able to hold much more NCR territory afterwards.

    To me, the best way to finish New Vegas is to help the NCR and most normal people in most of the sidequests (other than the Kings, obviously, who’ll only survive under House if they are against NCR, and the Powder Gangers, who are better off as part of the Khans), but also to cure Caesar, and leave Vulpes Inculta alone so that he can become his successor, before ultimately siding with House. That way, both factions are told to put their dreams of expansion to rest and focus on actually advancing and stabilising their own societies (i.e. NCR can finally focus its troopers on cleaning up its own territory instead of flinging them to ever-further outposts, while Inculta-led Legion has a good chance on abandoning Caesar’s anti-technological positions, and will likely be more respectful of women as well). At the same time, House will be free to make technological advancements others could not even comprehend for the sake of the entire humanity.

    • Evan_ says:

      I think you are forgetting that the timeframes of HoI and the Fallout games are very different. Time is mostly static in the latter, only advanced by the presence of the player, while HoI meant to cover years.

      Also that game is meant to go trough history flexiby – you could play liberal Hitler, and spread democracy with your armies.

  12. Vilos Cohaagen says:

    Oh yes! I’ve owned HoI4 for ages but keep bouncing off it as I don’t enjoy the WW2 setting but this sounds amazing!

  13. DEspresso says:

    Really like this one! Unfortunately it tends crash for me when the NCR gets annexed after its civil war :(

  14. VeggyZ says:

    I’m just sitting here wondering if the “New California Republic” is made up entirely of people from other states. Reason being, I can’t imagine many of them surviving past the apocalypse – within a week of the government assistance disappearing, most would be eating their family and neighbors, and going through heavy withdrawal.

    …just saying. The LAST place in the US I would wanna be after the end of the world, is California (or most of the west coast, for that matter)

    • KhanSolo says:

      Don’t worry, in the world of Fallout America is not only energy independent it is a capitalist hyper power hell bent on the extermination of communism, in the name of democracy! Robert House is a super capitalist who is entirely the reason for california surviving the nuclear war. Why? Because the House always wins.

  15. Carro says:

    Calling Hoi4 grand strategy is pretty laughable. It’s easily the worst Paradox title, a meme at best, as a quick look at the workshop or any youtube videos will show. They already have a dlc-heavy policy, but Hoi4 really kicked it up with broken promises and straight up lies about what we would be getting in the dlc. The mods are nice, I just wish they were implemented in a better game.

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