I’m not sure what it is about Bethesda games and grassroots remasters, but there’s a lot of them, from the community led efforts to remake classic Elder Scrolls titles inside Skyrim with mods like Skyblivion and Skywind to Fallout 4: New Vegas, which is exactly what it sounds like. Out of them all, however, none have had a year quite as tumultuous as The Capital Wasteland Project, the mod that intends to recreate the entirety of Fallout 3 in Bethesda’s Fallout 4 Creation Engine.
The Capital Wasteland was announced in 2017, but Road to Liberty – the project’s self-titled group of modders – found themselves in hot water only a year later when they shared their plans with Bethesda to incorporate all of Fallout 3’s original audio assets into the unofficial remaster, only to be met with a stern warning from the studio to refrain from doing so. Otherwise... well, the company has an infamous history of fighting, and winning, a litany of self-filed intellectual property lawsuits.
In the face of seemingly unbeatable odds, Road to Liberty reluctantly put The Capital Wasteland on indefinite hold in March 2018, and many members of the team went their separate ways. Months later, however, the project miraculously re-emerged from its dormancy under the curation of a small but dedicated core group of Road to Liberty’s remaining members, who were determined to finish the work they’d started before Bethesda had dramatically hit the brakes. Only this time, to circumvent Bethesda’s legal parameters, they’d be re-recording every single line of Fallout 3’s dialogue. All 45,000 of them.
“We may have bitten off more than we can chew!” jokes The Capital Wasteland’s Project Lead NafNaf_95, who continues working on the mod even while we talk in the late hours of the evening. “Anyone can get in touch through the website and submit a form to volunteer for voice acting, but the amount of people signing up is now an issue in itself! I’ve only just caught up with the emails about an hour ago and there’s already 13 more. I think I’ve been through about 1000 plus emails already. It’s a good problem to have!”
Announcing the return of The Capital Wasteland on the mod’s blog page, NafNaf_95 admitted that the project’s unexpected interruption had left him in a “really depressed” state, and it’s clear that this roadblock – put up by the studio whose games he loved so much – had left a bitter taste in the mouth.
“There’s a lot of stuff that I can’t really talk about,” he says, reflecting on how that Bethesda conversation had played out last year. “Basically, one of our ex-members of this project got in contact with someone who works with Bethesda and started talking about our planned method [for making the mod]. The short of it was that they made it clear they were not supporting people who were porting the old content.”
“During this time, I changed jobs, the level designer and main artist both ended up in hospital... a lot of things happened in the space of a few months to the point where it felt like [Bethesda's interference] was the final nail in the coffin. So we shut The Capital Wasteland down," he tells me, explaining that while the team needed to put the project on hold to regroup, it was never forgotten. "We never stopped working on it. We had already invested so much time into it. It was really when we decided to just go out there, [to] see what voice talent we [could] pick up [that] we came back a day later with lots of interest.”
And while NafNaf is quick to compliment the Elder Scrolls and Fallout developer for the persistent versatility of its Creation Engine (and for being one of the few major studios to release comprehensive modding tools for its games), he explains that “the only reason we wanted to bring the project back was because we have no hope in Bethesda anymore”.
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Indeed, like many of us, NafNaf also sides with the disappointed majority when it comes to Fallout 76, which he devoted some time to playing upon the game’s release last November. As someone who is literally remaking Fallout 3 from almost the ground up, however, he is a big fan of Bethesda’s very first open-world apocalypse.
“Fallout 3 never holds your hand. Around every corner there’s a story of survival and pain and death. It’s got that weird, dark humour that apes the vibes of the original games. It’s not as a bad a game as people remember, though I may be biased because it’s one of my earlier memories of video games!”
NafNaf’s love of Fallout 3 never necessarily stemmed from a disappointment with the direction Bethesda took for the less beloved Fallout 4, but rather a desire to see one of his favourites running with a fresh coat of paint. "The capital Wasteland all started because I got bored one day and thought, 'you know what? Let's see if I can't recreate a little bit of Fallout 3 in Fallout 4?' Some of the guys that I was working with at the time in Road to Liberty were impressed, and we asked ourselves how far we could take it," he says, admitting that "it just blew up from there!"
Last year, Fallout 3 celebrated its tenth anniversary, and rumours of a potential remaster in the vein of Skyrim: Special Edition had many crossing their fingers for an announcement from Bethesda. But October 28, 2018 came and went without any new reveals, putting yet more pressure on Road to Liberty for The Capital Wasteland to deliver when Bethesda refused. After all, as NafNaf himself admits, “If Bethesda weren’t going to announce a Fallout 3 remaster on the game’s tenth anniversary, then it’s not going to happen at all.”
It isn't clear whether Bethesda will ever deliver the long-rumoured Fallout 3 remaster, but the uncertainty surrounding it is enough to give The Capital Wasteland's Project Lead the desire to continue with the fan-led creative endeavour. That said, he'd drop it in a heartbeat if he had to. "I'd give up on the project and I know 90% of the team would," he tells us. "We're only doing this because we want to explore The Capital Wasteland again. We love that world and we love that game. If Bethesda were able to do it themselves and save us the work then that's completely fine."
When asked about The Capital Wasteland’s release plans, NafNaf stops short of specifying a release window, half joking that work on the project will “just keep going until I die, basically.” In spite of the monumental task ahead of him, he’s eager to express his appreciation for his modding team, as well as those who have given their time and services in some way or another so far. “I’m just incredibly thankful to everyone who has helped, and one of the things that really annoys me is that I can’t physically respond to everyone that emails in to gives us ideas. But I do appreciate the reaction we’ve had from the community.”
Against the odds, and indeed Bethesda’s own wishes, The Capital Wasteland is continuing to build the impossible dream of a remastered Fallout 3. We might not get to play until many years from now but, in the meantime, you can help NafNaf_95 and the Road to Liberty out by watching them stream their work, offering your dulcet tones in the re-recording process or, if you think you’ve got the talent, even volunteering to work on the mod itself. Fallout 3’s protagonist may be known as the Lone Wanderer, but rebuilding the world they roam in is very much a team effort.
Where does Fallout 4 land on our list of the best RPG games of all time? Check out our ongoing list of the top 25 to find out.