Fallout seems to be the game on everyone’s mind this month, though it is the fourth numbered installment of the franchise which is getting the spotlight. The series has evolved significantly over its nearly two decade run. People who are just becoming familiar with the franchise may not be able to tell that Fallout 4 is related to the original game. Back in your day, in 1997, there was no trace of a 3D, third/first person open world action RPG, oh no. Back in your day, the post apocalyptic role playing game was isometric, and featured turn-based combat which was pure RPG with the virtual dice roll mechanic, and the world was composed of small to large rectangular plots between which you needed to travel.
Back in your day, there was Fallout.
Up until now my only interaction with the Fallout franchise was FO3, and just the base game. Now would probably be a good time to jump on the GOTY editions of 3 and NV alongside 4, right? Well, I’d love to (and probably will, despite my better judgement), but seeing as Fallout 4 just came out, and considering the size of my backlog in relation to the amount of time I spend gaming, purchasing not one, but three RPGs with several hundreds of hours of playtime might not be the wisest course of action.
So instead I jumped into just one RPG with around about 50 hours of playtime, if I immerse myself into it, and don’t just rush through the bugger’s main quests ignoring everything else.
For those people unfamiliar with the Fallout series (I’m sure there’s like, at least three of you out there), it takes place in a world struck by nuclear war. Fallout’s universe resembles our own, however the history of its Earth and ours diverged somewhere around 1945, and the future in Fallout looks a lot like those prediction-mockups from the 60’s. Technology has advanced to a point beyond our own in many ways, however somehow the trend of tech getting smaller never became a thing. Computers are still as large as the rooms they are housed in and use magnet strips, radio is still the primary form of media and everything has an Art Deco touch. Also, there are laser weapons, power armour, and massive combat mechs.
The first game in the series takes place a little less than a century after the two-hour “Great War” had reduced the planet into an irradiated desert. You were born and raised in a Vault, a high-tech nuclear bunker built inside a mountain which was equipped to maintain a population of up to 1000 for several decades. In theory, at least. The “water chip” of the Vault, which controls all the water purification systems, has malfunctioned, and a shipping mishap prior to the nuclear holocaust has left Vault 13 without a spare. As such, the Vault’s Overseer (the facility’s quasi-governor) sends you out into the Wasteland on a mission to retrieve a working water chip. Throughout your travels, you encounter all kinds of small settlements and various factions whom you may join, destroy, infiltrate, or ignore. The story does evolve beyond “find McGuffin which solves everyone’s problems”, involving the sinister plot of a mutant and a near-religious technology cult called the Brotherhood of Steel, but you’ll be hunting the water chip for a good long while. Now, I don’t want to go into any more detail for fear of spoiling anything, however I do want to talk about the game’s writing.
Fallout’s writing and story is widely praised, and with good reason. The main questline isn’t that reason. While I’m generally an advocate of the theory that you can’t play anything “wrong” as long as you’re enjoying it, I do think that you’re cheating yourself out of heaps of fun, and Fallout out of its chance to shine, if you power through the main quests and be done with it.
The world of Fallout is wide, and manages to be varied despite its reuse of the exact same desert tile about a thousand times. The settlements all have character, and feel like functioning – barely, granted – societies. The random encounters give the Wasteland character. The dark humor and satirical comedy will put a smile on your face and a knot in your stomach at the same time. A magnificent design choice links the amount of flavour text the game throws at you to your Perception stat. This is quite telling of the kind of game Fallout is.
The Wasteland is home to a tiny rural village called Shady Sands, which was built from nothing. The Hub is a bustling city built in the ruins of a small pre-war town. Junktown has been tacked together from rusted rubble. The Necropolis has been built around a Vault by the irradiated, mutated inhabitants. All of these settlements interact with each other, have on-going political relationships, and help one may put you at odds with another.
Gameplay wise, Fallout is a pretty standard RPG of the time, with turn based isometric combat. Your character’s equipment is a tad limited – you can equip an outfit and two weapons. Various consumable items also play a part in combat, however most of these are healing items. Your success in combat depends on luck and three sets of character stats. Your perks, which range from the standard such as small arms proficiency to the wacky such as causing enemies to blow up in a bloody storm of bodily fluids and internal organs; Your skill percentages, making you more proficient in certain activities; and Your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats, Fallout’s proprietary RPG stat system. Standing for Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility and Luck, the system is pretty self explanatory, however Interplay put a funny twist on these stats as well, such as having an extremely low intelligence stat results in your character only being able to communicate by grunting.
Unless playing on the lowest difficulty (called “wimpy”. Thanks, game…), Fallout can be a tad unforgiving, but that difficulty gives it character, and its not like surviving in a nuclear wasteland is going to be easy. While Fallout’s difficulty keeps you engaged once you get into it, it is also a massive barrier.
Fallout loves playing hard to get. Fallout does not want you to like it. Fallout does everything in its power to dissuade you from immersing yourself in the Wasteland – at first. This is possibly (probably) a result of the generation gap. Despite what I like to think of myself, I’m very much used to how easy the games of today have become. I restarted Fallout 6 times in the stretch of game taking place between leaving Vault 13 and entering Vault 15, meaning circa the first hour of the game. I always made my own character, and geared towards stealth and stealing. Well, if your low-level stealth oriented character is ambushed by half a dozen Radscorpions, you’re screwed. I quit Fallout again and again before I managed to claw my way over the hump, after which the gates of Fallout are flung wide open, and the intrigue of the Wasteland will draw you in, and no matter how many times that one particular fight does not go your way, you’ll have at it again.
Something that I found rather surprising was how familiar it all felt. Fallout 3 is set in a different location and time, with different characters, different gameplay, different mechanics, different perspective, and it was made by a different dev team. However, despite the glaring and obvious differences, I quickly fell back into the routine with Fallout, and began to play it very similarly to how I played Fallout 3 back then. This is a great example of how passing the torch is done right. Sometimes, a franchise is picked up by another team who have their own vision and interpretation of how a game in the franchise should look and feel. Unfortunately, more often than not, they miss the mark completely. Bethesda showed an immense amount of empathy in their interpretation of the Fallout universe, and managed to add their unique and singular twist to the popular franchise whilst respecting and staying true to the work of those who went before them.
The recently released Fallout 4 has also brought a wealth of innovation to the franchise, and while nowhere near as fundamental as the switch from Interplay to Bethesda, the changes have certainly given a new flavour to the Wasteland, and based on the reviews of the game, the transition was just as smooth and welcome as it was back in 2008.
Fallout is available on GOG.com and Steam.
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