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War never changes, but have our opinions about Fallout?

I love Fallout…well, now I do. Truth be told, I never heard of the series until Fallout 3 which, upon playing it, led me to my obsession with the series as well as tracking down the two original Fallout games. After playing them however, I was actually surprised about how much I enjoyed them. I had to restart the original Fallout about five times before finishing it and Fallout 2 I only restarted once, but the larger scope of it made it all the more annoying when trying to redo everything (still fun however).  Anyway, the point is, I’ve definitely played these games enough to know them. Also, coming from Fallout 3, the original games were very different and took a bit of adjusting. So like I said I’m surprised that I enjoyed them so much, especially Fallout 1. This game came out about 12 years ago and is now hailed as a classic that would continue to be enjoyed, just as all classics are. And while I feel that I, as well as many others, have easily proven that fact, I feel it’d be interesting to see just how well the very first Fallout has withstood the test of time.

Story

Then: Fallout has an excellent story that is pretty original. You play as the Vault Dweller, a resident of Vault 13, which was one of many underground shelters for humanity in case of nuclear war. And indeed nuclear war did happen, ravaging the landscape. Fortunately your ancestors survived in Vault 13. But now it looks as though your survival is on the line, as a malfunctioning water chip threatens the lives of the entire Vault. You have been tasked with venturing out into post-nuclear wastelands you have never seen before to search for a working water chip to replace the one in Vault 13. Seems somewhat straightforward, but what begins as this journey ends is an entirely different one. All the while, during your adventures, you’ll run into various people to do quests for. This all accumulates into an unforgettable tale that sets Fallout high above the rest.

Now: The story is still just as good as it was 12 years ago. Fallout’s tale of retrieving the water chip, crushing the Super Mutant armies of one of the most infamous boss characters, The Master, and then being banished from your Vault is still a great story today. No change in opinions here.

Setting

Then: You may think that Fallout’s world would be familiar, however it’s not. The world is built upon much of the pop-culture and propaganda from the first half of the 20th century, followed by a diverged timeline that crafts a wonderfully rich back-story. There is also a lot of humor to be found in referencing many of the themes of the era. Seeing Fallout’s underground Vaults and ravaged towns trying to get by, and mostly succeeding, is a great sight to behold. The world is also populated by creatures influenced by the ideas of the first half of the 20th century; which often consisted of massive bugs, rats, and any other animals mutated due to radiation. Ghouls are the human products of this and overall this shows Fallout’s devotion to the time period; it sculpts a retro-futuristic world well. Not only that but the world is huge, featuring 11 locations including Vault 13, a trading center called The Hub, and a small farming community descended from another Vault called Shady Sands. That’s not to mention the massive amounts of wasteland you can traverse through. Thus, you have a massive world that is built upon a masterfully crafted setting filled with excellent themes and lore.

Vault of the Future

Now: I really can’t argue that the Fallout universe is one of the greatest and most inventive in all of gaming. You haven’t ventured in the aftermath of a nuclear war until you’ve played Fallout. Of course seeing it the way you see it in Fallout 3 makes it feel so much more alive, and without so many repeated environments. But today’s standards, as far as world size goes, Fallout’s world is pretty small. The locations are still moderately sized but really, the overworld of the wasteland is actually what’s the smallest. You’re just travelling through the exact same screen over and over and over again until you get to a town (which takes forever) or a new terrain (which then starts the same process all over again). You can just go to a town without stopping but then what’s the point of having an overworld? I guess the random encounters but a much smaller overworld would’ve satisfied that purpose easily, and would have been a much better option too. Especially when walking from place to place, which wastes the time limit (I’ll get to that later). But overall, Fallout’s world is still one of the most original in gaming to date. Even Wasteland, often considered the spiritual predecessor to Fallout, didn’t have many of Fallout’s ideas for its world.

Gameplay

Then: Fallout puts you in a third person isometric view and has you pointing and clicking your way through areas. Combat is turn-based and is handled quite well. You can perform an action during combat, but it requires Action Points, and the amount of Action Points used depends on the action. For instance, shooting your pistol might require four Action Points but targeting a specific limb might require five. This system also applies to allies and enemies. Overall, it works very well.

Vault of the Future screen

Stats are also handled exceptionally and there are four parts too it. Firstly you have your skills, like Lockpicking and Small Guns, and each has their own use throughout the game. Secondly you have perks. Perks give your character special traits, such as being able to have more AP to move during combat or raising the amount of skill points you get from reading books. Thirdly there are traits you pick in the beginning of the game that have both positive and negative effects (except for Bloody Mess which just makes things more gruesome). For instance, you may use less AP to shoot but at the cost of your accuracy, or maybe you and your enemies miss more. Fourthly, there’s the SPECIAL system (which stands for Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, and Luck). This feature defines your character’s core abilities, such as AP and your carry weight. Overall the stats create a balanced and in-depth system that lets you create any type of character, from an intelligent assassin skilled in sneaking to an idiotic muscle man skilled in unarmed combat.

Now: I’ll admit that coming from Fallout 3 it took a little while to get used to the differences from Fallout 1. Naturally, the difference in perspective was the first thing I noticed and I often found myself annoyed that I could not move around and shoot enemies as I could in Fallout 3. However once I got used to it the combat became enjoyable and a fun challenge at times as opposed to being an annoying hardship. It still works well today and it’s a great combat system for a turn-based RPG. Something I do find annoying though is that both allies and enemies are highlighted in red. Allies can be highlighted in green with a perk but why it’s not a core gameplay feature is stupid. It was fixed in Fallout 2, to the developer’s credit. I’ll also say that I really wish the game had a rotating camera. This was actually planned for the cancelled Fallout 3 (a.k.a Van Buren) but I wish they had thought of it sooner. I cannot tell you how many times I didn’t see a locker because it was out of the camera’s view. Overall the perspective works…I guess (you get used to it).

The stats system in Fallout is still one of the best to date and it does allow for an incredible amount of flexibility. Like I said before, I had some trouble initially with creating a character in Fallout 1 because of some of the differences of stats from Fallout 3. Once I figured out what was different I was good to go. I do have two complaints though. One complaint is that I really find the name Small Guns very misleading. I don’t know about anyone else but the first time I played Fallout 3, I thought this skill only applied to pistols and therefore didn’t realize how important it was. Thankfully I learned my lesson by Fallout 1 but still, it would have been helpful to have a clearer name as not everyone is going to read the descriptions. This is really my own personal nitpicking though. Another complaint is that the skills each go to 200% instead of 100%. I really don’t get why they have to, I mean isn’t 100% supposed to be perfect? If so, then what is 200% supposed to be? Über perfect? Does that make 100% crap? Apparently not so. I really don’t know why it has to go to 200% I could understand that for Fallout 2, which had a level cap of 99, but Fallout 1’s level cap is 21 so it’s not like you’re going to max out everything to 100% so there’s not much of a point. Still though, the stats system in Fallout 1 is one of the best ever.

Questing

Then: There’s so much to do in Fallout 1. It’s a game that will last you a while with a lot of replayability. This is largely due to the Reputation System (now better known as the Karma System). Basically most of what you do will give you good or bad reputation. So if you kill a sheriff, you’ll get bad reputation but if you protect a group of friendly travellers, you’ll get good reputation.

This is most prevalent in quests, and there are many quests to do. In addition to the long main quest, there are lots of side quests to complete in each area. This gives you many hours of gameplay that will keep you occupied for a long time. Plus, you can do them in any order you want so it adds more flexibility to the game.

One thing that is VERY annoying is that the main quest has a time limit. This may not seem like a major nuisance but when it limits you from exploring and doing all the quests, it isn’t a very good thing. Considering the plot, it’s at least relevant but still, it’s annoying. Still it adds to the replay value and considering the diversity of the quests, there are many reasons to play Fallout again.

Now: Nowadays, there’s a patch that removes the time limit put in place after you find the water chip. Still the only way to not have a time limit indefinitely is to play Fallout 2. In addition to that, how many people do you think actually had a half decent Internet in 1997 to download the patch? In case you weren’t born back then to know let me tell you from personal experience; no one did. The Internet was pretty crappy and that patch must’ve taken quite the long time to install. I guess now you can just get a patched version of Fallout 1 so it’s not too much of a problem.

Moving on, despite the fact that Fallout has a multitude of quests, the entire main quest, and therefore the game, can be completed in less than nine minutes. This is a speed run of the game and skips over a part of the main quest but still, the main quest isn’t all that long anyway. With the right stats, you can just get the water chip, destroy the Super Mutant base, and kill The Master in about an hour. You’re not supposed to know that the first time you play the game I guess but the side quests aren’t too long either, despite how many there are.

I restarted this game four times. The first two times because my character was bad, the third time because of dying from radiation and not being able to be healed in time. The fourth time was because I killed someone by accident and didn’t have an earlier save. Eventually I completed the game on my fifth playthrough. Speaking of radiation I died because although I presumed you’d die after reaching 1000 Rads, the game keeps on counting so when I had over 4000 Rads; I presumed you died when you got to 10,000 and so I didn’t heal myself, a bad design choice but whatever. Anyway getting back to my point; I should mention that all of those restarts were within one day. It took me about two or three hours a game to get back to where I was previously and that consisted of doing about half the side quests in the game. Not too long but still, there’s a lot of them and they’re enjoyable so I didn’t mind doing them five times each. It still took me a bit to finish the game on my fifth playthrough so it’s not too short either.

Another complaint I have with the quests though is the blandness of the naming. Let me give you an example using Fallout 3’s most famous quest, The Power of the Atom. While this is Fallout 3’s name for it, Fallout 1 would’ve probably called it “Disarm or detonate the nuke in Megaton”. It’s just very bland. I admit, at least it lets you know your objective but some quest steps would’ve helped too, and more so. That’s another thing about the quests; there are no steps to let you know what to do. Honestly this is unfortunate as some of the stuff you have to do is really random. For instance, who would’ve guessed that you need to gamble with a computer to access it so that you could link a radio to it to control the shields in the Mariposa Military Base? (the Super Mutant base I mentioned earlier) It’s just so…random. And the fact that it’s still an issue in Fallout 2 is the worst part. I’m not asking for hand-holding quest steps or anything, just a general description of what to do, what to do next, etc. I had to use a guide a couple of times, which I don’t generally do, except for collectibles and such. The quests are still fun but they would have been more fun if they were less confusing.

Items & Enemies

Then: Fallout has a large variety of items that range from weapons to drugs. Obviously, the weapons are at the top of the list and Fallout has quite a few of them to pick for each skill. For instance Energy Weapon specialists will find their tools of destruction in the form of a Turbo Plasma Rifle or the Gatling Laser while Small Guns specialists will rip through their foes with the likes of the Combat Shotgun and Assault Rifle. It’s really varied, like the rest of the game, and keeps the fighting interesting.

The same can be said for other items in the game. Armor has you starting with a basic Vault Suit but you’ll eventually end up with a suit of Power Armor, which makes you a human tank. There are drugs that will affect you in certain ways, such as Stimpaks that restore your health or Buffout, which makes you stronger. Other items serve the purpose of opening doors or letting you know information about something. It all makes for a lot of varied items, each used in their own way.

Of course with all those items, there must also be a variety of enemies, and indeed Fallout has them. You’ll constantly cross paths with Raiders, which become easier and easier as you level up. Eventually, you’ll run into much more powerful enemies, such as Super Mutants, that will test your abilities and tear you apart (literally) if you’re not careful. In between there are a variety of easier and harder enemies that are not only varied in their appearance but also provide different types of challenges to different characters of different levels. Thus, the enemies are also a varied aspect of an already varied game and they work well.

Now: I’ll give credit to Fallout that it certainly had quite the variety of weapons and that you’ll find quite a few for each skill. The stupid thing I found about the weapons though is that there are different types of ammo for weapons that use bullets. Interestingly enough though, a glitch in the game has the effects of each ammo not working, so in essence they’re all the same. I also find it annoying that ammo has weight but that’s another story (that was more a problem in Fallout 2 for me anyway). The drugs that heal you, make you stronger etc are pretty creative and all the other items at least have uses. The armor system is something I found to have both a positive and negative side to it though. Basically in Fallout 3, each armor has a good thing and bad thing to it, or at least most do, you can infer much of it. So while Power Armor might have a high Damage Resistance and increase your Strength, it decreases your Agility. Or while the Sexy Sleepwear I like to wear increases my Charisma, it has no Damage Resistance. In Fallout 1, none of that would be the case. The armor, and there is pretty much only armor, only gets stronger and stronger with no disadvantages over the previous one. So once you get Hardened Power Armor you’re set because it has no disadvantages from regular Power Armor. This does add a nice armor progression to the game but it also means that all the other armor becomes useless eventually and is only good for selling…Wait, how is that bad? All right, never mind, armor is good too I guess. So overall, items are still a good aspect of Fallout 1.

Enemies are still a good part of the game. I found it very satisfying the first time I melted a Raider with my Plasma Rifle because I had hated them so much when I was at a low level. Meanwhile, Super Mutants annoyed me all the way throughout the game, but got easier over time. Sometimes I would defeat them, sometimes they would rip through me or one of my followers with their Minigun before I got a shot off (I forgot to mention, you can have followers in Fallout, like the suicidal Dogmeat and back-shooting Ian). Point being, enemies in Fallout will always be split between easy and hard at any level, providing for a great, and sometimes challenging experience throughout the game.

Graphics & Sound

Then: Fallout’s graphics are the weakest aspect of the entire game. Seriously, I’ve seen better graphics on the Nintendo 64. There are no faces, the buildings are all recycled (as are the people), and a lot of the buildings and environments are reused. It all adds up to an unfortunate side of Fallout. I will say that the “Talking Heads” (no, not the band) look pretty good. These are basically stop-motion versions of faces that appear when you talk to some important people. The few stop motion cut scenes also look pretty good. Other than those the graphics aren’t very good.

The sound isn’t all that great either. The weapons and items sound good but the music is just the same few-second loops over and over again, and it’s too quiet. I mean, I know that’s the atmosphere of a post-apocalyptic wasteland but still I could barely hear it, which defeats the purpose. Thus the audio, as far as the music goes, is pretty weak. The voice acting and items sound good though so I guess it balances out.

Now: The graphics were actually a legitimate criticism back when Fallout was released. Obviously by today’s standards the game looks like crap, but even back then it didn’t look too good. I’ll say that, taking 12 years into account, the “Talking Heads”, the item icons, and The Cathedral location all look good but all the other environments don’t look too extraordinary. By the way, I’m not taking any stabs at the N64 by comparing its graphics to those of Fallout. I still love the N64. I was just saying that by 1997, a computer playing a game like Fallout should have better graphics than the N64.

The sound is something that was so quiet, even with the game volume at max, and so bland, I ended up turning it off and listening to music off my iTunes library. The voice acting was good so I paused a song when a “Talking Head” popped up. And Ron Perlman’s narratives are classic. As far as music goes, nothing too impressive here.

Final Thoughts

Fallout is undoubtedly a classic that is played and will be played for years to come. However, I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t lost some of what made it such a great game back then. The story, setting, items, enemies, stats, and gameplay are as good as they were back then. However, the quests and world aren’t quite as big as they used to be, the graphics are just getting worse, and the music isn’t too good either. Nevertheless Fallout more than makes up for its blemishes and is still a solid gaming experience today. If you’re a fan of Fallout 3 I’d strongly recommend playing it. If not, then I’d still say it’s worth a playthrough. Like I said, I restarted Fallout five times and despite the fact that I had to redo everything, I had a blast every time. Thus, I feel I can safely say that Fallout will always remain a classic and one of the definitive RPG titles of gaming; even if it isn’t as good as it was 12 years ago.