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Fallout (PC) artwork

Fallout (PC) review

"An RPG Where You Arenít S.P.E.C.I.A.L."

When it comes to downvoting a classic, people are bound to declare it contararian rather than understand why. Sometimes poor gameplay is forgiven by great storytelling as Planescape Torment; sometimes it happens to be unrefined gameplay judged by modern standards as the original Deus Ex; and sometimes it happens to be specific technical limitations or faults that tarnishes the experience such as Oblivion or Morrowind. Fallout 1 is a special case where it meets every criteria, and yet it remains a game I absolutely adore my second run--and yet I would be lying if I said I would recommend playing F1 when games like Fallout 2 and Wasteland 2 polishes many ideas the (sort-of) original post-apocalypse RPG founded.

In an ideal world were games are judged with respect to their history, everyone should experience the original for its own merits and its own flaws. Even if you wish to only play F2, which is arguably the more complete game, there are moments worth watching others play it who know how to circumvent its problems. However, some classics are nearly impossible to experience blind today without severely ruining its merits such as the lack of an updated journal system and a way to toggle names, and Fallout suffers from its core gameplay and its accessibility. If you are compelled to play in spite of this review, then install Fallout Fixt, which includes quality of life improvements to make the game not as bad as it is by default.

An RPG Where You Arenít S.P.E.C.I.A.L.

As with many great journeys in games, itís not the lore or backstory that begins the many hardships but the character sheet. Fallout 1, and what is perhaps attributed to its rocky development, feels more unrefined than other main entries besides being the first attempt. Based on a modified version of GURPS, the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats are a fundamental problem with the old Fallouts because of how homogenized your characters feel to enjoy the gameplay. Some of these issues are attributed to the type it game it is, namely a turn-based game controlling one character over a squad, yet others from how the stats can easily be exploited.

There are two--three, if we include Gifted--reasons why character sheet feels so restrictive. Although Gifted is a trait that will affect your starting skills (ex. lockpicking, guns, etc.), the drawbacks are quickly outweighed when you start off with an absurd number of S.P.E.C.I.A.L. points compared to others including Fallout 4. This is perhaps the most forgivable problem because you can simply choose to avoid it; itís the others that are harder to tolerate the same answer. In addition to excess numbers, stat allocation primarily focuses around the weapons, the number of attacks per round, and the desire not to waste your stats from the start. Charisma is the worst offender as it provides nothing worth investing as all dialogue options are based on intelligence and the Speech skill. Endurance and Agility perks scale in intervals of two, so you want to be even; Agility is also tied to the number of Action Points per turn, so choosing anything less than 9 or 10 makes fights longwinded. Six strength is enough to use most weapons until you get Power Armor, which increases your strength by three. Considering we have discussed four major stats, Luck and Perception are the most susceptible to change.

Traits also suffer homogenization as they mostly impact the game negatively, although these choices are largely made for roleplaying. (This is also a problem with VATS as itís more comedic than practical.) Unfortunately, unlike Wasteland 2 where you can balance out defects to create comedic situations within and outside combat, choosing traits creates suboptimal builds in a largely combat focused game. Companions donít serve as real party members as you cannot control their actions nor influence what weapons/tactics they will use. Suggestions can be made, but you cannot stop Ian from wanting to bring a knife to a Deathclaw fight nor save Dogmeat from his idiocy thinking heís an essential NPC. Sometimes these companions can also be detrimental to avoiding conflict, so growing attachments is best avoided towards the end of the journey.

No Rhyme Nor Reason, Only Wandering Brought Us Together

Before delving into other areas of concern, there are other aspects of Fallout 1 often derided that deserve praise as well as a personal revelation about Fallout 3. The time-limit mechanic gets a lot of criticism when itís an extension of the overall atmospheric dread established by the world and the UIís unfriendliness. Exploring the game world is what takes up the first 150 in-game days, but if you explore each location as they are introduced then you can take your time. Caravans for extra caps as well as resting for health/skill-books should be used sparingly until you reach the mid-game goal of stopping the Super Mutants. Stories of each major and minor HUB are structured similarly as vignettes across the Wasteland with their own beginning, middle and end; however, unlike New Vegas, many tales are often unrelated similar to Fallout 3, and it is where the structure of the game and the narrative falls apart.

If quests in New Vegas were structured like short-stories, then the entirety of Fallout 1 is a series of flash-fiction prose with varying amounts of choice and importance. The highlights of cleverness that Fallout is known for comes from the end-game areas, featuring the most multi-layered decisions, which happens more often and far sooner in the sequel. This problem is one Iím willing to forgive, yet it would not be honest to ignore its omission as most quests are meant to be introductions to Falloutís world. Quests like killing Radscorpions, saving a prisoner from the Khans, and fetching the Water Chip are simple tasks meant to appear more intimidating by the difficulty to achieve them. In fact, the Water Chip could be the best quest as it takes you ďnon-linearlyĒ to different HUBs with their own stories while acting as a guide. Direction isnít an issue as it may initially appear because the devs smartly goal-posted areas and their quests to sign-post you elsewhere; however, after finding the Water Chip, the lack of guidance may be attributed to the absence of a strong main-quest and the waning presence of an antagonist.

As much as people enjoy the Master and the story, F1 suffers from a problem of having an aimless narrative simply about its Wasteland. Some people may argue it creates a more realistic tale because not everything connects with each other, but that is exactly what bothered me about Fallout 3 and its disjointed world. The progression from Vault 13 to the HUB feels remote from the rest of the journey to the end, and the only element connecting it together is the Water Chip and you. The Super Mutant threat only comes halfway into the game after stumbling into a side-quest about a missing caravan in the pursuit of the Water Chip, and there is no foreshadowing to suggest these narratives will cross one another. Even groups in the beginning like the Khans feel ignored in the latter half. This is why the Vault 13 Overseer, not the Cult of the Unity nor the Master, felt like the true antagonist because he is the one who sends you out into the Wasteland, be it out of malice or of necessity, and who condemns you to leave when you return a hero.

ĒMaybe, Youíll Come Back AgainÖ And Maybe, Iíll Say, ĎMaybe.íĒ

Perhaps these issues are not alone to Fallout but to its pen-and-paper roots as the satisfaction comes down to what you imagine for yourself in this world. If Fallout 4 was criticized for railroading the player into the narrative, then perhaps the original can be condemned for leaving too much to player expression. Leaving something as integral as the story to chance will always titillate those with active imaginations, and sometimes it will critically miss and end up blowing your own brains out with the pen.

Brian's avatar
Community review by Brian (September 27, 2020)

Current interests: Strategy/Turn-Based Games, CRPGs, Immersive Sims, Survival Solo Games, etc.

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