GBAtemp Recommends: The Classic Fallout Series
When you think of Fallout, what comes to mind? 1950’s decor, bombastic radio songs, first-person perspective and mini-nuke launchers? Or methodical and tactical isometric movement, focusing heavily on swaths of dialogue and fourth wall-breaking meta humor? Either of those descriptions represent the Fallout series, just separated by decades and different developers.
Even before the Fallout franchise fell into the hands of Bethesda, the post apocalyptic role-playing-game had quite the storied history. Going all the way back to 1987, in a time where Super Mario Bros. was still fairly new and innovative, developer Interplay decided to make a sci-fi video game, based on what would happen if nuclear fallout would devastate the United States. Thanks to the talent of writer and director, Brian Fargo and his team at Interplay, the game came to be known as Wasteland, and released for the Apple II computer in 1988.
At the time, Wasteland was considered impressive, offering punishing difficulty, an interesting story mostly delivered through the game’s manual booklet, and innovative AI combat. By today’s standards, it’s a little dated, but if you sit down and give it a chance, it’s still more than playable...if you’re willing to take a few visits to GameFAQs and steel yourself for a 1980’s-era-tough challenge. For those that have played Wasteland, you’ll be familiar with the general plot and concepts--religious techno-zealots, modified superior human beings, overly radiated zombie-like creatures, and more--which will remain relevant for years to come.
Fallout came to be as a result of Electronic Arts doing what they do best: being the worst company in America. In all seriousness, when Interplay decided they wanted to make a sequel to Wasteland on their own, EA, their original publisher, refused, holding onto the license for themselves. This left Interplay at a crossroads. They were dedicated and had their hearts set on continuing their ideas for a post-apocalyptic strategy RPG, yet couldn’t fall back on their previously established franchise. So instead, they’d bend the rules and create a spiritual successor to Wasteland, titled Fallout: A Post Nuclear Role Playing Game.
Nine years had passed since Wasteland’s initial release, but the memories of creating the game were still recent in Interplay’s mind. The development team set to work creating Fallout 1, using many themes and ideas from Wasteland as the basis of inspiration for this new game. One of the companion characters from Fallout 1, Tycho, even directly mentions Wasteland’s Desert Rangers, almost serving as a neon sign to clue the player into how many similarities there were between the two titles. Drools had become Ghouls, the Citadelian Clergy became the Brotherhood of Steel, Power Armor become...well, Powered Armor. Even the Military Base Cochise and Irwin Finster were almost copy-pasted into Fallout 1, with just how indistinguishable it was from the Mariposa Military Base and Richard Grey’s plot.
Even so, Fallout 1 was a more experienced take on Wasteland, bringing higher production values and more nuanced and thoughtful writing, creating a game that was just a bit more timeless. That’s not to say that Fallout 1 is flawless; it has its fair share of confusing puzzles, unbalanced gameplay, and awkward moments. But, having those nine extra years over Wasteland really helped Fallout stay just a touch more playable, when viewed through the lenses of a modern gamer. Even if you are loathed to try older games, for fear of their obtuse difficulty, lack of compatibility, or other reasons, I implore you to at least read or watch an overview, or some of the game’s final moments with The Master--a brilliant endgame boss. Every single line of dialogue written there could easily put modern Fallout writing to shame. Though diabolical, you can feel the reasoning behind the machnications of the “bad guy”, and could honestly believe him to be in the right. The game gives you the option to ponder such ideas, and go through multiple different solutions, and once the credits roll, you’re left on an introspective note, pondering the slow rebuilding process of a world scarred by nuclear annihilation.
So, with the success of Fallout, the stage had been set for a franchise, one to continue upon, improve, and change, as years go by. With the story of Fallout's protagonist, the Vault Dweller having come to a close, where and how do you continue from there? Announced by Black Aisle Studios a mere few months after the release of Fallout, via Usenet of all things, was a sequel: Fallout 2. Taking place 80 years after the events of the original game, Fallout 2 puts you in the role of the Chosen One, the grandchild of Vault Dweller. Rather than focus on the world and the disarray it was in, the sequel attempts to show growth in the decades that have passed in post-nuclear war California. Cities are forming anew, governments have formed to protect the citizens; humans have adapted and survived the destruction of the war. Not everything is happy and peaceful, though--Fallout 2 deals with mature themes, revolving around addiction, corruption, morality, slavery, and humanoid species-based racism.
The gameplay had remained largely unchanged between Fallout 1 and 2, with small quality of life changes being added to make the game easier to deal with. It was still an isometric RPG featuring turn-based combat; your movement and the amount you could attack were dictated by action points. Much like other classic RPGs from the 80's and 90's, Fallout 2 is difficult, clunky at times, and can leave you confused about where to go next. The start of the game, a mandatory tutorial dungeon, is a culmination of all of Fallout 2's worst traits. No matter how you've built your character, you'll find yourself struggling, as you try to fruitlessly kick large mutated ants over and over again. It's needlessly punishing, and it's harsh enough to potentially drive new players away with its frustrations.
However, if you stick with it for that first hour or so, Fallout 2 opens up, offering you a world rife with interesting dialogue, quests with varied solutions, and fair-yet-challenging difficulty. Each town within the game's world felt alive; they all have specific exports and jobs that keep the area flourishing, with trade routes and caravans going between all of them, connecting the areas of post-apocalyptic California. When you're traveling the desert, alone and scared, running from hostile enemies, running into a new town can feel like finding an oasis, tantalizing you with safety, new missions, and shops. Every city you find throughout your journey can be impacted by you; your choices will help secure a future of prosperity, or destroy it, dooming another piece of civilization to death, out in the cruel wasteland. At the very end of the game, you'll see how your decisions impacted others, along your journey, and it gives you a good sense of closure to know how far-reaching your actions were, to all the friends and enemies you made along the way. You always have this great sense of freedom in Fallout 2; you can venture out anywhere, solve quests in multiple different ways, and outside of an overarching main quest, you're free to do things in any order you want. One of Fallout 2's most standout inclusions is that of a "stupid mode", where if you set your intelligence low enough, you can play the entire game as a bumbling idiot, barely able to understand simple words. Entire quests were re-done to fit this wacky variation of the story--where you might have had to pay someone off or find an item for them, they may instead just pity you and send you on your way. This results in tons of fourth-wall-breaking and hilarious humor.
Regrettably, the release of Fallout 2 was rushed, given only a mere few months of development time before needing to be pushed out for a fall 1998 release date. Numerous areas and quests were quietly cut from the game, as the developers knew there wouldn't be enough time to cram all their ideas in before time was up. The dedication of those said developers and writers can be seen most clearly in a set of documents called the Fallout Bible, a handbook of sorts, created post-launch by the game's lead writer, detailing information and extra world-building that never were able to make it to the final release. While the game is entirely playable and enjoyable without those extra areas, you can sometimes feel like there's something missing from a quest, making the rushed nature of the game apparent at times. Black Aisle Studios were open about cut content, describing and offering visual designs of areas that they had wanted to include in Fallout 2, but couldn't. Thanks to all that information floating about, however, a dedicated team of modders was able to incorporate many of these areas and quests, in the form of the Fallout 2 Restoration Project. Suddenly, a great game becomes even greater, thanks to a swath of more overall content, making the game feel like a complete experience. Unless you're a purist for the original, this is the best way to play Fallout 2.
Bethesda's acquisition of the Fallout license would spell the end for Black Aisle Studios' take on Fallout. At least, until the remains of the studio would come together to form Obsidian, and later work on Fallout: New Vegas. While Fallout has most certainly become a modernized and more popular franchise, the gritty writing, impressive world-building, and overall heart that the original two entries have been replaced by simpler writing, as each newer entry slowly strips away the RPG elements that Fallout once had. Each Fallout game has its own merits, for certain, but if you're looking to sink your teeth into a truly classic set of old school western RPGs, you can't do much better than Fallout 1 and 2.
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