Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Fallout: A Look Back (and Forward)

"War. War never changes."
If you've been living under a rock, or just don't pay any attention to video game news you may not have heard about the upcoming release of Fallout 4. Other than Microsoft announcing backward compatibility for the Xbox One this was the biggest news to come out of E3 for me this year. I had planned on going to PS4 when it was time for a new console, but I'm definitely going Xbox One now. And maybe sooner than I had planned after seeing how amazing Fallout 4 looks. Personally, I'm pretty damn excited about it, and wanted to share some of that excitement with you by taking a look back at the franchise history, while filling you in on what we know about the upcoming game right now.


The coolest thing by far about the Fallout series is the world in which it takes place. A nuclear war destroys most of the world, and it's population in 2077. From the scattered debris of the old world you find throughout the games it appears that society was kind of stuck in 1950. Everything from the Vault-Tec advertising to the dilapidated furnishings give it a unique retro-futuristic vibe. There are robots and automatons, but they're made with transistors and tubes. Your vault issued Pip-Boy features a Monopoly style cartoon character, and radio programs play nothing but golden-oldies. It's the perfect time period to use for setting up a post-apocalyptic world given the nuclear fear that came into prominence at that time. The Vault-Tec Corporation was hired by the government to build 122 vaults to house the human population in the event of nuclear war. Each vault has a specialization (human or animal testing, resources, manufacturing, etc), but there weren't nearly enough of them to accommodate everyone. So most of the country died horribly, I'd imagine. The few that didn't were mutated into Ghouls. They look kind of like zombies, and are the post-war second-class citizens. You play most of the games as an inhabitant of one of the vaults, but it wouldn't be much of a game if you stayed there the whole time. Your various missions have you out trying to save the people in your vault, trying to make contact with other vaults, or just generally exploring the wasteland of the new United States. The games start in 2161 and progress through the late 2200's so even the stuff that survives the bombings is pretty run down by the time you get to it. Which brings us nicely to the first game:
Fallout (1997) - Interplay
Here's where it all got started. We were introduced to game concepts so good that they're still used to this day. Character creation through the "S.P.E.C.I.A.L." system, the Pip-Boy, Karma, and Ron Perlman narration. NPC companions were pretty useless (most were at this time in gaming), but you could have lots of them so at least they could help through quantity if not quality. Here is where you are also introduced to game-spanning companion Dogmeat. A rather unappealing name for your faithful friend, but he kills stuff  so I guess I can't complain too much. As you can see above the game certainly didn't look great, but again, for that time it was about normal. Let me take a minute to explain the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system now because it is so important to every game in the series. While nearly every RPG has an attribute system of some sort, the one in Fallout of has remained consistent and tricky to master in every game. It stands for strength, perception, endurance, charisma, intelligence, agility, and luck. You divide a set number of points into these categories during character creation, and they can have a huge impact on how you play the game. While intelligence and charisma might not seem important they can help with how you solve puzzles or interact with NPCs. If you don't put enough points into strength you can't carry as much and will be forced to leave valuables behind if you're on a long ranging mission. Perception helps you see enemies from a distance, and endurance is obviously something you can't live long without. It's a great system, and the way it's introduced in Fallout 3 as a children's book is particularly cool. Even if this game and the one directly following aren't something I'd go back and play again now they were great set up to what has remained a terrific series.
Fallout 2 (1998) - Black Isle
Given that this came out only a year after the first game you can't expect too many changes. There pretty much weren't any. It's still turn based combat that doesn't look like anything amazing. It's hard to believe that this game is supposed to take place 80 years after Fallout because they look so almost identical. They did add more weapons, more enemies, and a more adult themes (like prostitution). More everything except companions since you were now limited to how many you could have. To me 1 and 2 are like looking at Fallout 3 and New Vegas together. Both good, but so similar that 2 and New Vegas feel like extensions of the previous game rather than completely new games.

Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel (2001) - 14 Degrees East
I'm quickly glossing over this game for a few reasons. First, it was only released for PC. Second, it's not really the same genre as the other games. This is much more of a combat strategy game than it is a RPG. Even Bethesda tried to ignore it's existence for a while. Both of the above reasons, plus the fact that I just didn't like it are going to let me move quickly along to where the series hits it's full stride.
Fallout 3 (2008) - Bethesda
Now shit gets good. It's 2277 (200 years after the apocalypse for those of you not keeping track), and you finally get to head east to see what the rest of the country looks like. After 2 games in the desert this sounded like it would be a nice change, but most of the country is a wasteland so nothing looks that much different. Okay, the ruins of Washington D.C. are a nice touch, but until you get there it's all still pretty desert like. Along with a new and improved Pip-Boy you get a new combat system. VATS (or Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System) allows you to pause the action while you take aim a specific part of an enemy. You can take out the bad guy's gun arm or pop somebody in the head for a quick kill depending on how many points you have available to spend. The companions are way better since you can actually give them stuff to carry, and sort of tell them what to do. The fact that they don't always listen (and get lost easily) led to my old pal Dogmeat getting killed. The real bummer there being that you can only have one at a time so I had to go it alone for a bit, but since I found Fawkes just a little while later I didn't mind too much. Fawkes is an intelligent super mutant who is nearly indestructible, and by far the best companion in any game I've ever played (despite how many times I had to backtrack when he got stuck near a stairwell). There was also some really good DLC for this game, and one of them let you change the ending in a way that made it make much more sense to me. If my companion is invulnerable to radiation why do I have to go into the radiation flooded room where I will surely die? Anyone with half a brain would send in the companion. Duh! There was the obvious huge leap in graphics that came with the time period too. Sure some of the character animations were a little wooden, and sometimes got glitchy as hell, but the backgrounds were interesting and detailed enough to make up for most of that. This is probably still one of my top 10 games of all time.
Fallout: New Vegas (2010) - Obsidian
Because Bethesda was busy making Skyrim they turned New Vegas over to Obsidian. Since Obsidian went on to make South Park: Stick of Truth this was probably good practice for them anyway. It takes place a scant 4 years after Fallout 3, and just guess where it takes place? You're no longer a vault dweller, but a courier. You get 2 companions, and with a wheel style command system you get much more control over what they do. They toned down the VATS and made it feel more like a shooter which kind of bugged me. That was really the only change. The animations and style stayed pretty much the same from the last game so it didn't feel much like a new game. I still liked it, but I never got any of the DLC either. I don't want you to think that I didn't enjoy the crap out of it though. I just checked, and my last save was at 70 hours into the damn thing. It might make it into the top 20, but just didn't feel fresh enough to make the top 10.
Fallout 4 (2015) - Bethesda
This year's E3 had some sneak peaks at some cool looking games. I'm sure Fable 4 would have been near the top of that list if it hadn't been for the extended view Bethesda gave of Fallout 4. We finally get a real look at life before the war. Not long before the war, but enough time to see what all that broken down junk from the other games looked like when it was new. It appears to be exactly what I always imagined it would be, and that makes me extremely happy. From what I've seen in the teasers and trailers the character you eventually become starts out as a baby while you have control of your father. You can customize both your parents appearance which will influence what you grow up to look like. Your (wisely) paranoid parents have secured your family a place in a vault, but barely have time to get there as the bombs start falling. Obviously you make it, but somehow wake up 200 years later as the only survivor of your vault. Again, for those of you not doing math at home that puts us in 2277 which is the same time period as Fallout 3. But rather than D.C. you're in Boston this time around. I wonder if the Ghouls will have those annoying accents? Anyway, you've been in some sort of suspended animation so that you're not physically 200 years old (because that would be a short and boring game), but you weren't so suspended that you wake up as a baby either. Through some kind of game magic you wake up at just the right age to rebuild some semblance of society. And building appears to be correct as you will actually be able to start settlements of your own this time around. The usual irradiated monsters, super mutants, and deathclaws are back, but luckily so is an indestructible Dogmeat. Thank god. I hate fighting deathclaws with companions who can die.

It looks absolutely beautiful, and Bethesda has said that the issues with Skyrim actually helped them make this a better game. I'm just super annoyed that the Pip-Boy pre-order special editions sold out before I could even say "shut up and take my money!". I know I don't have an Xbox One yet, but I would have gladly bought the PC version just so I could have a real Pip-Boy. The release is set for this November, and while we wait you can check out the official trailer here or if you have some extra time to kill (it's 30 minutes long) watch the E3 showcase video here. Those of you with iPhones can also keep yourselves occupied until November with Fallout Shelter.  It's supposed to place you as the overseer of a vault, and sounds like it might be a nice little resource management game. I wouldn't know. Those of us with Android phones are simply told that we'll get it "soon".


-Beth

 Beth got her start writing for a site called Movie Criticism for the Retarded (which has been revived as dorkdroppings.com. Check it out sometime), but was pulled out of an early retirement to write for Needless Things. When she isn't writing she plays video games and watches bad horror movies while eagerly awaiting the zombie apocalypse. She may try to save her husband and/or their cats, but luckily hasn't had to make those tough decisions yet.

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