October 10, 2022, marks 25 years since the original Fallout: A Post Nuclear Role Playing Game was released. The fact that the Fallout series has survived 25 long, tough years is a testament to the siren song of its world and ideas. Through reinvention the series has been able to stick around, even if relatively few have stepped into the barren world of its earlier incarnations.
The series has come a long way, baby, and has transformed into something entirely different to the pen & paper-led hex-based RPGs that formed its earlier years. Those changes have come alongside colossal growth, becoming a juggernaut franchise whose name is on the lips of nearly every gamer, something those first games could only dream of. 25 years is a long time for anyone but for game series it’s nearly an epoch. By changing into something new, Fallout has been able to stay current and fresh – something many of its counterparts were unable to do.
Let’s head back to that first wasteland, back to the days of the late 90s, and peer at Fallout’s beginnings.
Fallout – A New Wasteland
Post apocalyptic settings aren’t unusual in media and Fallout itself is a direct homage to the earlier Wasteland, a game that didn’t see a sequel until 2014. Considered the spiritual successor to Wasteland, Fallout looked to explore a brand new setting using GURPS, or the Generic Universal RolePlaying System. After a fallout between Interplay and Steve Jackson Games, the Fallout team decided to create their own system, named SPECIAL after each of the attributes available to the player.
All of that, however, would mean little if the setting, story, and world of Fallout didn’t inspire the player. Thankfully the Fallout team were able to smash together one of the most compelling game settings that has ever been created – this isn’t your normal wasteland you’re exploring, it’s something far greater.
Fallout walks a narrow tightrope between tones at all times. It’s got a very sober story about exploring the apocalypse, hunting down a way for your people to survive, and discovering the fledgling societies that are beginning to populate the wasteland. But that’s not all you get. In addition to the seriousness there’s a levity to it – something that’s expanded upon in future instalments – but that lightness is still part of the series even from the first game.
The world of this future isn’t like ours, nuclear technology took over and many modern inventions never appeared making it both futuristic and impossibly anachronistic. It combines scorched buildings, jagged and broken remnants of the past, with barely-held-together constructions that our post-apocalyptic descendants are cobbling together. This immediately sets the game apart from everything else out there, even today. This vision of the future is a hodgepodge of different influences from cyberpunk to art deco, making it feel both unreal and more real than many other depictions. After all, our own world doesn’t have a unifying art style either.
Fallout looked and felt unlike any of its peers, but that wouldn’t make it a classic unless it had something else too.
Role Playing in the Apocalypse
The original Fallout is an isometric hex-based role playing game with turn based combat.
That word salad aside, what makes Fallout incredibly special and still gives it a colossal amount of replay value is the breadth of choice available to the player at any given time. From the moment you start character creation to the very last quest in the game, you’ll undoubtedly go on your adventure, not someone else’s. This is a true role playing game, you craft a role and then you inhabit it in this world dreamed up for you.
Your mission is to bring back a working water chip to save your people still in their underground bunker from death. How you do this, and how you approach the huge amount of side quests, depends on your character, your playstyle, and you. You might go in guns blazing to many encounters or you could stealth by picking a door lock. Your character might have a silver tongue, getting what they want without combat, or they might be a bruiser who struggles to get words out.
What makes how Fallout plays so utterly unique is that everything is, with a bit of work, valid. There are few truly useless skills, if any at all, meaning you can approach problems the way you choose. There’s no-one telling you how to play, it’s up to you to find out how you want to play.
Of course that’s not to say the game doesn’t definitely reward you for choosing certain options, having no combat skills at all would certainly make the game far more difficult, but it’s possible and that’s what counts.
Fallout in 2022
One of the issues in gaming in 2022 is that of short-sightedness. A certain unwillingness to look back past a few years and see the glittering jewels gaming’s legacy has bequeathed to us. A game like Fallout that came out before many gamers were even born may seem an impossibly distant thing.
Thankfully, and though I hate to use this awful phrase, it still holds up. Coming in just before the 3D graphics boom in the late 90s, Fallout manages to have a truly unique art style that still looks as good today as it did then. There are keyboard shortcuts for nearly everything, a ton of options to lower (or raise) difficulty, and almost everything the modern gamer has come to expect. Fallout remains eminently playable even now, 25 years after its release.
So if you haven’t played Fallout before and you have any interest in role playing games, I implore you. Give it a shot. This is a game that is robust, full of fascinating writing and ideas, and will give you an adventure that will stay with you forever.
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