I’ve deceived you, and for that I’m sorry.
As anyone who even remotely follows gaming will be able to tell you, the Fallout series is certainly not forgotten. In fact, a slew of Fallout games have graced our consoles and gaming rigs in the past few years alone, and each has been welcomed into our homes with outstretched arms. And so why have I brought you here under false pretences, you ask? Well, allow me to explain.
We’ve established that the Fallout the series is not dead, and that it’s very much alive – that’s a given. However, Fallout of the new millennia is a very different beast to the original Fallout of 1997, and for all intents and purposes, Fallout 2 as well. You see, the reinvention of the Fallout series with Fallout 3 brought with it a rather substantial change; the game flip-flopped from a turn based RPG into one of those quirky modern age FPS/RPG shooter types, that we all seem to have grown rather fond of.
All appreciation for the new direction that this series has taken aside, the original Fallout appears to have been long forgotten amidst all this commotion, and tucked conveniently out of the way in the wake of the global success following its spiritual successor. And the greatest shame of this is that many modern gamers simply won’t bother to replay this forgotten classic, and will instead opt to enjoy Fallout 3 and its small army of expansion packs instead. After all, the storyline of these two games verges on an identical copy, and with prehistoric graphics and an outdated combat system two of the few benefits that Fallout 1 can offer brave new gamers in 2011, who can blame them?
Yet it’s still a shame that Fallout 1 has suffered a premature death. It’s only just over a decade old and by gaming standards that’s far from outdated – Mario is still running about, and he must be eligible for a bus pass by now!
Fallout as an RPG was clearly intended, and even built around the fact that it was turn-based in nature. Heck, even Bethesda realised this to some degree with Fallout 3, when they opted to include the V.A.T.S system once again, which regrettably became something of a one-hit kill dispenser for this third outing. Admittedly, the V.A.T.S system itself didn’t feature in Fallout 1, however a localised targeting system did, by which players could cripple or maim enemies with well placed shots; and thus the fundamental principle is the same. Whereas the V.A.T.S methodology took skill and planning to use in the original – for example, adopting the V.A.T.S system to fire a shotgun blast from thirty feet wouldn’t result in a literal mind-blowing headshot – Fallout 3 has toned the difficulty right down, and this gameplay element is only really necessary to escape situations where you’ve bitten off a little more than you can quite comfortably chew, or days where you find yourself the rather lazy adventurer, to whom strafing whilst left clicking furiously seems dangerously like a chore.
The introduction of the FPS/RPG hybrid akin to Fallout 3 serves a purpose, though – the majority of today’s gamers simply aren’t interested in an RPG of old and this change of pace helped to provide Fallout with a timely facelift. A perfect illustration of this is that in Fallout 1 you could complete the entire game without firing a single shot. Of course, many will argue that a similar feat could be performed within Fallout 3, however the change in gameplay design simply doesn’t cater for this type of gaming achievement anymore; with Fallout 3 as primarily an FPS (and an FPS that touts guns of varying practicality, at that) it would prove to be a very dull game if you tried, and with gaming now in the mainstream, Fallout is certainly not targeting the same audience that it once was.
Sadly, Fallout 3 almost seems dumbed-down as a result, particularly when contrasted against the standards of the original. Becoming a proficient thief, negotiator or small arms technician was far easier in Fallout 1 due to the far more logical tags-system. In the original, players chose their tag-skills alongside their perks at the beginning, and received a hefty bonus to said skills from the offset, alongside a double-rewards scheme, by which every time you put a tag point into one of your chosen specialities, the game would award you with two: designed to counter the fact that you’re not as proficient in your other skills. Unfortunately, Fallout 3 missed out on this concept (not entirely, but its purpose was lost) presumably in an attempt to allow the player to become a ‘jack-of-all-trades’, and not be restricted in a heavy way because of their pre-game decisions.
Yet elements such as these, that appear archaic in a game such as Fallout 3, were very much part-and-parcel of the RPG style that Fallout originally attempted to create. Stepping away from the large J-RPG culture that brought with it ‘swift boots of +1 movement’ and rifles that somehow possess a ‘+15% accuracy bonus’, Fallout was originally designed to have you tailor the gameplay experience to your skill-set. If you opted to be a small arms specialist from the very beginning, then you shouldn’t be able to competently wield a mini-gun, no matter how “cool” that would be, because it’s simply not in keeping with the roleplaying element of the Fallout franchise. Or at least that’s what Fallout once stood for, Fallout 3 and its successors may disagree.
At the same time, the difficulty level of Fallout 1 was designed to actually mean something. This is a concept that I was banging on about in my previous look back at Uplink, by which gamers of today have been mollycoddled by game designers to make the overall experience far easier and approachable to the significant amateur-gamer market. In Fallout 3, opting for a higher difficulty setting, for all intents and purposes, merely increases the health of your enemies, whereas in the timeless classic that is the first game, not only would enemies receive a health boost, but dice rolls were also handicapped against your favour, and combat became all the more tricky as a result. And in a game where your probability of hitting an enemy with your weapon of choice is down to a dice roll, rather than your proficiency with the shooting whilst strafing concept of an FPS, associated difficulty is a big deal.
A certain sense of nostalgia was also lost alongside the adaptation of the series to full 3D. Evidently, I am not going to argue this as an unfounded change, as fuelled by technological developments, times move on, and thus it would be unfathomable to release Fallout 3 in the same top-down camera style as the original. Yet Fallout 1, and indeed Fallout 2, with their sprawling maps, quirky graphics and focus on your surroundings are somewhat lost by the move to 3D. It’s easy to argue that the game is far more immersive for the change, after all players can now look up and down as well as moving across the map, but I can’t but feel that the emphasis of the original title spun from impressing the player with local events and original NPC interaction, rather than by representing the change of area by notable visual means.
Don’t get me wrong, Fallout 3 isn’t a mediocre cop-out on the successful Fallout brand, far from it. Instead it’s merely a logical development, which lost some of glamour and familiarity that the series once had somewhere along the way. Perhaps the change is the result of a deviation from the original developer, from Interplay to Bethesda, but I doubt it – no, it was the expectations of gamers and graphical developments that killed the beast.
As a result, if you’re looking to try something a little different, or seeking a game that can only be described as a true Western RPG, I implore you to give Fallout a shot. This recommendation is particularly prevalent for those who have only played the modern day recreation, as from an RPG view-point, Fallout 3 simply doesn’t measure up to its timeless sibling.