Now we deal with the Bethesda Fallouts, for good or ill.
This feature’s a two-parter. Click here for part 1.
Here’s the gist of this feature: I’m recapping my history with the Fallout series since 1997 when I was still in high school up until now when I’m a little bit more gamer-savvy and wise. I think. Fallout’s been a huge part of my gaming life for a while now since the series made me think more about what I do in-game and how to solve problems without the use of guns and/or melee. It’s very invigorating at the time, really.
I was actually excited when I heard Bethesda was going to create the next Fallout. They paid their dues with the Elder Scrolls games, which were super-detailed RPGs with a lot of open world things to do and enemies to kill. How will their spin on things turn out? Let’s find out.
Fallout 3 (2008)
The age of a new Fallout has begun. Since Black Isle Studio and Interplay are no more, a new developer and publisher took over the license: Bethesda. Fresh off the success of Elder Scrolls III and Elder Scrolls IV, CRPG fans are amped to see what kind of Fallout game they’ll be getting from this mega-talented studio.
The result? A Bethesda-made RPG that happens to look and feel like a Fallout game, but really isn’t. There’s a reason why this game is criticized and derailed by true fans: the game’s changes and mechanics are completely different.
No, I’m not talking about the FPS perspective and the 3D graphics: I’m talking about the fact that unlike Fallout 1 and 2, Fallout 3 is an action RPG that focuses on exploration, combat, and looting. There is a main quest for you to do involving your dad, but there’s less focus on narrative and more focus on the aforementioned action and exploration bits.
The SPECIAL skills here are tailored towards the combat and looting aspects instead of the non-combat parts. Skill checks are still here but they’re few and far between. The focus of solving a quest with multiple ways is set aside for a nonlinear open world experience. You know, just like a Bethesda open world game ala Elder Scrolls.
Still, I can’t slag this game too much because the combat mechanics here are pretty fun if repetitive. You can stop time via the VATS system. During combat, you can spend AP to either target individual limbs, fire continuously, or just heal. You can play the game in real-time too, but you’ll miss out on the slow-motion kill animations when you land a critical hit on a super mutant using VATS.
It’s pure bliss, I tells ya. In fact, it’s so effective that it’s the only few key points game journalists at the time raved on about while forgetting the fact that the game’s story is meandering at best and whatever moral choices the game has doesn’t feel like anything.
Speaking of which, have you ever noticed that the new Fallout games from Bethesda made the game’s narrative in a way where you’re a spectator to the events? Your story and your actions don’t seem to matter; you’re just a player being taken for a ride in the post-apocalypse.
Worst of all, Fallout 3 is one of the few RPGs at the time that prioritizes your compass and pointer; that thing that points you where to go when you need to complete missions and stuff. You’ll be so fixated onto that thing and miss out on seeing the level design and the craft and care the devs have put in the game’s world.
Fallout 3 might be a newbie RPG player’s cup of tea since it’s still a decently-made open world RPG, but it’s wearing the husk of a Fallout game without being one. It doesn’t have the heart and soul of the first two games at all; it’s just a Bethesda RPG with a Fallout skin wrapped around it.
But hey: at least you don’t have to listen to the game’s moody music anymore thank to the plethora of radio stations and Three Dog’s talk show, right?
Fallout: New Vegas (2010)
THIS. This is how you balance the open world nature of Fallout 3 and the multiple-solutions angle of Fallout 1 and 2.
Obsidian Entertainment (ie former Black Isle guys coming together) helmed the development of this game while Bethesda published it. There are just so many things right in this “side story”. Where do I begin?
We’ll start with the fact that you still have to be careful how you allocate your SPECIAL skills. Once you’re done, you cannot change it from start to finish. You have to decide what kind of wasteland hero you want to be, just like the first two games.
The open world aspect of Fallout 3 is back here, but this time it’s set in Nevada where the Mojave Desert is. You’re a guy called the Courier who had to deliver a package to a designated location. Of course, you get shot in the face for it and after a miraculous recovery, you backtrack your steps and find out why that package is a big deal.
Every village and town you visit has their distinct quirks and politics. Almost every area you discover has its own side story and sidequest to deal with. And yes, you get to solve them in different ways.
There are a couple of standout side tales. Like the one involving the kickass sniper Boone. Or the one with Veronica and the Brotherhood. Or the one with the Followers of the Apocalypse. Or the one with the plant life and mantises that decimated a Vault. Or the one involving supermutant Lily Bowen, that charming schizophrenic Nightkin.
And I haven’t even gotten to the really awesome expansions this game featured, particularly Honest Hearts, Old World Blues, and Lonesome Road. The latter deserves special mention since it brought the Courier’s story to a full circle. Trust me when I say that getting the current Steam Fallout New Vegas bundle is worth every penny.
The design philosophy of Fallout 2 is back here in full force alongside the Fallout 3 combat mechanics the mainstream Fallout fans dig. In essence, Obsidian Entertainment blended the best of both worlds. Though we could do without the bugs. Thankfully most of them were ironed out months after its release.
Fallout Shelter (2015)
This “tapping and waiting” phone simulation of a Vault is an obvious marketing ploy to get people hyped for Fallout 4. And you know what? It’s a great way to get my non-hardcore gaming pals – including my ex at the time- into the series.
All you have to do here is to keep your Vault denizens alive, keep them fed by sending some of them to go hunting for resources and keep populating it with Vault babies and stuff. This mobile game is a gateway to Fallout for newbies; almost as if it’s the first step towards Bethesda open world game indoctrination.
Fallout 4 (2015)
Fallout New Vegas was so good, Bethesda decided to just take away the reins from the original guys who did a way better job and made an expanded version of Fallout 3. Quite a leap of logic there, eh Bethesda?
Fallout 4 takes place in post-apocalyptic Boston. You’re a dad whose kid is taken away by some nefarious people after your family went through a cryogenic sleep right after a cool “during the 30s” segment of the game before the nuclear bombs went loose.
Fallout 4’s system of prioritizing looting and open world exploration over multipath narrative beats is still here since Fallout 3. The shooting here has improved. However, you now have a few new features to deal with.
Armour is now done up in segments instead of one big suit; there’s more weight and heft when you wear Power Armour this time around. You can date NPCs and your companions, but they aren’t explored more thoroughly than stat boosts and the occasional extra banter.
You can also build settlements and gather resources to start constructing. Clearly, Bethesda had put more thought in this bit; there are way too many videos of people building houses in Fallout 4. The changes here are fine and all, but they don’t add meaning to Fallout’s problem-solving and narrative-slash-gaming spirit.
In fact, the worst offender to the spirit is the SPECIAL system. SPECIAL stats now don’t have much purpose beyond determining which perks you can get and they can be increased on level up. There are no skills and no skill checks outside of occasional speech challenges, although they’re usually just for getting better quest rewards – a build focused on intelligence or charisma is now completely useless. Some of the skill-related bonuses and requirements for hacking/lockpicking minigames have been merged into perks.
This, combined with the fact that perks have both stat and level requirements, means that you have much less choice in how you build your character. There’s also not much consequence to what you pick – there’s no level cap (outside of the size of unsigned short integer), and you can max out your stats and perks are not mutually exclusive. Given enough time and patience, you can be good at everything.
That kills the spirit of Fallout; the fact that you can be an ass-kicking demigod in the post-apocalyptic universe and there’s little to no huge game-changing consequences for your actions.
Other offenders include the Radiant missions: randomly generated missions created with Radiant AI (the system responsible for NPC scheduling in Gamebryo-based games). Just like in Skyrim, those quests are utterly boring extermination missions without any backstory other than “kill X dudes and raiders on this part of the map”.
Those quests are how you get more settlements and getting more settlements is required to get one of the factions’ ending. This means that if you like the Minutemen, prepare yourself for endless fights against ghouls and raiders ad nauseum.
The moody music kicks ass though; god bless Inon Zur. But apart from that, this is just an extension of Fallout 3 but with better shooting mechanics and a lot of fluff that doesn’t go beyond making this game memorable and stand out from the superior Fallout games.
Time To Rank Them All
Here’s my final ranking for the mothership Fallout games.
- Fallout 2
- Fallout New Vegas
- Fallout 1
- Fallout Shelter
- Fallout 4
- Fallout 3
- Fallout Tactics
- Fallout Brotherhood of Steel
All in all, Fallout has grown and accustomed itself to the times. From being the CRPG hardcore gamers worshipped to the open world Bethesda games that the mainstream adored (and still adore to this day), the series deserved its praises. No matter what iterations it morphed into, this war for relevance post-apocalypse adventuring will never change.