So E3 2018 has passed, and Bethesda definitely stood out during their conference. They hit hard with Elder Scrolls VI, 2 Wolfenstein titles, Doom Eternal, and most surprisingly; Fallout 76. Now while I am sceptical about the more online focus of the title, I am certainly hyped for it nonetheless. As part of that hype, I have gone and dove back into the Fallout series, more specifically the original trilogy: Fallout, Fallout 2 and Fallout Tactics. I wanted to take the opportunity to delve into the history of the 3 titles and why I consider them some of my favourites in the series, second only to the masterpiece that is New Vegas.
A Changing Wasteland
Despite Bethesda being the name most associated with the series, the series was actually created by a company called Interplay. Fallout and Interplay’s history actually begins in 1988, with a little game called Wasteland. Wasteland was developed by Interplay and published by EA. It is set after a nuclear war, and has the player explore an open world wasteland (sounds awfully familiar). The game used an adaptation of tabletop RPG mechanics and had you levelling up your character, building a party and completing quests. It was a commercial and critical success for EA and they had 2 sequels commissioned to be developed concurrently. This is where things went downhill. Due to internal conflicts between Interplay and EA, Interplay eventually left, and due to licensing and rights issues, had their sequel Meantime cancelled. EA would continue to develop their sequel, and it would release in 1990 as Fountain of Dreams, also known as one of the biggest train wrecks of all time. It had very little to do with Wasteland, and was a commercial and critical flop.
Because Interplay lacked the rights to make a true sequel to Wasteland, they would have to take their experience with the post-apocalyptic RPG style of game, and turn it into something new.
Creating Something S.P.E.C.I.A.L
Originally, Interplay wanted their next project to use the GURPS (Generic Universal Roleplaying System). The system allowed for roleplaying to be done in virtually any setting. Interplay ran with this and had numerous ideas brainstormed for their next game, including a ‘GURPS Time Travel’ and even a game based around dinosaurs before going back to their Wasteland aesthetic. The game then became known as GURPS: Wasteland and Vault 13: A GURPS Post-Nuclear Adventure before finally landing on the name Fallout we all know and love.
However, GURPS licensor Steve Jackson Games pulled out of letting Interplay using their system, feeling the game had excessive gore. This led to Interplay to rework the system into what would become the S.P.E.C.I.A.L system. This stands for the 7 basic attributes in the game, which could be levelled up throughout the game. The S.P.E.C.I.A.L system has been tweaked somewhat as the series has went on, but even those who began the series in the Bethesda Era are well aware of the system, as it has become a mainstay of the series.
Fallout: A Post Nuclear RPG
After years in development and a $3 million budget spent, Fallout: A Post Nuclear Role Playing Game was released in 1997 to critical and commercial success. Playing the game, it’s easy to see why it was so successful. Fallout strived for a foreboding atmosphere, and it nailed it with its fantastic music and brilliantly dark art style. This is highlighted from the first moment of gameplay, where you’re standing in a dark cave armed with just a knife and a 10mm pistol.
The gameplay was also well done. While combat was a slow, turn-based slog most of the time, it was the ability to change the game world that made Fallout stand out. There was so many ways to complete a single objective depending on your skill set, allowing you to go in guns blazing, talk your way through the game, or sneak around like a ghost in the wasteland. The amount of options on offer was fantastic for its time, and could drastically change how the game’s NPCs reacted to you and the ending of the game. The conversations with NPCs were made very immersive due to the inclusion of ‘Big Head’ characters. These are NPCs in the game world that, when spoken to, have a fully rendered 3D head, made from stop-motion. It’s a well done mechanic that keeps the game’s story and world immersive.
Speaking of the story, that was also well done. You play as the Vault Dweller, who lives in Vault 13 after a nuclear war wipes out most of the United States. When the vault’s water chip malfunctions, the overseer tasks you to leave the vault and find a replacement. During your adventure, you find a group of super mutants, and get pulled into a sinister plan to take over the wasteland. It’s a well done story that fits in with the tone of the game incredibly well.
A Bigger and Better Wasteland
With the massive success of Fallout, Interplay went right back to work on a sequel. Some members of the team would form Black Isle Studios, who did the main bulk of Fallout 2’s development. Fallout 2 was released in 1998, a mere year after the original. The game is often considered the best of the series, and with good reason. It took everything that made the original great, and improved just enough to be a vastly superior, yet familiar experience for players. Most of what was in the original is here; the wide open wasteland, the S.P.E.C.I.A.L system, the big head NPCs and the numerous ways one can accomplish objectives. The main reason that Fallout 2 is considered superior is the inclusion of the town of New Reno.
New Reno is what set Fallout 2 apart from the rest of the series. It is a massive town where players could essentially live out a fantasy life while already inside of the game. Players could gamble in the Desperado casino, or visit the Cat’s Paw brothel for some downtime. There was so much to do in New Reno alone that it gave Fallout 2 a fantastic atmosphere alongside the foreboding wasteland, which is something that New Vegas would attempt to replicate with its Vegas Strip.
The story here is just as solid as the first, with you playing a descendant of the Vault Dweller from the first game. You must save your village from starvation by finding the G.E.C.K, which was designed to revitalise the wasteland and make it suitable to grow crops. However, like the Vault Dweller before him, the player gets pulled into a plot involving super mutants, whom the villainous Enclave were using in an attempt to take over the wasteland. While it does follow similar story beats to the original, it is still a solid story that can stand on its own, and is another thing Fallout 2 did fantastically.
Interplay Gets Tactical
The next game in the Fallout series was a bit of change-up for Interplay, instead being a turned-based strategy game. Rather than exploring towns and interacting with NPCs, Fallout Tactics would instead have players start in a bunker before heading off on a series of missions. The combat was similar to the original if one used the Individual Turn-Based system, but it lacked that free-roaming experience of the first 2 titles.
The main draw of the game is that it focused on the iconic Brotherhood of Steel faction, and gave insight into its origins. The basic gist of the story is that you are in an outcast faction of the Brotherhood of Steel who are willing to recruit outsiders such as Ghouls and other mutants, as opposed to the main Brotherhood who want to remain ‘pure’. The story here is well done like the previous titles, and gave players a detailed view of one of the series’ most iconic factions.
Fallout Tactics did well enough and was liked by a lot of people. However, it was universally criticised for its more linear gameplay compared to the original. Nowadays, it is looked back on less than fondly due to its inaccuracies, and with Bethesda deeming it Semi-Canon because of it. However I still stand by it as a solid inclusion in the Fallout series.
Interplay would have Black Isle Studios begin work on Fallout 3, while Interplay themselves would work on a console exclusive spin-off to the franchise. Fallout 3 would loom in development hell. On top of that, the console exclusive spin –off, now named Brotherhood of Steel, would flop critically and commercially upon release. Interplay were losing money, and would end up selling the franchise to Bethesda. This led to the cancellation of Black Isle’s Fallout 3 (now titled Project Van Buren) as well as the proposed sequel to Brotherhood of Steel. Bethesda has made good use of the Fallout name so far, with Fallout 3 and 4 being worthy inclusion to the franchise, as well as publishing the Obsidian-developed masterpiece New Vegas. Now, Bethesda are working on Fallout 76, a prequel to the series.
Hopefully this retrospective of the series’ roots will whet your appetite for the title when it launches later this year, I know I’m hyped for definite.
Check out the trailer below if you need a refresher: