Days of Future Past

(Editor’s Note: Look for the companion video coming soon!)

Few game series have captured my imagination in the way that the Fallout games did. Similar to the Diablo series, I had never played the first two games because of my lack of PC gaming experience. I simply heard good things about the third one. When I saw it for twenty dollars in the bargain bin, I did what I always do as a cheap gamer. I bought it.

I know what you’re thinking. Okay, I don’t know exactly what you’re thinking. Though I’ve tried, I have yet to perfect the talent of reading minds. Plus, I don’t know even how many of you are out there, so I couldn’t even hazard a guess. Except for you guys who are thinking, “I really want pizza and wings.” You guys are my people.

Let’s get back to the subject. If you have been paying attention to the website or podcast, you will be thinking that I often buy games, especially discounted games, and then they sit in the closet and suffer the fate of never being played. You will be pleasantly surprised to learn that did not happen in this case. Not initially, at least. I played through the game, hooked from the opening credits until–well, let’s wait on that. I have an article planned for next week specifically for Fallout . I will tell the rest of this story in that article. How’s that for a tease?

I’m not sure what about the story and world captivated me so much. I’m not usually one for post apocalyptic stories, unless it is zombies and even those are losing some of their appeal, but this one fascinated me. My obsession started as research for a novella that I am writing that takes place in a similar post nuclear America setting. What got me was the thought and creativity that went into creating a well constructed history for the games. The scope of that history added a new dimension to the game world and I developed an appreciation and admiration for the creators of that world.

Eventually, I moved on to other games, most notably Lego games, Just Dance, and other games that we could play as a family. Still, I never forgot about the games and especially the story. I kept going back to website after website to read timelines, alternate histories, fan fictions, and more. When I discovered that Steam offered both Fallout 1 and 2 plus Tactics, I went into full “shut up and take my money” mode. Given a chance to explore that world and history for myself, I bought all three. If you guessed that these games suffered the fate of countless (or 30, but rising, so essentially countless) other games in my Steam library and went unplayed, then give yourself a cookie. I still haven’t played Fallout 1 or 2. However, that is about to change. I want to do a video on whether or not the games are still fun as an entry point or if I should just stick with the third game and my quest to follow a walkthrough to fame and a fortune of bottle caps. This article will serve as a companion piece to that video. However, the video will focus more on whether Fallout 1 and 2 are still “good” games when compared with current games. I can use this article to focus more on the why or why not.

We all know what makes a good game for us. For instance if graphics and special effects are one of your main reasons to enjoy a game, then these games most likely not for you. Luckily for me, graphics are never a consideration when playing a game. Sure, we all like pretty pictures and impressive effects, but there’s a reason that I still play the original Tetris after all these years and it has nothing to do with bits or polygons. So, what makes a good game? As I’ve gotten older, story has become one of my primary reasons for playing a game. We have already established that the larger story of Fallout interests me, but is that story reflected in the earlier games?

Before focusing on that, though, let’s discuss the rest of the game. My main factor of whether to play a game is, not surprisingly, gameplay. How are the controls? This is especially important for PC games that use a keyboard and mouse for literally hundreds of button combinations. Fallout controls aren’t necessarily intuitive, but they are easy to figure out and learn. I imagine that when the game was released that it came with instructions. Games don’t really do that anymore because nobody ever reads them. Instead, then have a tutorial. Without instructions or a tutorial, I had to learn how to move and attack by myself. I used Google for some of the more troublesome of the PipBoy commands.

Closely related to gameplay, the lack of a linear quest line hurts the game by increasing the challenge unnecessarily. Not only did I spend the better part of my time in Vault 13 at the beginning of the game punching rats (not even with brass knuckles) instead of stabbing or shooting them because I didn’t know any of that was in my inventory. Now I have to search around and find a rope without any hints or clues? Ugh, post apocalyptic first world problems, amirite, Twitter?

I understand that discovery and adventure used to be the MO of these adventure type games, but I’m a spoiled old man gamer without much time to spend playing these games. I like that more recent games lead you by the nose with carrot quests and then you can choose to explore via side quests or just because you don’t want to blow up that person’s car right now.

While these traits might detract from the gameplay, they actually perversely add to the story. Undeniably the strength of the series, it is not as strong in Fallout 1 as the other two games, but it is still impressive for its time. Cinematics and voice acting both bring the world to life and kept me playing even though the rest of the game felt a bit lame.

Unfortunately, most of the rest of the game is not as strong as the story. As far as that game itself, it is a bit slow in the beginning. All you do is kill the rats that I talked about earlier and then maybe kill some bigger rats without much indication that you should be doing anything else. I may have just been in WoW quest ignore mode, but once I got to Vault 15, I felt like the game just sort of abandoned me to die in the wasteland and have my corpse eaten by the descendants of the rats that I killed. “Hello, my name is Inigo Ratoya. You killed my father, starved to death while on a quest to save the people in your vault, and rotted to my preferred level of carrion. Prepare to be gnawed slowly over the next few months.” Not nearly as catchy, but still scary.

Maybe that is how the game is supposed to end. I haven’t looked at a walkthrough to confirm, but maybe you are just supposed to end up rat chow. If so, then this is the fastest that I have ever completed a game to 100%. Yay, me! On to the second game. Maybe I can beat that one even faster. Okay, okay, seriously, though, the game is quite confusing at first. Then again, I might just be an idiot. That isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

I want to play a game that will be challenging, but not too challenging. I like being able to pick “Easy” or “New Player” instead of “Insane”, “Inferno”, or “Nightmare” mode because then I don’t have to dedicate too much of my time to the game and the bosses can still present a challenge. Hey, I’m the Noob of All Trades! This game went a bit too far in the figure it out on your own for my tastes.

We come, at last, to graphics. It’s an older game, so I don’t expect great things from the graphics. As mentioned, the cinematics are cool. The actual game, though, is monochrome like Diablo, making it difficult to find any inspiration in pretty pictures while playing. Seriously, though, what is it with game designers and their aversion to using the whole rainbow? Hell, Gauntlet needed only 16 colors or whatever to make a bright and colorful play world and that world was dark, Man. Do you remember “Wizard needs food badly?” Just thinking about it now sends shivers down my spine.

Given everything about Fallout 1 (and to an extent Fallout 2) that I’ve experienced, I would not pick them up as a stand alone game. They look and feel impressive for their times, but times change and sometimes culture does not translate over that time change. While Fallout 2 looks to pick up immensely as far as story goes, I’m not sure how much it improves upon the formula in the first game. Independent of my enjoyment of the story and third game, I probably wouldn’t even bother with the first two games. However, I will stick with them and hope that the story can carry me through the warts. If not, well, we’ll always have Megaton.

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