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So, Fallout: New Vegas has come out, there’s no new RPG at the moment, and you’re ready to lose your life to the wastes once more. Great! With Fallout: New Vegas being the first release in that franchise since Bethesda’s series defining Fallout 3, this is a good time to look back at the series as a whole, from Interplay’s Fallout to Bethesda’s Fallout 3, Vault 13 to Vault 101.
Back in September of 1997, Interplay and Black Isle Studios released Fallout, a S.P.E.C.I.A.L. (Strength Perception Endurance Charisma Intelligence Agility Luck) RPG set in the nuclear post-apocalypse. The game’s story involved Vault 13, one of many Vaults created to protect inhabitants from the atom bombs. You were one of its occupants, it’s water purification chip had just failed, and it was up to you to find a new one in the neighboring Vault 15. The S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system was used for a series of checks in Fallout. The higher your Strength, the more weight you could carry. The more Intelligence or Charisma you had, the easier it would be to talk to NPCs in the world. The more Luck you had, the less you’d be hit, and the more random events that would happen. There were also Perks and Traits. Perks gave you very specific abilities, and Traits gave you bonuses to the core S.P.E.C.I.A.L. abilities. All of this gave players a customizable approach to their character, which defined their experiences in the combat. The combat in Fallout was a grid and turn-based system, with action points (AP) spent on movement, shooting, healing, and other various actions. Your Pip Boy 2000 gave you a map, which let you traverse to 12 locations in all. Each town was populated with survivors, gang members, and a mutant memorable to Fallout fans, Harold. Your character could also recruit followers, including the dog companion Dogmeat, who managed to find a way into the line of fire most of the time. Group A.I. was a weakness in Fallout, since you couldn’t control your A.I. companion’s inventories or actions, which resulted in pickpocketing being the easiest way to manage their inventories. The game was an instant classic, not selling very well, but winning over anyone who played it.
Later, in September of 1998, Fallout 2 was released. It was built on the same engine as Fallout, but the additional year of game development time allowed Interplay to create improved AI, a new inventory system, a larger world, and more quests. You played as a descendant of the first game’s character, who had founded a village after being banished from Vault 13 because he/she was too dangerous from contact with the outside world. You put on the sacred Vault 13 jumpsuit, and went out searching for a G.E.C.K. (Garden of Eden Creation Kit) to aid your village. While there were many improvements to Fallout 2, there were many complaints to be had as well. The number of animated heads during dialogue were halved from the first game, the end boss, Secret Service Agent Frank Horrigan, was arbitrarily placed, and last but not least, the difficulty was hard. Very hard. The first tutorial level was somewhere you saved all the time, while trying to get out into the main game, and once you did, it was still just as difficult.
The Fallout series went into hibernation, with a console release and a minor tabletop game packaged with Fallout: Tactics. Interplay is no longer a major player, but they still hold the rights to make a Fallout MMO, while the singleplayer rights were sold to Bethesda, who used those rights wisely in Fallout 3.
Fallout 3 was Bethesda’s move to reinvigorate the series, which it did well. The perspective changed from third person to first person, the story moved from the West Coast of the USA to the East Coast of the USA, the combat changed from turn-based to real time, and the game used the Gamebryo engine, the same engine that powered Oblivion. In the story, you played as an inhabitant of Vault 101, where your father had mysteriously left, and you went out looking for him. Fallout 3 was much easier than it’s predecessors, with the old AP system being abandoned in favor of clunky real time combat, though a new system called V.A.T.S. (Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System) called back to earlier entries in the series. With V.A.T.S. , you used action points to target specific limbs on foes, and attack multiple enemies at a time. V.A.T.S. became the community’s preferred way to play through the game, and the classic Bloody Mess perk remained available, making for some spectacular gore. Fallout 3 was a buggy release, with the stream of DLC for it even buggier. Despite that, Fallout 3 was much more commercially successful than it’s forebears. This gave Bethesda reason to green-light a sequel, and a sequel was already in the works by Obsidian.
Fallout: New Vegas is now out, and it was worked on by some of the staff from Black Isle Studios, which is promising. Hopefully it’s as good or better than Fallout 3, and will be a worthy part of the Fallout franchise. Check our review this week.