When Fallout was first released in 1997, PC RPGs were dead as dead could be. The only people who still played them were the truly hardcore. People had slowly begun to care more and more about presentation and graphics rather than gameplay, and as a result of this, FMV adventures and first-person shooters were the top-selling games. Fallout changed all of this by creating an RPG like no other. It, with the help of Blizzard’s Diablo, and later, BioWare’s Baldur’s Gate, turned the PC RPG genre back into a force to be reckoned with.
The gameplay of Fallout is similar to most modern isometric PC RPGs. You will create your character by assigning points into various statistics, such as strength and perception, and skills, such as energy weapons and gambling. You will also get to choose three “tag skills”. Think of these as your character’s strong points. Every time you put a skill point into a tag skill, it will count as two points. You then get the option to choose up to two “traits”. Traits give your character a bonus of some sort, but they also each have a negative effect. For example, the “One-Hander” trait gives you +20% to hit with one-handed weapons, but you also get -40% to hit with two-handed weapons. After you finish creating your character you will be let loose in a world full of quests, towns, and NPCs.
The character building system is quite simple. Each time you level up, you will get skill points. These points are used to upgrade any skills you feel you need. You will gain experience from completing a variety of quests and other activities, such as persuading someone during a conversation or successfully picking a lock. This allows a great deal of flexibility in how you role-play your character. If you wish, you can get through most of the game without fighting. You could choose to play as a diplomat-type character and talk your way out of sticky situations, or you could be a thief-like character and get by sneaking around.
If you do decide to fight, you’ll find a pretty good battle system in Fallout. When there are hostile characters nearby, the game becomes turn-based. When your turn comes up, you will have a certain amount of action points. Every action you can do costs points. For example, firing a gun may take three AP, while reloading it takes only two. As you improve your character, you will gain more AP to work with. Every few levels you gain, you’ll get to choose a “perk”. Perks are beneficial abilities that serve as a permanent boost for your character. For example, the “healer” perk makes the first aid and doctor skills more effective. Perks can also be made stronger by spending your next perk to upgrade a current one. It all works very well.
Fallout’s graphics aren’t exactly the best that can be found, even for its time. As a matter of fact, they’re well below average according to today’s standards. It doesn’t really matter though, because they are still quite appealing. Everything is presented from a flat-looking, 2-dimensional isometric view. It’s easy to distinguish between characters, and the buildings are decent looking. Some of the animations are pretty good, like the way your character will twirl his pistol as he holsters it. Overall, the game isn’t especially pretty, but I wouldn’t call it ugly or say that it has bad graphics, either.
Music is, well, pretty much non-existent in Fallout. Sounds are restricted to gunshots and the various beeps and clicks you get from clicking on things in the interface windows. The voice acting is quite good, though. It even features a few semi-famous actors, such as Ron Perlman and Richard Dean Anderson. All in all, the sound is okay for what’s there, but it definitely isn’t the game’s strong point.
Fallout tells a pretty good story, but only if you take the time to talk to people and find out more about the world you’re in. This shouldn’t be too much of a problem, as it is great fun to engage in conversation with the NPCs. As with the majority of PC RPGs, your main character has absolutely no personality, aside from the one you create. The game’s NPCs can be very entertaining though. How many other games let you bring a stray dog into your party, for example? The game takes place in a very drab, post-apocalyptic setting. You are a “vault-dweller”, or someone who is still living in a nuclear fallout shelter, oblivious to the real world. When your vault’s water chip goes bad, you are sent out into the real world to find a replacement. Naturally, this leads to a tale of mutants, evil cults, and massive energy weapons. The story, while remaining serious and conveying a message, manages to be quite funny at times. I don’t want to give anything away, but you’ll see what I mean the first time you engage in dialogue with an NPC. The story also manages to be very violent and gritty. NPCs swear freely and murder seems to be the national pastime of Fallout’s residents. You’re even allowed to visit the local whorehouse to pick up a prostitute. It also features one of the best game endings ever. I won’t spoil it, but you’re sure to feel as if you’ve been punched in the gut before the credits start to roll.
Almost everything is controlled with the mouse, although there are a few shortcut keys on the keyboard. Really, there’s not much to discuss here. You click, guy moves, shoots, or whatever you want him to do.
Fallout is nothing less than a modern-day classic. If you consider yourself a fan of PC-style RPGs, then you MUST play this, if only for the history lesson it provides. The most important thing, though, is that it still holds up as well as any new game, and it’s five years old. If that’s not an accomplishment, I don’t know what is.