With a certain much-hyped game coming out this month, I figured it would be cool to travel all the way back to 1997, to the beginning of what has become a much beloved and popular franchise in gaming: specifically, the cRPG Fallout: A Post-Nuclear Roleplaying Game.
Now, first things first: what’s a cRPG? Well, it stands for computer Role-Playing Game, since the game comes from a time where such specifications had to be made. Fallout, like many other early RPGs, was inspired by the Dungeons and Dragons formula of character creation (naming your character, choosing their skills, traits and, in Fallout’s case, character perks), dice rolls (your percentage chances of success with combat and skills) and freedom of movement, both in the sandbox world and within the story. This is especially important for Fallout, where choice and consequence are central to the gameplay.
Anyway, let’s get down to the game itself. You’re a Vault Dweller, living in a bomb shelter-style vault in California a generation after the 2077 nuclear war. But the water purification chip for your vault has broken, and if it’s not fixed, the entire vault will soon die of thirst. That’s where you come in. The Vault overseer chooses you to venture into the dangerous unknown to find a new water chip. This is where you begin your adventure, right outside of the Vault in a rat-infested cave.
Advancing through the cave demonstrates movement nicely. The gameplay is inspired by Dungeons and Dragons, so your movements will be a strange jagged movement of ups, downs, lefts and rights (since moving diagonally is apparently unheard of in the 22nd Century). Also, you can run. Remember this if you want to complete the game within the present century, and not the date this game is set in.
Fighting the rats brings the player their first taste of combat. Combat works on a dice roll turn-based system: your character gains Action Points every turn, with each action you make depleting these points until the next move. Depending on your earlier character creation, this can either be a simple frolic of blood and guts or a savage nightmare of sweat and tears. If you’re a non-combative type, the post-apocalyptic world is naturally a very dark and dangerous one. But if you’re a more hard-up tough guy desperate to crush your enemies, then these puny intro rats will be easy pickings in your stampede to violent glory.
For new players, I would suggest a mix of combat skills and non-combat, but really it all depends on how you want to role-play. Incredibly, the game does allow pacifist runs, where you can complete the entire game without hurting a fly, but I would recommend that only for the more seasoned players.
At first the system feels slow, but after a while you grow into it, the game allowing for methodical tactical gameplay or (in my case) just shooting and punching everything until whatever’s hurting you is gone. Still, don’t grow too attached to your first character. You will die – a lot – and in some cases it’s better to just restart the game with fresh knowledge of what’s to come, instead of desperately holding onto a character that is most likely doomed to failure.
And in Fallout, failure is always possible. The game plays on a timer – so you have a limited time to find that water chip. For those of you who’ve played Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, you probably have an idea of how tension building a timer can be.
But enough about impending doom, we’re finally out of the vault and ready to explore, because there is a lot to see. Once leaving an area, you’ll enter a map screen, where you essentially “fast travel” from place to place. This does not mean you teleport across the map. You actually see your character crossing the map, and in some cases random encounters with friends or enemies can occur.
Where Fallout stands out is in its storytelling, characters, choices and consequences. Depending on your character creation decisions, characters will respond to you in certain ways. If your character has extremely low intelligence, some characters will respond with hostility, and others will take pity on you. On the other hand, a charismatic character will have unique dialogue that can help win over both friend and foe. The Fallout universe is a bleak world, but it is also a darkly humorous one, filled with strange and memorable characters and sometimes very peculiar situations. As the game progresses you learn more about the world, piecing together its secrets as you track down that new water chip. Not only is there plenty to do in Fallout, there’s plenty of ways to play it too. Every quest you play through will have several ways of completing it, and the way you complete quests will affect your reputation in the world and your character’s own experience and rewards.
That all sounds good, but what’s bad? Honestly, if you’re OK with everything I described above, not much. Sometimes quests can go a little haywire, the variety of choices leading to certain characters saying things that they probably shouldn’t be saying at that point. The travelling system can be somewhat frustrating, my characters sometimes dying multiple times because they didn’t have enough supplies whilst travelling between zones, where you have little control. The timer can also be a bit of a headache, having to always check to make sure you’re not wasting too much time, sometimes marring the simple joy of exploration for exploration’s sake.
So there you have it: Fallout: A Post Nuclear Role Playing Game. Published and developed by Interplay way back in 1997. I would write more but honestly, there’s too much to say: at this point it’s probably just best to dive headfirst into it. You’ve probably already realised that Fallout is a very different beast from its sequels. It isn’t a game for everyone, nor was it intended to be. It’s a game for fans of roleplaying, fans of post-apocalyptic and science fiction settings and, in this writer’s opinion, unique and genuinely fascinating storytelling.
So if that appeals to you, and you’re one of the people out there picking up Fallout 4, or New Vegas or Fallout 3 for that matter, spare a thought for those games in the series that started it all. Oh, and some final words of wisdom: When you start the game, make sure to find lots of rope. Trust me.