Interplay‘s 1997 release, Fallout, began its existence as a post-apocalyptic Role-Playing Game based on the Steve Jackson “GURPs” ruleset, and also as the ‘spiritual successor’ to the classic 8-bit RPG, Wasteland.
When Jackson objected to the levels of violence and gore in the game, Interplay decided to change the game’s “back end” to use their own internally-developed system, called “S.P.E.C.I.A.L” (an acronym for “Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility and Luck”). This move turned out to be a good thing, because Fallout – as we all know – has gone on to great heights over the decades, and a lot of that success could be attributed to the RPG mechanics of the “back end” working so well.
This first Fallout game is set on an alternate planet Earth, where history advanced differently after World War II. In 2077 a nuclear war breaks out forcing many inhabitants underground, to shelter in so-called “Vaults”. The game begins in 2161, 84 years after the war, and sees you playing as “The Vault-Dweller” – a man thrust out into the irradiated landscape looking to try to save his underground home. You can recruit up to four companions at the same time, to help you even the odds in battles.
The engine for Fallout was designed and coded by the game’s lead designer, Tim Cain, and features atmospheric, isometric landscapes, and suitably “eroded” inventories and menus. Combat is turn-based, highly tactical, and highly-detailed (and somewhat reminiscent of the X-COM games, which the developers have admitted they were big fans of). The combat in Fallout, though, does take tactical, turn-based combat to another level. When you’re good you can decimate anything set in front of you, but when you’re bad you can blow not only yourself up, but also the building that you’re standing in. What this first Fallout game did was set the standard by which all other post-apocalyptic sandboxes should live by. It also created much of the lore that the Fallout series adheres to, to this day.
Fallout‘s quests featured a backbone that had to be completed in order to progress, as well as hundreds of optional side missions that could be bypassed. That said: missing the experience granted by completing the side quests ensured that you weren’t strong enough to complete the game when you reached the final battle. So their description as “optional” is somewhat arguable.
Designer Tim Cain resisted internal pressure by Interplay to make the Fallout series real-time and multiplayer, and kept the sequel ‘hardcore’ and single-player, like this first game. Which I (and most of the gaming world) should be glad of, because it later led to the Bethesda series of Fallout games, which are excellent re-imaginings of these classic isometric RPGs.
Still available to buy and play now, Fallout is well worth the time and effort, in spite of its age.