In Late December Steam sold the whole Fallout collection for $5. As anyone who knows me could guess, I bought it, fully intending to jump on the nostalgia train and ride it all the way to a procrastination-fueled existential crisis.
My primary mission in Fallout 1 was, of course, to reacquaint myself with one of the great legacy games of the 20th century. To say that I spent more time as the Vault Dweller than Mario would be a lie, but I would say that I had more fun as the Vault Dweller (and his/her descendant, The Chosen One).
Which is why I’m so surprised at Fallout 1’s frailties.
The UI is so dated that I actually couldn’t explain it to my fiance (who was curious about the game, not having played it). Part of the reason was because I didn’t know the UI anymore. (Seriously, who stores shortcut keys from games they haven’t played in over a decade?) And there were some menus, such as the ‘Rest’ feature, that actually required keyboard commands. The Steam version comes with a PDF of the original manual, or I can’t tell you how screwed I’d be. I’d have to troll a forum or something.
Nothing good comes of that.
Other minor UI conveniences I recall, such as “Loot All”, after research, I realized were only implemented in Fallout 2. This results in a lot of clicking and dragging, so much so that a modern Usability tester would yelp like Dogmeat getting critted by a Minigun and wish for a Stealth Boy so that they could shirk the number of CRs and bugs they’d need to file.
You think I’m joking, but after playing this game, my mouse and I have never been so close. I learned so much about him. His name is Tigo Lech, and he’s a Logitech. He wanted to be a ballerina dancer, but his father insisted he take over the family business: helping humans surf the internet. I weep for his broken dreams.
So the UI was a bit of a hassle. Nothing I haven’t handled before! Hell, I was raised on text parser games like King’s Quest and Quest for Glory, where thousands of punny ways to say “The fuck you tryin’ to say, mate?” were spawned. Do you think shortcut keys are something I can’t handle? Of course not. I muscled through the bad UI and made myself an unarmed character, remembering how badass my kung-fu master was.
Except that my Kung Fu master was in Fallout 2, in which they implemented special unarmed moves. I’d also taken the Fast Shot perk, so I couldn’t even blind my enemies. I complained about Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas being unfair to melee and unarmed characters, but this is nothing on the original game. If you’re interested in giving it a play-through for the lore, save yourself the pain — go Small Guns.
Unarmed starts with Brass Knuckles, which is a small mercy, but where Small Guns will get a weapons upgrade in nearly every settlement, Unarmed gets two upgrades in the entire game — The Hub introduces Spiked Knuckles, and The Brotherhood introduces Power Fist — and by the time you pick up those power-ups, you’ve already been save-scumming the first two-thirds of the game just to stay alive.
Praying that you survive as you charge through a hail of bullets that’s murderous until you’re in Brotherhood Combat Armor or Powered Armor.
And then the mutants come in with Miniguns, and no matter what you do, a crit can kill you before you even get to act, even with 10 AGI. Even with Bonus Move. In these battles, your best hope is to get initiative and plant a bullet-hole in every mutant’s forehead in the first round — oh wait, did I say bullet hole? Sucks that you’re an Unarmed character.
“But wait!” some internet troll will surely say. “Just go grind a few levels on random encounters. This is old school, man. OLD SCHOOL!”
That’d be a great idea if the game was long enough to warrant the grind. The first thing I did in Fallout New Vegas was get my character to level 30 on random encounters in the desert (which turned out to be stupid because there were so many damned quests in that game that I actually got bored of doing all the side quests for no experience rewards at all.) In Fallout 1, there’s enough content to reasonably get a character to level 13ish without grinding too much. The apex perks like Slayer, the perk that changes an unarmed Vault Dweller from “Grease Smear” to “Madperson with Power Fist”, requires at least level 18. And the random encounters tables give you 1,000 experience max — no hostile alien encounters near San Francisco in Fallout 1! — with a high preference towards mole rats and rats that give 300 XP and 125 XP per encounter respectively… Going from level 13 to 14 takes 13,000 XP total. You do the math.
Fallout 1 is also just not as edgy or zany as I remember it, but again, there, I’m conflating 1 & 2. But I’m tired of complaining about the bad features. What’s good?
The story remains strong. Although I’d like a bit more of a reason on why I as the Vault Dweller give a shit about Vault 13’s inhabitants when it seems like I just won the loser lottery, once the Player accepts the conceit that, yes, the Vault Dweller does in fact give at least a little bit of a shit about his compatriots, the rest of the story unfolds fairly smoothly following a well-crafted heroic narrative style; the Vault Dweller starts as Orphan, becomes Wanderer, Warrior, and then Martyr. I won’t spoil too much there.
One point of note is that three of the most interesting NPCs are all in Junktown: Dogmeat, Tycho, and Gizmo. Gizmo is notable because he’s so fat that he never leaves his chair, something that I doubt would fly in any modern game.
Dogmeat is just awesome.
Tycho would be more awesome, if he’d just quit ‘accidentally’ shooting Dogmeat. I think Tycho’s secretly jealous of the close bond between Dogmeat and the Vault Dweller. He wants the Vault Dweller for himself…
But jokes aside, Tycho’s quips did well to lighten up the save-scummed wasteland, and the description of him (sadly, not implemented on his sprite) as wearing a gas mask and a trenchcoat is both realistic and disturbing in exactly the way you’d expect from a post-apocalyptic setting.
All in all, I give Fallout 1 four out of five stars.
My biggest complaint, bias against Melee/Unarmed, is really just my refusal to reroll spliced with an unrealistic (and probably unhealthy) fantasy about charging people with firearms with nothing but bare fists and giant fucking powered-armor balls and expecting to win.
After I go through the classic Fallouts again, I’ll give 3 another shot. Perhaps this time through, my glasses towards its predecessors won’t be quite so rose-colored.