My esteemed colleague Miklós Szecsei recently published an Assassin’s Creed primer, intended to bring newcomers up to speed on the series’ history. You should check it out; there’s some good stuff in there. However, Syndicate isn’t the only big-name sequel that’s capturing loads of attention right now. You might have heard of this little thing called Fallout 4.
The Fallout franchise covers more than 200 years of in-game history spanning eight games, so naturally many fans and newcomers have gaps to fill in their Fallout education. In the spirit of originality (I’m totally not cribbing Miklós’ idea you guys!), here’s a primer aimed at introducing you to the world and history of Fallout just in time for Fallout 4. Play this in the background for full effect, and get ready to do some reading.
The term “fallout” refers to the after-effects of a nuclear detonation. Basically, after a nuclear bomb goes boom, radioactive materials are flung into the air. They disperse, get blown around, and eventually settle some distance from the actual explosion. That, dear NAGlings, is fallout.
Okay, but what’s Fallout?
Fallout is a role-playing game series set in post-apocalyptic America after the nukes fell. The games are built around a unique style and aesthetic. Basically, the world got trapped in an idealised version of the 1950s, with white picket fences, bubble-shaped cars and Cold War paranoia everywhere. Despite this, technology roared ahead to the point where advanced robotics, laser-based weaponry and even synthetic humans are commonplace. I call it a “nuclear-themed retro-futuristic dieselpunk aesthetic”.
In the series’ history, fossil fuels had depleted to critical levels, which kicked off the “Resource Wars”. This culminated in the two-hour long “Great War”, a deadly nuclear exchange that resulted in mutually assured destruction in the year 2077. Some of the human race was spared by hiding in Vault-Tec vaults – underground fallout shelters that preserved small pockets of humanity. At various points after that, the player is thrust into the poisoned, radioactive world above to explore, learn and survive.
What makes Fallout SPECIAL?
Fallout has many features that make it stand out from the role-playing game crowd. First up is the way it handles progression through a stats system called SPECIAL, which stands for “Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, and Luck“. Each of those stats governs several skills, which determine what your character is good at. High strength, for example, means that you can carry more goodies in your inventory, while low intelligence means you’ll have neanderthal-level conversational skills.
SPECIAL was the brainchild of Interplay, the studio behind the original Fallout, and was created when they failed to licence the well-known GURPS role-playing system. By and large, SPECIAL has stayed exclusive to Fallout, although it did govern the stats in another RPG called Lionheart: Legacy of the Crusader.
There’s plenty more that makes Fallout special. Right from the start, the games have had a delightful mix of dark humour and insane gore. Naturally, its extreme gore and mature themes have led to Fallout being refused classification in Australia in the past, as well as being forced to change the names of several items to discourage drug use. You know, for the kids’ sake.
Why are there zombies, big green people, and dudes in power armour?
Well, calling them zombies is a bit derogatory. They prefer the term Ghouls. See, Fallout is full of harmful radiation, and some people in the series spent a little too long basking in the nuclear glow. While most people outright die, others mutate into a far squishier form. Ghouls are radiation-resistant, which is cool, but are also relentlessly persecuted by most people, which is bad. Despite their horrid appearance, remember that Ghouls are people too. Unless they’ve lost their mind and turned into Feral Ghouls. Don’t hesitate to cure those ones with bullets.
Other inhabitants of Fallout include the Super Mutants. These hulking monstrosities were created in a lab after humans were subjected to the Forced Evolutionary Virus (FEV). Aside from the obvious physical effects, the virus changed them in other ways. Super Mutants are sterile, they don’t age, they’re massively strong and are practically immortal, unless filled with many bullets. However, not all of them are bad. Throughout the games there have been several Super Mutants who aim to encourage peaceful relations with humans, and some of them even join the player’s quest. Most, however, just want to abduct more survivors to transform them into Super Mutants as well.
And then there are the folks in Power Armour, another staple of the series. Power Armour is mostly worn by two factions: The Brotherhood of Steel and the Enclave. The Brotherhood are a sorta-religious, sorta-knightly organisation that seeks to preserve pre-war knowledge and technology. This doesn’t necessarily make them the good guys, and their ideologies frequently lead them to butt heads with other factions. As for the Enclave, they’re basically the Empire from Star Wars. A super-evil remnant of America’s government, the Enclave seek to control and cleanse the Wasteland by any (usually violent) means necessary.
There are other inhabitants roaming around too. Various tribes of Raiders, ordinary folk and mutated wildlife all populate the Wasteland. I could detail them, but it’s better to let Fallout newcomers experience a Deathclaw first-hand.
What about them games then?
That should be enough background about the factions, world and technology of Fallout, so let’s dive into a quick retrospective of the series’ core games.
Released in 1997 for PC, Fallout is an isometric RPG with turn-based combat. Considered by many to be a spiritual successor to Wasteland (also developed by Interplay), Fallout embodies all the dark humour and violent themes for which the series would become known. The story centers on a Vault Dweller being dispatched from their home, Vault 13, to find a replacement water chip for the failing water purification system. From there, they’re released into the unforgiving Wasteland to meet the locals, visit interesting places, and maybe kill a few Radscorpions.
Returning the water chip is only the first part of the quest, and shortly after turning it in, the Vault is attacked by Super Mutants. From there, the Vault Dweller must eliminate the Super Mutant leader, as well as destroy their base of operations. Interestingly, these objectives are time sensitive, and too much mucking about in the game either leads to Vault 13’s people dying of thirst or being overrun by Mutants.
Do I even need to mention that Fallout was well received? 18 years after its release, it remains an influential and much-loved RPG. Playing it for the first time with a modern gaming mindset can be a challenge, as the game is very much rooted in the past. Regardless, it’s easy to find online, and worth playing if you appreciate good RPGs and classic PC gaming.
Back in the ’90s, things were done quicker. I blame the “radical, hip” lifestyle of the time [Cowabunga, dude. – Ed.], which clearly inspired a faster pace of life. Maybe that’s why it only took a year for Fallout 2 to hit PCs. The game was made by Black Isle Studios and is also an isometric RPG, but it’s bigger, offers more toys to play with, and is set 80 years after the first Fallout.
The player controls the Chosen One, a direct descendant of the original Vault Dweller living in the tribe the Dweller started. In a similar vein as the first game, the Chosen One must venture out of the tribe to solve its water crisis by retrieving a Garden of Eden Creation Kit, or G.E.C.K. for short. The G.E.C.K. uses science to convert irradiated land into lush, fertile and clean land, fit for habitation. However, partway through the Chosen One’s quest, they return to discover their tribe has been abducted by the Enclave, and they must destroy the Enclave’s headquarters on an oil rig to save them.
Most fans regard Fallout 2 as better than the original. It’s bigger, more refined and presents a greater degree of difficulty, while also maintaining all the features of Fallout. Be warned, it’s hard as nails. However, it’s just as easy to find as the the first game. Personally, I hope it gets a mobile/tablet port. That worked for Baldur’s Gate.
Fallout 2 would be the last major Fallout game made by Interplay and Black Isle Studios, not counting the two spin-off Brotherhood of Steel titles. Facing bankruptcy, the rights to the Fallout franchise were sold to Bethesda Softworks, who then began working in 2004 on…
War. War never changes. Fallout sure as hell did though. Bethesda reinvented the Fallout brand, transforming it into an action-centric first-/third-person RPG, and unleashed the franchise on a whole new generation of gamers. Launched in 2008 for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360, Fallout 3 quickly made its mark on people everywhere.
Players control the Lone Wanderer, a dweller of Vault 101, who leaves the Vault at the tender age of 19. While most of us spend our 19th year doing things like doubting our university choices and going through a grunge phase, the Lone Wanderer spends it tracking down his/her father. The father, voiced by Liam Neeson, had left Vault 101 to complete his goal of building a mass-scale water purifier (sounds familiar) using a G.E.C.K (sounds very familiar). Along the way, the Lone Wanderer explores the Capital Wasteland, an irradiated, destroyed version of Washington DC. The game also introduced the VATS system, which allows players to slow down time to carefully aim shots at specific body parts of targets – a clever throwback to the turn-based nature of the earlier games.
Fallout 3 is absolutely worth playing. It has a huge, detailed world with enough secrets, Easter eggs and random craziness to keep you busy for months. There’s highly varied DLC as well, transporting players to space, computer simulations of the past, and the horrors of Pittsburgh. It’s a little rough and buggy on consoles, but be sure to pick it up for PC.
Released in 2010, Fallout: New Vegas is an interesting irradiated beast. It’s built using the same engine that powers Fallout 3, but it wasn’t made by Bethesda Softworks. Instead, development was outsourced to Obsidian Entertainment, who are well-known for producing quality RPGs. Obsidian is also partially comprised of team members from the now-defunct Black Isle Studios.
Players fill the shoes of The Courier, who is shot in the head and left in a shallow Nevada grave. After being dug out and patched up, it’s up to you to track down your attackers and recover The Platinum Chip, a super-advanced piece of tech. There’s a lot of story to this one, with multiple factions, groups and tribes all vying for a piece of the action. The game culminates in a climactic showdown featuring robots, the Enclave and pseudo-Roman legionnaires. It’s like a Royal Rumble, but with guns and radiation damage.
Fallout: New Vegas is highly recommended. Although I personally prefer Fallout 3′s story, New Vegas has a far better world and selection of firearms. It was also supported by rich DLC that added to the story meaningfully, and includes a Hardcore Mode that challenges your survival abilities. It’s also still being augmented by fan mods, which is extra incentive to get it for PC.
Obviously we can’t tell you much about this one, because it isn’t out yet. Duh. Fallout 4 was announced just before E3 2015, and was shown off extensively at Bethesda’s E3 conference. The game takes place in Boston, and your character is a survivor of the Great War (see waaaaay above) who awakens from cryogenic sleep in Vault 111.
A big change to the formula is that your character can now talk, and NPCs will refer to you by a name of your choice from a list of roughly a thousand. Beyond that, players can extensively modify their weapons, armour and personal suit of Power Armour through a robust crafting system. There’s also a settlement editor, allowing players to fully customise their post-apocalyptic strongholds with turrets, houses and decorations.
One of the best things about Fallout 4? It’s nearly out. In fact, it’s only a few hours away. It’s hitting shelves on November 10th for PC, PS4 and Xbox One. You’ll be able to tell it’s out when all work at NAG ceases for a few days.