In the not-too-distant future, the availability of resources becomes critical and mankind succumbs to the inevitability of war. Nuclear weapons are used and civilization disappears in the subsequent storm of atomic fire. A few fortunate people have been locked away in massive underground Vaults, allowing them to survive. You play one of these Vault-dwellers. The water purification chip in your Vault has malfunctioned after many decades of use, and you are selected to leave the safety of your home and venture into the unknown world outside.
Your character has base attributes, diverse skills, and traits which are allocated at creation. Leveling up grants you additional skill points, as well as perks which help round out your character and grant bonuses. Overall there is a huge amount of customizability, allowing you play pretty much any character type you like. The game does permit many varied approaches to problem-solving – so if you’d rather talk your way out of a sticky situation (as opposed to feeding a lead sandwich to everything in sight), you can.
Upon first leaving the Vault, you are greeted with a map presented by your handy-dandy Pip-Boy 2000™. Initially, the world is unknown and uncharted. As you explore, you discover a desolate wasteland – nothing more than blasted desert and ruined cities. But life continues to eke out an existence. Humanity has risen from the ashes and is making an attempt to claw its way back from the brink of extinction. There are small towns scattered around the barren countryside – each of these has a distinct atmosphere and its citizens exhibit their own morality and outlook be they human, mutant, or irradiated ghoul.
The viewpoint in Fallout is fixed isometric, with a bubble of transparency around your character allowing you to see when you’re behind an obstacle. Most modern gamers will want to zoom and rotate the view at first, but once you’ve been sucked into the game (and you will be) this is no longer a concern. Game areas are a little small, which can be a little annoying, but fortunately load times between these are very short and often unnoticeable. The world design deserves special mention: everything has a retro yet futuristic feel – ray guns meet vacuum tubes and 1950s style. Much inspiration has been taken from sci-fi movies of the last few decades, and the game refers to these from time to time.
Exploring local areas is done in real-time, but when things get dangerous the game switches to turn-based combat. While some might find this distances the player from the action, it allows for intensely tactical battles. How you use your limited Action Points each turn is crucial – choosing to fire, reload, heal, or take cover will make the difference between victory and becoming yet another irradiated skeleton in the wasteland.
Humour is a subtle yet important aspect of Fallout, helping to ameliorate the dismay felt at the world’s nuclear fate. While not the driving force behind the game, you will find yourself chuckling regularly. Heck, if your character is lucky enough, you might discover a crashed UFO in the desert, complete with alien clutching a picture of Elvis.
Fallout is pre-patched to 1.2, but there is still the occasional bug. None of these interfere with the completion of the game, but doing tasks or talking to NPCs in the wrong order can lock you out of certain side-quests. While this is no deal-breaker, it can affect your enjoyment of the game – fortunately, there is a fan-made patch to 1.3.4 which addresses most if these issues.