20 years ago today, Fallout set the world on fire

fallout-1-anniversary

The world ended on September, 30 1997. Or, rather, that was the day we were first shown what would become gaming’s enduring definition of the end of the world. Interplay’s Fallout, a very different game from Bethesda’s Fallout 3 and Fallout 4 (not that this seems to bother anyone; no sirree, not a soul), was and is a landmark roleplaying game. It disrupted ideas that RPGs meant elves and kobolds; it disrupted ideas that RPGs were a straight march to the finish line; it disrupted ideas that RPG heroes should be heroic.

War never changes, but Fallout changed most everything else.

Perhaps the enduring reason many haggard old PC gamers (hello!) still look to Fallout as a high watermark of computer roleplaying is the sheer degree of choice it offered. Not just in terms of how you designed your character and the numbers you could pour into them, but also – more so – in terms of having multiple ways to solve a problem.

‘Shoot them all’ was only one of these but, beautifully/monstrously, that too was available as an option in scenes where so many other games would lock it off. Talking people around, threatening them, breaking and entering, lying: all sorts.

There was no one necessary right answer – and this applied to the game’s main storyline as a whole. You could effectively ignore it all, or straight-up murder the main quest-giver. Fallout was your place, to do with as you chose.

first-fallout-game

Sure, Bethesda’s takes on the Fallout formula offered gloss and adrenaline and a new sense of scale, and Fallout 3 isn’t too bad at offering conversation-based solutions to your problems (Fallout 4, less so), but they never quite managed to offer that same ability to rip up the whole world.

And what a world it was too. From humble, inspect-splatting beginnings that suggested a more traditional fantasy game it grows and grows, from outposts to town to cities to heavily-armed fortresses, from Max Max to The Jetsons to Norman Rockwell, from drunken bandits to supermutants to Warhammer 40,000 cast-offs. Fallout 4 was a game that said both you and it could do anything you or it wanted.

Happy birthday, old apocalypse. PC gaming is Fallout, and Fallout is PC gaming.

[Never played it? It’s free on Steam until the end of the day. –Ed]

86 Comments

  1. Freud says:

    Fallout 1 and 2. Games where you could kill children. Turned a whole generation of gamers into raging normal people.

    • wombat191 says:

      Ha you obviously didn’t play the censored European edition of FO2 where you could be pickpocketed by invisible children

    • bill says:

      I thought that was going to end with “… turned a whole generation of gamers into whiny entitled kids demanding that every game allow them to kill the kids in the name of gritty realism”.

      But I like yours better… it’s more positive.

  2. wombat191 says:

    Side note.. I might try that entrance way for a settlement in FO4.. 1900 hours I like extra ideas for it :)

  3. dangermouse76 says:

    Fourth last line…… Should say fallout 1?

    I bounced off the game immediately when I last tried it. But I’m a bit more patient these days. Time to fire it up again.

  4. Chentzilla says:

    >From humble, inspect-splatting beginnings
    >from Max Max to The Jetsons

    Looks like the end of the article was a bit rushed.

  5. GenialityOfEvil says:

    I hope Fallout 5 goes back and takes some cues from the first game, allowing us to completely screw things up without the game feeling the need to twist the storyline back into place (see LA Noire).

    • Kinsky says:

      Yes, if only soulless AAA profit machines actually cared about the quality of their product beyond what it takes to move copies.

      • Flavorfish says:

        The cynicysm is a little absurd here. Game devs by and large care deeply about the quality of their work, if they didn’t, they would be working in any other software development industry for %30 higher earnings.

        If a publisher is following nothing more then self interest then consumers need to bear responsibilities for setting mishapen incentives. I chose not to buy Fallout 4 because I didn’t agree with the design direction. If more of us choose to exercise that kind of restraint then publishers will pay attention.

        • ColonelFlanders says:

          That’s a typically idealist and unrealistic response. Adam Sandler movies make money, and yet they are all shit. McDonald’s make shitty burgers, yet they still have millions of restaurants round the world. Consumerism is a rampant problem filled with imbecilic impulse buyers, this is true, but that doesn’t absolve any publisher from criticism of their shitty practices. Stupid people will always buy stupid things, regardless of your pseudo-high-ground mentality. It’s up to us to criticise shit behaviour, be it from devs, or publisbers. Fallout 4 was a vapid experience and Bethesda don’t deserve to escape that just because a few idiots bought it and “encouraged that behaviour”

        • Marclev says:

          Sadly, some of us did buy Fallout 4 (mainly because, well … “it’s a new Fallout, OMG”), and put more than the 2 hours into it that Steam allows as a refund window before deciding not to keep playing because they disagreed with the direction the franchise had taken.

          The above won’t show the publisher that said some of us have no intention to buy Fallout 5, and up yours Bethesda.

        • Dogshevik says:

          I think you are being too idealistic here. The reality is that if your name is big enough you can count on brand recognition and masses of uninformed costumers. Your success will then mainly rely on other factors than product quality.
          Add to that that Bethesda is not above classy tactics like deliberatedly not releasing review copies so game journalists can do their jobs of informing potential customers.

          I think you see where I am going with this.

          • Dogshevik says:

            It should read “game journalists can NOT do their jobs”

            I consider the RPS edit policy still to be bonkers.

      • Chaoslord AJ says:

        They just respond to a demand by players who need easy gratification and can’t be frustrated.

  6. geldonyetich says:

    Yeah, Fallout 1 and 2 were pretty good. I loved my spiral-bound manuals full of rich, GURP-inspired stats.

    Sadly, the Fallout 3 reboot was no longer an isometric, deep RPG. Fallout 4 and 5 have been dumbed down further. I guess I could say that these games were pretty good. Lets be honest here, I played the heck out of them. But mentioning Fallout 1-2 in the same sentence seems a bit disingenuous considering the game was fundamentally changed into something completely different.

    No wonder I like Divinity: Original Sin 2 so much. It’s much more a Fallout than any Fallout after Tactics was.

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      Aerothorn says:

      You’ve played Fallout 5!?!

      • Zenicetus says:

        Probably referring to the sequence of games after the isometric ones, where New Vegas was technically the fourth and Fallout 4 the fifth. I guess that makes New Vegas actually Fallout 3.5?

        • geldonyetich says:

          I did indeed play a lot of New Vegas, but I’ll be honest, I lost count.

          Heck, so much time passed between Fallout 3 and 4 that 4 probably should be 5. The fact they’re all Gamebryo engine games, and on the Elder Scrolls end of that we’re up to V, did not help my sense of recall.

        • GameCat says:

          There’s also Fallout Tactics, so there’s 6 F games in total.

          • geldonyetich says:

            Lets not forget Fallout Shelter and Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel.

            This does not even get into canceled Fallout games, which include multiple full-fledged MMOs.

  7. cpt_freakout says:

    I only ever got around to playing the Fallouts a few years ago. My youth RPGs were the Infinity Engine games, so my first Fallout play was kinda mind-blowing because I had so many choices, and I couldn’t definitely take them all. Also, the world was grimy and horribly violent, but also surreal, with a biting black humor I didn’t expect.

    The only thing I did prefer from the Bethesda Fallouts was the radio. I downloaded like a million 1950s music packs and it completely made the game (FO3, haven’t played NV or 4) for me.

  8. Sin Vega says:

    Meh. It was basically just turn-based Oblivion.

  9. Crusoe says:

    Screw Bethesda Fallouts.

    The only real Fallout games are Fallout and Fallout 2.

    • yoggesothothe says:

      Not that I particularly disagree–Fallout 1 actually affected me fundamentally as a person, whereas the Bethesda published games, even NV, were merely mildly entertaining–but I’m always reminded by comments such as this about gripes that people had concerning Fallout 2 in the past.

      There was a time when FO2 was criticized as not being true to the spirit of FO1 by too overtly referencing non-diegetic pop culture (the Goonies, Pinky and the Brain for two particularly egregious examples), and that something of the dire character of FO1 was lost in FO2’s world. This, of course, rather ignores the pop culture easter eggs in FO1 (though they were less overt).

      At any rate, there are some who felt (and probably still feel) that FO1 is the only “true” Fallout game–because its the only one that feels like a genuine successor to Wasteland 1. No true Scotsman arguments never change.

      • napoleonic says:

        The only true “No true Scotsman” argument is the original one. These pop culture-infused so-called “arguments” about video games and so on don’t have the authenticity of the original.

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        CrackedMandible says:

        Not to mention the bugs…which were pretty severe. I remember loosing the front of my car and having to walk everywhere for half the game, with a floating trunk following me from place to place.

    • Zenicetus says:

      I play the Bethesda games because I love the “What if 50’s sci-fi was real?” setting, and there isn’t anything else out there like this. The gameplay is meh, but the setting is great.

      • GenialityOfEvil says:

        I’ve always seen Bethesda’s Fallout games like Mass Effect, you play it for the setting, not the gameplay. No-one was looking forward to Mass Effect Andromeda thinking “Gee, I really can’t wait to crouch behind a chest-high wall in plastic armour again”.

    • Ergates_Antius says:

      They’re fine if you don’t think of them as sequels to the originals. They’re Bethesda games set in the Fallout universe.

      • Kinsky says:

        They’re fine if you squint your eyes and turn your head sideways and ignore the title and aesthetic and callbacks and terrible design choices. Basically just pretend you’re playing another game and it’s fine.

  10. Paul says:

    Fallout was the first game that showed me what games are capable of. That they can be more than mindless entertainment, but actually worlds I could get lost in and do anything in. What is sad, is that to this day Fallout 1,2 and New Vegas are pretty much unsurpassed in interactivity, reactivity and player agency.In how many games can I become a junkie, childkiller, gravedigger, pornstar, sniper, smoothtalker, thief, dumb idiot, genius scientist?

    Apart from Fallout there is what, Arcanum, also from Fallout devs, and that’s that?

    I need to try Divinity OS2. And I hope the new Cain and Boyarsky RPG will follow in Fallout’s footsteps.

  11. LennyLeonardo says:

    I accidentally made a whole town hostile to me early on, barely escaping alive. I returned much later in full power armour, armed with a mingun, and slaughtered everyone. It was awesome. I was like 12. I feel dirty when I think about it now.

    • willywill says:

      I had that bad luck dog with me and I couldn’t get rid of him. I shot him until he died. It took so long and I ended up feeling really bad.

      • Dezmiatu says:

        You found the Pariah Dog? Lucky bugger. I had a max luck/jinxed character and I searched desperately for the thing. Got every special encounter at least twice except for that one.

        I feel like I got screwed out of a soulmate.

  12. Stevostin says:

    Fallout 3 isn’t too bad at offering conversation-based solutions

    A quick check to F1, F2 and F3 walkthrough will show that F1 is actually doing that here and there, F2 is doing that far more consistently and F3 is yet in another league with way more quest and way more way to solve things. That’s one of the complete nonsense criticism, along “but there was no beefy mutant in ol’ Fallout” (there was. Pretty much all of F3 main course is from previous games) and “oh, they removed the nasty choices” (about a game where you can actually sell a child to slaver and eat people you kill).

    It would be nice if all the ppl, including many journo, were fact checking themselves on this and making some form of apologies. Because, let’s be honest, they’re certainly one of the reason F4 has lost most of this. F3 and FNV were RPG games the likes of which they may not be much for a long time anymore (especially when like me you can’t be even remotely interested in a non FPV rpg).

    Not holding my breath though.

    • Vodalus says:

      Not to be one of those people, but come on! F3 and F4 do have a lot more content than the originals, quantity wise. However, quality is another story. There’s a reason so many people say the Bethesda Fallouts are a mile wide and an inch deep. Hell, way too much of the main quest is pretty much on rails—might as well be watching a movie. When you face the Master in 1, you can win without fighting by collecting the right information and selecting the right speech options from many potential choices as long as you have a high speech skill. It’s a verbal showdown. In 3, you can say literally one bland sentence (the game tells you which one) and if you have high speech president eden just gives up for no discernible reason—it was like someone told Bethesda they needed a pacifist option at the end so they phoned it in.

      Also, I think it’s criminal to lump in Obsidian’s New Vegas with 3 and 4.

      Here’s why 3 (and especially 4) fall short: my favorite thing about 1 and 2 was the conversation. Unless you got the empathy perk that showed you how the other person would react, you had to guess what to say in order to persuade someone from a bunch of plausible options and then pass an invisible speech check. But having high speech wasn’t enough—it took thought.

      In 3, they tell you which option is the speech option. There’s no strategizing involved in conversation. In 1 and 2, conversation was part of the gameplay, in 3 and 4 it’s just exposition.

      A million people have said this before, but New Vegas had far more skill checks in conversation than 3–not just speech, but medicine and science and explosives and repair stealth. That was much better and much more like the originals. In New Vegas, your SPECIAL stats mattered—they had unique low intelligence and high intelligence speech options.

      Then there are the settlements. For a game with so much content, 3 had few big towns—Rivet City, Megaton, maybe Tenpenny Tower and the Brotherhood HQ. F1 was a small game but lots of the content was in the towns. F2 had a ton of big towns. New Vegas had a metropolis and a bunch of decent sized towns or military bases. F4 had only three decent sized towns other than the bogus player built settlements without unique NPCs.

      Also dude, if Bethesda really cared about vocal criticism from fans or journalists, they wouldn’t have gotten rid of the skill system entirely in 4, or replaced the mediocre conversation from 3 with that awful Bioware style dialogue wheel. And with 4 they have no excuse because Obsidian showed them how to do it right.

    • Artea says:

      This is such a huge misrepresentation that I don’t even know where to start.

      Fallout 3 has an hour-long unskippable opening tutorial forcing your hand at every turn. Even after you escape the Vault, it still guides you by the hand down a linear path, labeling a ton of NPC’s as essential and unkillable, using invisible walls, scaling enemies to your level so that you can always defeat them, etc.

      By contrast, Fallout can be finished in several minutes if you know what you’re doing by walking to the bad guy’s lair (well, technically there are two lairs), using your science skill to hack a computer to set the facility to self-destruct and beat the antagonist without ever meeting him. And that’s just one way to finish the game. Despite its technical limitations, it allows for much more creativity and alternative solutions to problems than Fallout 3.

      • Zerpherion says:

        Yeah but who wants to only complete games in 5 seconds anyway?

      • Marclev says:

        I’ll take Fallout 3’s tutorial over Fallout 2’s “Temple Of Pain” any day, a tutorial where you can deplete your health and ammunition so much (which you will do if you don’t know what you’re doing) that it makes the rest of the game practically unwinnable.

        And most RPG’s can be finished quite linear if you’re only objective is to finish the main quest (although granted, most don’t let you walk over to the enemy’s base and blow it up like in FO1, although that’s hardly something you’re going to do on your first play-through when you don’t even know it’s there), it’s up to the player to take the initiative and explore a bit, which Fallout 3 encourages you to do a lot.

      • Werthead says:

        In Fallout 3 you can head straight to one of the Vaults from late in the main game storyline and that allows you to skip about 75% of the story. You can’t complete the game straight away that way but you can certainly get a massive boost.

        Of course that wasn’t intended and it does break the questline, with the game assuming you did everything before that (so the Brotherhood of Steel, whom you’ve never met, suddenly know who you are), but there is a way of cheesing it a bit.

  13. Ergates_Antius says:

    20 years? Fuck me I’m old.

    • hfm says:

      You and me both. It feels good to have enjoyed the game at it’s release, but it also feels strange that it’s so old.. ugh..

  14. vahnn says:

    Believe me, this bothered me very much. FO1 and 2 remain among my top 25 greatest games of all time to this day, and I must have 500-600 hours between the two of them. FO3 and 4 are garbage. I gave FO3 a solid 6 or 7 hours, and New Vegas another 5. Didn’t even touch 4. I wouldn’t say they ruined the Fallout name, but it saddens me when people say I LOVE FALLOUT and seconds into a discussion I realize they don’t even know about FO1 and 2. “Those OLD games? I saw a screenshot, it looked dumb.”

    • Marclev says:

      What’s wrong with New Vegas? It’s about as close to Fallout 2 in 3D as you can get (ISTR it’s largely made by the same people).

      • Werthead says:

        New Vegas is a terrific game and easily the best version of the “Bethesda design paradigm” since Morrowind (if you’re being charitable to Bethesda). It has far deeper characters, design choices and conversation options than any Bethesda game, that’s for certain.

        On the other hand, it is monstrously unapproachable. At least FO3 and 4 ease you into the game world fairly easily. New Vegas has a rather bland and boring opening in the town with Colonel Tigh from BSG and then drops you in cazadore alley (if you’re not careful) and it’s possible to wander into the deathclaw quarry and die a lot early on. As much as New Vegas becomes a fantastic game later on, the opening is horrible and I can understand why people might drop it after a few hours.

  15. eeguest says:

    By mutants for mutants!

  16. Samudaya says:

    Not a single mention of Tim Cain. Why no link to the recent, brilliant hour long interview with Tim Cain and Leonard Boyarsky on the development of Fallout from Eurogamer? No word that they are working on a new project at Obsidian. Something that may be a real successor to Fallout. Not those Elder Scroll shooters with postapocalyptic skins.

  17. Someoldguy says:

    The sad fact is, gaming tastes change. I’m glad Bethesda have carried on making Fallouts, because it allows the opportunity for people like Obsidian to get involved again and make a half decent one like NV. If they had kept making isometric Fallouts sooner or later the budget would have outstripped the sales and it would have sunk the studio, or we’d have had no games for more than a decade before kickstarter came along.

    F1 & 2 were fantastic, it’s true. I wish a bit more of their style had carried over, but there’s usually some good side stories to be had in the modern Falloutverse even if the main quest line is a bit pants. That said, my fondest memories of F2 involve finding several different uses for the pair of spectacles. Most games would happily stop after assigning one trivial use for a minor item, but not Fallout!

    I do hope that Wasteland 3 will take a step in that direction and be more about choices and less about shooting the shit out of everything. There were some areas where that was possible in 2 but mostly it was a succession of firefights.

    • April March says:

      I daresay Interplay did keep making isometric Fallouts until the budget outstripped the sales, before Van Buren would’ve come out.

  18. bill says:

    Personally, I’ve tried to play Fallout 1 a couple of times and bounced off it hard early each time.

    It’s a common problem with RPGs though, so maybe it being in my steam library will prompt me to try it again. again.

    • ansionnach says:

      Not a big fan of Fallout. Liked the freedom but found the combat pretty poor. Not because it was turn-based – it simply wasn’t good. Worse still, it was so tedious it really dragged the game down any time it started. Keeping companions alive was a nightmare as they were practically suicidal. When I played it I kept the dog alive but it wasn’t worth the effort. Might be better to leave all your friends somewhere safe. I seem to remember using one NPC as a bottomless item store since you could both plant and steal items from any character.

      I don’t think Fallout was as revolutionary as stated by many here or showed people CRPGs didn’t have to have kobolds and beards. Games that came before it like various Ultimas and the Underworlds gave you a lot of choice and the main series didn’t have bobbits and the like past the early entries. They were set in fantasy worlds, but they were far from universally staid ones.

      A lot of old CRPGs allowed you to go around killing everyone, although this would sometimes break the game. There were games where you could do this and still finish the game before Fallout. Perhaps the reason plot -based games started to stop you from being able to kill anyone was to prevent dead ends. Not a good way of doing it, in my view, though.

      In terms of popularity, Fallout was a bit of a sleeper hit. I don’t think it was popular enough to start a revolution. It had one sequel and that was it. How many later games truly tried to follow its example? Not that it wasn’t at all influential, but was it as influential as Ultima Underworld, a game that hasn’t been bettered years later?

      • Marclev says:

        No, that’s wrong. Fallout was pretty revolutionary, there really wasn’t anything else like it (and I was playing a lot of PC games back then).

        And the combat was fine, but unlike games these days, if you built a useless character, the game wouldn’t go out of its way to pretend that you could survive the wasteland with him / her.

        • ansionnach says:

          Still happy with my contribution. Fallout didn’t set the world alight. It was reasonably influential but this has been overstated.

          • Someoldguy says:

            I think it would have been more influential if the games producers of the time had decided that there was room for more cerebral RPGs and console style aRPGs to exist without fighting each other for development time and consumer dollars. Unfortunately Interplay plumped for producing lackluster console games and further Fallout and Baldur’s Gate titles withered on the vine. Who knows, maybe in 2003 the mass market would still have bought Diablo II and Dungeon Siege and spurned these never-released games as Interplay seemed to think they would.

            It is true that RPGs with relatively complicated plots and a wide variety of non-combat options have remained pretty niche. The only people making them are generally studios influenced by the developers who were making them back in the 90’s. Few of the modern attempts to revisit the style have been critically and commercially successful.

          • Turkey says:

            The mid ’00s were such a bad time for cRPGs. The year when Gothic 3 and NWN 2 dropped was when I seriously felt like the genre might just die altogether.

  19. Peppergomez says:

    It would be nice if another studio got the Fallout franchise. Bethesda aren’t capable enough.

    • Unsheep says:

      Producing three best-sellers argues otherwise.

    • Zenicetus says:

      There are sub-plots here and there in Fallout 4 that shine better than the main plot. Nick as a companion was well-written, and his story was extended in the Far Harbor DLC which was pretty good. Bethesda can take advantage of the setting well enough, when they use good writers and don’t just coast on the franchise.

  20. PancreaticDefect says:

    We need to convince Bethesda to let Larian Studios make a Fallout game.

  21. Risingson says:

    I love Fallout 3 and still consider it the best Bethesda game, but Fallout 1 (despite the inventory bug, please don’t carry too many things or the game will be silently corrupted at the end of it!) was, with Baldur’s Gate, the game that resurrected crpgs. If those games did not exist the crpg genre would have consisted only of jrpg clones.

  22. primitiveman says:

    old fashioned

  23. Unsheep says:

    It certainly wasn’t the first game to do all the things you praise it for, but it was the most popular one (for good reasons though).

  24. Marclev says:

    Interplay’s Fallout, a very different game from Bethesda’s Fallout 3 and Fallout 4

    Well, I would say the differences to Fallout 3 pale in comparison to those of 4, so it’s not really fair to lump both of these into the same bucket.

    You could mention Fallout: New Vegas, which is much closer to a proper sequel to the originals, on the Fallout 3 engine.

    • Javier says:

      I wish New Vegas played like the original Fallout games. Or at least, not like Fallout 3. There’s so much about that game that it’s trully brilliant, but the fact that it ran on Gamebryo with all that entails made it not all that enjoyable for me. Nothing about its gameplay is all that fun, and it’s truly impossible to feel immersed in that game. An overhead view provides a certain degree of abstraction that your imagination can fill in just fine that makes it all that much better.

  25. kfcnearby says:

    Thank you for this post. I love Fallout 1 so much.

  26. apa says:

    If I’d start FO1 now are there any must-have mods?

  27. dorobo says:

    It was a work of love those games in the olden days with talented hardcore people that made them.

  28. Galvatron says:

    Is that a Megadeth reference in the title I smell?

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