Comic Book Curious

Starter Guide: Fallout

September 21, 2021

The inspiration for this article comes from my mom. I brought her my old Xbox a few summers ago and I included Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas. Curious, she looked them up online, saw that there were a lot more games, and asked me where she should start as there were several to choose from. She’s a longtime fan of solitaire and plays something called Cookie Crush 2 (thankfully she doesn’t know how to micro-transaction), but also beat the Legend of Zelda back on the NES, conquering the first and second quest before I was even able to beat the first.

But Fallout is a series that I love, and like most things you love, it’s got its flaws. My goal here is to highlight a place to start and maybe hope that someone reads this and includes some helpful features in a future fallout title.

Fallout 1 and 2: PC / Mac – Interplay

Cover of Fallout

Credit: Interplay

Cover of Fallout 2

Credit: Interplay

I’m going to skip all the lore here and cut to the chase. These games have clunky interfaces and are plagued with brutal difficulty, and the skill system is a lot to absorb. In terms of how the games are played, it’s an isometric sort of world where you move around on a grid. Combat is turn based, and you had better be sure you save after as you can be killed with ease here.

These games are good, but I didn’t really appreciate them in terms of writing until I had beaten them, and that’s not accessible for a game. I mean, if it was a 2-hour movie, you might not like it and then watch it again and appreciate or even have it grow on you, but these games are between 30-80 hours long and that’s a commitment.

What I wish they kept doing from Fallout 1 and 2:

1: You can play a character with an intelligence of 1 and it’s a totally different game because the game designers wrote a second game for each of these. You can’t form words and you can’t do 90% of the quests because you’re just too stupid to even understand what is happening. You can’t make words and it frustrates people with problems they know you can’t solve. The game itself even recommends that you not do this IN the game.

A screenshot of the character with a level 1 intelligence

Credit: Interplay

Now I will say Fallout New Vegas tried this, but they only went about a third of the way so sometimes you can give a dumb answer, but you rarely need to, even in the same conversation.

2: I like that the world feels lived in. It’s 80-140 years after a thermonuclear war and people have built towns, dug wells, are growing crops, and have a society. Modern Fallout games are stuck in this sort of 1950’s nostalgia theme for some reason and there is trash everywhere. This person lives in this diner in Fallout 4 and there is a skeleton in one of the booths. It’s been 200 years; nobody thought to dump those bones outside?

Fallout Tactics: PC / Mac – Interplay

The cover for Fallout: Tactics

Credit: Interplay

I first picked this up a few months ago and … no. Sorry. I thought it was going to be a turned based x-com like cover shooter with tactical combat, but it isn’t. You wander around like in the story modes in Warcraft 3 with a squad of disposable people slowly shooting everyone on a map. Rinse and repeat. The story isn’t bad; the Brotherhood of Steel, technological elitists fanatical about their zeal to collect pre-war technology, want to expand out and make the world better, but the game is just so boring and doesn't feel like Fallout; it feels like a slog.

If you want to play a good x-com like cover turn based story game, play the Wasteland series (specifically 2 and 3) as they’re much better. People that originally made Fallout went on to create those games. I’d recommend them if the load times weren’t so damn long, oh, work on that, I guess. Make Wasteland 4 with the Wasteland writers but cut the load times down from 3 minutes to 15 seconds.

Fallout 3: START HERE PC/Mac/Playstation/Xbox

I am not sure if this is my favorite game in the series, but it’s a great place to start. While the intro tutorial is long (not a great sign when the game has player made mods to skip it) it does a good job of transitioning the game away from an overhead to a first-person shooter style and is excellent at teaching you about the world by showing you it.

One of the earlier points in the game is your 10th birthday party. A bully wants your slice of cake, and the game teaches you that you can solve your problems in a variety of ways and NONE of them involve violence unless you go out of your way to punch the other kid. You can talk him down, lick the cake so he doesn’t want it, tattle on him; you’ve got non-violent options. There is also an old lady who has lived in this underground prison of fluorescent lights and metal hallways for 70 years and she writes you a poem for your birthday. Wow, yikes! Happy Birthday.

I like that we don’t know who or even what the antagonist is in the game, just that your dad leaves the safety of the underground vault, and you want to track him down and are motivated to do so as he’s the only family you’ve got and the overseer of the vault has questions about why he left, and will kill you for the answer.

The game is liberal with giving you perks and bonuses to play with as you explore the world, and it makes sense that nobody cleaned up all the rubble as this game takes place in Washington DC, and in a thermonuclear war, that city will be a target. You need to use the metro system and there is all sorts of nonsense lurking down there in the dark.

Much like the first game, this game is a quest to get clean drinking water to the people, and the villain agrees in a logical and somewhat sinister way. Of course, there are others looking for their own “Waters of Life,” the super mutants who need more of “the green stuff” to make more of themselves to conquer the wasteland. You’re sort of on the same quest as the vault 86 mutants, but it’s inverted; each side needing the opposite in order to survive, with the antagonist offering a solution to both sets of problems.

What I wish they kept doing from Fallout 3:

1: Randomly placed enemies that don’t like each other. The world is just chugging along and you’re just sort of there. Sometimes there are just random explosions happening behind a ridge and you show up to see a bunch of people in metal armor fighting fire breathing ants. That I never know what sorts of random elements will clash together is fantastic. There is a deck of random encounters that just happen, or don’t and there is a chance they could happen to you.

2: I like that not every conversation option is known to the player. This makes you change how you play because you can get by with charisma, or maybe you flirt your way out of a problem, or are smart enough to know the answer, or perceptive enough to see the solution, but the game doesn’t tell you, you either know it or you don’t. I also like that there is a chance that some of the more dubious conversation options will fail too, though I wish it saved so you couldn’t keep reloading.

3: There aren’t THAT many humans, and in the post apocalypse, that’s fun! In some games there are humans all over the place to the point where it doesn’t feel like the end of the world, but here, much of the wasteland is populated with wild animals, mutants, robots, or other irradiated creatures and you can’t talk them down.

4: The compass. If you have played other Bethesda games, you know what I’m talking about; there is a compass that is on the bottom of your screen that points you towards your next objective automatically and you can just follow it. You end up following this marker and not taking in the world because your eyes are drawn to the bottom left-hand corner. I don’t like that the design of the game points you to where you need to go, especially as you can’t complete the game without picking up ONE specific note in one huge building, and you’d probably never find it otherwise if they didn’t do that.

But what I like (and it’s something that frustrates you if you only follow the compass as you can’t turn off the compass) is that because Washington DC got so obliterated by atomic bombs that you need to use the metro system to go around collapsed buildings and the compass only points you to the building making YOU figure out how to navigate your way there. You need to actually look at the in-game map to figure this out by going to a subway map like in real life.

What’s also cool is early in the game, one person in the first town knows where your dad went, and if you kill him, the compass marker disappears, but the quest remains. I mean, that was your lead on that quest, I guess figure it out then. Excellent way of teaching the character to be mindful of their actions, just what the birthday party was trying to teach!

Fallout: New Vegas: PC/Mac/Playstation/Xbox

If you liked Fallout 3, you’ll like this game. It was made by the original Fallout creators, but Bethesda only gave them 18 months to make Fallout: New Vegas, rather than the 5 years it took to build Fallout 3. The game feels a bit rushed and unpolished with many plot points being told to you rather than shown, a hallmark of bad storytelling.

There are perks like “Wild Wasteland” that put pop culture references into the game like in Fallout 1 and 2, and there are “dumb” conversation options, but they’re few and far between. There are neat companions, but they’re all “good” rather than any spectrum of neutral or evil, and they make the game far too easy. Two of the first companions (you can drag two non-player characters around with you) break the game early. One is a laser shooting robot that increases the range of you being able to sense enemies and the other is a sniper. Together, they will kill pretty much anything before it gets close to you.

It’s a great game, it just needs a remake, or at least needed more than 18 months to make in the first place. Play it after you finish Fallout 3 and you won’t be disappointed.

Fallout 4: PC/Mac/Playstation/Xbox – Bethesda

This is a good game, but it is so very long. It takes a quest from Fallout 3 about if sentient robots have rights and makes the whole game that. The main problem is that since there isn’t a maximum level, you can just keep gaining experience until you are basically unkillable. The graphics are great, but it leans WAY too far into this idea that everyone in the year 2287 would be really into the 1950’s for no reason. That would be like if everyone today was really into cultural touchstones of the 1680’s… can you even name anything from the 1680’s?

Your character talks, but the conversation options boil down to the following.

Yes, but sarcastic.
Yes, but give me more rewards.

There is a lot of base building and crafting, so most of the time I’m wandering around looking for glue and antique globes. I do like the companions you get, they’re neat and have their own unique problems and perspectives (Nick Valentine is my favorite) and you’re encouraged to boost how much they like you by adventuring with them, so you’re motivated to swap them out.

What is great about this game is the survival mode. Everything hits harder, you need to sleep in actual beds (not just filthy bloodstained rags) or you get riddled with parasites and sleeping is the only way you can save the game. Sleep too little or too much and you get insomnia or lethargy, further hurting your stats. This encourages you to build bases because you need safe places to rest and you can’t fast travel at all either. You need to drink and eat or you will get weak and die, bites from animals can give you all sorts of diseases, and you can’t see enemies on your compass, making you paranoid about what could be around the next corner. Try to carry too much weight and your legs will break under the strain. It’s a totally separate game inside of this rather middle of the road title!

Fallout 76: PC/Mac/Playstation/Xbox - Bethesda

Boring, lore breaking, repetitive, buggy at launch, and one of the great disappointments in modern gaming, right up there with the launch of No Man’s Sky. They’ve done a lot of updates for this title, but … it left such a bad taste in my mouth, I’d rather just play something else and I’d sure rather NOT start with this one.

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