Before, when everything was better… When the freedom of choice was not yet restricted. In Retrofiel, one of the editors of Eurogamer Benelux goes back to the good old days. In preparation for Fallout’s twentieth anniversary, Johnny explains why the game is and remains special.
Twenty years ago I was a little boy in the shop. I look forward to all kinds of interesting games until I get there Fall see standing. I have no idea what an RPG is, but that helmet on the cover and the promise of a nuclear apocalypse makes my mouth water. My mom knows what time it is and soon after I go out with the game. Under the excellent musical accompaniment of The Ink Spots, I quickly discover Vault Boy and his universe in ruins at home. However, it is Ron Perlman’s opening monologue that immediately immerses me in the universe. Rarely has an intro made such an overwhelming impression. It promises a lot of good, a lot of good.
Before I start, I have to select a character or create one myself. Fallout uses the so-called SPECIAL system to set your stats. In addition, with Traits you also adjust various character traits and offer bonuses with perks. At first, I didn’t eat any cheese. However, the more I learn about the game, the more I understand that creating your own character gives you the freedom to adapt the game to your own playstyle. After a lot of experimentation, I finally find my ultimate Road plan. Warrior.
Then I learn that I grew up safe in a nuclear bunker. But now the supervisor asks me if I want to brave the radioactive wasteland to find a new chip for the processing plant. Everyone dies without clean water, so that doesn’t really give me a choice. Armed with a pistol and the location of a nearby nuclear bunker, I go out. After colliding with a group of rats, I hit the outside world in a battered manner. Sunlight hurts. I look at my Pip-Boy computer card with my eyes closed and choose “Vault 15” as the destination. My first real RPG adventure is about to begin.
Along the way, I come across the village of Shady Sands. I talk to people and learn more about the world around me. I help them with their Radscorpion problem and meet my first mate Ian. Together, we save Tandi, the daughter of the village chief, from the clutches of the Great Khans. You also decide how you want to proceed. You can buy it, but you might as well intimidate or defeat the leader during a fight. It’s even possible to free her invisible by silently killing two guards and forcing her cell lock. There are many roads leading to Rome and the game never pushes you in any particular direction.
As you explore the world more, you will continue to meet interesting characters and visit unique places. This is how you finally meet the Technological Brotherhood of Steel. Bringing them in and getting your hands on such power armor could have been a game in itself. But if you are part of the criminal underworld of The Hub or trying to join Children of the Cathedral, there is always something interesting to discover. The jet black humor regularly puts a smile on your face and keeps the dialogue fresh after tens of hours. Combined with the creative freedom to do whatever you want, this creates a game with unprecedented high replayability.
Additionally, Fallout is open in the broadest sense. There are no artificial barriers or forced systems of right and wrong. In fact, there aren’t even any gray areas. Do you want to remove someone, but not immediately have everyone after you? Then put a timer on a bundle of dynamite and slide it over the victim’s body. Slowly walk away and enjoy the red rain that follows. Even children are not spared, if you wish. While the combat is turn-based, the death animations themselves are extremely violent and satisfying. You can also use drugs, gamble, and visit prostitutes. The possibilities are endless, but your actions have consequences. This way you can ruin a quest because you have taken out an important person. Fallout never holds your hand.
This is the main reason I gave up on Bethesda Fallout games. I can still tolerate the transition to a 3D world, the omission of turn-based combat, and the weakening of RPG systems. Even the jet black humor and the now busier world I regularly stumble upon something in, I can still swallow. However, it’s the more limited freedom of choice that’s overflowing the bucket for me. RPGs are very different today and that’s great. However, that argument doesn’t hold up if the game is based on an existing series in which this freedom is so central.
This is how you meet the children of Little Lamplight in Fallout 3. The game then requires you to complete the quest in a certain way when you could threaten or kill anything and everyone in the original. Obviously, this was not without consequences, but it is a choice you could make. In Fallout 4, you’ll be in Power Armor with a minigun to shoot a Deathclaw in under an hour. It is normally not only endgame gear, but also the strongest monster in the series. The new Fallout games take a linear, action-packed approach and forget about the battle for survival in a radioactive wasteland in which you are truly free to determine your own fate. The war seems to be changing anyway.