Fallout is one of those series that’s just so good. It’s more reactive than a nuclear reactor, subtler than a tiptoeing ninja, and smoother than Fonzie covered in lotion. The original game is also easier to get into than most who have passed on the first two games might think.
It’s easy to look back on most older games and imagine that things have only improved since then; I used to think that games like Fallout were simplistic and archaic and simply not advanced enough to be worthwhile. Of course, then-modern games like Fallout 3 were the future, the standard that my inexperience held up as the better experience. Yes, siree, that game was totally better than the original Fallout! That is, until I actually played the original Fallout.
I haven’t been able to enjoy Fallout 3 (or any Bethesda-developed games, for that matter) ever since. It was amazing to me that Fallout was more reactive and interesting and fun than 3 ever managed to be, and yet it was the undeniable truth; in judging the game for its outdated graphics and imagining everything else to be equally outdated, I had missed out on an incredible experience. Fallout is what every open-world game should aspire to be, a game where you can go anywhere and do virtually anything without the story being an afterthought that’s tacked-on. That’s to say that the plot of the game, in addition to the lore surrounding it, is surprisingly tight. So tight, in fact, that my personal bar for open-world games was raised after playing it. There’s no excuse for games with several times the budget of Fallout to have less story and fewer memorable characters. There just isn’t.
Explosives are easily one of my favorite things about Fallout. Can’t open a locked door? Blow it up. Can’t beat a difficult NPC? Set the timer on some explosives and reverse pickpocket it into their inventory to turn them into a walking bomb. Don’t want to have everyone become hostile afterward? Set the timer to give you enough time to run to the edge of the map and leave right after the bomb finishes them off. The flexibility of explosives really speaks to the flexibility of the game in general; there are so many ways to approach any given situation that you never feel shoehorned into a thinly-veiled illusion of choice (which is unlike, say, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, where the options usually come down to the pre-defined stealth option, pre-defined combat option, or pre-defined hacking option). Sometimes you can talk your way out of a bad situation, while other times it’s prudent to avoid confrontation altogether and just steal what you need. Other characters may find it more fulfilling to create a killing machine and bring the world to its knees.
Unfortunately, that last one highlights one of the facets of Fallout that hasn’t aged well: the combat. Don’t get me wrong—it’s not atrocious or anything. It’s fair, and a lot of times it even manages to be fun (complete with several “whoa, that was awesome” moments). The problem is that it’s also quite slow-moving. Say you pick a fight with a random stranger, for example. A lot of the time that would result in everyone in the area becoming hostile, and combat is turn-based, meaning that they would all move one at a time and the whole process would end up taking forever. This can become cumbersome to gamers more accustomed to fast-moving combat. Fortunately, combat can be almost entirely circumvented thanks to the ability to sneak and talk your way out of almost everything.
There are also a number of bugs, as is the case with most PC games. Strangely, I noticed fewer bugs playing through an unpatched CD version of the game than I did playing through the GOG.com digital version; at one point playing through the latter, my confrontation with the “final boss” crashed. Like, twenty times (to be fair, this was the only point where I experienced crashing), corrupting my save at least three of those times. I’m a bit of a save whore, luckily, so this didn’t set me too far back, but it was certainly a frustrating experience. There are a number of patches and unofficial fixes, however, so virtually any problem can be remedied, making this a non-issue. Still, I’d recommend trying to find the original North American CD version of the game; even if my experience with the bugs is unique, the GOG version is a censored version.
The graphics are what turned me off of trying this game in the first place, but after playing it, I can safely say that they’re not that bad. Sure, they’re simplistic, but they can manage to be quite charming at times. When they’re not, I just learned to tune them out, though it’s worth mentioning that their “brown and grey” aesthetic suits the game world and lore perfectly. Fallout may not impress like older console games did in terms of its overall art style, but I definitely regret having ignored it for so long over something so trivial.
The music is classic Mark Morgan. If you don’t know what that means, then seriously… shame on you. Fallout’s soundtrack isn’t full of the the kind of memorable stuff that he provided for Planescape: Torment, and yet it’s exactly what the game needs—mood music. There’s percussion and a lot of dark-sounding instruments, and the whole thing coalesces into something seriously tense. It suits a post-apocalyptic world perfectly. Most of the music isn’t the kind of thing you’d find yourself humming, but it’s certainly a perfect match for the game world.
Here’s what you should do: