When Bethesda released their first game in its recently acquired Fallout franchise, I was amazed that not only did my addiction to their previous game (The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion) carry over but it developed into an ever deeper attachment to a universe that I had only recently become familiar with.
For a long time after that release, my gaming universe revolved around Fallout 3 and continued through all of its DLC. Very rarely had I felt so drawn to a game that I would put other titles aside while I completed it.
Unfortunately for the sequel, Fallout: New Vegas, the same happened in reverse thanks to a lot of great games launching close by. With only a few hours of play, the game was unceremoniously added to my pile of shame.
But after a long hiatus, I finally started up Fallout: New Vegas again and continued from where I left off more than a year ago. Pretty soon the love came back.
Games are often victims of the technology they showcase and are taken on face value. But sometimes they can transcend the technical boundaries and deliver something special. Here are my thoughts on why Fallout succeeds.
During play we see a world that despite its devastation still has some ties to our world or even some ideals set out in popular fiction.
You see busted old caravans, billboard advertising and a lot of toilets. You come across and old garage, you are likely to find a car wreck too.
Future tech in the game draws on pulp sci-fi of the past with flashy rocket ships and robots that could have auditioned for The Jetsons or Lost in Space.
That may not be as relevant to twenty somethings who aren’t familiar with those shows but the design aesthetics of the period is still present in Western societies even now. Children’s television still have spaceships that look much the same as they did fifty years ago.
2. Genres play well together
Post apocalyptic stories have become something of the rage at the moment, though it’s not anything new. From the Mayan calendar to The Time Machine to Mad Max and now with The Walking Dead bringing in a massive audience, tales of life surviving after great disasters is as popular as ever.
But Fallout does things a little different and lot of that is thanks to the black humour that permeates the world your character lives in. You’ll find freaks and bandits and struggling towns and then run into robots who’ve overdosed on anti-depressants. Warning signs straight from the 50’s that remind me of the old training videos telling families to hide under the table in the event of a nuclear war. The popular drink of the time being tainted with a small amount of radioactive material just to make it special.
The perks that are part of the game mechanics also play into a bizarre, morbid levity. One has an unknown stranger appear from nowhere to blast enemies, another makes cannibalism a bonus and of course there is the “bloody mess” perk which increases critical damage to a point where enemies seem to explode on a whim.
It harkens back to a time where political correctness was not even a real term and many would try to skirt the rules if it meant winning. No necessarily the safest of worlds but it does allow the game world to play hard and fast with its own rules when necessary.
3. The open world is truly yours to explore
One of the features of both Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls and Fallout games are the completely open nature of the environments. The core plot may only revolve around some locations of the maps but there’s a whole big world out there with their own stories and quests to discover.
A town under siege, a mine run by children, an elderly violinist’s radio station… I discovered these in Fallout 3 simply by finding a road or a track and following it. But there can also be rewards for going off those beaten tracks and that’s where these games excel above all others.
Many times I have spent following the broken roads and finding abandoned towns where I could scavenge for supplies. Sometimes these towns were guarded by friends and sometimes by foes. But you never know for sure until you get out there and look for yourself. And the rewards are sometimes just as memorable as the main game itself.
Happy to be here
It’s a difficult feat to achieve, creating a world built up with enough depth to feel like it is a living breathing character in it’s own right. Very few developers have the skills and resources to do it so convincingly and those that do so have left lasting impressions on gamers.
It has certainly left an impression on me. Who would have thought that visiting the world set after the end of the world would be so interesting and enjoyable?