Eighteen Years of Fallout

When you can’t play a game you’re excited about, you write about it, instead.

Driving to Target before work on the day the latest installment of the Fallout had me waxin’ poetic. The hype machine was in full effect, most of the people in my internet bubble were stoked and ready to play this game. I ran into two women at the store on the same quest I was: Acquire Nerd Soda. It was all sold out. Instagram pictures were taken, we lamented on how the superfans need to chill out and let us regular fans enjoy stuff. It got me wondering what degree of fan I was. This world has been a part of *my* world for a long time.

1997: Highschool, working at Nobody Beats The Wiz, (A strange name for what was effectively a Best Buy). I saw the faux-rusty cardbord box for Fallout on the shelf, and bought it because it spoke to me. It changed my life. Turn-based decisions, rusty dusty atmosphere with a perfect sheen of humor. Lots of hubs of story. Ability to wipe out entire cities, loot everyone, and effectively end the town’s storyline.

Spoilers: You fight your way through the last vault and it’s filled with supermutants and it’s really hard. You get to the last boss, and it’s basically a brain in a jar with two turrets and he’s ready to end your game. Turns out, I did everything right, had the right stats, and had been playing the game the right way to convince the brain in a jar to actually kill himself. You tell him that his master plan of creating a mutant army to overrun the world isn’t going to work because the supermutants are sterile and can’t reproduce.


1998: Somehow Fallout 2 came out a year later, when I was in college, (In BOSTON. Little did I know!) None of this ‘wait 4 years for a sequel’ bull. That being said, it was super buggy. It had a pretty amazing game breaking bug: you could get stuck at a point in the story and could no longer progress.

If you were aware enough, you could download a patch from the Interplay website, (which was obscure because 1998,) but patching the game would break all your saves, and you’d have to start over. I was already halfway through the game, so I was super pissed. I started over, installed a trainer and,  with like godlike stats, I punched everyone into gibs and then quickly got bored because it wasn’t challenging so I don’t think I ever finished it.

But there was a car that made travel faster!

2001: Fallout Tactics was pretty great but was really hard. The concept was cool but also obvious: the same isometric engine, but stripped all of the RPG aspects and just became a tactical turn-based combat game. One map at a time. I don’t remember there being much agency or player choice. Just different combat scenarios over and over, which was great. You could still put points into role-play-ish stats, but you never used them? Kind of strange. Didn’t finish this one either.

2004: Brotherhood of Steel. Did anyone play this? I didn’t have an Xbox or PS2. Looked cool. Kind of what Diablo 3 plays like on consoles now?

2008: I had been doing an online radio show podcast type thing with my friend Aaron, and we had just talked about how excited we were about Fallout 3 coming out. We played lots of Inkspots and talked about how iconic the Narrator, Ron Pearlman, was, in the game.

Skip to me at the bank, doing some banking, zoning out. As I was waiting for my bank stuff to bank, I hear this sultry, deep, raspy voice from the teller next to me. I look over, and it’s Hellboy, himself. I was completely starstruck, and broke my rule of ‘don’t mess with people when they are doing mundane stuff.’ I somehow mustered up the courage to say “Hey, Ron!” – getting his attention – “I just wanted to say the Fallout series is one of my favorite games, and your work in them is iconic.”

Based on his reaction, I think he was relieved to not be gushed at about Hellboy, since it had just come out. But he was super nice and thanked me. We finished up our banking and he thanked me again as he left.

Coincidentally, another time, I saw Ron Jeremy at the same bank – now The Bank of Ron.

2008: Fallout 3, when most people in love with Fallout got introduced to the game. I shotgunned through the game – I wanted to devour the plot. Only played through it once, but sort of …cheated? I had wandered off the main storyline at some point, and had vague hints of what to do – maybe go places and ask around to where to find my dad.

Then, in one of my random wanders, I came upon a little gas station in the middle of nowhere. Exploring it, I suddenly progressed through a TON of story quests – turns out that my Dad was in a cryo chamber under the gas station! Hi dad! You a Popsicle! Comically serendipitous, but I missed a bunch of the story.

Fallout 3 was a little broken, in that I was able to build a manic headshot master – a combination of perks which gave me insane bonuses with a pistol and shooting people in the face, and for every person I killed in VATS, my AP and/or VATS would reset, so you could head shot all day long.

I did all the story quests up to the last mission, and leveled WAY past it – doing as much of the world’s quests as I could until I felt like I got my fill of the game. Then, I did the last mission, and the way I built my dude, it ended up being an appropriately comical and action-packed breeze of climactic final vengeance – a Michael Bay-ian headshot shooting gallery of slow-motion exploady bits.

Was great. Didn’t play any of the DLC, though.

2010: Gobbled up New Vegas. This captured the original Fallout 1 and 2’s hub-based and faction-based gameplay, but it lost some of the game’s humor and ‘character.’ Played through once, but did every quest and every DLC, each of which coloring the game interesting ways.

Ended up doing the ‘independent’ ending where I trained an army of robots to be my minions and shoot missiles and I took over the wasteland. I was somewhat forced to slaughter the entire entire Caesar’s legion camp by visiting to complete a quest but having bad faction with them. Sorry guys! At least I could point the Nuke from one of the DLC’s at them without feeling as bad. Really liked the classic Science Fiction themed DLC, as absurd as it was. Didn’t really like the survival horror mansion explorer one, but I really appreciated how they managed to almost change the entire genre of the game.

Put about 75 hours into this game on one play-through. Very unhappy with the pathing of companions and exploring Vaults. Bleh. Companions would somehow teleport through the floor, aggro enemies, kill them in the slow mo scene, so I’d get to see them get gibbed, but then I couldn’t find their body to loot them. Bethesda!

Mad Max! Let’s point that out. It’s great and wastelandy and delicious and a great movie! Hey everyone! This is a cool setting! Wasteland Weekend! Wearing a Vault Suit to Burning Man! I like all of these things! People like stuff that I like! Water World! Wait sorry shh

Based on the release party, clearly Fallout 4 is A Big Deal, the lengths they have gone to make this the case. The marketing has been all-encompassing, ridiculous amounts of merchandising, a blockbuster mobile app. T-shirts and sodas from the party and Target are selling for gangbusters on eBay. The hype machine is real. Fallout is my Star Wars. Before you fight me with your bloody nerd fists, I’m saying this because I love Fallout like people love Star Wars – a deep love for a world that I have visited a few times over almost two decades of time. The storyline and feel of the world has generally been consistent – the list of backstories for all the vaults, the settings of each game being different parts of the country, the factions. The Brotherhood of Steel have always spoken to me – metal paladins protecting ancient and arcane lore, in the hopes to maintain humanity.

When I played the first game, I didn’t know anyone else who had played it – I didn’t have anyone to gush about it with or strategize or compare stories with. Now, people are selling Fallout themed nerd sodas for 150$. People love a thing, and I get to love it with people. My old friend has grown up and that’s great.

It feels very much like Pip Boy himself is throwing a winking-thumbs-up-nod right at me: “Hey buddy! You went to college in Boston, right? You love stories dealing with Artificial Intelligence, yeah? Come back and get your hands dirty!” I am excited to do so. I wonder if my old dorm is in the game?