You Always Remember Your First Vault: Fallout

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The first time my computer-controlled companion Ian accidentally shot me dead with the sub-machine gun I had given him, I just shrugged. It was my fault for standing too close to the radscorpion, blocking Ian’s line of fire. Even though I hadn’t played in over fifteen years, I remembered that these types of mishaps could occur in the post-apocalyptic landscape of Interplay/Black Isle’s Fallout (1997).

Isometric Zombies! Well, ghouls, actually, but close enough.

Just load up the auto-save and we’re good to go. Except, there was none. And I hadn’t bothered to save once the last ninety minutes. I mean, who dies in the first two hours of a computer role playing game? Come to think of it, there hadn’t been a tutorial, either. Sure, there were some rats to beat up on, for practice, but none of the hand-holding I had gotten used to with the games of the last ten years. Even the generational successor to Fallout, Fallout 3, took you step-by-step, literally starting you off as a baby learning to walk (or WASD, as the case may be). But here, with Fallout? Nope.

Undaunted, I started over, happy to have a chance to tweak some set-in-stone starting characteristics. I fought through the rats again and ventured forth into the unknown. And promptly died again to a random event far too overwhelming for a first level character. Yeah, I didn’t save this time either. Who dies in the starting area?

Rats of Doom

This plan of mine to replay Fallout in light of the progress being made on Wasteland 2, the rumors of Fallout 4’s production, and, fortuitously, the generosity of Good Old Games in giving away a free copy in a recent promotion wasn’t getting off to a very good start. But I persevered, and even read the manual, which counseled saving early and often, a tip I took to heart.

Fallout, much like the game that preceded it ten years earlier, Wasteland, allows freedom of choice and action with concomitant consequences. Give Ian that big gun, the better to mow down super mutants and uppity rodents, and he’s just as likely to accidentally hit a bystander, turning an entire town against you (and wiping out vast numbers of potential quests from said town). Fallout even contains a time-sensitive quest, anathema in this era of gamers wanting to complete every possible quest at leisure, regardless of choices made. You’ve got 150 days to save Vault 13 from doom, and the game conspires to use up those days. Show up in a little village after dark? Everyone’s asleep, come back in the morning. Want to visit another town? That’s a week of travel right there.

Suffice it to say, they don’t really make them like this anymore. Sure, Fallout 3/New Vegas contained pseudo-morality systems that forced particular quest branchings, but you never felt under pressure, forced to make really tough choices. If you want to spend a ton of time walking all over the map, the main quest in Fallout 3 will wait for you. And I confess that I’m not a big fan of time-sensitive quests—this Fallout playthrough, I bee-lined right for the solution once I had gained sufficient resources to solve the problem, a resolution I somehow remembered over the years, so that I could play the rest of the game at a leisurely pace.

As a journey of exploration, my replay of Fallout has been enjoyable, but it lacks that tension inherent in the first play, when I managed to save the Vault with scant days to spare. That was a gaming experience I remember to this day, and they don’t make many of those these days, either, which is why I always give Ian the SMG every chance I get.