FALLOUT / Interplay / PC
Fallout 2 seems to be the consensus pick among series aficionadoes as the favorite. It shares essentially an identical engine and interface with this first game, just being Bigger and with Moar Moar and arguably having a better/more intricate story. Yet I've always liked this first one better. I could never be stuffed to play all the way through Fallout 2 on 2 attempts, whereas in my 2 runs now with this one I happily stayed and played 'till the end.

After sitting down with this one again, I think I've figured out why. For one thing, the smaller size and less sprawling world actually works to advantage here, given how slow-paced simply moving about the game world is. You also start right off with a pistol and can immediately get a shotgun with good enough conversation skill; you don't have to sludge about jabbing a spear at things for 2 hours. You also don't really need to drag around derpy AI companions as you do in the second game, soloing is much more viable here. And being a sneaky, lock-picking conversationalist gets you a hell of a lot farther and avoids a lot more combat than Fallout 2, which essentially forces you into some sort of total combat build (though Small Arms specialization and pumping to 90-100% with your first couple of levels is still virtually mandatory here.)

All that said ... you probably still have to be a 90s WRPG vet to get into this one in this day and age. For 1997, the game was an amazing jump of marrying tech prowess to the sort of open-world free-flowing experience the WRPG had become known for. For 2013? Movement around the game world is horribly slow, with a lot of open dead space to navigate, and combat also unfolds at a very sedated pace, at least until you get overpowered in the late game and can gib everyone at will. It also Don't Look So Good No Mo, and the ambient "world" music is about as close to not having a soundtrack as you can get while still technically having one. The interface is also confusing at first, as it requires some non-intuitive shifts between right- and left-clicking to do anything (F1 gives you a handy list of keybindings, though I don't recall the game ever actually telling you that ... 1997 still bleeds into the Read The Manual Era for computer games.)

Fallout's setting and atmosphere shouldn't be taken for granted, though. Apocalyptic post-nuke games are more common now, but at the time no one else had really done anything else like this except for Wasteland in the '80s (also by Brian Fargo, lead designer.) The game actually has a rich backstory, I "buy" the game world as a plausible place, and the 1950s-camp-meets-apocalypse tone was a stroke of genius. It also handles freedom of choice and movement with a strong narrative very well.

One irritating trend that it did establish, unfortunately, is that of giving the player a huge amount of potential builds and skills ... but then failing to balance the game so that only a handful of them are actually viable. Again, this game is better about letting you avoid combat than Fallout 2 ... if you choose to follow the plot, you can actually infiltrate a base using sneaky tactics to get the final item you need, then use that as evidence (along with some conversational skill) to talk the "last boss" out of their evil plans. However, there's still some skills that are almost completely useless. Throwing is almost completely pointless due to a general lack of throwable weapons; up until mid-game you rarely see grenades or molotov cocktails, and throwing knives are both much rarer than Small Arms ammo and also a much poorer substitute for even a mediocre gun. Hand-to-hand/melee also aren't very viable given how easy ammo and weapons are to find and how often the enemies are packing serious firepower and are at a distance. "Outdoorsman" sounds like it will allow you to gather plants and do all sorts of useful things, but really it just determines your chance of a random encounter when travelling the overworld. Science and Gambling have just the merest handful of uses, not enough to be worth the points to pump them up. It's one of the ultimate games for "character regret" if you go in not knowing anything about how it works.

So ... terribly slow, kind of clunky, kind of unbalanced ... but with a fantastic game world, very solid combat, and Do What You Want 'Cause A Vault Dweller Is Free. If you're spoiled by modern systems it might be too hard to get into, but you can easily get a look at it for only a couple bucks, which it's certainly worth.
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