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Initiation station: Fallout games!


Fallout games have a long tradition of making a character, picking skills and abilities, and then setting out only to find out that in the older games of the series, the best character has more than a few points in the killing things field. Each of them has its approach to character creation and design, and for this month’s bloggers wanted, I decided to look at how these games handle set up, options, and conceits.

Set-up: skills

All of these games have skills systems, and they impact how you deal with the world and how it deals with you right back. Skills help determine who your character is, and how they have to deal with situations-a lunkhead of a character whose strong won’t be able to computer their way out of a jam, and a charismatic silver tongued devil might have a harder time in a gunfight. It helps build the character, even if it might seem a bit binary and it’s a good way of characterizing your avatar.

Fallout 1 and 2 both have solid character set-ups, even if the skills aren’t super organically given. Its go to screen, select attributes and go from there. There’s a little bit of setup in how you handle early game events, but there’s not really an in game system for this. I do like how there’s a bit of a consequence system to deal with, as certain abilities also have downsides in addition to their benefits. SPECIAL also allows you to customize your character as I noted above, making them have to act a certain way and shaping them as you want to-and perhaps as you don’t, if you chose poorly in a certain area and it bites you in the ass. This means you can make an intellectual character, a charismatic barterer or a jack of all trades. It deepens your investment and allows roleplaying even further and, with the exception of Fallout 4, the next couple of games all maintained this.

Of all the games, I like Fallout 3 best for how it handles the entire process of creating a character. You grow and add skills in an interesting way, giving moments of your childhood that organically let you choose certain character aspects in a way that fits and makes sense. A little book lets you choose special skills as a toddler, you get shown what you may look like at birth, and an aptitude test determines some skills you can gain. It’s all handled well. There’s also a karma system that’s been added, which impacts certain abilities and how people/the world perceive you. You can be a good hearted savior, a neutral mercenary who works for caps and not for kindness, or the evilest bastard whoever bastarded evily. It lets you shape how you interact with the world, and fits with the story of a character going out and being forced to grow up and figure out who they are in the ruins of old society.

New Vegas also has an interesting method of layering skills in, via what happens when a doctor helps you get back on your feet. The surgery to fix your face thing isn’t a bad idea, and he tests you with Rorschach pictures to help with your skill determination. The personality-o-matic is a bit odd, but it fits with the wackier feel of the game so I’ll let it slide. You can also choose conditions that you may have, which fits really nicely and harkens back to the old games-certain special skills provide benefits but they also include downsides as well. It’s a clever set up for giving you skills and integrating it in the game itself. Karma is less important here than factions, and given the conceit of the story I think that’s fitting-heck, Karma really barely plays a role. It’s a game about dealing with sides, factions, and random gangs and trying to turn the odds of Vegas in your favor-at least for those groups you want to work with.

Fallout 4, also has a decent way of dealing with special skills-but unfortunately, as I will go into as time goes on, the dumbing down of RPG elements really hurts the game. To determine your SPECIAL points, you fill out a survey, as well as getting some perks. But given the nature of the skills systems, there’s nothing really there and things feel a lot shallower. It’s a decent conceit, but it also helps reveal that this is a lot more stripped down than the other games in the series. As opposed to the other games, SPECIAL here just lets you unlock perks, which are dumbed down and don’t require points to be put in. That means that you can’t roleplay as the intellectual-you just invest in SPECIAL skills whenever and it makes them feel more meaningless other than means to an end. Without skills and skill points proper, depth is lost and worse, the character feels so much less meaningful.

Character Creation

Fallout 1 and 2 are rather rudimentary, and there’s not a huge amount you can do with the character themselves. Fallout 3 and New Vegas have some more characterization, but by the end of it most of the characters kind of look similar due to the limitations of the system. Still there is some customization to be had and you can make some interesting stuff if you try hard enough.

Fallout 4 has a great system that gives you quite a bit of latitude-some people have made crazy things with this and it’s a marked improvement in pretty much every way. The customization is pretty good and lets you create a character better than other games. Add in the fact that certain characters have a list of names they can say, and immersion in this aspect is very good for Fallout 4.

A character and their place in the world

Fallout 1 and 2 have good set-ups for their character and their place in the world with how they approach it. In Fallout 1 your character is forced to venture out into the wasteland, alone, and figure out how to get a water chip to fix you vaults water supply issues. As this was the first game in the series, it’s fitting that we play as a character who has never been in the wasteland before-therefore introducing the player to the world as well, and  letting one more deeply role play. I do wish the character was a little more surprised by the world, but the early level set ups don’t cater super well to that and it’s the first of its kind, so it gets a pass.

Fallout 2 is designed around a character who has been living in the world and is familiar with the wasteland. Again, this is fitting as the character we are playing has experienced the wasteland and so have we-well supposing you played Fallout 1. You are a tribal, who finds out they are the chosen one and must find a Garden Of Eden Creation Kit to save your tribe. Off the bat, I have issues with this set-up and it has to do with a tribe of people who seem primitive knowing so much about a technology like that. And it makes the character seem odd if they invest in tech or anything too heavily, but on can make excuses if they want.

Fallout 3 does this well in some ways too, with how it approaches the situation. By having it take place at different points in your life, it helps you grow with the character and see what shapes them, making them more personal and giving you a bit of investment in the characters around you. There is a bit of an issue in that you probably don’t get to know your father well enough to care a huge amount, but the effort and set up is there even if it might not resonate due to the short amount of time you spend with them.

You grow up, and are forced to escape and figure out where your father went and why he left you. Getting outside is a glorious experience-the huge door opens, you run out amid a hail of gunfire and go through the door-albeit with an immersion breaking questionnaire asking if you are happy with your character decisions but whatever-and get out into the wasteland. The sun blinds you, and you finally regain your vision to see blasted hell all around you. Given that this game was introducing your character to the wasteland as never really portrayed before, I think it was fitting to see it through the vessel of a character with no experience or knowledge of the wasteland.

New Vegas, ironically again brings you into the perspective of a person who has lived in and knows of the wasteland and the surrounding lead up to it. As a faceless courier, you are caught and shot in the head-which doesn’t kill you somehow. The doctor mentioned above patches you up, and sends you off to go find out who shot you and get sweet vengeance. It’s actually probably one of the strongest setups-there’s no one to care for, the player by this point probably knows the deal and it lets you fill in the character well without the game trying to invest you in someone after knowing them for such a little amount of time. You exist in the world, have existed and so it’s not as shocking or aweing-it’s how things are. This is in direct contrast to Fallout 3 as you take in the destruction and are awed by its scale and scope. It helps present a world where people have rebuilt and tried to reform societies-coping with disaster until the destruction becomes almost banal. You go off to find out what happened, a state both you and the character are united in and the main campaign is of interest.

If I had one complaint about this, it’s that the game isn’t really designed to let you do what you want persay-you might never want to see the man who shot you again and just move on, but the game funnels you into the main quest with its world design and kind of strips away some freedom to get you to follow the main campaign. Still the setup is good and invests the player in what happens next as you walk out into the wasteland.

Fallout 4 again falls into weakness here, by exacerbating the issues of Fallout 3. Caring about Liam Neeson as your dad could go either way, but you grew up with him and he acted like a dad-you spent time with him and he was a big part of every early life section making it easier to care about him. But as for your wife and son….no. You know them for such a short amount of time that getting emotionally invested is near impossible. Getting out into the wasteland is an emotional experience, but the main character feels too premade. The voice I could live with or without, but with it the character is not as much of a shell and is harder to settle into. You don’t get characterized along with him, he has a pre-molded character you’re forced to deal with and it makes him (or her) feel so much less personal. He has a motivation to find Shaun but I don’t as a player.

 Add in that the character knows less about the world then we do, but settles in quickly anyway and it just feels wrong. We know this world, have lived in this world-reintroducing us like it’s the first time doesn’t work here as well as it did in Fallout 3 in this context. Exploring the world and seeing its ruin is still emotional, but I didn’t care about Shaun-I cared more about Codsworth because he had a personality, can say my name, and because we spent time together and grew as friends. I almost had a tear pop up when he told me how much I meant to him after we spent time together, exploring the wasteland. Doing that with my wife would have made her someone I cared about losing-instead of just a non-factor.


And there are my thoughts on the franchise, all laid out for hungry eyes. It’s interesting that the best two were 3 and Vegas in these regards, while 4 and ½ were the weakest in reverse areas. Ultimately these games allow for quite the customization and I think it’s important that Bethesda learns from its mistakes and goes back to the older systems to a degree. I want those same great experiences, and characterization moments-and I think that this franchise can provide them in spades. Its a huge part of what makes the games so endearing and I hope bethesda learns from its mistakes to make the next Fallout game a great one-or at least team up with Obsidian to make the best game ever. Seriously, that needs to happen.

Thanks for reading, and feel free to leave your own opinions down below.


- “If you don't like bacteria, you're on the wrong planet.” ― Stewart Brand

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About Gamemaniac3434one of us since 11:25 PM on 02.01.2013

Who am I? I'm an avid gamer, beer snob, coffee snob and aspiring microbiologist. I love all sorts of different genres of games and different games from different years and as of recent years I've tried to get more into multiplayer games. I also really love microbiology and if you get me started on it, you will never get me to shut up about it.
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