This article is part of our week-long celebration of Fallout's 20th anniversary. Make sure you check back throughout the week for more features.
Fallout: Tactics is the black sheep of the series. It is a bit of a rebel, you see, forgoing a sprawling open world packed with curiosities and quests, and opting instead for a linear storyline with drastically reduced roleplaying scope. It also breaks a lot of the established Fallout lore and stretches its aesthetic a little too far into the modern day with named vehicles and firearms like the Hummer and M249 SAW breaking the immersion for many Fallout fans. Strip all of those idiosyncrasies away, however, and you can’t argue the appeal of a turn-based tactical game set in the Fallout universe - modern-day XCOM with power armour and Deathclaws. Who wouldn’t want to see the Mysterious Stranger show up to correct RNG misfortunes?
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It has been 16 years since Fallout: Tactics attempted to deliver on that rather extraordinary premise - it failed, but the pairing of Fallout’s retro-futuristic charm with the combat of XCOM: Enemy Unknown deserves another shot.
And why not? Turn-based tactical games are in the best place they have been since the mid-’90s. They are more mainstream than ever. The successful reinvention of the XCOM franchise over the past few years helped a lot, but it has been bolstered by indie titles like Massive Chalice, Frozen Synapse, Xenonauts, The Banner Saga, and most recently the triumphant player count of Divinity: Original Sin 2. Even Mario has stuck his oar in with Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle, which is a useful benchmark for the mainstream appeal of this relatively niche genre.
A sequel to Fallout: Tactics could benefit from the experience and criticisms of the first game: a bit more restraint in the art department, a storyline that is worth following, and some drastic improvements to the RPG elements of the original. Even now, the squad-based tactical gameplay holds up remarkably well, a bonus of the game’s individual turn-based mechanics being lifted straight from its unanimously lauded predecessors. Poring over decisions like where to position recruits and who to give the best weapons never feels like a waste of time. Firefights are won by covering every angle, always having a network of interlocking fire, and making the most of the Overwatch mode. Thanks to the openness of map areas and the number of foes, it pays to have a rearguard equipped with shotguns, ready to open fire on any flanking enemies. It is enormously satisfying when that level of planning is rewarded with an easy kill.
What holds Fallout: Tactics back is its narrative and RPG elements, the former being far too linear, the latter lacking any sense of constraint. Choice has been a staple of Fallout since the first game but Fallout: Tactics does little to mesh moral decisions with its storyline, offering a smattering of possible endings based on a crudely implemented karma system. Recent Fallout games have provided the ideal example for a Fallout: Tactics sequel to follow, offering a host of faction-locked missions for the player to delve into depending on who they want to help: themselves, the Brotherhood of Steel, or the region’s civilian population.
Some of Fallout: Tactics’ RPG systems could be polished up or overhauled as well, with stats like Charisma and skills like Pilot being largely inconsequential in the original. Other missteps include having both a First Aid and Doctor skill to ensure maximum confusion for new players, not to mention a number of easily exploitable skills like Gambling and Lockpick. Again, Bethesda’s recent Fallout titles have done an admirable job of discarding niche skills to ensure it never feels like you are wasting skill points - no build in Fallout 4 feels unfeasible, whereas a number of recruits you can pick up in Fallout: Tactics are useful only as cannon fodder.
These issues are far from terminal, and in the years since the release of Fallout: Tactics we have seen countless examples from both the Fallout and XCOM series as to how these shortcomings can be remedied.
Fallout: Tactics also stands out for its accessibility. By gutting the bulk of non-combat options, developers Micro Forté made the first entry in the series that could be tackled and fully experienced by RPG newcomers. Combat can be sluggish, some skills and perks tricky to figure out, but Tactics promises not to swallow up the player with systems and mechanics at every turn. Likewise, its linearity ensures you can’t take a wrong turn and wind up in an irradiated ditch with the last save some several hours back.
Fallout is no longer the fledgling IP it was when Tactics released, it is a triple-A series with a shelf life to rival that of a box of YumYum Deviled Eggs. Poor sales and lukewarm critical reception led to plans for a Fallout: Tactics sequel being shelved in the pre-production stage. In 2004, Interplay released the forgettable and utterly meritless Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel, nailing the coffin lid shut on their time with the universe - Bethesda bought the IP in 2007. Fallout is now a mainstream series with some serious financial heft behind it, which makes it an ideal candidate for spin-offs and experimentation. The publisher has already tried its hand at making an MMO and a CCG out of The Elder Scrolls IP. And Fallout Shelter, a free-to-play curiosity that has recently surpassed 100 million players across PC, mobile, and Xbox One, demonstrates that success can be mined from focusing on particular aspects of the apocalyptic fiction.
If we are not going to get a snappy follow-up to Fallout 4 à la New Vegas - which is understandable given how much time, money, and manpower it takes to create a game of that scope - then now is the perfect time to see a new Fallout: Tactics. XCOM: The Enemy Unknown has shown us all how turn-based tactical combat should look in a modern-day game. Replace the aliens with super mutants, keep the bombed out urban environments, and strap some power armour onto the XCOM operatives, and you’ve got a match made in heaven. Moreover, a Fallout: Tactics sequel offers fans of the Fallout universe something they haven’t had since the first game: a structured, 15-hour peek at a new region of post-apocalyptic America that they can tackle over the course of a weekend; a new flavour of the wild wasteland without all the trappings of its titanic forefathers.
Check out the rest of our Fallout 20th anniversary coverage:
- How did Fallout 1 ever get made?
- How Fallout 2 defined the series
- How Fallout 3 reinvented the dungeon
- Fallout 3's Vault 101 is perfect
- Making New Vegas was a battle against time
- New Vegas is a perfect fit for Fallout's dystopia
- New Vegas is the most adventurous Fallout game
- Come Fly With Me is the best New Vegas side-quest
- I became a prisoner of my own Fallout 4 settlement
- Fallout 4's power armour symbolises how far the series' combat has come