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27 years later, does Fallout live up to the hype?

If you’re looking to get into Fallout after watching the show, keep in mind that the original CRPG classic is not for the faint of heart.

A close up shot of a Brotherhood of Steel in full armor.

After the huge success of Amazon’s Fallout TV show, everyone has been diving back into the games. Fallout 4 and New Vegas have been the go-to for most, but what about where it all began – 1997’s original Fallout? It’s a game so old that pretty much any laptop can play it even with an integrated graphics card, but does that mean you should?

The original Fallout is an isometric turn-based RPG. You play as a member of Vault 13 tasked with leaving the safety of the steel bunker to source a replacement water chip. You have 150 in-game days to complete this objective. If you fail, everyone in the Vault dies of thirst and it’s game over. Harsh.

The exit of Vault 13. The iconic circular door leads from the metalic Vault into a dark cave filled with stalegtites and stalegmites.

I adore this mechanic. It forces me to actually engage with the world and makes every decision matter. If I miss loot in a location, do I backtrack and waste precious time? A hunting rifle would make enemies easier to deal with, but can I afford the three-day trek to its stash?

I typically play RPGs as the good fella, a hero, just an all-round nice guy; the type who’d help you find your cat or lend you some caps if you’re in a pinch. Fallout makes that a challenge, not just the default way to play. It’s easy to say yes to everyone and fill up your quest log when the super-urgent world-saving main mission isn’t actually all that time-sensitive. But when you’re on the clock, you can’t always afford to save the mayor’s daughter from raiders.

Your choices matter, and that puts Fallout head and shoulders above a lot of other games on the market right now. But if you like your graphical fidelity, look elsewhere. Fallout is a 27-year-old game, and it looks like it. But what about the builds, the stats, and the numbers that RPGs are known for?

The overseer of Vault 13, an older man with short white hair and a messy beard.

I’d been told by colleagues and friends that Fallout was a game where you could talk your way out of any situation. I’m not the biggest fan of turn-based combat, and the idea of scrounging through the low-resolution post-nuclear apocalypse, barely being able to distinguish between a rock and a container with a few bullets and the odd grenade, wasn’t an enticing one. Therefore I specced into charisma and luck, hoping to charm the denizens of the wasteland without the need for bloodshed. Turns out, everyone lied to me.

The very first enemies you fight upon stepping out of the comfort of Vault 13 are rats. Dear reader, you cannot reason with a rodent. Those things tore me to shreds quicker than I could say anything, because, I reiterate, you cannot talk to rats in Fallout. Supermutants? Sure. Ghouls? Yep. AI? You betcha. But rats? Not a chance.

One early side quest tasked me with getting the resources needed to synthesize a cure to radscorpion venom. I’d give you three tries to guess what I needed for it, but you’ll only need one: radscorpion venom. They’re not the type to just hand over their poison glands after a chat and a cup of tea. You have to kill them and loot the organs from their corpses.

Nasty rats that won't listen to reason mobbing the protagonist outside Vault 13.

I will admit, a combination of my luck, charisma, and speech skill allowed me to convince the leader of those aforementioned raiders that I was the ghost of his dead father. This led to him giving me the hostage without a single shot fired, so there are some big benefits to the build I chose, but only when it comes to things that can talk.

It seems that speech is a far better late-game skill than early-game, so I had to do a hard steer into small guns every time I leveled up. Fortunately, you can also hire mercenaries to help you out. The way the dialogue is phrased makes it seem like they’ll only accompany you for a bit, but mine stuck with me until I dismissed them, so you can outsource combat quite cheaply.

The main reason I wanted to go for a speech was I’d been told the writing in Fallout was fantastic. Maybe it’s been hyped up too much. Maybe everyone played it when they were teenagers and have some nostalgia glasses. Or maybe I’m an idiot who got locked out of an entire town for killing a guy who drew a gun on me instead of handing him over to the cops like I’d been asked to, leading to loads of missed conversations. Who’s to say?

One of Fallout's many rundown, dusty settlements with a few guards dotted around.

That’s one thing modern gamers won’t be well-prepared for – Fallout will frequently punish you for making mistakes, and you’ve just got to live with them. In an age of games catering to the player’s every whim, I like that my actions and screw-ups have consequences. It makes all the triumphs feel that much more earned. Also, Fallout isn’t a very long game, so the prospect of having another go with a different character archetype isn’t too daunting.

So, if you’re looking to get into Fallout after watching the show, only go with the original if you can stomach an RPG that won’t hold your hand. It’s hard, even cruel at times, but it’s satisfying. I still think the best entry point to the series is Fallout 3, but maybe that’s my own nostalgia talking.