Fallout: Evolution - shootist2600 Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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Fallout: Evolution

The Fallout video game series has a long history, though most gamers such as myself are likely only familiar with the current generation titles. In fact, despite only having the two most recent versions, publisher Bethesda Softworks' Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, the most requests I received were to revisit those titles.

Brief play sessions of two current gen games that released only two years apart might not reveal much variation but I aim to please so will do my best. Indeed, the biggest change to the role-playing franchise involved abandoning the turn-based tactical gameplay and relative isometric perspective of publisher Interplay Entertainment's first two computer games in the series (Interplay developed Fallout 1; Black Isle Studios, Fallout 2).

Interim titles varied the design with mixed results but Fallout 3's (2008) action shooter format and first/third-person viewpoint proved a compelling new direction. Developer Bethesda Game Studios married elements from its successful The Elder Scrolls series with the futuristic, post-apocalyptic setting the Fallout franchise is known for and in the process reimagined the Fallout brand.

Dialog with non-player characters (NPCs) and their resulting quests are a mainstay of The Elder Scrolls and likewise serve as the basis for gameplay in Fallout 3. Dialog trees vary conversation and allow more gamer choice while likewise providing backstory and objectives. There are also customizable attributes that can open more dialog options and also improve interactions in your favor.

SPOILER ALERT. Interestingly, new speculation about Fallout 4 emerged the day before I played this session and involved Bethesda reps reportedly scouring Boston landmarks. This conformed to theories that the sequel's setting would be Massachusetts based on dialog such as appears in the screenshots above. The detail and context provided by such conversations has rarely been more compellingly illustrated.

In fact Bethesda's research is on impressive display when exploring the Capital Wasteland. Washington, D.C. and environs provide a familiar, iconic setting laid waste for a dramatic storytelling foundation. Traversing the large open world is made easier with the intuitive Pip-Boy device that includes local and world maps with visited locales highlighted and placeable markers. Standard issue but one small element of the Pip-Boy's functionality.

The loot grinding element in Bethesda's role playing game is robust. There are weapons, clothing, consumables, materials, collectibles, etc., all manner of object you'd expect to find in an RPG and each is appropriate to the setting. Merchants are available for buying or selling items, however, item descriptions are pretty spare and feature comparisons are not as robust as in other titles.

The presentation is top-quality though the evocative Capital Wasteland might prove overly oppressive to those who like some variety in their color palette. Still, the earth tones and decidedly gray color scheme are befitting the post apocalyptic, formerly urban setting and are accentuated by convincingly rendered debris and detailed surfaces. Wardrobes too reflect a hard scrabble life, character and creature design is varied and impressive, and animation is mostly fluid.

The Pip-Boy is the Swiss Army Knife of post apocalyptic America. Among its operations are the ability to review game stats or in-game status (and improve it), upgrade one's skills or perks, and manage inventory (plus repair items). My stats screen says I'm an Urban Avenger and indeed try to take the high road even if it's collapsed into memory. As with other Bethesda games, how you interact with NPCs does impact your reputation, with mixed results.

I was surprised it had been about two years since I last played, and that I had sunk a decent chunk of time into playing the game. But then that probably counts retracing steps leading to countless deaths and respawns. And hiding, or at least taking the long way around Super Mutant or Mirelurk infested territory.

Super Mutants indeed are the bane of the Capital Wasteland. Early on I died in practically every meeting until a combination of leveling up and easing the difficulty made such encounters more manageable. Also, obtaining a ghoul mask made them less aggressive unless, of course, I passed too close and they could see past my disguise. All in all, a great, iconic foe.

Thankfully a fairly robust arsenal is available for scavenging from the wasteland and its inhabitants. Learning which works best against any given foe is key to surviving the variety of predators that prowl this world. Thankfully one's inventory is pretty sizable so several options can be kept at one's disposal.

The challenge with returning to a game after months, if not years, away is reaquainting oneself with the controls. Accessing the Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System (VATS) nearly got me brained in the process. VATS has been a controversial addition, but I find its unique targeting system a welcome addition to an otherwise standard shooting component.

For instance, targeting a mutant's noggin with a shotty at point blank range is a gruesome yet satisfying act courtesy of VATS. Once you pull the trigger, you're treated to a slo-mo video of the resulting carnage (or not -- should you misfire or otherwise fail, you'll likewise be treated to that consequence). I did look for his head after it flew off, but never did find it.

This baddy was similarly dispatched. In case you'd like to see what happens after the carnage, visit this previous post. Also, one Super Mutant encounter resulted in my most entertaining glitch, here. That said, I've found few bugs in my dozens of hours of gameplay, though the developer is notorious for such glitches.

Open world games can be intimidating for me as I can spend countless hours wandering with seemingly little forward progress made. It's because I love exploration that I'm prone to such wanderlust. Thankfully story missions are available to keep one on track and I was grateful to move on. This scene reminds me of more fantasy fare in The Elder Scrolls, likely due to Bethesda's telltale artistry when it comes to establishing atmosphere and a sense of place.

Dungeon crawling comes in various forms, as in this case where I've entered a passageway underneath one of the Washington monuments. The traditional loot-grinding, dungeon crawling element of role playing games is alive and well with Bethesda titles, including this reimagining of a popular fantasy series.

Fallout: New Vegas (2010) is Obsidian Entertainment's follow up to Fallout 3 and takes place in the same era and North American setting. In this case, the action transpires in the West, replacing the Capital Wasteland with the Mojave Wasteland. Indeed the principal differences relate to story and characters, though some adjustments have been made to gameplay. I'd only played about an hour before trying my hand at it again.

Geckos are among the first foes you'll face and they're a lot more cute -- and a lot less lethal -- than Fallout 3's Super Mutants. What impressed me about these fellows is their animation. If you've seen footage of lizards that sometimes run on their hind legs, that's exactly what these remind one of. Kudos to Obsidian for doing their research and portraying such behavior so convincingly.

Giant matises likewise prowl this desert wasteland and are best dispatched with a melee weapon. Not very intimidating but they attack in numbers so can still pester. At this point I have few weapons but at least options among ranged or melee attacks. Reportedly there are new weapons and weapons modification system, plus a crafting element related to weaponry, as well as new VATS specific attacks.

One feature that surprised me, though I likely forgot its inclusion in the previous title, was how books typically increased one's abilities for only a limited time. I was familiar with how books in The Elder Scrolls improved one's skills or attributes indefinitely, so was discouraged when I read Programmer's Digest and its perk wore off before I could hack a computer terminal. In fact, I felt pretty stupid when the affect disappeared, proving its boost to my mental faculties was short lived.

Although Bethesda was the publisher but not developer of record for New Vegas, their influence at least from the previous title was everywhere evident in the game's production values. Many scenes indeed are reminiscent of settings you'd find in Fallout 3 or The Elder Scrolls. Regardless, they don't feel derivative and in fact still inspire awe.

The ability to upgrade attributes and skills makes its return and is a standard but appreciated role playing element. If you're like me, you spend a lot of time in consideration of which features to boost and which to decrease as necessary. Normally I upgrade combat capability and health the most, though this time I chose more passive options such as charisma and intelligence.

As always, I'm a fool for character creation tools and while this feature in New Vegas is somewhat streamlined it still managed to produce a reasonable facsimile of me, albeit an unnecessarily angry (or constipated) one. If curious, compare this with my pic on page 7 of issue 233 (shameless plug!).

A plant harvesting system for crafting meals, poisons and medicines is also in place and may, in fact, be a relatively new feature in the series. At least I don't recall it's inclusion in Fallout 3. Although typically too complicated for me to devote much time to in other RPGs, the interface in New Vegas seemed less convoluted and a welcome option for actually making use of all the foliage I collect while exploring.

Whether I just forgot its inclusion in the previous title or it is a new feature, the ability to both buy and sell on the same screen feels truly innovative to me. In most RPGs including The Elder Scrolls, buying and selling are separate transactions that require maneuvering in and out of menus. Here, merchant transactions function more like a barter system, where buying and selling can occur at the same time in one menu. It's sleek, efficient and much more enjoyable.

Speaking of barter, that's one of the skills that can be upgraded upon leveling up one's character. Like attributes, you assign points to those you want to boost. Besides relying as usual on guns and medicine skills, I've also chosen to emphasize otherwise neglected areas like speech and sneak.

New Vegas reportedly suffers from copious glitches, worse than usual for a game published by Bethesda. I've played on a limited time so can't really comment on that, except to note that I usually have relatively few such experiences with its games compared with others (though I likewise play for fewer hours). However, I did observe this character bouncing up and down, which was more amusing than annoying, thankfully.

Dialog options are plentiful in this game just as in its predecessor (and other Bethesda titles such as in The Elder Scrolls). Thankfully, humorous alternatives likewise are available though I typically choose a more straightforward response. I'd rather not antagonize the local populace and, in fact, answer according to how I might in reality. Do you get into character or behave in accordance with your real world self? Research suggests the latter but I always wonder.

Fetch quests are standard fare in RPGs though depending on their extent I can tire pretty easily. In this case I have to convince townsfolk to join our cause. Admittedly it makes sense in the context of the story, but an over-reliance on them can tax my patience (such as on occasion in Mass Effect 2 or Red Dead Redemption).

To its credit, Bethesda is pretty good at keeping its quests or missions pretty straightforward and also well integrated to the over-arching narrative. Granted, I've only just begun New Vegas but it is very reminiscent of Fallout 3 in that respect, as well as others, and that's a good thing. Obsidian's entry does not revolutionize the series but does seem to compliment its predecessor well.

That said, I'm hopeful Fallout 4 provides enough variation that it feels fresh and innovative within the established framework that provides the foundation for the series. In the meantime, I hope you enjoyed this installment of my Evolution series. Previous entries looked at Metal Gear Solid and The Elder Scrolls

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