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Fallout

Developer / Publisher: Interplay Entertainment
30 September 1997
Fallout - cover art
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1,040 Ratings / 2 Reviews
#168 All-time
#6 for 1997
Nearly a century has passed since a nuclear war that devastated earth in the year 2077. Pockets of humanity survived in great underground vaults scattered over the remnants of the United States, and in one such vault, numbered 13, one of its inhabitants is ordered by the overseer to recover a water purification chip. The Vault Dweller steps outside to the wasteland and must overcome the dangers of post-apocalyptic America to ensure the survival of their vault.
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Fallout was initially intended as a spiritual successor to the groundbreaking 1988 role-playing game Wasteland, also published and designed by Interplay Entertainment. While the influence is evident, given the post-apocalyptic setting and scale of adventure, Fallout truly stands as its own game. The setting is quite different from Wasteland, with the apocalypse having occurred 79 years after the chosen date in its spiritual predecessor (probably because they didn’t want to presume we were all going to die within a year) and with more of a desolate retro-futuristic thematic angle than the western-themed heroics of Wasteland. The focus of this game would also be on a lone and very green adventurer as opposed to a four-person team of trained rangers, which is well-suited to the game’s darker aesthetic.

Right from the start, Fallout sets up its bleak, cynical, and somewhat snarky mood in the form of an introduction video that details the events that lead to the apocalypse in the year 2077 and provides your background as the descendant of someone who had managed to ride out the nuclear devastation in an underground vault, one of many designed to protect inhabitants from full-scale atomic war. It’s been 84 years since the bombs dropped and life in Vault 13 is about to become unsustainable. After starting a new game and creating your character, you’re informed that the water purification chip to your vault is broken. There is no backup purifier, nor is there any proper equipment to fix the device. The only choice is to send someone (you) out to find a replacement chip. Your only lead is another Vault, Vault 15, about ten days east. If you’ve read the 122-page manual (of course you did, what am I saying) you should already have a pretty good grasp on the general gameplay and character building mechanics, especially if you played out the optional tutorial detailed in the second chapter. For those with little experience in older RPGs, it may take some time to get used to the controls, but this is not a negative. While some design decisions truly are archaic, like automatically putting the last used item right to the bottom of your inventory menu >:(, once you’ve learned the controls, they become very intuitive. The entire game can be played with a mouse (along with optional keyboard shortcuts) and after a couple hours or so, you should become very comfortable with the many ways to interact with your equipment, the environment, and other NPCs.

The beauty of the Fallout engine is largely evident in the variety of solutions and tactics you can use throughout your adventure. The game will occasionally throw some mild adventure game-style logic at you with certain, not-so-obvious inventory solutions, but they are all quite feasible and generally not required to advance the storyline, instead serving to reward creative thinking in times of desperation or curiosity. Perhaps most impressive is how natural so many of these solutions feel. Want to use some dynamite to cause a structural collapse in a cave to stop a radscorpion infestation without engaging the enemy head-on? You can do that. Want to silently bash in a cultist’s head and steal his robes to disguise yourself as a member of his faction? You can do that too. Want to use your evidence of a suspicious trade connection to turn in a peddler in human corpse meat? Well, you can’t do that even though you can you say you will because it wasn’t scripted into the game. Sadly, Fallout can be a bit misleading at times with its vast amounts of options to handle certain quests and surprisingly little amounts in others.

What is there, however, is very impressive. Not just for 1997, but even today, Fallout offers a fantastic degree of choice and consequence. More than perhaps any other game at the time, the world of Fallout reacts so seamlessly to your actions (and in many cases inactions) that the feeling of agency in your decisions is ever-present throughout the experience. Being a snarky jerk may be amusing, but good luck getting anybody to keep talking to you or give you vital information if this is how you act. Kill anyone who gets in your way and you may soon find that you’ve been locked out of an important quest and now a whole town is out for your blood. What’s so amazing about this though is that no matter how big of a murderous evil-doer you are, you can still finish the main quest with no friends, no help from others, or even a full understanding of the gravity of your decisions and the true weight of your accomplishments. Some may see this as a negative, preferring a sense of choreographed immediacy to their actions, but other people, including myself (who admittedly often save scums upon reaching an undesirable conclusion), will revel in the sheer amount of possibilities in a world that truly feels alive and responsive to player choice and action. As mentioned earlier, it’s not always consistent in this level of reactivity, but it offers enough to truly feel like what you do matters in the world on scales both small and large.

Choice and consequence is not the only thing Fallout has going for it though. After all, it wouldn’t mean much to anyone if the game itself wasn’t technically solid. Luckily, Fallout is well-realized both conceptually and mechanically. While you’re not likely to be singing the praises of just how over-stimulatingly enjoyable Fallout is to play on a purely input-by-input level, the game is clearly and cleverly designed in response to its main goals. The gameplay of Fallout is simple on a base level, but notably complex once you begin to understand the deeper systems at play. Combat seems rather standard at first, as the outcome of early fights will largely be determined by placing your character in the right position, attacking your target, and praying that your companion won’t horribly screw up when his or her turn comes around. However, as you begin to acquire new weapons and a greater sense of control mastery, combat encounters become a good deal more interesting. Soon, you’ll be weighing the options of planting a time bomb inside an enemy base in the hopes that you’ll be able to flee before getting caught, questioning the value of a full-frontal assault versus the slower but safer method of picking apart outlying enemies before moving in to the center of a hostile area, or even sneaking around and talking your way out of fights altogether. In fact, you can complete the entire game without ever engaging an enemy in combat if you so choose (assuming you have the skill and patience to back it up). While not every fight is going to result in an epic tale of survival and conquest, by the end of the game you will have experienced some incredible encounters (you know…on the computer screen).

It’s not all fun and games, however, for both good and bad. At the start of the game, you will suck. It’s inevitable. Unless you have min-maxed your character in ways I have never been able to, you will struggle at first, and still many times in the future. Without a companion, certain potential encounters early in the game are all but impossible. Try to take out the raider camp solo at level 4, possibly fresh out of Shady Sands, and see how well you do. Personally, I see this as a positive. This game is merciless in what it throws at the unprepared and eager, and it offers incentive to explore the world and develop your character before tackling obstacles that at first seem insurmountable. On the more negative side, you’ve got your companions. Well, calling it negative is a stretch. I know I would not have survived a multitude of battles I took on without the help of Ian or Tycho, even Dogmeat, but if you can go through the whole game without developing some kind of underlying hatred for any of these characters, then you are a far more patient man than I. This game does not allow you to directly control any of your acquired party members. You can tell them how close to stay by your side before battle and equip them with weapons they are skilled with, but that’s it. While I can understand the importance of role-playing you and only you in a game so focused on individual experience and reaction to the greater world around oneself, such combat limitations can be very annoying at times. Anyone who’s played this game will likely be able to tell you some story of getting shot in the back by a burst-fire obsessed maniac who shall remain unnamed as well a multitude of other unfortunate setbacks in combat like a companion who decided to pull out a knife in the middle of a gun fight or ran head-first into danger totally unprepared and without logical strategy. But with the bad also comes the good. It is immensely satisfying when an orchestrated attack plan comes together and you and a simulated buddy manage to take out a group of super mutants in one or two rounds, or when you have your life saved by a finishing blow delivered by a skilled rifleman at your back. I’m no programmer, so I don’t have much in the way of solutions on how to design more intelligent companions, but ultimately I think the struggles are worth the triumphs and they at least lead to some great storytelling.

The remaining gameplay elements are largely narrative and driven by how you act within the world around you. Details on your quest are discovered through a mix of exploration and communication with various NPCs, which often result in more background information on the California wasteland or potential side quests which can be completed for monetary rewards, adventure, or experience. Side quests play a vital role in the game and help breathe life into the wasteland by allowing you to become a participant in the virtual world as opposed to simply a visitor. This is also where a good deal of small-scale decision making takes place, with your actions potentially altering the future of settlements and the lives of those who inhabit these places. It’s a great way of providing insight to the new world you’ve stumbled across as well as incentivizing the player with helpful items and experience points. It’s also a baseline feature of many RPGs, both before and after Fallout, so I’m not gonna pretend this game invented side quests or make some outlandish claim like that, but hey, it’s that kind of RPG.

While these quests usually serve to make the world feel much more cohesive and interconnected, it’s also here that the game begins to shows its rough edges in response to your decisions. Because Fallout is a completely open-ended experience, meaning you can pretty much go anywhere and do anything at any time, it sometimes fails to account for your previous accomplishments in other places. After heading back to Vault 13 with the replacement water chip, just about everyone I talked to wished me luck on my quest…and I couldn’t tell them I already found the chip. Oversights like this occasionally pop up as you interact with other characters in the world and while it’s certainly not game-breaking or anything like that, it’s kind of annoying when you’re short of what seems like an important dialogue option because it simply wasn’t programmed into the game. The dialogue pathing is another spot of contention due to its inconsistency. Some conversations will play out just fine with plenty of options to change the subject and bring you back around to an early set of conversation topics, but sometimes you can only commit to one topic and when the NPC has finished talking, all you can say is goodbye. This means you will frequently have to pop in and out of the dialogue window when engaging with certain NPCs (*cough*Saul*cough*) just to ask all your questions. It’s a minor, somewhat petty grievance but damn if it isn’t annoying.

The final core aspect of gameplay is the character progression. And for the most part it’s great, with some noteworthy issues. First off, character creation is fantastic. The SPECIAL system is one of the best I’ve seen in computer role-playing games as it allows for a great deal of character customization with a classless system that allows for any number of hybrid role-playing types. The three pre-rendered character choices display just how much variation is on offer, and just about anything in between a big dumb brawler, a ninja-like thief, or a gun-toting diplomat is possible. The options available for creating your role are vast, allowing you to specialize in three of eighteen skills, select up to two of sixteen possible traits, and organize your SPECIAL points in any manner you wish your character attributes to reflect. For additional flavoring, you also get to choose your name, age, and gender. Character development is further realized through the addition of perks every three levels and the ability to place skill points among any of the eighteen skills available to you at each level up.

Conceptually, this design is fantastic. In practice, it’s actually quite mixed. While it’s certainly possible to complete the game with just about any build, Fallout very clearly favors certain skills and attributes over others. To start with, Charisma simply is not that helpful. While Charisma can get you some nice flavor text, the vast majority of dialogue challenges in the game are won through the speech skill. Charisma only affects someone’s initial reaction to you which eventually shifts through your dialogue choices, rendering the attribute somewhat worthless. Which brings us to the skills. There are eighteen in total and honestly, most of them are negligible. Making a good character basically comes down to choosing a weapons skill that isn’t Throwing, tagging Speech and then pretty much whatever you want. It doesn’t matter. While the game offers a large amount of skills to specialize in, most of them don’t actually see much use. Do you want to be a mechanically apt scientist who’s also a skilled trader? You can, but his skills are mostly useless outside of a few scattered moments in game. How about a doctor with a penchant for thievery? Turns out the overseer could have sent out just about anyone else and they would have been equally qualified or better. While the content on offer is extensive and well-thought out for a role-playing module, Fallout is more equivalent to a single campaign than an expansive set of adventures that will absorb your character for hundreds of hours like in other RPGs. In a tabletop role-playing game, if you tried to send your doctor out on this quest, any kind GM would tell you that’s not a good idea or at least make up some alternative solutions during the session. In Fallout, there is no such gatekeeper and the manual even wrongfully extols the virtues of First Aid and Doctor as skills. Don’t tag them. They’re not good.

The process of gaining experience is another implementation I have rather mixed opinions on. For every action the game deems noteworthy, you gain experience. Not exactly uncommon. It’s a fine design choice overall, but its execution is a bit unbalanced. By which I mean the game almost invariably favors combat. This is evident right at the beginning of the game when leaving the rat-infested caverns of Vault 13. You can stay and kill every rat or sneak out undetected. If you stay and fight, you get 500 xp; if you sneak out, you get 0. The game tries to counter this in situations with other humans by awarding you experience for every person left alive, which is a great idea overall, but this usually just means you’re best off taking the diplomatic route and then coming back to kill everyone afterwards to get the combat xp. Honestly, I understand that this is largely a criticism of the genre in general, as combat is often used as a main source of experience in most CRPGs, but in a game where you can often employ so many other solutions than combat, it becomes noticeable just how much of an issue this system can actually be. For all my complaints, the game does make some good attempts at rectifying this by offering experience points for non-combat skill checks like hacking computers, repairing broken equipment, breaking locks, or convincing others through diplomacy, but this ultimately comes back around to what is so obviously the “best” class. A speech-focused gunslinger with high agility and intelligence. Make this character and you’ll be able to do just about whatever you want. Also pick the Gifted trait if you really want to turn the tides in your favor. While the most patient of role-players will still be able to find their place in the game world, unless they want to be a smooth talking rifleman/brawler/whatever, it’s gonna be a harder ride. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing though. Story-wise, it makes sense. The overseer has no idea what kind of person may be useful on the outside. Just don’t be surprised if your chosen skills never get much of a chance to shine.

Fallout is, at its core, an innovative and highly flexible role-playing game with some rough edges that keep it from achieving all it sets out to do. Despite these issues, the game plays very well overall and its design ensures that no two playthroughs are likely to be the same, unless pre-conceived by the player. But the systems that make up the game are just the start. As I mentioned earlier, Fallout does not play like a complete role-playing module designed to suck up hundreds of hours of your time. Instead, it’s more like a campaign, focused on a series of smaller quests and locations that make up one cohesive whole. While Fallout is certainly remembered for the innovations brought about by its design choices and focus on player agency, I’d argue that the campaign is its most enduring aspect. What really pushes this game from being a well-designed, player-driven RPG into a true classic is the way it handles its setting, pacing, and general sense of atmosphere.

One of the most noteworthy achievements of Fallout, in my opinion, is the way it captivates the player through its sparse audio and visuals. Regardless of how the player might feel from the outset, once the Interplay logo disperses, these details immediately establish a subtle, somewhat foreboding mood that’s hard to resist. The disconnection between the person on the end of the monitor and the avatar on the screen is a persistent issue in just about any computer game you’ll come across and while it’s easy to overlook the noises that hum in the background of the experience, they do ultimately play a vital role. The ambient soundtrack, composed by Mark Morgan (*whispers*…and Aphex Twin) is perpetually moody and unsettling, setting the rather uneasy tone present throughout the game. This tone is what builds the template by which the setting of Fallout is presented to the player - the backbone of the game is that feeling of unease. Post-apocalyptic America is not a fun place to be, and Fallout acknowledges this. Throughout your journey, you will visit locales corrupted by organized crime, dilapidated shantytown-like buildings, and, at their most functional, boring unexceptional settlements trying to get by on a day-to-day existence. The visuals are often diluted in a way that exemplifies this stale, rotten environment. Nowhere in this game is pretty. Even the advanced, untouched areas such as Vault 13 and Mariposa Military Base are characterized by drab metallic walls and floor tiles, illuminated by fluorescent lighting. This audio/visual culmination brilliantly highlights the cold, uncaring feeling that exists in the background of the player’s experience.

The world of Fallout is complementarily bleak and run-down. It’s a world that lost a huge chunk of human progress made over the course of centuries, where its inhabitants still try to hold on to some of that progress through practices such as agriculture, animal domestication, large cities with individual politics and infrastructures, and the values of scientific discovery in a world where remnants of a recently passed civilization still echo through daily life. Keep in mind, this game takes place 84 years after the nuclear war that destroyed most of the world. Nearly everyone alive in 2161 was not alive when the bombs dropped. They’re the first generation to live completely without any firsthand experience in pre-apocalyptic society, but they are still influenced by that society through the beliefs and habits of their ancestors. This setting is a huge part of the game’s storyline, and the way it handles these themes of post-war society are very well-done for a role-playing game.

That’s not to say the game is entirely a serious, melancholic experience. That’s just the backdrop. This is still a computer role-playing game, heavily inspired by the same kind of fantastical elements that make up a majority of the genre’s tropes and entertainment values. This is a game where you’ll encounter large mutated rats and scorpions, zombie-inspired ghouls affected by overexposure to radiation poisoning, large hulking orc-like “super mutants” and other kinds of creatively designed creatures that intersperse with the experience between encounters against raiders, gangsters, and other more realistic enemies and NPCs. The way Fallout mixes its more grounded elements of post-apocalyptic society with these kinds of science fantasy-like creations is what makes the experience so unique, with most interactions in the game laced with cynical humor such as funny options for dialogue choices, combat taunts dished out by NPCs, and grotesque, but incredibly satisfying death animations. These contrasts manage to keep the game engaging through its relatable, societally relevant framework, while also keeping the player entertained through campy B-movie like villains and comical overtones. It’s not always easy to pull off these kind of elements together, but Fallout does it seamlessly, knowing not to take itself too seriously, but also not relying so heavily on the more ridiculous aspects that it overshadows the more meaningful parts of the game.

To understand what makes these elements come together so well, one needs to take a step back and look at how they culminate together around the central storyline. On a simple outline, the plot of Fallout does not seem particularly exceptional. It relies significantly on its campaign-like approach to storytelling and can basically be divided into two large, overarching quests. Spoilers start here.
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First, you must find a replacement chip for your vault. You have 150 days to do so or everyone will die. Second, after returning to the vault with your chip, the overseer deems the super mutants you outlined in your report a threat that must be eliminated. You must destroy the threat before they find and invade the vault. And that’s pretty much how it goes. While the fate of the vault ultimately rests on you as the player, there are two general outcomes to this. You succeed in your quests and the vault is saved or you fail in your quests and everybody dies. This isn’t Pulitzer-winning stuff here, it’s a role-playing setup designed to facilitate you as a player to engage and shape the fictional world around you. As something relating to literature, Fallout is creatively told but far from anything majorly thought-provoking. As a role-playing experience, or maybe even genre fiction to a certain degree, it’s fantastically orchestrated, with a few minor hang-ups.

Right from the start, Fallout sets up its adventure simply, but very effectively. You have some minor equipment like a pistol, knife, and some stimpaks to set you off with some means of self-defense and a few items governed by your chosen skill specializations, but you’re not given much to survive off of overall. At level one, you’re weak, without armor, and under-equipped for what you’ll inevitably be going against in the not-too-distant future. But the designers acknowledge this. The cave you start out in after leaving Vault 13 is inhabited by small, easy-to-kill rats as a way to introduce the player to the combat system without fear of imminent death. When you’re confident enough in your handle of the game’s controls and other introductory gameplay systems, you can leave and set out into the world.

One complaint I often hear from newcomers to Fallout is that the game offers so little sense of direction. Couple this with a time limit that results in a fail state when reached and the game doesn’t seem very inviting. In a way, this complaint has some merit, despite my disagreement. You can potentially head off in whatever direction you want after leaving the Vault, but that’s not advisable, nor is it encouraged. The oft-maligned time limit sees to that. Admittedly, this may seem counterintuitive at first. In a game with so little blatant direction, why should the player be confronted with a game-ending threat right at the beginning? The time limit that defines the initial quest is, at least in my opinion, a good way of keeping the player on track when beginning the game. It’s quite forgiving in the grand scheme of things, but it also serves as a reminder to focus on your main goal, when you still don’t know how long it might take to actually find a replacement water chip. As for lack of explicit direction, while Fallout certainly doesn’t have the kind of transparent auto-logging and map marker design that’s utilized in many CRPGs today, I would actually argue that the first half of the game is pretty linearly directed. The guiding hand of the creators is subtle, but it’s there.

At the start of your quest, you have one lead. Vault 15, to the east. Given that it’s your only mapped location, that’s where you’re expected to head. On the way, you encounter Shady Sands, where you can talk to NPCs for the first time and even accept your first quest to stop a radscorpion threat if you so desire. If you talk to the locals, you can get some information about the town and a traveler named Ian, your first recruitable companion, can even tell you the locations of Junktown and the Hub. After investigating Vault 15, you see firsthand that the water chip contained within this vault is unsalvageable, covered by a massive cave-in and likely destroyed. If you talked to Katrina in Shady Sands, you’ll know that the vault itself was ransacked by raiders after a schism destroyed most of the Vault-Tec equipment. That was a while ago, and now only rats that burrowed in through the debris inhabit this place.

This is where the subtle direction in the game design comes in. You leave Vault 15 and are back on the world map. Where do you go? Well, the only two major locations you can learn about from talking to the people at Shady Sands are Junktown and the Hub, which are conveniently right next to each other. The most obvious decision would be to check there, considering you have no other leads. It’s not the only thing you can do, though. Players who decide to revisit Vault 13 or Shady Sands will still be provided with new content. At Vault 13, you can learn more about life in the Vault during the water crisis and even attempt to quell one of the rebel factions. If you already cleared out the radscorpions near Shady Sands, you’ll be given a quest to rescue the town leader’s daughter, Tandi from a group of raiders. The game still offers freedom of choice, but only enough so that the player is not overwhelmed from the start.

Junktown serves as a precursor to the Hub, positioned right before the big city as a stopping point from the north, where you’ll be coming in from. It’s one of the few locations that has no ties to the main plot, but without knowledge of this, it’s the obvious place to stop next on your journey. It’s also a fantastic introduction to the exploration of city life in the post-apocalypse. By placing this town right before the Hub, the player is given the opportunity to explore a small city environment following the rather mundane agrarian town of Shady Sands, but before diving into the game’s largest, most heavily populated location. Junktown is a rather dismal place, and its culture reflects that. The city is unofficially run by local law enforcement officers who have to deal with visiting raiders, gang crime, and a sleazy business mogul. Depending on what kind of character you are, you can act in this environment accordingly, siding with the gangs, local law enforcement, or a bit of both. You also have a bunch of new NPCs to talk to and learn more about the world from. The city of Junktown also offers an early example of player-directed choice and consequence. While there are quite a few activities and mini-quests to take on in Junktown, the central conflict in the town is between the law-enforcing general store owner, Killian Darkwater, and the morally repugnant business tycoon, Gizmo. After stopping at the general store and talking to Killian for the first time, an armed gunman will attempt to shoot Killian, claiming “Gizmo sends his regards.” If you help Killian stop the assassin, he will ask you to either bug Gizmo at his casino, or convince him to admit to hiring the assassin so that Killian can take him down legally. While you can agree to help Killian in his quest to stop Gizmo, you can also turn on him, offering to assassinate Killian for Gizmo yourself and following through on the crime, rather than reporting it to Killian. It’s a good way to shape your character on a personal level, engaging in small-time conflicts before heading out into the larger world where you’ll be making your mark later in the game.

While you’ll learn about other locations from NPCs in Junktown, visiting the Hub is the next logical step in your journey due to its proximity to Junktown and lack of any real leads on finding a water chip offered in that town. The Hub is massive, with a relatively large amount of side quests to engage in compared to the previous settlements, a variety of shops to trade goods at, and many more NPCs to talk to. Structurally, it’s like a mix between Shady Sands and Junktown, but on a much larger scale. To the north, you have an agricultural settlement, complete with incoming traders, farmers, and Brahmin pens. In the middle of the city is the downtown trading center, where you’ll find all the shops, trade caravan offices, the police station, and a local bar that serves as a front for the high-end criminal underworld in the city. It’s here that you’ll be able to take on most of the side quests in the Hub, such as finding information on the recent trend of missing caravans out in the wasteland, helping a farmer clear out his home from raiders, joining or turning in the local crime syndicate, or even just getting work as a caravan guard. The remaining districts include Old Town, the run-down poor side of the city, Hightown, where the upper class live, and the Water Merchants district, where you can get your first real lead on the potential location of a water chip since you left the vault.

The Hub is quite possibly the most definitive location in all of Fallout as well and is one of the most well-designed central locations I’ve experienced in any computer role-playing game. It embodies most of the major leading design and aesthetic aspects of the game, including a wide degree of role-playing opportunities, allowing you to experience life as an underworld thug, law-abiding peacekeeper, or just about anything in between, as well as offering a variety of content involving NPC interactions, world building, and even some minor exploration outside the city in a few quests. Perhaps more than any other early-game location, The Hub also embodies the feeling of powerlessness and need to overcome substantial odds in the world you’ve found yourself thrust into. I had three companions when I first arrived at the Hub, and I relied heavily on them to accomplish all the combat-related quests I found myself in, with certain tasks that were simply too hard for me to take on so early in the game. Couple this with the fact that the Hub functions as the major trading center in Fallout, and its central location in the game world, and you have a lot of incentive to come back and experience new situations throughout the game.

While The Hub certainly highlights many positive aspects of Fallout, it also accentuates the negatives as well. First off, the bartering menu is a mess, and this is the first real location where that becomes so apparent. Shopkeepers are rarely able to move more than 2,000 caps at a time, and having to navigate the slow-moving menus of both yours and the cluttered shopkeepers’ inventory slots gets pretty tedious. Next up is the issue with certain quest structuring. While the side quests in The Hub include some of the most enjoyable in the game such as finding the missing caravans and joining the Thieves’ Circle, some feel either incomplete or a bit too linear. Unlike with the earlier raider camp in the game, the one quest involving raiders in the Hub has no other means of solution than pure combat, which feels a bit unfortunate considering the game’s usual emphasis on engaging other humans in dialogue before any potential shoot-outs. The Hub also hosts the aforementioned Iguana Bob quest, which is simply unfinished for anyone who doesn’t want to play a scummy character who blackmails the shady food vendor for keeping one’s mouth shut. Overall, The Hub is a good example of both the good and bad aspects of Fallout, though I feel the good definitely outweighs the bad, despite my own issues with some of the side quests.

If you speak to the water merchants in the Hub, you can pay them to send water to your vault for an additional hundred days to the time limit as well as getting a hint that Necropolis may contain a water chip. Purchasing a particular holodisk from librarian further enhances this claim, as the disk contains information regarding the location of Vault 12. Hm?

Necropolis is, by far, one of the most unnerving locations in the game, as well as one of the most tedious. The city is sectioned off by debris-blocked roadways, requiring you to travel through the underground sewers to access each section. This is where the tedium kicks in. For many first-time players, myself included, navigating these sewers is a pain in the ass, with keen attention required to how your surroundings synch up to the ground level to get a good handle on where you’re going. Apart from this inconvenience, however, Necropolis embodies the underlying dread of Fallout more than ever, bringing this element to the forefront of the experience. Necropolis is inhabited entirely by ghouls, mutated humanoids who have succumbed to severe levels of radiation poisoning without dying. Most of these ghouls are unfriendly to visitors, many of whom attempt to engage in combat when you approach. Some will talk to you, however, and the underground ghouls are actually quite helpful in providing you with information. The only normal human in the whole city lies dead in Vault 12, surrounded by a pack of “glowing ones” as the game calls them. Apart from the ghouls, other creatures include sewer-patrolling rats and a group of super mutants guarding the entrance to the broken water pump and Vault 12, where the only working water purifier is housed. This circumstance provides a slight moral dilemma in the game. With the water pump broken, the surviving ghouls need the purifier to survive. If you take it without fixing the pump, they will inevitably die of thirst. Fixing the pump is not too hard, however, with a decent repair skill and help from the underground ghouls, so kind players are not pigeonholed into committing genocide (though it would have provided some seriously heavy subject matter if the pump turned out to be unfixable).

One of the most interesting encounters I had in Necropolis was actually a surprising example of what appeared to be dialogue oversight on part of the developers actually enhancing the experience. While talking to the underground leader, I enquired about the broken pump, tiptoeing around the likely possibility of there being a water purification chip, already knowing from the holotape I purchased in The Hub that this was almost certainly true. When I tried to say goodbye, the ghoul simply replied, “You’re not thinking about taking our water chip, are you?” I never brought up that I thought there was a water chip. I think the developers assumed I would ask. As I mentioned before, this is not an uncommon circumstance in the game, so it is likely an oversight. But this time it added a layer of depth. The first friendly ghoul I encountered was seriously worried. It turned into a conversation where neither of us wanted to bring up the water chip for entirely different reasons, but where the ghoul ultimately had to ask such a blunt question, rightfully assuming what I planned to do. Instead of attacking, however, he offered help, telling me where to find junk parts that could repair the pump and providing me with instruction manuals to aid the process, hoping I would show some mercy as I would be passing it on the way to the vault. It was possibly the most humanizing moment in the game, forcing me to acknowledge the obvious weight of my actions, and it’s kind of weird to think it may have happened due to failed dialogue pathing optimization. When I returned to Necropolis later in the game and found him dead with the rest of the ghouls after they were killed by a band of super mutants, this small encounter really emphasized the irrelevance of my decision to help them on an ultimately practical level, but just how important it may have been for me on a moral level. The list of video game experiences I’ve had that effectively brought up issues of morality without resorting to heavy-handedness or to alter some kind of morality meter is pretty small, so I find situations like this to be particularly valuable in the medium, given their scarcity.

After delivering the water purification chip, your second quest begins. This is also where the game becomes a bit less restricting and a lot vaguer. While finding the water chip is a relatively guided process, given the time limit and lack of known locations in the wasteland, you really have almost nothing to go on when it comes to locating and destroying the mutant source. Depending on how conversational you’ve been thus far and how much optional exploring you’ve done, it may not even be so obvious exactly where or what this source is. While this may seem a bit intimidating at first, once you’ve delivered the water chip, there’s a good chance you’ve already experienced a lot of what the game has to offer and have a general sense of how to interact with the rest of the world. Personally, I think this is where the strong pacing of the game really starts to reveal itself. The first half of Fallout is spent exploring the world, learning about post-war society and experiencing the tension of having to survive against hostile encounters while becoming more powerful and knowledgeable about this world by engaging with such things. The second half is about utilizing this knowledge and experience to actively engage in and shape the world on a large scale. You’re no longer looking to simply find a water chip for your vault, you’re attempting to stop an ever-growing group of mutants out to replace humanity.

After leaving the vault once more, now is also a good time to take on any side quests you may have avoided or put on hold due to being underpowered earlier in game (finding and returning the water chip gives a lot of xp). Assuming you’ve been talking to most NPCs on your journey, you should also have three locations marked on your map that you may have avoided due to having little to no relevance to your first quest (unless of course you just like exploring and decided to check them out anyway) - The Glow, Boneyard, and the Brotherhood of Steel. As you can probably guess, these places are key to finding the super mutant source.

While I mentioned that the game becomes much vaguer during your second quest, there is still some consistent logic at play for how you may be expected to approach this quest. To begin, the Brotherhood is much closer to the vault and the previous locations you’ve explored, making it an ideal choice to start your quest. At the door to the Brotherhood bunker, however, you are told you must first travel to the Glow (see where this is going) and bring back a piece of technology proving you were there before gaining entrance. You now have three primary options on how to proceed: Leave and ignore the Brotherhood, pick the lock on the elevator door and break in (everyone inside will just assume you were given permission), or actually do this quest, which the other door guard will tell you is basically suicidal.

Assuming you do visit the Glow, it is hinted that you will need to pop some Rad-X before entering the vicinity, as the other Brotherhood guard will tell you that it’s heavily irradiated. While the Glow is both out of the way and essentially optional in completing your quest, it provides some extremely plot-sensitive information for those who want a deeper understanding of the super mutants and other creatures present in the game. The Glow, as it turns out, was a pre-war weapons laboratory, and by studying the many holotapes littered throughout the underground building, you discover information about the Forced Evolutionary Virus (FEV), a strain used to mutate creatures and cause them to “evolve” at a rapid rate. I’ve mentioned before that Fallout is not a game that takes itself too seriously and, while I’m no biologist myself, I highly doubt that a virus like this is truly feasible in reality. However, this highlights an important aspect of the game that is underscored throughout the experience. Fallout may not be a “realistic” game, but it is consistent. Back in Shady Sands, the doctor Razlo tells you that he has no idea how the radscorpions attacking Shady Sands could possibly have evolved, even in an irradiated environment. At first, this just seems like the developers poking fun at the more ridiculous aspects of their creation. But they actually explain it. Not in a realistic scientifically proven way of course, but in a way that’s consistent with the game world. It may not be much, but I think this is a testament to just how dedicated the team was to making the world of Fallout a believable setting and not just a vessel for crazy fantastical game ideas. Fallout is a crazy fantastical game in a lot of ways, but generally not at the expense of contradicting itself within its own framework.

Back at the Brotherhood, you can attempt to convince the Elders to assault the mutants with you if you can first discover their base in the northwest and report back with your findings. This brings up the final unexplored location you already have pinned on your map – the Boneyard. The Boneyard is the final city left in the game located far south from Vault 13, a decimated Los Angeles where you can take on your last few side quests and gain information about the mysterious Children of the Cathedral who have made only minor appearances thus far. The central conflict in this town is similar to that of Junktown, but with a pretty significant twist. The town of Adytum, central hub of the Boneyard, is ruled over by a group called the Regulators who are at odds with a rebel faction called the Blades. If you speak to the mayor of the town, he will tell you that members of the Blades murdered his son and that he wants you to take them down. You can follow his orders, but if you speak to the leader of the Blades, she will offer proof that the Regulators framed the murder as a means of scapegoating the dissenters. In a decisive final battle, you can determine whether to still support the Regulators in light of this evidence or help the Blades reclaim Adytum from tyranny. It’s a seemingly small matter compared to the endgame you’re about to take part in, but a satisfying moment nonetheless.

By speaking to Katja, a recruitable NPC, you can learn about the location of the Cathedral, where the children worship someone known as the master. Another group called the Followers of the Apocalypse can tell you about their suspicions that mutant armies are being raised by the Children. By exploring the Cathedral, you learn that the church is actually built over an abandoned vault, where the master resides down in the command center. To gain access, you can either fight your way down or disguise yourself in the robes of a Child of the Cathedral and convince the mutants you have important information for the master. This leads to one very unfortunate problem. If you have any followers with you, you will be attacked regardless of your disguise. If you recruited Dogmeat back in Junktown, he will not leave your side, rendering this method unusable. For me, Dogmeat died at the top of the Cathedral fighting a group of Nightkin and I snuck down anyway. For others, well…it’s your call. I must say, I think it’s quite a shame that you may have such an interesting infiltration tactic limited by the fact that you can’t just have Dogmeat wait somewhere else while you head down into the vault. While you’re here, you can also hack into one of the many computers to determine the location of the Military Base where the mutants are being created.

When you reach the third level of the vault, you can either confront the master, a mutated hulk of biomass kept alive by supercomputer components, or break into the fourth floor, detonating the supercomputer that keeps the master alive and activating the self-destruct sequence in the vault. If you confront the master, you can either engage him in combat, destroying his lifeline as well as the Cathedral’s, or you convince him his plan is a failure due to the FEV’s forced sterilization in mutants. If you do this…he kills himself upon learning his life work is a sham and the Cathedral is destroyed. Yeah, no matter how you decide to take down the master, the Children of the Cathedral are screwed because his death results in the detonation of the Vault.

As for the Military Base, you get one last choice. Initiate the self-destruct sequence because this game wants you going out with style regardless of which mutant hotspot you take down first, or confront the lieutenant and agree to be transformed into a super mutant, leading an assault on your own vault.

After finishing your final quest, the ending slides play and you can see what happened to each settlement you visited based on your actions in each one. This a brilliant way to wrap things up conceptually. Uh-oh, there’s that word again. There is one major problem regarding these ending slides. Two of them are bugged and cannot be achieved, regardless of your actions. If this doesn’t seem like a big deal, consider this – both of these endings were rendered canonical by future entries in the series. Now I’d like to think I’m fair in judging a game by its own worth, so let’s assume this isn’t an issue. After all, it’s the future titles that render these events as such, not this one. The remaining endings still make no sense if you managed to destroy the super mutants in the first place. No matter what happens, the Boneyard and the Hub are both overrun by mutants, decimating the local populations of each city. What, I’m supposed to believe that before the surviving super mutants fled to the east, they just decided to attack two of the largest settlements on the west coast – and they did it successfully! After having their numbers thinned considerably, they still managed to take down two well-armed and protected civilizations. This is unfortunately the result of an invisible time limit that was taken out before launch, despite the ending slides remaining, so even though Boneyard and the Hub are perfectly intact before the endgame they are still done for if you took too long. I call bullshit. And so did future developers. This is sadly one of those cases where development oversight results in a seriously botched conclusion. Had the ending slides that displayed these civilizations as unscathed and prosperous remained intact, this wouldn’t be an issue. But it is. And it’s glaring.

If you destroyed the mutants, a final scene plays before the credits regarding what happened to your character after his long journey. The overseer calls you a hero for what you’ve done, but doesn’t want any of the other vault inhabitants idolizing you or wanting to leave the vault in the hopes of following your footsteps and living a life outside. So he kicks you out. If you have a negative reputation or the Bloody Mess trait (or are personally pissed off and swiftly seeking vengeance), you shoot him on his way back inside, leaving him dead at the door. If you were a reputable person, however, you let him go and walk into the distance as the credits roll and the song from the opening cinematic plays in the background. It’s a fitting ending and one that opens up great potential for a sequel (surprise, it did).

In case it isn’t obvious by now, I think Fallout is amazing, despite some unfortunate issues. It’s well-paced, enjoyable, and offers a great deal of player choice in determining the experience. The setting is one of my favorites in any video game, which sounds a bit fanboyish because it is, but I don’t care. Fallout is one of those games I can just appreciate so much due to its high quality presentation, influence on its respective genre, and satisfying, understated gameplay mechanics that make each playthrough an enjoyable experience, even if I’m just retreading old paths. If you’re a fan of computer role-playing games, then you’ve probably already played this game. But if you haven’t, I can’t recommend it enough. Fallout is an undoubted classic that fully lives up to its reputation, at least in my opinion. It’s a timeless adventure and well worth experiencing.
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Gimme the sugar baby!
I usually suck so hard at video games. Every gaming party with my friends ends up with me envying their abilities. I was struggling so hard at Fallout's combat, just like everyobody says they do. But I said to myself: "git gud". Next time I found myself melting super mutants with my Turbo Plasma Rifle. The most fun I've had in a combat system in a long time. I assure you, once you get the hang of the tactical aspects (in other words, managing your Action Points), you'll be in for a treat.
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mierdonardo 2022-09-26T21:08:15Z
2022-09-26T21:08:15Z
4.5
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you can beat up rats with dark ambient ok
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_taarene 2022-05-04T02:47:23Z
2022-05-04T02:47:23Z
4.0
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Stress enducing but amazing at last
I have never played a fallout game past fallout new vegas so when i decided to play the original i was quite surprised. Interplay managed to make something truly special and this is definitely also one of the best stories in a video game ive played its up there with portal and half life 2. I have never played a turn based combat game before atleast nothing like fallout and i thought it was very unique. I completed the game in 19 hours which is just 1 playthrough and i think that is amazing considering this game came out in 1997 and i spent more time on it than i did portal 2 with only about 10 hours of playtime.

The game is not without problems. whilst i think turn based combat can be fun, lots of the game it just becomes a tedious game mechanic and it feels slow very quick almost like it gets old fast. Now part of this is my problem as i did not use a lot of companions in my playthrough which does help the turn based style but i dont think i need 5 or even 10 companions to complete the game, I soloed it as much as i could and managed to beat it anyway but at the cost of losing my sanity a little. Encounters suck late game and very very early game as you cant protect yourself but late game it feels like i got 100 encounters on my way to the glow and back to the brotherhood which was not fun at all and was just frustrating.

Sadly i also couldnt complete the game without help. The cathedral and mutant base i had too look up a guide on for certain parts which was not fun at all. Maybe im bad at figuring out what im supposed to do or the game is cryptic but either way its not fun for anyone.

Whilst i have lots of negative opinions on the games mechanics most of the game was fairly fun especially early-mid game where you learn the game and get weapon upgrades etc and the story as i said previously makes fallout 4 look like shit. The characters are good as well and the overall world building is one of the best in video game history. The few interplay easter eggs as well was nice.

overall loved the experience but tedious mechanics prevent me from giving this 5/5 or even 4.5/5. heres hoping fallout 2 takes it home!
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GUD77 2022-01-15T21:50:09Z
2022-01-15T21:50:09Z
4.0
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Great story, but....
This is a conflicting review. I am someone who grew up with shooters and no top-down, turn-based rpgs. The first Fallout game I played is Fallout New Vegas, which I believe is one of the greatest games I have ever played (maybe the best). I decided that, because of my love for that game, and with the help of some brief guide videos, I wanna try going for the classics before going into Fallout 3 and 4. With that, I went into Fallout 1 with an open mind.

Let's go over the cons, because they are brief but very relevant to why the score is the way it is. I hate the combat system. It's so jank and annoying, and the companions are just terrible in it. I get having to occasionally resave in order to keep them alive, but doing to much is obnoxious. Honestly, the opening cave isn't that bad, I figured it as a way to get used to the combat and some decent XP, but Christ it is bad. It's a really unfortunate pitfall for me. I feel that combat gets in the way of the game being fun. I even played the game on easy (yeah, owned), though that's partly because I am not used to these kinds of games. Even then it felt difficult. So essentially, I hate the combat in this game and the companion ai. I also dislike some minor things relating to moechanics, such as having to open every single door manually, lack of clarity in parts of the main quest, and item placement (it's hard to see that stuff on the floor).

Despite these pitfalls (with combat being HUGE mind you, maybe some of the worst I have experienced), the lore is incredible. I'm gonna be real, I stopped playing this game after 20 hours and never "beat" the game bc of my frustration with combat. But this was a painful decision. I absolutely love the atmosphere, the music, and the lore. Connecting all the dots of the main quest together is really awesome. Honestly, from playing 1, I turn off the radio in New Vegas to let the world speak to me. This allowed me to discover a hidden detail about New Vegas: the background music of the game is literally mixes of tracks from Fallout 1 (like Shady Sands, which is fucking fantastic). The characters are mostly cool with some of them standing out to me, like Gizmo, Killian, Harold, Sett, and (which I am learning by going through the Oxhorn videos) Zax and more. So far, the lore of Fallout is really good here. The starkness of the game is really good, I am a big fan of starkness and being dark. I am not surprised people think this is the darkest game. You don't have Peggy Lee or instrumental Bert Weedon tracks playing as you travel a desolate waste land, or be reminded every time you die that you become nothing but a corpse in an empty desert. It really captures the awfulness in a good way.

So you can see my conflict. I hate the mechanics of the game but almost love everything else. It leaves a sad tone to my review. I am excited tho bc, once I finish the Oxhorn vids, I WILL try Fallout 2, since I hear it mechanically improves a lot of stuff. Plus it's the first more humorous Fallout game. The great debate of Fallout 2 vs Fallout NV will eventually come to a close when I get there. For now though, I will say that despite these massive pit falls, Fallout 1 is still pretty good as a game. For a while, I pushed through the combat because of how good the story is. Even a part of me wants to go back and finish it anyway, but I decided to refrain my excitement of the lore over the pain and frustration the mechanics could cause me.

Also, Fallout 1 has the best gaming intro I have ever seen. A worthy beginning that other gaming industries wish they could top. Iconic.

EDIT Incredible story. Fuck. Idk if I can give this an 8 in good conscious despite disliking the combat. Just a tragic but really good ending. The Master is a fantastic villain and I love how creepy he is. UGH. I'll have to think about it more.

7.999 / 10
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P_D 2021-11-02T04:30:25Z
2021-11-02T04:30:25Z
4.0
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Title
Radiation sickness
I found the original Fallout to be an extremely polarizing game in the sense that it does some things really well, while failing flat on its face on others. The story, writing, world building and lore and atmosphere are all spot on. Its much more serious than the sequels, so the world feels more real and meaning because of this. There is still humour, but its more black humour than actual 4th wall breaking sort of humour. The atmosphere is great, helped a lot by that haunting soundtrack by Mark Morgan. The level design is also good enough to allow multiple solutions to a problem, not quite on the level of Fallout 2 but the options are still there none the less. One of the issues i had was that its harder to see interactible objects, many times they obscured by walls, which somewhat limited my approach to problems.

It also does a whole lot wrong. Mainly whenever combat is involved. One of the reasons i tried to go for speech many times was to try to avoid the combat since its so bad. Its turn based, but extremely basic at that, and you dont even control the actions of your own companion NPCs. At least in F2 you could somewhat regulate what their AI would do in combat, but here its completly up to the AI. This means a whole lot of friendly fire and focusing on the wrong targets. I also really dislike how inconsistent the hit rate is one this game. It makes sense on a game like this to be a certain level of uncertainty in the combat, but this is way too much. I never know when a battle is going to take a turn for the worse with 3 misses in a row, or a critical fail. Apart from this major issue, there are also some other problems like the clunky movement, the big amount of bugs and for me the way skill check works. I prefer the formula whenever you have say 75 lockpick skill you can always suceed in locks for that level, but thats a personal preference.

It does a lot of things right, and for the first of a series its a great title, but it also does a whole lot wrong. I cant really recommend it, specially when there is a sequel which is improved in everysingle way.
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Threntall 2016-06-29T14:07:38Z
2016-06-29T14:07:38Z
3.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
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Catalog

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1
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
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ESRB: M
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Single-player
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  • Previous comments (24) Loading...
  • Hvlk 2021-11-05 21:35:59.604897+00
    why did this person randomly post their review as the game synopsis lmao
    reply
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  • hexiluv 2021-11-26 15:09:28.92169+00
    okay so i quit playing a little while after the water chip quest because i just could not get into the game but i went back today and started a new game and WOW it clicked and its FANTASTIC
    reply
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  • Vayy 2022-01-17 12:18:35.482748+00
    hot take but the franchise peaked at fallout 1
    reply
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  • LNKS 2022-01-18 03:54:00.547335+00
    the actual gameplay is managing your saves from being corrupted, softlocked or you misclick dialogue
    reply
    • LNKS 2022-01-18 06:27:56.136123+00
      i've realized a console for game commands is a necessity for games like these, even from a dev standpoint since theres always gonna be some kind of experience ruining shit for players
    • SMZXW 2022-02-02 14:49:54.040899+00
      DON'T save in battle
    • ... 2022-02-22 02:30:39.863991+00
      Until you know the game really well, save-scumming is unfortunately the way to go (the manual even recommends it iirc). 'Twas a different time I suppose.
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  • drjoebydick 2022-01-21 23:30:51.832969+00
    maybe im too much of a zoomer but it's honestly been so long since i've tried to play a game this old that i like. forgot how it worked and lost 3 hours of gameplay bc i forgot you could like. easily die and autosaving doesnt exist. beautifully made game for its year immensely frustrating on a small screen in 2022
    reply
    • khaledo 2022-01-27 11:56:31.244472+00
      yeah unfortunately its extremely frustrating compared to more modern irpgs, and bethesda do not care enough to put a new layer of paint on any of their own older games so i bet they wouldnt care enough to remaster a game that they didnt make
    • alliterativeAlpinist 2022-02-10 13:38:42.782463+00
      Obsidian and Bethesda are now both under Microsoft, and the former still employs key people who worked on 1 and 2 like Tim Cain, Leonard Boyarsky and Feargus Urquhart... Just saying...
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  • Qwertchi 2022-04-23 14:10:19.101903+00
    The series peaked with this one
    reply
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  • Acidpanther 2022-07-12 04:43:57.511861+00
    people say this is hard to get into but it's one of the most easily accessible early CRPGs imo
    reply
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  • bulletluckcharm 2022-09-01 07:53:23.253625+00
    not all that difficult until the end when you have to invade the mutant camp
    reply
    • SMZXW 2022-09-12 02:57:52.905522+00
      the thing is you can cheese everything else but g'luck cheesing like 5 mutants at once
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