A bit thick
The big ignore

Plausible post-apocalyptic fairy tale


I've written recently about my students playing through the original Fallout games and reflecting on their experiences. These assignments were intended as preparation for our segue into Fallout 3, the only game in the course we've played together, each of us for the first time. I should note that many of us haven't completed it - me included - and I have a feeling I may never know when my experience with this vast game is "complete." My track record with games like Morrowind, Oblivion, and even GTA IV would suggest the answer may be never.

Several of you asked me to follow up with a post on my students' reactions to Fallout 3, so that's what I'll do today. I'm working on my own PopMatters review of the game, and I'm sure I'll have more to say about it here too. For now, this post is all about my students' responses to the game.

As you may know, many of these students were skeptical about Fallout 3, worried about the new game tarnishing the Fallout legacy. Zealous in their recent conversion, they essentially went from Fallout-phobic to Protectors of the Fallout Realm in the span of a few weeks. They were curious about the new game, to be sure, but skeptical about Bethesda's ability to deliver a "genuine Fallout" game.

Well, that was then, and this is now. Fallout 3 is a hit. With the exception of a few students who think the game fails to innovate enough from its Oblivion roots (the "Oblivion with guns" critique), nearly all of them ate this game up with great big spoons. When I asked them to elaborate and describe the key design features or experiences that connected them to the game, they responded with some useful observations. These, according to them, are the Fallout 3 essentials:

  • It delivers and sustains a real sense of peril. You never feel quite safe in this world, and the environments accentuate this feeling. Limited resources also heighten the stakes considerably. Facing a mutant with one health bar, two bullets, and no recent save file is perilous gaming at its finest.

  • It encourages the player to reassess. Circumstances change quickly in Fallout 3, and you must respond. Sometimes you must change your mind or your strategies to deal with events or situations, and making the wrong choice usually has consequences. You must think things through.

  • It rewards exploration and spontaneous decision-making. Discoveries in Fallout 3 aren't about finding treasure chests or buried gold (though there are places full of loot). Exploring and discovering in this game can put you way out on the edge of nowhere; and then, suddenly, a small compound appears and it feels like you actually found it. If you hadn't bothered, the game doesn't care. But if you're willing to make the effort, you'll discover all sorts of freaky people, places, and creatures - all who seem to belong in this world, not tacked on for more fetch quests.

  • It's hard, but never too hard. You just have to find the best way for you. The game gives you options to play the way you want and be the kind of character you want. This is one of the reasons it feels like a true Fallout game.

  • It feels unique and nostalgic at the same time. It's a Fallout game at heart, but with a modern sensibility. You can play it like a shooter (okay, it's not a great shooter) and ignore VATS if you hate messing with percentages, but if you want the true "Fallout experience," you will use VATS and turn it to your advantage.

  • "It's a plausible post-apocalyptic fairy tale."

Needless to say, I've had a terrific time exploring the Fallout universe with these students. I'm grateful to them for helping me think about the games, and it's been my privilege to introduce them to these "post-apocalyptic fairy tales." Now it's time to move on. Next stop: Earthbound!