|The Fallout character screen.|
Of all the (computer) RPG’s I’ve played over the years, my favorite character progression system is still the one found in the 1997 classic Fallout. Why I love this system:
It’s a classless system. You can be a “rogue” or a “melee fighter” or a “gunslinger”, but the particulars of doing so are up to you. You aren’t locked into choices where being good at fighting makes you bad at conversation, or being good at stealth implies you want to steal stuff. Being classless means it’s skill-based. When you level up, your skills improve, not the base attributes. I never liked games where you can become “smarter” or “more charismatic” by fighting and leveling up. Leveling up shouldn’t change your core attributes, (or at least, not by much) it should simply allow you to better use what you were born with.
|You’re so SPECIAL.|
Every attribute is meaningful for every character, and there aren’t any obvious “dump stats”. Creating a character is a matter of balancing tradeoffs, not min-maxing the crap out of your stats. You can if you want, but you will regret that 3 charisma or 2 intelligence before you get very far.
|The list of in-game skills.|
First aid and doctor skills overlap far too much. (How could I be a master doctor and yet be inept at first aid?) Likewise, the division of weapons into six different categories seems needless, and doesn’t really lead to any interesting choices in the game. “Bare handed” and “melee combat” should really have been merged into a single skill. Also, in all my many trips through the world of Fallout, I’ve never put points into thrown weapons. For the price of one grenade you can buy enough bullets to kill a dozen foes. Grenades aren’t really helpful until you sink a lot of precious skill points into them, and they are useless if a foe is right in your face – which happens pretty often. If your skills are low, you risk hurting allies or yourself.
Steal is a neat idea, but the majority of the people in the game don’t have much worth stealing. Gambling is also a neat idea, and at higher levels you can use your master gambling skills to make good money, but it’s probably faster and more useful to just put those same points into barter. Also, I don’t know how being “skilled” can help at roulette / craps, which is what most of the gambling dens in the game seem to feature. It does help, but it shouldn’t, from a realism / simulation standpoint.
Nitpicks aside, the skill system is still rewarding. Speech is genuinely useful, and neglecting this skill will eliminate a lot of interesting in-game opportunities. It’s even possible to win the game via dialog (instead of fighting the final boss) if you have the intelligence and speech skill to convince him his plans are fatally flawed.
|This is the list of optional traits. You can pick any two of these at the start of the game. Every three levels, you’ll be offered a list of perks to choose from. I’ve been through this game a lot of times, and I’ve still never seen them all.|
The list of available perks changes based on your attributes. So, if your agility is high enough you might be offered a perk that lets you move more spaces during your combat turn, or if your intelligence is high enough you could get one that will aid you in using B.S. to get your way in conversations.
It’s an interesting, varied, robust, well-balanced system. I doubt we’ll ever see its like again. Bethesda is coming out with a new Fallout title. They’re keeping the SPECIAL system, but moving the combat to real-time. Since a great deal of the original system was built around turn-based combat using “action points”, a lot of the usefulness of the original attributes and perks will be lost. But hey, who needs depth and gameplay when you have OMG LOOKIT THE PRETTY PIXULS SWEET GRAFIX!!!!!!111!!
(To be fair, a turn-based game would be a fantastic gamble for them, while “Oblivion, but in a post-nuclear wasteland” is pretty much a slam-dunk. It’s not their fault my favorite gameplay mechanics are unpopular. Executive Producer Todd Howard is taking the game very seriously. He knows the game has big shoes to fill. Turn based or not, I know I’ll buy the game if they don’t put the thing out of my reach with outrageous system specs.)
A bit of frivolity below the fold.
This is a novelty character I’m playing with. I tried to design a character as much like myself as possible. My IN and CH scores shouldn’t be quite that high, but the game makes you spend all your character points. Putting the points into IN and CH felt more honest than putting them into, say ST or EN. Maybe there is a hack out there that will let me nerf my scores down to where they should be.
I want to try to beat the game like this, although even with my inflated scores above it would be pretty challenging.
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