Revisiting 1997's Fallout was a hard, but rewarding lesson in video game history

We're looking back 25 years to the game that kicked off the iconic post-apocalyptic RPG franchise as we know it.

Image via Bethesda Softworks

Fallout (a.k.a. Fallout: A Post Nuclear Role Playing Game) is 25 years old today. On October 10, 1997, the very first game in the series came out. For the first time, players exited the security of the Vaults and ventured into the post-apocalyptic wasteland full of raiders, Super Mutants, Deathclaws, and more. We only went looking for a water chip to save our Vault. What we found was the start of something incredible. What are your memories of your beginnings in this fantastic series? I’d like to share a few prominent ones of my own. I took pains to go back to this original many years ago and it was one of the most formative experiences of my interest in video game history, for better and for worse.

Where Fallout found me

The entrance to Fallout 1's Junktown
Source: Bethesda Softworks

I was a little too young to play Fallout when it first came out. It wasn’t that I wasn’t interested in or playing games back in 1997, but my family didn’t have a good PC with which to run a game like Fallout until about 1998, and then I was playing games like Warcraft 2, King’s Quest 5 through 7, Star Wars: Rebel Alliance and Dark Forces, Duke Nukem 3D, and Rise of the Triad. I don’t think I personally had a good RPG experience on PC until around 2001 when I played Wizardry 8 at a friend’s house. (I would go back and play many more later on.)

Like many, I was introduced to the Fallout series around Fallout 3, back when Bethesda had the keys to the castle. I loved it, and I loved Obsidian’s Fallout: New Vegas that came after even more, but the big fat “3” on Fallout 3 always left me wondering: What did I miss? After completing Fallout: New Vegas, 2013 to 2015 led me to a place where I was highly interested in exploring games from before my time and in my very early youth that I had not been able to play for whatever reason, and my love for the Fallout universe led me to want to experience the original Fallout firsthand.

Unfortunately, I chose the hard mode route of even getting started. I didn’t know about GOG back then and went with Steam. This version of Fallout wasn’t optimized to work on modern PCs at the time. The workarounds, modding, and data editing to get it going proper were actually a formative experience in just how hard it can be to make old games work on new hardware without experienced hands at the wheel. It gave me an appreciation for some of the pains developers have gone through to make their older games work properly on new platforms.

PIP Boys, Action Points, & other such foundations

Art of Fallout 1's Deathclaw from the manual.
Source: Bethesda Softworks

The stress of making Fallout work without breaking also hooked me further to see where it would go. I had to see it through, no matter what. And thank goodness, because I was about to face a lot of archaic designs that may have been revolutionary in 1997, but were very hard to play in 2015. I have often said of the original Fallout when sharing my experiences with it, “This is a game you have to want to play.”

What do I mean by that? Well, for one, Fallout is one of those early games that does a very bad job of explaining itself in-game. It just expects you to know how to handle it because it came out in that era where some games provided you with an encyclopedia of a user manual. Fallout’s in particular was a 124-page compendium of knowledge about the world, the character, your skills you can choose, the danger you might discover, and, perhaps most critically, the controls. Without it, you might not know unless you discovered by chance that you could click the PIP icon, and then click the campfire symbol to wait until a certain time of day when shops open. Without it, you might not know clicking on the inventory menu in combat costs you precious Action Points. There were so many more intricacies that meant being unaware of critical functions if you didn’t read up on what key or combination of keys did things in this game.

The original Fallout 1997 user manual.
Source: Ebay

Then there was the gameplay mechanics. The original Fallout hosts a multitude of features that would become iconic in later games, but they were highly unrefined and sometimes just outright confounding here. For instance, I tended to build my characters as Science-heavy, charismatic cults of personality that would forgo early damage to focus on the high power of Energy Weapons later. In Fallout 3 and onward, it’s Intelligence that affects Science and Energy Weapons. In the first Fallout, Intelligence and Perception really only factor into non-combat skills. For whatever reason, Agility is the primary factor for nearly all combat, including Unarmed, Small Guns, Big Guns, Energy Weapons, and even Armor class. Color me surprised when I found my first laser pistol and couldn’t handle it well despite my high Intelligence stat.

Strange or difficult designs also pervaded further features of Fallout as well, one of the potentially meanest being the in-game clock. You have a finite amount of days to reach a first and then second main objective in Fallout - days that pass quickly as you travel from place to place. Failing to do so meant a bad end, and what’s worse, the second timer is invisible. You barely know there’s a deadline outside of some narrative context. Heaven help you if you got far enough along in the game before realizing you wouldn’t have enough time to avoid a bad end. It was even worse if you didn’t keep a save far enough back to fix your mistake. Fallout didn’t invent save scumming, but it sure as heck made it an appealing practice, if not required. More annoyingly, those clocks dissuade exploration of the game’s vast world in favor of racing to do what you need to, and that just kind of sucked. Thankfully, there are mods for Fallout that remove the in-game timers if you so desire.

A beautiful fossil

A fight with Radscorpions in Fallout 1997

Source: Bethesda Softworks

I could go on and on about how hard Fallout was to install, make run, and then play, including how clunky the controls were, how annoying the fixed isometric view was, or how very small critical objects on the floor could be completely missed if you didn’t pick them up… but I still loved playing this game. There’s so much here that was genuinely awesome. The world was ugly and sad, but compelling. The monsters, like Radscorpions, Mole Rats, and Deathclaws, made their first appearance here and were daunting as heck even in their primitive forms, and… oh my goodness the voiced characters and their portraits.

Most of Fallout’s characters were generic avatars dressed and armed with a limited set of weapons and clothes. However, there were a select few important characters that gave players the treat of a portrait with animated faces and voiced dialogue. These were one of the most memorable parts of the original Fallout. Even the most human of these faces were mostly ugly as sin, but they had a ton of character to them, emoting anger when you pissed them off and emoting joy when you brought fortune to them. We even got portraits of some of the more hideous denizens of Fallout, such as Harold the Ghoul and Lieutenant the Super Mutant.

The end-all-be-all of it though was The Master himself. This unfortunate mass of flesh began as a doctor and philosopher named Richard Grey that went looking for the source of strange creatures near a military base. When a tragic accident knocked him into a vat of what we would come to know as the Forced Evolutionary Virus, he was mutated into the genius, but psychotic Master. Many players will remember him for his multiple-voiced nature and disjointed speech, ranging between a robotic voice, a regular human male adult, an aggressive human male adult, and a soothing female voice. Others will remember him as the devious jerk who transformed many beings into Super Mutants and tried to do it to all remaining humans to achieve his twisted vision of “Unity” among biological species.

Either way, The Master was an incredible antagonist and one of my favorites among games. I will never forget how by having a high enough Speech stat, you could convince The Master his plans were flawed and coerce him into scrapping the whole thing, including destroying himself. He was also one of many features that would go on to have an echoing effect throughout the Fallout series. By playing the original Fallout, I became familiar with the plight of future Super Mutants in later games, lost, confused, and leaderless following the death of the Master and looking for purpose. That narrative has been one of the longest and most interesting connective tissues between nearly all Fallout games.

War… War never changes

The ending of Fallout 1 in which the Vault Dweller lives.
Source: Bethesda Softworks

The original Fallout was a hard game to play for a lot of reasons, but it was also a highly rewarding experience. There is so much that began there. CNET Gamecenter’s Mark H. Walker called it the catalyst for a renaissance in PC RPGs. Meanwhile, Rowan Kaiser at Engadget called it “the first modern role-playing game.” I don’t know about that, but I do know it was an incredibly formative experience for me. It made me appreciate the evolution of game design and the pains of making old games work on new systems. It was also just incredible to see where things like PIP Boys, VATS, S.P.E.C.I.A.L., Deathclaws, Super Mutants, and more came from. And for that, we salute the 25th birthday of one of gaming’s most iconic apocalyptic wastelands. Have you played the original Fallout? What are your memories of the game? Share in the Chatty section below, and celebrate Fallout’s 25th anniversary with us!

You could also celebrate by checking out Fallout on Bethesda's website, as well as Steam and GOG.

Senior News Editor

TJ Denzer is a player and writer with a passion for games that has dominated a lifetime. He found his way to the Shacknews roster in late 2019 and has worked his way to Senior News Editor since. Between news coverage, he also aides notably in livestream projects like the indie game-focused Indie-licious, the Shacknews Stimulus Games, and the Shacknews Dump. You can reach him at and also find him on Twitter @JohnnyChugs.

From The Chatty
    • reply
      October 10, 2022 11:22 AM

      Bump for my favorite game universe

    • reply
      October 10, 2022 12:00 PM

      "For whatever reason, Agility is the primary factor for nearly all combat, including Unarmed, Small Guns, Big Guns, Energy Weapons, and even Armor class." Seems obvious.

      • reply
        October 10, 2022 2:02 PM

        The reason is because the manual says so.

        • reply
          October 10, 2022 5:44 PM

          Seems logical that agility would impact physical skills like operating a weapon or throwing a punch.

          Stephen Hawkins may have been a genius but I don't think he could hit a man sized target with iron sights at 300 yards.

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            October 10, 2022 11:35 PM

            For the record, Perception is one of the defining SPECIAL for most fire arms from pistols to sniper rifles in Fallout 4 and I do believe New Vegas on a smaller scale. That’s what made it strange to see PER not factor as much in these earlier games for combat.

    • reply
      October 10, 2022 12:22 PM

      Fallout Et Tu ( is probably worth considering for anyone else interested in revisiting the original game, or at least a copy of Sfall (

      • reply
        October 10, 2022 2:19 PM

        Can you use them both together?

        • reply
          October 10, 2022 2:22 PM

          Fallout Et Tu comes with a preconfigured (but slightly older) version of Sfall that should be fine for pretty much everyone. If you don't have a copy of Fallout 2 or are purist enough not to want to play with the Fallout 2 engine's QOL perks you can install Sfall on its own to at least get things up and running.

    • reply
      October 10, 2022 12:40 PM

      I remember reading PC Gamer's preview of Fallout 1 over and over in desperate anticipation of the game. Then the demo came out and I played that over and over even though there was nothing to it. I wish more throwback CRPGs were doing sci fi/post apocalyptic instead of fantasy.

    • reply
      October 10, 2022 2:55 PM

      Timely article! I just started a replay of Fallout 2, and the GOG version is a Godsend! I may have also "cheated" a little bit by reading some recommended new character builds. With epic old games like this, you don't want to make the mistake of starting with a shitty character. Because, as you point out, it's very possible to do that and make the game miserable for yourself.

      • reply
        October 10, 2022 3:02 PM

        Really the only thing that matters much is high INT for max skill points per level

        • reply
          October 10, 2022 3:06 PM

          There's plenty of ways you could make the early game really, really lousy. You've probably forgotten, but a lot of the early game combat is a total chore. Anything you can do to make it faster will increase your chances of actually seeing the end. I don't know about you, but endlessly kicking at and missing rats is not fun.

          • reply
            October 10, 2022 5:28 PM

            I probably have forgotten some, but at the same time I think any RPG veteran can usually intuit that stats like Luck and Charisma are unlikely to be highly valuable compared to anything that sounds vaguely combat related.

            • reply
              October 10, 2022 7:22 PM

              Right, which makes the first of both fallout and fallout 2 incredibly frustrating because you pretty much have to do unarmed or melee and you'll get wiped by ants or radroaches or rats and have to save scum to get through the early fights

            • reply
              October 10, 2022 10:48 PM

              Charisma affects party size though.

    • reply
      October 10, 2022 3:25 PM

      Man, I forgot those two games came out one year apart.

      • reply
        October 10, 2022 4:55 PM

        I fondly remember travelling the wasteland in FO2 with my trusty companions and my car trunk. Just the trunk.

        • reply
          October 10, 2022 11:58 PM

          The Trunk was my main ally! "Don't make me go to the Trunk." Because that's where the minigun and ammo was.

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