Fallout is a bit of an anomaly in the video game industry. After starting out as an isometric, turn-based RPG, the original Fallout 3 fell into development limbo. Years later, it was saved by Bethesda Softworks - however, in rebooting the franchise, Bethesda changed the core of Fallout. Sure, there were plenty of recognizable tropes in Fallout 3, but for the most part, the studio's first foray into the Fallout universe was a clean break from the games that preceded it.
While 'traditional' Fallout fans may have lamented the changes that Bethesda made, there's no arguing how popular the series became once the studio behind The Elder Scrolls got involved. As a result, there's a very definitive split in the franchise: fans of the original games, and 'modern' fans.
Now, with Fallout 4 due for release later this year, players are no doubt looking for something to pass the time until launch day. As such, there are plenty of people who, after discovering the series with Fallout 3, will try to go back and play the classic entries - but should modern fans even bother with the franchise's earliest games, or should they stick with Bethesda's updated take on the series?
If there's any one thing that will draw newer fans of the franchise into Fallout and Fallout 2, it's the games' stories. While the way in which the games tell their stories may have aged a bit, there's no arguing the quality of the tales they tell - ask any longtime fan about which game in the series has the best story, and chances are they'll say it's either Fallout or its sequel.
The original Fallout begins much like Fallout 3 - with the player living inside one of Vault-Tec's giant underground bomb shelters known as Vaults. After realizing that Vault 13's water purification chip is has failed, the player is sent out into the wasteland to find a replacement. Without spoiling too much, the search for the water chip is just the beginning: Fallout's larger story is about a war between a technology-obsessed militaristic faction and an army of irradiated Super Mutants.
In short, it's as much a mystery as it is a post-apocalyptic science fiction thriller - and it's one that every fan of the franchise should see at least once.
Fallout 2 changes things up rather dramatically: instead of playing a Vault dweller whose thrust into the post-apocalyptic world, players begin the game as a member of the village known as Arroyo. Tasked with finding a 'Garden of Eden Creation Kit' (or GECK), players soon find themselves traveling the wasteland. Most fans will agree that Fallout 2's story never really surpassed the first game's (mostly because of the ending), the idea of going up against multiple growing governments (and U.S. government remnants) was entirely new for the genre at the time.
Again, the storytelling methods present in Fallout and its sequel haven't exactly aged well - there are more talking heads than cutscenes - but even so, these are true classics when it comes to video game stories. Even if you decide not to play through the games, the stories are worth looking up.
From a graphical standpoint...well, let's just say that Fallout is no spring chicken. The games' graphical styles are a relic of the era, when isometric RPGs were the closest things gamers had to actual 3D. Even so, Fallout still looks good: the art style ensures that nothing is ever lost or confusing to look at, and the animation (while crude) is charming in its simplicity.
To put it simply, Fallout and Fallout 2 are technically simple games that still hold up from a stylistic standpoint. As long as you know about the extreme difference in presentation and graphics between the first two titles and Fallout 3, you shouldn't have any problems adjusting. Of course, if you can't stand pixelated graphics or need high-end shaders to enjoy a game, you'll have no such luck with the classic Fallout titles.
Of course, when it comes down to it, the biggest difference between the first two Fallout games and Bethesda's titles is the gameplay. It's not that one is necessarily better than the other, as the classic Fallout titles still play extremely well - it's just that they're about as different from the modern Fallout games as you can possibly get.
At this point, it's common knowledge that modern Fallout games look and play similarly to Bethesda's Elder Scrolls games. Players can explore the wasteland from a first- or third-person perspective, and there's a heavy emphasis on real-time shooting gameplay. It's a far cry from something like Call of Duty or Halo, but Bethesda's Fallout games are far more focused on shooting than either of the classic titles. Fallout and Fallout 2, on the other hand, are turn-based RPGs. Not only that, but combat is heavily reliant on strategy and planning - almost like any modern real-time strategy game, just on a smaller scale. It's far more about managing resources and planning attacks than anything else, and as a result, the games' combat is much slower than anything from Bethesda.
On its own, there's nothing particularly wrong with classic Fallout combat, but just like the game's graphics, the systems haven't exactly aged all that well. Right off the bat, the games don't really tell you how to do anything: without the manual, you're left to figure it out for yourself. On top of that, there are so many different possibilities and so many different options in combat that even simple fights can get a bit muddled rather quickly. 'Clunky' is a word that gets thrown around a lot when talking about older games, and the first two Fallout games are no exception.
It's also impossible to talk about classic Fallout without talking about the difficulty. Simply put, the original Fallout is a brutal game, and Fallout 2 can be downright sadistic. These are games where the Quick Save and Quick Load buttons will be your best friends: allies tend to wander into the line of fire, stumbling off the critical path can pit you against unbeatable foes and random encounter rates will make you want to rip your hair out. For many, the story is enough of a reason to keep fighting - however, for many players, these games are too difficult to justify playing through.
All in all, the first two games in the Fallout franchise are still definitely worth playing - but it's important to know that they're almost nothing like Bethesda's later entries. True, a lot of story ideas and world-building techniques carry over from one title to the next, but the changes in graphical presentation and (most importantly) gameplay style will catch modern fans off-guard if they head in without any sort of prior knowledge.
The main Fallout series, classic or modern, is nothing but quality through and through...it's just that said quality takes a vastly different form depending on which game you're playing.
If you've never gotten a chance to play the classic games (or just want an excuse to get that sweet Mini-Nuke case), the Fallout Anthology is due out on Sept. 29. Otherwise, Bethesda's Fallout 4 will hit store shelves on Nov. 15.