Friday, October 1, 2021

Deep Look - Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel


A Wasteland of Time

The Fallout series of Western RPGs isn’t one I’ll admit I’m fond of, given my opinion that the games haven’t aged very well and largely necessitate use of the internet to make sense of their mechanisms. Over a decade ago I had purchased a collection on Steam that included the first two mainline games and Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel, a tactical RPG with greater emphasis upon the gameplay, although given a rather-shallow initial experience with the first game in the franchise, I didn’t bother with its successors until going back through the original with help from a guide. Given that I didn’t consider the gameplay one of the highlights of the titles, I definitely held doubts about the strategy RPG offering, very much warranted.

Fallout Tactics does not continue the story of its predecessors, focusing on the eponymous Brotherhood of Steel, tasked with restoring civilization to the world, and receiving eventual division into various factions. The narrative focuses on an Initiate into the recruit who is traveling the American wastelands in search of allies to aid in rebuilding civilization, with a mission-based structure, most of the plot coming in the form of the briefings and debriefings before and after the battles, character development being fairly scarce, with only short blurbs about the many recruitable characters. There are also occasional grammar errors in the dialogue, and the plot never reaches greatness.

Lamentably, the gameplay can’t salvage the game, borrowing the bulk of its mechanics from the main Fallout series, which actually does translate well in theory to a strategy RPG, given the tactical gameplay of the first and second installments, with the player’s party including the Initiate and five recruits tasked on missions that the player can’t back out of with certain objectives. Throughout the game, the player has bases of operations that frequently change as the plot advances, with an overworld connecting them and the battlefields where missions occur, and it’s generally not difficult to find out whither to travel next to further the narrative.

As the player travels across the wastes of the former United States, they’ll frequently come across encounters that are sometimes optional, but unless a character’s Outdoorsman skill is at least 100%, many of these skirmishes will be mandatory, the party beginning in the middle of a random map, and able to move towards one edge to depart back onto the overworld. There is a chance, however, hostiles will be on the map, and when they notice at least one of the player’s characters, they’ll attack, players able to choose between real-time or turn-based combat, the latter either unit-based or turn-based.

Each character has a certain number of Action Points that deplete when they move across the battlefield or execute attacks melee or ranged. When leveling, each character receives a number of skill points they can invest into various talents such as the mentioned Outdoorsmanship, Big Guns, Small Guns, Energy Weapons, and so forth. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t very well clarify what constitutes a “big” or “small” gun in the descriptions for the countless firearms, and an incredible amount of foresight is necessary with regards to these abilities, since there are a few points when players may, for instance, need energy weapons to harm powerful robot-based antagonists.

After a certain number of levels, a character may gain a “perk” such as Action Boy, which increases their maximum AP by one, although most others seem pointless and hardly helpful. Levels also rise incredibly slowly as seems the case with most Western RPGs, so if a player has trouble with certain missions, it can definitely be a chore wandering the wastelands trying vainly to grind their party. Odds are, however, the player won’t have trouble coming across enemies, since the encounter rate is incredibly high, even more so than a certain Camelot-developed PlayStation RPG, with many of these battles as mentioned being mandatary sans investment of points into the Outdoorsman skill.

As also mentioned, the player is unable to back out of missions once initiated, so if they’re having trouble, they have to reload the last save they hopefully made before entering the battlefield in order to try to grind their characters. One good point of the game mechanics is that the player can save their progress any time, a blessing given the relative ease of making mistakes such as accidentally moving a character around when they intended to shoot an adversary. Missions can also take several hours, making the potential for wasted time even greater, and combat is generally sluggish even with options to make them go faster in the game menus.

At the player’s current base of operations, they can purchase new equipment, ammunition, healing items, and whatnot from the quartermaster or chief medical officer, and most enemy units are also fairly liberal about the amount of loot they drop which the player can sell for money, shopping occurring in a barter system based on equivalent exchange of goods based on value. Lamentably, the shopping interface is absolutely horrible, with the game unwisely not pooling the player’s total funds, and shopping accomplished with only one character at a time, the player’s character with the highest Barter skill level being ideal for purchasing and selling items.

There isn’t much of a soundtrack to Fallout Tactics, with the bulk of the sound coming in the form of historical recordings, ambient noise most audible during combat, and the shooting of firearms. There is occasional voice acting that’s easily one of the high points of the game.

The visuals are near-note identical to those in the first two mainline Fallout games, and are pretty much one of the sole aspects done okay, with some decent environments, character and enemy sprites containing good anatomy, plenty diversity of character portraits, and nice blood and gore effects. One issue that hampers gameplay, however, is the fog of war that prevents players from seeing dangerous enemies ahead of time, so the graphics generally don’t reach excellence.

Finally, I made it through roughly three fourths of the game with a forty-plus-hour playtime, and to invest any more into the game would, frankly, be tortuous.

In the end, Fallout Tactics is a disappointing spinoff of a series that pretty much disappointed me from the get-go, and I had only played it and its precursors due to an offer for all three games over a decade ago on Steam that the strange positive reception they received amount mainstream videogame critics lured me into purchasing. I can safely say that I won’t be looking into any of the game’s successors in the near future, given the vagueness of Tactics’ general mechanics and unfriendly difficulty curve, alongside other issues such as the absence of a memorable soundtrack and user-unfriendliness aside from the save-anywhere feature, and if I could turn back time, I would definitely take back the time I felt I wasted on the game.


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