To get to the story of the next Fallout iteration we must first dredge up the past. Back in 2003 a dying Interplay decides to disband Black Isle Studios, the originators of the Fallout series. While many a disgruntled employee stayed with the company or left it behind entirely, a few founding members decided they had enough. The founder of Black Isle Feargus Urquhart along with Chris Avellone, Chris Parker, Darren Monahan, and Chris Jones decided they would found their own studio, Obsidian Entertainment. And they created it out of their own pocket too with Parker, Urquhart, and Monahan invested over $100,000 into their newly founded company. But they over course needed work to keep the lights on so they started to work with other publishers such as Ubisoft and their old rivals EA. The team even came together to create Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, the follow up to the critically acclaimed Bioware title to massive success. They truly didn’t need Interplay anymore. After years of more critically and commercially successful games such as Neverwinter Nights 2 and Alpha Protocol, Obsidian was on a roll.
And some people were taking notice. Those people were the proud new owners of their original creation, Bethesda. Initially it wasn’t even about Fallout, they wanted Obsidian to create a new Star Trek game but as time went on the idea lost traction between the two. But after the release of their critically and commercially acclaimed Fallout 3, Bethesda started to change their tune. As they were shifting their focus back to the Elder Scrolls series for the inevitable sequel they needed someone to keep interest in the franchise going. So who else better to continue their new legacy then the ones who began it all? The team jumped at the idea of coming back to what made them great so soon enough they were off to create a wasteland of their own making. But this wouldn’t be without a few exceptions. For one they wouldn’t be given the lax 4-year development cycle Bethesda enjoyed. No they would only have a year and a half to create it. While Obsidian’s previous Fallout 2 had been fraught with many difficulties, bugs, and glitches the extra year given to them seemed like just enough.
But their wasteland was nothing like Bethesda’s attempt; in fact it was more akin to the original two. It even took place out West close but not too far from where their stories used to be. More importantly, while some new elements were added in they felt it was high time to use what they had learned from their time with the prototype Van Buren. Some elements were taken in such as the NCR, Caesar’s Legion, and the Hoover Dam but the crazed mad scientist and some other ideas were scrapped in favor of a new tale that would stand on its own. Their new world would be the Mojave Wasteland a place that was in some respects as decrepit as the Capital Wasteland and others more advanced. The advanced came with the Strip, a newly reborn Las Vegas with the ever-elusive Mr. House in charge of it all. In the middle was you, the Courier, a man that was in the wrong place at the wrong time. After being shot in the head and left for dead with your mysterious package stolen it was your job to find the men who kill you and deliver the package you originally meant too.
Although as usual you become embroiled in the latest political conflict with the NCR, a nation getting too big for its britches, and the Caesar’s Legion, a nation of slavers, at the helm. All of this centered around a reformed karma system. Not only did you have to worry about whether a choice was good or evil but you also had your reputation to contend with. Idolized by the Kings in Freeside? They’ll throw you some food every now and again. Vilified by the Powder Gangers? They’ll shoot you on site. Your actions had more consequences then ever before with hundred’s of possible outcomes to happen. Sidequests were just as wacky as they were way back in Fallout 2. Running a prostitution ring, assassinating the president, and investigating a secret society run by cannibals are just some of the many quests the player could go on. There wasn’t just one way to complete the quest; there were an innumerable number of ways. The reputation gained and lost throughout each of these and many more helped to create one of the most open ended Fallout games around. But there were still more editions to come.
Companions were significantly overhauled from Bethesda’s attempt. Since characters in the past such as Dogmeat and Butch could die pretty easily, the team decided to flip the switch and make them immortal. In turn several other options were added in to make them unique to warrant that distinction. The companion wheel helped players easily tell their companions what to do. They could go in all guns a blazing or be more of a passive party member and even had their own distinctive combat styles too. But more importantly they were turned into actual living, breathing characters who have stories of their own. The cyberdog Rex needs help finding a new brain, Cass wants to destroy the people who wronged her caravan, Veronica wishes to help the Brotherhood leave their underground shelter etc. etc. Obsidian had made one of the most diverse sets of followers imaginable and were just as interesting as the main adventure.
Combat was significantly upgraded from Bethesda’s innovations in Fallout 3. Guns were actually given true iron sights to aim with, a first for the series and something that more closely aligned with the series new first person roots. On top of this the weapons could be further modified with scopes, silencers, and a plethora of other options, an innovation from the series modding community at the time. Nearly every gun could be changed to your liking, giving the player further control then ever before. But above all of these, Obsidian’s greatest innovation was Hardcore Mode. An option that the game explicitly warns you about before even starting the game, Hardcore Mode is an optional setting that makes the game more realistic. Unlike the difficulty settings this added on new gameplay elements such as dehydration and non-instantaneous healing for the player to worry about. To some it was what Fallout was meant to be played; a truly terrifying wasteland where you could die at any second.
The SPECIAL system also made a return in the same form it was previously in. How you distributed the stats between each of the respective categories created your own personal character. On top of this the skill system was added on and changed ever so slightly. Molding weaponry into the five distinct categories of Guns, Energy Weapons, Melee Weapons, Unarmed, and Explosives left room for one more, survival. Compared to Stimpaks, food and drinks had never really been as effective; the Survival skill changed that. Allowing you to craft unique items at campfires, this new skill added another element to the series that made something that used to be useless useful. Another radical change happened to the perks system. Every single one of them had true purpose making the choice all the more difficult and allowing you even deeper customization for your character. Unlike Fallout 3 you’d earn a new one every 2 levels instead of one, a tactic used by Obsidian to curb the tide of overpowered Couriers.
But as usual, there was trouble on the home front. The enhanced production time spent on the project took its toll on the company and its creative efforts. More story elements were meant to be added in that would have made this new Fallout even more robust but as time went on things had to be cut. One of the most important elements of the game, New Vegas itself, had to be cut down into three distinct areas to save on processing power for the consoles. While their original efforts had been on the open ended PC, this time they were tied down to the more lucrative console releases. The original New Vegas that they had envisioned in their opening cut scene was sadly chopped to pieces before their very eyes. But they didn’t have time to worry about that. They had to release it as quickly as they could to satiate Bethesda’s need for a sequel.
Fallout 3 was quickly, perhaps too quickly, followed up by Obsidian’s effort Fallout New Vegas in late 2010. It seemed like everything was looking up for the team. Selling just a tad bit under Bethesda’s effort at 3.9 million units alone, the game was a success financially but then the complaints started to come in; and they were a blast from the past that Obsidian had hoped to avoid. Bugs and glitches galore were present upon release. Some people weren’t even able to play the new game they paid $60 for and others had constant crashes throughout. For the first time the extreme bugginess actual hampered the series critical reception. Coming off of the critically acclaimed Fallout 3, Fallout New Vegas received less praise. While it was a better game in every right some critics just couldn’t see past the bugs. And this was a blow to Obsidian financially as well. If Fallout New Vegas received and 85+ average on Meta critic, the team would earn the royalties they so rightfully earned from the sales. The game only scored an 84. As time went on the team viewed New Vegas as a learning experience and after some patches and help from the modding community, the game was eventually in a stable state for the most part.
Fallout New Vegas was the perfect infusion of the old and the new. The unique systems that Bethesda had created for Fallout 3 combined with the wit and humor from the previous games brought about by Obsidian Entertainment had created one of the greatest games of all time. You just had to see through all the bugs. But with Obsidian’s effort deemed a failure it was time to call in the cavalry for one more time. But the new wasteland they’d create would be radically different from anything else the series has ever created. A decision that could spell disaster.