Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel - Review  

Fallout, Tactical Battles, and You
by Simon Seamann

35-70 hours


Rating definitions 

   The original two Fallout games represented a clear break away from the traditional trappings of PC RPGs and into largely uncharted territory. Taking control of the fate of the lone Wanderer, survival in the wastelands of a post-Apocalyptic West Coast meant more than simply killing some desert raiders. Rather, it required caution, planning, and a good deal of diplomacy. Saying the wrong things and making the wrong people angry resulted in a loss of valuable quests, and, in some cases, caused the entire populous to come and hunt you down. Like its predecessors, Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel breaks from tradition, but does so by focusing not on the moral ambiguity of Wasteland ethics, but rather on the sheer genius of the Fallout battle system.

   Throughout the game, the player is in control of the main character and up to five other squad members. Unlike previous Fallout titles, the player chooses the actions of all the squad members instead of them being controlled by the computer. This also grants the player freedom to choose the growth of every member of the squad as they gain levels. Squad members can be swapped out between missions based on the nature of the next mission, which means that the player no longer has to try and craft a main character who is skilled at every situation. While this fundamental change may seem subtle, the ability to funnel skill points and perks into becoming a specialist in just a single aspect of combat results in a very distinct power boost in terms of combat ability. In earlier Fallout games, focusing on becoming a sniper meant that one had to sacrifice the ability to be good at a large number of entirely relevant skills, including non-combat skills. Now that non-combat skills are mostly irrelevant, specializing in only a few areas becomes a possibility.

   Such combat specialization is pretty much required in order to survive the sometimes brutal missions throughout the game. The learning curve present in Fallout Tactics makes it rather clear that even a half-dozen snipers will not last long without a medic, someone good at sneaking, and someone good at other miscellaneous activities when facing down nearly a hundred hostile Super Mutants. The variety of missions also makes it apparent that squad diversity is a required asset; sometimes you need to kill everyone, sometimes you need to rescue hostages, and sometimes you just need to get the hell out of Dodge.

Streets of LA? Loving the smell of post-Apocalypse in the morning.

   The two other critical changes in the way the battle system compares to the earlier games comes in the form of movement and the turn system. The traditional hexagon battle-grid for movement has been replaced with a more free-form system. Moving still requires action points, but a small number will appear at the cursor to indicate how many action points it takes to get there rather than it being sectioned off. While this change is largely better than the constrained grid from the prior Fallouts, the free-form system does prove annoying at times when a character cannot shoot an enemy due to cover that would not apply had the character been inches to the right. As for the turn system, the player has the option to conduct combat in the traditional turn-based Fallout fashion, a Team-based turn system where you can move your whole team at once, or the new Continuous Turn-based system. The latter system basically does away with the turn structure altogether and makes combat take place in real-time. As can be imagined, this results in some significantly speedier gunfights at the expense of the squad taking more damage on average from the enemies' constant firing. The Continuous Turn-based system ends up being rather excellent at the lower levels, but quickly loses its appeal once heavy weapons start making their way into enemy hands. Luckily, the player can choose to change the way the turns work at any time.

   Between missions the player can talk to members of the Brotherhood of Steel at various bunkers. As was mentioned though, there is nothing in the way of dialogue choices so talking only really adds a small amount of flavor. Player can also barter for items with the Quarter Master, get healed and/or purchase healing items at the hospital, or swap out squad members at the barracks. The game is almost entirely linear in structure, although the player gets the choice to do a few missions out of order and occasionally is allowed to bring a vehicle of their choice in which to do battle. Other than that, there is little to do besides receive the next mission and head back out into the fray. What constitutes the plot is largely revealed during the course of battle or during the well-voiced mission briefings.

Caption FTW! Teamwork is key. Without it, you're dead.

   One of the hallmarks of the Fallout series has been its intentional movement away from complex 3D character models, special effects, and other such eye candy. Rather, the entire series has been about being as simple as possible while remaining memorable, which it achieves in spades given the whole Wasteland motif the game exudes. Fallout Tactics generally keeps the same feel as the older games in terms of graphics, although this iteration does include some advancements to enhance the whole experience. The character models look and die better, for example, while the buildings and environment tiles have also seen a pleasant upgrade. Perhaps the most pleasing change has been to the background music and sound effects in general. The original games preferred to go the ambient route which certainly fit the mood of those games. Fallout Tactics offers a perfect compromise: music remains ambient until the hostilities commence. Once the enemy is alerted and formal combat begins, the haunting environment sounds seamlessly blend together with an unobtrusive din of battle. While none of the simple melodies particularly stand out, they serve the purpose of increasing the tension while remaining in the periphery of one's experience. The end result is something rather amazing, despite the fact that the tracks themselves are completely forgettable.

   In many ways, Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel is exactly that: rather amazing albeit relatively forgettable. For while the intense firefights and impossible odds are themselves very exciting to play through, there remains nothing else for a player to do once those challenges are overcome. Without branching dialogue trees there is little semblance of choice other than squad composition - and without choice there is little motivation to play through the game again. So while Fallout Tactics cannot quite live up to the legacy of its predecessors, it makes a stalwart stand to bide any player's time until the release of Fallout 3.

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