After years of legal wrangling, developer Bethesda Softworks recently cleared the way to create a massively multiplayer online role-playing game based on Fallout. That’s the worst news my free time’s gotten in quite a while.
But Chuck Norris? Chuck Norris never changes.
I’ve spent a disgusting amount of time roaming the wasteland. A Fallout game that never ends might as well step out of my computer, close out my remaining ties to the mortal world, and repossess my soul. I thought myself safe so long as Interplay — a once-proud publisher driven into the ground by the same people who brought you Superman 64 — blindly clung to their last empty plans for Fallout Online. But if you ever thought they moved a single inch past a few isolated concept drawings, I’d like to sell Australia to you. Trust me. It’s very affordable.
So nothing’s formally announced, but yeah…Bethesda just paid a cool $2 million for the Fallout MMO rights. They’re serious. And as a dedicated wasteland historian/opportunist, I’ve got a few suggestions on how to build a better apocalypse.
An all-new Armageddon
Not a complaint, but Bethesda's entries in the franchise draw heavily from the original games created by Black Isle Studios. Even Fallout: New Vegas cribs from Black Isle's cancelled Fallout 3 (a.k.a. Van Buren). No surprise there, given that team went on to found New Vegas developer Obsidian Entertainment.
It's time for something completely different. Move past Super Mutant hordes and megalomaniacal computers, and give us a new kind of big bad. Maybe set the thing right after the war that ended it all. Show us the irradiated swamps of Florida, a flooded Big Easier, a demolished New York City, or even a former-Soviet workers’ paradise to contrast against our ‘50s Americana wonderland.
A boy and his dog.
I'm hard-pressed to think of a recent Bethesda game that doesn't give you a wingman. I have an equally tough time recalling an MMO that does, and for good reasons…not the least of which includes balancing the carnage if you take your A.I. entourage onto a Player vs. Player server.
Too damn bad. A Fallout without faithful, semi-feral hound Dogmeat isn't Fallout. And if he's in, the full rouge's gallery of humans, semi-humans, and robots to partner with should go in as well. That's a tradition that stretches all the way back to the series' Wasteland origins, as intrinsic to the franchise DNA as your Pip Boy. I'd definitely send them home (to be re-recruited later) if you join a party to go a'raiding, but nobody should have to roam the wasteland alone.
I know exactly what you're thinking. "Threesome."
Classes and clans
Few things match the thrill of a “New Location Discovered!” notice popping up unexpectedly. Now, what if other players populated it? And you could trade with them? Or invade their settlement, plasma guns a’blazing?
That can happen if players are allowed to roll as raider thugs, brutish Super Mutants, immortal (and skin-free) ghouls, monstrous Deathclaws, or regular ol’ human survivors…and if people who band together get a physical location in the wasteland other players can visit. Then allow clan raids on the PvP servers. Picture joining an army of giant, yellow mutants charges a rusty, human-held ocean liner to make it your own. Or defending your home from those cannibalistic hordes. Simply epic.
This is why you should never try to sneeze with your eyes open.
Super weapons: no. Vehicles: yes.
Hey, I'm all for packing state-of-the-art bang bang, but we can't have 5 million wastelanders running around with alien ray-guns that vaporize targets in one hit. We can't slingshot mini-nukes into the middle of every town. We can’t kill Super Mutants with a high-velocity teddy bear (I totally did this for the entire last half of Fallout 3). Just leave my beloved Lincoln Repeater, so I can snipe giant radscorpions from six miles away.
Or let me splatter them in my atomic car. Fallout 2’s primary means of transportation didn’t win many popularity contests at the time, but Fallout maps are de facto huge. Now scale that up to an MMO world. We’re gonna need something to get around in, and all the potential epic mounts are horribly mutated murder-beasts. So give us some popular mechanics…and a bit of vehicular manslaughter. That’s some serious Mad Max action right there.
We are rebuilding our culture around the teachings of the giant concrete penis.
Perks, S.P.E.C.I.A.L., and V.A.T.S.
In a lot of ways, Fallout arrives tailor-made for MMO treatment. Its role-playing elements — the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. (Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, Luck) stats system and special-ability Perks — can pretty much carry over wholesale.
But V.A.T.S. (Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System) has to go.
It's just not feasible to have everyone freeze-framing the game at different times and auto-killing three or four other players using V.A.T.S., particularly in PvP. Instead, try something like Red Dead Redemption's Dead Eye targeting, where time slows down (in single player) or even lets you "paint" targets for a fast-draw shootout. You might not be the hyper-accurate killer you used to be, but then, neither are the five other players zeroing in on you.