The Fallout series has been a thing for quite a while now. Almost 25 years have passed since the release of the first game in 1997 and it has changed in numerous ways since then. The series, however, went on a long hiatus after a few games failed to generate enough sales to keep Interplay from selling the property.
Bethesda, who acquired the IP, would go on to make their own entries in the series starting with the critically acclaimed Fallout 3 in 2008. Fallout 3 would represent a massive (and in some cases permanent) shift in the series' direction in both gameplay design and artistic sensibility. Fans would give both praise to and bemoan the changes Bethesda would make to the franchise with not only this title, but their follow-up titles as well. Some of these changes are rather small but others are too big not to notice.
At the end of the original two Fallout games and New Vegas, the player would be treated to a series of slides describing the impact their choices made on the various people and places of the wasteland. Narrated by Ron Perlman, the outcomes would range from merely life-saving to nation-destroying.
With the release of Fallout 3 however, that trend would begin to disappear. The game still had a dynamic ending, but it was significantly less so than Fallout 1 or 2. It would show images of the friends or enemies the player made during the game, set against either a morally good or morally bad narration, with little to no description of the impact any of the choices by the player may have had. Fallout 4 took this a step further and made the endings even more limited and vague, seemingly removing even the morality aspect from the player's choices.
Modern fans might be shocked when they go back and play the older Fallouts. They didn't utilize first-person, real-time combat like Fallout 3 and on do. The first two games were exclusively turn-based, meaning that the player does what they want within a sequence of turns and not in real-time. For example, the player wants to shoot another character; they then click their gun icon, target the character, and fire.
The game then gives the player's opponent the chance to attack, locking the player in place while they do so. The number of actions the player can make each turn depends on the number of action points they have (and a select number of perks). Many people nowadays consider this slow and clunky. Turn-based games in general are not as ubiquitous as they once were, and many see Fallout becoming an FPS-RPG as a good move on Bethesda's part.
Grim Dark Tone
Fallout 4 and 76 both represent a pretty big shift in tones for the franchise. The original games, as well as Fallout 3, were known for having very dark atmosphere and tone. Fallout 2 definitely injected a lot of comedy but its music and art direction were the same as the first game so it still felt mostly serious.
Fallout 3 did a fantastic job of creating a desolate and unforgiving world that made the player feel afraid of everyone and everything around them. This would change with Fallout 4, which had a noticeably lighter and less desperate tone than any of the games before it. The same can be said for Fallout 76, which is stylized almost like a theme park. This is reflected not only in the art and music but in the story and characters.
Industrial Style Soundtrack
Many gamers know of Inon Zur's musical score for Fallout 3, 4, and 76. Fallout 3 in particular has perhaps his best work in the series, however, it features a conventional orchestral score. This is certainly a departure from the darker, more industrial-oriented score by Mark Morgan from the first two games. Tracks like Vault Of The Future, which features the echos of pumping machinery, garbled radio voices, and frantic keyboard typing.
Another track, Desert Wind is a haunting piece of music that sounds exactly like its name would suggest; cold and isolating wind blowing across an empty wasteland. New Vegas would bring back some of these songs but for much of the game, the music is a mix between Fallout 3's music and the former's wild west style tracks. Fallout 4 and 76 drop the whole idea completely in favor of conventional orchestral scoring.
Numeric Leveling System
While newer Fallout games have mostly a perk-based leveling system, all of the mainline games before Fallouts 4 and 76 had virtually the same system. The player is awarded a certain number of skill points which they then put into individual skills at their discretion. They then pick a perk either every level or every other level. The skills that the player puts points into include small guns, medicine, lock picking, speech, and many others.
That is until the level cap was reached, of course. The idea is that the player picks certain skills and maxes them out in order to create a character with a defined role, rather than being a master in everything. Beginning with Fallout 4, perks became the centerpiece of the leveling system with players using perk points to choose a perk every time they level up, with skills and skill checks mostly disappearing.
The Trait System
Similar to perks, traits are attributes the player can choose that affect their gameplay experience. Unlike perks, however, the player can only choose them at the beginning of the game and they always come with a catch. Perks are virtually always good things, but traits can come with major downsides that might make them unattractive to players of a certain build.
For example, the Fast Shot trait from New Vegas raises the rate of fire of the player's guns but also decreases their accuracy with them considerably. The only trait that doesn't have an objective downside is probably the infamous, Wild Wasteland. All it does is add more easter eggs to the game. Bethesda hasn't included traits into any of their games post Fallout: New Vegas, unfortunately.
Most players have only played the first-person Fallout games but for a time the only way to experience the series was as a turn-based isometric RPG. The term "isometric" refers to the angle at which the game world is presented. The player is given a comparatively larger view of an area than in a first-person game in which the player can only see forward.
An isometric game gives the player the ability to see the entire area surrounding their character and then some. This is useful for combat where the player is surrounded and can make multiple attacks per turn. If they can manage that, spinning around and killing opponents in every which direction is very satisfying.
The Grid World
When Fallout was first released in 1997 the technology for a real-time open world wasn't there yet. By the time of Fallout 3 sure, but that was over 10 years later and even then, the game world covered a much smaller area. In the original Fallouts, the world itself is simply a large overhead map of the California wasteland divided into squares.
Within some of these squares are the game's main locations, which are spread out over the whole map. Each square on the map has a chance to present the player with a certain kind of encounter, be it raider parties, super mutant patrols, or random encounters etc. While traveling from place to place through the grid world, the calendar is actively changing meaning that it can take many in-game days or weeks to get somewhere. This matters a lot when quite a few of the quests are time-sensitive.