Call me sacrilegious, I was never as electrified by Tim Cain's Fallout roleplaying games as so many others when they appeared like long lost holy scrolls carried down from the mount during an RPG drought in the late 1990s. Blame my silly expectations, repeatedly raised and dashed by stuff like Realms of Arkania, Dark Sun, Might & Magic, Wizardry, and The Elder Scrolls: Arena. Blame as well the time I spent with my nose parked in musty Rolemaster books, pen and paper RPGs that seemed utterly limitless compared to the very best the ridiculously contrived and claustrophobic things we called "computer RPGs" had on loan.
Mostly, of course, you can point the finger at Ultimas IV, V, VI, and the first part of VII.
Next to those, Fallout seemed all front-loaded, a swaggering empty-headed beauty, a gorgeously bleak piece of stained glass fronting a bunch of tatty living room furniture. Oh, it was witty enough, full of clever jokes and hip cult references, and it had that wonderfully blithe high-style dashboard of cool-sounding SPECIAL abilities that formed the liminal contours of a psychologically sophisticated virtual you. But contours were all it delivered, a lattice of attributes you rarely if ever used, culminating in a pithy, indefensibly hollow experience that was anything but special, one that arguably appealed to gamers more on the merits of its weirdly wonderful post-apocalyptic setting than the way the game actually played.
Others have different and better memories of the series, and it consistently ranks high in "top PC games" lists. Full disclosure department: My opinion is so far off the bell curve here that it's ringing the next bell over.
Still, I wanted to get that off my chest before I mention how much I'm enjoying Fallout 3 -- out today! -- which seems literally thrice the game the first two were. More on that in my review, coming shortly.
In the meantime, Gametrailers has a helpful little history of the series up in video form, if you don't mind spoiling the original games' stories. Maybe you've been flirting with the idea of going back and playing through them, you know, to get up to speed before you spring for a copy of Fallout 3. I say save the money -- they're not bad, just hugely overrated -- and spend a budget 15 minutes with this summary video instead.