“War. War never changes.”
The world of Fallout is one of the bleakest I have stumbled across in my time as a gamer, and one which in many ways still haunts me with some of the things I have encountered or been forced to do. The studio responsible for these games, Bethesda Softworks, really do have a no-holds-barred policy when it comes to their story writing – which is a real shame, considering the amount of people who refuse to buy their games based on the sole principle that Bethesda games are famously and notoriously buggy. Those of you who haven’t played Fallout 3 are missing out on one hell of a game.
Fallout 3 is one of those games that will sit with you for a long time after you played it. The basic crux of the universe can be summed up in the first half of the following trailer. Take a second to watch it, even if you have already finished the game before. Watching the Vault-Tec commercial, fully knowing what that company was capable of just makes me shudder.
You are the Lone Wanderer. After a brief prologue documenting everything from your birth in Vault 101, to your childhood and young adult life in the vault, your father escapes. You are captured by The Overseer, who is basically the King of the Vault, and questioned over your traitorous father’s plans. You can either kill The Overseer and escape, or simply escape with the help of your friend. Either way, you find yourself entering into the desolate the ruins of Washington D.C., now known simply as Capital Wasteland.
As you play, you discover just how shitty humanity can be. The Vaults were each designed as a social experiment, rather than to save people’s lives. Vault-Tec gave each Vault a variable; for Vault 106, it was psychoactive drugs being released into the air filtration 10 days after the door was sealed. Vault 43 only had 40 watt light bulbs, maximum, forcing the inhabitants to live in near darkness. Vault 34 was overstocked with weapons and ammo, with massive recreational areas, at the cost of living space. Why? Why the fuck not? Vault-Tec wanted to run experiments to see which Vault would lead to the best outcome for humanity, and all scientific experiments need a control.
Vault 101 was not the control. Controls were meant to be opened 20 years after they were sealed. The thermonuclear war necessitating these Vaults would be over by then, and the survivors could step out into this desolate wasteland and rebuild. Vault 101 was designed to stay closed indefinitely. Vault-Tec wanted to study the genetic impact of inbreeding. The Vault was provided with enough of everything they could possibly need – all except the means to rebuild on the surface.
“For on that fateful day, when fire rained from the sky, the giant steel door of Vault 101 slid closed… and never reopened. It is here you were born. It is here you will die. Because in Vault 101: no one ever enters, and no one… ever leaves…”
The Wasteland you escape to is an incredibly violent place. You find a playground littered with landmines. A ruined house with the skeletal remains of those who didn’t escape into the Vaults. A dwelling with the corpse of someone who got caught by the raiders and slavers. Dead raiders who had been caught my the super mutants. There are bodies everywhere, and unless you are careful, your body joins them.
Everything in this world will kill you. You need to explore to find bottle caps – the currency used in this post-apocalyptic hellscape. The issue here is that the areas relatively untouched are untouched because they are dangerous. You can risk the radiation, but you will get radiation sickness, which will kill you if you don’t keep buying medication. Even the food and water are radioactive, since nobody has been manufacturing the stuff, pre-war canned foods are the best you can get.
It’s not all doom and gloom in this new world though; some people have banded together to try to rebuild society. The first and most potent example of this, is right on your doorstep as you leave Vault 101 – the fortified settlement of Megaton, named for the elephant in the room; it is built in the crater formed by an unexploded atomic bomb.
While you may think it a bit odd to build your new civilization around what is very likely to kill you, construction was largely aided by the Children of Atom – a religious movement worshipping the bomb, taking that glowing feeling you get when you’re glowing, as a sign of the divine.
The Power of the Atom
The sheriff of this small town, Lucas Simms, sees the destructive power of the bomb and wants it gone. He asks you to disarm it for the meagre sum of 100 caps, or 500 if your character can sweet talk him. Mr Burke, however sees opportunity differently; his employer, Mr Tenpenny, considers Megaton a blight on the hellscape, and wants it removed, and is willing to pay 500 caps, or 1000 if you can sweet talk Mr Burke.
This is a large sum of money at any point in the game, so it basically comes down to how you can stack your money against your morals. Obviously, the moral thing to do would be to shoot Mr Burke in the face, or something along those lines. You can do this and collect your 500 caps for disarming the bomb, with a bonus 200 Positive Karma points thrown in. Word spreads of your good deed and people are more likely to be nice to you; some will even follow you on your adventure, providing a much needed second gun to help you out in a bind. You earn a place their community and can net yourself a little house to call your own. The only downside here is that Mr Burke puts a hit on you, and sends some mercs after you. While they can be a little annoying if they show up when you’re low on health, I stumbled across them with full health, full ammo, and I had a rocket launcher out. I was thoroughly amused to find the following note among their remains, while looking the assailants corpses for armor.
“Find <character name> and show how we treat people that fail to live up to Mr. Tenpenny’s expectations. Do not fail me. You know what will happen if you arouse my displeasure. -B”
If however, you’re hurting for cash, you can agree to help Mr Burke, and you rig the bomb to blow. You collect your caps, and your key to a room in Capital Wasteland’s most exclusive hotel, with Mr Tenpenny. You get the same 300 Exp but with a whopping 1000 Negative Karma points. Congratulations, asshole; you are the scum at the bottom of the barrel. The good people of Capital Wasteland now loathe you. Your potential friends and followers despise you for the monster that you are, and are locked out. You even have a bounty on your head.
“Notice to all regulators seeking lawful bounties in the Capital Wastes:
Let it be known that the following individual is offered for bounty in the sum of 1,000 caps or similar compensation of expended equipment and/or medical expense, for crimes against the good people of the Capital Wasteland and environs:
Name: Character name
Race: Character race
Sex: Character sex
Target is considered armed and extremely dangerous. Capture is NOT recommended — Bounty will be paid upon proof of death (head). Let’s put this devil in the ground and be done with it.”
On top of all of this – as if making an already inhospitable place hate you wasn’t punishment enough, you have just locked yourself out of around 6 hours of questing. There are a number of quests you can initiate in Megaton, including, in my opinion, one of the more interesting side-quests in the game – making the Wasteland Survival Guide.
Blow the place up though, and you can wave goodbye to this content. The quests are simply not there if Megaton isn’t there. Technically, you can do them before blowing up the town – but the rest of the game still hates you for it. So why did Bethesda allow you to nuke the second biggest settlement in the Capital Wasteland? Why are you allowed to kill dozens of innocents? Well, why the fuck not?
In recent years, we have seen a lot of games asking us a lot of big questions. Some have genuinely touched us, presenting moral dilemmas which make you stop and think; Mass Effect 2 made me walk away for a good half hour while considering how best to approach the Geth solution. The choice I made still sits with me. The Witcher constantly asks you to pick between two courses of action, each with real consequences affecting the story and how the game plays.
The fact that videogames offer us the ability to explore these moral dilemmas in a way that no other medium can, is justification enough for allowing the Lone Wanderer to be as much of an asshole as they want to be. That being said, it was incredibly brave of Bethesda to allow you to effectively sabotage your own playthrough so early in the game, with no warning of the repercussions. While it wasn’t really a choice for me, it’s one that I’m glad was given. I genuinely look forward to the next time a game asks me to question my morals; I just hope I come out of it as a better person.