So, I figured since I raised the issue of Fallout 3 in a previous blog, and the last blog being about PC gaming as an industry, it would be appropriate to dust off an older PC game that still shines like new today. And with Fallout New Vegas ready for release soon, we should all get back in the mood for Fallout as a series. I will not only review this game, which I will try and keep shorter than the last breakdowns, because I will also try and squeeze in some more thoughts in PC gaming in general.
In the last blog, people will remember I linked Chris Taylor’s podcast interview with G4TV’s X-Play where he threw down a gauntlet to the anti-PC game crowd and the doom-sayers who hail the passing of PC games in general. As I watched the interview one game jumped into mind that highlights PC games, and that game was Fallout 3. The reasons for this were not picked up by Chris, who used examples of MMOs and digital distribution methods like Steam and D2D as key to PC game’s resilience, though I stated them as another unique aspect of PC gaming. Modding. And as I talk about FO3 in general you will see why this is a great aspect of PC gaming experience on the whole.
So, to put much of that into context and flesh out the bones of that argument, let us look at Falout 3. A game on both consoles and the PC. First, the story is that of post-apocalyptic America, where people saw the war coming and society geared towards survival. VaultTech, a corporation specialising in fallout shelters, creates a large network of ‘Vaults’ around the country and people apply for a seat should the bombs begin falling. People are selected and when the day comes they all file into the vaults for a life below ground. Fallout games of the past have involved this concept in their story and take place a long time after the war where the surviving society above ground has degenerated into tribal life and small settlements living in fear of raiders, slavers and mercs.
Essentially, you are presented with this scorched playground in Fallout 3 full of ambiguous moral choices with consequences and character building as a classic staple of and RPG. Gain experience points and increase your proficiency in various aspects of wasteland life from small and heavy weapons and explosives, to lock picking and sneaking, to charming personality traits that will leave npc characters beaming wide as you pick their pockets.
The campaign is pretty open, like the world that is also full of smaller jobs and quests you can pick up and defeat in many different ways. Some of them give you different rewards for different outcomes, while others don’t make a distinction. Others open up a branch where you have an optional secondary quest not always apparent to you unless you talk around to the npcs. Approaching such a game requires you break down your expectations based on other more linear games where you are expected to behave in one way or another and only one outcome will do for your employer. See Red Dead Redemption for an example of what I mean there.
A case in point is soon after the enforced tutorial stage in the vault itself, where your stats are established along with the story of our hero, you are nudged towards the nearby settlement of Megaton (a bunch of walled off houses built into the impact crated of an unexploded and still live atomic bomb) where you wandering around and chatting to people about the first thing in your mind will most likely see you interact with a Mr Burke. It takes a little observation on your part to find this job but you most likely will. In a way I feel Bethesda put this job into the game at this stage the way they did to really give you a taste of what Fallout 3 will offer you time and time again. Mr Burke will wave you over from his little corner of the bar in Megaton and ask you to plant a pulse fusion charge on the bomb so he can detonate it and wipe it off the map for his very wealthy employer. Of course, you and refuse the job and never get the chance again to accept it and just carry on as normal, or you can go ahead and do it and become an instant dark side evil monster of a man.
However, you can also say to Mr Burke you will help him and then go running to the sheriff of the town and tell him about it too. I won’t spoil much for anyone that has not played it, but the essences of doing this means you occasionally get ambushed by Talon Company mercs who have notes on their bullet riddled persons that you will dispatch with glee issuing a bounty on your head due to your goody goody actions.
Another example would be the encounter with a nutty scientist who was trying to make giant mutant ants smaller again and ended up making them breathe fire on people and destroy a whole town. He asks you, rather dispassionately, to go help him render the current bath of eggs impotent in the ant queen layer so he can start again with his mutagen batch. Since he showed little compassion for the people killed in the town above the tunnels, I saw fit to also press the button I was not meant to press that would destroy his mutagen sample so he could not do this again. He was rather unhappy at this and refused my payment. So I shot him in the face and took what I wanted from his lab. What the hell, not like there are laws any more to either stop me or bring this man to account, right?
So, you see what I mean by the moral choices, which I really like with a game and has been a rare treat to find. Other features of Fallout 3 is the unique aiming mode called V.A.T.S where you pause time and your targets are divided up into choice cuts on your HUD, each one with a percentage chance of hitting and damage state. You can cripple the arms or legs of an enemy, weakening their aim or slowing their pace. Cripple their heads to disorientate them or even just go for the head splattering brain fragmenting kill shot. This might sound like it critically breaks the flow of your action but you will surprised how much you use and and how it does have drawbacks. Because while you are treated to the head-splatter, limb detaching slow motion kill sequence of one bad guy, his friends are still slowly wrecking your shit and your controls are locked for a few seconds. And each shot you line up takes away action points that regenerate slowly so you have to use them sparingly when encountering a gang.
The ruins of DC doe a good job of herding you into choke points and ambushes to keep the difficulty fluid, and blundering around a corner into a raider outpost early in the game will really ruin your day. The options to run and hide are there but they may choose to search for you if they are certain you are still around. And sooner or later they go home. Keep this in mind for my secondary topic of PC gaming in general as I will come back to this.
Back on the difficulty curve, eventually it will seem more like a gentle slope as you advance in level and unlock more bad-ass means of breaking skulls, from awesome weapons to mad skills. However, the respectable DLC library will keep the challenge going. I had found the wastelands to become tame, as even the fearsome Deathclaws cower before me when I pick them off with a .44 cal hunting rifle and VATS assisted headshots. Then I got Point Lookout for the game and the first scrawny swamp mutant I came across gave me a real run for my money. Emptying nearly two clips from my assault rifle saw him off finally, as I mistook their heads for being the usual weak spot while they were quite resilient in the old noggin. And this was with a top level character with really good weapons. Another point I will revisit in my PC gaming section.
It is not, however, all sunshine and happy days as it seams, as occasionally I encountered some little annoyances with the game. As with many RPG games, inventory management would be a pain and this was no exception. While overall better than many others such as Mass Effect, you only had to press the wrong hot key and all the items you have in your store boxes will flood back into your personal inventory, leaving you to pick out the stuff you didn’t want to keep on you once more and put them back into the box where they came from. Also, as you gather your loot from roaming the wastes and exploring that old burnt out town, you realise you accumulate more stuff than you can sell without some effort of travelling around, though there is a fast travel that helps for the most part. The vendors in various settlements slowly accumulate currency, in then novel form of bottle caps, but between your looting and hoarding of weapons and odd bits and bobs, you quickly outpace them and before you know it you have more stuff than you can shift. Again, this is the way RPG games have been and is no major deal on the whole.
However I also felt there were some missed opportunities with the game, and this is where I come onto PC gaming on the whole. I said in the blog about Chris Tarlor’s that games modding is what sets PC games apart. Now, before people launch into the comments section and scream ‘DLC!!!11!!!1!1!!!’ at me, they are categorically not the same thing. And I will explain why, right now. A DLC is made by the game company to deliver you some additional content for a nominal fee. We have had these for a long time in PC gaming too, and they were originally called expansion packs. And while they can create a better gaming experience by giving you additional functionality, they don;t have the same spirit as a good PC mod made by some guy in his converted attic-now-battle-station-command area, surrounded by empty pizza boxes and drained cans of Red Bull.
The modder has seen where a game could be better and has some potential, and endeavours to open that crack of potential into a wide and gaping valley of gaming heaven. They are the enthusiasts that love gaming to the point they want to make it better all the time, and these are the kinds of people who make games in the industry today. However, an official DLC from a game developer is like getting something from a closed club of game makers, where getting a mod gives everyone the chance to give modding a try. And while Bethesda make DLC’s too for Fallout 3, they see the major modding scene thriving at their feet and feed it with substantial tools like the G.E.C.K.
Anyone that has played Fallout 3, answer me this. Would you have liked to create a camp fire, cook better food from the basic stuff you harvested, carry a sleeping bag to sleep anywhere it is clear of enemies and even reload your own ammo? Did it make sense to you that even when wearing Raider armour the raiders would shoot you on sight? Would you have liked your own mini-vault elsewhere on the map closer to your favourite hunting grounds? Now, do you have Fallout 3 on a console? If you do then you cannot do any of this unless Bethesda implemented it in a DLC, which they have not. If you have the PC game, you can by downloading much of this at the Fallout 3 Nexus site.
I could download a mod that lets you recruit your character’s childhood friend, Amata, as a team member, complete with her own mini-story of how she ended up out of the Vault. I also mentioned earlier I had really good weapons. That is because I downloaded a mod that added more weapons to the game, as well as means to get them if you can. Sure there are some over balanced weapons in the modding scene, and many of them are god mods where you can melt whole armies with one shot. And if you want to go for them then that is your issue. I simply downloaded a pistol that used the .308 cal ammo from sniper rifles. It looked like a chunky middle section of an old machine gun, missing the stock and with a shorter barrel complete with a huge compensator on the end. It was not much more powerful than the standard 10mm pistol, but it looked awesome and felt more satisfying when I fired it, because it was unique an custom feeling. Something I wish the named guns in the game itself would have had going for them. You could get the special hunting rifle, Ol Painless, but it looked and sounded just like the standard rifle. I wanted it to have maybe a custom scope, or a different looking stock, and maybe a different sound too so it felt special to have it. And modding can give me that experience.
It is not just Fallout 3 that has a mods coming out of the ears to make the game much more than it was on release. Other games such as X2 and X3, which I was often disappointed with, can be modded to enhance the game experience. For X3, I downloaded a mod that would create larger battles with the navies and pirates at random, give the pirates more ships than just fighters, so there were pirate cruisers out there too! I could crate a ship factory, which could make a ship from various components in the in game industry, and even buy my own capital ship docks and trade hubs to sell my goods through. Even better, I combined this with another mod that lets me taker over any system if I destroyed the trade hubs and other stations owned by that faction in the system, and placed my own trade hub there. Any non-faction stations would then pay me rent if I wanted them to. Also, I like lasers on my ships, not these slow moving energy projectiles the game comes with. Again, modding gives me this too.
Overall, there are many other aspects of PC gaming to highlight such as their larger array of MMOs, but going over them is not really needed. Console gaming has gone from strength to strength and has a target audience all of its own. They are awesome things and have become the social gaming experience of choice for fast action, quick loading multiplayer games. They are easier to haul to a gaming night with friends than a huge desktop, unless you have a very expensive gaming laptop. They can now have DLCs to get the same expansion to games ported on the PC. This is not about if a PC is better than a console. It is about PC gaming still being as strong as before, and everything consoles are owe themselves to PCs. They have not been more innovative than PC gaming rigs, they have just caught up and kept pace with the times.
My final word? Why, yes it is.