Thursday, January 29, 2015

Fallout 2 - 20/20 hours

At last I am finally at Navarro.


I don't think I'm going to make it.

I have a team of the most elite fighters the wasteland has to offer. Sulik, who has been with me since practically the beginning of the game, now equipped with a suit of Brotherhood of Steel power armor and wielding a high-tech ripper blade. Cassidy, of Vault City, who uses an automatic shotgun to deadly effect. And Marcus, the rogue super mutant with the incredibly potent minigun. Together, we can tear through almost anything the wasteland has to offer . . .

Except Enclave patrols. Those give us some serious problems. I'm hoping that the troops at the base are less potent. Only a few wear power armor, and we should be able to take them one at a time. However, much of this will be utterly dependent on my luck in achieving critical hits.

It's a fact I've learned to my sorrow in the process of clearing out the various sidequests. For example, while driving from Vault City to Broken Hills, we stumbled upon a mysterious cave in the desert. Exploring it, we found it to be booby-trapped with explosives and deadfalls. In the center of the cave was a major raider base. In the inevitable bloodbath, the raiders did an average of 3 points of damage to me. However, my team's collective damage was so low (at this point I had Vic instead of Marcus on my side) and the enemy's number so high that they made dozens of attacks before we could take them down. So it was kind of inevitable that I'd take a critical hit that did 382 points of damage (compared to my max hit point total of 90). However, you can't really plan around those sorts of events, you just have to suck it up and reload the game.

On the other hand, I've been buying up improved critical perks for some time now, so my critical hit chance is better than 20%. When I use an aimed shot, I do massive damage reliably enough for it to be a viable strategy. But there's no escaping the element of luck involved in such a scheme.

It's something that has to be done, however. I've already cleared out most of the wasteland's major sidequests. The only exceptions are New Reno, which is far too skeevy for me to get involved in, and San Francisco, which I'm saving for last.

I wound up using the wiki for more of these quests than I'd like to admit, primarily because the logic on these quests is not that of mere mortals like you and me. Like, where do you suppose the voice recognition module for Vault 13 turned out to be? Did you guess the weapon dealer in an isolated corner of New Reno? Me neither.

I guess you're just supposed to thoroughly explore everything, take careful notes, and be willing to accept the massive time sink this entails. I am not quite that hardcore. I prefer to keep the story moving forward, even at the cost of a certain amount of verisimilitude (I suppose there is a certain logic to an ancient bit of more or less useless technology finding its way into the hands of someone who can't use it and doesn't know what it is, but still).

New Reno actually seems like it's particularly bad at this, though. When I raided the stables in order to shut down Jet production, nothing in the game acknowledged this whatsoever. After I slaughtered my way through all the guards and scientists (and a few unfortunate drug-addled slaves who didn't seem to realize I was freeing them from cruel medical experiments), I wound up getting hit on by Myron, the creepy teenager who is responsible for inventing Jet. He even offered to join my party. This startled me so much that I consulted the wiki. Much to my dismay, I learned that if I capped him, I would be considered a child killer.

Not wanting to stain my sterling reputation, I accepted his offer, then promptly abandoned him in Broken Hills. I don't expect the game to take this into account (seeing as how its much vaunted freedom seems to have a huge blind spot for this whole area), but at least I feel better knowing I did what I could.

Which brings me back to Navarro. I have to go there. It's essential to finding my missing tribe. Yet my chances of surviving a frontal assault are small. If all else fails, I could try infiltrating it again, but I really feel like the story of the Chosen One requires an Enclave blood bath. Whether that is attainable or not remains to be seen.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Fallout 2 - 16/20 hours

The theme of this update is revenge. It turns out that all three of my plans to acquire new equipment were in fact one in the same. The Brotherhood of Steel had an outpost in San Francisco, and in order to gain access, I had to infiltrate Navarro Base (you can actually go there any time, even at the very beginning of the game, but that causes a lot of stuff to become trivial).

I was worried that I would have to go to Navarro out of sequence, because though it is high level content, it doesn't really require high level skills to do. So it always seems like cheating to go there early. However, having made the trip at both level 1 and level 12, I'm not entirely sure how the game intends for you to survive. See, the low level run requires you to progress through small leaps, moving slightly, then saving, so you can reload after the random encounters inevitably kill you. I always assumed that by the time the game actually sends you there, you'd be able to travel in a bit more dignified a fashion. Yet my character, who got the mission in a more or less legitimate way, was barely able to handle random bandit attacks, let alone Enclave patrols wearing power armor and wielding high-end energy weapons. And the Brotherhood representative suggested I go alone. So I think the game may just have been fucking with me.

Anyway, once you are in, all you have to do is bluff your way past the guard out front by pretending to be a new recruit and the enclave will just hand you the game's most powerful weapons and armor. They'll make you more or less invincible to lesser foes (though even with the added protection, I died five times trying to make my way back to San Francisco). This sudden transition between fragile bullet sponge and walking colossus makes me wonder about the game's balance. As far as I know, the only other place to get power armor is in the Brotherhood base, but that is inaccessible until after Navarro. The second best armor in the game is also pretty hard to find. I found a set in the Brotherhood base and another in Vault 13. I think there is a weapons dealer in San Francisco that has a set for sale (I haven't actually explored that much of the city yet).

All I can think of is that game is not, in fact, very well balanced, and that much of one's progress is luck-based. Which is kind of depressing, because a lot of effort went into building the game's world, and its a shame to think that much of it would be closed off due to the insurmountable danger of its enemies. Fallout 2 is one of the most popular old-school rpgs of all time, but I wonder how many people toughed it out all the way to the end. It's so much easier to give up when the game starts kicking your ass.

Which brings me back to the topic of revenge. Having paid my dues getting kicked around by every two-bit thug in the wasteland, and then save-scumming my way to a nigh-invincible (to anything less than an Enclave patrol, which still managed to waste me more often than not) set of equipment, it was time to revisit some old enemies.

First up was Darion, the bandit who occupied Vault 15. Last time, he was able to one-shot me with his flamethrower. This time, I was able to do the same to him with my plasma rifle. From his computer, I was able to get the location to Vault 13.

No revenge at Vault 13, though I can't help but feel a certain amount of retroactive vindication in the fact that the Overseer was ousted by a rebellion some time after the events of the first game. That'll show him to screw over the Vault Dweller. Anyway, the Vault was abandoned by humans and subsequently occupied by intelligent deathclaws. It's kind of a terrifying prospect, and a potential harbinger of humanity's eventual extinction, but however much they may deserve it for what they did to the planet, the people of Fallout's earth are probably safe. The creatures were nothing but kind and gracious to me, offering to give me the G.E.C.K. if I could but repair the vault's computer.

So I broke into the store room and stole it. Hey, don't judge me. I have no idea how to repair a computer, and the village shaman has once more contacted me psychically to tell me of Arroyo's imminent demise (and this last message sounded really dire). And it's not as if I intend to leave them hanging. I'll be back to fix the thing, just as soon as my other business is concluded.

From Vault 13, I immediately rushed back to Arroyo, to save them from starvation . . . making only two quick detours along the way. First to the NCR, to wipe out a band of slavers who were too powerful for me the first time through. And then to the Den, to teach Metzger a lesson about how to talk to a lady (and also to free his slaves). They were two easy and satisfying victories, and both of them were practically on the way.

Plus, it's not as if rushing would have changed the village's fate. Once you return to Arroyo with the G.E.C.K, you find that it has been destroyed by the Enclave, its people kidnapped and taken god-knows-where, and its cryptic shaman severely wounded (but not so wounded as to be unable to exposit to you at length).

It's a good thing I enjoy revenge so much, because my next stop is Navarro. . .

(would be a dramatic and badass thing to say - actually my next few stops are a circuit of missed sidequests, but Navarro is definitely on the list).

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Fallout 2 - 13/20 hours

Over the past four hours I've accomplished a whole lot of squat. And I mean that literally. I may have accomplished squat, but at least there was a whole lot of it.

It's been a pretty steady pattern. I roll into town, somebody tells me about a problem, and then I completely fail to be strong enough to actually address the problem. The sheriff of Redding just straight up told me I wasn't high enough level to do his little errand. The bandit leader who has taken over Vault 15 can kill me in two shots. The shady drug lab that tests its products on slaves is too well guarded for me to take down. The only thing I'm qualified to do is be a fluffer in a New Reno porn studio, and the pay for that is terrible.

What's worse is the Arroyo shaman is breathing down my neck, having popped in via the astral plain to guilt trip me about not finding the G.E.C.K. It's not my fault nobody knows where Vault 13 is.

Actually, I, the player, know, but it turns out the game has anticipated such blatant metagaming on my part and refused to put the vault on the map until I actually discover it in game. I found this out by stumbling into the ruins of the Mariposa military base, making my way down to sub-level 2, and promptly getting myself killed by super mutants (I will say this for the bastards, they can survive being sealed underground without food or air for 80 years, so maybe the government was onto something with their whole super soldier project).

I suppose I can still call this progress, of a sort. I may be running into insurmountable obstacles everywhere I turn, but at least the frontier of my incompetence is being pushed towards the end of the game. I know I'm close, I just have to find the right trigger to push me over the edge (for a very literal example of this - Tandi in the NCR had a quest for me - that would not activate until I talked to the NCR sheriff, whose only contribution was to tell me that President Tandi had a job for me).

It hasn't entirely been thumb-twiddling, though. I do have one concrete accomplishment to my name. I found a car. Smitty in the Den fixed it up for me, using a part I got from Skeeter in Gecko, and I can now zoom across the wasteland in comfort in style. True, that mostly means that I can arrive and be useless in a fraction of the time, and the fuel for the vehicle is a rare form of ammunition I am not powerful enough to acquire in bulk, but it's still super cool.

What I need to do now is find some way to get a quick power boost. Specifically, I need some late game armor. The reinforced leather jacket I'm wearing now is just barely good enough to ward off the bite of a rat. Facing heavily armed raiders and mutants, I need something with some actual protection. The way I see it, I have two options. I can go to the Den and try and get into the Brotherhood of Steel base (maybe my reputation is good enough now that they'll want to recruit me) or I can go to San Francisco and try and buy some gear from the merchants there (there is a secret third option that I am not going to entertain because it's blatant sequence breaking). The smart thing to do would be to try the Brotherhood first (because its stuff is free) and then the merchants only if that doesn't work. My fear is that my car won't have the juice to make it.

I love that damned car.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Fallout 2 - 9/20 hours

I made a mistake. Over the weekend, I played a different game, Saints Row: Gat Outta Hell. I don't regret it, it was kind of awesome, but that does mean that I lost contact with the central thread of urgency that is so vital to the experience of any open world game.

When you're knee-deep in this rpg stuff, it seems like it matters. I have to follow Laddie the dog so he can lead me to the missing Johnny (who was, by the way, not down a well, despite what the cliche would have you believe). And Cornelius will be so disappointed if I don't retrieve his gold pocket watch by blowing up an outhouse. And, of course, the village of Arroyo needs the G.E.C.K. (so much so that the shaman has contacted me via the astral plane - which feels genre-breaking to me, but whatever, without that message, you could easily be under the impression that you had all the time in the world).

It's an illusion that all the great games are able to pull off to one degree or another, and an excellent way to devour time one "minor" sidequest at a time. However, it is somewhat fragile. If your brain gets diverted into another track, it's possible that you may come to see the artifice that underlies the game's presentation - why, the complex and often acrimonious politics of Vault City are really just an excuse to run between the same two locations a half dozen times.

And when you get to that level of abstraction, you have to take a step back, otherwise you start convincing yourself that Tetris is the only game worth playing because nothing else is quite so pure, and that sort of thinking doesn't lead anywhere good.

Fallout 2 is more than just a game, it is a story. Sure, from a purely plot perspective, that story doesn't a whole lot of sense - a village sends its brightest scion out into the post apocalyptic wasteland to find a technological relic, and then that chosen one spends weeks killing wild dogs, reconciling a father with his daughter, and otherwise running miscellaneous errands for people, sometimes in the hope of finding information, but mostly just because people give vague promises of reward (like, I'm sure finding that kid's doll in the slums of Vault City was a profitable use of my time) - but I don't think plot is quite so important when it comes to video game storytelling.

Much has been made of games' place in contemporary culture. Debate has raged over whether they can be considered art. And much of that debate focuses on the medium's intrinsic storytelling weaknesses - in particular the huge disconnect that often lies between a game's ostensible plot and the emergent story that arises out of actually playing the game. Usually, this weakness is brought up in the context of violence (your character is supposed to be a war-weary veteran or idealistic reporter or something, but always winds up killing enough people to be ranked as one of history's greatest mass murderers), but Fallout 2 is an example of the same problem from a different angle. Story-wise, you're supposed to be driven relentlessly forward, but the gameplay is most rewarding when you move off the beaten path and just randomly explore (seriously, without the internet to tell you where things are, the only way to solve some of these quests is through brute force scouring the map).

However, I honestly think too much is made of this weakness. Every medium has its strengths. Nothing is ever going to be as good as the psychological novel when it comes to exploring the nuance of a single character, but the novel can't do visual spectacle or fast-paced plot nearly as well as movies can. For all their other storytelling weaknesses, I think games excel above all other mediums when it comes to the creation of setting. Nothing else is quite so good at taking you out of your ordinary life and putting you into a new situation, at transporting you to a new time and place, and getting you to think in terms of this new world instead of your own.

Fallout 2 is not quite as good at this as Fallout: New Vegas, but it's still pretty great. When you stroll into Vault City, you can feel the texture of the place. The contrast between the dirty scrapped together sheds of the outer slums and the neat and pretty houses of the city proper, contrasted still further with the severe and high-tech industrial look of the vault door that juts out of the side of the nearby mountain - nothing much needs to be said about the history or the future of this place in order to get the point across. You can practically feel the privilege of the residents, the desperation of the squatters, and the mad, brilliant hubris of the ancients just by looking at the scenery.

And unlike a painting or a movie, you are not just a passive witness to some other person's amazing set design. If you want to take a peek into this building or see what's going on with that extra, you can. Granted, due to technological limitations, there usually isn't much depth there, but that doesn't do much to diminish the magic. Even with your highly constrained autonomy, there is a certain amount of automatic buy-in. You decide where to go. You can make decisions that ultimately affect these communities. You can talk to, steal from, and/or kill every one of these characters. You are a part of this world.

Which kind of makes the game's hidden deadline a double bummer. Having bypassed Lynette, the xenophobic head councilor of Vault City in order to broker a deal between her second in command and the newly repaired (thanks to yours truly) power plant of the ghoul city of Gecko (which features a welcome cameo from Harold, a minor, but memorable npc from the first game), I now have information that points me to Vault 15 (an important location in the first game), and possibly a G.E.C.K. Which is great, but unfortunately there are two cities - Redding and New Reno - between me and my destination. I am now put in an awkward position regarding the game's plot. I could easily bypass both, seeing as how they are completely irrelevant to my ostensible quest, but if I do, I will have no reason at all to go back. Do I explore for the sake of exploration or do I roleplay as my character?

This is the sort of choice that keeps Fallout 2 from reaching perfection.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Fallout 2 - 5/20 hours

Five hours in and the game is really starting to feel like Fallout. It's a nebulous and ill-defined feeling, but if I had to describe it, I would say that it's the sensation of having one really important thing to do, and then getting distracted by a hundred and one trivial things as you try to get yourself organized so you make a kind of fitful progress punctuated by a number of sidetracks and tangents. Only, you know, more pleasant than I make that sound.

I enjoy searching through the toxic caves, fighting geckos, and rescuing a minor npc (perhaps less so when I'm reloading for the half dozenth time because Sulik can't help wandering into pools of radioactive waste and killing himself). I like rolling into the town of Modoc and resolving the diplomatic misunderstanding caused by the underground civilization to the north pretending their lands were haunted to scare away trespassers (even if the solution to this crisis involves remembering an obscure npc from the Den).

What I like less is having to retrieve a book for Rebecca of the Den, being directed towards a generic npc, finding out he lost it, and then having the book spawn in a random place. That was pretty aggravating.

Helping Lara take on her rival gang in order to secure a lucrative warehouse-guarding contract, and then having all  but one of my friendly npcs get slaughtered in the assault was so-so. It was kind of a humiliating defeat, but Sulik survived, the enemies were defeated, and there was nothing in any of the conversations I'd had to suggest that Lara's group was any better than the people we were killing. Plus, I got to loot a whole mess of pistols.

The only thing that marred this directionless errand running is my out of character awareness that all of this is happening under a ticking clock. At the beginning of the game, Fallout 2 does not give you a deadline, just the same vague "this shit is urgent" message you get from every rpg ever. Usually, this is a signal that means "events will proceed as rapidly as you complete story missions," but in this game, that's not the case. There is a hidden timer that will give you a worse ending if you spend too much time goofing off.

That means I have to be relatively quick in rescuing Vic the trader. I find him easily enough. Rebecca the bartender knows exactly where he is - a prisoner of the Slavers' Guild. Lucky for me, they don't seem averse to letting random strangers off the street waltz in and talk to their leader. So I go in and talk to Metzger, the boss.

And at this point I need to tell you that I'm playing a female character (my plan is to alternate between games). This becomes important because Metzger greets me with some of the most hatefully misogynistic language I've ever encountered in a video game. I'm not going to quote it, because I didn't take exact notes, but it honestly shocked me.

I get that Metzger is supposed to be a bad guy, but it was just gratuitous. For all he knew, I was there to join the Slavers' Guild or to sell one of my companions into slavery (both of them options). Hell, considering that I was there to liberate Vic from bondage, you might even say I was a customer (though I'd prefer not to think of it like that, because that would make two companion npcs so far that I've "recruited" by paying money to their captors, essentially "buying" them). And even taking "verisimilitude" into account, surely they could have softened his presentation at least a little for the sake of the player experience. I can't help thinking that if I were a girl in 1998, having my rpg avatar be called a bitch and a whore for basically no reason would have soured me a bit on the genre.

Eventually, Metzger's going to die, both for his disrespect and his general crimes against humanity. However, in the short-term, I wound up sleeping with him, because doing so would knock 500 bottlecaps off of Vic's ransom, and at this point in the game, that is not an inconsiderable sum. I later wound up getting another 200 from prostituting myself to a random npc, but that was an accident on my part - I thought for sure he wouldn't accept the price. This game is not very friendly towards the ladies.

Along with the money I got from selling gecko hides after my sojourn to the toxic caves (most of which was spent on bullets), I had just enough to liberate Vic. He then decided to join my party, despite having (as far as I can tell) no appreciable skills. I suspect he will wind up being more of a pain to keep alive than he is actually worth, but for now having an extra target to soak up enemy attacks is very useful.

From here, our next destination is Vault City, which presumably has a G.E.C.K, or at least information to help me find a G.E.C.K. However, I am first going to explore the town of Modoc, which seems kind of run-down and boring, but is sure to have at least a couple of sidequests, because this is Fallout 2, and secret time limit or not, you can't just pass through a town without exploring it.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Fallout 2- 2/20 hours

So, the beginning of Fallout 2 . . .

This game is an absolute classic, and even in the opening minutes, it is easy to see a whole host of gameplay improvements that refine the formula of the original Fallout into something truly special. But that beginning level . . .

It's not terrible. It could have been tortuous. If the difficulty had been set just a smidge higher, it might well have been unplayable. As it is, it is merely . . . unpleasant.

I think the problem is that the opening of Fallout 2 briefly abandons the series' ethos of unlimited choice in favor of a narrative that is not especially compelling. The first thing you do when starting up a new game is make a character. It's just like Fallout. You can select traits (always choose "gifted"), assign your S.P.E.C.I.A.L attributes, and pick three tagged skills. The goal is to anticipate what you'll need over the course of the game, to create a character capable of tackling whatever the wasteland has to offer.

However, unless you pick a pretty specific build, the opening level is going to be a total pain in the ass. You are plopped down in the middle of this giant, bug-infested temple (where did it come from, what is its purpose, how did all these damned bugs get into it - it's best not to ask) and you have to fight your way through to the central chamber using only your spear. Didn't choose a melee build? Have fun with a bunch of tedious whiff-fest combats and inaccessible side passages (because you can't rest to heal, so deviating from the main path will wear down your hp to unacceptable levels).

I got through it, but it took me at least three reloads and a resolve to avoid trying to get any extraneous loot. Not an auspicious start to a game that prides itself on its wide-open exploration. Still, I won the right to become my tribe's champion and wear the holy garment of the Vault Dweller (I'd have much rather they preserved the holy power armor or the holy plasma rifle of the Vault Dweller, but I guess that would be too much to ask).

After that, the game opens up a bit, but it's still kind of aggravating (I want to rescue my cousin's dog, but I can't because the only weapon I have is a fucking spear). Yet despite that, the village of Arroyo shows off a lot of what will make Fallout 2 into one of the greats. The maps are much bigger and more diverse (this pissant starting town is as big as anything in the original Fallout), and there are more jokes and greater attention to world-building (even if that world-building doesn't make a lot of sense - where are the survivors of a nuclear apocalypse getting all this tribal culture from, particularly if their development was strongly influenced by a man who lived most of his life in an underground vault).

While it is fun to dick around and do side-quests, the real meat of the game is my holy mission - to retrieve a Garden of Eden Creation Kit (a G.E.C.K.) and save my ramshackle village from some kind of vaguely defined ecological disaster. To do that, I must track down Vic, a trader who passed through Arroyo and sold a flask with the Vault 13 logo (I do have to hand it to Vault-tec, they did not cut corners when it came to branding). His last known residence was in Klamath, to the east.

Once in Klamath, I discover that Vic has not been seen for quite some time. D'oh! Being the good citizen I am, I loot his back room (finding, in the process, a deck of "Tragic" cards, which, okay, M:tG was huge huge back when this game was made, but still kind of a lame parody), and then proceed to do random favors for practically everyone else in town. I save Torr's herd from being eaten by scorpions (still wielding the damned spear) and buy Sulik out of slavery (mostly using the proceeds from selling Vic's stuff). I also go and kill a bunch of rats for the people of Trapper Town, because of course there are giant rats in an rpg.

I can't get much of a read on Klamath's culture. There doesn't seem to be much in the way of law and order, but then you have "indentured servitude" and the local brothel seems compelled to euphemistically refer to itself as a "bathouse" (despite there being no baths on the premises - I checked). As far as I can tell, it's just some podunk frontier town that makes its living off of selling gecko hides, but it's not yet clear what it's on the frontier of. If I really think about it, I think it's probably a genre conceit. On the surface, Fallout is a post-apocalyptic sci-fi rpg, but structurally, it is actually more like a western. So you've got tribal people who are clearly based off of Native Americans (perhaps even offensively so, the culture of Arroyo is a bit whitewashed and vague), then frontier towns like Klamath or Junktown, where there's a rough and tumble form of border civilization, upheld by local strongmen (though the closest I found in Klamath was Slim Picket, but he gets extra points for having a western-style name), and then big cities like the Hub or the Den, which represent a kind of decadent and corrupt core of civilization that honest people move to the frontier to escape.

I'm not a big connoisseur of post apocalyptic fiction in general, so I can't say whether this western influence is more general to the genre, but I do know that Fallout: New Vegas really takes it to the next level, and so I can't help but think that it's an influence that's pretty tightly woven into the series' DNA.

I think the game next wants me to go to the Den. I am not so sure that's a good idea. My equipment is terrible and I have no money. Going to a dangerous and expensive-sounding location like "the Den" feels like an invitation to get brutally mugged. Yet it's the only lead I have. (Even moreso than the original Fallout, Fallout 2 is terrible about telling you where to go).

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Fallout - 20/20 hours

After beating Fallout, I was somewhat dismayed to learn that I only played the game for 13 hours. I remember it being longer. Undoubtedly, this is largely due to the natural time dilation that comes with memory. When you are young, the days seem longer and the open world games seem huge (perhaps, one day, even Skyrim will feel small to me).

Fallout was one of my first open world games. I want to say Shadowrun for the Sega Genesis was earlier, but that one I only rented, and its open world bona fides are a kind of shaky. So if Fallout was not my first, it was at least early enough to be before I had the genre figured out. I can easily believe I spent more than 20 hours on it way back in 2002 (I can't remember precisely when I first got the game, but I do know I was still using Windows 98, so it had to be sometime before 2006).

However, I do think that much of my first exploration of the Fallout universe was spent in fumbling. Not knowing where to go. Not knowing how to use items, or the benefits of raising my skills. I think I solved the combat system pretty early, but navigating the map to get the water chip in a timely fashion while leaving the wasteland a better place was something I had to learn the hard way. So many times Vault 13 withered away for lack of water. It was only lately that I discovered what it takes (access to the Fallout wiki) to be a true hero.

With my last seven hours, I went through the game a second time. I did not quite beat it, but that is mostly because I wanted to try a different approach, one that necessitates a great deal of saving and reloading. I decided to tackle the game like a ninja, focusing on stealth, pickpocketing, and dispatching enemies from afar.

The difference was not as great as I'd hoped. I had a bunch more ammo and equipment in the early game, but eventually became so laden with loot that I wound up having to barter instead of steal just so I could clear space in my inventory. Also, I'm not sure if the stealth system actually works (it could be that I never got it high enough to make a difference, but seeing as how my rating was 140, I doubt it).

I think, looking back from a position of having played all but one of the Fallout games (Brotherhood of Steel, for the console) and beaten all but two of them (the other unfinished one being Fallout: Tactics), I can say that the original Fallout feels like a prototype. It probably has the most solid story of any of the Fallout games, but later games would take its ideology of limitless choice and run with it. There are too many skills that barely see any use. There is too great a homogeneity to the challenges and puzzles. Even the world-building is kind of basic. The game sets up the pillars of the Fallout setting, but they are lightly sketched. But most of all, Fallout is a game that is, for all its lack of hand-holding, surprising linear. I built a totally different character, with a totally different approach to challenges, yet my path through the game was almost exactly the same.

That's not a complaint, by the way. Fallout is an absolute classic. I highly recommend it to anyone who's interested in the evolution of the western crpg. However, it is definitely an acorn, out of which will grow a mighty oak of a franchise.

(Short Programming Note - I thought doing a screenshot LP of the series would be fun. After finishing a whole game that way, it turns out it wasn't. I'll stick with the series, but go back to my old format. There will still probably be the occasional screenshot).

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Fallout - Part 12: Nothing Good Ever Comes From A Vault

This is it. The endgame. I have only one last place to go.

The Cathedral. It's a big building, and I can't help feeling like it's based off a real place, but a cursory internet search tells me that none of the more famous Los Angeles churches look much like this one. So where did this big, elaborate building come from? My inclination is to say that it's just a hypothetical building constructed in Fallout's alternate universe Los Angeles. But once I get inside, I have my doubts.

There's no discernible bomb damage, and a distinct lack of the game's "salvaged junk" aesthetic, so maybe the Cathedral was built after the war. Are the super mutants organized enough to put together such a project or did they steal it from some other group? Fallout was not quite as committed to seeding the world with setting details as later games would come to be, so there's no real way to be sure.

But I'm not here to admire the architecture. I have a mission. I have a Master to assassinate. The most logical place to look is on the upper levels. That's where these evil mastermind types love to hang out. Wearing the robes I looted back in Mariposa, I'm able to climb the back stairs unmolested.

Along the way, I noticed super mutants who appear to have some kind of cloaking device, the so-called Nightkin. They're a fairly dangerous high-end enemy, but I was incognito, so I didn't have a problem.

In the corner room of the highest level, I at last met the Cathedral's public leader.

However, he was not the Master. Getting through his conversation was kind of tricky, because he was incredibly suspicious and had a hair-trigger temper. Yet in the end, my near-magical bullshitting skills won out, and he escorted me directly to my target.

Blargh! The Master turned out to be some kind of creepy blob mutant. How he was even able to survive is beyond me. I think I probably don't want to know. I talk with him a bit, but I say the wrong thing and he kills me with casual ease. It was because I was wearing a robe instead of power armor, due to me trying to be all clever disguise dude.

There is a way to get past the Master without facing his incredibly powerful guns, but it requires some information I neglected to pick up. So, upon reloading, I take a brief detour back to the Brotherhood of Steel headquarters.

Informing the elder about my success in destroying the vats nets me some quick xp, but at this point it's kind of irrelevant. My real target is the librarian, Vree.

Aside from looking like a total badass, Vree has autopsy data which reveals some of the less ideal aspects of super mutant physiology.

Namely that they're infertile. The Master's dream of repopulating the earth with a robust breed of Homo Superiors is completely futile. With the vats destroyed, all humanity has to do is wait them out. And while I'm not sure why mutating everyone was so important to the Master, he apparently was doing it out of some kind of idealistic motive, because he doesn't take the news very well.

He commits suicide and sets the base to self destruct. Despite his fit of nihilistic pique, he decides to let me live -ish. I have three minutes to escape before the whole place blows up.

This does not work out.

The huge swarm of mutants and cultists is not much of a threat, but they force me to move through the map in combat time, which means all of their various turn-based actions eat up a huge chunk of my escape time. I have to reload and take a different approach.

This time I burst in through the front door.

It turns out the Cathedral was built on top of a Vault. These things keep popping up. I guess it makes sense that they would serve as nuclei for post-war civilizations, but I'm always surprised at how many there are. I think there are more in Fallout 3, but most of those are optional sidequests, and thus completely missable. Still, it's a wonder anyone died in the war at all, given how many impenetrable defense bunkers are just lying around.

I'm wearing my robes in that screenshot because, like an idiot, I forgot to put on my power armor. After reloading, I was able to waltz through this vault with relative ease.

I release some human prisoners from a holding cell, but they explode when they make a run for freedom, which seems like an unnecessary "fuck you" on the game's part. I'm trying to be a hero here.

I eventually make my way back to the Master, and the inevitable happens.

And that's it. I've done it. The game is beat and I get a brief epilogue. Most of the places I visited were better off for my bloody rampage, but there were some odd (and not so odd) exceptions.

I completely screwed the pooch when it came to Necropolis. There were super mutants there and I neglected them. In the end they wound up slaughtering everyone.

I also, apparently, wound up failing to save the Followers of the Apocalypse. But I don't think I can be blamed for that, because I didn't even encounter them.

The one that baffled me was the Hub. It wound up dispersing in the years to come, but I don't know how I could have prevented it. I solved the mystery of the missing caravans. There must have been some other quests I missed while passing through the city. Figures.

On the whole, though,  I did more good than bad. Shady Sands will go on to form the New California Republic, the Brotherhood of Steel will end its isolation and help rebuild society, and Junktown will be peaceful and prosperous (also, there are a whole ton of dead raiders who will fail to bother people going forward).

All that remains is to return to Vault 13 and resume my life of peace.

Or not. It turns out the Overseer is a paranoid and small-minded control freak who doesn't want my fancy ideas of "maybe visiting the surface world isn't an instant death sentence" to spread among the young. So the bastard exiles me!

Can you believe the nerve of this guy?

What's more, his reasoning is completely bonkers. Yes, you may lose some people to emigration, but considering the high quality of life afforded by the Vault, you're likely to be able to pick and choose the best of the wastelanders to replace them. And that's to say nothing of the advantages of greater genetic diversity.

Ultimately though, ignorance and ossified social conservatism win out.

The door to the Vault slams shut, and I am left to make my own way in the world. Alone and deprived of any connection to my past or recognition of my accomplishments. Thus the world treats heroes.

Damn . . .

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Fallout - Part 11: The Innocent Suffer Most of All

Dogmeat is dead. It's not at all surprising, given his tendency to just charge into battle like some kind of rabid, furry killing machine. What is surprising is how long he survived.

You'd think he would be torn apart by the giant monstrosity below the ruins of Los Angeles

But the mother deathclaw focused exclusively on me. It managed to kill me two or three times, despite my power armor, but I reloaded until I got a good run of attack rolls and managed to take it out before it even got to me.

From there, I went on to take out the Regulators, who by all rights should have filled Dogmeat with lead.

He rushed ahead of me and my allies faster than any of us could keep up, and the multiple enemies that targeted him would have finished the job, were it not for the weapons given to us by the Gun Runners.

It was, overall, an ugly brawl. Smitty died within the first couple of rounds, and my backup killed the mayor, despite the fact that the death of the mayor's son was the catalyst for this whole revolution in the first place. (Correction: I thought this was really fucked up, so I checked the wiki, and it turned out the mayor was probably killed by the Regulators and I just missed it.)

What eventually did Dogmeat in was a random encounter, far to the north.

There's just something about the AIs aggression routine where the enemies love to go after melee characters. I couldn't kill the Super Mutants fast enough to keep Dogmeat alive.  I probably could have reloaded the battle to saved his life, but honestly, I was at a point of no return.

There's no way in hell I'd be able to keep him under control in the Super Mutant Base.

It is possible to pass through those red forcefields. If you do, you take damage. Dogmeat will run through those at the slightest provocation. Furthermore, every other mutant is wielding a rocket launcher, which will splatter Dogmeat even on a weak hit. It's possible to keep him alive, but it's basically trolling the RNG.

The numbers are too stacked against him. So I callously let him die. It kind of bums me out. I'm able to waltz through these guys pretty easily.

But my trusty companion was simply too frail. It aggravates me that the game would give me a cute little pet, but then repeatedly explodes him at every opportunity.

Though I slaughter the various mutants with relative ease, I stumble across one mutant who is not automatically hostile.

However, his reasonableness really only extends to offering me a chance to surrender. I quickly cut him down. Only after he's dead do I find out that he's more than he appears.

The flower makes me feel kind of guilty. Clearly this mutant was a sensitive soul. But my guilt only gets worse when I meet the mutant's girlfriend.

I guess I forgot that super mutants are transformed from regular humans. So it's only natural that this one one retains some memories and relationships from its former life. It actually makes me wonder if all these other mutants I've been killing have also had rich inner lives. I don't really see any reason why not, but if so, then why are they following the person that ripped from them their humanity and forced them into a painful transformation? It's been established that the Master does not restrict his recruitment to volunteers, so I can only imagine that his mutant retains an unusual degree of memory from his previous life.

It makes me uncomfortable enough that I reload the game and allow the mutant to take me to his boss.

It's Lou Tenant, who I've already met before. This time, however, I have power armor and some huge guns, so the contest is a bit more equal.

Lou gets a really long and elaborate death sequence. It's incredibly gross.  The way forward is now open. I can penetrate to the heart of the base.

It's not immediately apparent what to do here, because the controls for interacting with computers are kind of obscure. You have to hold down the button to bring up the skill menu and use your Science ability. I think it's the only time in the game you have to do this. There are a couple of of other computers you can mess with, but they don't do a heck of a lot. Not for the first time I wonder what it must have been like playing this game back in 1998, without a guide. Technically, the information was in the manual, but would you even think to look? Not many games have Fallout's charm, but the degree to which it lets you wander without guidance would not be acceptable in a modern game.

Hacking the computer lets me bring up the base's self destruct sequence.

I choose the three-minutes silent alarm, which is probably too cruel, now that I come to think about it. As far as I can tell, there's no way to save the self-aware mutant and his girlfriend, and it would almost certainly not make a difference if there were an alarm, but as it stands, my fantasy that they somehow made it out is utterly implausible.

Senseless deaths aside, it's still a major coup for the forces of good. The vats are utterly destroyed.

And the base is reduced to rubble.

Though I learned the hard way that you need to completely exit the map to escape the explosion. Apparently, being on the surface, even in an area completely untouched by destruction, is still fatal. I'm sure this is probably an engine limitation, but I imagine that it has frustrated more than a couple people over the years.

With this major milestone out of the way, I am within spitting distance of the end of the game. Only one task remains - finding the Master, and destroying him.

This is for Dogmeat, you pieces of shit.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Fallout - Part 10: More Like Brotherhood of JERKS!

My next destination is a place I've been deliberately avoiding. I have no particular reason for my reluctance except that it's a good location to get end game equipment, and its quests are easy enough that you can pretty much use the loot it provides to trivialize most of the game.

I'm referring, of course, to the Brotherhood of Steel. These paranoid survivalist fanatics have access to advanced pre-war technology, including energy weapons, power armor, and near limitless supplies of ammunition. However, they don't like outsiders, and to prove my worth, I must undertake a quest.

This is more or less a suicide mission. The area they're sending me to is highly radioactive, and I'm almost certainly not meant to return.

It is for this reason that I part ways with Ian. I'm not at all sure whether NPCs are vulnerable to radiation, but I am certain that I don't want to deal with it if they aren't (a quick google search has told me that followers aren't susceptible, which would have been useful to know, but doesn't especially matter because Ian has outlived his usefulness)

After picking up some rope in the Hub's General Store (because, I forgot, this mission is the third and final time you need it), I make my way further south.

This area was obviously hit pretty hard by nukes, but I'm not sure what was so valuable there that made it a bigger target than Los Angeles. My initial thought was perhaps the naval base in San Diego, but this is too far inland. Google tells me it was the West Tek research facility, which is a name that means nothing to me. I'll try and keep an eye out for it in future Fallouts.

The Glow's post card makes it look even uglier. Whoever those West Tek people were, somebody wanted them dead in a big way.

Perhaps the reason for this gratuitous overkill is because their headquarters appears to be a Vault.

Navigating around the gigantic hole is a little tricky, because it is not at all clear that there's enough room to walk by on the left. But there is. The Brotherhood corpse up top has the thing I need to complete the quest. I could try and activate the elevator to go down to sub-level 3, but there is so much radiation, and the way forward is so non-intuitive, that I prefer not to try my luck. Despite my radaways and quick moving, I probably took more than enough radiation as it is.

Case in point. My stats take a massive hit. Luckily, it's not quite enough to kill me.  I'm able to limp my way back to Brotherhood headquarters, where they seem surprised to see me.

It's a nice, high-tech building that definitely feels like a refuge after so much time wandering the desert.

They even have someone who can cure my radiation sickness.

So, all-in-all, I'm able to access this high-tech treasure trove without having to fight any enemies and with no permanent ill effects. I won't say it wasn't risky. I could well have taken too big a radiation dose to survive, but if I had to do it all again, I'd probably come straight here and take my chances.

Without having to do anything else, they just hand me advanced combat armor, but at the cost of a minor errand, even bigger rewards await. All I have to do is find an initiate who went missing in the hub.

Naturally, the police are useless. . .

But it doesn't matter, because I've got the second strongest armor in the game and a pistol that packs the punch of a rifle. A few thugs are nothing for me to worry about.

The trickiest part was poking my nose in every damned building in town until someone decided to attack me.

The guy was suitably grateful.

In addition to his heartfelt thanks, I get confirmation that my initiation test was just an attempt to get me killed. Real nice, Brotherhood. Classy.

Doesn't matter, though, because they give me what I came for.


It is clearly the best option on the list, though if I'm really min-maxing the game, I should choose something else, because there's actually another way to get power armor, whereas the rocket launcher or the super sledgehammer only show up in really expensive barter deals or on the corpses of powerful enemies.

Still, I'm impatient. And who wouldn't be when you look this damned good.

Not only does it make me effectively immune to small arms fire, but it also boosts my strength by four points. From this moment on, the only things I have to fear are high-end energy weapons and critical hits (because some critical hits bypass armor in its entirety and render all your fancy technology into a shiny metal container for your pureed organic goo).

I'm so pleased that I seek out the leader of the Brotherhood, to see if there are any more missions I can do for the order.

However, he gives me no more than a vague direction - search the northwest until I find the source of the mutant attacks. It is, of course, something that I was already planning on doing, but with any luck, I'll get an extra reward for it.

In the meantime, I decide to put my power armor through its paces. My main short-term goal is to kill the Deathclaws that are boxing in the Gun Runners so they will give weapons to the Blades so they can take down the Regulators (despite the fact that it would now be easier for me to skip all those intermediate steps and just directly attack Adytum by myself). However, I'm not yet sure how well my armor will do in anti-deathclaw combat.

So I need a test case. A single deathclaw I can go up against to see how well I do. For that, the creature stalking the Hub's caravans is the ideal choice.

I get some vital information from a ghoul named Harold

He will turn out to be an important recurring character, but for now he's just a talkative old guy who seems to be involved in half the wasteland's more important events (perhaps he's the player character from a more experimental alternate Fallout series). He gives me significant hints about the origins of the super mutants and their mysterious Master, and also directs me to talk to Slappy.

He's pretty much your stock rpg "crazy guy." Lots of nonsensical babble that is harmlessly wacky, but it turns out that he knows more than you assume . . . provided your assumptions are based on a complete ignorance of the last 400 years of popular culture. He leads me to the deathclaws lair, where I forget to get a screenshot of me easily dispatching it (but, no joke, it was totally heroic and awesome, trust me).

However, the poor deathclaw was falsely blamed for these heinous attacks. It turns out it was super mutants.

It's kind of sad, actually. The mutants appear to be able to care for their comrades, and experience the same fear of death as any "normal" human. Perhaps we are not so different after all. And yet we continue to slaughter each other, just like the short-sighted ancients who scorched this once beautiful world over petty resource disputes. I guess war never changes. . .

(Hey! I just got that!)

Friday, January 9, 2015

Fallout - Part 9: The Deadliest Tourist

In my continuing quest to wander around and stumble onto opportunities to earn xp, I discover this not at all suspicious-seeming church.

The head preacher guy is kind of surly and unhelpful, and there is another character with an animated face who gives also gives me basically nothing, so I don't stay long, but I have a feeling there is a quest associated with this place. I never find out what it was, but that's how things work in these big, complicated games. Sometimes you miss stuff.

The only thing you can do is try and poke your nose into every nook and cranny, in the hopes that random npcs will decide to tell you their problems.

Like so. This guy, Irwin, has had his farm overrun and occupied by raiders. The dickbags. Naturally, he is not averse to soliciting the aid of wandering mercenaries to take out the usurpers with extreme prejudice.

I actually played this mission twice. The first time, I did not block the door, and as a result Dogmeat rushed in and was subsequently targeted by every damned raider in the place. The only way I could stop that from happening is by ensuring I took 100% of the attacks. The thing is, Dogmeat is actually fairly useful as a combatant. He doesn't do a lot of damage, but he attacks so often that he gets a lot of critical hits, which can turn the tide of a battle when they happen at the right time. He also closes the distance to enemies extremely quickly, which is good for a few early hits. But damned if he is not a suicidal little shit. I wish I could control my companions directly, and maybe avoid some of this heartache, but presumably Interplay had their reasons for doing it this way.

The reward for this good deed was pretty good. In addition to looting all the bodies for huge amounts of ammo and easily resalable weapons, I also get a half dozen stimpacks from the various shelves (I'm going to assume they were put there by the raiders after they took over the place) and Irwin gives me his custom weapon - a pistol that has been modified to accept rifle ammunition. It's such a beast of a gun that I wind up using it until level 15, when I can buy the "Tag!" perk and thus get enough ranks in the Energy Weapons skill to make using a plasma rifle viable.

After that, I leave the hub, as it appears that the only remaining quests would have me working for criminals. I decide to head north, to the Raiders camp, and take care of some unfinished business.

And by that, I of course mean I slaughter everyone. In the process, I release some slaves, but is that really justice? Does that word even mean anything in this harsh post-apocalyptic wasteland? I can't say. All I know is that their stuff enriched me considerably, and the only logical place to take my new-found wealth was the Gun Runners compound down in the Boneyard.

Let me first take a moment to say how much I love these little postcards you get when you visit new areas. They're always a fun bit of setting flavor, though I'm not sure they're supposed to be in-setting artifacts (some of them are implausibly sophisticated - there's no way Junktown is organized or old enough to have tourist geegaws and others, like the map of the Brotherhood of Steel bunker are actual state secrets).

Anyway, this map finally establishes the game's geography beyond a shadow of a doubt. The Boneyard is Los Angeles, and from that information you can put the other locations in context. (Necropolis is on the ruins of Bakersfield, for example).

I don't really know what to expect, because this is a location I've avoided in previous playthroughs (there is basically no plot-related reason to come here). What I find is an armed camp.

It looks like a pretty stable and peaceful town. The barbed wire fence surrounding the whole thing gives it a disturbingly militaristic air, but that may well be a sensible precaution in these troubled times.

When I talk to Miles, the chemist, I certainly get the typical rpg-style "help us, oh total stranger, with problems you are probably not qualified to address" spiel. However, I am absolutely positive that "helping to repair the town's hydroponics" will boil down to a fetch quest in the end.

The mayor gives me a more interesting assignment.

Murder for hire! The Blades have apparently been kidnapping and torturing residents of the town for some time, and the mayor wants to put a stop to it. They took his son and returned him impaled on a spike. It is time for some old-fashioned frontier vengeance. Or at least, subcontracting out your frontier vengeance to the heavily armed stranger that has just so happened to pass through your town.

I strike out to the north to assassinate the leader of the Blades and restore peace to the town.

Though, when I finally find her, she tells a different story.

Apparently the Regulators are the ones who killed the Mayor's son, which is a likely story, but she has the video evidence to prove it. Rather than simply rushing into town and revealing the whole sordid truth, I must first go to the Gun Runners and see if I can convince them to supply the rebels with weapons. Sounds legit, but there's just one problem.

DEATHCLAWS! Three of them to be precise. It's an utter deathtrap. In the end, I have to reload a couple of times just to get through without engaging the beasts. What a terrible, terrible place to set up a business.

Then again, I get the feeling they are not fond of visitors. What is your revenue model, people? If a customer could reliably reach your shop, they would have no need of your product.

It's a little wacky, but they seem to be aware of the flaw in their business plan, because they agree to help me if I can just clear out their little deathclaw problem. At this point, that's about as likely as me visiting the moon, so I decide to wander about a bit and see if I can gain some more experience.

The obvious place to start is Necropolis, where I recall they were having something of a super mutant problem.

It appears that I'm too late. I could go on a rampage of revenge, but that would only delay my mission, and clearly this just became a race against time.

I'm going to need some bigger guns . . .