Thursday, January 1, 2015

Fallout - Part 1: The Character Createning

Fallout has the most incredible opening cinematic. Screenshots cannot do it justice, so let me just post a link to youtube:


Right away it sells the game, telling you everything you need to know about the world, and your place in it. The maniacs blew it all up, and the game knows they were maniacs, and it is going to make fun of them. I remember playing this game for the first time, almost 15 years ago (fuck, I'm old). I bought in a two-pack with Fallout 2. It had already been out for a couple of years, but this was before I had anything like regular internet service (and, indeed, at least a year or two before the world really caught on to the value of such), so I didn't know anything about it. I came into the game almost completely blind, and then the music started playing and I saw a cheerful 50s-ish propaganda mascot juxtaposed with this grim-as-fuck subject matter, and by 30 seconds in, I was hooked.

But enough reminiscing, let's get to the game itself. Fallout is a true hardcore game, because right away, before explaining anything about how the game is played or what challenges you might face, it throws you right in to character creation. If you're a complete newbie, you can select one of the preconstructed characters.

 Max Stone is a beefy brawler type with a decent agility (an absolutely essential attribute). I've never played him, but looking at his build, I'd say he's probably got some early game survivability, but is less than optimal for the long term. His high strength makes him good with melee weapons and his bare hands, which is great for when you run out of ammo, but by the late game, you're going to have plenty. He has small guns as a tagged skill, so he's not completely helpless, but honestly, you're probably better off optimizing for the stuff you're actually going to use.

Natalia is a bit better. She's got agility 10, a high-ish intelligence (which you want for extra skill points and dialogue options), and the gifted perk (which you want to take 100% of the time). However, her tagged skills include sneak and steal, which aren't exactly bad, but lend themselves to a specialized playstyle. She's probably the best of the preconstructed characters, but you'll either have to invest heavily in a better combat skill or find a power fist ASAP.

Albert is kind of a poorly designed character. He uses Agility as a dump stat, which not only makes him incredibly slow in combat, it also makes it harder for him to connect with his attacks and easier for enemies to hit him. I think the idea is that he's focused in Charisma and Speech, which do more than you might expect, but probably not enough to carry you through the game. Plus his low endurance makes him fragile, and his choice of perks is dubious. Skilled gives you extra skills, but slows your acquisition of further perks, so is completely not worth it. Good-natured is decent, but on a character as hopeless in combat as Albert, it just exacerbates his weakness. He might be all right for a pacifist playthrough, but he doesn't really have the speed to run away from the many, many enemies that will not respond to the peaceful approach.

Since none of these characters really appeals to me, and because I love tinkering with different builds, I decided to create my own character. Fallout has a really deep character creation system that strongly resembles a pen-and-paper rpg.

It's called the SPECIAL system, due to the acronym formed by the attribute names. It's kind of obscured by the fact that they decided to go with two letter abbreviations, but you can see them in the left corner there. From the top, they are strength, perception, endurance, charisma, intelligence, agility, and luck. These affect how successful you are with your skills, and also factor into your derived traits (seen in the middle, and being stuff like action points, radiation resistance, and critical chance). They each start at rating five, and you have five points to spend.

On the right are your skills. The starting rating is determined by your attributes (each skill has a formula which takes into account one or more attributes, but I don't feel like doing the research to find them). As you level up, you'll get a number of skill points (based on your intelligence), that will allow you to raise your skills. You must also select three "tagged" skills, which will cause skill points spent on them to count for double.

Finally, in the bottom left are the optional traits. These modify your character, giving bonuses and penalties that can influence how you level up or interact with certain game systems. You can choose up to two, but you don't have to. Since each one has both positive and negative effects, it's not always a good idea to have them. It really depends on your style (although you always want to choose Gifted).

Incidentally, none of the above is explained in the game, because Fallout is from a time when games had manuals. So if you wanted to know how this stuff worked, you'd have to actually read the little booklet that came with the game. Of course, if you were like me, and got the game in a rereleased bundle or digital download service, this may not be immediately apparent, and then you'd probably be a bit flustered at this screen. And even if you did read the manual (it is available on the internet, by the way), the character creation process is so complex that it's probable that you will run into one of the system's many traps. My advice is to try and find a guide (and you almost certainly don't want to use this blog as one, because I am mediocre at best).

With that in mind, here is my character, Duke:

I took the Gifted trait, which gives you an extra point in all your attributes, at the expense of fewer skill points per level. It's a ridiculously good bargain, because you don't need all that many skills, and attributes are hard to come by. I also took the fast shot trait, because aiming is useful, but shooting more bullets is better.

For my attributes, I chose to build up intelligence (because despite what I said earlier, skill points are still pretty important), and agility, because you've got to go fast. I bought Endurance and Perception down to five to get extra points, but no lower, because weak attributes are generally an invitation to disaster. Over the course of the game, I'll get more strength with power armor, and eventually outgrow the need for exceptional hit points, but this is not necessarily a great early-game build.

For my tagged skills, I chose small guns, because that's the best of the combat skills, speech, because you can often talk your way out of trouble (including the final boss), and lockpick, because I remember it being absolutely vital in Fallout 3, and I can't remember whether exploration is quite as important in this game.

And now, at last, I'm able to start the game. Next post. Because this one has gone on more than long enough.

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