Saturday, October 04, 2014

Another Apocalypse That Forces Me Into Subways. Swell.

I finished playing Fallout 3 a few weeks ago, I just haven't gotten around to reviewing it until now. Well, I didn't finish everything. I tried the bonus mission with the space aliens and got sick of it, and I have no interest in seeing post-apocalyptic Pittsburgh, or getting swept up in some slaves' quest for freedom.

Look, I already killed the slavers that set up camp in the Lincoln Memorial so a bunch of escaped slaves could establish a new settlement there. Let someone else take a turn doing all the work.

I didn't buy it myself, it was a gift from a friend (the one I tried to reciprocate by purchasing Super Metroid for), because they were really intent on me playing Fallout 3.

Basic story is this: You grow up in a "Vault", basically a big fallout shelter after the a nuclear apocalypse as the result of some war between the U.S. and China. Though the war happened around 2080, the world is stylistically stuck in the 1950s. I guess for Cold War paranoia about nuclear holocaust, but it was a little strange. Also, the 1950s are not my favorite time period, aesthetically. Your father (voiced by Liam Neeson) works as a doctor there, until he abruptly vanishes around your 20th birthday. No one is supposed to be able to leave, so this puts you in a bit of a spot, and you flee into the Wasteland, seeking your father.

In theory. The nice thing is that, for a long period of time, you don't have to worry about finding your dad. I think if you want to reach the "end" of the story, you have to track him down, but you can put that off as long as you want. There are plenty of other people who want your help, people to rob or kill, things to explore. The game generally gives you the choice of how to proceed if you take on a quest. So a bar owner asks you to find a former employee he claims absconded with his money, in exchange for information on your father. You track down the lady, and then the choice is yours. You can make her give up the money and take it back to the guy, or keep it for yourself and tell him she didn't have it. You can give him your own cash and leave her be, or you could kill her and take the caps yourself (bottle caps are the currency).

After I did that mission and found out where my dad went, I ignored him for probably the next 30 hours of play. He went to Washington D.C., cities have bigger and meaner enemies, and I wasn't that confident in my grasp of the combat system. So I stayed in the Wastelands, where the foes were more scattered and not necessarily as hostile.

Which doesn't mean I didn't die. I did, frequently. It took me a while before anyone explained what use I was getting out of putting skill points into Repair (the instruction manual was a paltry 3 or 4 pages, thanks game designers). So my equipment was constantly breaking, or I had to waste caps paying to have it fixed. The VATS system took a while for me to really grasp, and until I had enough points into my various weapons skills, I wasn't doing enough damage for it to seem very effective. Use VATS, fire at enemy's head (or whatever region of their form I'd like to shoot) 3 or 4 times, watch enemy not die and continue shooting me. Woohoo. Eventually I leveled up and it started to work more frequently, but early on, I was more than content to avoid fighting. Except I didn't have enough points in Sneak to be able to do that well. So better to stick to open areas. It did bring some tension, because when the little heads up display showed enemies ahead, I might not know what they were, and I was never sure if it was a fight I could win. Heck, even when I was Level 30, I wasn't always sure I could win, if it involved Super Mutants. I suppose that's good, that I couldn't ever get too complacent, because the game might throw a Deathclaw at me any moment (I found the best bet with those was to target a leg. If they're limping, you can outrun them, or shoot them in the face while backpedaling).

For me, the fun was the roaming, nosing through the buildings still standing, finding old computer logs, letters, or tape recordings. Some of what I found was sad, some of it grimly funny, a lot of it was disturbing (the Vaults had an ugly backstory). There were some interesting people, eventually. Some of their stories were sad, some were funny, or disturbing. The things people grab hold of to keep going. I couldn't decide if they were nuts, or if they were experiencing a perfectly reasonable response to the circumstances. A lady creates a museum in her home to a popular soda, and wants me to track down a batch of the experimental flavor they only recently released before the end of the world. Is that nuts? Well, she seemed chipper, and still able to clothe herself, not hacking people to bits or anything. So maybe no different from the people we have who are obsessed with stamps, or comic books.

Early in the game, though, it felt like every person was a jerk or just annoying, especially in Megaton. It was an open debate whether I'd disarm the unexploded nuke in the middle of town, or detonate it and kill them all. I wound up disarming it. Even in video games I can't get into killing people I don't deem to have deserved it. I mean, you try to kill me, or betray my trust, yeah, I'll go after you (see Pavel in Metro: Last Light). But otherwise, not so much. Eventually their eccentricities grew on me. Also, I met other, more violent people I could take out my frustrations on. Not that combat was ever the selling point of the game for me.

I did enjoy that I just randomly found my dad later in the game. I wasn't looking for him, I skipped two or three stages in the search for him and there he was, in some weird facility under an old garage I was nosing around in. Of course, then I tried to kill him and the game wouldn't let me, which kind of put a damper on my enthusiasm. What? He abandoned me with no explanation under some b.s. theory I'd be safer in the Vault. Screw that guy. The game wouldn't let me do it. I did find it interesting (read: irritating) that later on, he had a task I had to complete because no one else was available. Why did he not have enough people, given I was supposed to be in the Vault? Really irritated the game wouldn't let me kill him.

I need to complain about the map system. The map for a given area shows an overall floor layout, but doesn't differentiate between floors. It might show where an objective is, but I can't tell if it's on the same floor, above or below me. Which, if the stupid Pip-Boy can show me the location, you'd think it could give me that much (the direction the marker arrow points might tell which it is, I'm not sure). It makes finding my way around pretty difficult. I really can't stress enough how much I got sick of that map's general uselessness.

Also, the game froze up on me at least 3 or 4 times, which has not happened with any other game I've owned, except maybe Red Dead Redemption once.

The game does react to your decisions, not only in obvious ways (such as not being able to buy anything in Megaton if you blow it up). Annoy the wrong people, and they'll hire mercenaries to hunt you. People you help may give you access to different things. You can listen to Galaxy News Radio on your Pip-Boy, and their DJ will periodically update the people with details of your exploits, with his own commentary depending on whether he approved or not. This did bug me, because at one point he criticized me for not helping some lone survivor of a giant ant attack find a new home (after I went and killed all the giant, napalm spewing ants by myself), while I was in the middle of a mission for him. I decided I had better things to do for the next several hours, helping people who aren't ungrateful asses. At another point he criticized me for not rescuing some people who had been kidnapped by Super Mutants. Except I had rescued them, but one of them just had to pick a fight with a Raider, and wound up dead. How is it my fault they're idiots?

Ultimately, that's the fatiguing thing, everyone seems to look to me to do everything. I'm not sure how any of these people survived before I came ambling along. Maybe the answer is by keeping their eyes peeled for do-gooder suckers like me. Which is an argument in favor of being evil, I guess, but I can never seem to commit to it. I just periodically do bad things.

There's a Karma meter in the game, which I didn't entirely understand. Stealing from someone is bad, or killing an innocent person. OK, makes sense. Taking things that belonged to people who have been dead a long time isn't. But, if someone you knew, who had given you a quest gets killed, and you help yourself to their supplies (which you likely would have received as payment anyway), that's bad. Um what? I didn't kill them. Usually if someone tries to kill you, killing them in self-defense and robbing their corpse is given a pass. Every so often, though, I'd get attacked by some Wasteland Settler, for reasons I didn't understand. Best guess was I'd accidentally shot in their direction while fending off wild dogs or a Raider. They wouldn't stop attacking me, even after I tried to run, so I'd defend myself. And I'd get bad Karma for it. That struck me as pretty unfair, especially since the game didn't bat an eye if I sought out the Raiders, killed them by surprise and took all their stuff. The game was making value judgements about these characters' existences without really letting me in on them, then judging me by how I acted towards them. I'm not really clear on what role the Karma played in the game, probably affected how willingly some people would talk to me, but I can't be certain.

The game did give me the option to have a friend tag along. I didn't have much interest in it until one character insisted, because I had saved their life. I felt they'd already repaid that debt, but they were quite eager, and quite large, and carrying a laser gatling, so I didn't press the issue. I did get very complacent about fights after they started helping me, but like I said, I wasn't playing to kill people (though I did, a lot), I just wanted to look around. And it was nice to let someone else do the heavy lifting for awhile. And once I got the stealth armor, I was mostly able to avoid fights entirely. Just sneak past and go on my way, though once I got the shocksword I couldn't resist the occasional sneak attack. Hey, it was only on bad people, graverobbers and cannibals swamp rednecks and stuff like that.. I know this because my Karma didn't take a hit for it.

The problem is, sooner or later you see everything there is to see. This was why Point Lookout was my favorite of the bonus content. It provided me with a whole new place to explore (unfortunately also a whole new set of jerks to contemplate betraying and killing). Most of the others felt extremely linear and concentrated on shooting people, so they turned into a slog. At least I got some good stuff in Point Anchorage.

I guess I could start over, see if I can be truly evil. I ought to be able to manage it one of these days.

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