war never changes

fallout gnomes“…on that fateful day, when fire rained from the sky, the giant steel door of Vault 101 slid closed… and never reopened. It was here you were born. It is here you will die.  Because, in Vault 101: no one ever enters, and no one ever leaves.”  –Narrator, Fallout 3

I found myself with time on my hands and a game I bought five years ago but never played.  So, this review is in no way timely and for that I apologize.  But hey, it’s hip to be square.  And to be honest if you haven’t played this game, you should.  If you have played it, you should play it again.

As soon as you exit the Vault you see them.  Skeletons huddled around the door.  The tattered and ripped signs.  “Let us in.”  “We are dying.”  You imagine them as they were then, banging on the door, begging, crying, holding up their signs to a blind camera.  You wonder if anyone inside watched them die.  Maybe prayed for them. How long has it been since you prayed?  You walk past them, over them, crunching them under your stolen boots, and when the sun hits your eyes for the first time in your life you squint and look out over a broken world.

It is just a game.  But yet, it is more.  It is not a FPS but a RPG and those acronyms might tell you where the difference lies.  Most games are linear.  There are not many choices.  You have a quest, a mission, a goal.  You get clues and directions.  You follow them.  You solve puzzles.  You shoot what gets in your way.  They can be clever, deadly, challenging but in the end you make your way through and face the Big Bad and emerge victorious.  Maybe you can play through on a harder difficulty setting, maybe you can download some new content.  But essentially you have played the game and that’s it.

Fallout is not like that.

You pick through the rubble to find guns, bullets, food, something to protect your head but instead you find the remains of lives that blew apart in an instant.  Teddy bears.  Baseballs and gloves.  Vacuums and lawnmowers.  Dinner plates still sitting on shelves.  Useless money moldering in cash registers.  Desk drawers full of the meaningless crap bureaucracy collects, coffee cups and clipboards and the precious bobby pins you use to pick locks.  Sometimes you break into an abandoned shack and find a skeleton in a bathtub with a bunch of empty whiskey bottles, its arms wrapped around a toaster.  In houses gutted by fire you find what is left of people curled together in their beds.  You find the letters they left each other, the books they read, the graves they dug.  You pilfer what you can use and you leave.

It has been 200 years since the bombs fell and I wander through the post-apocalyptic wasteland in and surrounding Washington DC.  Aside from the frisson of angst produced by seeing the Mall carved up for trench warfare, looting the Archives and American History Museum for artifacts, and using shattered Metro tunnels as shortcuts through the city, just traveling through the devastated countryside is decidedly weird.  The game maps are roughly accurate to real life geography and I am constantly running into places I know.  A few days ago I discovered “Old Olney”.  I drive through Olney now and then; it’s just up the road from me.  It is a growing suburb, full of shopping centers and giant single family homes, wide streets and lots of trees.  Old Olney is piled with rubble and twisted metal.  Its streets are pitted and cracked.  It is barricaded with wood and barbed wire but these barriers obviously failed because the place is infested with deathclaws.  The bones of their victims litter the streets.

The town, what’s left of it, is quiet.  You climb through a broken window into a building, a bank you think or maybe city hall, someplace that was important once.  As you pick through the remains of an old vending machine you hear the noise, somewhere above you.  You grab your gun and creep up the stairs.  You smell them before you see them.  Raiders.  If you had time for that sort of thing you’d wonder which was worse, the mutants with their experiments and their bags full of body parts or the raiders, who like to adorn their nests with the corpses of the people they’ve tortured.   When you have a clear shot at one of them you fire and the bullet takes his arm off and spins him into a wall.  As the others scramble for their weapons you get them both with headshots.  In the sudden quiet you hear only ragged breathing.  You walk up to the survivor and even as she pleads for her life you end it.  The stench is horrid and you loot the bodies quickly, including those of the raiders’ hapless victims.  When you are done, your pack lies heavy on your back.  It’s time to go to town again.

The world is not an empty place, even after the apocalypse.  There are survivors.  There are towns carved out of the devastation, places where people have managed to hold on not only to life but to a little bit of civilization and humanity as well.  There is a large and well armed military force trying to clean the mutants out of D.C.  A group of ghouls has set up a sanctuary in the Natural History Museum (yes, Henry is still there).  Some rich folks have barricaded themselves in a high rise luxury apartment building and do their best to pretend the war never happened.  Escaped slaves have set up a sanctuary at the Lincoln Memorial and there is apparently an underground railroad for escaped androids.  The safest city in the world is on a giant battleship (eerily reminiscent of the Staberinde) near the Jefferson Memorial.  There are wandering caravans, settlers living in the ‘burbs, some kids living in a cave.  I have a dog.

Scorpions.  The big ones.  You only see one but you know from hard experience that they always travel in pairs. It seems agitated and doesn’t see you.  You jab yourself with Jet and Psycho.  Your vision blurs and then sharpens with deadly focus as you track the big insect through the rocks.  You find a good spot and drop a few mines across a narrow gap.  When you shoot the scorpion it races toward you and the mines explode, tossing it up in the air, breaking it into pieces, and showering you with guts.  After you cut the poison glands from its twitching body you risk a glance from atop a rock but there’s no sign of its mate.  You find it later, a short way away, torn to pieces.  Something is very wrong.

Nearly everything involves a moral choice.  Sometimes these choices are clear.  The raiders are sadists; the mutants are ghoulish monsters.  They are hostile immediately and there is no negotiating with them.  Most of the machines have gone mad and shoot at anything that moves.  The scorpions and deathclaws and mirelurks attack on sight and my only choice is to kill them or avoid them.  I did take the Animal Friend perk because that way I don’t have to shoot the dogs that roam around.  On the other hand, townspeople, wandering caravans, and wasteland settlers are generally friendly and useful.  The game does provide some clues; if you try to open anything highlighted in red (safes, doors, boxes, etc), or pick a friendly person’s pocket, or kill someone not hostile to you, you get negative karma.  Assisting people, rescuing captives, giving them supplies (or just letting them keep the ones they offer you in payment), finishing quests for “good” people grants you good karma.  Good karma has some benefits; every time I visit Megaton to trade someone runs up to me, thanks me for being awesome, and gives me a useful item.  But there is a wide expanse of grey in some of the game’s options.

Most of the town is ruined, the once expensive homes now splintered board and broken glass.  You dig out some old ammo boxes from the rubble and are startled to hear a little girl’s voice.  “Who are you?”  She’s pale and thin and looks at you without much interest.  “I live over there.”  She runs off toward one of the few relatively intact houses but before you can follow a voice hisses at you from the ruined shack next door.  “Don’t go in there.  Those people…they aren’t natural.  They…do things.  Those poor kids.”  The old man twitches his rag of a curtain and looks over at the house.  “My wife…she…”  He sighs.  “Just don’t go over there.”  Later, sitting in the clean, neat house across the street you eye the girl’s parents as they laugh.  “Old Man Harris has been crazy since his wife died.”  The mom smiles at you brightly.  “It’s so nice to have visitors!  Will you stay for dinner?”

It is difficult to be a lawful good character in this world; sometimes the only way to do good is to do evil.  Many times someone my instinct tells me is evil is nice to me, gives me quests, promises useful things if I do something for them.  Life is brutal out in the Wasteland and choices have to be made.  Do I help the slavers capture slaves or help their targets (most of whom aren’t very nice people) escape?  Do I disarm the bomb in Megaton or blow it up?  Do I kill poor Harold the Tree Man or help his worshipers keep him alive? I follow my gut, try to do the right thing, but…every action has an effect and other than a momentary boost to my karma I really have no idea of the longer term consequences of my actions.  And believe me, things in this game most definitely have long-term consequences.  I actively fret about this.  Maybe I shouldn’t have helped the vampires that live in the subway (but their leader has such soulful eyes…).  Maybe helping the ghouls take over Tenpenny Tower wasn’t the right choice (but god, Alistair Tenpenny is a such a dick).  I brokered peaceful solutions in both these cases but neither of them feels completely right.  And I have no idea what to do about the cannibals in Andale.

Night is falling and you find a place to camp.  It’s a good place, protected and defensible, so you allow yourself a small fire.  You wash your dinner down with the last of your whiskey.  You clean your weapons, repair your armor, patch yourself up as best you can.  You rest your head on Dogmeat’s furry flank and page through some of the junk you find in the ruins, junk you can’t help but take.  Old books, newspapers, holotapes, the things that tell you how life used to be.  You gaze up at stars that have shone unchanged for millennia.  Those same stars watched the war that lasted hours, the war that ended one world and began another.  Your world.  The chronometer on your Pip-Boy dings softly and you flick it on and glance at the message.  You smile up at the stars.  Tomorrow is your birthday.  Tomorrow you will be twenty years old.

If they make an MMO of this I am lost forever.


Score:  W00t!

~ by gun street girl on May 8, 2013.

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