Entropic Crusader

Home of sci-fi and fantasy author, Benjamin Matthews
The concept art makes this location look SO much better.

Let’s kick off by grumbling about Megaton, since it’s likely to be the first location you run into as a new player. I’ll also be adding a section on Canterbury Commons for reasons that will become clear as we go along. So… good old Megaton. I actually like this place as a general concept—leaving aside the silly unexploded bomb aspect.

It’s an interesting setting and pretty unusual in that it’s a new town built from scratch, rather than based out of an existing structure or location, even if those other structures and locations would’ve made for a better town in both the short and long term. Oh, well.

First of all, let’s quickly examine why these people are in Megaton. Back when the war first happened, there were nasty dust storms all the time and people had to take shelter on short notice. Megaton’s crater is the site of where a nuke impacted (more on this in a sec, because it makes no sense) and therefore became a useful sheltered spot for people to stop and hide from the dust storms.

Over time these people started staying longer and longer and the Children of Atom also showed up because of the bomb. Together they built up a small community until it eventually became the Megaton we see in the game. Okay. That makes sense, kudos to whoever came up with this. Unfortunately the rest of the story begins falling apart at this point. And part of this is due to the insane length of time between when the bombs fell and when the game takes place, but I’ll complain about that another time.

So… we have this crater community that sprang up due to a world hazard that makes sense in the context of the game’s setting. There’s also some talk about how they were protected from raiders which makes no real sense (the raiders would, as the meme goes, have the high ground, so actually you’d be screwed inside that crater), but otherwise this is a fine bit of backstory.

What is not fine is the bomb. How the hell did a bomb that didn’t even detonate create a crater that fricken’ massive? The bomb is still there, so clearly it didn’t go off, and an airburst doesn’t create a big crater like this. Or are we supposed to believe that the crater was the result of another nuke and then somehow, by some crazy coincidence, another plane just happened to either crash right in the crater, or dropped its payload right in the crater?

Either way, this isn’t reasonable at all. And in the case of the latter it makes double no sense, because city-killer nuclear weapons are designed to detonate several hundred feet in the air so that the blast wave and heat do the greatest possible damage. The only time you’d want a nuke to physically impact the ground is if you were using it as a bunker buster and wanted to destroy a hardened, subterranean military target.

I do love the Art Deco design of everything, even the fuel stations.

So yeah… while the backstory is mostly fine, the bomb itself is a bit… weird. More on this in a bit. For now, let’s examine Megaton as it exists in the game world. First, it’s a crater, and that means you’re going to have issues with flooding the moment it rains. And this is DC, so rain is going to be a common thing.

On the other hand, you could turn that to your advantage by piping it to your water purifier (which Megaton does have, in-game), thereby making a problematic situation beneficial. The flooding would still be an issue if you couldn’t figure out a reasonable pumping system, however, so again I don’t really see a crater as a very viable location to settle, even taking into account the dust storms back story.

Additionally, a settlement’s success is also contingent on having some means of producing food, which Megaton doesn’t, beyond scavenging (two-hundred years, remember, there should be nothing left to scavenge!). They’d starve within a week, tops. With a large enough crater this could be mitigated by either planting crops (and hoping they’re not drowned during the next rainy day) or having planters up on wooden gantries.

Or hell, make use of the substantial rainfall of this region and show that these people are utilising hydroponics to get by! We could say they’ve got methods for producing a decent quantity of liquid fertilizer; perhaps a combination of ash from burning greenery—since the world should be green, not grey—and manure, with some ground up bones from slaughtered animals (… or raiders) which would provide the nutrients necessary for growing crops indoors. This would of course conflict with Rivet City, but we’ll get to them in a later post.

If we absolutely must have the ‘water purifier’ main plot again, then we could also tie that into this by saying that the rain water they collect isn’t pure enough and their purifier doesn’t have the necessary throughput to fulfil the needs of both their crops and their people.

The impure water is affecting their crops’ quality and yield (maybe even causing disease), so having clean, purified water in large quantities (as per Dad’s ridiculous plan at the Jefferson Memorial) would be a huge benefit to these people rather than the massive waste of time and resources it is now. That way you have some nice flavour for this town and it ties nicely into the main plot.

As things stand, though, it seems that Canterbury Commons is meant to be their main source of food, supplies, and so on. This could work in a functioning economy of some sort where Megaton is in a position to trade for goods they need. But what does Megaton actually produce?

Nothing of worth except for a small amount of water, which everyone in the wasteland clearly already has, since they’ve been surviving just fine for 200 years. And as Moira has you heading off to the Super Duper Mart to scavenge for supplies, this doesn’t really indicate that Megaton has much to offer.

Super Mutants, Raiders, Molerats, GIANT SCORPIONS. Yeah, one guard seems reasonable.

As for Megaton itself, you’ll no doubt recall that it consists in no small part of corrugated metal buildings and the cannibalised fuselages of several commercial airliners. It’s indicated that they probably took these materials from a nearby airport (probably Dulles?), but… if that’s the case, why not set up there instead? I’ll come back to that in a sec.

If we’re looking at the game world as it is, meaning the Children of Atom helped build this place in the early days, then the bomb is a central component to this location. And that means we have an undetonated nuclear weapon in our home (we’ll gloss over the fact that nukes probably wouldn’t work any more after this length of time, but it’s Fallout, a different continuity to our world or whatever, so I can accept that some things just work differently here).

Serious question: why did no one disarm this thing the moment the cultists weren’t looking? Scientists are not that rare in this world, so this bomb should have been disarmed decades before the Lone Wanderer came along with a packet of Mentats in his / her pocket. But… okay, fine. Nobody thought about it, or they couldn’t find any scientists, so it falls to the player. It’s not even a five minute quest. You talk to the sheriff, you pop a mentat, you disarm it. Done. That’s… not exactly thrilling, or indeed compelling.

Instead, why not make it more of an involved quest where people are kind of tired of the Atom folks and they also don’t want this unexploded bomb in the middle of their town any more?

Maybe the residents want you to either murder the cultists or persuade them to leave? Perhaps by finding a stockpile of nukes elsewhere in the world for them to worship? ‘See, guys? Now you can worship TWENTY bombs instead of just one!’ Fort Constantine just so happens to fit this bill nicely, and I have plans for that place later.

The whole point of Fallout is choices like this. Do you side with the cultists and kill everyone else? Side with the people and kill the cultists? Maybe even side with Burke and vaporise everyone for no good reason? Or take the more diplomatic and dangerous route of trying to find a new home for the cultists that will still suit their atom-worshipping desires? Sure, this would take a bit more time and effort (and budget) for some additional lines of dialogue plus scripting and creating new quest stages. But this is (probably) the first location the player visits, it should have a bit more to it than just ‘lulz, let’s nuke a town’.

I think my explosion broke…

We could also make this part of the back story of the place and say that the people did in fact murder the Atom cultists once construction of the town was completed. They no longer needed the extra help and they wanted the bomb disarmed, so blammo! Cultists were killed and thrown in a mass grave, providing an unpleasant and dark history for the player to discover, making for a nice ‘needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few’ plot point to dig into.

There are plenty of ways you could take a location like this, whether part of the back story or the current events, but Bethesda went with the most bland option possible: do you save the puppy or murder the puppy?

On the subject of the bomb itself, this received a lot of attention back in the day. ‘Blow up an entire town! Your decisions matter!’ said the promotional materials, paraphrased a bit. So… what exactly is the point? Yeah, Tenpenny wants it gone for a completely inane reason, but beyond that it’s there… just because? Does it enhance the world in any way? Not really. It just removes a whole location for lulz. And a pretty explosion, best watched at night.

There’s also the fact that you can perform this heinous act, then give a beggar a dozen bottles of water and be back to neutral or even good karma. After massacring an entire town, I think that should warrant some sort of permanent negative karma status, like ‘beyond redemption’ levels. But then I’m not a big fan of the karma system in the first place, so personally I’d just remove it.

I mentioned earlier that it would probably be better to simply set up at the airfield instead of pulling all the planes apart and dragging the metal over to the crater. So let’s talk briefly about that.

What advantages does an airfield give you? Plenty! You have flat ground to build on, you can pull concrete from nearby buildings to fortify everything, and you’d likely have plentiful soil for planting crops (and failing that, just go with the planter / hydroponics route again; you have plenty of flat ground for it!).

There are some unknowns here (since the airport isn’t directly shown in the game world), but since they clearly found enough intact aircraft to build substantial portions of Megaton with them, the airfield was probably reasonably undamaged. They’d have had a nice tall tower for lookouts / snipers, plus probably a terminal building or two. Something similar to McCarran in New Vegas, in short. And if the structures were trashed? That just gives you material for building new things, even if only barricades and walls to keep undesirables out.

I’ll come back to Megaton in a moment, but first let’s take a gander at Canterbury Commons.

Superzero Gambit.

Canterbury Commons is an odd location. On the one hand, it’s actually really good in several important aspects; plenty of open land for farming (which doesn’t exist in the game, but hypothetically speaking), lots of space for people to live, and several decent buildings and facilities nearby that they could take various scrap metal and other materials from in order to expand the town itself, or even to use as trade goods.

On the other hand, it’s way too open and therefore vulnerable to attack, has the aforementioned lack of farming or other means of food / water production, and is home to possibly the dumbest quest in the game. I’m unusually ambivalent about this location, a definite Marmite feeling.

There is at least a Brahmin pen out back, so I guess that would do for food—with how small the community is in the base game—but for any reasonable size of settlement, that little pen ain’t going to cut it. Of course, you could argue that it’s an abstraction (really it’s a console limitation, but same basic deal) and that it really represents a larger community. Fair enough, but some signs of farming would be nice, even on a reduced scale.

The whole point of this settlement is that it was meant to be a hub for caravan traders, led by Uncle Roe. Uh… somewhere along the way that seems to have gone very off the trails, doesn’t it? There are something like five people here. Five. Seven, if you include the dumbass superheroes, but they have their own places outside the town in any case. That’s not a settlement, that’s an embarrassment.

In fact… before we go further, I should probably ask if you even remember this location? It’s right over the east side of the map and, absent any particular reason to go there, could easily be missed or forgotten. Despite its odd geographical location, though, it could make for a good little settlement with a bit of extra work.

Location! Location! Location!”

So what would I do here? I’d overhaul Canterbury Commons into an actual trading hub for starters, adding in a number of caravans and merchants. Think something along the lines of the Crimson Caravan Company in New Vegas. The geographical location is also an oddity. Realistically speaking, this makes no difference; in the real world there aren’t arbitrary borders to a map. But in a game sense, putting this over the very east side of the map feels odd when Canterbury Commons is meant to be a trading hub.

What I’d do is place it a bit further to the west and maybe north, having it be a decent-sized hub settlement the player is likely to hit soon after leaving the Vault. A place of relative comfort where some quests can be picked up, plus a bit of info on the main quest line, maybe a companion, shops, whatever.

As noted above, it would also introduce caravans and trade routes, informing the player about how important these are to the functioning of the wasteland in general. And it would tie into several other areas, quests, and characters over the whole region in addition.

Perfect spot for a shanty town.

I said I’d be coming back to Megaton, and that’s because I would likely tie these two locations together into a single settlement, if given the choice. My reason for this is simple: Megaton is being replaced by another settlement I’ll talk about in a later part, so using the general concept of Megaton and combining it with Canterbury Commons seems like a good plan.

First, let’s add a little shanty town kind of deal to the outskirts of the location, right near where the Antagoniser has her lair. That’ll be more or less like Megaton, using aircraft sections and scrap from the aforementioned nearby airfield. There’ll also be a proper wall around the whole place, again using some of those materials (concrete and so on; picture Tenpenny Tower’s wall).

This gives us a nice scratch-built look around the edges as more people moved into town and they had to expand, with a sturdy town centre made from the bones of the Old World. And if we say this place also has the hydroponics issues we discussed in the last chapter, that gives us some potential for quests and ties nicely into the pure water main quest (in the event we didn’t change that to something else, of course).

Next, this place is a major trading hub for caravans, so that means they need two things: commodities to trade, and protection. And potentially a convenient currency, which could be something valuable in the region, perhaps rare metals or ammunition, something with physical value that can’t be easily counterfeited.

Hell, something as simple as casino chips could work, if we said that Canterbury Commons was a pre-war gambling hotspot. Given that these chips would be limited in number and couldn’t easily be counterfeited, they’d make for a decent local currency. For commodities, the usual food and water and so on can be traded, especially if they have a lot of spare food as a result of decent farming land and hydroponics, but let’s add something else to that.

We have a big ol’ factory just up the hill where the Mechanist hides out, so why not use it? The Mechanist himself is a ridiculous character as he stands, but we can still make use of him. Instead of the superhero nonsense, let’s say he’s talented with machines, welding, and robotics, and he runs the factory with a staff of, say, a dozen people (okay, console limitations mean it’d really be… three, but still).

He refurbishes and repairs robots, and since Bethesda introduced the incredibly silly idea that Mr Handy units can produce purified water, thereby completely undermining their whole story with Dad’s project, that would make his skill with robots one of the most sought-after in the whole Wasteland.

Maybe he even builds some as well, putting them together out of parts stripped from broken robots. Beyond that, he will also produce various other useful items. We can even keep the superhero deal as well, just make it a quirky part of his character that he’s into Old World comics, and maybe have a quest where he’ll give favours if you bring him comic issues found in the wastes.

This gives the settlement incredibly valuable commodities for trade in addition to food and other items. But… I’m also going to say that they have a rival plant elsewhere in the world. That’ll be to do with Tenpenny and I’ll talk about that soon, but suffice to say, these two settlements don’t get along and will be not only rivals, but potentially even at war on occasion, both the shooting and economic varieties.

Robot Commodities.

For protection, the caravans will employ mercs and dedicated caravan guards, but Uncle Roe is looking to improve their security due to attacks by Tenpenny’s crew, raiders, etc. This’ll open up a quest chain where the player can scour the wastes for willing recruits, but the number one option will actually involve Reilly’s Rangers.

I’ll devote another post to them and some of the other minor factions later, but I’ll just say that the Rangers will be looking to expand their own operations, hoping to secure more lucrative contracts on a permanent basis. There’ll be more than just 4 or 5 of them as well, but depending on the player’s actions Reilly’s faction can either grow, remain stagnant, or potentially even be wiped out if you’re siding with the likes of Tenpenny.

And finally, quests for Canterbury itself. There’d be the usual fare working for individuals in the town who need specific things done, potentially even including jobs based on the player’s repair stat in the factory on the hill, or science stat-based jobs to do with the hydroponics farm, etc.

But I’m also thinking you’d be able to take on a substantial quest chain to reduce Tenpenny’s influence. Sabotaging Tenpenny’s competing robotics plant, organising armed revolt (more on this in the Tenpenny post!), assassinating Tenpenny himself, and similar things would all be on the cards. Likewise, the reverse will be true if playing as a less salubrious type allied with Tenpenny’s faction.

Next up will be… Tenpenny, naturally. I’m not so awful as to leave you hanging after mentioning his faction in this part. I’ll be talking a bit about the Roy Phillips quest and how Bethesda’s one-dimensional ideas of class divides might be fixed and improved, plus of course talking a bit about Tenpenny’s own operations, his control over the Talon Company mercs, and more.

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