Entropic Crusader

Home of sci-fi and fantasy author, Benjamin Matthews
It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel… fine?

So… here we are at the end of the world and, indeed, at the end of this series. The Capital Wasteland is now a more sane, structured, and lively place, and we have some idea of how much better Fallout 3 could have been. And it wouldn’t even have taken that much more effort compared to what they already did, which is possibly the worst part of the whole thing.

Instead of allocating budget to making a world that felt alive and interesting, they dumped an insane amount of money into pointless crap like hiring Liam Neeson for a role he doesn’t suit, for a character that makes no sense and is, in all likelihood, actually the villain of the story (seriously, go read Shamus’s ‘The Blistering Stupidity of Fallout 3’ series again and tell me Dad isn’t the bad guy).

There are plenty of smaller problems with the game that we could still discuss. For example, playing as a cannibal character and actually providing a proper play-style for that, which could tie into Evergreen Mills. We could have fun perks like ‘Organic Living’ (or ‘Cut & Gut’, to go with an appropriately morbid and humorous name that befits the series) that might allow you to harvest meat and organs from human corpses and turn them into fine meals.

But at the same time, taking cannibal and its associated perks and recipes could lock you out of other avenues, and would come with some penalties and consequences. Let’s say that karma would be permanently knocked down to neutral at most, and you’d never be able to raise it to good or higher again.

The more human flesh you consume, the more your character will crave it, making other foods less appetising and potentially even adding debuffs if you consume them. Meanwhile, eating a corpse or one of your cannibal recipes would start giving you buffs… and would eventually be required or you’ll go into withdrawal and gain penalties to stats.

Additionally, because the likes of raiders are incredibly low quality (hopped up on chems, malnourished, probably disease-ridden, etc.) you’d have to be munching on people from the better communities out there in order to get your ‘fix’, thereby raising your risk profile dramatically in the event you’re caught murdering someone.

Or how about the runaway slaves (The Temple of the Union guys) holed up with good ol’ Abe? I’m sure we could integrate them more firmly into our rather more fleshed out world, perhaps help them find a new home at nearby Old Olney, or send them to Evergreen Millis as arena fodder or something. That’s in addition to the default game options, where you can turn them in to the slavers if you wish.

Imagine thinking that Lincoln was a good guy, SMH.

We could discuss karma and reputation, and how they could stand to affect each other a bit more, specifically in the direction of faction reputation affecting karma. For instance, why not have the karma hit for stealing or killing a member of a faction you’re friendly towards be much higher than stealing from an enemy?

If you’re friends with a faction, you should be more heavily penalised for doing something against them. But likewise, you shouldn’t be getting a -5 karma ding for every item you steal from an enemy faction. -1 perhaps, since it is stealing, but not -5. A floating scale depending on relationships with factions would go a long way towards making karma less annoying and more reasonable.

Then there’s Mama Dolce’s place, where you meet the Chinese Remnant (and potentially my ghoul character that I mentioned before). It’s an old meat processing facility of some sort and was originally a front for these guys, pre-war, so how about we say that instead of feral ghouls, it’s a group of regular ghouls who are still fighting the old war?

The ghouls here have effectively made a business out of their hatred, using capitalism as a weapon against the capitalist pigs themselves, or so they think. The idea behind this place would be that the Chinese ghouls have become fixated on the idea of destroying America from within, but they’ve also kind of lost the plot and have got it into their heads that the best way to do this is to supply food to the other settlements in a free trade system.

The operation is split into two parts. The public-facing factory with its friendly, smiling ghouls providing good quality meat to the world. And the private death squads who sneak around the Wasteland looking for unfortunate sods to kidnap and uh… yeah, provide some of the material for them to sell.

So the Chinese get to have a laugh at the expense of the filthy capitalists by feeding their own people to them while simultaneously being treated as fine, upstanding members of society who are doing their part for the world. Beautiful. If we’re going to have cannibalism, given it’s pretty generic in post-apoc stories now, then at least give it a twist.

Mama Dolce’s, finding the best ways to serve man.

This also gives the aforementioned cannibal players a location to buy good quality meat for their recipes. There’s also the Arlington Cemetery nearby, giving them a convenient dumping ground for body parts, bones (or sell them to Canterbury for use in fertilisers…), and other butchery refuse. The player could potentially even examine some of the graves to find clues before discovering Mama Dolce’s itself.

How about the main antagonists? Why not go in a new direction entirely and say it’s a foreign faction? Perhaps the Brits found an old Ark Royal class aircraft carrier and have arrived offshore, bringing with them a new colonial spirit (Bethesda’s clearly enamoured with the idea of the old US, Minutemen, etc, so this could tie into that). We could learn a bit about what’s been going on in that part of the world since the bombs fell.

It wouldn’t be that difficult to have a pristine texture set that goes over the same models used for Rivet City (similar to how there are pristine and ruined versions of the Vaults). Perhaps the Brits have used helicopters (not Vertibirds, since those are a post-war Enclave invention) to drop off troops at Adams Air Force Base, giving us our big showdown, or maybe we go there to find a vehicle to take us to the aircraft carrier for a final confrontation there.

And on and on, there are plenty of little (and not so little) tweaks we could still make, but I think we’ve probably covered a more than adequate sufficiency. So now that I’ve dumped all over Fallout 3, ripped it apart, tinkered with it, and tried to make something a bit more coherent out of Bethesda’s mess, let’s talk about what this game did well. This won’t take long. Because honestly, Fallout 3 did so little well… but what it did do, it did with a decent degree of competency.

I’ll kick off with a twofer: exploration and atmosphere, since those kind of go hand in hand. I will give Bethesda credit there, they’re very good at tone, mood, and atmosphere (well… they were, but Starfield shows they’ve clearly lost even that), creating a nonsensical world of theme park attractions that have a certain feel to them and are enjoyable to explore, or randomly spot on the horizon and make your way towards.

When I first played the game not long after release it felt oppressive, foreboding, and deadly. Leaving the Vault, I headed into the wastes and immediately died to a raider with a hunting rifle who was lurking in a ruined city building. I ran across Tenpenny Tower for the first time at night, which bumped my reaction up from what would’ve been a simple ‘neat’ to ‘wow, this is pretty amazing’.

The story never grabbed me because, quite frankly, I never gave the remotest of shits about Dad. Why should I? I don’t know him or feel any special attachment to him. But the feeling of aimlessly wandering the wastes from one location to the next couldn’t be beaten at the time.

A good lighting mod certainly helps the atmosphere.

I played the game at the same time as a couple of online friends and we’d swap screenshots of random cool stuff we’d found; Megaton, Tenpenny Tower, our first Behemoth, Liberty Prime. Despite it firmly being single player, that communal spirit we shared added a lot to the enjoyment factor.

So yeah… I have to say they did a pretty good job there. Not stellar, it got fairly samey after a while and the green haze over everything didn’t help, but overall it was a good experience.

I don’t necessarily have anything against Bethesda, per se. There are a huge number of talented people there (ridiculous numbers of engine / scripting bugs notwithstanding). I can’t stand Todd Howard (Liar Supreme), Emil Pagliarulo (Worst Writer Ever), and Pete Hines (Certified Asshole), sure, because the vast majority of problems in Bethesda’s games seem to be a direct result of this trifecta of tragedy.

But the studio itself? Yeah, they have (or had…) talent. Fallout 3’s world, while potentially too samey and bland in a lot of ways—a criticism you could feasibly level at Fallout 1, 2, and NV as well—does at least have a solid art direction and is thematically consistent. Likewise, Fallout 4’s world is vivid and beautiful, if still lacking in greenery, though it’s certainly got more than Fallout 3. As I mentioned in the first few posts of this series, the world in Fallout 4 is striking, makes good use of primary colours, and is again thematically consistent and well-made (though it’s also generic and loses most of what made Fallout unique, so… yeah).

I just wish, more than anything, that they would fire Emil, or at the very least have him focus on his design role rather than having him be lead writer. Hire someone who has experience of crafting an open world experience that also includes proper role-playing and makes sense. Hire Chris Avellone or something.

And for the love of God, please also hire someone as a creative director in order to keep everyone on the same page as regards tone, lore, and world building! But alas, in this era of ESG and ‘consultancy companies’ (you know who I mean), it’s never going to happen.

Overall, the things Bethesda gets wrong are not, in general, the expensive things. They just need more focus on telling a good story or, failing that, focus wholly on the sandbox elements and create a lively and fun world to explore that has lots of options. You know, what I just spent this entire document talking about? Yeah.

Frankly, I could do without the main story in any Bethesda game. Just give me an interesting world to explore and decent role-playing options and I’ll be happy. Oh, and as we’ve discussed in this series, some factions that make sense, some new enemies that aren’t just another variety of raider, and characters that aren’t just planks of wood good for nothing more than being a pack mule would also be nice.

One of these many gravestones is engraved with a simple epitaph: RIP, Fallout.

Alas, Fallout 4 already ruined any hope I might have had on this front. They at least managed to make the world feel more real, with actual farms and a few settlements that make some amount of sense. And they responded to the criticisms of Fallout 3’s characters by giving us a few besties to roll with. Nick Valentine is a fan favourite for good reason.

But they also went all-in on pointless Radiant Quests and emblandened the world by making settlements less about role-playing and characters, and more about building shit yourself for a bunch of no-name settlers. I actually really enjoy the settlement building (with some mods to make the tools more bearable, naturally), but… it could’ve been so much more.

At the end of the day it’s clear to me now that Bethesda has no interest in making actual RPGs any more (even more so after the bland, pointless, ESG-infused Starfield). Each successive game has removed more and more functionality and features, streamlining things to appeal to a broader and broader audience. And it appears to be working well for them, given how much money they’ve made from Fallout 4 and Skyrim.

After Starfield, I can’t honestly say I’m at all hopeful that Bethesda will ever change now, going by how awful that game is; whatever magic Bethesda used to have has officially gone the way of every other major AAA studio, and going all-in on the woke certainly hasn’t helped.

Time to move on to greener pastures that still have that old spirit of fun and good storytelling. Farewell, Fallout, you had a good run, and long live the indie revolution, where we are getting awesome spiritual successors like UnderRail and Atom RPG. I’m currently rocking a light machinegun build in UnderRail, courtesy of the new Heavy Duty DLC, and I couldn’t be happier.

Thanks for reading.

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