Hero of the Wastes

I am addicted to the apocalypse. I love it. Nothing makes my heart skip a beat like the notion of apocalyptic horror. Pre-apocalypse stories involve a ragtag group of unlikely heroes that are bound together by the secret, cryptic signs that the world is about to end. They always try to save the world with their newfound realizations. No one believes them, of course. How could the world possibly end? It's lasted this long, right? Then BAM, the bombs drop, or the plague hits, and only our heroes are safe. The future of humanity now rests solely with them.

Post-apocalypse stories are similarly driven by some singular knowledge. The Wasteland or zombie hordes are held back by the last bastions of civilization. Their secret knowledge of what came before, modern technology, science, and history make them all-powerful in a powerless world. The post-apocalyptic world knows nothing of the world that was, that perfect utopia. They know a poisonous, hostile world. Only the hero truly knows the breath of human knowledge. Can he use it to save them all?

In short, the apocalypse takes anyone with the right knowledge and makes them the most important person in the history of mankind. I can't get enough.

Warning: Fallout 3 spoilers at the end of the article

Fallout is the perfect example: The Vaults, the last refuges of civilization left, teach you the ways of science and technology and then usually send you out on some errand, to face the Wasteland alone. Stepping out of the Vault gate releases you into a weird, dirty, violent world where all of mankind's achievements lay rusting in the ever-present desert. From the first time you teach a farmer basic crop rotation, to the Brotherhood of Steel's advanced science hidden beneath layers of space-age Power Armor, Fallout delivers classic apocalyptic scenarios.

Though when I think back about all my favorite apocalyptic stories, Fallout has a special place in my heart. Because with Fallout, it's not just some charismatic everyman hero out there: It's me. I'm the man with the gun and the dog, walking down that decaying, dusty road. It's my story they're telling.

It's no accident then that the original Fallout, like its inspiration, Wasteland, is one of the most open-ended RPGs ever made. Just watching someone else's apocalyptic story simply won't do in a video game. No, a video game is unique in that it's not just the developer's story they're telling; it's yours as well. And the only story worth playing in the apocalypse is the story the man with the knowledge: The hero. The one who walks out that Vault door, armed with the sum total of human knowledge. The person who has to face the Wasteland and decide what to do with the bits of information in his head. Humanity's last best chance for survival. It's what makes apocalyptic heroes truly heroic, or--in some cases--truly villainous.

Choice is integral to the apocalypse. The entire point of being the most important person in the history of mankind is that you're now the most powerful person in the history of mankind. Every time you run into an inhabitant of the Wasteland, you've got one up on him. “I bet he doesn't even know who Abraham Lincoln was”, you say to yourself, “let alone how this plasma rifle I'm holding works.” With great power comes great responsibility, and great opportunity to kind of act like a dick.

When you're a villain in Fallout, you can truly revel in the epic nature of your betrayal of humanity. When you load a game and decide to wipe out a town in Fallout, you know that it's gone. That's it. There won't be rebuilding or regrowth, the world won't heal. The world is dead, and now you've made it deader. The satisfaction of shooting some guy in the face is that much more satisfying knowing there's not a lot of guys to shoot in the face anymore. If you want to be evil, the Wasteland provides ample opportunity.

Likewise, your good deeds are that much more meaningful when there's less good to go around. Something as simple as giving a bottle of non-radiated water to someone who is hurt seems like the equivalent of Oprah buying everyone in her audience a new car. “Clean Water? Really?” the man asks, “For free? I don't believe it.” You feel that you've contributed substantially to the well-being of mankind by simply handing some guy a cheap bottle of water. It's this epic feeling of weight to my choices that I love about apocalyptic gaming.

My addiction to the narcissistic nature of the apocalypse and games like Fallout has always contrasted for me with my utter boredom playing some of its contemporaries like Icewind Dale or Baldur's Gate. High fantasy always seemed just so bland to me by comparison. It always involves the chosen ones using artifacts they didn't make on things they don't understand. Someone stands cosmically a bit to the left, and the whole plan's kaput. It's about history and legacy, and as such I play the game feeling like it's already written. There's no magnitude to these events; I was chosen because I was there. And if I win, it's because it's destiny, or courage, or the fact that my spiritual package was huge. Something I was chosen for and really had very little control over, in other words. The history of the world is told to you by the author, and the history is more important than the man.

By comparison, the Wasteland is all about me and what I want. I'm the hero because I'm the one with the tools, the knowledge, the know-how. I know that a virus is what causes Super Mutants to be created. I can keep the virus from getting out, or spread it myself. I know how to fix that nuclear generator, or break the last working one in existence. I am the arbiter of history because I'm the only one who knows it, which means I'm the only one who can write it. It's the ultimate power trip.

Which is ultimately why Fallout 3's ending was so disappointing. Of all the choices that the Capital Wasteland provided the player, the only choice you had in the end was whether or not to kill yourself. The Master in the original Fallout offered a multitude of choices in how you face him. Almost every way you could do something in the game, you could use on the final boss. It was a truly satisfying ending because it was all about choosing what you wanted to do with the final villain. Fallout 3 gave you a binary choice: good or evil. Somehow, about ¾ of the way through the game, Bethesda forgot about that story you were telling, and decided instead to tell you their own.

The ending of Fallout was open-ended and was all about the player. Your choices in the game ultimately decided the fate of everything you touched. The ending told a tale of the Vault Dweller's exploits in the Wasteland, each town getting its own epilogue written by the player. Fallout 3 simply had a binary ending: You did or you didn't. Fallout 3 not only failed to provide any resolution to the various stories the player encountered in the Capital Wasteland, it failed to take into account all but one of the player's choices in the ultimate story of the game. In the end, the story of the Capital Wasteland was written by Bethesda, not the player.

It's not to say I didn't enjoy Fallout 3. I was glued to the keyboard. Fallout 3 is, in fact, a great game. The other ¾ of the game is a brilliant example of player choice and how to let the player have fun running wild in a fascinating world.

But in the end, Fallout 3 just forgot the central tenet of the apocalypse. It's my way, or the highway.

Comments

Latrine wrote:

Q: Why can't I send mutant/robot/ghoul instead?
A: They wrote the ending before they made the companions and didn't have the time to change it or whatever. So the choice was to either have those companions or not and they chose to let you have them. Read this in some FO3 post-mortem.

I hate planning as much as the next word nerd, but I'm not sure I consider poor planning a good excuse.

I could go into all of my problems and THE problems with Fallout 3, many as justified as comparing Rainbow Six Vegas to Rainbow Six, Gears of War to Half-life, Wii Music to Rock Band.

But speaking specifically of the ending, I found it very consistent with the ongoing lie that Fallout 3 promoted choice and freedom. Many took that long to look under the veil. If you play it straight, that is the case. But for me that was shattered the moment that I went to the Lions' temple. Which I found locked, and inaccessible an hour into the game. No, unlike Fallout 1, Elder Scrolls, I have to keep my hands and feet in the cart while I look in awe to It's a Small World. The Republic of Dave, Arafu, Tenpenny Tower have zero meaning until you hit the magic in game trigger.

And just like a skilled magician can make his tricks look even more amazing by performing them in the open(Penn and Teller do cup tricks with clear plastic cups, and still amaze with their skill) a skilled game maker can embrace and show the rails well(Portal and Bioshock). Fallout 3 took the David Blaine approach. Lied that everything was real, genuine, but the moment they mess up(like when we saw the wire and rope for David Blaine) all mystery vanishes, leaving the mundain, at best, or true distaste.

Fallout 3 has been leering at me from a dusty shelf ever since I purchased it. Don't know what my problem is. But I've played a dozen other games since that purchase, some inexplicable portion of me completely unwilling to face that wasteland. But your writeup is inspiring. Maybe even inspiring enough for me to knuckle up and find my own road across the scorched earth.

KingGorilla wrote:

But speaking specifically of the ending, I found it very consistent with the ongoing lie that Fallout 3 promoted choice and freedom.

I don't remember being promised this. I remember being promised slow motion headshots aplenty, which I got. In spades.

Also some adventuring, which I also got.

Oh man, After I got Bloody Mess I was saying "watch me make this guy blow up" to anyone passing in front of my room. But also because I was expecting it would effect the ending as in previous Fallouts.

Spoilers aside great comments Pyroman. I am about 2/3 through the story taking my time and enjoying the ride. This game continues to surprise me in so many good ways. Like the first time the Mysterious Strange show up. Or 1 head-shot kills on super mutants with the Victory Rifle or Lincoln Repeater. Or just sneaking around with the silenced 10mm pistol watching the enemy trying to figure out why they are slowly dying.

I have had my fair share of crashes. Like the time I fell through the floor of Rivet City when I entered the market. Once I add a companion I am sure the dynamic will change a bit. As I go through the side quests I can see where Bethesda rushed some things. Things like limited dialog trees and stuff like that irk me. However having people give me random stuff because of my angelic karma halo never gets old.

When I get to the end I think I'll let Lyons bite the big one for this character. After all it was the BOS that wanted to withdraw their support from the project that caused the problem (well mom getting knocked up helped I guess). But heck there is a limit to one's goodness after all.

See you in the wasteland!

Latrine wrote:

Q: Why can't I send mutant/robot/ghoul instead?
A: They wrote the ending before they made the companions and didn't have the time to change it or whatever. So the choice was to either have those companions or not and they chose to let you have them. Read this in some FO3 post-mortem.

This is insufficient reasoning. It would not be hard to have the last conversation with the "boss fight" character check for a companion and run a scripted event where he shoots him/her/it dead. I'd rather complain about a script sequence taking my companion away than a character in a harsh non-fantasy wasteland rambling about "destiny" and taking my options away. It's sloppy and stupid. I love the game, and I like the ending, even though I wish there was more of it, but this is a kick in the groin of the Fallout name.

Dakhath wrote:

There's also the 4th option of doing nothing...

If the only way out is meta, to ignore the story and futz around, it's essentially the same choice as you get in Manhunt or Shadow of the Colossus. That is, none. It only counts as a choice if The Future Refused To Change, which to my knowledge is pretty rare in games. Hell, can anyone even think of another game that had a "You died and were unsuccessful" Ending, with a capital E? If I wrote a Fallout game, every time you died a town-by-town Fallout 2-style ending could be played at the player's option. Everything you do counts, even if you don't make it to everything. I'd probably make it wipe your saves after death too, though, so maybe I shouldn't write a Fallout game.

What puzzles me is that not just critical players, but far more vitally, Bethesda, forgot that the big problem with utilising the GECK isn't the radiation. bit the GECK itself...

I liked the ending. It wasn't perfect, but I felt like I had enough choices. And sure, I missed FO1/2 "town endings", but that wasn't what defined my experience for me overall. It was just a little bump.

gbuchold wrote:
Dakhath wrote:

There's also the 4th option of doing nothing...

If the only way out is meta, to ignore the story and futz around, it's essentially the same choice as you get in Manhunt or Shadow of the Colossus. That is, none. It only counts as a choice if The Future Refused To Change, which to my knowledge is pretty rare in games. Hell, can anyone even think of another game that had a "You died and were unsuccessful" Ending, with a capital E? If I wrote a Fallout game, every time you died a town-by-town Fallout 2-style ending could be played at the player's option. Everything you do counts, even if you don't make it to everything. I'd probably make it wipe your saves after death too, though, so maybe I shouldn't write a Fallout game. :)

It's not really meta. You can just sit in there and wait without punching in the code. After a couple of minutes, the thing blows up; the project is destroyed, and you get the coward's ending (which is different from sending Lyon's in).

casual_alcoholic wrote:

I had about 100 people tell me the ending sucked before I got there, so the blow was softened somewhat, but I was still disappointed.

Same. I beat it last night, knowing that it would suck.

casual_alcoholic wrote:

However the part leading up to that ending fighting against the giant robot was hilarious, especially the things he was shouting about communists.

While amusing, the problem with that part is this: I, the main character, hardly get to do anything useful during that sequence. Sure, if you run ahead you can headshot a few Enclave guys before the bot nukes them (though you then run the risk of getting hit by his bombs). So for the first time the game takes the spotlight off of me, the hero, and puts it on Liberty Prime. Argh, I've been relegated to NPC status!

InfluenceDevice wrote:

"Whoever goes in there isn't coming back out".

"Hah!", says I, quaffing handfulls of Rad-X and donning a pristine advanced radiation suit, "We'll see about that".
The radometer begins its demented cockroach impression as the airlock cycles; I brace myself for waves of nausea from the radiation battling the rad-X in my system. A staggering ... erm... +1 Radiation per second assaults my body... No, not assaults. Oh, please! That doesn't even itch.

Cruel, Bethesda. Oh so very cruel.

Yeah, I went in with a full set of Tesla armor, which gives +25 rad protection, and then popped some Rad-X. It wasn't entirely comfortable, though I've certainly gotten more irradiated than that before (like at the White House, or outside Vault 87, or inside Vault 87 at the GECK).

Nyles wrote:

Isn't there anyone else out there who liked that? Figuring out the code?

To be honest, I was simply confused. Because I didn't know that deduction was expected of me at that point. At what other point in the game had it been expected of me? So I spent some time running around the chamber trying to find the code. Then I reloaded and tried to see if Lyons or Li (intercom) had the code for me. Then I scrolled through my Notes trying to see if I had it and didn't know. Finally I visited the Fallout wiki and discovered what it was and that I was supposed to figure it out on my own. There weren't any dialog options with Lyons or Li where I got to say "But I don't know the code!" That's all it would have taken to let me know it was up to me to figure out.

Ball: dropped

KingGorilla wrote:

But speaking specifically of the ending, I found it very consistent with the ongoing lie that Fallout 3 promoted choice and freedom. Many took that long to look under the veil. If you play it straight, that is the case. But for me that was shattered the moment that I went to the Lions' temple. Which I found locked, and inaccessible an hour into the game. No, unlike Fallout 1, Elder Scrolls, I have to keep my hands and feet in the cart while I look in awe to It's a Small World. The Republic of Dave, Arafu, Tenpenny Tower have zero meaning until you hit the magic in game trigger.

On the other hand, you can travel to Vault 112 and find your dad right away, without following the trail of breadcrumbs. I found him when I was supposed to be doing the quest for Three Dogs.

OCEdwards wrote:

What puzzles me is that not just critical players, but far more vitally, Bethesda, forgot that the big problem with utilising the GECK isn't the radiation. bit the GECK itself...

Can you explain what you mean? In Fallout 2 there were 2 instances of a GECK being used with no ill effects that I'm aware of.

Glad to hear that I'm not the only RPG fan who hates high fantasy.