The choice of life

When I started this project, I made a point of not choosing the ‘vault dweller’ background, as this drops you off right outside Megaton – same as the vanilla game – which is basically the beginner town, a nice easy place to introduce you to the game. Everyone who played Fallout 3 knows Megaton, I’m sure. It was sort of a shame that Wolfgang led me here, but to be honest, it’s probably the only reason I survived at all.

I’m not going to pretend I’ve come to love the place, but I have come to appreciate it more. It’s safe. It’s portrayed as such, but never until playing as Cass did I actually feel like it was a safe haven. It’s only now that sleeping anywhere other than Megaton makes me a little nervous, and even the shortest journeys outside must be considered a genuine risk. I feel bad for hanging around the same boring areas, but it just feels too dangerous to do otherwise.

I’ve almost become a townie. But that in itself has its downside – yes, I am safer and can make small piles of money easily, but the cost of living is damn high. Items you’d throw away by the dozen as Fallout 3’s vault dweller are rare and astronomically expensive as Cass. And the decisions! The smaller decisions are no less difficult.

Is fighting this guy worth the risk? Do I want a rifle, or is that space needed for salvage? Will fifteen more bullets save my hide, or one life-restoring stimpack? Can I afford a splint, or will I save up for a helmet, and risk limping home on a broken leg as night falls? Rather than being about power levelling, these decisions could be all that preserve my single, fragile life.

This blog is supposed to be about wandering, but it’s also about survival, and right now those two concepts are struggling in Cass’s mind just as they might in the minds of anyone really thrust into a world like this one. Do I seek adventure, freedom, discovery, new places, and maybe great rewards? Or do I accept a quieter, duller life, hiding behind those great walls and only wandering out a little way to gather enough trade to get me good and trashed at night?

That’s the great conflict that Fallout 3’s world presents, but doesn’t really discuss. It’s the divide between civilisation and savagery, between freedom and security, between the people mad enough to live out in the wilds alone, and the sensible townies whose world would eventually fall down without the wanderers to protect and supply them. It’s something that even the original Fallout games didn’t really give you the context to appreciate.

Playing the vanilla game, or even with these mods but gentler settings and more quicksaving, doesn’t reveal any of this. Towns are boring, basically interchangeable places to drop your loot, get a few missions, and immediately leave. The townies themselves are barely even ciphers.

But playing for just a few days as Cass, even without wandering into the hellhole of downtown DC – indeed, barely even touching the city – has left me appreciating their significance in the world, as opposed to just in game.

It’s day five when I start to see this conflict played out for Cass. I have enough consumables for a few days, and the beer at the Lantern is topped up just often enough to keep me pleasant in the evenings. But there’s nothing much left to buy, and I can’t afford to stockpile anything worthwhile anyway.

I could spend all day here, passing time in the bars and on the sofas, smoking, eating, and lounging around, and trying to tune out the CONSTANT BLOODY BLITHERING of the cultists. In the afternoon I can wander a little way from town, kill a few animals, maybe pick up some junk, and sell it for beer money, until I finally get drunk and bored enough to start seducing all the cultists just to screw with them.

I could do that. It’d be boring, but it’d be safe. It’d be a living. I don’t want Cass to die. Cass doesn’t want to die. And even the relatively safe area around Megaton will get me killed sooner or later if I keep going out there.

But that raises a few problems for me, really. Cass is a wanderer. It’s in her blood. It’s even what this blog, in a roundabout way, is named after. And while I worry that it’s boring when I flee from trouble, that at least is justifiable. But hiding in a city, lounging on a filthy mattress and guzzling endless booze? Well, I hardly need Cass for that.

All this comes to a head when I contract radiation sickness over breakfast (as you do). Almost all food and water is irradiated, so this is inevitable. An expensive trip to the doctor is the best cure, but this wipes out my savings once again, just to restore the status quo.

So, I need to get moving. I was wasting time with the Crack Shack – even if I could clear out Springvale, it’s barely three minute’s walk from Megaton. I need to scout out new terrain. It’s about time I checked out the city, so after stealing a beer from the doc (because he’s a dick and I like free beer), I head East, towards DC.

Already I’m nervous. A wide, deserted street down the road from loads of ruined buildings and bridges? It’s a sniper’s heaven. You could make a fortune that way, perched in a building with a rifle and some landmines in the rubble downstairs. Nobody could touch you.

Still. I’ll have to chance it. Creeping around very slowly, I move down the road. While scoping out a possible human figure up the road, I’m jumped by a…

… oh. A kid. A damned annoying kid with stupid gloves, no less. He’s all worked up about some monsters eating his family, but won’t elaborate, and when I tell him to stop being such a tit, he gets bratty and insists the monsters will kill me too.

So, so close.

What? He’s only going to die anyway, running around the wastes screeching like an idiot. He won’t last twelve hours like that. A bullet would be kinder. It would also, however, be money wasted for me, so good luck kid. Maybe I’ll take those gloves off your corpse on my way back.

Now where was I? Oh right, the figure up the road.

I’m not sure what this guy’s game is. He’s just standing there. Raiders tend to mill around, and look a bit more lightweight too. He’s also alone, which is a bit odd.

Playing it safe, I drop a few frag mines before I creep up the slope to greet him. He yells and runs towards me. I could be wrong, but I don’t think he’s offering a welcoming hug. Retreat!

He sets off both mines and is still coming. They’ve injured his legs, but he can still run faster than I can backpedal, and jesus christ, is that a sledgehammer?

Unloading my last 3 revolver shots hurts him, but he’s wearing some heavy armour, and this thing was an antique even before the nukes fell.

I’m in real trouble here. Got to shoot him. I can’t risk closing for a punch – that thing would take my jaw off – but my pipe rifle is single shot, and very slow to reload.

All my thoughts about moving on might be rendered moot in one brief, horrific moment. This is why you don’t leave town. This is why even the people who hate Megaton don’t leave. I am a fool.

I holster my pistol, take out my rifle, and turn to face him. There’s only time for one shot. I must not miss. I must not miss.

Incredibly, with a sense for the dramatic, Cass closes her eyes, either trusting blind instinct or accepting that fate does what it will.

A single gunshot echoes round the street.

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Filed under Fallout 3, Stayin' alive

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