Dean’s Electronics: Repairing Fallout 3

Welcome, fellow readers, to our Special Edition issue of Dean’s Electronics. Normally, we would be teaching you how to repair your trusty weapons and electrical appliances, but since we were so humbly sponsored in Fallout 3, we thought it would give our friends at Bethesda some tips on how to survive the next "Capitol Wasteland".

Of course, we can’t say enough good things about our teammates – just look at our glowing review – but for many reasons, it didn’t receive our Game of the Year award, let alone consistent marks above a 9 out of 10, straight across the board (it did win the GotY award at GDC, great job!, but it also lost to LittleBigPlanet in the Game Design category). Perhaps it was the rush for a holiday release or the sheer enormity of its scope. Just talking about its storyworld has game writers blushing. But the seemingly polished veneer has nicks and bumps that we hope will not mar the eventual, inevitable, we-better-have-one Fallout 4. So let's hope they listen to our friendly advice, because everyone has its best interests at heart (and if you don't, I'll slap you with a Mole Repellent stick).

No Bugs and Glitches

It may be too much to ask for a game whose scope is so grand to have no glitches at all, but it seems that the developers weren’t able to get all of the kinks out. I didn’t experience any gaming-ending bugs during my adventure (until Broken Steel, that is) but there were plenty of awkward moments, some of which forced me to load my last save. Crouching and standing in tight corners can get you caught in an inescapable position, and NPC characters occasionally get caught in the landscape. The worst instance of this is the residents of Megaton simply disappearing into negative space, which can end your game if you need to speak with them to continue the main quest. (Should be patched by now, but to find them, you actually have to jump over the gates of Megaton by hopping to the very top of Lucas Simms’ house and then march along the invisible landscape to Jefferson High School.) And we have no idea what to call what can only be called a breach into the fabric of reality. Sometimes a black wirey dustball appears in the sky as if nega-space is about to rip into the universe. (Praise thy holy noodly appendages?)

The Ending

(**Spoilers**) Among the larger complaints is the lack of an ending that is worthy of Fallout 3, which begins on the overriding theme that “war never changes”. It’s an interesting note that isn’t terribly explained or thoroughly analyzed throughout the game, and for the extremely short duration of the ending, it encapsulates the story as well as a plastic bag covers a Swarovski crystal chandelier. Despite all of the variations of the ending, largely depending on your decisions and karma level, none of them carry the same density as the experience of trekking through the vast Capitol Wasteland, encountering a large cast of well-voiced characters, and completing multiple quests that are insightful and well-designed in its branching paths.

A two- to three-minute montage of the decisions you’ve made throughout the story is an anti-climactic resolution that does not tell you much (or really anything) that’s new. It would have been much more dynamic to have a stunning cinematic on how you’ve impacted the Capitol Wasteland and its inhabitants forever, your name spoken only as myth and legend. Either that, or the game should never have ended, especially if you didn't die because you sent the paladin in to die in your place (you scum!).

Broken Steel thankfully and admirably alters the ending by providing several additional options for starting Project Purity through the kindness of several companions, and eliminates the ending by providing an epilogue sequence of three continued story missions. Better yet, you can continue to explore the wasteland after the ending is over, though there's nothing preventing you from making a save right before Project Purity and reloading that save after seeing the ending. It doesn't resolve the lack of a follow-through in the montage and the theme, but it does change Fallout 3 for the better.

The World After Has No Color

Well… except for lots and lots of red blood. I’m not certain why so many high-profile franchises have chosen a color palette that is seemingly inspired by leaded gasoline on a cement pavement. It’s one thing to emphasize gritty realism; it’s another to forget that colors like purple exist.. While this dirt-ridden style does create an intriguing contrast for one particular green area in the wasteland and the many bottles of neon-pink Nuka-Cola Quantums, there aren’t enough of these contrasting areas to hide the fact that the Capitol Wasteland is just one giant mound of irradiated sepia earth and man-made debris. It’s like God forgot to use color-safe bleach.

Of course, that makes the land of fallout that much more menacing, but the absence of saturated, rich colors just doesn’t make much sense, especially since there are so many paint guns lying around. Outside from natural coloring, there are plenty of chemical dyes and synthetic paints (and toxic green Super Mutant flesh) that can stain clothes and make the environment much more vibrant. In fact, having a quest that is about retrieving bunches of fake flowers or paint colors from some knock-off of Home Depot (say, Dome Repo) wouldn’t be such a bad idea. At the very least, Tenpenny should be able to afford rare artwork in its original condition.

Oh, and the sun should still rise and set with the same rainbow spectrum in the sky even after hundreds of years, let alone millions of years later. Just because there is a lack of life doesn’t mean there should be a literal lack of color. Why is it I can see the moon, but not the sun?

People are also going to make their homes cleaner and have better interior design sense, if just a better sense of organization. Yes, the world is bleak and dusty, and water is in short supply, but most homeowners still care about keeping their settlement as sanitary as possible, instead of treating their living space as if they just set it up ten minutes ago. Layers of rust and mildew line the walls of every room and hallway, and a set of broken furniture is never too far away. If most people can repair your weapons and armor, they should be able to repair broken shelves that are thrown against the wall in their living room.

Plus, why is everyone living with dead bodies? Skeletons are simply everywhere. You can go to the most currently war torn place on earth, and people still take the dead bodies out of their houses.

And what ever happened to birds? Apart from the black-colored birds circling Megaton, there are no birds seemingly anywhere else. And if any creature could survive nuclear fallout, it would be something with wings, or at the very least… vultures.

Abstinence Working Too Well?

Without slithering into the bottomless pit of pornography, the anarchic Capitol Wasteland could have had a higher presence of sexual and promiscuous behavior (in other words, tapping, ha, ha, ha). Anyone would expect that a lack of law and order would give certain men and women the freedom to act out their deviant fantasies in sex crimes, perhaps even with mutual consent, especially if at any waking (or non-waking) moment, some Lone Wanderer can just sneak into your hovel and slay you. There probably won't be many neighbors around to bother with the, umm, "noise", so why not go all out having, umm, "fun"?

And really… in the vast ****ing wasteland … only one hooker? In just Megaton? And all you get is Well-Rested, which you can get from sleeping in your bed. I can only think of one other thing you can do to yourself to get well-rested, but even then, sex with another person should feel much, much better than it does in Fallout 3.

There's an absence of love that pervades the wasteland (likely intentional), but then again, that means there are no babies. With mankind on the verge of extinction, you would think that procreation would be a topic on the lips of the most abstinent priest. A pregnant woman should receive as much as attention as one does in Children of Men. And think of the possibilities that romance and sex could have on the story, just considering how a world of fallout has impacted (or perhaps, not impacted) love? Let's get some GTA dating in here along with a little hot coffee.

Even a pregnant dog is enough. Think about the puppies. The cute, cute puppies. You wouldn't want to hurt them, right? Right?!

 



Wonky V.A.T.S.



This is a minor gripe, considering that we can’t get enough of blowing the heads and arms and legs (and where’s the crotch shot?) off any lifeform that unfortunately comes across our path, but V.A.T.S. is at times finicky when it comes to percentages. Occasionally, one foot means the difference between a 72% and a 85% chance at a headshot. There’s usually a reason for it, like an enemy that’s covered by a structural column, but sometimes it's just too erratic.

More of an error is that V.A.T.S. doesn’t take the line of sight into consideration – a 95% chance at hitting a super mutant’s torso is entirely nullified by the random metal pipe or jutting corner. Either the percentage should be 0% or your character should sidestep, jump, or roll, any movement that makes the shot’s path straight and clear. Because if there’s anything better than landing a headshot, it’s diving inches off the floor while landing a headshot.

Followers, Please Follow

Followers are supposed to provide support – cover fire, a diversion, extra storage capacity, or another scavenger – but more often than not, they are relegated to being just pack mules for Power Armor who also just happen to have a smidgeon of attack power. And let's not even talk about stealth – no matter how much you babysit, they still have the mindset of rushing in and destroying everything in their path. Being limited to only one follower also doesn’t build from the ability to form a team in Fallout 2. It’s understandable since Fallout 3 is a first-person or third-person real-time RPG, but that still doesn’t excuse the restriction of a two-man party.

Though followers die and can’t be revived, which makes perfect sense and maintains tension in combat, preventing them from falling to their graves is more strenuous than it should be. When I bring the badass ghoul Charon into Girdershade at the edges of the wasteland, I would like it if his path programming did not lead him to no man’s land. Moreover, there’s no way to monitor your follower’s health unless you waste time moving your reticule over your follower, and you can’t give orders unless you’re within talking distance. They don't even use a stimpak if you give one to them.

Over-Power Nap

Has your arm been crippled? Has your head become a bullet sponge? Has your heart begun to pound straight into your eye sockets due to severe blood loss? Well, put your stimpaks and Buffout away, because we’ve got the perfect cure and it won’t cost you a single cap: It's the one-hour nap! All you need to do is find a vagrant mattress, clear the area of enemies, lay down for an hour, and voila!, your limbs and health are in perfect condition.

Not only does sleep make doctors pointless as well as reduce the multi-functional home infirmary to its Rad-healing feature, it takes a bit away from the thrill of combat. Why bother worrying about getting hurt when there are essentially regeneration stations strewn about the wasteland in cities, tunnels, tents, outposts, and even subway shafts.

Better Pace for Leveling

With the announcement that the third downloadable pack, Broken Steel, which will lift the level cap to 30, has been delayed a month to April, I’m surprised that we didn’t see more fans question why the first DLC, Operation Anchorage, wasn’t replaced with Broken Steel. Most players have stopped exploring and taking on additional side-quests, including DLC, because they have already reached the Level 20 cap. What’s the point of extra credit if you’re not rewarded for, err, the credit?

But it’s less about reaching the level cap, which easily occurs about three-fourths into the game on normal medium difficulty, and more about having a better pace for leveling. With the Here and Now perk (gain one extra level immediately), three possible ranks of the Swift Learner perk (up to 30% extra experience), and sleeping in your bed for the Well Rested condition (10% extra experience), just roaming about the wasteland and completing a few side quests can lead you to Level 10 in less than 20 hours, if not less.

Moreover, scaling the amount of experience points you earn for killing enemies to the difficulty setting turns what would seem like a reward into a ticking bomb of "turning the game off". The more experience you receive, the faster it takes to reach the level cap and thereby hit that point where you stop playing. Instead, killing enemies should yield a constant and preferably low amount of experience no matter the difficulty. A higher difficulty setting should instead yield perhaps bonus content, special dungeons, or better Achievements.

You should also have the ability to decide when you wish to level up, just as in Oblivion where you must sleep before reaching the next level. Since some perks have skill and S.P.E.C.I.A.L. requirements, you might want to postpone leveling up so that you can nab those permanent stat-boosting Bobbleheads, skill books, and quest-specific perks.

But at the end of the day, there shouldn't be a level cap at all. Even with Broken Steel's Level 30 cap, once you reach it, you'll stop playing. Instead, you should be able to level as much as you want, with you still gaining skill points and perks.

 

Speech-crafty

Let’s be honest. If you have ever failed a Speech challenge, which then forced you to, say, retrieve an object for some old robot, chances are that you reloaded your last save and just started your Speech challenge again. In fact, you might have become so adept at shamelessly abusing the quick save function that a few steps before any NPC can suck you into an automatic encounter, you save. Sure, you might be so unskilled at speech that you only have a 6% chance at success, but reloading and retrying for the next five minutes beats having to waste some twenty minutes or more doing a roundabout task (and not getting that Achievement for Speech success sooner). And then there are times when you have a 94% chance at success and still flat out fail, which doesn’t say much for percentage-based speech challenges and their all-or-nothing outcomes.

Of course, the designers can’t prevent you from exploiting the save system and no one takes any pleasure in having to enter some inn or huddle around a sparkly orb just to save. Still, this doesn’t mean that investing skill points in Speech should be worthless. As long as players are open to every dialogue option, the quicksave can be used as a substitute for the Speech skill.

One way to fix this is to draw from the attribute-based dialogue options, where you need to have a high number (7 or higher) in a certain S.P.E.C.I.A.L. attribute before the option is available. The idea is to have some speech options only be available if you have allocated enough skill points in Speech, perhaps categorizing speech options by difficulty (Very Easy to Very Hard) just as the game does with Lockpick and Science. Another idea is to unlock certain benefits that only having a certain skill level in Speech would bring, like more caps or a better outcome – anything that makes Speech worth its weight as a skill and as a feature that dynamically affects how you experience the story.

Side-note: Barter should be a benefit of Speech, not a separate skill. Not only are there heaps of junk and extra weapons for scavengers to sell, but I don’t know anyone who doesn’t use words when they barter, unless that person is pantomiming (and thus my sworn enemy).

Terminal Grinding

Unlike lockpicking, hacking terminals doesn’t require much skill. Pouring points into the Science skill only unlocks "more difficult" terminals and makes them slightly easier to hack, but that’s only if you don’t already exploit the reset function of the hacking mini-game. Every time a hack-able terminal is activated, you are given four tries to locate the password in the mock memory cache, but you can choose to ignore the clues and the special bracketed entries that help you remove dud passwords. If you get into a tight spot and have only one try left, you don’t have to guess and lockdown the terminal forever (unless you have the Computer Whiz perk). All you need to do is use three guesses on the first three words, and if none of them go through, reset the terminal and try again. The puzzle changes each time the terminal is re-activated, but within a minute of trial and error (mostly trial), any terminal can be unlocked with little effort.

This exploit can be amended in a number of ways while keeping terminal hacking as realistic as possible. That a computer goes into lockdown after too many incorrect entries makes sense, but having the password change every time the computer is reset doesn’t. So either the player should only get one attempt (with perhaps more than four tries), or there should be a reusable item like a hacking tool that needs a limited resource to work, similar to bobby pins for lockpicking. The system should make you feel rewarded for cracking a difficult puzzle rather than breaking the system.

Three Dog Needs An iTunes Store

I won’t mince words. The soundtrack for Fallout 3 is the first soundtrack that I have ever purchased by browsing through various online music stores and actually buying each track separately. I have always had an old soul when it comes to music, a side of me that gushes whenever I tune into Three Dog’s Galaxy News Radio. The big-band jazz tracks and a 1940s/1950s mini-anthology which includes the likes of Billie Holiday, The Ink Spots, and Cole Porter make it one of the best video game soundtracks I have ever heard.

That is, except for its length. Most people are surprised when they learn that Galaxy News Radio actually has twenty tracks, instead of what seems to be somewhere between ten and fifteen. That most songs from the good ol’ days only last about three minutes doesn’t help (which shows how much extra chorus-padding “modern” songs have nowadays), but the main culprit is revealed by comparing Fallout 3 to other titles with radio stations – Grand Theft Auto IV and Saints Row 2 have the luxury of featuring many stations, each with at least ten tracks in a different genre.

Though you can unlock Agatha’s classical station and tune into the Enclave’s patriotic station (but why would you?), the selection of songs in Fallout 3 doesn’t have the range or depth to keep the player’s attention for the entire length of the game, which can run upwards to 80 hours or more. A free-floating quest that has you collect long-lost records, at least fifty of them, for Three Dog (or perhaps the Enclave… interesting) would not only extend the soundtrack, but also give players a better incentive than pre-war books and Nuka-Cola Quantum to explore the wasteland.

Or hell, just let Three dog play my MP3 collection. Problem solved.

Side note: Whoever decided the constant muzak in Tenpenny Tower should be a seven second endless loop needs to be fed to the deathclaws.

 

Weightlessness

Fallout 3 takes a lot of liberty making ammunition, even mini-nukes and missiles, weightless. The argument is that It cuts down on having to shuffle around the many types of bullets and shells in the inventory, so even though it doesn’t make sense, streamlining the gameplay is well worth the sacrifice. All video games simplify reality in some way (usually by not discarding half your ammo every time you change clips), and in most cases, that’s exactly what makes them so charming.

However, consistency is the key here. If mini-nukes and missiles have the same meaningless weight as pencils, darts, and bottle caps, then why do tiny grenades and mines (hand ammunition, so to speak) have any weight at all? Sustaining a suspension of disbelief is difficult when a squeeze bottle of Wonderglue weighs more than a thousand shotgun shells. Ignoring the limitations of space as the game does, holding an armory of ammunition on your back should have the same effect as carrying an arsenal of weapons slung invisibly over your shoulder. [Gotta love 1/2 pound packs of cigarettes. ~Ed]

No, what are you looking at?

Why does everyone look at you with that 1000-Yard-Stare whenever you talk to them? Those rigid body movements… those piercing ghost-like eyes… that complete, undivided attention to your conversation that makes you believe that the world has been taken over by androids and that, yes, you are their god. Refining each character’s body language and eye expression to their well-voiced dialogue would remove the plastic veneer off their doll-like faces which seem to be manufactured in the uncanny valley.

And speaking of disconcerting, why does nobody notice that you're talking to them with a gun pointed directly in their face? Do you own a gun? Go try that out and see what happens.

It would also be more realistic if NPCs weren’t so uppity about everything you do. Treating everyone with some suspicion is healthy, but simply looking at a locked refrigerator, ammunition box, or cabinet doesn’t mean you’re going to steal from it (…now). Nor does lightly kicking a stray tin can mean that you need to “Watch It!” or “Come on, look at what you’re doing!” If you've got a shotgun that's being pointed at their faces, the last thing they should doing is giving you orders.

Brotherhood of Walking

Why should you have to walk all the time? What ever happened to the concept of a tire and human-powered locomotion? Just because it’s the modern-day apocalypse and the roads are in disrepair, doesn’t mean that people have lost the ability to craft a wheel – especially you. If you have enough skill to repair plasma rifles and missile launchers, fashion deadly makeshift weapons out of scantily-written schematics, disarm nuclear warheads, and perform surgical operations, you should have the know-how to find scrap metal and fix one of those motorcycles. You would think that one of the first things travelers, let alone raiders, would do is to improve their mobility. Even without gasoline, people could create bicycles, or, you know, wagons. In fact, Fallout 2 had vehicles as an explanation for fast travel, which in Fallout 3 is a shortcut for superhuman marathon sprinting: Fort Constantine to Rivet City in six hours? Where’s my gold medal?

Water, Water, Everywhere, But Not A Drop From The Sky

When you stop to look at the sky and see the sun blocked by the clouds, you can’t help but wonder why it never rains, despite the processing power it would take to model each water droplet. Nature doesn’t forget precipitation, even if the water is irradiated. Snow, sleet, hail, tornados, acid rain – weather presents one of the greatest challenges, if not the greatest challenge, for survivors of modern fallout. That river doesn't come from nowhere. For those not living near the equator, the cold seasons would be devastating to children, the elderly, and the sick. Dehydration during the hot seasons is also a constant threat considering the lack of drinkable water.

Having health bars for thirst and hunger (that perhaps drain your HP if they aren’t low enough) may not be the perfect answer, but it would bring the concept of survival to the forefront. Because if there’s anything that Fallout 3 says about health, it’s that you don’t need food or water – all you need are stimpaks. Or mattresses. Of course, constantly digging through dinky refrigerators and first aid boxes for Sugar Bombs and Purified Water would be a hassle. Then again, all the food and water items are already dead weight, set decorations rather than points of attention that would heighten the reality of living in a desolated landscape.

For a game whose main driving force is producing clean, safe water for the future of humanity, the lack of "waters of life" (and your resulting rad-count) needed to have a much higher presence.

Editor's Note: Corpses Should Have Flies

Duke says he’s never seen a corpse without flies. I wouldn’t know. My ninja skill doesn't make corpses; they just disappear.