Space Age Wasteland

In my quest to avoid writing, I spent quite a bit of money during the Steam Summer Sale the last couple of weeks. The only major video game I’ve played a lot of was The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and, man, have I played a lot of that. 1000+ hours, easy. I’d fire it up and check the exact number but, y’know, I’m writing. But after the sale, I now have copies of Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2; Bioshock 1, 2, and Infinite; Talisman Digital Edition; Banished; Dragon Age: Origins; Life is Strange; Mount & Blade: Warband; and Fallout 3, New Vegas, and all the DLC.

My nephew, Max, is a huge fan of most of these games. He’s the reason I started playing Skyrim, actually, and the main reason I fell in love with Skyrim is that it was a big, open world and I could go anywhere and do anything. There were stories to be discovered, but I didn’t have to do them all. I didn’t have to do any of them. I could just go pick flowers and chop wood if I wanted to. It was the closest I’ve ever seen in a computer game to reproduce the feeling of playing a tabletop role-playing game. The fact that there was so much backstory and lore to the world, since Skyrim was the fifth major game in the series, only made it more interesting to me.

Matla, Dovahkiin, wonders where to ride his horse next.

I also picked up Fallout Shelter, which is basically Farmville set in the Fallout universe. The old-timey music, and hints of the wider story explored in the other games, drew me in, and I had a lot of creepy fun (it feels very strange to pair off the dwellers in my vault and make sure as many women are pregnant as possible – but it makes sense in the game). Max played it, too, and he and I traded tips and stories about our vaults.

So looking at the games I had purchased, the ones that seemed most interesting to me were the Fallout series. Same developer as Skyrim – Bethesda Studios – as well as the same underlying engine, although 3 years older. And since I had already had a taste of it in the silly iOS game… Last weekend, I started Fallout 3, not really knowing what to expect.

(Minor spoilers ahead for the early part of the game.)

The music and title cards immediately set a mood. And the game literally begins with my character being born. The game uses that moment to both introduce you to your dad and tell you your mom is dead, and create and name your character.

I named mine Kevin.

Then they introduce you to the world. It’s somehow in the far future – 2277 AD, if I’m not mistaken – but the atmosphere and aesthetic is what the 1950s thought the far future would look like. Art Deco and Art Nouveau. Lots of flash and chrome. Bulky, functional equipment. It’s beautiful. It’s Space Age. Your character grows up in Vault 101, under the control of the Overseer.

One thing leads to another and your character is forced to flee the safe confines of the Vault. That’s all groundwork, backstory, and tutorial. I made some mistakes but that’s how new games go. I would text comments to Max and he would reply, carefully not spoiling anything for me. Often, he’d just respond with a vague question: “Did you meet Butch’s mom?”

Those first steps out of the Vault, onto the cracked and ruined pavement and walking down the hill to see a couple of wrecked houses, and the skeleton of the Washington Monument on the far horizon… it was eerie. I felt haunted and lost. The game had gotten its hooks into me and I had to know more.

Kevin, having abandoned the Vault that had been his home his entire life, wonders what the Hell he’d gotten himself into.

I’m only 7 hours into the game, and I’m still learning. I’m trying to play Kevin as a generally good guy, who is smart in some ways but ignorant of lots of others, willing to help people in need but not afraid to defend himself. This game, like Skyrim, is a big open world, and there’s so much to explore. I can tell I’m going to play the Hell out of this, and eventually go back and try different things.

Much the same way I played (and still play) Skyrim.