I love Fallout. I have always loved Fallout. It's one of those few game series out there with a personality all its own. My best friend and two brothers all picked it up, excited to explore the wastes together and get caught up it its madness. We played for a few hours before we realized that charm was entirely missing. It was a downhill slope after that – other things began to bother us. The incredibly-limited stash inventory of 400. Losing your C.A.M.P. when spawning into a world where another player occupies that space. The lack of meaningful quests or memorable NPCs. The ludicrously slow and watered down levelling system.
By the end of the first week, I had lost my intricately-crafted base four times and had to rebuild it at the start of each of our play sessions, taking nearly an hour to rebuild each time (I got damn good at placing down a symmetrical garden). The last time, I immediately ran south on the map once spawning until I reached the Ash Heap biome. I figured, hey, this place looks fuck-ugly and nobody would build here. So I built there, just a stones-throw south of Mount Blair on a cliffside looking towards Welch. No more problems with my camp getting overwritten by my fellow wastelanders (the gall of them!), but the frustration had already sunk in too deep. We all gave up trying to enjoy this game shortly after.
Cut to now. Three months have taken away the initial sting and I'm ready to give the game another try. It's been a week now and I'm playing this game as a lone wanderer (perk included). My crew has abandoned me and moved on to arguably better things. I just hit level 50, and I'm still stationed on that same cliff, which I've dubbed 'Ashcliff' (I even have a welcome sign!). I don't try to spearhead through content looking to get to something great anymore. I've taken the 'stop and smell the roses' approach, and I'm realizing more and more that my own ambition in those early days made me overlook the very charm I felt was missing.
The environmental storytelling, and the way the various logs spoonfeed you pieces of a larger picture until you can see it clear as day. It's all still there, but I was so caught up in tearing through the game with friends that I didn't have the time to appreciate it (nor they the patience). Learning stories like the tragic fate of the test vault in Vault-Tec University, which were all trapped in their short-term hell for much longer than intended because the bombs fell. Another, like stumbling upon a church full of skeletons with cups in their hands or littered on the floor by their feet brought a much more sobering connotation to the phrase 'drinking the kool-aid'.
While the lack of NPCs still stings, I think we've potentially gotten something better in the form of real players – sometimes. I love how unpredictable an encounter with a real player can be. Are you an alruist like me, who will go out of your way to help your fellow wanderer, or are you just raider scum? I love this, in concept, but the execution is completely up to the scrutiny of the players. I myself like to roleplay my character when I jump on, so I'm just this lonely hobo who goes by the name Gumbo, who founded Ashcliff as a trading post on the outskirts of civilization, and who just so happens to cook from the all the freshest garden ingredients (his name is Gumbo for a reason, after all) and be pretty mean on the guitar. I tried to fill my C.A.M.P. with things that reinforce his character, so that you can get a sense of who I am when you stumble into my abode. When you show up, I have a full suite of workbenches for you to do some maintenance, and I'll even feed you with a healthy stack of five carrot or corn soup (depending on what's been freshly harvested from my garden), some radaway and maybe a stimpack or two if I can afford it.
That's my life in-game. I go out and scavenge for supplies, complete events with strangers, soak in the environments, and beat encroaching mole miners upon the chest and face with my trusty death tambourine. I've carved out a reason to exist in this world, and in turn I've had some of the most memorable moments I've ever experienced in any Fallout game. Like the time a passer-by helped me defend Ashcliff from two Scorchbeasts who got a little too close to my garden. And when I was beckoned to follow a player who lead me to their camp, which was this treehouse-like structure that was completely surrounded by princess beds. A moat of pink-fucking-plastic was all that stood between them and the horde of ghouls that chased us there from Whitesprings. And it actually held them at bay. That was so Fallout to me. Seeing what dedicated players build in their camps is a highlight for me, and every once in a blue moon you'll find someone just crazy enough to translate the building tools into a sight to behold. It's definitely a wild wasteland out there. And I'm finally glad to be a part of it.
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