Mouse Versus the Wasteland: Part 3

by Dan H

And now! The exciting conclusion!
Previously we have seen Mouse rescue dogs, negotiate peace treaties, fix power plants, and blow up harmless priests. We have seen her embroil herself in the gangland politics of New Reno and the regular-sort-of-politics of the NCR, and we've even seen her blow up a mine full of innocent mutants, which to be honest probably wasn't her finest hour.

Leaving the mutant-free wreckage of Broken Hills behind, Mouse set out for the NCR. Here she hooked up with the New California Rangers, who wanted her to free some slaves from a holding pen outside town. This was a little bit touch and go, but by this stage her stealth skills were good enough that, if she left her NPCs outside, she could more or less stealth out of a battle by walking away a few paces and clicking the End Combat button. A couple of shots were fired her way, but she vanished ninja-like into the darkness and managed to release a bunch of slaves from their pens with little or no difficulty.

Of course the other job in NCR was to take out Carson for Bishop. I managed to get onto his estate by swiping a Presidential Pass from a man named Gunther, and from there it was the old dynamite-in-the-inventory trick. This got me 75 combat XP and a successful hit, but didn't actually involve entering combat at all and didn't record a kill on my character sheet. Now I did consider going for President Tandi's job (to retrieve some computer parts from Vault 15) but frankly I'd already been there and wasn't much inclined to go in again. I wasn't going to be able to take out Darion without using exploits, and I'd already done as much as I could for the squat.

I went back to Reno, got the “watch the delivery” quest from the Wright kids (which bugged out, leaving me standing in the desert watching a scene that wouldn't end). On the plus side I dinged level twelve by using my Doctor skill on Myron, which made me absurdly happy (I was even more happy when taking the “Tag” perk allowed me to bump my Sneak skill to 195% and gave me fifty-something skill points to play with. I'm not quite sure why it worked out this way, but for whatever reason this was the last time in the game I had to worry about Skill Points at all – I could barely spend all the points I picked up between here and the end of the game – I had 76 unspent by the time I finished.

Finally I turned the Carson assassination in to Bishop, and found myself a Made Man of the Bishop family. This was okay by me because I didn't really want to do anything with the rest of the families anyway. I'd whacked two out of the four bosses, and I wasn't going to be able to do much with the Wrights without breaking my no-combat rule (admittedly I could have tried taking another crack at the SAD with an improved Sneak skill but I kind of wanted to see how the Bishop ending for Reno looked anyway).

I'd more-or-less finished everything in the early and mid game by now. Apart from Redding, but you know what? Screw Redding. That's right, screw Redding and its stupid you-must-be-at-least-this-tall-to-take-this-ride starting quests. That stupid town can get torn apart like a piece of meat between three vultures for all I care.

So the Mouse packed her bags and set off for San Francisco, with the nagging feeling that she was forgetting something.

Oh that's right, optimising the Gecko Power Plant and keeping her promise to the Deathclaws. Whoops. Well both those things trigger bad endings anyway, and I've got a village to save.

San Fransisco

From here it was a pretty straight run to the end of the game. I skipped out on most of the sidequests (I did have something to deliver to one of the Hubologists, but at this stage I was fairly comfortable with my ability to do explicitly noncombative quests without entering combat).

So I talked to the Brotherhood, who sent me to Navarro, where for the first time in my entire Fallout career I went through the front door (I normally just shot Chris and went through the tunnel). I was pleasantly surprised to find that the guards at the gate and inside had Talking Heads. I grabbed the plans for the Vertibird but foolishly forgot to grab the Tanker Fob (meaning I had to go back later). The insane XP payout of this quest bumped me up another couple of levels (this is why “Run to Frisco” is such a ludicrous exploit) and left me with nothing to do except get the tanker running.

The captain of the tanker wouldn't help me unless I helped one of his people, so I helped a guy named Chip get his spleen back (which caused the rest of the Tanker Vagrants to go berserk with float text about how awesome I was for saving Chip – they seemed to do this every time I finished a quest, something I'd never noticed before). This meant that I could get the Captain to tell me that I needed a FOB (cue trip back to Navarro), fuel and some computer parts I already had in my inventory. There are several ways to get the fuel, but the simplest is to ask Badger to hack the Shi mainframe and transfer the fuel that way. Of course to get him to do this you have to rescue his girlfriend from the cargo hold. The cargo hold that is full of killer mutants and aliens.

More than anything else in the game, this was the bit I was dreading. There are no too ways about it, this is a bad, bad area. A huge area absolutely crawling with enemies who move sequentially in turn-based combat. It's bad. It's more than bad, it's awful. And I genuinely wasn't sure I'd be able to get through it as a noncombatant. And why is the hold of the ship full of mutants anyway? What do they eat? Why do these people live in a ship full of monsters? Why don't they come out and kill everybody?

I digress.

I was half right. I couldn't avoid being attacked once or twice, but walking away and ending combat got me out right enough. I found Badger's girlfriend (Suze) in the corner of the hold. I managed to get to her alright, but sneaking out again I found that monsters would target her in combat as well as me, and once they'd set their sights on Suze I couldn't just end combat and get away. Soooo – long story short, she got eaten.

I was quite impressed to discover that “Suze gets eaten” is actually a fully supported ending to the quest. You tell Badger, he is sad but agrees to do the hacking for you anyway (walkthroughs tell me that this gets him killed in a couple of days but, y'know, omelettes and all that). You also get floats from the other vagrants about how sad it is that Suze is dead, which impressed me still more. I think this little incident (as much as the viability of a non-combat playthrough and the fact that you can loot everything a person carries) highlights for me a quality that RPGs have lost in the past decade. A quest in a modern RPG might have multiple endings if the aim is for the player to have a Meaningful Choice, but it is rare (or feels rare to me at least) to see a quest in a modern game which the player can legitimately just fail and have it be as meaningful as if they had succeeded. Of course this might just be a consequence of my being too deeply inculcated with the save-reload mentality but can't remember the last time I failed a quest in an RPG and had it mean anything. (At the risk of sidetracking, I'm also surprised at how affecting the little “you have died” segments you get when you get killed are – something about them makes your death seem more real and more legitimate than just a reload screen, even after you've seen them twenty times).

Anyway, I got Badger to hook up the fuel supply, then I crept back through the hold to fix the navigational computer, and then it was off to the Enclave.

The Enclave

The endgame of Fallout 2 is remarkably easy if you know what you're doing. Assuming you've got a suit of Power Armour, you can walk around pretty much anywhere you like, talk to whoever you want, and loot pretty much anything (although to be honest looting at this point is pretty pointless, insofar as it has ever had a point for the Mouse, who hasn't so much as taken a Stimpack over the entire course of the game).

I moved through the first level fairly quickly, found my captured tribespeople, and moved down through the base, taking the quick route through the puzzle room on level three, talking to President Richardson on level four (and then planting C4 in his inventory and watching him blow into tiny pieces so I could grab his access card), getting the FEV released into the atmosphere on level five (although I'm not entirely sure what the point was supposed to be, since everybody in the base was going to get blown up anyway, and nobody was actually attacking me) and blowing the generator on level six.

Then it was back up the emergency stairs and out. I convinced Captain Granite to join me against Horrigan, crept around the edge of the room, activated the central console and turned on the turrets. Then all I had to do was wait for two turns while Granite and the Turrets blew Horrigan a new one.

With Quest and combat XP, I ended the game at level 18, with 101% or more in any skill I'd ever considered using, and with my Kills counter showing exactly one kill: “Big Bad Boss Kills: 1”.


So what did we learn today, children?

Overall, I'd say Operation Beat Fallout 2 Without Fighting was a qualified success. I dealt combat damage exactly once over the course of the game (when I kicked that Salvatore in the balls to clear my Made Man status), and while in the end I left a lot of the quests unfinished, that was more to do with laziness and forgetfulness than any limitation of the actual playstyle. I did also skip some of the more pure-combat-oriented elements of the game, like the SAD and the Mariposa Military Base but since those areas mostly contained weapons and armour, for which I had no use whatsoever, I didn't feel too bad about leaving them out.

I did wind up in combat quite a lot if by “in combat” you mean “with the game engine running in turn-based combat mode”, and I suppose that a legitimate criticism of the exercise is that there is no one definition of “combat” in the game that I managed to avoid completely. I did make an in-engine attack which dealt damage, and I did use the turn-based combat system to make tactical movements in combat time (although mostly what I did was run away and try to vanish into the night). And I did kill quite a lot of people, in all kinds of inventive ways (mostly involving explosives). I didn't even manage to keep a completely clean Kill sheet (I think because it tracks kills made by allied units, which Granite and the turrets count as), or to avoid gaining combat experience. Still on the whole I feel like I've achieved something (within the admittedly narrow field of non-standard playthroughs of video games). I'll also add that at the level at which I finished the game Horrigan was entirely capable of one-shotting me, so I do feel that my victory over him counts as noncombative even if I got the kill credit.

With hindsight there are a couple of things I'd do differently. I'd drop Steal for Stealth from the start, because stealing was seldom really worth it (particularly since I didn't really need anything, and healing and lockpicking wound up giving more reliable XP with less of a save-reload factor). More specifically, stealing never really got to the point where I could reliably steal anything. I'd get caught lifting a single stimpack off a peasant despite having a skill of 112%. I'd also invest in the Silent Running perk earlier. Although it's mostly a “convenience” Perk there's actually a significant tactical advantage to being able to move quickly while sneaking, because it allows you to move more effective out of the line of sight of patrolling guards and monsters (it would certainly have made the Tanker Hold easier to navigate).

I also think I'd have been better off avoiding NPCs. The stealthy playstyle pretty much mandates a quick escape from combat or else it gets dull, and while the player can reliably vanish once their Sneak skill gets high enough, NPCs can't or won't.

The type of quests I had most difficulty with were the ones that involved navigating long stretches of tunnel filled with small annoying enemies (to be fair, these are the ones I have most trouble with as combat characters as well – the constant interruption of rat-attacks gets annoying fast). Of all the quests I took, the most frustrating by a mile was finding the missing people under Broken Hills, because I kept having to dance into and out of combat with giant ants (it was even more frustrating when I tried to take my NPCs with me). That said, even those kinds of areas were fairly dealable-with, particularly when you compare the way you get through as a stealth character (take attack, walk away, end combat) with the way you get through as a combat character (take attack, one shot enemy, end combat). Indeed, to bring all of this back to where it started, it compares fairly well with an in-engine skip combat option (take attack, click skip, end combat).

The whole experience left me with a weird feeling of nostalgia for the days when RPGs weren't afraid of emergent gameplay. The days when, within some fairly broad limits, the game would let you play however you damned well pleased. My amazement that the game let me complete a rescue mission despite having failed in the rescue reminded me of the time in Torment I managed to pickpocket a vital quest item off of an NPC who had just asked me to go on a long and tortuous sidequest in exchange for said item. It made me genuinely miss the days when RPGs were less about telling me a story than about letting me play a character. Of course there were things I don't miss – I felt directionless at times (although that was sometimes liberating) and some of the areas were rather too full of nonthreatening enemies that never the less put you into combat time (to be fair, this remains a problem to this day). There were moments when more modern-seeming genre conventions reared their ugly heads (a few enemies automatically pierce your stealth, and when you get right down to it Horrigan feels a lot like a boss for the sake of a boss), but I ultimately felt that the “story” struck just the right balance between giving you a goal to work with and letting you define your own. Certainly I didn't feel that there was a single capital-S Story that I was supposed to be following (and in the way of which the other things like sidequests and combat would be getting).

I don't want to labour the point too much, but it does make me a little sad at what we have lost, at least where Bioware is concerned (Bethsoft still excel at making non-linear games where you can shoot all the shopkeepers you like). I can't help but think there must be some way to have it all, to take – say – the ten years of worldbuilding that apparently went into Dragon Age (seriously guys, how long does it take to design an elves-and-dwarves fantasy setting?) and let us explore it for ourselves.

Anyway, that's the end of Mouse's adventures in Fallout 2. Now I'm off to roll a new character, buy her a minigun, and shoot every last motherfucker in the wasteland.

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