NostalgiaJam – Fallout 3

War. War never changes. I can barely remember a time before I knew the significance of those words.

When I did manage to drag myself away, Fallout was all I would talk about. It became a running joke in classes to ask me what I’d done in my game the previous night, because I would damn well tell you. Whether I’d accidentally murdered an entire society, or given some old dude an Abe Lincoln toy, I loved every second of it. This was the first time a game gave me the pure freedom to do whatever I liked – never mind how bad an idea it was – and I wanted to share my experience with people.

One of my most vivid memories is of the first real emergent narrative moment I experienced. I’m in Megaton, selling my loot from a ruined school and stealing everything that isn’t nailed down, when I remember I need to see a man about a bomb. I go and chat to Lucas Simms, and tell him I’ve solved their little “nuke in the middle of town” problem. Probably should’ve seen to that earlier Lucas, but hey it’s your town. So he’s grateful, offers me some cash and karma and a neat little shack, but when I tell him about the seedy, fedora-sporting chap who asked me to detonate the bomb instead of disarming it, he’s not all that thrilled.

So he asks for a hand, and off we go to kill Mr. Burke.

In Moriarty’s, I’m half paying attention to the dialogue, mostly just trying to pickpocket Gob the barghoul, when I hear the shots. I fire instinctively, and Mr. Burke falls – but it’s too late. The sheriff is dead. I’m worried I’ve broken the game, but that feeling fades when I realise that hey, that’s a pretty sweet hat. I loot the guy who just gave me a home and continue scrounging for caps.

Shortly after this, I decide to go through Simms’ house, to see if there’s anything cool there. Hell, I even have the key, so I don’t even need to pick the lock. Outside I meet the younger Simms, Harden. He doesn’t like me. “You wear his badge, but you’re not my Dad.” Ah kid, I tried. And anyway, shhh. I rob the orphan, getting some junk and a Bobblehead, when suddenly he’s all “No, get out of my house!”

“Look kid,” I think, “I’m the sheriff now. Mind your business.” And I stick to this story, at least until I leave the house and half the population start shooting me because, apparently, stealing from orphans is still a no-no in post-apocalyptia.

So that’s how I became sheriff of Megaton, and was immediately run out of town for burglarising the dead sheriff’s house while wearing his clothes. Worked out ok; I ran away and hunted some Twilight wannabes, a good time was had by all. But I’ll tell you what; when I replay Fallout 3 now, I shoot first.

These are the stories I would tell, and still tell. And there are so many.

The first time I went through the VR sequence in Vault 112 was great, when it was fresh and new, even though I almost always skip the whole thing these days. The first time I found the alien crash site was a glorious accident, and made me an unstoppable killing machine with that beautiful little blaster. The first time I saw the AntAgoniser fight The Mechanist I was blown away because, even 30 or so hours into the game, it was still finding ways to surprise me.

Meeting Dogmeat – goddamn Dogmeat – who I loved like a real dog. When he died to a Feral Ghoul Reaver I lost it; blasted everything nearby, and reloaded my save. And let’s not forget when I wandered into Old Olney armed with nothing more than a 10mm SMG and thought that would be totally fine. Some of these moments may only work once, but they stay with me even now, and remain some of my most treasured gaming memories.

There are many other moments in Fallout 3 which are things of pure beauty, and remain as great now as they were then. The fight with the Behemoth outside GNR was absolutely terrifying the first time, because I didn’t realise the Fat Man was there and tried to do the whole thing with a Hunting Rifle. It didn’t go well. The Tenpenny Tower quests were the first time a moral choice in a game really affected me, after I killed the ghouls who just wanted a place to live. Having played that the other way since, I’m still not sure which choice was right – which wass, of course, the point.

The midpoint of the main quest was a beautifully written, emotionally destructive masterpiece, and I will hear nothing against it; I raged against that door, shooting and punching to no avail, as I watched my virtual father die. Still gets me. I loved you, Liam Neeson. I loved you.

Special shout-out to the Brotherhood of Steel, for being one of the coolest in-game factions in any game, ever. Even though they were less badass than the Outcasts, I’ve still got their insignia emblazoned on my shoulder for the rest of forever, and I barely even regret it.

There’s more, but I’d run through the entire game if I thought you’d read it. The point of this blow by blow is to try and describe the feeling that Fallout 3 evokes in me. How I felt as I left Vault 101 was a defining point in my life, and it’s a something that I judge most other games by. Fallout 3 is an unquestionable masterpiece of gaming, probably the game that made me consider games a legitimate art form, and I know I’ll never get to play it for the first time ever again.

Fallout: New Vegas came close to recapturing this sense of wonder. It’s a better game, with what is probably a superior story, more fully-realised characters, better gameplay, and overall I’ve played considerably more of New Vegas that I have Fallout 3. If you put a laser pistol to my head and made me choose just one to play ever again, it’d be New Vegas. But – and I think this is why people didn’t gush more over Fallout 4 – it was more of the same. It didn’t have that sense of newness that Fallout 3 did, and while things like Skyrim and The Witcher 3 have come close, I don’t think any game will ever make me feel like that again.

Bethesda took a series with a limited audience and amazing potential, then realised that potential in ways I still can’t believe. I still find it difficult to criticise anything they do, because of the loyalty I feel towards them. They gave me one of the greatest experiences of my life, and I’m forever grateful for that.

Almost nine years later, every time I boot up Fallout 3, I remember that first day, and how much it defined my life. When you think that I only bought what has become my all-time favourite game just because it was slightly cheaper than it was supposed to be, and how different my life would have been if I hadn’t been a bit hungover and wanted to chill out, you realise just how subject to chance we all are. We all have our own paths to walk, our own destinies, and mine began in Liffey Street GameStop.

Or something like that. Maybe I’m just listening to Fawkes too much.

So that’s my story, but I’m far from the only person this game has affected. We want to know yours. What do you think is the best moment in Fallout 3? What stuck with you this last decade? What weird little pseudo-story did you craft around the gaps in the scripted one? Let us know. We’ll have a lot of differences, and a lot the same.

Because war… War never changes.

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