Or how I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb.
Published in The Student, University of Edinburgh's oldest student newspaper
I’ve just saved young Bryan Wilks. Great kid, great kid. His hometown was overrun with mutated beasts and sadly, his parents didn’t make it. After locating and destroying the horde’s nest with the help of Doctor Lesko, who didn’t make it either, I’m now charged with finding a new home for orphan Bryan.
I could reunite him with his cousin, leave him to rot in the sun, or worse, sell him up at Paradise Falls as a slave worker. That’s where I bought my slave companion, Clover. Regardless, in Fallout 3 your decisions matter, so choose wisely.
As nuclear bombs rain down on America in the 1950s, a small percentage of the population take refuge in Vault-Tec shelters, leaving everyone else to die, mutate or barely survive in the shrouded fallout. Two hundred years later, you escape Vault 101 and enter the wastelands of Washington DC in search of your missing father.
From the moment you are born- very literally- through the glimpses of your childhood until breaking out into the badlands, Fallout 3 poses decisions that have real consequences in a time where gamers are allowed to have their cake and eat it too, and then have seconds. Games claiming mature themes and moral choices tend to pimp the same binary selection: save the baby or eat the baby, two extremes with no grey area and the option to switch sides at the next opportunity.
The town of Megaton has the notable distinction of an undetonated atomic bomb in its town square. You can defuse, detonate or do nothing to the bomb. As a hub for quests, it’s in your interest to complete them and gain wealth, experience and items. Should you blow up the town immediately, all characters and possible quests vanish. Forever. For once being evil is now viable, with cash rewards for selling a young orphan to the slavers or blowing up Megaton. You can, of course, detonate the bomb for the fun of it.
Although it has the nimble body of a modern first-person adventure, Fallout 3’s heart and mind are undeniably from its role-playing past. That means creating a character with discrete skills: a gun-touting bruiser may be a great shot but completely useless at hacking a computer, unlike the charismatic scientist (corroborating years of research conducted at King’s Buildings). Thankfully you can evolve your character, more forgiving than the previous Fallout games where low Intelligence would produce incoherent baby-talk rendering any progress impossible.
A bleak future awaits if the bombs were to fall. The atmosphere is a blend of serene sadness and undeterred optimism that bears down relentlessly. Wandering the wastelands and discovering a populated town or a shrine to Honest Abe is a brilliant feeling. Bethesda have created a beautifully rich world and then bombed the shit out of it, allowing something even more incredible to surface.