Fallout: The End of the Beginning

Before we begin: I would like to make my first and last spoiler warning of this series. I know this seems like weird timing, but I’m mentioning it now because here is where the game’s likely paths start to diverge. Until now, I’ve been examining what I consider the default playthrough of the game, and a lot of what I’ve “spoiled” are cautionary tales that most people would be glad to have if they somehow picked up this game now.

This entry is where it becomes apparent that despite Fallout’s relatively linear “main path”, it eventually opens up and turns into a game about exploration. This is the point where it may be better to play it than to read about it. If my cautioning about obtuse 1990’s game mechanics haven’t put you off already, and if by some miracle you don’t know anything about the Fallout universe, then at least consider experiencing it for yourself. Of this entire series, the first game is the most easily ruined by foreknowledge. Learning about and poking around this wild world is most of the fun.

When we last left off, we were following the obvious clues toward the Hub. Much like Junktown was the natural waypoint from Shady Sands, The Hub is the natural waypoint to everything else. I’ve been pretty meticulous to talking to townspeople and picking up hints, and as a result I already have most points of interest marked on my map:

I’ve been following the plot, but the game doesn’t strictly force it. You can go to any of these places as soon as you’re told they exist, or you can go wandering and run into them if you’re adventurous and not worried about the time limit. People routinely speedrun this game in less than ten minutes.

The Hub is exactly what it sounds like. In-universe, it’s a trade center for the wasteland. In the game, it’s the biggest quest hub and has quest hooks for practically everything else we haven’t encountered in the game.

In the Hub, you can find:

  • Three separate caravans offering employment, including escorting caravans to various points of interest on the map
  • One caravan you can pay to deliver water to your vault to extend your quest time limit
  • A loan shark and a casino if you somehow haven’t broken the game’s economy yet
  • A Thieves’ Guild operated by a loony who only speaks in a fake English accent
  • A weird cult offering healing services
  • A weapons shop
  • A slum with its own black market for weapons and drugs, and one house that will probably kill you outright for entering it
  • Whispers of a legendary monster roaming the nearby area and a sidequest to hunt it
  • Another sidequest to clear a gang of raiders out of a citizen’s farm
  • Descriptions and directions to several of the marked areas on the map in case you don’t already have them yet
  • Multiple hints outright telling you where the water chip is
  • Harold

On one hand, the game’s main plot is still linear in the sense that you can find hints telling you directly where the chip is. On the other hand, it makes sure you have plenty of excuses to do other things, even in spite of the time limit. Caravan escorts only travel to certain locations on certain days. You may decide that you want to escort a caravan to your next destination, so you just pick the next one heading out of town. Or maybe you do sidequests in town until someone is travelling where you want to go. Maybe you missed the hints and figure the game wants you to start exploring. Maybe the hints are wrong (none of them are, but they’re always delivered in such a way that you can’t quite be sure) and you want to see what the Brotherhood of Steel is doing first. Maybe you want to find out if the Boneyard’s weapons market is all it’s cracked up to be.

This is the most straightforward and obvious of the hints pointing to the chip. The water chip is in Necropolis, but the Water Merchants don’t quite know that. They just think it’s suspicious that the ghouls don’t need to buy their water. This logic is especially funny if you know about Bethesda’s retcons.

Assuming you somehow get past all of that and end up beelining for Necropolis itself, you end up meeting a series mainstay: the ghouls. Contrary to what you might think at first, ghouls are not zombies. They just look like dead people, live in a community called the Necropolis, don’t age like normal humans, sometimes lose their grasp of language and try to bite unmutated humans on sight, have foot soldiers at the outer perimeter called “Zombie Guard” and okay fine they’re totally radiation zombies.

Necropolis is back to having “good” and “evil” paths, where you can decide whether you care if you’re dooming the Ghouls to dehydration by taking their only water source. Unlike in Junktown, the “good” path mostly involves dealing with jerks, excluding this one dude and his friends.

Radiation Zombie Town is at the entrance of a still-functioning vault, but its inhabitants don’t identify as human anymore and no longer care about radiation exposure. They live in what buildings are left of their pre-war city and use the Vault as an elaborate well. They’re mostly isolationist except for a tenuous relationship with another group that the player may or may not have met.

The Super Mutants don’t strictly want to kill humans. In true Fallout 1 fashion, this conversation can end with the player being kidnapped and taken to one of the game’s final dungeons, with no obvious way out and being up against endgame opponents. Also they steal your entire inventory in the process. Hope you saved beforehand!

Necropolis is ostensibly civilized, but barely. Their leader is a lunatic named Set. The first friendly ghouls you meet live in the sewers because Set hates ghouls who fraternize with humans. Super Mutants and some Children of the Cathedral (the “weird cult” mentioned in the Hub) have taken over part of the town. Set also hates them. In spite of all this, Set knows he’s not omnipotent and can barely be convinced to tolerate your presence if you solve his other problems while keeping it a secret. He already has a similar arrangement with the friendly sewer ghouls, quietly funneling them supplies in exchange for their manning the borders of the town.

This actually leaves a lot of ghoul behavior open to interpretation. Set claims that he can’t call off his foot soldiers from attacking you because that will make it too obvious that you’re acting under his blessing. Then again, most of the ghouls who attack you on site also only speak in groans. Is Set telling the truth, or is he just avoiding the admission that some of the ghouls attack anyone except ghouls, making them allies of convenience that he can’t actually control? It’s easy to see how this turned into the “Feral Ghouls” of later installments.

I was surprised when I looked it up and found the word “normie” dates back to the 1980s at least.

On one hand it’s a little irritating how easy it is to accidentally get in a fight with just about everyone in this town. On the other hand, it’s pretty cool how easy it is to intentionally get in a fight with just about everyone in this town. You can encounter “zombies” on the way to Necropolis and incorrectly think they’re all just a new monster type. You can try to take the chip without caring about the ghouls’ needs and end up at war with them because of it. Super Mutant Harry will interact peacefully with you, but only if you either pass speech checks or voluntarily go for the game’s bad ending. Set will help you, but only if you do everything he asks in a specific order (including killing the five Super Mutants hanging around the water pump) and also some of his ghouls will attack even if you do everything else right.

One storytelling benefit of showing you Vault 15 early is that it shows you the general layout of a Vault. Note the burned out entrance. According to the Fallout Bible, this Vault’s front door was intentionally faulty, allowing its inhabitants to be exposed to radiation.

The vault itself is uneventful. Once you’ve negotiated or killed your way to the entrance it’s a simple matter of just strolling in and taking the chip (you can actually do this regardless of previous actions, though the town instantly turns hostile if you haven’t fixed the Necropolis well for an alternate source of water). With that, it’s back to where it all began.

Vault 13’s cleanliness is almost surprising, which is odd when you remember that my character has lived here his entire life. This is forgivable when you realize this means there was no unnecessary intro sequence or tutorial, a lesson which would would go unheeded in almost all of this game’s sequels. Also, check out the Overseer’s sweet armored machine-gun throne. Back then we needed to justify unkillable NPCs.

We hand over the water chip and…it works as expected. The Vault is saved! Now to lock the doors and retire in the civilization we preserved, once again protected from the wasteland and all its…

NEXT TIME: Oh.

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