Last time we left off, we were finishing off the ostensible main quest of Fallout. Now, it’s time for the real main quest of Fallout. It turns out that the hunt for the Water Chip was roughly the first half of the game. The purpose of this quest was to introduce the player to the world while giving the player character an excuse to wander around in it.
Over and over, I’ve made a big deal about how this game has a plot, but also allows the player to play it non-linearly. These two things are fundamentally at odds and so it’s easy to favor one over the other. The way you favor the plot is by making a game that pretends to be an open world but realistically forces the player down a specific path. Fallout doesn’t even come close to this problem, as I mentioned earlier in the series; this game absolutely does not mind if you just waltz up to the “final dungeon” and conclude the conflict at the outset, even if your character “shouldn’t” know to do this. Speed runs of the game do exactly that, ignoring everything else in the game.
The second potential issue, and the one more likely for ambitious game designers, is to have a plot that can’t stand up to non-linearity, giving a result that doesn’t make sense if you accidentally skipped something critical. I’ve geared this playthrough toward proving Fallout’s prowess in avoiding this problem. Specifically, I endeavored to rush through the “main quest” while ignoring all side diversions to demonstrate that the result still makes sense.
All this is a long-winded way of pointing out that if you’ve gone out of your way to avoid running into Super Mutants before this point, then this series is what you get. The pack of Super Mutants occupying Necropolis serve the dual purpose of being the final “boss fight” of the game’s first quest, while also making absolutely certain the player has met Super Mutants before The Overseer demands they take care of the Super Mutant threat.
In a more normal playthrough, most people have at least some exposure to the Super Mutant faction at the Hub. One possibility comes in the form of the Children of the Cathedral, a cult that provides medical services in the Hub. If you read between the lines, it feels like the cult is barely tolerated because of said medical services. It’s easy to assume that they’re supposed to be some generic band of kooks until you later realize that their supreme being is a physical entity in the game. Most players will meet the Children here, then put two and two together when they get to the Necropolis and notice the Children have a clinic right next to those Super Mutants guarding the Vault.
There is also one particular Super Mutant that players will likely meet before this point.
I mentioned last time that there are three major caravans in the hub. One of them gives the player an easy source of money, XP, and fast-travel by offering caravan runs to almost every important location left in the game. Another offers assistance with the main plot by letting the character import water to the Vault and also giving important hints to find the water chip. The third offers one of the best sidequests in the game.
Butch Harris, the leader of the Far Go Traders, tells you that his caravans have been disappearing and asks you to find the cause. He’s not sure, but he suspects it may be something called the Death Claw.
Butch directs you to a local merchant, who in turn directs you to a local nutter, who in turn directs you to his friend Harold. Harold is one of the most beloved characters in both Fallout and Fallout 2. It’s not hard to see why. He’s likely to be the first heavily-mutated character the player meets. He has a story about his mutation which “just” seems like a fun bit of worldbuilding, until you later find out that one of the people in his story is the final boss of the game. His mutation’s kept him around since before the war, meaning he probably knows more about what’s going on than literally anybody. He’s the wasteland’s grandfather full of interesting war stories, and that’s before he helps you with this quest.
While the quest builds up the boss fight, the real prize is its recent prey; a nearly-dead Super Mutant trapped in its cave. Talking to this Super Mutant gives you some hints about what’s really going on with them, including that their plan includes kidnapping humans such as the missing caravans (conveniently he’s carrying documentation so you can prove this to the caravan leader)
You could honestly sell the appeal of the first Fallout game on this quest alone. It has it all: A challenging boss fight, an enticing mystery (if you haven’t played the later games), and exposition that is interesting in its own right and turns out to tie back into the main plot in an unexpected way.
Next time: The other best sidequest in the game.