Crispy Gamer

I Survived Four Hours of Fallout 3, Part 3

It's time to face my past. Crispy Gamer's four-hour preview of Fallout 3 winds down in this final installment. After exploring the wasteland outside the Vault and raiding the Jury Street subway tunnels, I make my way to the city Megaton, where what passes for civilization in this ruined world awaits. My tour guide, Pete Hines from Bethesda Softworks, is on hand to help me make sense of the proceedings.

Megaton exterior
Megaton, not to be confused with Detroit.

Megaton is a huge walled city, protected from the harsh wastelands by corrugated metal. A robot stands sentry out front; his arms hang limply to his sides like the rubber tube limbs of Robby from "Lost in Space." A jet engine mounted high above rumbles to life, lifting two giant doors -- much like the opening of a drawbridge or the great wrought iron door of a medieval keep.

Within the walls, Megaton has the feel of a shantytown. It's built into the slop of a huge crater, and homes, shops and other establishments ring the pit. I'm immediately met by the town's sheriff, a friendly but formidable man called Lucas Simms. Simms is a man with an amiable grin, but you get the sense that smile would creep from his face were you to get on his wrong side. I like the look of the guy and aim to win his trust.

I think that kind of thing is important -- allowing you to role-play who you are when you talk to folks. The sheriff is a good example: You come in and are really nice and polite to the sheriff, and he's like, "It's a pleasure to have you here." Or you can be a dick, acting like "There's a new sheriff in town. Let's go!" and duel with the sheriff right there in the middle of town -- being a jerk.

I tell the sheriff I'll have a look at his town's key feature: A huge, unexploded atom bomb lies at the crater's low point. The weapon of mass destruction has been there so long that a religion has formed around it. I crack the thing open and discover that it's still live -- I can set it to blow or disarm it.

What kind of asshole would set this thing to blow? And what would my life in the wasteland be like with my one lead, this town, left a smoldering pile of ashes?

It's a tradeoff. This place goes away, but another place opens up to you -- Tenpenny Tower -- and you get a house there. But it is actually harder to play the game. If you blow up Megaton you are removing some resources and making the bit tougher on yourself. But I'm okay with that, because you just wiped out an entire town. If your life becomes a little more difficult, then good.

Lucas Simms: sheriff, crocodile hunter.

I'm no mass murderer. (At least, not unless it's in self-defense.) I disarm the bomb and earn a bit of positive karma -- Fallout 3's way of measuring deeds both benevolent and sinister. I'm not sure how much of the stuff I've earned; I just know that I've racked up some good karma. I feel good about it.

We could have been very obvious. The game has numbers all over the place for everything else; it wouldn't have been a big deal to just say "karma" and a number. But it's not really what karma is. Karma is more of an ambiguous thing; it's much easier for us to do without a number, but still have it feel right for the player.

Things are moving fast now that I've engaged the citizenry of Megaton. The sheriff, pleased with my deeds, has given me the keys to my own abode. The place is more than a hovel -- it's a multi-floor apartment with a fridge and places to work and sleep. I put my head to the pillow and wake up six hours later feeling "well rested." That's a buff that's earned when you bunk down in a place that you own.

My new digs could use some decoration. After my haircut (performed by my live-in robot butler), I head over toward an establishment run by Moira Brown, who reminds me a bit of Kaylee, the cheerful spaceship mechanic on the show "Firefly." She's a cheery type. Cute, too. Her kind attitude seems at odds with the dreary, violent hours I've just spent.

It's a harsh, brutal world. Things aren't going well. But then you get somebody like Moira Brown who sounds like a housewife in Wisconsin. Sometimes you get just a bit of humor. [Despite] the harsh gruffness of the world, every now and then you get something unexpected.

I unload a bunch of junk with the businesswoman in exchange for the world's currency: bottle caps. I spend some of my earnings by stocking up on ammo and repairing some of my more treasured firearms. Moira has some work for me. She's writing a book -- a survival guide of sorts -- and she wants me to do the legwork. Moira's offering me co-authorship as well as some opportunities to explore new places, and kill interesting people. I accept.

You actually get to flavor what it is she writes, based on what you tell her. She doesn't know whether you go to Minefield or Super Duper Mart or not. You can go to the wasteland, come back and just lie. "Yeah, there was nothing there." And the quests that you get are also different based on what your responses are.

I'm the honest type, so I opt to explore Minefield, scope out the area and, hopefully, recover one of the town's storied explosives without losing a limb. But before I leave Megaton I've got one final bit of business to take care of.

As expected, news of my father would be found at the local bar.

There's still the matter of my father -- that first quest that's been buzzing in my Pip-Boy 3000 since the moment I stepped out of the Vault. A guy in Megaton knows who my father is. Apparently he's spoken to the man. I approach the stranger, who opens his mouth and immediately drops a bombshell -- a spoiler as earthshaking as the nuke lurking in the center of Megaton.

I walk away with a new goal, another trail of breadcrumbs leading off into the wasteland. My father is out there fighting the good fight, and I'll join him, eventually. First, there's a little town called Minefield that needs exploring. Survival guides don't write themselves.

This feature is based on early code of the game for the Xbox 360. The game was played in one sitting at a media event.

Don't forget to read Part 1 and Part 2 of this feature.