I'm blindly running through the original Fallout for the first time. I know, I know, I should've done this 16 years ago. My first episode was eye opening because the targeting system, VATS, lets you hone in on your enemy's tender bits. Which I did. With my brass knuckles. This episode, I figured out that bookshelves are Fallout's equivalent of treasure chests. Which I plunder. Vigorously.
I beat feet back west across the wasteland. I hit the gates to a small, peaceful settlement called Shady Sands where they kindly ask me to holster my brass knuckles. Little do they know my bare hands are registered weapons, but I keep this lethal secret to myself. Then, at almost the same time, I realize there’s a big red button called “Skilldex” on the screen. I push it. Hm. Apparently there were ways for me to heal myself without resorting to shooting up my arm with stimpacks. I could have doctored or first aided myself back to health. Well, live and learn. Note: If you see a big red button on your game’s screen – push it.
Dude named Seth hands me a situation report on Shady Sands. He basically equates Radscorpions and raiders to the plague and immediately sends me into side quest land. Hey, Seth asks, could you maybe talk to the doc and waste away some of your precious 150-day countdown clock of doom in order to help us out? Sure, buddy, I think to myself. Death from dehydration really takes, like, three days to set in, so I’m pretty sure the clock started with 153 days, not 150. The survivors back in Vault 13 will be fine. They'll be fine.
Oh, hey, I also noticed on the main screen a little rectangular box appear that says “Level.” Because I’m an idiot, I thought that might mean that I’m simply on the main level of the town. And then I drew upon all my mental faculties and previous experience with role-playing games to deduce that maybe – just maybe – “Level” means I need to level up my character.
Suddenly I’m staring at 13 skillpoints because I am, in fact, level two now. I’m already a heavy-handed bruiser, as far as traits are concerned. Fighting is all I know. It’s what I was born to do, how I was bred to hand confrontations both physical and metaphysical. And if there’s only one thing I’ve already learned in the wasteland so far, it’s that anything and everything wants to kill me, except for this guy Seth in Shady Sands, and the lady “with a nice smile” next to him. I crank my unarmed skill up to 99 percent, then dump the rest into first aid. Fight, heal. Fight, heal.
The lady with the nice smile, Katrina, indoctrinates me on more of the systems that make Fallout go ‘round. She’s bored and boring about her past, having grown up in Vault 15 and then ending up here in Shady Sands. She tells me about bartering. She tells me about bottle caps, which apparently work like Bitcoin. The game rewards me with 250 experience points, which is more than I earned in any fight so far. I’m already starting to regret the all-my-eggs-in-one-basket approach to skills. At no point did I get to punch Katrina or mend her wounds afterwards. I’ll have to look into branching out my skills.
The third person I talk to in Shady Sands (after Seth the Nice Guard and Katrina the Other Nice Guard) is a Clearly Not Nice Guard. His push-and-shove attitude reveals one major reason why the peaceful Shady Sands community survives: xenophobia. As in, they don’t get many strangers around these parts and they’d like to keep it that way, thank you very much. He tries to goad me into a fight. Despite the fact that I’m a bruiser and would most certainly – I think – punch the face right off his face, I play it cool for now. I don’t have any allies out here in the wastelands, since it doesn’t look like the Cave Rats and Radscorpions are hiring, so yeah. I do play it cool for now.
I leave that wing of the barracks and head into the other wing. This time I run into three Clearly Not Nice Guards and they give me the same schpiel as the first guy: Scram.
I don’t fight them outright, but I don’t like their attitude either. So I run over to a bookshelf they have shoved in the corner that’s apparently not filled with books at all, but ammo and BB’s. I’m unable to pilfer these things off them, which I want to do really bad, even though they’d be useless to me because I can basically just punch a Radscorpion in the brain and kill it, so what kind of challenge would these three guys provide? Maybe too much. I decide it’s too soon to test out my first aid skills on myself.
An odd amount of space surrounds every sturdy-built structure in this town. Even this public restroom is built like a bunker. There’s a ton of space, which leaves plenty of room for the architecture to breathe. It seems like these areas were built to let me wander around with four or five other people in my party, but it’s just me. Heading over to the west side of the camp? I better get started, since that’s two buildings and 20 minutes away. Just kidding. But honestly. It’s comforting to know that in order to create a living community, they felt the need to include toilets. That answers the big questions right there.
I head into another large, flat, single-story structure and accidentally run into Tori. She would also like to inform me that things are boring here. Is that another self defense mechanism of Shady Sands citizens? Convince strangers they’re not wanted, or, barring that, convince strangers that they’ll die of boredom here. Is this my drive, my motivation to get out and see the big, wide world? Or is this the developers’ way of saying, Sorry, move along, no interesting people or places to see here?
So I had talked to Seth at the gate who told me to talk to Aradesh in one building who’s telling me to talk to Razlo in another building. They’re right. I am getting bored. I just want to Mike Tyson some Radscorpions and maybe get some useful loot in the process and – also, maybe – get to know Katrina’s “nice smile” a little better.
I head across the town square whose showpiece is an ancient-looking obelisk covered with stories reminding the Shady Sanders of hope. For being the dead center of town – and quite an attraction – they town’s builders certainly gave this thing a wide berth. Which is probably a good idea. If Hollywood’s taught me anything, it’s that nothing good comes out of Dan Brown-looking monuments like these.
In an empty but lived-in home, I walk in and immediately pilfer through a bookshelf. There’s a copy of Scout’s Handbook here. I read the book and it says I “learn a lot about wilderness survival.” I dig through every screen I know off. Nothing is labeled wilderness survival, so I have no idea what I’ve learned or how I quantify its usefulness. It’s possible the benefits bled invisibly into my existing skills, but there are too many numbers on the screen for me to know where it went, if that’s indeed the case.
I find Razlo, the guy Ardesh sent me to find. I can tell Razlo’s an unimportant lackey because he doesn’t get voiced dialogue. He’s a text-talking puke like the rest of us. But, in good news, I’ve already got Radscorpion poison with me. I guess that Radscorpion tail I’d cut off as a trophy in front of Vault 15 will prove useful after all.
I rifle through their bookcase as well. Bookcases are the equivalent of treasure chests in Fallout. I will now make it a point to dig furiously through my friends’ books in real life. Never know if my buddies have been holding out on me, like this guy here who’s got half a dozen stimpacks and a medkit. All for the taking. Razlo and his wife don’t say a word. They’re just like, sure, whatever, pal, take it. So I take it. I note that Razlo has a “very nice-looking bed,” so obviously health care is still a booming industry in 2161 and if they had the digital assets to render it, Dr. Razlo would probably have a Beemer sitting in his post-apocalyptic garage. I try not to begrudge him too much since I guess I’m robbing him right now.
I read a book on first aid, pilfered from the doc’s bookcase, naturally. It says I learn new ways to heal injury. Again, I don’t see which numbers ticked up – in my Skilldex or on my character sheet – so I just take the game’s word for it.
I run back to Aradesh to see if he cares that I made Radscorpion poison antidote with the doc. Aradesh doesn’t care. But wait a tick. I just noticed a Trade button when I’m talking to him. Click. I’ve got my Vault 13 trousers stuffed with knives, flares, stimpacks and medkits, plus my pockets are overflowing with bullets I’ll never use because I’m like the fist of the northstar. But he’s only got 40 bottle caps which is about the worth of one of my knives, so, fine, I give him a knife and shove the bottle caps into my inventory.
Seth the Nice Guard has his back to me. I tell him to take me to the Radscorpion caves. Without looking at me, I’m whisked off, alone, to this forsaken Radscorpion hive.
Great. I’m greeted by the intact skeleton of a two-headed cow. This Radscorpion cave is not rad.
[Stay tuned, or backtrack to Saved Game: Fallout: [Ep. 1] The one where I punch a cave rat in the groin]