Achievement Hunting in the Capital Wasteland
I can't stay away from the Capital Wasteland. If you need proof, just check out my Raptr profile. On the right-hand side you'll see my most-played games. Up there at No. 1 is Fallout 3 with 155 hours. Granted, the game may have been paused for more than a couple of those hours. Still, that's more time than I've spent playing Skate 2 and Left 4 Dead combined.
One of the things that kept me coming back to Fallout 3 was the Achievements. I didn't think much about them the first time I played. I was more interested in mucking about in the world -- getting my hands dirty in the subway tunnels, chasing my pops from Rivet City to Vault 112. That first run was fun. But after a month or so of letting the game collect dust on the shelf, I picked it back up again.
My second run was more focused. More purposeful. At first my only goal was to be evil -- to blow up Megaton and murder every character I met. That was fun. More fun than it ought to be. But having already experienced the story, I found myself wanting more. I started chasing Achievements and soon learned that they made a great guide for my second run. I first went after quests I'd missed, like Agatha's Song and The Superhuman Gambit. Then, I figured, since I was looking at maps and guides to scope out missed opportunities, I might as well go for broke. I finished my malicious pass at Fallout 3 with a total of 910 Achievement points in the game -- every Super Mutant Behemoth axed, not a single Bobblehead unturned.
I decided to go for the full thousand. There's only one game I've ever earned all 1,000 Achievement points for playing, and that is Peter Jackson's King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie. And that Achievement hardly counts -- the game gave you the full monty for simply finishing the game. Talk about unimaginative. I got pretty close to a perfect score in Skate 2, but the last couple Achievements called for grinding through online matches against glitch-cheaters. Not my idea of fun.
So there was my initial goal. Take one more swipe at Fallout 3 and mop up the four original Achievements I was missing:
It sounded simple enough. But then my eyes got bigger than my stomach. Until this point I hadn't touched an ounce of the game's downloadable content. What if I skipped the main story and jumped straight into Operation Anchorage? For a moment I harbored the fantasy that I'd be able to conquer all of the expansion Achievements in one go. But I soon learned that three Achievements would be impossible to grab in the same run.
The Broken Steel expansion doesn't just raise the level cap. It awards Achievements for reaching level 30 with positive, negative and neutral karma. The one rule I've given myself while playing Fallout 3 is that I won't use creative saving to game the karma system. See, it's possible to play the game as a good guy, save just before your character levels, commit a bunch of heinous crimes, earn the Achievement for being a horrible person, then revert back to that old save file with a clean rep like nothing ever happened. To me that kind of thing feels like cheating. If you're going to take an innocent life in Fallout 3 you ought to pay whatever consequences Bethesda cooked up for you.
That was my plan. I enter the world of Fallout 3 for the third time, with hopes of cleaning house as a neutral character. I roll for Charisma, knowing I'm going to have to win a mess of Speech Challenges on my travels. I muscle my way out of Vault 101, make a quick pit-stop in Megaton to grab some supplies, then head to Bailey's Crossroads.
There was a lot of criticism levied at Operation Anchorage for being a straight-ahead shooting gallery. And the charges aren't without merit. But for me, a wet-behind-the-ears noob fresh from the Vault, it winds up being a perfect place to level up. Without spoiling too much of the story, I meet up with the Outcasts -- a splinter faction of the Brotherhood of Steel. They hook me up to a VR simulation that puts me on the ground in Alaska when American forces were fighting off a Chinese invasion. There's no stuff to loot in there -- you resupply via ammo dispensers and health stations. Enemies derez like defeated programs in "Tron."
I rack up experience points greedily. When I acquire the occasional follower, I get nervous that they'll steal kills, but as the mission nears its end I worry that I may hit level 8 with positive karma. In the course of getting out of Vault 101 and lending the Outcasts a hand, I've committed just enough good deeds to edge my karma out of neutral territory. I walk out of the simulation to take my rewards -- the loot in an Outcast weapons cache. I take everything I can carry. The real prizes are the Gauss Rifle, the Winterized T-51b Combat Armor and Jingwei's Shock Sword. I'll toy with the sword for more than a few levels, but the armor and gun will remain useful for the rest of the game.
I've been slowly throwing points toward Melee, and try my shiny new sword out in the Wasteland. As I make my way north toward The Pitt I find great success in cutting down enemies. I'm able to hack apart dogs and mole rats as they fling themselves at me. Enemies with guns aren't quite as keen to be sliced in two. They're still able to pepper me with bullets as I approach, but the end result is satisfying. When I'm near I see myself cut down Wastelanders in a single slice -- like some kind of armor-plated samurai.
I meet up with escaped slave Werner near a radio tower -- he recruits me to infiltrate the slave-labor enclave of the Pitt and attempt to kill Ashur, who runs the place. Of course, things are always more complicated than that.
But my biggest roadblock doesn't come by way of moral ambiguity. The cutthroat way of life in the Pitt makes it easy to ride the middle; I earn level 8 and the moniker Mercenary soon after entering the ruins of Pittsburgh. No, my biggest enemy in the Pitt is a bug -- one that prevents me from finding all 100 steel ingots and earning the "Mill Worker" Achievement. It's a sucker's job, really -- picking through the Trog-infested ruins for these things. But I figure I've already scoured the Wasteland for Bobbleheads. How could this be worse?
I learn how when crossing the roof of one of the Steel Mills. By now I've already nabbed upwards of 70 hunks of metal. One more big score and I'm done. That's when the floor drops out from under me. The metal roof I'm walking on goes transparent. I fall through the scenery and into the unadorned netherworld beneath the level. I die on impact. I try over and over to find a way around the pitfall, but nothing works. The roof can't be walked on. After checking some maps, I learn that the final stash of ingots is just around the corner, but beyond my reach. I try restarting my console and have no luck. So I go back to a save from just before entering the Pitt and try the whole thing again -- thinking that maybe an ill-flung grenade had propelled some body parts through a wall, causing the roof to bug out. Turns out that wasn't the case. I spend another night working my way up to the roof to find it immaterial. I'm crushed. For now the "Mill Worker" Achievement will elude me.
My disappointment around the ingots steels my reserve. I cut through the rest of the Pitt like a true Mercenary. I play both sides like Clint Eastwood -- neither the slaves nor the slavers earn my loyalty. I fight my way out of the place with more loot than I can carry. It takes two trips to lug all the junk I nab. I'm especially fond of the Man Opener. It's a named version of the Auto Axe -- the huge grinders that slaves in the Pitt wield. I accidentally use the Man Opener to repair an Auto Axe and lose it, but I'm not too bummed about the loss.
When the time comes to approach the third bit of downloadable content, I realize that I've made a major miscalculation. The Broken Steel expansion is meant to extend the original Fallout 3 story. By installing the DLC I've already raised my level cap, but if I want to taste any of the story beyond the original game's downer of a conclusion, I'm going to have to follow Dad one more time.
I head to Galaxy News Radio and smooth-talk my way out of doing any chores for Three Dog. I make a beeline to Rivet City and follow the old man's footsteps to Vault 112, where he's held captive in a virtual hell. Inside the Tranquility Lane simulation, I'm worried that my deeds may nudge me away from my neutral status. I commit cruelties at the behest of Tranquility Lane's evil overseer, and gain good karma by eventually freeing the citizens of Tranquility Lane from their purgatory. Luckily, neither act is enough to push my karma over the edge in one direction or another. Not long after escaping the simulation, I ding level 14 and earn the "Pinnacle of Survival" Achievement.
Before I can even taste the new Broken Steel story, I have to rush through the final portions of the original Fallout 3 story. With my fancy Winterized Armor and Gauss Rifle I make short work of the Super Mutants and Enclave soldiers who stand in my way. If I land a critical hit with the Gauss Rifle, it sends my opponent flying backwards, stunning them momentarily -- giving me the opportunity to run up to them and finish them off with the Auto Axe. Or, if I'm under fire, the stun grants me enough respite to charge up more action points in V.A.T.S.
Things get a little hairy in Vault 87. The Super Mutants get a hair tougher. And in my rush I failed to stock up on Stimpaks. With careful, considered use of the Gauss Rifle I'm able to make my way through the gauntlet, snacking on whatever food I scrounge from the pockets of my enemies. I find and free Fawkes, the uniquely communicative Mutant held captive in the vault.
There are food and other goodies all over Raven Rock. I loot all the ammo I get my grubby mitts on, and gorge on the Enclave's food rather than squander my precious medical supplies. I walk out of Raven Rock in one piece to find my new friend Fawkes waiting for me. This time I hope to recruit him as a sidekick -- having him along will help speed my way through the levels. But Fawkes will have nothing to do with me. My behavior hasn't been up to snuff. He'll only fight by the side of a do-gooder. And I only do good when I absolutely have to. Dang.
I face my fate in the Jefferson Memorial and pick up the post-Fallout 3 plot. I'm back with the Brotherhood of Steel, working to quash the last vestiges of Enclave resistance. Our first mission is a barn-burner on the far West of the Capital Wasteland. The Brotherhood brings its giant robot.
The bulk of Broken Steel is a one-man infiltration mission. I'm still rocking the same armor and Gauss Rifle -- supplementing that core gear with a wicked flamethrower nabbed from one of the new, high-level Enclave jerks I bump into while wandering the Wasteland. Best of all, the Brotherhood gives me a new toy. The Tesla Cannon fires a ball of energy that hits hard, then lingers -- causing crackling electrical damage to the poor souls it touches. I'm a little bit worried about all the good karma I've racked up since saving the Wasteland from the Enclave and liberating Project Purity. My karma is leaning seriously good, and that won't do.
I make a detour to Girdershade and cause some trouble. First I talk to Ronald Laren -- the letch who lives next door to Nuka Cola aficionado Sierra Petrovia. I use my Black Widow perk to send him on a wild goose chase for Nuka Cola Quantum, then break into his house and rob him blind. If it isn't nailed down I take it. My thieving doesn't seem to put a dent in my karma. This won't do. I walk coolly into Sierra's house, put my Gauss Rifle to her temple, and watch her face turn to vapor. That did the trick. I'm back in the middle where I belong. I loot Sierra's corpse, hoping to grab the coveted plans for Nuka Cola Grenades, but she doesn't keep the precious blueprints on her person.
I begin my anti-Enclave mission in earnest -- infiltrating their massive encampment at Adams Air Force Base via the Presidential Metro, a series of subway tunnels that connect the Capital with the military stronghold. There are tons of turrets and beefy Enclave Hellfire Troopers to contend with as I make my way across the tarmac to the Enclave's Mobile Base Crawler -- a moving platform that looks like a cross between an oil derrick and a Jawa Sandcrawler. I clear a good portion of the steel beast, earning level 20 and "The Paradigm of Humanity" on these experience-rich enemies.
Then I hit a brick wall. Or, more accurately, a locked door. I've totally ignored my lockpicking and hacking skills, and now a single door bars my progress. If there's a key or another way around I can't find it -- Enclave corpses are scattered everywhere. And both ways to get up to the top of the Mobile Base Crawler appear to be locked. I weigh my options and decide to spend some time in Point Lookout, where I can gain some levels and put points toward my meager lockpicking talent.
Point Lookout, the newest bit of content for Fallout 3, is also the least linear. It feels like a miniature version of the Capital Wasteland -- an open space where you can grab quests at will, meet interesting new people and, in most cases, kill them. I take my time savoring the Local Flavor. There's much to explore here, and lots of trouble to get into. My eyes are on the last of the game's original Achievements I have yet to earn -- Silver Tongued Devil. Never in a million years did I imagine that this would be the straggler. According to my Pip-Boy I'm still short around 20 successful Speech Challenges. My problem this go-round is that I've been skipping the many side-quests peppered around -- focusing on the quests in the DLC, which don't offer a bunch of fast talk. After a couple days on the island I've racked up enough lockpicking skill to open nearly any door. It's time to put Broken Steel to bed.
I jump the Presidential Metro and head back to Adams. The Crawler is still waiting for me. The airfield remains eerily quiet. I guess the hammer I brought down on the Enclave made enough noise that the reinforcements were wary to face me. Or else the jerks really are at the end of their rope -- spread so thin that they're just barely hanging on. The door creaks open with a single hairpin. And the handful of Enclave soldiers and robots are manageable. I do what has to be done and destroy the carrier -- racking up another massive chunk of good karma.
I'm now sorry for all the decent acts I've done in Point Lookout -- and I begin to realize that there's not a hell of a lot of evil (or good) to be done out there. Not the kind that will undo the massive karmic bump I've earned for saving the world. Again.
The final quest in Point Lookout is a war between two assholes. I pick the one I like better (mainly because he loves his dogs). I mop up my final Achievement in Point Lookout by finding Kenny's Cave -- a hideaway that would have been a convenient place to stash goods when I was new to the island. After a game of tag with Kenny I leave Point Lookout for good.
With my level in the high-20s, the end of my journey is in sight. I have only two things I need to accomplish -- talk fast and do some evil. In an attempt to kill two birds with one stone I head to Tenpenny Tower, planning to negotiate settlements between the hoity-toity human residents and the Ghouls seeking shelter there.
I convince all of the residents that they'll have to get used to living with the Ghouls, winning Speech Challenges in the process. They're jerks about it. So I go into the basement and open the blast door, unleashing a horde of ferals on the residents. I strut through the ruined halls right behind the monsters, picking the poor saps off with my plasma rifle. The screen hisses with negative karma. I clear the building of the living and the undead -- and still have a good reputation.
I make a trip to the mall to pick fights with Super Mutants and Mercenaries, hoping to bring myself closer to level 30. The approach works. I'm tantalizingly close to becoming a true mortal. As I'm picking some of my last perks, I notice that a couple of them offer an end run around my morality dilemma. By choosing Devil's Highway, Escalator to Heaven or Karmic Rebalance, I have the opportunity to automatically crank my reputation all the way toward good and evil, or place it right in the metal. But that route feels cheap. I choose to go all in when I bump into a Ghoul named Griffon outside of Underworld. He's hawking Aqua Pura -- the clean water my dad died to provide the world -- as a cure-all to his fellow Ghouls. I'm disgusted with the guy, but I grit my teeth and convince him I'm down with his deception -- especially after he tells me who forced him into his line of business. That's my 50th bit of fast-talking, and with a delayed pop the final original Fallout 3 Achievement is mine. That's when I pull out my Gauss Rifle and put Griffon down.
That jerk Hawkes is hanging around the entrance to Underworld. And he's not too keen on my killing. I try to take the lug down, but he's way too tough. And as much as I'd like to punish him for his rebuke, I don't really want to kill the guy. He's the most unique person I've met in my travels. I slink past him into the Ghoul city and begin killing everyone I see. Some of them fight back. Most go down in a heartbeat. I figure since I gave Tenpenny Towers to the Ghouls, it's somehow fitting that I take Underworld away from them. But I lose heart halfway through the massacre. I've done enough. I'm in the middle where I need to be. I leave a handful still breathing in Underworld, and head out into the Capital Wasteland to finish my task.
The Super Mutants and the Behemoth in the Capital building aren't quite enough to bring me to level 30. So, at the behest of Moira, I head to a robot factory for a final bit of research. The Radroaches and robots there offer a pittance of experience, but they do a fine job of bringing me ever so close. I head to my local library on another one of Moira's quests and finally hear the sound. A Wastelander hits the dust and the Achievement pops on-screen -- True Mortal. I take Fallout 3's final perk: Almost Perfect. It's the game's equivalent of "god mode." All of my S.P.E.C.I.A.L. skills are now cranked to 9. But I never put my new abilities to the test. I fast-travel to Megaton, turn the quest in to Moira -- finishing her silly guide -- and save the game as soon as I step out of Craterside Supply. And that's where Tura, level-30 "True Mortal," will remain. Perhaps forever. She's done enough.
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