Whether it’s an Italian plumber or the world’s fastest hedgehog, gaming has created many recognisable heroes over the years. But surely, these characters couldn’t have saved galaxies and rescued princess on their own? In G Minor is here to celebrate the little guys of gaming, the supporting characters, the NPCs, the ones that make it possible for the heroes to achieve their goals, and sometimes even outshine the heroes themselves.
Whether or not you like Bethesda’s games, there’s no arguing in that they create absolutely seamless game worlds. It’s usually a risky move to reboot a cult game franchise, updating it with “newer” and more “modern” approaches to game design, Bethesda revered the Fallout franchise greatly, developing the settings and lore for FO3 and New Vegas with great respect to the original source material of the previous two games. Whether you were a newcomer to the Fallout franchise or a diehard fan already, 2008 was indeed a very good year with the release of Fallout 3. Giving the game an update from an isometric WRPG to a free-roaming action-RPG, many fans finally re-acquainted themselves with the post-apocalyptic, war torn, dying nuclear wasteland they love so dearly.
What’s important about an open-world game with such a high emphasis on exploration is that the world has to have an extent of believability. Fallout’s exaggerated caricature of post-WW2 nuclear fear already guarantees this, but what good is a world that isn’t inhabited with interesting characters to interact with? For such an expansive game, it’s hard to pinpoint one single character that stands out on the rest, since they all contribute to creating such a believable world and gives the player a unique experience every time, but it’s important that in such a game there is at least one character that makes an impression on the player early on. This is something that Fallout 3 does incredibly well. Whether it’s the charismatic free-thinker Three Dog or an animal companion like Dogmeat, the player will always find a way to connect with the world through an NPC one way or another, and will always positively benefit them. This isn’t so much of an article this time to explain how a player can bond with a character, but how it can affect them.
Upon escaping Vault 101 at the start of Fallout 3, there’s a massively huge contrast between the comfort of the vaults and the sheer ruthlessness of the Wasteland. It’s also a huge change in not just visuals and open-ness but gameplay, with the game literally spitting you out into a hostile landscape that you have no clue how to traverse. Within ten minutes of roaming the Wasteland, you could get radiation poisoning, chased by mole rats, or murdered by bandits. The helplessness the player feels towards all this hostility and unfamiliarity triggers a reaction that makes them realise they can’t become the head honcho of the Capital Wasteland without some help first. Thus, the player looks for his/her first NPC to interact with.
Megaton is the first place where most players breathe a sigh of relief and bask in their more familiar surroundings. As is the de facto starting point for RPGs, you head inside the local saloon and start talking to every NPC you can find, and notice many a mention for one Colin Moriarty. If your impressions from the local barflies are any guess, Moriarty is a nasty piece of work. He’s a racist, blackmailing, pimping, alcoholic Irish bastard. Though when you finally meet Moriarty and talk to him, he seems a genuinely approachable and kind person, oozing with a cheery, but slightly off-kilter demeanour that you’d expect from the loveable drunk uncle at a Christmas dinner. What’s so important about your encounter with Moriarty so early in the game however is the impression he makes on you throughout the game, which can inadvertently affect your interactions in a positive or negative way. You’re prefaced with all these stories and impressions about how terrible a person Moriarty is, and then you meet him and he seems a friendly person, but you know about all the horrible deeds he’s done. This sets the tone of the game incredibly well, emphasising the dog-eat-dog nature of the Wasteland. Bethesda wanted you to know that everyone has secrets they’re keeping from you, and they wanted you to think about this when you’re interacting with people in-game. It wants to get under your skin, do you take risks or trust no-one? It’s a genius bit of game design and shows how important good writing can be for a game these days.
To reiterate, the massive game world of Fallout 3 can seem incredibly daunting due to the vastness of it, and the lack of power they feel through their avatar. Thus, one of the player’s only links to connect with the game early on is through the NPCs, which is already established with the game’s lengthy opening sequence in Vault 101. I’ll admit that Fallout 3 isn’t one of my personal favourite games from this generation, but how its uses its characters, its setting and its writing all to complement each other is a little bit of genius and a great modern example of how to use characters and manipulate players in games.
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