Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Fallout: New Vegas's Wild Wasteland Trait

So, Fallout games, like many PC RPGs, start by having the player create a character, choosing skills and stat distributions for their character that will (hopefully) aid the gamer in playing according to their preferred style. One of the distinctions the player may give their character is what Traits the character will have. Traits are certain characteristics that will change somewhat what the character can do in a general sense, almost always having both a positive and negative effect. For example, the Trait Gifted gives the player an extra 7 points to distribute to the character's stats, but at the cost of lowered skills, while the Kamikaze Trait increases a character's battle speed, but lessens the character's defenses. Obviously, it's not always an even trade--Gifted's penalty is paltry compared to its benefit, while in some Fallout titles it takes some work to play in a way that Kamikaze is going to be worth its cost.

Fallout: New Vegas introduces a new Trait called Wild Wasteland. Wild Wasteland basically allows the player to encounter various scenarios in the game which are a bit silly and fun, somewhat zany stuff put in for kicks. For example, the player can find in his/her travels a burnt old refrigerator with a charred corpse inside alongside a hat which suggests that the skeleton was Indiana Jones, referencing one of the most overwhelmingly stupid moments in film history, the scene in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull during which Indiana Jones survives ground zero of a nuclear bomb's explosion by climbing into a refrigerator.* The Wild Wasteland Trait puts a bunch of fun little references like this into the game, as well as adding a few extra lines to the Mr. New Vegas talk show radio station thingy, some comments in the credits, and even a few weapons you couldn't get otherwise, like an Alien Blaster and Holy Hand Grenades. Fun!

Now here's the damn problem: this should never have been a Trait.

See, Fallout? The series? It's filled with this stuff. As a general rule, any Fallout game you play will have a load of special, goofy encounters you can get into that are just there for shits and giggles. In Fallout 1, you can, during your travels across the wasteland, stumble across Doctor Who's TARDIS, or a herd of talking cows, among other things. Phil the Nuka-Cola guy in Fallout Tactics, all the Monty Python references in Fallout 2...hell, the entire (crappy) Mothership Zeta add-on for Fallout 3 falls into the category of these bizarre, odd little events that Wild Wasteland encompasses. Hell, some of the Wild Wasteland stuff has been done before previously in the games--the Timmy-falling-down-the-well gag in Fallout: New Vegas was already done in Fallout 2 (and not even as a special encounter, but rather right in the middle of a normal town), and, while not normally accessible due to a bug, Fallout 2 also had the Holy Hand Grenades first, too. The Alien Blaster's been a part of the series since its appearance in a special encounter in Fallout 1 as a joke weapon (albeit a devastatingly powerful one). There were comments for the credits in Fallout 1 and 2 just as there are for Wild Wasteland-enabled Fallout: New Vegas.

In short, interjecting the occasional bit of goofy humor is meant to be an inextricable part of the Fallout series. It has been that way from the very start! It's part of the charm and atmosphere of the series, and Fallout isn't complete without it. So why the hell is it an optional trait in Fallout: New Vegas?

I know, it seems like a small thing, but it nonetheless does bother me quite a bit. The idea behind this was that it was a compromise between members of the creative team behind Fallout: New Vegas who thought these wacky ideas would be fun, and other members who thought it would be out of place. So basically, a disagreement between people who people who knew anything at all about the game they were creating, and humorless nitwits who had no idea what they were doing. The thing that gets me riled up over this is the fact that there could be a significant number of people on the staff developing Fallout: New Vegas who had such a poor idea of what a Fallout game is supposed to entail. It worries me that future Fallout games could see less and less of these tidbits of humor and fun that have been a complimentary, necessary companion to the series's solemn and gritty atmosphere from the start.

And to give myself a little ground to stand on besides just vague worries, I'd like to note that having the Wild Wasteland Trait present in the game means that those who want a true Fallout experience will have one fewer Traits to choose from for their character. You only get to choose 2 at the start of the game, and a player might not want to have to give up a desirable Trait, gameplay-wise, just because someone on the developing team didn't have the sense to make the Wild Wasteland stuff a normal part of the game.

I'd also like to point out that if there is ANY Fallout title where the Wild Wasteland components were appropriate, it would be this one! I mean, Fallout 3? The setting and theme of that Fallout were just overall more serious and epic than previous games, so I could see someone arguing that too much goofy stuff could interfere with the game's intent. The game's focus is on Washington, D.C., and several themes strongly tied to America's policies, history, and human rights are prevalent. Heavy stuff. Fallout: New Vegas, on the other hand, is focused on Las Vegas and its surrounding area, and the majority of its themes and plot focus relate to the parts of American culture that Las Vegas influences. Oh, there's plenty of other great references to and examinations of American culture in Fallout: New Vegas not directly tied to Las Vegas, but still, the ideas and ideals of Vegas are predominant.

So how, exactly, is it NOT appropriate to the game to include a bunch of weird, silly, fun stuff in it? Really bizarre shit is PART of Las Vegas. A BIG part. One of the only decent comedy movies to come out in the past decade, The Hangover, built its entire premise around how much crazy, over-the-top shit you can encounter in a single night in Las Vegas. It's like a goddamn paradise for hedonistic insanity. If there was ever a Fallout where the Wild Wasteland stuff wouldn't be out of place, it would be this one! Playing without it is removing an (albeit small) aspect of the game's symbolic qualities.

So yeah. Wild Wasteland's content should be part of the game and not just optional, and forcing the player to give up on one of the regular Traits to experience the Wild Wasteland stuff is unfair. I sure hope they never have such a divorce of the zany stuff from the game proper in any future titles.

* Thank GOD I don't do a rant blog on movies. I could scream at the sheer, unparalleled idiocy of this scene for at least 20 pages.


  1. Ecclesiastes says:

    I'm one of those mainstream hipsters who got into Fallout with the third game, so my perspective is rather narrow. Even moreso because I've yet to play New Vegas, and because stat efficiency is somewhat important to me.

    If I want a more serious experience, I can just avoid or overlook the whacky stuff. Sacrificing statistical freedom(and in turn roleplaying freedom) for that whacky stuff would be suspect even as a lowly Perk, much less an apparently coveted Trait.

    Crystal Skull Fridge Scene Rant, please.

  2. If you get New Vegas, get the PC version. On that, at least, you can use Console Commands to add WW to your character after starting and thus not have to give up on anything you should have had, had they made it properly.

    Also, thank you for taking the time to leave comments for stuff. You make me feel warm and fuzzy inside, sir.