Ahh, Fallout 3. We had to wait a damn long time for the classic 1990s RPG series about post-apocalyptic America to continue, but it was worth that wait and then some. Bethesda took the game engine they had used for their subpar Elder Scrolls 4 and used it to make an intelligent, atmospheric, allegory-rich wasteland for us to explore, and it was awesome.
As awesome as Fallout 3 is by itself, though, it can, it seems, still be improved upon. The modding community had an absolute field day with Fallout 3, as it did for The Elder Scrolls 4, and created a veritable mountain of modifications that you can add to the game to tweak it into something new and different. Traditionally, I go light on mods when I play a new RPG, wanting to get the true sense of the art of the product, but there are certainly many cases of games which are better experienced with some mods, even during your first time. Planescape: Torment, for example, has a couple of mods that restore cut content to the game and fix various bugs and grammatical errors, and everyone should play the game with these mods installed. I’ve personally praised the massive restoration mods for Knights of the Old Republic 2 and Fallout 2 here on this blog before, and I sincerely think that any first-time player should experience these classics with those mods. And of course, the Mass Effect Happy Ending Mod ensures that no innocent man or woman must ever again suffer the grievous emotional injury that is Mass Effect 3’s ending. That right there is less of an enjoyable alteration and more of a great service to all humanity.*
So, here is a little list of a few mods for Fallout 3 that I think significantly improve the overall experience, enough and in such a way that I would encourage you to use them the next time you play, even if it’s your first time. There are plenty of other nifty mods for the game that I have used and enjoyed, of course, such as DC Moods, Weapon Mod Kits, and Cube Experimental, but these are the ones that I feel do more than just enjoyable tweak the game. These are the mods that capture the essence of Fallout 3 and enhance it, creating an experience truer to Fallout 3 than the game on its own could have provided.
Level 100 Cap: You know what’s just really annoying? Hitting your level cap before you’re done adventuring, even though you haven’t been purposefully level-grinding. It’s so annoying that I even did a rant about it (although I’ll do rants on just about anything, so I guess that’s not such a huge deal). Well, with this handy little mod, that irritation is over and done with! Setting the level cap over 3 times higher than the original cap means that you can explore the game to its fullest and not have to give up the satisfaction of gaining experience for your feats part of the way through. Sure, this is a small thing, but you have to realize, the setting of Fallout is a major, major aspect of the series, and even tiny details can add depth and insight into the Fallout universe and communicate a message, details small and hidden enough that you only find them if you’re rigorously exploring. Having a level cap set low enough that you’ll hit it only 60 - 90% of the way through the game means that you have less gameplay incentive to explore that last 10 - 40%. By setting a cap far beyond achievable means even considering the possibility of a bit of grinding, this mod lessens the odds that you’ll eventually lose interest in the all-important exploration aspect of the game, and that’s important.
RobCo Certified: Gameplay is not a huge factor to me in enjoying RPGs (especially since most RPGs’ gameplay, being menu-based, is inherently completely unenjoyable), but this mod that adds a new dimension to Fallout 3 gameplay deserves a mention. Why? Because Fallout takes a certain pride in offering players a chance to achieve their goals in a variety of ways, to encourage everyone to build their own style of playing, and RobCo Certified opens up a new avenue of play style that has not been present before: that of the mighty and fearsome MAD SCIENTIST! With this mod, it’s completely feasible to have a character build who has more or less no combat abilities whatsoever, which really just hasn’t been achievable (at least not in a way that’s at all fun) in Fallout 3 previously. I mean, you could build a stealth-based character in the game and avoid all the enemies, but it’s a lot of extra time to sneak by absolutely everything, and Stealth Boys are so damn expensive. This mod gives you the possibility of learning to repair broken robots with various wasteland junk, upgrade those robots, and set them loose on your enemies while you step back and watch the pretty, lethal fireworks. You can also even turn inanimate parts of the background into attack robots, too! It is rather fun to be flanked by a small army of mobile televisions and ovens, I must say. As your abilities to make killer robots improve with your aptitude for science, it’s now entirely feasible to roam the Capital Wasteland with a character whose skill points are all put toward non-combat abilities, with as much confidence as a heavy gunner character or a champion sniper or whatnot. Hell, the mod even goes so far as to give you a role in combat that has nothing to do with attacking enemies--as the bullets fly, you can just be hitting your robots with your repair tools to keep them in good repair while they’re melting the crap out of super mutants and Enclave assholes.
And hey, in case you haven’t guessed it, beyond opening up new avenues for play style, it does bear mentioning that this mod is FUN. It’s here because of its utility in expanding the gameplay of Fallout 3, but it’s a blast to collect a horde of robot minions and to repurpose innocuous wasteland junk into your own servants. This really is an impressive mod for its scope and complexity, and it’s definitely worth adding to your next Fallout 3 experience.
Ultimate Perk Pack: Well, if you increase your level cap, you’ll want enough useful perks that those additional levels feel like they mean something, right? The Ultimate Perk Pack adds a truckload of additional perks to the game that you can choose from at level up. They’re well-designed, following the same general curve of usefulness that the original perks do, and they’re creative and fun, to boot. Really, they feel very natural to the game, enough that you may not even be able to tell sometimes which perks are from the original game and which came from this mod.
More Map Markers: This mod adds a bunch more markers to the Pip-Boy world map. This is very handy for exploration, as you can fast-travel to more points in the Capital Wasteland and continue your explorations from there, but more importantly, it marks a lot of neat places in Fallout 3 that might otherwise be missed, tiny little points of interest that would be hard to find and return to without the marker. It always irked me that Rockopolis was unlisted, for example, because it’s related to the overall lore of Fallout 3 and it even contains 1 of the elusive Vault Boy bobbleheads. Additionally, what did and did not qualify for a map marker in the original game sometimes seemed strange and arbitrary; there were plenty of spots that were tiny and pointless that did get marked on the map, while other spots of equal or even greater size and importance did not. In fact, thanks to this mod, I found a handful of fun little locations that I had missed the first time I played Fallout 3--and let me tell you, I’m pretty thorough with my explorations! This mod gives you a much better chance to get the most out of your explorations of the Capital Wasteland, and thus, a better chance to get the most out of the game as a whole.
Point Lookout More Map Markers: Everything I just said for the last one, except for the Point Lookout DLC map. Given that exploration is a huge aspect of the Point Lookout DLC, this is no less important for this add-on than the original More Map Markers mod is for the main game.
Tenpenny Tower Alternate Endings: I complained about the Tenpenny Tower quest in a rant a little time ago, and mentioned this mod there, so I won’t say much here. This mod corrects what I see as the only real failure of Fallout 3’s storytelling (besides the ending and Mothership Zeta), the conclusion of the Tenpenny Tower quest, making it possible to achieve a result that is more in line with your intentions and the storytelling style and themes of Fallout 3 as a whole.
GNR Enhanced: Galaxy News Radio is a significant part of Fallout 3’s plot, and listening to Three Dog’s warnings and tips for surviving the Capital Wasteland, and his recounting of your deeds, is fun for when you feel like listening to more than just the quiet background noise of the game (though that background is great for setting the mood, don’t get me wrong). The only problem with GNR is that between these fun bits of Three Dog, the songs that play are extremely repetitive. Sure, they’re not horrible to listen to (well, a couple of them are, actually), but the playlist is tiny, so it gets damn repetitive. Well, with GNR Enhanced, there’s now a ton more songs in Three Dog’s repertoire, all of which are old timey and very thematically appropriate to Fallout. The old classics are still in there, but now you won’t get sick to death of listening to GNR as you traverse the wastes, which is neat.
More importantly than that, this mod also fixes a few bugs for GNR. For starters, Three Dog will report on you past Level 20--in the original game, for some reason, he would sometimes stop running news stories about the Lone Wanderer once the character hit the original level cap, which was annoying, because those were really the only reason after 1 hour to be listening to the station (unless you just really like that hackin’ and whackin’ song, in which case you probably should see a therapist). Better still, this mod adds to the non-music material that GNR broadcasts, restoring Three Dog song intros and outros and certain news story lines. And the mod even adds a couple of fun little commercials for in-universe products like Mr. Handy and the Pip-Boy! This mod expands the entertainment value of GNR several hundreds of times, expanding this plot-important and theme-important radio station’s role in your exploration of the Capital Wasteland and strengthening its significance to the game.
Busworld: Busworld is simple, but awesome--it adds interior areas to the many buses, metro train cars, and boxcars you encounter while exploring Fallout 3. I always thought it was a major waste of potential in Fallout 3 that you could never explore the interiors of these vehicles, which are frankly just all over the place. I mean, come on, exploration is the name of the game in this RPG, and in a post-apocalyptic setting, such larger vehicles would surely be host to all sorts of interesting stuff to find and survivors seeking shelter. And this mod makes that happen! Exploring the subway system is now a lot less repetitive thanks to this mod, and it’s fun to find all these new little places to explore as you pass buses and the occasional boxcar in your travels. This mod is great, taking what was once an unimportant and even mildly disappointing background object and transforming it into another part of the Fallout experience. Big thumbs up from me on this one!
DC Interiors Project: And here we are. Of these mods that I recommend to anyone wanting to sharpen the experience of Fallout, this is the best. For some reason, a reason probably related to making deadlines, the strong majority of pre-war buildings in Fallout 3, especially those within the D.C. Ruins, are boarded up and cannot be entered and explored. As I’ve mentioned many times in the past and as you’ve probably figured out from my continued emphasis on the concept throughout this rant, exploration is a key element of the atmosphere, draw, and storytelling process of the Fallout series, and having so few extra places that you can enter and examine is a severe waste of potential, and passively detrimental to the game.
This mod fixes that problem. The DC Interiors Project adds a whole bunch of interior areas to the game, allowing you to explore nearly all the relatively intact buildings you come across in the D.C. Ruins, as well as the surrounding area. And these new areas are expertly designed, too, interesting, appropriate to the setting, very creative, and with tremendous attention to detail. There are a few puzzles to solve, lots of sights to see, scavengers to find and trade with, and overall just a lot of neat settings that fit perfectly into the wasteland and add in a positive way to your wanderings. It doesn’t exactly reinvent Fallout 3 exploration, but it sure as hell adds more personality to it and gives you fresh incentive to go poking through the crumbling ruins of a past age. And that right there is a lot of what Fallout is meant to be. Kudos to this one, it above all others is a mod to enhance the Fallout experience.
* I WILL eventually be using this mod and making a rant about it, but it’s still a couple versions away from being complete enough that I’m ready for it. Hopefully this will be the year where you will see my glowing rant praise for it, though.