Fallout 3: Karma Sucks

I got caught up, as I sometimes do, in a fever. Fallout fever. I had to have it, so I went out and bought it. Paid freakin’ $90 for the thing. I never pay so close to full price for a video game. I am renowned for my collection of unplayed, cut-price video games. I can afford not to play them because they were all cheap enough for there to be many of them. It means I rarely catch the zeitgeist, but if there’s anything I’ve learned from the internet it’s that the zeitgeist is full of flames and crimes against grammar and spelling.

Karma is the universal law of “what goes around comes around”. It’s what got Jason Lee hit by a truck instead of winning $100,000. The problem with karma is it sees everything. It’s even got a precedent in RPGs: I know firsthand that in Ultima V many actions affected your karmic rating (and because I was about seven or something, almost always for the worse). So now it springs at us in Fallout 3.

It goes above and beyond the Paragon and Renegade system of Mass Effect, and I’m not really sure what I think of that. I think it’s perfectly reasonable that you get different receptions from people when you say “Nice to meet you” rather than “Well up yours too, buddy!”, but I’ve got a little problem: why is it that I can’t be nice to someone’s face, and then steal all of their stuff and wreck their shit when they’re not looking without getting penalised? You know, like in real life? I went to a bar, said hello to the family that ran the place, then I went out back and attempted to hack their computer (and another thing: I have no idea how computer hacking works in this game. I wish I was playing Pipe Dream … over and over and over …). I failed, I got negative karma. I reloaded my save.

I mentioned it before when I spoke about being a dick in Mass Effect, that I like being nice to people in video games where I’m given the choice. At the same time, because this game has a different scope, I’m counterbalancing it with my intense desire to steal all of their stuff. These two actions are directly tied to my perception in the game world, so to continue playing as the Post-Nuclear Envoy of Peace and Love, I can’t go around secretly doing evil shit.
In writing that, I just realised I’ve ruined my chances of ever being elected to high office.

There’s no left and right, up and down choice wheel here, though, although the tone of what you’re saying is clear. Your character doesn’t get fully voiced like Shepard did, so the choice of dialogue you make is exactly what the person hears, rather than Shepard’s artistic licence. Unlike in Oblivion, your character is given a history (more accurately, her family is given a history), but Clarabell feels much more impersonal than LL Shepard, my red-headed universe saving avatar, ever did.

Of course, I still don’t want people to think poorly of me, so there must be a level of projection. Certainly more than there ever was in Oblivion, where I essentially spat on everyone I could and they continued to love me unless they were railroaded by the script into hatred of my good self. Thus far I’ve only witnessed one action that had consequences, and I was so unhappy with what I had wrought that I had to reload to wash the blood of the innocent and idealistic off my hands.

Hopefully I’ll be able to play the game as I see fit, if there are instances when a response that would garner a positive karmic reaction seems inappropriate. Heck, diplomacy could only take me so far in Mass Effect before I got angry at the people trying to take my guns and I actively threatened them. A nuclear wasteland is rather different to intergalactic peace missions and incredibly boring dune-buggy travels, so maybe Clarabell will have to harden up and bust some skulls.

Side note: Fallout 3 features perks at every second level, that up certain stats or abilities and what have you. One of these is “Nerd Rage!”, described thusly:

You’ve been pushed around long enough! With the Nerd Rage! perk, your Strength is raised to 10 and you gain 50% to damage resistance whenever your Health drops to 20% or below.

Not naming any names, but that’s hilarious not just to the industry in general, but to the Fallout scene in particular. I may have laughed out loud when I read it in the manual on the train.


  1. Wavatar Joey Diggs December 9, 2008
  2. Wavatar Coffeedragon December 13, 2008
  3. Wavatar Old school gamer December 27, 2008
  4. Wavatar Dark Hedgehog January 7, 2009
  5. Wavatar Dark Hedgehog January 7, 2009
  6. Wavatar felixk January 22, 2009
  7. Wavatar Birk August 19, 2009
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