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.

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8 Responses to Fallout 3: Karma Sucks

  1. Dude, I didn’t have any desire to go around robbing the families that owned the restaurants, or anyone/anywhere else.

    That’s just you.

    Seriously. The game is a reflection of how you behave in real life. So check yourself.

  2. Wavatar Coffeedragon says:

    Hi.
    There IS in fact a way to be morally disfunctional and still be seen as as a good guy by the masses:
    donate money to a religeous organisation (like the Followers of Atom in Megaton) for a positive karma boost.
    Just like in ‘real life’, you can sin all you like as long as you repent – in this case in monetary form :-p

    There are other litle ways too, such as the beggars outside Megaton and Rivet City that give u good karma points if you give them purified water.

    As for stealing the restaurants of the wastelands blind, release your inner Vault Dweller and do unto others before they do unto you… just don’t get caught :-D
    And if you’re going to play the game as if it were real life, then i strongly suggest you pack the game away, because you’ll probably get more enjoyment out of putting in some overtime at your job!
    Seriously.

  3. Wavatar Old school gamer says:

    I see it differently. The game AI and morals are a simulation of real life, so the way the game reacts to your “ethics” is in one sense a chance for the developers to show off their design skills. I suppose if they succeed it should cause reactions like that from Joey Diggs above.

    As it happens I appreciate Alex’s honesty. I feel justified stealing whatever I want because my character — as quite opposed to me IRL — has been thrust beyond his control into a kill-or-be-killed, save-what’s-left-of-humanity situation. Do I care if random NPCs, or even those relevant or even important to the story, no longer possess their precious bobby pins, which they inexplicably keep since their only purpose is to pick locks? I’m being forced to clean up everybody else’s mess, so why shouldn’t I take whatever I need to face down the game’s cut-and-dry scenario?

    If don’t care, why? I say because I can’t even jump in this game. Like in any other game, the appearance of having room to act uniquely is only skin deep. Perhaps like real life as well, but that’s an unfair comparison since only the latter is ironic.

    On the other hand, Joey suspends all disbelief and relies on the few parameters offered by the game design. Then he tears down Alex for having the chutzpah to share his useful point of view. It is sad but still instructive. Using his own logic, we conclude Joey is shooting and bludgeoning God’s creations by the truckload in the video game because he does the same thing at school/work each day. After all, it’s his choice what to do, even metaphorically.

    I myself only came here because I wanted to learn about the experience others have had with the Fallout 3 karma system. I’m early in the game and want to play it much as he described, being the hero and taking care of everything the People need, while at the same time taking whatever I need to get the job done. The designers have placed the resources there for me to use, and if I spend my ability points on guns instead of picking locks, then guess what — I won’t be able to steal enough to change the outcome of the game.

  4. Wavatar Dark Hedgehog says:

    Hey fellow Wastelanders,
    You’ve all made some very valid points for either argument. Some play to see the outcome of being good on a scale they might rarely achieve in life, kudos to you. However, you play these games usually intent on playing a ‘role’ (lol hence RPG=role playing game) set in pure fantasy. You can take a break from your life as an accountant to don the skin of a fantastic character and save the world oozing nobility. Often though (depending on the individual of course), we may try to play the part of an evil dastardly despicable character simply because it is so far outside our natural tendendencies… this also may heighten the fantasy effect of being immersed in the game as the role of someone quite opposite in character to you. Actors do it all the time and hey….you cant tell me you’ve never thought more than a few movie/game villians were cooler than the heroes?
    Besides, isn’t it cool to have the choice of good/evil in all its various temperatures and levels in game form? Makes for some tasty replay value too I might add.
    Enjoy Fallout 3 each your own way, and be sure to build good karma in the real world too.

    Peace and ample gaming time to all.

  5. Wavatar Dark Hedgehog says:

    Oh and remember this fellow Earthlings,
    “the Eyes of the Truth are always watching You”

    Happy New Year

  6. Wavatar felixk says:

    Not bad, not good, but neutral karma may be the way to go. There are perks to promote playing at this level and after all it is a nuclear wasteland one is trying to survive in. Who knows if you managed to save the world who really is going to care what you did to do it

    felixk
    Disseminate the Power!

  7. Wavatar Birk says:

    So many great comments! Hope mine can add something..? :S

    Fallout3 is said to be an rpg and yes, the concept can´t be described as anything else really… But practicly, the game is more of an action game than a simulation of reality(the kind of game I had hoped for)
    I think about the interaction system as one fundamental issue for a good rpg game, and that part bethseda has completely missed out on. Ok, most NPC´s can be talked to. You may even ask some if they need help with anything, but what about the Raiders? Yeah, they are nasty scumbags, but referring to reality, surely there must be someone among them more or less vile than the others? The peaceful options should be more authentic to reality, i think, concidering the gory action and lifelike characters.

    Not to far off, there, was I? :)

  8. Wavatar Josh says:

    The game is designed to give benefits to all three alignments. In fact, I have 3 sets of saves, one good char, one evil, one neutral. The differences are just enough that the game feel is different (though less so if you pick Charon as your follower).

    As for the benefits?
    Good:
    Paladin Star Cross or Fawkes as followers (both late comers, but the bigges powerhouses in the game)
    hear your deeds praised on radio and elsewhere, and have adoring fans give you stimpacks and such
    Talon Company WILL come for you

    Evil
    It’s good to be bad. It’s also good to have Paradise Falls and other dens of scum and villainy willing to deal with you… that and selling slaves makes profit
    Jericho can sneak (not well), and is VERY good with big guns and small guns at late levels. With the right loadout he can keep up with the likes of fawkes … mostly… and you can get him VERY early… or Clover if you prefer a melee monster.
    Regulators WILL come after you.

    Neutral
    RL-3 (with broken steel) is a solid, unique follower which you can get early.
    IF you stay neutral, no regulators, no talons (it is notoriously difficult not to slip one way or the other, and the game is NOT forgiving of this).
    You can steal what you REALLY want to, save the day when it doesn’t cost you anything, and have fun doing both. You get choice.
    If you don’t like RL-3, go good … or go evil… just pick one.

    Who I did not mention for followers:
    Butch:neutral, but who cares? He’s substandard.
    Charon:anyone can hire him (though there are SOME issues if you’re evil)
    Dogmeat:everyone can hire him as well as another follower

    Really, you have to ask yourself… some slavers have some slaves, do you wish to:
    a)sneak the slaves out under cover of night
    b)stay away from the place
    c)mow down the slavers
    d)rip off every possession the slavers have under cover of night
    e)have a cold beer with these awesome examples of the resurgence of capitalism

    and other key questions.
    This isn’t Ultima 4. No need to hone the 8 virtues and atone your sins to pass the game. In fact, in the final stages of the game, you can STILL be a complete jerk and there’s an ending just for you.

    There *IS* fun to be had from any alignment, and you can sin lots and still be seen as a living saint. Similarly, you can spend most of your time protecting the innocent, and still make sure people see you as the next coming of the devil.

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