Let’s face it, if you’re reading this then you’re hyped about Fallout 4. Bethesda did an awesome job teasing the announcement and ended up following through not only with tons of details but also the surprise reveal of the earlier-than-expected release date. So between now and November the natural way to fight your anticipation is to replay the earlier games in the series. (There is also the free Fallout Shelter app but the ultimate end goal of that game is deleting it when you realize that it’s pointless.) As it turned out, I had left my main story in Fallout 3 unfinished for the better part of 5 years. Jumping back in brought a flood of memories mixed with unfortunate rough spots.
Specifically, I had left the Broken Steel DLC that acted as an epilogue unfinished by just one quest line. Maybe you remember Fallout 3’s original ending: you were forced to enter an irradiated chamber and martyr yourself for the greater good. This was in spite of the choice some made to play as an evil character and completely removed from the fact that you had a Super Mutant follower who could easily survive that exact scenario. This also forced your game to end; there was no way to go back into the vast open world without re-opening an old save file. So, Broken Steel added onto this, rightly so, by saying that you actually survived this encounter.
I remember that I stopped playing when one of my followers was somehow glued to a spot on a sidewalk. “Follow me!” I would say again and again, to which he replied, “Right away!” only to remain completely still. Typically the biggest reason I put down a game without finishing it is when frustrating problems like this crop up. So I jumped back in with one final goal for my character: lead an assault on Andrews Air Force Base and finish the remaining Enclave soldiers.
While the familiar voice of Three Dog guiding the adventure made me remember how much I loved listening to his radio station for hours on end, returning to an end-game character was not a very fluid transition. I had remembered rolling through most combat situations with ease, hoarding health items and ammo until I could hardly carry anymore. However, this final playthrough had me blowing through them with a strange feeling of uncertainty. I forgot where I had left Fawkes, the most powerful follower there was, and didn’t want to stop to find him. I mainly wanted to finish this final chapter just for the sake of completion. Dog Meat even died along the way and I heartlessly carried on without reloading the checkpoint. (My fiancée yelled at me when I told her this.)
The combat tactics didn’t exactly come rushing back to me either. Maybe I’ve gotten used to more fast-paced shooters since then, but the VATS system seemed very slow this time around. Hiding for cover also felt strange and more often than not I opted to take bullets to the face and use copious amounts of Stimpaks afterwards. I also encountered yet another strange, irritating glitch. A ghoul in a subway station was almost unkillable, super-fast, and I would bounce away from him like Flubber every time he hit me. In these moments I remembered the criticisms others had about bugs shortly after release and finally sympathized.
Nevertheless, I saw the mission through to the end. While I started getting the hang of things toward the end, I still felt strangely removed from the context of what I was doing. Members of the Brotherhood of Steel showed up to rescue me in a helicopter while we watched an airstrike land, but I had to rack my brain to remember who the named character actually was and how we had known each other. While the explosions were very satisfying to watch and I could now finally say I got to the end, this was sandwiched between two awkward loading scenes where all I did was sit in a helicopter and wait. That really makes the perfect metaphor for this time revisiting Fallout 3: some great set pieces mixed with awkward encounters. If I have more time between now and Fallout 4 maybe I’ll start from the beginning. I’d get to relearn the basics, relive the great quests, and hear Liam Neeson’s voice welcoming me into the world all over again.