Monday, August 31, 2009

How to prepare for the future (of Fallout 3).

You'd best get ready, now.

Whenever I take a peek at what my friends list is playing lately, two things strike me: "Huh, I'm like the only person playing Arkham Asylum!" and "Why is Mario playing Fallout 3?"

The other day it hit me - he's probably putting together a toon for when the DLC drops (a quick PSN message confirms this is the case). A wise and noble endeavor, says I!

I hate the lower levels in Fallout 3. I get that a great deal of satisfaction in any RPG results from growing your character, but with more mature storytelling and more engaging worlds, the less leveling matters to me. What starts to really matter is whether or not my character can solve the problems - can exist in the world - the way I want him (or her) to, as opposed to getting gibbed because I don't have the proper skill to adequately sneak up on a squad of super mutants.

Clearly, the answer was to have a Pimped Out Starter Character. The objective? Collect every bobblehead. Max as many attributes as I can, and achieve level twenty while (here's the hard part) completing no quests, accepting no quests, and visiting no major world locations aside from Rivet City - the only resource I'd allow for unloading merchandise and purchasing weapons.

A few months ago I attempted this on my PS3 version of Fallout 3 (a task that would be unnecessary on the PC version - but I had my share of fun with it, so I can't complain). I've learned a few things, and if climbing this virtual mountain is a task you would attempt prior to the DLC's release on PS3, permit me to be your guide to leveling without questing, and maxing your character with as little interaction with the plot as possible.

By level twenty, my character had the following stats:

S.P.E.C.I.A.L. Attributes
Strength - 5
Perception - 10
Endurance - 2
Charisma - 10
Intelligence - 10
Agility - 10
Luck - 10

Small Guns
Speech - all maxed. A few remaining points put into Heavy Weapons.

Clearly, I used the Intense Training perk a lot - I could have maxed more skills if I had used skill perks instead - but you can mix-and-match to suit your purpose. My character has always been a sneaky sniper - popping skulls from a hundred yards under cover of darkness, and relying on VATS when things get hairy. I need a lot of agility for all those VATS shots and sneakery and I need a lot of perception to get the drop on enemies. Luck ups my crits, and charisma simply lets me win any speech check I may come across.

No, the real story here is the Intelligence attribute.

Step 1: Nine Intelligence points.

Intelligence isn't just there to increase your Science, Repair and Medicine skills - your Intelligence attribute has a direct impact on any skill you wish to improve, because Intelligence dictates how many skill points you get to distribute per level.

Put simply, a character with 1 Int gets 11 skill points per level. A character with 10 Int gets 20, maxed at 23 with the Educated perk. It's not necessary to go quite so far if you don't wish to - for my first three or so playthroughs my Intelligence was always at 1 - I had no idea it had such an impact. By maxing my Int and taking Educated, I increased the amount of skill points available to me by 218. That's a spicy meatball (of skill).

So remember, as you leave the Vault, be sure to set your Intelligence to 9. Why not 10? Because of step 2.

Step 2: Get your ass to Rivet City.

Turn the difficulty to its lowest level and walk to Rivet City - your objective is the Intelligence bobblehead in the Science Lab, where Dr. Li can usually be found. By lowering the difficulty, you also lower the amount of XP you will gain per kill - you don't want to ding level three before you get that bobblehead and max your Intelligence!

Sell off all your crap, get a halfway decent suit of armor and whatever your choice of weapon is. Now, it's time to get some artillery...

Lucas Simms: Style Baron of the Wastes.

Step 3: Gather your implements of doom.

We all have our favorite weapons. As a Small Guns guy I prefer Ol' Painless (bread & butter damage), Lincoln's Repeater (for when the shit hits the fan) and The Terrible Shotgun (up close & very personal), but you probably favor your own rogues gallery of destruction. It's here where the rule of taking no quests and talking to no one gets a little... bent. If you simply cannot enjoy your character without A3-21's Plasma Rifle, by all means take The Replicated Man quest. I love me some VATS, so as soon as I feel up to the task I always head over to the Nuka-Cola Factory and get the Nuka-Cola Clear formula, to obtain Ledoux's Hockey Mask.

But it is simply a helluva lot easier to level your character and enjoy your time doing so when you have a nice, reliable weapon to bet your life on. Keep Step 4 in mind, but I generally worry about Step 3 first.

Step 4: Level gently and get the Bobblehead FAQ.

Personally, I liked to pump skill points into an area and leave it be at around 80pts. That way you have 10 empty points that won't be wasted if you should pick up a skill book for a discipline you've already maxed, and 10 points that won't be wasted when you find the skill's bobblehead - because maxing a character is all about the bobbleheads (and occasionally the perks).

For example, let's say that (like me) you're a sneaky sumbitch. Don't put 80 points into stealth - you're wasting points! At level 12 you can pick up the Silent Running perk, add to that the Stealth bobblehead and you're at the skill cap. Now if you ever pick up a Chinese Army training manual, you've wasted skill points! Bad character pimper! Bad!

This also applies to your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. attributes. Don't take 9 Str or Per if you want to max it - you'll find the bobblehead for 10, but the perk rewards for the quest 'Those!' will be wasted. Folks like me who want to max Luck, as well, would do well to remember the method for obtaining the Lucky 8-Ball in Big Town.

There's all sorts of ways to screw yourself out of efficient points distribution, but if you know the character you're trying to develop and the various bonus items and perks available, you can plan ahead and create a much more powerful character.

Of course, in order to find all those bobbleheads, getting your mitts on a FAQ would be a great help. Here's the one I use - it hasn't let me down. I wasn't prepared to break my own rule and enter Megaton to pick up the Strength bobblehead, but given that I had to breach The Republic of Dave to pick up Ol' Painless anyway, I snagged the Perception 'head while I was there.

Step 5: Kill, kill, explore, kill, repeat.

It was pretty darned surprising to me just how long it took me to level up to twenty without the benefit of quests. I went through the capital buildings, covered (what seemed to be) every square inch of the DC ruins, and had a good 80% of my map discovered.

Lots of stuff gets you XP that you wouldn't think of, at first. Hacking computers and picking locks, for example? Tons of XP. Disarming traps and mines is another big one, and freeing super mutant captives always nets a good chunk.

Another good note is that you can increase the amount of XP you get from kills by increasing the difficulty level. This also tends to mean you'll burn through much more ammunition than normal, but if you're interested in saving time instead of shells, it's a good trade-off.

One thing you'll definitely need is patience - let me check the time on that file I saved right after I dinged 20... thirty-six hours and forty-three minutes.

But when I was done, I could stroll into Megaton and begin the first post-vault quest with a big, strapping, you-don't-want-to-fuck-with-me level twenty Super Sneaky Sniper Lucky-Charmer Doctor Explosives-Expert. It feels very nice to have so much choice in how you deal with quests, instead of being shoehorned in to only an option or two by your limited skills.

And now, I am certainly ready for the launch of the DLC. Unless, of course, they decide the DLC won't be compatible with previous saves.

...they wouldn't do that, would they?