Game Over?

Posted by Andy Chalk (February 11, 2011)

I have a dilemma. I've reached a rather pivotal moment in Fallout: New Vegas, at which I must make a decision that will cast my fate for the remainder of the game. Once I make this decision, there will be no going back. And yes, there will be spoilers.

Here's the deal: Mr. House, the man who runs New Vegas and whose vision for the future I greatly admire and wish to support, wants me to destroy the local chapter of the Brotherhood of Steel. I do not want to do this; despite the fact that the Brotherhood aren't exactly the "good guys" in the strictest sense of the term, they've treated me decently during my time in New Vegas, I've got to know a few of them and I quite like and admire one in particular. So while I suppose the mantle of "mass murderer" is already mine to wear (let's just say that I've popped a few caps in the Nevada wasteland), I have no desire to add the Brothers to my body count.

But Mr. House is insistent. So, limited as I am within the boundaries of the game, I can either follow his orders, off the Brothers in whatever way I see fit and then carry on with his plan to rule New Vegas and save humanity, or I can initiate a coup, usurp his authority and hope that my vision for the future is a match for his. Neither of these options appeals to me, and so I sit, paralyzed, unsure of which is the lesser evil and unwilling to choose it regardless.

But as I ruminated on the problem a couple of days ago, I had a thought. Who says these are my only options? What's stopping me from telling House to get bent, and then heading back out into the wasteland to make my mark and earn my way on my own terms? A lack of such an option in the dialog choices, you might say, but I'm not talking about following a preset path within the game. I'm talking about literally walking away and and never returning to New Vegas - the place and the game.

It's certainly doable. Fallout: New Vegas is an open-ended sandbox game, so you can run around to your heart's content, completing side quests, exploring random locations, conversing with and/or shooting up everything you see. You can amass considerable wealth and fame, recruit your own personal goon squad and even wind up with some pretty nice digs. The game won't stop dead because you're not doing House's bidding. The plot will, of course, but with over 145 hours sunk into it I've obviously got my money's worth in every way that counts. And to be honest, it's become a bit tiresome, especially since I've honed just about every relevant skill to its utmost and hit the level cap long ago. All that remains is to wrap things up.

A satisfactory conclusion is a vital part of any game. It's also the part a lot of them trip over; many solid games have been tarnished in the end by a weak finish. And although the potential conclusions I foresee for New Vegas may not be "weak," I don't expect them to be especially satisfying because one way or another I'm going to end up guilty of perpetrating an act I'm sure I'll regret. I know that Obsidian is aiming for emotional impact and good on them for having the stones to do it, but if they're going to insist that I choose my own story, then maybe that's exactly what I should do.

It's possible to cheat around the conundrum, one of the many benefits of gaming on the PC, but the idea is to play within the rules of the game, not warp them into something more palatable. Using mods to to fashion a happy ending effectively "corrupts" the developer's intent and while that may sound like splitting hairs, there's a big difference between finding an unexpected way to work within a game's parameters and changing them outright. Perhaps it's adherence to the letter of the law rather than its spirit, but the line has to be drawn somewhere.

Finishing a game by not finishing it; not running out of steam but making a conscious choice to bring the action to a premature halt. It sounds weird, but is it entirely unreasonable? I haven't yet committed to the decision but the more I think about it, the more I think it's at the very least a viable option: turning my back on New Vegas, on the looming showdown between the NCR and the Legion, on the arrogant bombast of Mr. House, and taking a long walk into the wasteland with a dog (or, more likely, a banged-up eyebot) at my side. A tough choice to make. What could be more Fallout than that?

Andy Chalk is a freelance writer and PC gamer whose work appears on The Escapist, Gamezebo. Joystiq and elsewhere - even, sometimes, here!


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