Friday, July 31, 2009

Building a Better Fallout: You're SPECIAL

I've been playing a lot of Fallout 3 lately, and while it's a great game, I can't help but wonder if they put any thought into the mechanics of the game, or if they spent the whole development time almost purely on designing the maps. As such, I've discovered a blinding number of things in the mechanics of the game that, had more thought been put into the systems, could have been changed and given the game so much more depth. And what better place to start than on the very place where you always start when playing Fallout: The stats and skills.

For those who don't know, Fallout as a series builds its stats on the SPECIAL system. That is:


These 7 stats, alongside your skills, determine your effectiveness in most everything you do in the game, from having a friendly conversation with the local city folk, all the way to launching a Mini Nuke at the local Super Mutant Behemoth (though you admittedly don't need high skill for the Mini Nuke to be powerful). The problem though is that the SPECIAL stats don't really do much in Fallout 3, and tagging certain skills doesn't do anything outside of a bonus 45 Skill Points. So, without further delay, let's go over the first batch of SPECIAL stats and how they could have been more concrete.

The Strength stat in Fallout 3 is mostly fine, but it feels bland. Ok, so you can carry more. So what? By the time you beat the game you're swimming in caps and ammo even on the hardest difficulty, so why is it important that you're able to carry more junk to sell to vendors? Outside of the occasional Melee-oriented build, Strength isn't really a needed stat for any character. It's easy to ignore while leveling, and when you hit Level 30 you get 9 Strength anyway through the Almost Perfect Perk. At this point either you've already had a lot of Strength through the whole game, or you've learned to cope with having a smaller weight limit.

To flesh it out a bit, the stat should have been kept closer to its roots in the older games, in that a higher Strength is required to effectively use heavier weapons. If your character has a lower Strength stat, he'll have a hard time aiming that Minigun you really want to use. To take it a step further, certain pieces of gear (especially Power Armor) should have required a certain amount of Strength to wear. As it is, you could create a character who can barely lift his head without getting winded, but he's able to stomp around in heavy Power Armor all day long without problem. Perhaps a higher Strength could have diminished the run speed reduction when wearing heavier armors, where a lower strength would make the reduction even worse.

Thus, you have more than just Melee characters who feel the need to take Strength. Now just about any player who wants to use anything heavy (be it a weapon or armor) will need to think twice about lowering their Strength. As it is right now though, a character with a decent load-out of armor and weapons can easily make due with the 160 weight limit set by a Strength of 1.

So you got your Perception to 10 (the max, for those who don't know), congratulations. It now does nothing for you. Well, next to nothing. All that Perception does is effect how close you need to be before the blips on your compass show-up, telling you that there's something ahead. Despite that, even with maxed-out Perception you still practically have to trip over the enemy before their blip is seen. Certainly well within their listening range, so by the time you see the red blip and duck down to hide, they're already on their way to investigate that noise they heard.

Rather, Perception should have been used as an accuracy and "scrounging" stat. Perception would work along-side your weapon skills to help boost your accuracy during VATS mode. Adding to that, when digging through Medical Cases and Metal Boxes, a character with low perception might miss that handy Stimpac, where a character with high Perception would not only find that Stimpac, but the Rad X behind it. Oh, and are those Bottle Caps? Nice! See, now it feels worthwhile to have that higher Perception stat.

Furthermore, Perception could play a roll in the three skills it modifies. At the very least, it should play a roll in lockpicking. Something like a sound queue (such as a particular type of scraping) could be heard when you're nowhere near the "sweet spot" to open the lock. The higher your Perception, the louder that scraping is played, and the easier it is to know when you're wiggling the Bobbypin in a complete dead-zone. Mind you that the half-sweet spots wouldn't make the grinding either, so you'd still have to do a little trial and error to find the perfect spot once you're outside of the scraping.

This would make Perception a useful stat for Marksmen (especially Small Guns users), Thief-style characters, and it'd be a good early-game stat for people who want to find that extra Stimpac or stash of ammo in those cases. As it is right now, you could leave Perception at 1 and hardly feel punished.

Here's another stat that can be mostly ignored. Ok, so you have more health. Meh... and the effects on Rad Resistance are mostly negligable since Radiation (ironically) isn't much of a problem in this game anyway (I'll go more into that later). But at the same time, there honestly isn't a whole lot else the stat could have done. Maybe some damage resistance, but that would be negligible as well since either your enemies are barely pricking your health bar, or they're taking it off in chunks, even at high damage resistances. Not to mention that you can get the max 85% pretty easily later in the game anyway, so nevermind that idea.

One thought is that Endurance could play a factor in the drugs in the game. A character with higher Endurance can take more drugs without becoming addicted to them. This would make Endurance a tasty stat for people who like to pop their chems when they get into a tussle, but don't want to risk dealing with the withdrawals of getting addicted too often. It isn't much, but at least when asking the question of "Who wants this stat?" You can give an answer. Perhaps as an add-on to that idea, Withdrawal effects can be made better or worse based on your Endurance, so with a low Endurance, you'd better stay away from Chems or get used to visiting the doctor a lot to get rid of the withdrawal that actually feels hindering (as it is, Withdrawals just lower your SPECIAL stats, which as I stated earlier, don't really seem to do much anyway).

Another idea is that since Endurance is used to modify the Big Guns stat, perhaps a higher Endurance would allow you to more easily carry bigger weapons without being slowed down (not to be mistaken with Strength making it easier to aim). And with Endurance effecting the Unarmed skill, perhaps it could make your blocks with melee weapons more effective. So now we have Melee characters, Big Gun users, and Chem-poppers who would be attracted to this stat because their desired play-style would be hindered without it.

In Closing
That will do for this post. I'll try and get Part II of this posted-up soon as I can and wrap-up the SPECIAL stats section of this, and maybe follow it up with a run-down of different styles of builds and talk about the stats they'd probably opt for, and what they'd be losing in order to get those stats were the above changes applied to the game. Does it suck having to give something up? Sure, but that's the point of creating a character in an RPG. You're good at some things, but there are other things your character might struggle with.

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