Do you remember the first time you played your favourite game? The buzz of excitement at each new encounter, the feeling of wonder as you discovered the world? Do you get that sense of poignancy looking back, knowing that the moment has passed, and you’ll never get to discover it again? Yeah, me too. And sure, there are many games that do that to us, but I don’t think anything will ever hit me the same way that Fallout 3 did the first time.
Let me set the scene; Dublin, Ireland, 2008. It’s the day after my university’s Science & Health Ball (which for some reason was a thing), and I’m on my way home through the city centre at about 2pm, because I was a responsible student and still went to my lectures while hungover as hell. By chance, I ran into a guy I barely knew who had become a lifelong friend the night before, as happens at these sort of events. We’ll call him Kev, mostly because that’s his name. We were both putting off going home, so we wandered in and out of shops, looking at CDs, books, video games, making mindless banter; anything to avoid the bus home.
After an hour or so of this, we were in GameStop, when Kev tapped me on the shoulder, pointing at a green and grey display in the corner.
“Oh yeah, that came out the other day. Looks alright.”
I’m not ashamed to say that I’d never heard of Fallout before; well, OK, I’m a little ashamed, but if we’re honest the vast majority of us hadn’t before Bethesda stepped in. But I picked up Fallout 3, glanced over it, and thought it looked pretty cool. Power armour, nuclear apocalypse, immersive RPG; I’m down for all that. What really intrigued me, though, was the price.
This was a couple of days after release, and it was only €40 on PS3, the same price as the Xbox 360 version. This was in the late 2000s, when some platform prices for games weren’t the same – for reasons I’m still not quite clear on. This was a goddamn steal. I was getting this game.
The cashier took the game, made a face, and here comes the only part of this story I regret. He told me that this was the Xbox price (which yeah, I knew that), and the PS3 version cost €10 more. I’m deeply ashamed – even now, nine years later – at how I acted here, because I went from zero to crazy instantly, quoting the Sale of Goods and Supply of Services Act with a vehemence that surprised even myself.
Clearly he got this kind of crap all the time. I was overcome with regret, but being young and foolish, didn’t realise that I should simply apologise and laugh it off. I just nodded and stared blankly as I got my cash out. That is why, to this day, I am overly nice to any and all store staff; and rest assured I got my comeuppance ten times over when I did my own stint in retail. Even so, it does nothing to assuage my decade-old shame.
But hey, better late than never: sorry, GameStop dude, wherever you are.
Personal failings aside, Kev and I went our separate ways shortly after I made a show of myself. Game in hand, I headed home, ready to lose a few hours to what would be my first Bethesda RPG. Now, I’ll assume that if you’re reading this you’ve played Fallout 3 and, if you haven’t, stop reading this IMMEDIATELY and go play the greatest game ever made. Point is, this is not a game you lose hours in. This is a game you lose days, weeks, months in.
I was not prepared.
That afternoon, I made a cup of tea and loaded up the game. The opening notes of the theme still give me shivers, but back then it was just pure anticipation. I’ll skip past the character creation, though suffice to say it took a while. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that Liam Neeson was my father, and mildly upset that my virtual mother died giving birth to me. Usually a bad sign when a woman dies fourteen seconds into a game.
The child sequences were cute the first time, although they’ve gotten less so with each subsequent playthrough. I always hate tutorials, no matter how desperately I might need them, but this one was innovative and I enjoyed setting up an appalling SPECIAL balance, almost entirely geared towards Perception and Luck. The next hour was a blur, as I learned how to RPG; I told Amata she was a hottie, insulted Butch’s mother, was nice to the old lady, rude to the crazy lady, and cheated on the G.O.A.T. I then saved Butch’s mother, killed the Overseer, mocked his daughter, robbed their flat, and escaped the Vault. This was all good clean fun, but I wasn’t blown away yet.
Then I left Vault 101.
As long as I live, I’ll never forget that moment. The grinding shriek of the Vault door closing behind me, the blinding glare of natural light as I stepped outside, the revelation of the ravaged Capital Wasteland as my eyes adjusted to the outside world. Most people I’ve talked to agree that this is one of the best moments in all of video gaming, not just because it’s when the realisation of the sheer scope of the game hits you, but because in that moment you are feeling what your character is feeling. You see a water tower crumbling nearby, the husk of Megaton just beyond that, and the hollow remnants of the Washington monument looming in the distance. The score lifts us up into wonder and we think “I’m gonna live in this game.”
I didn’t go back to uni for two days.