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Thou Shalt Not Kill Radroaches

Jeremy Peets | 4 Feb 2012 09:00
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I tried everything. I tried leaving and found the doors locked. I tried waiting it out. I tried scaring the thing away. I unloaded every last round into a wall. Though his fatherly pride was clearly strained by my apparent lack of skill, Dad would always provide more ammunition, joking that we need to get the sights checked. Even turning the BB gun on the old man would only evoke a stern lecture. Nothing was going to get me out of shooting that radroach.

My goal was just to keep two numbers static -People Killed: 0, Creatures Killed: 1.

I can't blame Dad though. It's a big, bad world out there that he was trying to prepare me for. After all, in the post-nuclear wasteland of Fallout 3 it's kill or be killed. Or is it? After I had finished the game normally, with all of the wholesome enjoyment that comes from sending super mutant skull fragments soaring gracefully through the air, I decided to try something different for my next character: Could I get through the game -and reach the highest level- without killing anything?

Considering the radroach of the tutorial a write-off, my goal was just to keep two numbers static -People Killed: 0, Creatures Killed: 1. Judged by in-game karma or otherwise, I was not concerned with morality. Just because I wouldn't step on an ant didn't make me into the Buddha, and I was no pacifist. Survival sometimes meant sticking enemies with a crippling poison. Sometimes it meant hacking a turret or paying someone else to do my killing for me. Tracking the deaths for which I was indirectly responsible became an amusing diversion.

For some of the early quests, rather than actually attempting to skirt the hazards I simply slept off the afternoon and returned to the quest-giver with a convincing lie. Thankfully, the game doesn't have many "kill X monsters" quests, and when it does, the NPC couldn't magically tell if I had bludgeoned enough mole rats to deserve a reward. She had to take my word for it.

And lying was something I could get good at, along with sneaking, lockpicking, hacking, bartering, repair, and first aid. Foregoing combat skills altogether left me with a lot of points to work with, and since I wasn't lugging around an arsenal, I could instead carry various stat-boosting pieces of clothing; a different suit for each job. Need a couple more skill points to hack that computer? Throw on a lab coat for instant nerd-power.

Although I could take advantage of these boosts, it certainly didn't make things easy, at least not at first. RPGs like Fallout 3 often have something of an inverse difficulty curve: Limited skills and poor equipment can make even the most basic enemies pose a threat at the beginning, then you power up and eventually outmatch entire platoons. This effect was amplified by my self-imposed constraint. Fleeing from wasteland critters was easy enough, but if I wasn't careful I'd run headlong into a band of armed raiders. And unlike slaying beasts, even the most daring escape resulted in no experience gained. Besides, it wasn't enough just to survive; I needed to complete quests, I needed to level up. I needed to make up for all the experience points I had shunned by refusing to kill.

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