The checking of the Bethesda site has become something of a daily ritual for me. There are some games I should most definitely be getting around to, and a few articles or news pieces that have taken a backburner to this self-assigned repeatable quest. So too have my other dailies, loading up Fallout 4 on the Xbox One and updating each mod that has the option, before finally loading up the game to see what differences have come about.
There have been a few mods I’ve added that I feel really change things up, and that’ll give a decent challenge to those of you who’ve perhaps tried the Survival playthrough and don’t think the pattern of sleeping it holds one to is for you. I jumped into a Survival playthrough after the update that overhauled that particularly game mode, even though it meant starting over and making a trip to Far Harbour even further away.
What I loved most about Survival was how it brought risk into the equation. It didn’t matter what I did, because I was always a single bad decision (or an unlucky streak) away from death. There were quests that I couldn’t touch at a low level, and even the questionable rescue in Concord became a much harder ask than it was in my earliest playthroughs. Facing off with a Deathclaw that did a lot of damage, and went hiding whenever I tried to take potshots at it from above? The constant hovering of death was exhilarating.
Sometimes my explorations of the Commonwealth became more about finding a bed to save my progress in than trying to tackle a quest, and instead of holding on to those chems or weapons that would normally be left untouched, they were often the lifeline that kept a black fly at bay long enough to drop out of combat and find a bedroll or sleeping bag tucked away in the corner of the building. The routes through the streets of Boston differed, and without fast travel in my reach, every action or movement became something deliberate, and iffy encounters became something to avoid, instead of a save/load/try-again.
Then came mods. If you’ve been eyeing them off, it’s worth pointing out again that using any mod at all will disable your achievements. Fallout 4 does do a service in keeping your game saves off to the side, so on that day when you decide you want to start earning them again, you can take up your adventures exactly where you left them.
With the prospect of returning to the same character in the distant future (not that i have a hugely different playstyle), I decided it was better to start over yet again. This was going to be a new playthrough that capitalised on what mods had to offer, both in terms of bringing richness to the environment, but ones that really let me customise what I could.
There are already some stand-out mods in terms of what they add to the game – you absolutely cannot go past the mods that add new areas, such as Plenty ‘o’ Exploration, or the many that add new radio stations to Fallout 4, like Atomic Radio or WRVR.
As a player whose major playtypes are building and exploration, it also won’t be a surprise that settlement building mods feature heavily in what I’m using. One of the peculiarities about the way exploration works in Fallout 4’s vanilla game is that the immediate area around your starting area is relatively safe, but as you get further away (either to the south or the east), the challenges you face become stronger or more dangerous. It makes sense in ways, but also means that some areas stop holding a challenge.
The Unlevelled Wasteland mod changes that, by making it possible to run into high level enemies anywhere. What this does is brings that same tension that Survival mode has, while still giving you the niceties of being able to save when you want and being able to fast travel when you need.
Using this mod will bring challenges to the game where before you quickly moved past them, and there will definitely be cases where a quest is even further beyond what you’re able to than they were in survival. This brings uncertainty to a playthrough, but subdued by being able to manage that uncertainty just a little.
All of these mods change the way that you play Fallout 4, yet it’s the combination of two cosmetic mods that have redefined the game experience for me most. The first of these is Spring in the Commonwealth, a mod that adds nice green grass to the wilds. The second of the mods is the similarly named Green in the Commonwealth, which brings green trees – not those shriveled brown things – to the wastes.
It’s unashamedly lore-breaking, and there’s no tangible argument for how it could get around that. Fallout 3 had a minor dose of this living foliage in the area known as Oasis where you met the character of Harold, yet the pursuit of the hyperrealistic post-apocalyptic vision that went with the fifties retro-futuristic feel informed a radioactive wasteland.
While some might point to the recovering wilds outside Chernobyl as a marker of what could happen following a real world instance of global nuclear annihilation, it doesn’t change that even that reality would be in opposition to the mythology surrounding the series.
It’s still a Fallout game, of course, but with a completely different atmosphere. That’s not to say it’s an atmosphere that doesn’t work, because in many ways it still touches on some elements of the environment.
A living world and Fallout do not go hand in hand, and a land that’s actively thriving does not marry up with the expectation that a world killed by humanity. The fall of civilisation is another key part of the Fallout atmosphere, and is normally shown in Fallout by settlements bandaged together by broken materials, encampments found inside ruins, and with a few exceptions, not much in the way of an entrenched society.
Even Fallout New Vegas, set in a region spared from direct fallout from the war, still had a society that had fallen, and where gangs and factions fought for what scraps remained of the Earth that was.
The newly grown Commonwealth does this. Yes, there are mods that will restore Sanctuary to its pre-war glory which completely tears this apart, but just those listed, what it lacks in a dying environment, it makes up for one in an environment that’s surpassed its former dominators. By having a wasteland where the trees have grown, where the grass has sprouted in areas where it never was before, the mods give Fallout a sense of a world where the world has moved on and these last vestiges of human civilisation are no longer able to bend it to their will. The green pastures have returned to what they were before us, and will continue on without humanity.
The green environments stand in opposition to our encroachments, and even the settlements built by the player sit on the doorstep of nature. Those random unlevelled enemies hide in there, behind the bushes and beyond the trees. The glaring green light of a rad storm bounces off in all directions, infecting us tick by tick, while the world itself has adapted. With control over the environment now well outside our dominion, it’s up to us to adapt as well.
Why a green wasteland works is because it brings our impact back to the lives we change, for the world will continue on and on after we destroy, dwindle and die – and the nature around us tells us so on every step we take.