The Big Cow Punch: A Guide To An Idiot’s Fallout 2

By RPS on March 28th, 2012 at 8:00 pm.

Uh.
Joe Martin decides to explore Fallout 2 from the perspective of a character with no stats in the brain department. And, goodness, has a game ever responded coherently to attributed stupidity?

Fallout 2 is old, so there’s only a handful of flickery cutscenes and none of these ever show you your hand-built character actually doing anything. The intro, for example, where you’re told that you’re the Chosen One and must quest for the Macguffin of the Moment, focuses solely on the the half-blind village elder. Which is a shame, because I imagine how my character, Al, would react to this news would be… interesting.

Al is an idiot. Not in the mean-spirited, pejorative sense, but in the literal ‘there are dead fleas that make better conversation’ sense. I’ve made a moron. When he was told to quest for the GECK he probably didn’t stoically grit his teeth or ask every question in the conversation tree – as your typical post-apocalyptic typical heroes do – he more likely dribbled from tooth to toe and burbled a few rhymes. GECK? Heck. Neck? Feck.

Huh-huh-huh.

Chosen One? It’s a wonder his tribe didn’t kill him at birth.


What Al lacks in smarts he compensates for in his capacity for violence, however – he’s bigger than a Radscorpion and his Perception rating is so far off the charts that they had to invent a new kind of telescope. I am, in other words, fairly confident that this lummox can handle Fallout 2’s wastelands even despite his skull-headed handicap. It’s not like the Science skill is ever actually useful for anything and, even if it was, Fallout 2 is my game. The one I know inside and out; it’s the one I play in my head when my boss is talking to me. Low Intelligence score isn’t going to hold me back for long. Or so I thought.

Confidently, I lead Al out of his village, ignoring the hurled insults by the useless NPCs and staying focused on my destination; Klamath. The nearby town is the first stop everyone makes in Fallout 2 and I know it’s where I can learn the valuable Gecko Skinning skill and recruit my first follow– Except I can’t. I try to talk to Ardin Buckner, so she’ll ask me to rescue Smiley, which will reward me with a free follower, but the option never materialises. The conversation is over before it’s begun and Al has been calmly but pityingly told to go ‘play outside with Torr’, Ardin’s idiot son. Al tries to say something, to ask a question, but all that comes out is a grunt. AI is that kind of stupid, and Fallout 2 knows it.


Trying to find a new way into the quest, I direct Al to Torr. I know from previous playthroughs that Torr is a useless, inarticulate character that stands shirtless in the street and speaks only in broken sentences and–

Except he isn’t. Approached by Al, Torr is transformed. Gone is the mumbling simpleton and in his place is a verbose and articulate young man in need of aid. He says mutated scorpions are harassing his livestock. Could I kindly offer assistance? Of course I can, you lovely, shirtless man!

After I help Torr, the pattern continues. Nobody who would normally be reasonable will talk to Al; it’s only the lowly or the foolish who’ll look him in the eye, usually while reaching for his wallet, Fallout 2’s wasteland could never have been called a nice place, but through Al’s eyes it’s become unusually spiteful and I, in reaction, shelter him from all but the most righteous and kindly folks I can find. While this exile works to spare the imagined feelings of my avatar though, it’s also starving him of XP. Unable to grow, Al’s enemies steadily outpace him and our attempts to push forward end countless bloody deaths as we bring low-level fists to gauss gun battles.


Violence, I decide, is the solution as well as the problem. If nobody will give Al some quests to complete then he’ll have to harvest XP in other ways, so I spend 20 minutes cornering a cow and having Al steadily punch it to death. We do this for every cow we can find, like some sort of sadistic desert Rocky with an obsession for punching two-headed things in the skull.

Together, Al and I become the bane of brahmin everywhere, pummeling unprotected cattle into a meat slurry wherever we can until we grow tired and decide to change up. If I wasn’t playing the censored UK version of the game then I could target children first, but as it is I take a brief spell as a boxer in Reno before returning to Klamath, gloves in hand.

In Klamath I direct Al to bottleneck enemies in a doorway and discover that, as eyes are to cows, balls are to people. As each new foe queues up for combat Al blocks their movements and kicks fiercely at their crotches like a rampaging Van Damme movie. Kind, shirtless Torr is one of the first to die and two hours later the entire town lay bloodied on the ground. Al’s feet are probably really hurting, but he is too dumb to complain. So, we stumble on to the next town and repeat the procedure.


Things quickly start to get boring here, however. Few citizens seem willing to stand still and take the pain, creating an annoying mini-game of cat and mouse as we chase them around town. Guns would clearly solve the situation, but I’m honestly anxious about giving an SMG to a man so dumb he can’t spell ‘IQ’.

Driven to desperation by the tediousness of murder on such a massive scale, I introduce Al to the multitudes of drugs that Fallout 2 offers. Unsurprisingly, the Intelligence-boosting Mentats become his chem of choice – one pill is the difference between trying to talk to a rusted Stop Sign and in having a pleasant conversation with the people around him. The only downside is that the effect is never permanent and that, for the next few days, he’s dumber than ever before.

It isn’t long before Al gets addicted, however. Once again he gets caught up in a destructive cycle at my direction, taking enough pills that people will talk to him only to spend the subsequent fugue running around completing errands and returning to dose up and close the quest. Al and I are investing more and more money into either Mentats or Stimpaks as roam around the desert, punching cows and talking to the president of NCR in a drugged-up haze. It’s becoming clear that the drugs don’t work and it’s at times like this I remember why I called him Al – it’s short for Algernon.


Eventually, it all proves as sustainable as a toiletpaper house. There comes a day when I can’t easily find any more Mentats and, as Al’s Intelligence plummets even further, I have to decide if it’s worth laying waste to another town by hand. I duly have a bash at the small village of Modoc, but withdrawal has set in hard and Al struggles to hit the people at all, let alone deliver any more testicle-shattering palm strikes. I reload and have Al take a few practice shots at an isolated cow, but it somehow gets the upper hoof and does serious damage before I can get Al to safety.

Desperate, I point Al to the high-tech haven of Vault City, planning to buy whatever supplies I can find but promptly finding myself out of money, luck and patience. It’s become clear that Al is reaching the end of the road and that there’s no chance that this bloody-fisted simpleton can hope to tackle the Enclave or find the GECK. The most he can possibly aspire to would be to join the Hubologists, but that’s a fate I won’t allow to happen.

I give Al one last, frantic pitch at survival by having him try to steal from a Vault City doctor, but the plan predictably backfires and the world slows down into combat made. The guards start to swoop, their combat shotguns and heavy armour leaving no room for survival even if I was able to bottleneck them in a bar doorway. The perimeter is dotted with laser cannons, suddenly whirring.

Turn by turn, I edge Al out of the building and closer to the guards. I think maybe Al might get one last shot in before I give up on him entirely.

Fallout 2 is an old game and none of the flickery cutscenes ever show your character in person, alive. There’s just the outro, where you’re told your quest has failed and are shown a sand-scored skeleton laying alone in the wastes. There’s no way to know if Al’s life of cow-punching flashed before his eyes – all I know is that I’m left feeling both thankful and disappointed that no other RPG since had catered so completely for the Intelligence-challenged. Skyrim would have been so much more interesting with some rudeness and a lot more cow-punching, I think.

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114 Comments »

  1. Dr I am a Doctor says:

    http://lparchive.org/Fallout-2/

    How incredibly original, man.

  2. Petethegoat says:

    Oh cool, it’s nice to see Joe writing for RPS.

  3. Dannygeist says:

    I suggest an interaction with Algernon, New Reno’s weapon mod savant in the basement of the New Reno Arms store. That has the potential of being one of the greatest and funniest exchanges of brain addled people in the history of “RPGs that make your character stupid if you so wish them to be”

  4. djbriandamage says:

    No get. Me not find Al so dumb. Punch udders me good.

  5. Vartarok says:

    Reminds me of how incredibly fun it is to play a retarded ogre in Arcanum.

  6. bluebottle says:

    I don’t care what arguments of practicality anyone puts forward, it’s always worth putting time into details like this.

    Time, again, to do a Malkavian Bloodlines playthough.

  7. zverozyab says:

    you could join the slaver’s guild in Den and swim in money and easy exp.

  8. Fumarole says:

    More RPGs need this functionality, but sadly outside of possibly Wasteland 2 I don’t think we’ll see it again.

  9. ratache says:

    Yeah, playing the game is very hard as a dumbass but it certainly possible. One of my most memorable characters had hands harder than the sledgehammer and he usually set up around a corner before making slush out of his foes.

  10. MiniMatt says:

    I *love* this article, brings many memories of the hundreds of hours spent – and more than one playthrough doing the dumb run. And the charismatic run and the nerd run. Such a great game.

  11. Danny252 says:

    Am I the only one who spent half the article wondering why the game’s Artificial Intelligence was so interesting?

    • djbriandamage says:

      Damn you, sans-serif!

      • stupid_mcgee says:

        Which is why setting type for copy in sans serif is incredibly stupid. I don’t why it’s thought that sans-serif is a good idea for computers. It is NOT, in any way, shape, or form a suited type style for computers. Something like Flux is much more suitable to computer text, even if Flux is kind of ugly.

    • Saiko Kila says:

      Me too. Until I saw that “AI is for Algernon” I thought it was “Artifical Intelligence”, and I was confused – why the name? AI because it’s it a play on usually poor Artificial Intelligence (aka Artificial Stupidity) in games, or AI because there is a mode somewhere in the game which helps you play,, which I somehow missed, like turning AI on for player character (which would be an incredible thing to do in a relatively rich cRPG).

  12. Bob says:

    That was a different, in a nice way. I’ve only played Fallout 3 and New Vegas so far. I ‘ve got 1 and 2 from GOG, and I’ll get to them…eventually.

  13. fart says:

    Speaking of playing this game inside out. Any of you ever manage to beat it without actually firing a shot? It’s apparently possible but I could never survive the final battle.

    • Optimaximal says:

      I’ve never done a no-gun run but the best way to win the end without firing a shot is to set the auto-turrets to counter-insurgency mode.

  14. NathanH says:

    I always felt this was a thoroughly pointless feature, and also rather offensive. it renders the game relatively unplayable, and suggests that anyone with below-average intelligence is an utter moron or a vegetable.

    • Gasmask Hero says:

      Take your righteous indignation to Brian Fargo for placing such low intelligence dialogue options there in the first place.

    • Jim9137 says:

      The only way to be politically correct is to grind everyone to a grey pulp and then mete them out in evenly sized portions upon clinically clean petri dishes.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Average is 5.
      The threshold for stupid is 3.
      You will cripple yourself just as hard putting STR down that low.
      Thanks for playing.

    • Phantoon says:

      Are you complaining that people that are dumb, are reflected as dumb?

      ಠ_ಠ

    • Carra says:

      “suggests that anyone with below-average intelligence is an utter moron”

      That’s the exact definition of a moron:

      “Moron is a term once used in psychology to denote mild mental retardation.”

      • Jhoosier says:

        I like how you can converse with other low-intelligence characters, like Torr. It reminds me of child-speak. Where adults have no idea what’s going on, but babies babble at each other and seem to get their points across.

    • Flavioli says:

      Ability to brutally and violently slaughter anything in the game, including children and animals: no problem.

      Character with extremely low intelligence speaks like a character with extremely low intelligence: CALL THE PRESSES!

      • apocraphyn says:

        It is a pretty moronic thing to be concerned about, all things considered.

        POLITICAL CORRECTNESS GAWWWN MAAAAADDD!!!

    • bear912 says:

      You mean an udder moron?

  15. Wizardry says:

    Low intelligence dialogue is a nice idea in theory, but it’s a complete dead end in the genre and was implemented in the only feasible way – poorly. I’m glad it hasn’t been widely adopted.

  16. Briosafreak says:

    Good article. The very high INT and CHR characters in Fallout 2 also have a lot of problems and challenges, but open some of the best most creative dialogs and monologues in gaming. The two sides of the coin are really challenging, but really really fun to play.

  17. sinister agent says:

    I never played much into it like this, but I laughed lots while doing a similar thing with (I think?) the first one, and going back to my vault to talk to the people there. One conversation essentially went:

    “I can’t believe they chose you to save us. What are you going to do out there?”

    “WHEEEEEEEEEEEEE!”

    “Oh god, we’re doomed.”

  18. Nameless1 says:

    So much win.

  19. fiddlesticks says:

    “Tandi job. Me want.”
    “You can’t take the president’s job!”
    “No?”
    “NO! You are dumb.”

  20. Maldomel says:

    They should definitely do this kind of stuff more often in RPGs with intelligence stats.

  21. Paul says:

    Fallout 2 is still the best game ever.

  22. Ident says:

    I approve of the reference to “Flowers for Algernon”.

  23. Examiner2 says:

    This may be uddering in a new era of rpg’s.

  24. Lemming says:

    What I love about this is that you are essentially playing Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein through the eyes of the monster for the first part of this….right up until the drugs of course. I knew FO was deep but….man.

  25. werix says:

    What is sad is recently I went to do something similar in FO:NV. Set Int and Per to 3, high Cha and luck, and was just going to be a drug-addled, party-loving, gambling addict. So far no real “dumb” comments, as I remember doing just what you did in FO2 once(but stopped playing long before you did). I for one kinda miss that a dev wouldn’t do that nowadays.

    • VelvetFistIronGlove says:

      New Vegas does have some low-INT specific dialogue, but only (it seems) on a few NPCs here and there. The scientists at the solar power plant did, as did (IIRC) the mutant just outside Freeside. There were others I encountered too, but I forget which now. I mostly let her fists do the talking.

  26. gorzan says:

    The first time I played Fallout 1 I did so with a character named L.J. meaning “Lucky James” he had maxedout luck, and in exchange minimum intelligence, despite not being able to talk, he quickly grew rich, well armed, and perfectly deadly, all of that thanks to the high luck stat. Little times did I have so much fun. In honor to that time, every single time I play a Fallout game I get luck to the max, and intelligence to either 3 or bellow 3. It’s sad it doesn’t really matter on fallout 3 and new vegas.

  27. Strangerator says:

    Very entertaining. I love games that have so many experiences layered into them that you will never see them all in one playthrough. A good example of emergent storytelling via game mechanics as well. I hope Fargo can pull it off once again, and isn’t visited by the shallow-plot cutscene fairy.

  28. pilouuuu says:

    I think the ammount of fun that such a type of character could bring to games is amazing.
    Think about a game, let’s say from Bioware, where just like Dragon Age you have different origins, but instead of elves, humans, etc, you can choose between stupid, normal and genius.

    Besides the dialogues, the hilarity of cut-scenes could make for a great game. Let’s say at some point during the game your party characters get invited to a dinner. Your main character would behave normally if you chose normal and use a handkerchief, but a stupid character would drool and eat with his hands. The genius character in that same situation would say really intelligent things, but his lack of charisma and social abilities would make it harder for him to communicate qith NPCs too.

    And how would your NPCs characters respond if you’re character is stupid. They would start to say: “Why am I following this idiot?” or “Are you really the one supposed to save us all?”

    I think that Vampires Bloodlines has a similar option and I just wish more RPGs would include such thing for the sake of our fun and priceless humour.

  29. Skabooga says:

    As much a cautionary tale about stupidity as it is a cautionary tale about drug abuse.

  30. Jikid says:

    A welcome post, I laughed a lot.

  31. Pugiron says:

    Udder-ly awesome, both from the game makers and the author.

  32. lamurt says:

    by FAR the most hilarious article that i’ve read on RPS!

    still chuckling here, thanks for the good times, thanks… :)

  33. Dozer says:

    This isn’t the only game which allows cow-punching.

    For some reason, years ago, I read the PlanetFargo archive on Gamespy. Check this article:

    http://www.gamespy.com/articles/701/701653p2.html

  34. Stevostin says:

    Actually it’s pretty disappointing. If Al can’t “win” the game, it’s actually pretty bad to give player the illusion the game has been play tested with such a character by giving him unique dialog option. Waste of dev and gamer time + frustration. It’s a bit like if the Nosferatu couldn’t complete the main quest in Vampire Bloodline. That would be a low, not a plus. I put that in the “nope, I definitely don’t miss that in old games” basket.

    That being said, I wonder how Fallout 3 and NV deals with that kind of character. I am at least sure that if they do, you can beat the game with them.

    Oh, and as I recall Never Winter Night was having special dialogs for retarded character, and quite possibly other BI games as well.

    • LionsPhil says:

      You can win with a low-INT character, it’s just harder. That it affects your skill gains is documented clearly in the manual and IIRC the little prompt cards during character creation.

      Fallout doesn’t subscribe to EVERY BUILD MUST BE EXACTLY BALANCED PLAYERS MUST NEVER BE ABLE TO CREATE SUBOPTIMAL CHARACTERS.

      • Gira says:

        RPGs started going down the toilet when the hivemind decided that you should always be able to win no matter what you do.

      • namad says:

        I agree, an idiot definitely could beat the game, the author of this article could’ve tried harder, it wasn’t that it was impossible, it’s just that he got sick of trying, because it was fairly boring… however for someone who knows the in’s and out’s of the game and has the patience, it’s certainly do-able…. you’re warned pretty heavily against doing it so the fact it’s hard is perfectly fine.

      • Stevostin says:

        So you can ? If you can, that’s perfectly fine. But as the author claimed to be an expert in the game, I am double checking : are you sure ? Did you do it yourself ? Or do you know someone who did ?

        • fiddlesticks says:

          The LP posted in the very first reply to this article goes through the whole game as a low-int character: http://lparchive.org/Fallout-2/. He even does it completely unarmed, which is harder than playing a ranged build.

          Generally, as with many RPGs, Fallout 2′s combat system is very easy to break once you know what you’re doing.

  35. namad says:

    arcanum has a reasonably robust set of idiot dialogue options, it’s not unique to fallout 2

    • Gira says:

      There were also low INT dialogues in the first Fallout, which, incidentally, is the better game of the two. I enjoyed the article, though.

  36. Eich says:

    Great article. I laughed. Thats rare! ^^

  37. dnch says:

    havent time to read it yet but i saw some LP on youtube which did exactly that, it was hillarious, i wish more games made this possible

  38. Was Neurotic says:

    Funny, funny stuff. Loved it!

  39. maninahat says:

    Ha, I just started a retard run of Fallout:New Vegas. In all my previous play throughs, I never thought to try the obviously wrong options. Currently, I’m finding it hard to make the worst choices at any given moment. Almost as if the game doesn’t want me to.

  40. RegisteredUser says:

    1. Stay in school, kids
    2. This is a classic example of just how much more well thought out and epic “classic” gaming used to be, although I would already consider Fallout 1+2 the next/more modern generation of that set. I mean seriously, actually taking the stats into account further than just giving you an option or not or failing a check or not..but instead opening completely different dialogue and play.
    That’s pretty RAD.

  41. Saarlaender39 says:

    Ah,…”Flowers for Algernon”,…a great book…Mr. Martin has a good taste.
    If you didn`t already read it – I suggest, you do it now.

  42. nootpingu86 says:

    heh, he dum

  43. Kefren says:

    How many times have I played Fallout 1 and 2? Many, many! It always feels fresh and different if you try different character options. Sometimes I roll a dice and head out into the desert in that direction – again, the game ends up playing very differently. Lovely games, lovely summary of one of the extreme playing options.

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