The Big Cow Punch: A Guide To An Idiot's Fallout 2
The Dumbed-Down RPG
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.
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.