Modding. Modding never changes. From the dawn of computer games1, players have been modifying the games they play. In recent years, modding has spawned standalone titles2. In the PC world, modding is pervasive that Valve (and on Xbox, Microsoft) have re-engineered their services to directly deliver mods to players. Even developers have gotten in on the action: Obsidian’s Josh Sawyer released a mod after the release of Fallout New Vegas.3
It was a sign of the times. In the year 2011, modders were developers, and developers were modders. The lines between creator and consumer were erased; with the advent of Fallout: New Vegas, the only difference between modder and developers were funding.
Modders and Developers have enjoyed a symbiotic relationship. In recent years, Bethesda has drawn direction from - and sometimes augmented their talent pools with - modders. Take, for example, settlement building in Fallout 4. This was an integrated implementation of Real Time Settler, a mod for Fallout 3 released in 2009. The original mod allowed for building settlements, recruiting settlers, equipping settlers, setting up a workshop and farm, and defending against raiders - turning junk items into a useful core gameplay phase.
Fallout 3 was revolutionary, a departure from the isometric tactical series. Some described it as Oblivion, but with guns. In the year 2008, at the height of the drab gray palllette fever, Fallout 3 felt oppressive. It was, in many respects, the anti-thesis of the series: a real-time, first-person stand-and-shoot game in which you spent more time in inventory screens than gunplay. Where the factions in previous games were mostly shades of evil, your character and the Brotherhood of Steel were knights in shining armour. Where before, the challenge lay in thinking your way out of situations, the best (and sometimes only) way forward was to straight-up shoot. Where lush reams of text and hand-sculpted character design stood, now the context lay in ham-fisted dialogue and early Second-Life -style character models. In previous games, you built characters to mitigate the effects of luck and for specific roles. In Fallout 3, every playthrough felt the same.
Fallout 3 was a gray landscape of things to shoot and quests to fetch. The main challenge was not survival or resisting the urge to shoot slimy cretins, but to loot every last useful item from the endless identical tunnels and interiors.
It did have redeeming qualities; Liam Neeson’s portrayal of James was endearing, if a little on the nose. James was the bright-eyed idealist determined to make the wasteland a better place, a pacifist in the mold of Aradesh and President Tandi (of the NCR). The wide-open landscape proved a boon to modders, who used the canvas to make masterpieces. The core conceit of snaking about in an open, ruined world was solid, one that was transformed with the massive mod Fallout 3: Wanderer’s Edition. Other mods added new locales, quests, increased difficulty, and survival mechanics worthy of a Fallout title.
It was, in some ways, a morality play. As a game, it failed to live up to its predecessors in depth of story and in sheer things to do. It lacked sophistication and nuance. And it divided Fallout fans into two camps: those who embraced the nuanced world of the original, and those who embraced Bethesda’s guns-and-gear-galore.
Bethesda’s DLC for the game added discrete chapters, ones that learned from the development. Operation Anchorage skewered the blockbuster military shooter genre. Broken Steel fixed the boneheaded and incongrous ending, adding several linear mission levels that felt like Medal of Honor with laser guns. The Pitt , while removing player agency, was a refreshing change of pace from the main game. Point Lookout was a microcosm of storytelling, with many layers and much to explore. But as good as the DLC were, they didn’t change the main gameplay loops. If Fallout were to evolve, it would need to take lessons elsewhere.
Enter Fallout New Vegas. Obsidian was given a contract with a deadline of 18 months. With many of the original series writers onboard, Obsidian used notes from the cancelled entry Van Buren as the basis for the game’s story. The world of New Vegas was small, tight, and multi-layered. The Courier was a blank slate, a wild card in a world of war on the verge of escalation. Given agency, the player’s actions had direct and visible effects. A reputation system, drawn from the originals, made the player establish themselves in each town, should they choose to visit it. The titular New Vegas, the site of a power struggle, was filled with individual stories that reflected the grim world of post-apocalyptia. Everybody had a dark side, an edge made sharp by a harsh life. Nothing was perfect, no ideology or side pure and uncompromising.
Then a gaggle of geniuses (geniusii? genii?) had the bright idea to combine the two wastelands. The gray-and-green, with the red-and-brown. The waste where the player had to save the world with the one where the player could reshape it.
**A Tale of Two Wastelands**
http://taleoftwowastelands.com/ is the home of Tale of Two Wastelands, a mod that combines Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas, a synthesis between Shoot-n-Loot and grim survival. It was not the first attempt at bridging the gap between the gaps - their first was Requiem for the Capital Wasteland - but it was the first to launch with a proper installer and complete gameplay. And unlike last year’s Fallout 4, it runs even on potatoes of hardware.
Initially released in 2012, it has been continously updated and expanded on. The generalized global karma system has been revamped and replaced with an expanded Reputation System. New dungeons and puzzles were added to bridge Fallout 3 and New Vegas worldspaces. Existing mods were reworked and can be seamlessly installed, making the worlds far richer in content and nuance.
And unlike Fallout 3, it can run on modern Windows without crashing every frelling five minutes.
Tale of Two Wastelands is a love-letter to the two parents of the series. It’s a love-letter to the fans of the series. It’s a marriage of _Fallout 3’_s gun-centric sensibilities and the rich storytelling heritage of the series. It’s neither extremly difficult nor too easy, it’s neither straightforward or labrinthesque. It’s just right.
To install Tale of Two Wastelands is to embark on your own journey into the world of modding and development. TTW provides the player with a servicable game, and the means to truly make it a unique experience for each player. Curated lists of content by the TTW developers help players to remake the worlds in their image - some mods add details, some new quests, new lands, new challenges, but it is all up to the player to choose. Does the player want a game where stealth and tactics matter? It’s easy to install the mods to make that happen. The curated mods add depth.
Some eight hundred hours of my life have gone into my journeys through the twin wastelands. For me, tweaking and building on it is as satisfying as playing it.
Tale of Two Wastelands is Fallout, remade by gamers, for gamers. You should download it today.
1. DooM spawned millions of modified campaigns and levels and to this day has a vibrant modding scene. 2. DayZ, PLAYERUNKNOWN'S BATTLEGROUNDS, Sonic Mania, Age of Empires II: Rise of Rajas and many, many more. 3. Recommended: JSawyer Ultimate Edition