When I first played Fallout 3 on my Xbox 360 way back in 2008, I found myself drawn to the hubs and the quests. Exploring the wasteland was fun, but ultimately I was looking for structure and a story. I’ve recently booted up Fallout 3 again, but this time on the PC. With extreme (but lore friendly) modding, I’ve found the exploration aspect far more enjoyable and the quests frankly lackluster. I want to deconstruct the quests in Fallout 3 to think about how they work in relation to an open world map and the player character’s development choices.
Let’s start with the basics. Not counting the three childhood quests, Fallout 3 has a total of 66 quests in the base game: 10 story quests, 18 side quests, 22 unmarked side quests, and 16 repeatable fetch quests. Again, I want to briefly break down each of these to see how they’ve made use of the new environment and the RPG elements. We’ll start with the story quests.
I LOVE “Blood Ties.” I think it’s the best quest in Fallout 3. I think the reason for that is because it’s the closest thing to a Fallout 2 quest in the entire game. The premise is a bit silly, but meaningfully fleshed out through dialogue and written exposition. Still, “Blood Ties” has a great sense of progression and discovery; this ensures that the more you learn and investigate, the better your chances of reaching the best ending. Story aside, it succeeds as a great, traditional RPG quest; combat is completely optional, the ending has a lasting impact on the game, and “Blood Ties” has (in my opinion) the single greatest skill check in all of Fallout 3.
Story: Medieval-style vampires in a 1950s sci-fi apocalypse. Sounds silly when you say it out loud, but that’s sort of the point of “Blood Ties.” The silliness of a wasteland tribe who use Bram Stoker’s Dracula as cultural law is tied together with a question of belonging and a lesson about family to make for a surprisingly excellent quest.
A big challenge in designing an open world Fallout game was dealing with locations that would normally be discovered through conversation or by a NPC guide. If “Blood Ties” was a Fallout 2 quest, Meresti Metro Station would be a location discovered after jumping through hoops and talking to NPCs. However, because Fallout 3 is open world, the quest had to have a satisfying beginning, middle, and end regardless of whether you start “Blood Ties” in Megaton, Arefu, or Meresti.
Right off the bat, this quest has some great characters. Part of the reason for that is because there are no generic NPC’s involved in the “Blood Ties” story. Every NPC has a name, a character quirk, and a purpose for being in the quest. Lucy West has some great dialogue that shows she’s an experienced denizen of the Capital Wasteland, the people of Arefu are tightly knit and worth talking to for hilarious dialogue, and every member of The Family has a motivation for being a part of the tribe. When so many characters in the late game of Fallout 3 have little or no motivation for their actions and attitudes, it feels like a treat to have a quest where every character serves a purpose for themselves and to further the story through additional RPG options.
Not only do the characters have motivation, but it’s truly impressive that the tenants of the tribe itself are in plain sight and easily accessible. The initial eyebrow raising of “Vampires in Fallout?” is dropped when we’re able to understand why they exist as organization through conversation with Vance (leader of The Family) and the five laws learned through talking with members of the tribe (which encourages character interaction).
- “Feast not of the flesh; consume only the blood. This is our strength.”
- “Bear not the child; welcome only the exile. This is our fate.”
- “Feed not for pleasure; partake only to nourish. This is our dignity.”
- “Seek not the sun’s light; embrace only the shadows. This is our refuge.”
- “Kill not our kindred; slay only the enemy. This is our justice.”
These five simple laws help us to understand The Family and their role. Vance’s journals regarding members with photophobia and other vampire-esque mutations/birth defects help to establish his motivations, moral standing, and serves to separate him from the bloodthirsty raiders who decorate their homes with the corpses of their friends and family.
This section is similar to learning the Jedi Code in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. It’s just one of the reasons why “Blood Ties” feels like classic Fallout world design. For example, the original Fallout had lengthy logs explaining the founding and tenants of the Brotherhood of Steel. Fallout 3 shoehorned the Brotherhood of Steel into the game, but didn’t go in depth explaining who they are, what their tenants are, and how they’re different than chapters on the West Coast. New Vegas then hit you with military standards and the difference between scribes, paladins, knights, and elders at every opportunity.
Gameplay: I could go on and on about what a well written quest this is and why it works, but the gameplay is equally good. When the entire main questline revolves around murdering your way to the next compass marker, getting a quest without mandatory combat is like taking a huff of ultrajet. From the unusual and unexpected grenade toss into conversation by Evan King to a handful of traps, bribery, and even subterfuge, there’s so much to work with here.
Believe it or not, “Blood Ties” has more role-playing options than all of the main quests in Fallout 3 combined. I’ll prove it. Let’s do a comparison. All 10 of Fallout 3’s story quests vs “Blood Ties.”
Fallout 3 Story Quest RPG elements:
Mandatory: Combat skills
Optional skills: Lockpicking, Science, Speech
Optional perks: Lady Killer, Child at Heart
Blood Ties RPG Elements:
Mandatory Skills: None
Optional Skills: Repair, Speech, Lockpick, Medicine, Science, Combat Skills
Perk Options: Scoundrel, Black Widow, Lady Killer, Cannibal, Impartial Meditation
Optional Attribute Checks: Strength, Intelligence, Charisma
Giving players more options when it comes to fleshing out their characters is a good thing. Giving characters opportunities to use their perks and attributes is a good thing. Giving options for characters of both sexes (Black Widow and Lady Killer) is a good thing. From characters to gameplay to even the character models, “Blood Ties” proves over and over again that it should be in a better game than Fallout 3. Hands down, “Blood Ties” is a quest worthy of Fallout 2.
I’ve been dancing around it so far, but what, in my opinion, is “the best skill check in Fallout 3”? When you discover the bodies of the West family (which are unique, undismemberable character models) you can use a medicine check to investigate their bodies. The result is a direct call back to older RPGs and tabletop roleplaying in that your current medicine skill leads to one of four possible responses. It’s such an effective element of gameplay that Fallout: New Vegas would base the multiple unmarked hospital quests around this very principle.
30+ Medicine: Victims have bite marks on their necks
50+ Medicine: Victims have been drained of blood
70+ Medicine: Victims bite marks were made by human teeth
90+ Medicine: Victims’ bodies are coated in train yard residue.
If this is your first time playing the quest, your medicine skill determines how much of the story’s shroud has just been pulled back and whether you’ll go on a wild mutant chase for Evan King or go directly to The Family’s hideout. This progressive skill check makes all the difference in that it encourages players to invest more points into medicine. If, for example, you know the highest skill check you’ll be asked for in the game is an 80, why bother going any higher? Blood Ties answers that by giving you information bit by bit based on the role your character is filling. If every quest in Fallout 3 had this standard of progressive skill checks, the game as a whole would have been better for it.
Lasting Impacts: One of the overarching problems with the main questline of Fallout 3 was a complete lack of reward structuring. You may recall that the only reward for completing an optional objective in the entire main questline was the Tunnel Snakes jacket at the start of the first quest. “Blood Ties” encourages you to reach the best ending in order to get a series of useful and character expanding rewards.
Merely completing the quest gives you blueprints for the shishkebab weapon. Speaking to Vance further nets you a perk that transforms a +1HP food item into a +20HP food item. Creating an alliance between The Family and Arefu (and getting the treaty signed and returned) nets you a new location that offers a permanent increase to your unarmed skill. Skill checks in the majority of Fallout 3 just skip content without offering anything in return. Skill checks and extra work associated with the “Blood Ties” quest promise returns for you and the game world. Making a deal with The Family and Arefu actually serves to protect merchants from being attacked by animals and raiders when visiting the settlement. Additionally, post-quest environmental changes give the player a sense of progress and make them feel like the world is a living breathing entity, rather than a sterile husk.
For all these reasons and many more we don’t have time for, “Blood Ties” is, without a doubt, the best quest in Fallout 3. Best characters, best world building (both before and after the quest), best role-playing elements, and a fairly unique premise to boot. While very similar to the Modoc/Slag questline in Fallout 2 (underground tribe of light sensitive mutants incidentally kidnaps a human child thereby causing strain between the two communities) it really comes into its own through expansion of the vampire culture, the numerous and well-placed vampire references, and the vampire themed rewards available only after the quest has been completed.
I give this one 5 AB+ Blood Packs out of 5!