|Top: The original game.
Bottom: the exact same location with the Green World mod installed.
The most compelling mod I installed is clearly heretical in nature: Green world replaces the brown grass and dead trees with lush greenery. Now, the Fallout games are clearly established as taking place in a more or less lifeless world. It’s an endless wasteland of sterile dirt and rock. This breaks that. I will not defend the mod against the charge that it moves the setting of Fallout 3 even further from the originals, and in fact I admit I would probably have faulted Bethesda if they had made the game look this way by default. But I can’t let my small-minded hypocrisy stand in the way of fun. This is a drastic improvement in many ways. I could not believe how much of a difference this thing made to my enjoyment of the game.
The trees introduce a bit of mystery to the horizon. It was often monotonous to march over the unbroken line of lifeless dirt. Now trees block your view in some places. Other places are open. Now when you travel it feels like you’re going somewhere.
The color variety is important as well. The 2D Fallout games had more colorful foes, pools of bright green goo, and slightly more colorful clothing and scenery. That’s been toned down with the move towards photo-realism. Worse, moving the camera to first person means that you’re now seeing all the way to the horizon, which makes the brown sort of pervasive and smothering. You can say that this is how the world of Fallout should look, and I won’t argue with you. But there is only so much brown I can look at in a session, and without the greenery the entire world is the color of dirt and ash. The splashes of green produce some desperately needed contrast to the view.
But the biggest change of the mod is just to change our perception of the wasteland. Vanilla Fallout 3 presents a barren, lifeless world. No tress. Barely any grass, most of which is brown. This introduces a lot of questions as to how in the heck anything is still alive after 200 years. No vegetation means no food chain. No food chain means nothing for humans to eat. Humans should have starved about 20 years after the bombs fell, as the last of the old food stores were depleted. The idea that this world could support not just humans, but massive predators like Deathclaws, Yao Guai, Super Mutants, and Mirelurks is ridiculous.
But the wasteland presented in this mod is very different. This isn’t a world rendered uninhabitable by human civilization. This is a world that is simply forgetting human civilization. Grass and trees encroach on the borders of the city. Grass pokes up through the cracked pavement, inexorably reclaiming the land.
With this mod, the food chain is plausible. Sure, the game doesn’t show any crops being grown, but it’s easier to believe in farming that happens off-screen than it is to believe that people are still living off of 200 year old boxes of cereal.
There are a few minor issues. The oasis region won’t make any sense now, since your character will make a big deal over seeing green trees even though they’re all over the wasteland now. The trees are non-solid to avoid breaking the AI pathfinding. There are a small number of places where the branches poke through walls, which looks wrong. Still, it’s amazing someone was able to make such vast changes with such minor side-effects.
The overgrown world has a kind of lonely, forlorn feel to it. It reminds me a bit of the New York we see in I am Legend. Lost and empty.
Maybe it’s not Fallout proper, but I like it better this way. Given the other betrayals to canon and continuity that were integrated into the game, this mod is a small deviation with pleasing results.
You can download Green world yourself if you want to give it a try.
Other mods I would consider essential:
* Something to make the interface less stupid on the PC.
* Fast VATS, to speed up the tedious cutscenes that play when you shoot someone. I’m not against a little slo-mo now and again for special moments, but having the game slow down every. single. time. you pull the trigger, and then having the camera linger over their corpse for several seconds, completely ruins the effect. I found myself ignoring VATS, and then turning down the difficulty (the game is much harder without VATS) which more or less reduced the game to DOOM. Which also becomes boring. Much better to play the game as intended, but with less slo-mo nonsense.
* Fellout, which gets rid of the pervasive green tint in the world. Like green world, this gives some visual variety to the lighting and color, as opposed to “all green, all the time”.
* Some variety of level un-capper. It’s no fun hitting the level cap before you’re even halfway through the game, which can easily happen if you come from the Do Every Quest school of thought. You have to be careful here, because these aren’t mods so much as “hacks”. The level 20 cap is built into all sorts of game mechanics, and breaking it can break the game in annoying ways. (The most obvious problem is that you’ll quickly master all skills and accrue a massive, game-breaking load of hitpoints.) Really, I’d be happy with retaining the power of a level 20 character, as long as it still allowed me to clock more levels. There are a lot of mods with varying approaches to this problem. Your mileage may vary.
* Some sort of body mod. Some players want nudity. Some players just want better looking people in the wasteland. Some players just want the people (raiders, mostly) to have underwear that makes some kind of sense. No matter what your preference is, there’s probably a mod that will fix things up. (But above all, I wish there was some dang variety. No mods seem to offer that, sadly.)
* Hunger, Thirst, Sleep. I discovered this yesterday when Rutskarn mentioned it in the comments. I’ve only dabbled with it so far, but I will say that this might be the most interesting mod yet. Even better than Green World. It turns this game into a genuine fight for survival. Pure water is no longer Halloween candy to be handed out to idiot NPCs for free karma. It’s a precious resource, and you will need to fight for it. Last night I came across the random event where some escaped slaves are arguing with some ghouls over who should get some fresh water. In the past I made my decision on how to handle the encounter based on what my alignment was. This time, I made the decision based on TWO AND A HALF DAYS OF WATER? I NEED THIS! This is what playing a good-aligned character should feel like: A battle of need vs. conscience. If you share your water with an NPC, you deserve those karma points, because you have made a tangible in-game sacrifice. The only thing ruining it is your ability to get rid of all radiation for free at home. (Thus allowing you to drink dirty water for free.)
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