Saving the Water of the Wastes in Fallout 3

The goal I set for myself seemed to be reasonable enough: complete the main story of Fallout 3 over the course of a brief and final summer break. Based on my experiences with Fallout: New Vegas and Fallout 4, I knew it was going to be a challenge, what with my tendency to become easily distracted in open world games. But reaching the goal didn’t seem impossible. And so, as with these sorts of things, I began at the beginning.

(It’s a long road ahead, so saddle up, dear readers. Also, spoilers lie in wait!)

My chosen Vault 101 character was a man, first a boy, named Elwood. Elwood is kind and tries to make nice with the other kids, but he harbors the latent spirit of a troublemaker. His father, a seemingly well-known doctor and scientist named James, though caring, is not overly doting and leaves Elwood to his own devices. Before too long, Elwood is decimating radroaches with his BB gun like a pro. Progressing further, he’s soon saving his acquaintances (he never felt comfortable calling them “friends”) from the local gang, the Tunnel Snakes (hahahahaha…gross), because it seemed like the right thing to do, and, as well, building up his general life skills. Things seemed pretty alright for Elwood in Vault 101, until…

…it happened. What exactly it was, no one knew, but one day Elwood found himself awakened by another vault dweller amid blaring alarms. The message is clear – escape the vault! The only way out is through the Overseer’s office, and Elwood grabs everything he finds on his way, from clothing to guns to random bits of junk (because who knows what lies ahead!). The situation is dire, as evidenced by the number of corpses Elwood passes along the way. Sure, he could stop to help the few left living, but in his mind, it’s every vault dweller for themselves, and he wants to live. When he finally meets up with the vault’s head honcho, the Overseer, he a pauses for only a moment before taking him down. He gathers a few more things, and garners some useful info from the Overseer’s computer before leaving Vault 101 once and for all.

Once outside, there’s only one thought that distracts Elwood from the terrible devastation in plain view. What happen to Dad? Did he manage to escape? And if so, where did he go? With his small stash of stuff from Vault 101, Elwood sets off into the wasteland to begin his search. Considering Vault 101’s close proximity to downtown Washington D. C., he starts to wonder what happened to nation’s capital. He might have pondered this further had he not stumbled upon a settlement called Megaton.

Megaton seems like a decent place. Beside the fact that it contains a religious sect that worships an undetonated atomic bomb, everything about it appears as normal as normal could be. While visiting with a few residents, Elwood learns that a gentleman named Moriarity may know something about his father. Since information isn’t free in this strange, new world, Elwood finds ways to come up with the (bottle) caps in exchange for whatever Moriarity knows. One he does, Moriarity tells Elwood that his father was headed for Galaxy News Radio, one of the wasteland’s few surviving radio stations. Why exactly he went to GNR remains a mystery, but at least Elwood has a lead. But before leaving Megaton, Elwood is approached by a shady type who has a proposition for him. Megaton’s sheriff had already asked Elwood to help keep the bomb from exploding, but the fishy fellow says that if Elwood sets off the bomb instead, there’ll be a lot of caps in it for him. Ever skeptical, Elwood keeps it all in mind but does nothing. He has to find his father!

Arriving at GNR provides Elwood’s first meeting with military-minded members of the Brotherhood of Steel, as well as the clan of formidable enemies call Super Mutants. GNR’s sole radio host, Three Dog, has information on Elwood’s father, but first, the radio station needs some satellite assistance. This quest takes Elwood directly into the capital for the first time, with the Washington Monument as his goal. The gutted remnants of the capital plaza and all its buildings makes for a spine-tingling and sorrowful sight. Elwood pays his respects and moves on finish Three Dog’s tasks. After returning to GNR, Three Dog tells Elwood that his father went to Rivet City, a wrecked aircraft carrier that some enterprising folks turned into a living space.

Without time on his side, Elwood makes a beeline to Rivet City. (As much as a beeline can be made through the region’s underground train tunnels, which provide the primary means of transversal around the map.) It’s at Rivet City that Elwood first learns of “Project Purity” from one his father’s associates, Dr. Li. Project Purity is a large-scale water purification project that his father had created. Ah, so that’s why he left the vault! (Also, he was definitely still alive, a good sign.) Elwood quickly picks up on his father’s path to the Jefferson Memorial, as per Dr. Li’s instructions, the primary site of Project Purity.

Only once he arrives at the memorial, he finds that his father has already moved on. This time he went to Vault 112. Why Vault 112? Because, as Elwood learns, it contains a simulation of some sort that his father needs to access. Upon finding and entering Vault 112, Elwood enters the simulation himself. After going through an odd set of chores in “Tranquility Lane,” as the simulation is called, Elwood ends up freeing his father who had become trapped in the simulation by its creator-gone-mad, Dr. Braun. James must head back to Rivet City to restart Project Purity, so back to Rivet City we go.

The series of events that follow happen quickly, because once Project Purity’s science team is regathered at Rivet City, everyone heads over to the Jefferson Memorial, which is teeming with Super Mutants.  Clearing them out proves no easy task, and neither does performing all the needed actions it takes to get Project Purity’s control room up and running. Elwood works as fast as he can, and soon enough, Project Purity’s seems ready to start.

Unfortunately for the scientists, before anyone can to anything with Project Purity, the Enclave intervenes. This quasi-governmental group headed by “President” John Henry Eden, whose radio addresses Elwood heard everywhere across the wasteland, wants Project Purity for itself. James refuses and suffers dearly for it at the hands of the Enclave’s Colonel Autumn. His demise is unexpected and ill-fated. Elwood, Dr. Li, and a few remaining team members escape from the memorial before Enclave soldiers do them in, too. The group makes its way the Brotherhood of Steel’s main headquarters, the Citadel, where Elwood learns of Vault 87 and the G.E.C.K., or the Garden of Eden Creation Kit, a terraforming device that’s needed to set Project Purity into action since James is now gone.

Getting to Vault 87 was easier said than done, as it required dealing with the demanding but amusing child-run settlement of Little Lamplight first. After Elwood helped out its young denizens, Vault 87 was within reach. It was in this vault that Elwood met his first and only companion of the journey, Fawkes, a civilized and entrapped Super Mutant. With Fawkes by his side, Elwood (well, Fawkes, really) managed to retrieve the G.E.C.K. Now it was just a matter of getting out of the vault and back to the Citadel. Unfortunately, again, the Enclave had other ideas. Just as it seems that Elwood and Fawkes are about to make their escape, Elwood is captured by the Enclave and knocked unconscious. Just before he drifts into darkness, he sees Colonel Autumn’s looming visage.

Upon waking inside a prison cell, Elwood learns that he’s in Raven Rock, an Enclave stronghold. At first he speaks with Autumn, but soon he’s addressed directly by President Eden via intercom. It seems the president wants to meet with troublemaker Elwood face-to-face. Finally, Elwood would get to meet the man behind the voice! And…! Well, Eden’s not a man at all. He turns out to be an artificial intelligence that wants to eradicate all mutation throughout the Capital Wasteland by placing a modified “Forced Evolutionary Virus,” or FEV, in water system. (Hence his miltary’s need for Project Purity.) Elwood takes the FEV and is left with a choice: to contaminate or not contaminate? Either way, Elwood still thinks Eden is a system gone mad, so he opts to make itself set off its self-destruct routine, much to the Enclave’s dismay.

Once fighting his way back at the Citadel, again with Fawkes in tow, things got…interesting. For one, Elwood still had to decide what to do with the FEV. In the end, thanks mostly to his positive interactions with Fawkes and a few ghouls throughout the wastes, he chooses to not place it in the water system. Instead, he hands over the FEV to the Brotherhood’s elders so that it can be studied and then discarded (properly?).  After that, it was time to figure out just how to take on the Enclave, for which the Brotherhood of Steel had an ace up its sleeve: a giant combat robot called Liberty Prime. With nothing left to lose, Elwood gives the go ahead to activate Liberty Prime, which joins him and the Brotherhood’s military forces in their final fight against Colonel Autumn and the Enclave at the Jefferson Memorial.

There’s nothing quite like a towering, laser-shooting, bomb-dropping robot to turn the tide of battle! With Liberty Prime, Elwood and his cohorts, including Fawkes, have little trouble breaking through the Enclave’s forces. Once inside the memorial, Elwood meets up again with Colonel Autumn. Talking does little good, and Elwood and Fawkes make quick work of him and his bodyguards. With Autumn out of the way, there’s one thing left to do – start Project Purity.  But due to the radiation still contaminating the chamber, it’s a one-way ticket for whoever starts the machine. And really, there’s only one person who should. Elwood. It only makes sense that he should make the ultimate sacrifice to finish what his father started, and as well to save the Capital Wasteland from a desiccated future. He steps into the chamber and does what he was born to do.

And so went the story of Elwood in the Capital Wasteland.

As I said at the beginning of this post, I thought that sticking only to Fallout 3’s main story would be a difficult task, but in the end, it really wasn’t. The story of James and Elwood and Project Purity was quite compelling. Even though I passed by a lot of interesting looking spots during my travels and spoke to several interesting folks, the main story missions kept my attention well enough. And as I had expected, I completed the story in just over 20 hours, so it was long enough to become invested, but not overly long to the point of becoming rote. On the flip side, though the story was solid, because I stuck closely to the core missions, I spent almost no time with the game’s RPG aspects. I didn’t get to know people, I didn’t help folks with tasks, I didn’t uncontrollably hoard junk. I leveled up Elwood as assigned and didn’t think much about his character outside of his few childhood experiences. I didn’t recruit any companions other than Fawkes, and even he was only with Elwood for a very small percentage of the game. In the end, Elwood felt very much like an actual blank slate “lone wanderer,” so his sacrifice didn’t come with many emotions on my part.  Yet, I still feel pretty satisfied with the game as a whole. Sure, it’s rife with typical glitches, and sure, it’s all kinds of gray and brown and sickly green in the wastes, but Fallout 3 is a very solid title, one that certainly set the stage for Fallout as we know it today.

…if I can offer one more thing, it’s that I did go back and start one side quest. I remained all-too curious about that shifty fellow in Megaton, the one who offered Elwood riches in exchange for blowing up Megaton. Was it true? I couldn’t help but find out for myself. Under the veil of nighttime, Elwood agreed to arm the bomb. His fishy “benefactor,” Mister Burke, then instructed him to see another wacky dude, Alistair Tenpenny, who lived in a far-away high-rise bearing his name.  Upon arrive in Tenpenny’s suite, Elwood is offered the chance to detonate the bomb himself, which he does from the safety of the veranda of Tenpenny’s top-floor suite. And indeed…one mushroom cloud later and Megaton is no more. I, myself, almost couldn’t believe it, and the severe knock against Elwood’s karma was a sobering reality.

Well, looks like I’ve got plenty more secrets to uncover, eventually, in Fallout 3.

Lede image by Flickr user * J-P * (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)


  1. Skimmed since this is still on my Year of the RPG list (I’ve fallen behind!) but I have to say I’m inspired to do a “no sidequest” run as well and see how I fare. From what I read, it sounds like you had a great time with it.. One question: despite the karma hit, was Elwood paid or double-crossed??

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      Oh, he was paid, alright, and (I won’t spoil it) received other stuff in return. I gather that the action will have some pretty extreme consequences, and there’s probably a way to deal with Tenpenny in some manner befitting the Fallout universe.

      I remain a little surprised at just how satisfying this speedy playthrough was, Guess it’s a sign of a quality story, if nothing else. Still, I left a lot of open space unexplored, and I’m sure it’s chock full of fun, post-apocalyptic randomness!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hm… things to look forward to, then! 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  2. cary says:

    Reblogged this on Recollections of Play and commented:

    What’s it like to take a quick jaunt through Fallout 3’s main story? (Not that the words “quick” and “jaunt” should necessarily be applied to this game, but here we are.) I divulged my own such adventure recently on Virtual Bastion.


Comments are closed.