Fallout 4 in the time of COVID19 part 2: Mod Madness

Now that I am at the 2 month mark of quarantine, I have gone more than a little crazy… with Fallout 4 mods.

I loaded up ‘Sim Settlements: Rise of the Commonwealth‘ over the weekend, and it’s pretty cool. It’s a kind of autopilot for building out settlements. Settlements are an important part of the game, because they are a source of money and materials that I need to progress through the game. They are also a quick way to spend 40 levels or so building shotgun shacks for people who complain all the time about not having any beds. Also, I am not super creative with settlements, so I end up building the same things over and over.

ROTC puts the settlers to work building everything themselves. All I have to do is supply them with food, water, liquor, and drugs. The theory is that now I can spend less time building shacks and more time rolling down the streets of the Commonwealth shooting people in the head. ROTC isn’t quite the optimal build experience I was hoping for. This has nothing to do with the quality of the mod, and everything to do with the way I play Fallout.

My two main trading hubs are Sanctuary Hills and The Castle. I basically divide the ‘Wealth into two hemispheres. In the western half, all trade goes to Sanctuary. In the eastern half, traders go to The Castle. I eventually build out all of the settlements with vendors and work benches and hit them up as a traverse the ‘Wealth. It’s kind of reminiscent of The Walking Dead. The two hubs are linked together by a trader (usually Sheffield) and as I pick up new settlements, I send one settler to the closest hub to make building out the settlement that much easier.

Once I have those two trading hubs going, I’m in business, and the other settlements pretty much fall into place. In ROTC you select a settlement leader and the settlers go to work scrapping things and building stuff. The results are these awesome looking post-apocalyptic junk-towns full of crazy little nooks to explore. Overall, it’s pretty awesome.

There are a few problems though; and they lead me to loading more mods.

Problem #1: The Settlers scrap all my shit

There is warning box that literally tells you this is going to happen. I don’t know what I expected.

Once I pull the trigger, they literally knock the whole place down. Including all of the things I built to get the settlement off the ground INCLUDING THE GODDAMN ARTILLERY!! Both my little martial arts and crafts space at Sanctuary and the field artillery at The Castle disappear the second I tell them to get to work.

So if I let the settlers build out all of the settlements, then I have to find a place for me to do my thing. I am sure that if I knew more about ROTC, or city plans, or something, I could solve the problem The Right Way(tm) but that’s really not my style.

In the beginning, I used the Red Rocket Truck Stop as my main trade hub, and devoted the other settlements to being junk-towns. This worked fine until I realized I also needed an eastern trading hub. The solution of course was to use another mod.

The Red Rocket Redone settlements mod turns every Red Rocket into its own small settlement. I was doing this anyway with the Conquest Camping mod to serve as a kind of overflow housing for when my settlements were getting crowded. Now, I am doing the reverse. The Red Rocket mod makes the Red Rockets better suited for settling than Conquest, and I can take them over early on in the game. Now, as I move across The Commonwealth, I gain these buildings as support bases.

With these Red Rockets now under my protection, I can have ready access to workbenches and the like without hunting for them in the crazy junk-town settlements. I can also put artillery at each one to get fire support when I need it. Sure, I have to build out the settlement a bit to support the settlers that I dedicate to trading and gunnery, but if I can keep it small and simple, I can probably do beds in the Red Rocket, and maybe an additional shack for the settlers and put the rest to work trading between settlements. Plus the Red Rockets tend to have all the crafting stations without needing to build them. This is important early in the game because it takes a while to get the perks I need to build workshops myself. Now it’s fairly easy to pop in just about anywhere on the map take a nap, scrap stuff, and craft things.

Problem #2: The Settlers grow the wrong shit

As much as I love not having to plant tons of crops, this does impact the supply of crops that I actually care about. A motivating factor for building settlements is that they produce money and salvage. But they also produce crops. Corps are great for keeping the settlers from bitching about being hungry, but they also have two other distinct uses:

1. You can sell food at vendors for additional caps.
2. You can turn specific crops (purified water, corn, mutfruit, tatos) into vegetable starch, which you can use as adhesive to create just about every weapon or armor mod.

I know it’s probably not very appetizing for the settlers to live on a steady diet of superglue ingredients, but I need scopes and shit for my rifles so I can fight for their freedom goddammit!

So the next solution builds on the first, which is to grow glue components at my Red Rocket settlements with the help of robots via the Mister Gardener mod. Now, when I turn up a Red Rocket, I can outfit it with a couple of food bots to grow my starch components. There is a suite of bot mods available from the author, so I went ahead and loaded them all because I just love robot pets. I especially love the Mr. Law mod, that puts a Protectron on guard to help defend the place.

Problem #3: The Settlements sell the wrong shit

Another benefit of having settlements is being able to sell off loot and stock up on ammo and useful scrap. Vendors will eventually appear in the junk-towns, but it’s only after a lot of upgrades. When I was building out Red Rocket settlements using Conquest, I just put a weapons vendor there so I could sell off loot and buy ammo. Now that the Red Rocket Settlement mod makes them act more like real settlements, I can put more vendors there and collect some caps as well. It’s not a bad way of doing things, since I have Red Rockets set up as trading hubs anywa. It’s like I have a chain of franchises: The Red Rocket Trading Company. These trading posts are getting kind of advanced though, so building defenses is now becoming a priority. I wanted to park one of my companions at each one to help with defenses, but…

Problem #4: The Settlements suck up all my companions

I like to roll with a whole crew when I do my thing: Dogmeat, Warmachine, and a companion. Unfortunately, ROTC requires a companion to serve as city leader to oversee the construction of the junk-town, which basically confines the companion to the settlement. Obviously, that kind of restricts my ability to use companions for either my traveling entourage, or as security for my Red Rockets. So did what I always do, and I loaded a few more mods.

One idea was to add Nora as a companion and travel with her exclusively. She is cool, but because you get a new perk for reaching the topmost level of affinity with a companion, there is an opportunity cost associated with not taking on new companions.

I also thought about trying to load the male version of Nora, the Nate companion, and fully lean into the idea of my survivor being this pansexual polyamorous version of Captain Kirk, just banging everyone in The Commonwealth, but both mods depend on your choice of gender at the beginning of the game. So much for my statement against societal and gender norms.

Then I happened upon Nobody’s Leaders which lets you use named settlers, like Sturges or Ronnie Shaw in place of a companion. This lets me put a named settler in charge of each settlement and I can go back to roaming The Commonwealth and either helping, murdering, or seducing everyone I meet. Then, once I have extracted all the value that I can from them, I dump them at one of my numerous properties around the wasteland to guard farmers and shit. It sounds very predatory when I say it that way.

Sim Settlements and Rise of the Commonwealth have significantly modified my game experience in Fallout 4. Which is very welcome, because I don’t really have the mental or emotional space for a new game right now. My family is currently playing the new Animal Crossing, and I don’t even have room for that.

Fallout 4 gets me through the holidays

I have been playing Fallout 4 for several months now. The holidays are very stressful for me, so I decided to pick up some creation club add-ons to spice things up.

My last play thru, I sided with The Minutemen against the Institute, took on The Brotherhood of Steel, and freed the traders in Nukaworld. Minutemen vs. The Brotherhood is a spectacular way to finish the main quest line. Also, removing the slave collars from the traders caused everyone’s outfits to glitch, turning Nukaworld Bazaar into a nudist colony. Enjoy your freedom you kinky bastards!

This time thru I sided with The Railroad. The quest line is ok, if a bit stressful. There were moments where I thought I had accidentally backed The Institute.

I also picked up the sentinel power armor addon, the settlement ambush kit, and some of the free armor and weapon skins. I normally don’t go for DLC, but it was a little Christmas present to myself. Skinning armor is nice because it unifies the paint scheme for disparate pieces of armor, which makes your outfit look nice even though the pieces are mismatched. Surprisingly, it’s not that big of a deal for my player character, but it’s nice when outfitting settlers and provisioners. Putting Minutemen or Railroad logos on mismatched armor helps me to not accidentally shoot friendlies during raids. Seeing an armed person walking down the road in Minuteman armor is nice from a role-play standpoint. Like order is being restored to The Commonwealth.

The Sentinel Power Armor

The Sentinel armor is interesting in that it effectively adds a second companion. Much like how Skyrim let you have both a dog and a human companion, this lets your “pet” be a full suit of power armor. You can equip it like a companion, and it’s default weapon is full auto laser rifle. Probably the best feature is the personality mode, which lets you choose between the Protectron, Assaultron, or my personal favorite: Mister Gutsy. My nickname for him is “War Machine.”

Having a companion with you long term can get annoying when you hear them say the same things over and over, especially Preston’s judgmental ass criticizing me for picking up scrap. You know that sniper scope on that bad ass rifle you carrying? I made it with junk I be scavenging. I put this shit to good use, Pres, so shut up. The Mister Gutsy personality option doesn’t talk much, it just mostly accuses all hostiles of being Communists. It’s pretty awesome, except when I am trying to creep up on a target to back stab it and he suddenly yells “IS THAT SOMEONE THAT NEEDS ME TO KICK THEIR ASS!?!?!”

You can load the sentinel up with gear too, but once it’s been outfitted with a full set of power armor, his carry capacity isn’t great, and it’s a pain accessing the menu for it, so I just use it in extreme emergencies. Also, the sentry armor doesn’t get damaged the way that wearing power armor can, so there is way less to maintain. Putting a companion in power armor sounds good in theory, but they get shot up and you end up repairing their shit all the time. I am not sure if the quality of the armor matters for the sentinel, so I just throw basic armor with Minuteman or Railroad paint on War Machine and roll out.

My current play thru is on “Very Hard” mode, which means that a lot of enemies could one-shot me at the lower levels. Having a War Machine with me is nice because he rushes in to the fight and draws out enemies so I can snipe them from a covered position. He repairs himself, but not very quickly, so it’s possible for him to get shutdown, and you have to physically access his console to jump start the repair process. This is different than having a robot companion that you can use a repair kit on. It’s not as fast as using a repair kit, but it doesn’t take any materials. Once you get used to his cover fire, you can notice real quick when he and the companion are down, because suddenly everything is shooting at you.

Automatron

Speaking of robot companions. I think that my favorite expansion is Automatron. I am a sucker for pet robots, and building a robot to protect a settlement is one of my favorite things to do in the game. I especially love the Mister Handy torso, and using it to make my own varieties of Mister Handy, like one with giant caliper hands and pincer legs that I call “Mister Pinchy”, or one with giant saw blades for hands and buzz saw legs that I call “Mister Slicey”. Other models include “Mister Shooty” who has minigun arms, and “Mister Tradey” who has all of the storage mods, and works as a Provisioner.

I also built a Sentry Bot for The Castle that I named “Sarge” after the malfunctioning robot in The Castle basement. I wish you could repair him specifically so that he could have a real personality. But he looks pretty cool rolling around The Castle keeping his big red eye on things. The other thing that would be great is to put faction paint on robots. Mister Shooty would look pretty awesome with a Minuteman paint job.

Once you have done the Mechanist quest line, you end up with Jezebel as a kind of settler. She refuses to interact positively with you, so while you can assign her to jobs at a settlement, and she will do them, she makes a lousy shop keeper because you can’t buy or sell anything. She just complains about you. I just put her to work at Graygarden as either a farmer or security. I would send more robots to live and work at Graygarden, but I think that having a bunch of companions at one settlement is a waste. I like to send Codsworth to live there, until Ada shows up, then I send him off to another settlement. I guess I could return him to Sanctuary and send Preston to The Castle, but I kind of like having Preston at Sanctuary for some reason.

I don’t know if having multiple companions at a settlement affects how many settlers that you can attract, but I like to wait until a settlement is maxed out population-wise before I add robots. Companions seem to make better security personnel than regular settlers, so that is the job I usually give them. Good security becomes a major deal when you start provoking raids with the Settlement Ambush Kit.

Settlement Ambush Kit

The settlement ambush kit adds a couple of cool things. You can add walls and a special guard tower to your settlement, which makes defending it a lot simpler because your guards stay in one place, rather than roaming around. You can also add remote view video cameras that let you kind of fast travel from one site to another without actually leaving. A funny glitch with the sentinel armor is that it will physically go to the site you are viewing, so switching camera views makes War Machine run all over the place to stand in front of your camera.

A really cool feature of the kit is the ability to send out fake distress signals that trigger raids. So far I have only fired it up once, but it just sends wave after wave of raiders to your settlement, and it keeps score of how many waves you have survived. I am assuming there is one for ferals as well, but I haven’t tried it yet. I re-rolled my character not long after getting it and right now my settlements are ill-equipped for a massive raid.

The Tipping Point

Now that I have done two full re-rolls, I can say with relative confidence that the game balance shifts when your character level hits the mid 40’s. If you have been doing settlement building and Minutemen quests consistently, they should be producing caps, food, and salvage to the point that you are crafting most of the things you need (oil, adhesive, stimpaks) and mostly buying ammo, aluminum, and steel. My first play-though went over 100th level, and the game was fairly easy to play at that point. I had settlements that had nuclear reactors, multiple industrial water purifiers, and laser turrets protecting everything. The main story line can put you in front of Kellogg pretty quickly, and he can be really tough to beat at low levels. Having multiple combat perks combined with high end weapons and armor make a big difference.

I think a challenging play through would be to use no companions or Sentinels, and to skip the Minutemen all together. You will still end up with settlements, but you probably wouldn’t have nearly as many. I might try that when I re-roll again, supporting either the Institute or the Brotherhood of Steel. I think that both of those factions also want some form of settlement, so you may end up with them anyway.

Being Addicted to Fallout 4

In the past, I have written about playing video games to cope with depression. It’s that time of year again, so I am playing games a lot. I basically love 4 kinds of games:

  1. Open world RPGs with various factions, families, and morality systems (like Skyrim or Fable)
  2. First-Person Shooters with engaging single player stories (like Half-Life)
  3. Farm management games with community, friendship, and/or romance dynamics (like Animal Crossing or Stardew Valley)
  4. Tower Defense games where you manage funds/materials/etc to build steadily stronger fortresses
  5. Pretty much anything where you have robot minions

Fallout 4 is basically a turducken of these various game elements. It’s pretty much the most addictive thing I have ever encountered. Imagine a dish made by the guys from Epic Meal Time, using only ingredients provided by the guys from Breaking Bad. Fallout 4 is basically things I like about Skyrim, dialed up to 11.

I picked up the full Fallout 4 suite on a ridiculous Steam sale a few months ago, and I have spent pretty much all of my non-sleeping, non-working, and non-child-rearing hours playing it. I know the game is like 5 years old. My gaming hardware is also 5 years old. Fight me.

In Skyrim, I loved helping kids and dogs. I basically forgot about the dragons and focused on amassing gold in order to build a house for everyone. Then it turned out that Lucia is afraid of the swamp where I built the house, so I had to win a civil war for her so we can live in peace and safety in Windhelm.

Well, in Fallout 4, not only are you searching for your lost son, you meet Dogmeat within the first 10 minutes and he’s way more bad ass than Meeko. I did a ton of work to ensure that Dogmeat was safe at Sanctuary Hills, under the watchful eyes of Codsworth, while I searched for Shaun.

Another thing I loved about Skyrim was meeting, marrying, and traveling with Mjoll the Lioness. She was a total bad ass, and so she and her dude Aerin come to live with me, the kids, the dog, and the House Carl in some kind of weird Nordic polyamory version of The Brady Bunch.

Well, in Fallout 4, I was able to seduce Preston. We took on the raiders, ferals, and supermutants of the commonwealth while building settlements together. *Then* I was also able to seduce Piper, Curie, and Hancock. I was like some kind of post-nuke/pan-sexual version of Captain Kirk, getting in fights with and/or boning robots and shit. Again, taking something I liked from Skyrim and turning the volume up to 11.

As much as the memes liked to dunk on Preston for never shutting up about helping settlements, settlements fucking rule. Which is the other way that Fallout 4 got me: Building. Fucking. Farms. I set up a bunch of settlements, planted crops to feed the settlers, and built shacks and shit for them to live in. Oh, and I surrounded them with automated turrets. There’s nothing greater than hearing on the radio that a settlement needs help, just to fast travel there and watch the attackers get shredded by my sentries.

Life in The Commonwealth is much easier when you have large supplies of ammunition and caps. A holdover from my Skyrim days is my tendency to sneak about, shooting targets from a distance. My survivor is a decent sniper, but he really only gets to clip a couple of targets at proper sniper range. After that, he has to creep up a bit closer. At sniper range, I like to use a .50 cal hunting rifle. While closing the gap I like to use a custom .308 combat rifle that I call “Quickshot.” It’s great for putting things down with two or three rounds, and it’s silenced. If I have time to line up a headshot, like in VATS, I can put most things down with one round. The problem is that .50 and .308 ammo is kind of rare so I am constantly purchasing it. One way to make lots of caps and to buy ammo at a discount is to set up vendors at the various settlements. I put up a weapons stand and I can usually buy 50-100 rounds of .308 every couple of days. Every time I come to a settlement to drop off salvage, I hit up the emporium for .308, .50 cal, and shotgun shells.

I tend to hoard .45 and 5.56mm to hand out to settlers that work security. I build out combat rifles and assault rifles for the provisioners and settlers assigned to guard posts and to scavenging stations. These dudes get my hand-me-down weapons and armor, as well as stuff I’ve looted off of Raiders. When a settlement gets attacked all of the settlers will run to fight, so it doesn’t hurt to outfit even the farmers with armor and upgraded weapons. When you are 80th level or so, your settlements can have like 20 people in them, so that’s a lot of gear to be handing out. There are like 20 settlements in the Commonwealth proper, plus the ones for Far Harbor and Nukaworld, which means that the endgame for me is all about dealing arms to your peasant militia.

Another luxury item to have is large amounts of salvage. Most vendors will let you buy large shipments of salvage for a thousand or more caps. When you are maxing out the defenses of a settlement, or building lots of robots, you tend to run low on aluminum, steel, and oil. One way I get steady access to lots salvage is to set up trading emporium at my settlements as well. This lets me buy salvage in bulk. One particular item that you need tons of is adhesive. You can craft vegetable starch at a cooking station by combining corn, mutfruit, and tatoes. So putting folks to work farming these items at your settlements is important. Once you have a large supply of vegetable starch, you can sell off the excess that appears in your workshops. Once your local traders are out of caps, you can go to the Diamond City Market to unload the rest. If you set up a clinic, you can also buy bloodpacks which you will need to make stimpaks. Depending on your selection of perks, you can keep your survivor going on just stimpaks.

The other advantage of numerous settlements is provisioners. With the Local Leader perk, you can add a settler to a trade route. This lets you share the salvage that you have with all of your trading settlements. Provisioners will then walk the roads between their trading settlements on a regular basis. Obviously, this is very handy for building out new settlement, or for getting supplies to smaller settlements, but there are two other advantages:

  1. If you find a provisioner out in the wild, you can dump any excess items or salvage on them, and the items will eventually find their way to a settlement workshop.
  2. If you arm and armor a provisioner, he or she will engage the random spawns that happen out on the road, making The Commonwealth a tiny bit safer for you and your other settlements. I tend to use Sanctuary Hills and The Castle as my main trading hubs. It’s funny when a random attack happens on one of these places when there are half a dozen traders standing around. It’s like having extra security. Building custom arms and armor for provisioners and settlement security is a good way to safely earn XP as well. If you combine building settlement stuff with crafting while abusing the “well rested” perk, you can level yourself a bit without getting killed constantly.

The morality system is fairly strict as well. I have rolled back a game more than once because I chose poorly at a critical juncture. I will go back through and play the other way, as a bad guy or whatever, at some point. I must have played through Skyrim a dozen times trying to create the perfect play thru, or at least as perfect as I can get it before something bugs out 🙂

I am on my third re-roll, each time siding with the Minutemen, working with the Railroad, and against the Institute and the Brotherhood of Steel. I also decided to wipe out the gangs of Nukaworld. Nukaworld is great fun, even if you are being a good guy. Although taking on the gangs does feel a bit genocidal at times.