YouTuber Many A True Nerd did not rest on his laurels after beating Fallout: New Vegas on a single health bar last March. Instead, he upped the ante and decided to continue the run on New Vegas DLC. It seemed all but certain that he would die during this new portion of the run, given its challenge. Somehow, though, Many A True Nerd survived. Barely.
Some recap, in case you haven't been following this. Early this year, we reported a story about a player who completed the main game of Fallout: New Vegas without ever healing. No Stimpaks, no radiation recovery, no fixing crippled limbs, no companions (unless required by the game). Just one health bar, which constantly dwindled down. As the game actually heals the player at 0.66 HP per in-game hour, Many A True Nerd kept a "true health bar" counter at all times that calculated the "real" damage he had taken throughout the run. It's probably the most hardcore thing anyone has done in a Fallout game, ever.
He started the whole thing with this spread on a character geared for sneak, speech, and guns.
At the end of the main New Vegas storyline, Many A True Nerd had 260 out of 445 health points. From there, Many A True Nerd started out with the Honest Hearts add-on, and went on to Old World Blues, Dead Money, and Lonesome Road in that order. He finished with, I kid you not, 23 health points out of 525. There were a lot of close calls throughout the run, especially since the DLC is significantly more challenging than the base game.
In Honest Hearts, Many A True Nerd had to constantly deal with enemies lurking in hills, particularly snipers. These enemies are often so perceptive, they will know the player's position even if they are completely hidden at 100 sneak. But, it's also worth noting that MATN has also played the game a few times already -- so he has a good sense of where enemies will spawn, their routes, what they will be packing and what line of sight they will have. He even knows the minutia of what enemies can open doors, and how the game saves the enemy position. The character he plays -- hilariously named "Please Don't Shoot" -- was built to dole out ridiculous sneak criticals that can one-shot common enemies. The level of mastery at display here is incredible. You'd think this would mean that the run was a piece of cake, but that's not the case at all. One health bar means every single hit, no matter how minor, counts. And, as it turns out, you can be the most knowledgeable player of Fallout: New Vegas, but that won't save you from getting hit every once in a while. It's a ruleset that almost transforms Fallout: New Vegas into a tense game of survival horror.
"One of the most exciting bits actually came from Honest Hearts, just making my way across the map during the final battle," Many A True Nerd told me. "It's the most vertical map in all of New Vegas, and the game regularly spawns snipers [on] top of hills. I chose to handle it at night, to stay hidden, and the game makes it rain for dramatic effect, so I'm down on the ground, trying to spot and take out snipers that have been specifically placed to spot me first, all in awful visibility. That counter sniping was pretty cool."
My favourite bit, however, is probably the part during Honest Hearts where he strips naked and rushes into a dangerous portion of map to pick up an item. Taking off bulky armour meant that his sneaking stats improved, but it also rendered him completely helpless -- it would have been easy to accrue a bunch of damage because of a stunt like that. He does it anyway, just to keep things interesting.
"I knew early on that I wanted every part to have some form of fight or threat in it," Many A True Nerd said. "An episode where there was no possibility of taking damage could have become dull."
Midway through Old World Blues, Many A True Nerd actually dropped to half health. Worse, he accrues enough radiation that it becomes more dangerous than health loss. He picks up a perk called Atomic!, which gives him +25% move and attack speed, +2 damage threshold, +2 strength, and potentially better action point regeneration -- the idea being that, if rads were unavoidable, he could at least make the sickness beneficial in some other way.
Despite its dangers -- he racks up 40 HP of damage in this part of the run -- Old World Blues actually ended up being his favourite DLC of the lot.
"It does a great job capturing a sense of being in a massive adventure playground, with loads of little labs and caves dotted about," Many A True Nerd said. "It's supposed to be cache of amazing old world secrets and it's designed perfectly to match that idea, with unique weapons and armour throughout. It also does a great job of mixing some of the best humour in New Vegas with a dark story underneath, from the real reason the brains are so detached from reality, to the prison camp, and the signs of madness in Higgs Village."
Things really got intense during the Dead Money portion of the run, however. Many viewers and Kotaku commenters didn't actually think Dead Money could be done. Hell, even Many A True Nerd didn't seem sure it could be done, either. The thing about Dead Money is, it has a lot of environmental hazards, along with devilishly tough enemies that cannot be headshotted. Portions of the map are drowning in poison clouds that can damage the player. The game itself takes away all of the player's gear, and replaces it with its own -- which meant that Many A True Nerd couldn't optimise his kit. Ammo is scarce. There are segments with "gas leaks" that present unavoidable damage to the player. Some characters will actually turn on the player if the player tries to pull off speech checks they'd normally be able to nail. And, to top all of that off, the player also gets a slave collar that starts a 10-second timer any time you get close to certain radio frequencies. Once the timer reaches zero, it explodes. This, obviously, is no good for a souped-up permadeath run.
It's so tough, the game itself even warns you before you go in:
Many A True Nerd's Dead Money Let's Play is excruciating thanks to his detailed style of commentary. Before going into any area, he breaks down every danger to him within that space, which builds up a ton anticipation. "If I can make it through this one, it will be an absolute miracle" he said partway through a Dead Money video.
Hilariously, even the companions turned into liabilities during Dead Money. At one point, the character "God" actively goes after an enemy that Many A True Nerd wasn't planning on engaging -- thus drawing him into an unwanted battle unprepared. He wastes precious ammo on the completely unnecessary encounter. Aggravated, he puts God into passive mode -- but the damn AI actually ignores this, and then proceeds to go after the enemy once more. Dead Money has no shortage of terrifying segments like this, which could have easily ended the entire adventure then and there.
Unexpectedly, mines -- a weapon that no enemy can see, even when piled sky high -- came to the rescue pretty often during Dead Money. Reaching the casino allowed Many A True Nerd to play Blackjack, and the Blackjack winnings were used to purchase a ton of mines. These mines were then used to preempt the game's enemy spawns, many of which were placed rather unfairly throughout levels. Many A True Nerd even kills Dead Money's final boss entirely through mines, without ever having to set an eye on him.
By the end of Dead Money, he has 143 hit points. The viewers are at this point trolling on every single comment section of his videos, often trying to trick others into believing that MATN died during that episode. Others were so incredulous that MATN had made it that far, that they were sure that he was hiding something, perhaps cutting around sections to make it look like he survived things he didn't.
"There's only so much I can do," MATN told me. "I've shown the in-game stats screen that shows the character never gained any health from stimpacks, food, water, etc, and as far as possible, I put up major fights as unedited segments without cuts. Some people leap at any cut at all (and I challenge them to commentate for several hours without taking the odd sip of water), but without cuts, the series would feature huge amounts of inventory management, loading screens, merchant dealing, etc."
Eventually, MATN makes his way into Lonesome Road, the final stretch of DLC. In preparation, he equips Esther, a rocket launcher. Given that rocket launchers do splash damage, this seems like a pretty poor choice, no? The thing about Esther is, holding it gives the player +10 damage threshold. This means that Esther could potentially allow Many A True Nerd to survive a deadly blow. He also makes sure to pick up the YCS/186 Gauss rifle, a particularly powerful weapon with high damage output.
Going in, it's clear that his character is a complete beast. Even so, he still comes across enemies during Lonesome Road that can survive sneaking critical hits -- the DLC is no joke.
At one point during Lonesome Road, an enemy spawns in front of Many A True Nerd with a rocket launcher. The enemy cannot actually see MATN, but it is scripted to shoot a rocket at a particular wall no matter what -- so MATN gets hit with splash damage. It's pretty minor damage -- 6 HP -- but its enough to put MATN on his last limbs. By episode 42, many commenters seem convinced that MATN would die by the next episode.
And then, the elevator ride happened. It's a segment of the game where the player is stuck on a moving platform, and the game regularly spawns Tunnelers on this platform -- these are enemies that, within the lore, are supposed to be more fierce than Deathclaws. Deathclaws! Better yet, the player accrues radiation throughout the elevator ride too. It's a segment that puts MATN at risk in a variety of ways.
"The elevator ride is well known as an evil part of the DLC," Many A True Nerd said. "I decided to just activate a stealth boy and hide in a corner. That was until one of the Tunnelers came too close, and I felt I had no choice but to get the first shot in with the Gatling Laser. He died, but suddenly all the other Tunnelers knew where I was. And I hadn't planned to fight them. After what had been countless hours of planning, after a good 40 weeks of work, and within sight of the end of the DLC, I wasn't following the plan. It was just me vs some of the toughest enemies in the game, when my health was low enough that they could have killed me in one hit."
One of the enemies actually does hit MATN for a whopping 88 hit points, dropping him down to a measly 36 HP out of 520. This is in episode 42 out of 45, in a DLC where many of the enemies can theoretically one-shot him. "I will now die if I take another hit," MATN said in the video. "I need to play this game perfectly for the remainder of the DLC, or I die. That's it."
"I'm going into this one fully expecting him to die," one comment read. It didn't help that in addition to being nearly dead, MATN was accruing too much radiation.
"I'm not just counting my hit points at the moment," he said in a video. "I'm counting my rads, too. And my rads are at a hundred and eighty one. Only 19 of 200. If I have 200, I have minor radiation poisoning. If I have minor radiation poisoning, I'm minus 1 endurance. If I'm minus 1 endurance, I lose 20 hit points.
"If [I get 19 more rads], I have failed. That's the rule...I said I was gonna count radiation, all along," MATN said, fully aware of how anticlimactic it would be for the run to end because he stepped on the wrong puddle or patch of mud. But it's exactly that strict adherence to rules that makes the run so interesting in the first place. For example, there's a part after all that commotion during the elevator ride where MATN comes across a helmet that grants +10 health. Initially, this makes him explode with happiness. 10 hit points could make all the difference, and allow him to actually finish the run! Then he remembers that, technically, wearing this helmet would be healing himself. So he tosses it. It's excruciating logic, followed to its chilling conclusion. The commenters agonize over it, and even disagree with his decision. But he keeps to it anyway.
"I can hardly watch," one viewer wrote on episode 44. You can tell the pressure is getting to MATN by then, too -- he ties to tell the viewer that he is "intensely relaxed" because he managed to level up one more time before the final bout, which gives him a few extra HP, only to then proceed to freak out a bit during the video. He notes that he just needs to do the final battle perfectly. That's all. Just...play through one of the toughest parts of New Vegas without any error whatsoever. No big deal!
In the end, he waltzes into the final battle with gear oriented for maximum damage, not defence, amazingly enough. It looks completely absurd:
"Screw the power armour" he says at the start of episode 45. You can watch how it all goes down here:
Or, if you'd like the play-by-play...basically, he prepares for the final encounter by putting mines everywhere. Once the battle actually starts, he pops a stealth boy and goes on to snipe enemies as they swarm into the room. All the while, Ulysses -- the final boss -- is crouching nearby unaware, at arm's length. Things are so intense, that every shot that MATN misses feels like a heart attack, especially when the level itself is exploding and many of the enemies are cloaked. It's just complete chaos.
Somehow, though, he does it. He finishes the final battle of New Vegas without taking a single drop of damage, with a final health counter of 23 out of 525. It's one of the most cathartic things I've seen in a video game all year.
Here's Please Don't Shoot by the end of the series -- a complete monster in terms of stats, yet she was almost brought to her knees because of a single health bar. Holy moly.
MATN finishes the video series by rushing Quarry Junction, a highly-feared Deathclaw haven that many players avoid during vanilla New Vegas. He demolishes every single Deathclaw gleefully, as if they were Radroaches. There's no real danger at this point anymore -- he's completed the run. He can one-shot nearly everything in there. Or they can kill him, too. It doesn't matter anymore. He then follows that up by taking Please Don't Shoot out for dinner with a Deathclaw wasteland omelette. Finally, he "retires" the character by taking her to a place with a nice view, and equipping her with a nice dress. MATN figures that she deserves it after a year of such intense trauma.
"The save file is only about 75 hours, but far more time than that was spent meticulously route-planning and discussing strategy with other members of the Fallout community, especially for Dead Money and Lonesome Road," MATN told me. These members of the community even included people who worked on the game. MATN claims that a developer who worked on the game helped him with said planning "on occasion," as he had "understanding of how the game worked under the hood." Every little bit helped make this run possible, despite all odds.
"[Finishing the run] felt surreal... I don't think it sank in immediately," MATN said.
"A series that [takes an entire year to complete] becomes part of your life -- especially as you see how many people care about it. I've seen amazing fan art. One guy made a Mod so that PC players could have the ruleset forced on them. There have been messages of support from people who treated this series like it was a favourite TV series, people who all watch it together as a group of friends, even people who have told me the series was a welcome distraction during some dark times in their lives."
[A visual of every single time MATN took damage, as drawn by fan draconicsonic]
"To have done it is one thing," MATN continued. "But knowing how much it meant to some people is the incredible bit to me. For me, though, it's genuinely sad to see it end, even under the best possible circumstances."
Next week, Many A True Nerd plans on doing a YOLO run for Fallout 3. Given his track record, I suspect it will be a good time.