Last weekend, someone completed one of the most incredible Fallout 3 runs of all time. The rules for the permadeath playthrough were simple: One lifebar. No healing. No radiation treatments. No companions.
The YouTuber behind this hardcore madness is none other than Jon "Many A True Nerd", the same man who beat Fallout New Vegas with a single life bar. You may also know him as the guy who managed to kill absolutely everyone in Fallout 3. Obviously, Many A True Nerd is no stranger to Fallout, but you shouldn't take this to mean Jon's "You Only Live Once" playthrough of Fallout 3 was easy to complete. Far from it.
"Fallout 3 is much harder, mostly because it's much more random," Jon explained in an email. "New Vegas is complex but mostly predictable - it gives you mostly safe corridors to navigate the early game, and enemies have quite precise and small areas within which they have to stay.
"Fallout 3, by contrast, cheerfully spawns extremely dangerous enemies near common routes, and then lets them wander quite widely. There's also the issue of the actual random events, meaning anything could spawn in front of you," Jon explained. Another thing Jon has to keep an eye on in this run is radiation damage, something which is (annoyingly) present in pretty much every water source in the capital wasteland. As if that weren't enough, Jon also chose to go through the game on hard mode, a version of Fallout 3 where the player deals only 75 per cent of the damage they normally would and receives 150 per cent more damage in return.
With such a daunting challenge in front of him, Jon planned the entire thing meticulously. First, he created a female character. While female characters are traditionally what Jon picks in his gimmick Fallout runs, this time, there was a practical reason for the choice. Playing as a woman means being able to pick up the "Black Widow" perk, an attribute that allows him to do 10 per cent bonus damage to the opposite sex — and in Fallout 3, there are way more male enemies than there are female ones.
The character, who he named "O.N. Again", was built with mostly combat training in mind. The SPECIAL stats, in order: Strength 1, Perception 5, Endurance 9, Charisma 5, Intelligence 9, Agility 6. She wouldn't be able to carry around much, true. But she would have lots of HP thanks to her high endurance, and her high intelligence would also mean getting a lot of skill points every time Jon leveled up.
The character's smaller tagged skills, meanwhile, were Big Guns, Lockpick, and Small Guns. O.N. Again would be able to shoot or break her way into anything. If, of course, she survived.
"It's going to be terrifying," Jon says in the first episode, which you can watch here:
Jon's YOLO run of Fallout 3 is fascinating from the very start. The man knows his shit. He notes, for example, that the operating room where the player is born is clearly not inside the vault itself, a detail that is pretty easy to miss in the middle of character creation. It's not just Jon's knowledge of Fallout that makes watching his runs so much fun. Because of the nature of his ruleset, Jon is forced to rely on his deep knowledge of the game in order to make a variety of unusual choices.
During the intro, for example, Jon tolerates Butch's bullying and gives him the sweet roll Butch rudely asks for — Jon won't risk getting punched by Butch. The associated damage would be minuscule, yes, but Jon would have to live with that loss for the rest of the game. And in a YOLO run, every single point of health counts and adds up. Even when this isn't true — say, when Fallout 3 heals the player after a major event — Jon makes sure to keep a "true" health counter that tallies up all the damage he's accrued along the way. The idea is to keep things honest, and to keep the stakes high throughout the run.
Jon has some tricks up his sleeve to mitigate danger. He knows, for example, that being in VATs means that a lot of the damage the player would take normally is negated (and how VATs actually wears down the endurance of weapons faster). He knows the ins-and-outs of damage resistance well enough to know when a jumpsuit is no different than wearing security armour, or when Power Armour isn't actually as good as the supposedly-weaker combat armour. Watching him do these mental calculations for every piece of gear he picks up, and every perk he acquires is eye opening, even for Fallout veterans who might think they know the game inside and out.
Even Jon's smaller interactions with Fallout 3 prove interesting. Because of his poor strength stat, Jon has to constantly take into consideration the weight of what he takes with him. Everything is measured in caps per pound ratio. Sometimes, picking up 'useless' junk is actually better than stocking up on any of the loads of armour or weapons Fallout 3 throws at the player.
Even with all this knowledge at his disposal, Jon wasn't entirely sure he could pull it off. "Oh my goodness," Jon says at the end of the first episode. "It's going to be impossible."
His first stop is Megaton, unsurprisingly:
Here, Jon continues to make unusual choices. After escaping from the vault, he notes that his actions within netted him good karma. In a YOLO run, karma is bad news. If the game considers you "good", it throws murderous mercenaries after you. If you're evil, the game sends bounty hunters after you. That's all potential damage, which Jon doesn't want. So Jon decides to rob Megaton — which, OK, plenty of people have done in the past. Hilariously, though, Jon is forced to steal even valueless items, just to offset his karma. This karma dance continues throughout the rest of the Let's Play, as Jon has to make a bunch of silly choices just to stay at neutral.
From there, the name of the game is damage. While most players run around through Fallout 3's early game with 10mm pistols, Jon knows how to immediately get a sniper rifle at the start of the game. In addition to that, he makes sure to pick up the Rock-It launcher, a weapon that allows him to make ammo out of errant junk. That's valuable early in the game, when ammo is a bit more scarce.
Neither of these things really prepared him for the surprises Fallout 3 threw at him from the get-go. While making his way to the Super Duper Mart, one of the earliest quest locales in the game, Fallout 3 threw a Deathclaw event at him. Deathclaws are some of the toughest enemies in the game. He manages to kill it, luckily enough, only to have the game throw another Deathclaw at him almost immediately afterward. It's ridiculous — and a part of what makes watching the YOLO run so thrilling in the first place. You never know what to expect. Maybe a lowly enemy will pick away at our valiant YouTube hero. Or maybe he'll accidentally stumble on some mothereffin' Deathclaws. Every fight is a nail-biting experience.
"I've literally never had luck this bad," Jon says in the video. "This is madness."
As luck would have it, Jon does manage to kill both of these Deathclaws despite being really low level at that point in the game. It helped that Fallout 3 also decided to spawn some Brotherhood of Steel soldiers nearby, and they helped take the demons down. Though there's a casualty among their ranks, their intervention proves to be a boon for Jon: the Brotherhood corpse is carrying a Flamer, a powerful weapon which most players don't get this early in the game. The whirlwind of risk brought with it an unexpected amount of reward — all without having Jon take a hit of damage, amazingly enough.
The first injury doesn't come until Jon goes inside the Super Duper Mart, where a random raider manages to pelt him for 20 damage, making his health 300/320. In his New Vegas YOLO playthrough, Jon didn't accrue any damage until the third episode. In the Fallout 3 YOLO run, he's counting health points at episode two. He really wasn't kidding about Fallout 3 being the bigger challenge.
After disarming the Megaton bomb in the most ridiculous way possible, Jon makes his way to Rivet City. Here, he does a few quests, stocks up on ammo and weapons, and kills a guard at the front of the ship for his armour. It's all preparation, really, for what's going to come later in the game. The plan, as he explains it, is build his character in such a way that most threats in the game are eliminated, or at the very least less of an issue.
Early on, Jon takes a perk that allows him to do 50 per cent more damage toward Radroaches, ants, Bloatflies, and Radscorpions. Later, Jon lets the ghouls inside of Tenpenny Tower, because a character named Roy Phillips can give the player something called a ghoul mask. It's a special item that makes every ghoul friendly to the player. That's pretty huge, when you consider how much of Fallout 3 is ghoul-infested subways. Having his character look like an undead nightmare is a small price for Jon to pay for safety. Watching ghouls just hang out instead of rushing the player down is pretty damn cool, too. With the ghoul mask, it's almost like they become another friendly faction in the game.
Another curious thing Jon does in his YOLO run is approach areas in an unorthodox order. You can watch him try to aid the Brotherhood outcasts way earlier than the game expects him to, and he does this because he knows that the game spawns enemies depending on the player's level. If he does that part of the game when he's "supposed" to, the game will spawn tougher enemies that tear the Brotherhood apart. But if he tries that stage at an early level, he can simply stand behind the Brotherhood and watch them wreck his enemies, no problem.
By episode six, Jon purchases a Dart Gun. It's not a weapon that does very much damage, but it's still one of the most important things that he picks up along the way, because the Dart Gun cripples limbs. Some of the toughest enemies in Fallout 3 are melee-oriented: like Deathclaws, Yao Guai, and super mutant masters. The humble Dart Gun can make all of those enemies ineffectual, which is great news for Jon.
Eventually, Jon makes his way to the radio DJ Three Dogg, where he completes the associated main quest. Watching him do this is kind of nerve-wracking, given all the ghouls along the way. The viewer knows ghouls are friendly thanks to the mask, but anyone that's played Fallout has also been conditioned to shoot these enemies on sight. The reaction is practically a reflex.
After grabbing the Lincoln Repeater in the quest granted by Three Dogg, Jon does one of the most heinous things in the entirety of his Fallout 3 run: he murders the beloved radio host. The reason? He wants Three Dogg's bandana.
It's not a fashion thing, as evidenced by the ghoulish appearance Jon sports at this point. Rather, the headgear sports stats that grant the player +1 Luck and +1 Charisma, both of which Jon needs to successfully complete some tough speech checks at the end of the run: he has to convince President Eden to commit suicide, and Colonel Autumn to leave Project Purity alone. He can't do that with his natural Charisma skill alone.
After some more prepping and questing, Jon tackles one of the most absurd portions of Fallout 3: the Deathclaw Sanctuary.
To give you an idea of how ridiculous this in in a YOLO run, I'll quote one of the YouTube commenters on this video:
"So let me get this straight. MATN decided it would be fine to take a lovely stroll through DEATHCLAW FUCKING SANCTUARY ON A YOLO RUN?!?!? Clearly Jon, I underestimated you. I'm surprised you were able to fit in the cave considering the size of your balls."
You see, by this point in the game, Jon is only level nine. The Deathclaw Sanctuary is the last place Fallout 3 expects the player to be at level 9. Still, Jon braves it anyway, because there's key loot inside. Using a mixture of sneak skills and the Dart Gun, Jon is able to manoeuvre his way through this deathtrap to find two things: an Endurance bobblehead, as well as Vengeance. Vengeance is a Powerful Gatling laser Fallout 3 expects the player to have late in the game, and when you look at the damage it packs, it's clear why. 154 damage per burst — and the weapon isn't even at full endurance at this point. To illustrate its potency, Jon finds a super mutant master and mauls him in seconds. It's amazing. In any other context, having a weapon like this might make the player feel overpowered. In this case, even a weapon like Vengeance can't help Jon with the health points he's lost along the way.
The stakes are even higher after the Deathclaw Sanctuary. Jon's ultimate goal is to play through the entirety of Fallout 3 and the downloadable content, not just the base game. This makes things tricky.
"The worst [part of my YOLO run] is some of the DLC, as Bethesda clearly made it to be challenging, and sometimes it's unfair to the point of cheating," Jon told me in an email. The enemy scaling in the Point Lookout DLC is, as Jon calls it, "insane." In addition to scaling to the player's level, an enemy within Point Lookout always does a certain amount of bonus damage, regardless of what armour the player is wearing. That's on top of the damage these enemies do normally, meaning that a single hit by can lose the player anywhere from 70-80 damage. When Jon has only a few hundred hit points to his name, that's a major problem. Knowing this to be the case, Jon felt he was forced tackle Point Lookout early in his run, when the enemy scaling isn't so bad. He might not be able to control how much damage these enemies can do to the player, he reasons, but he can at least control how much health they have.
Going in, it's clear that Point Lookout is one of Jon's most feared portions of the entire run. "It doesn't matter how well you've prepared," Jon says in a video. "[this area will] screw you anyway...[it] renders preparations pointless."
Vengeance in hand, Jon makes his way through Point Lookout. Along the way, he finds an added complication to this whole mess: he's leveled up enough to be on the cusp of making the enemies around him more powerful than he wants them to be. Eventually, he crosses that line — and it's funny to hear him scream "NOOOOO!" as the game congratulates him for gaining a new level. Only duringa YOLO run like this can a more powerful character be a bad thing.
By the end of this stressful area, Jon gets one of the best perks in the game — 'Superior Defender,' an ability that gives him +5 damage and +10 armour rating whenever he's standing still. But he's also at 287/400 health. He's taken some hits, and they're adding up.
It's not until episode 13 that Jon finally returns to the main storyline. To prep for this, he actually visits every single location he knows will come up in the main quest. He knows that the second the player finds her father, the game will start spawning Enclave soldiers — which means more potential damage. But if he fast-travels to these places, the game won't spawn those enemies. Only after making this main quest circuit does Jon go into Tranqulity Lane to save his father.
On its own, Fallout 3's main quest isn't very interesting. But after the release of Fallout 4, watching Jon make his way through places like Little Lamplight and the Brotherhood Citadel is a treat: we get to see some familiar faces Squire Maxson and Dr. Li, characters who take on more prominent roles in Fallout 4. Jon also makes sure to explain some of the easy-to-miss set-up with the Brotherhood of Steel that Bethesda lays down in Fallout 3 for Fallout 4. This, in combination with some nerve-wracking sneaking around dangerous super mutants, make episode 15 a highlight of the entire YOLO run.
Episode 16 is where Jon seals the deal and finishes the game. You can watch the 'finale' here:
Making sure to stay very far from the Liberty Prime clusterfuck, Jon manages to avoid most damage in the final battle of Fallout 3. He ends the run at a whopping 324/480 health, which might seem like a lot, until you consider that he intends to do the rest of the DLC. I have no idea if he'll survive that challenge, especially considering how unbalanced the DLC can be. At the very least, though, Jon can say that he's beaten the main game without healing or dying once. It's an extraordinary feat.
"The best thing about doing YOLO in Fallout 3 is...the game rewards effort and planning by letting you slowly become master of the Wasteland," Jon told me in an email.
"That's a nice feeling, and one maybe lacking from Fallout 4, where character/gun improvements are much more marginal, and progress steadily over time," Jon said. "I liked the feeling of claiming an item, and knowing immediately that a whole family of threats has been taken entirely out of the game.
"The most surprising thing [about my run was] how much I had to completely change tactics between Fallout New Vegas and Fallout 3," Jon said. "New Vegas is well set up for a sniper - extremely powerful guns (if you've got the money to afford them), combined with very strong ammo variants, and a Damage Threshold system that disadvantages most enemies, meant that one-shotting enemies from a distance was almost always the best option.
"In Fallout 3, much weaker guns, no ammo types, no iron-sight aiming, and huge sway on most rifles in the early and mid game, all combine to make snipers unsuitable. Instead, I had to build a character with a focus on DPS with big guns, taking advantage of one of Fallout 3's [unique] quirks."
Jon's "You Only Live Once" playthrough will forge forward next Monday, when he takes on the rest of Fallout 3's DLC. Eventually, he might even take on the devilishly difficult Fallout 4 in a YOLO run. Maybe that run will prove to be impossible. Maybe he won't even make it very far. Whatever happens, I can't wait to see where the master of Fallout takes us next.