Home » Gaming Hindsight: Lessons from Fallout 3’s Repair System

Gaming Hindsight: Lessons from Fallout 3’s Repair System

by Earl Thrash
A person standing in front of a building

Bethesda Game Studios’ Fallout 3 is an excellent game. The developers created an immerse atmosphere with gameplay elements that proved compelling for many as the critical acclaim it received is evidence of. That being said there are definitely elements that proved frustrating or perhaps nonsensical and should be used as fuel to create better systems with fewer immersion-breaking elements in future games.

In this case, I want to address Fallout 3’s repair system. In this system there are two main options for repairing weapons or armor. The first is to find an identical class of item and use one to repair the other. I say “class” because unique items such as the submachine gun (SMB) “Sydney’s Ultra 10mm SMG” can be repaired with standard “10mm SMG”s. I think the theory behind this feature is that if you have spare parts from an identical type of weapon you can salvage parts and repair the one you have. The quality of repair and max repairable condition is proportional to the Repair skill level The other option is to have a non-player character (NPC) repair items for you. In this case no spare item is needed. For unique items like Chinese Stealth Armor this is the only way to do it. The maximum condition is tied to the Repair skill of the NPC involved.

For the most part this system suits the game. Having to repair items and needing spare parts adds a sense of scavenging for survival in what is otherwise primarily an action game. I’ve certainly been in situations where during the course of a dungeon crawl I’ve found my weapons starting to deteriorate and the need to conserve them while still fighting creates a palpable tension. This is especially true when using unique items that can’t be purchased. However there is a disconnect in the ability to repair when you need a spare item to repair, even if you’ve perfected your repair skill, while NPCs can simply restore durability without seemingly requiring a spare. Unless Moira, a merchant first seen in Megaton, has a warehouse full of Chinese Stealth Armor laying around this doesn’t make sense. But if she does, why can’t I buy them?

The reason this sticks out is because the rest of the system has a high level of polish. A hang up like this sticks out as a result.

My suggestion for the repair mechanic is to have a way for the player to repair without needing a spare. Logically this would make very little sense out in the wilderness. An example of a similar mechanic is actually in Bethesda Softworks’ Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. When repair skill is maxed out the repair hammers used in the game no longer break. That doesn’t intuitively make sense, does it? Neither does being able to say, take some scrap metal and repair a gun while at the bottom of a cave.

The key then is to have a workbench modification at home – whether it be in Megaton or Tenpenny Towers – that allows the repair of any item with the appropriate raw material. This doesn’t have to be too detailed. It could simply be taking the random tin cans and other miscellany lying around and use them to restore weapons and armor. This provides some logic to repair while not being too frustrating. On top of that it adds a greater level of reward than Fallout 3 currently has where a higher repair only lets you restore items to a greater durability. The institution of a new ability where – through much experience and/or study in repair – the player has gained the ability to repair items (with the appropriate workbench) without a spare is a logical reward for putting points into the skill. For added realism a repair with raw material rather than spare parts from an identical item could be capped in how much it can repair.

There is more than one way to approach this and presented here is my take on it. The important fundamentals are consistency in the world and plausible logic. If an NPC can do something, the player character should be able to achieve it somehow as well. Similarly, if the player character can do something the NPC should be able to as well provided they NPC has the appropriate stats and skills required. This consistency prevents breaking immersion with a logic gap much like how indestructible doors take a player out of the game.

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