Let’s kick this part off by grumbling about Megaton. I’ll also be adding a section on Canterbury Commons for reasons that will become clear as we go along. So… good old Megaton. I actually like this place as a general concept—leaving aside the silly unexploded bomb aspect.
It’s an interesting setting and pretty unusual in that it’s a new town built from scratch, rather than based out of an existing structure or location, even if those other structures and locations would’ve made for a better town in both the short and long term. Oh well.
A crater with defensible walls is good… but, you’re likely to have issues with flooding if you’ve thought at all about the level of precipitation in the DC region. That could be turned to your advantage by piping it to your water purifier, though, making a problematic situation beneficial.
However, this settlement’s success is also contingent on having some means of producing food, which Megaton doesn’t beyond scavenging. They’d starve within a week, tops. With a large enough crater this could be mitigated by either planting crops (and hoping they’re not drowned during the next rainy day) or having planters up on wooden gantries.
If you’re going to go to the trouble of pulling apart several old pre-war planes and building them into a settlement in a crater, then going that little bit further to add infrastructure for food production makes sense… assuming you don’t want to die in the first week.
Canterbury Commons is meant to be their main source of food, supplies, and so on. This could work in a functioning economy of some sort where Megaton is in a position to trade for goods they need. But what does Megaton actually produce? Nothing of worth except for water, which everyone in the wasteland clearly already has, since they’ve been surviving just fine for 200 years. And as Moira has you heading off to the Super Duper Mart to scavenge for supplies and things, this doesn’t really indicate that Megaton has much to offer.
My biggest gripe is that damn bomb, though. No one, but no one would build a settlement next to a live nuke. If you dig into the history of the place you discover that it was originally a crashed plane carrying a megaton-class atomic bomb which crashed, creating the crater. People found the place and a load of cultists who worshipped the bomb, and—not wanting to upset the people who were helping them build their settlement—they left the bomb alone.
To be fair, this isn’t bad, it provides some back story for the place, and a reason for it to be built around a bomb. But seriously, scientists are not that rare in this world. Someone should have thought at some point to disarm this thing the moment the cultists turned their backs, rather than waiting decades for the Lone Wanderer to come along and do it (after chewing a pack of Mentats, naturally).
Of course, you could also take a darker route and say that the residents murdered the cultists in order to ensure stability in the settlement. The moment construction was completed, blammo! Cultists were killed and thrown in a mass grave outside town, providing an unpleasant and dark history for the player to uncover, making for a nice ‘needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few’ plot point to dig into… but nope, cultists, bomb, lulz. Because Bethesda.
On the subject of the bomb itself, this received a lot of attention back in the day. “Blow up an entire town! Your decisions matter!” the promotional materials said, paraphrased a bit. So… what exactly is the point? Yeah, Tenpenny wants it gone for a completely inane reason, but beyond that it’s there… just because? Does it enhance the world in any way? Not really. It just removes a whole location for lulz. And a pretty explosion, best watched at night.
There’s also the fact that you can perform this heinous act, then give a beggar a dozen bottles of water and be back to neutral or even good karma. After massacring an entire town, I think that should warrant some sort of permanent negative karma status, like ‘beyond redemption’ levels. This is why the reputation system in New Vegas is better, because it gives permanent consequences for your evil actions against a faction.
So what would I have done? Not this, that’s what. The scrap metal used for Megaton was taken from aircraft at a nearby airfield, so uh… wouldn’t that be a better location? If you’re going to disassemble and drag all that metal several miles to a crater, how about just building your settlement right there? You have plenty of flat ground to build on, you can pull concrete from nearby buildings to fortify, and you’d have plentiful soil for planting crops.
There are some unknowns here, but since they clearly found enough intact aircraft—you see entire fuselage sections being used in Megaton—showing that the airfield was probably reasonably undamaged, they’d have had a nice tall tower for lookouts/snipers, plus probably a terminal building or two. And if the structures were trashed? That just gives you material for building new things, even if only barricades and walls to keep undesirables out.
You know the Searchlight Airfield in New Vegas that isn’t really used? Imagine something like that, but with sturdier walls instead of just wire mesh fences. I’ll come back to fixing Megaton in a moment, but first let’s take a quick gander at Canterbury Commons.
This is an odd location. On the one hand, it’s actually really good in several important aspects; plenty of open land for farming (which doesn’t exist in the game, but hypothetically speaking), lots of space for people to live, and several decent buildings and facilities nearby they could take various scrap metal and other materials from in order to expand the town itself.
On the other hand, it’s way too open and therefore vulnerable to attack, has the aforementioned lack of farming or other means of food/water production, and is home to possibly the dumbest quest in the game. I’m unusually ambivalent about this location, a definite Marmite feeling.
There is at least a Brahmin pen out back, so I guess that would do for food—with how small the community is in the base game—but for any reasonable size of settlement, that little pen ain’t going to cut it. Of course, you could argue that it’s an abstraction (really it’s an engine limitation, but same basic deal) and that it really represents a larger community. Fair enough, but some signs of farming would be nice, even on a reduced scale. Again, New Vegas managed to show this with the Sharecropper farms and the small farms at Goodsprings.
The whole point of this settlement is that it was meant to be a hub for caravan traders, led by Uncle Roe. Uh… somewhere along the way that seems to have gone very off the trails, doesn’t it? There are something like five people here. Five. Seven, if you include the dumbass superheroes, but they have their own places outside the town in any case. That’s not a settlement, that’s an embarrassment.
I suspect part of the problem with a lot of these locations is the usual: console limitations. So throwing those aside, what would I do here? I’d overhaul it into an actual trading hub, for starters, adding in a number of caravans and merchants. Think something along the lines of the Crimson Caravan Company in New Vegas.
The geographical location is also an oddity. Realistically speaking, this makes no difference; in the real world there aren’t arbitrary borders to a map. But in a game sense, putting this over the very east side of the map feels odd when Canterbury Commons is meant to be a trading hub.
So what I’d do is place it a bit further to the west and maybe north, having it be a decent-sized hub settlement the player is likely to hit soon after leaving the Vault. A place of relative comfort where some quests can be picked up, a bit of info on the main quest line, maybe a companion, shops, whatever.
As noted above, it would also introduce caravans and trade routes, informing the player about how important these are to the functioning of the wasteland in general. And it would tie into several other areas, quests, and characters over the whole region in addition.
I said I’d be coming back to Megaton, so let’s tie these two locations together into a single coherent settlement. My reason for this is simple: Megaton is being replaced by another settlement I’ll talk about later, so using the general concept and combining it with Canterbury Commons seems like a good plan.
First, see the area to the right in the above screenshot? Where the Antagoniser has her lair? That’ll be more or less like Megaton, a shanty town kind of dealie using planes and scrap from the aforementioned nearby airfield. We can add some other areas like this around the outskirts of Canterbury Commons itself as well, giving us the nice scratch-built look with a sturdy town centre made from the bones of the Old World. The nearby airfield could then be devoted to farming and would have a symbiotic trade relationship with Megabury Commons.
Next, this place is a major trading hub for caravans, so that means they need two things: commodities to trade, and protection. And potentially a convenient currency, which could be something valuable in the region, perhaps rare metals or ammunition, something with physical value that can’t be easily counterfeited. Hell, something as simple as casino chips could work, if we said that Canterbury Commons was a pre-war gambling hotspot, given that they’d be limited in number and couldn’t easily be counterfeited.
For commodities, the usual food and water and so on can be traded, but let’s add something else to that. We have a big ol’ factory just up the hill, so why not use it? The Mechanist is a ridiculous character as he stands, but we can still make use of him. Instead of the superhero nonsense, let’s say he’s talented with machines, welding, and robotics, and he runs the factory with a staff of, say, a dozen people.
He refurbishes and repairs robots, and since Bethesda introduced the incredibly silly idea that Mr Handy units can produce purified water, thereby completely undermining their whole story with Dear Old Dad’s project, that would make his skill with robots one of the most sought-after in the whole Wasteland.
Maybe he even builds some robots as well, putting them together out of parts stripped from broken ones. Beyond that, he will also produce various other useful items. We can even keep the superhero deal as well, just make it a quirky part of his character that he’s into Old World comics, and maybe have a quest where he’ll give favours if you bring him comic issues found in the wastes, which provides the player with another collectible type of item to go after.
This gives the settlement incredibly valuable commodities for trade. But… I’m also going to say that they have a rival plant elsewhere in the world. That’ll be to do with Tenpenny and I’ll talk about that soon, but suffice to say these two settlements don’t get along and will be not only rivals, but potentially even at war on occasion, both the shooting and economic varieties.
For protection, the caravans will employ mercs and dedicated caravan guards, but Uncle Roe is looking to improve their security due to attacks by Tenpenny’s crew and raiders, etc. This’ll open up a quest chain where the player can scour the wastes for willing recruits, but the number one option will actually involve Reilly’s Rangers.
I’ll devote another post to them and some of the other minor factions later, but I’ll just say that they’ll be looking to expand their own operations, hoping to secure more lucrative contracts on a permanent basis. There’ll be more than just 4 or 5 of them as well, but depending on the player’s actions, Reilly’s faction can either grow, remain stagnant, or potentially even be wiped out if you’re siding with the likes of Tenpenny.
And finally, quests for Canterbury itself. There’d be the usual fare working for individuals in the town who need specific things done, potentially even including repair/robotics jobs based on the player’s repair and science stats in the factory on the hill. But I’m also thinking you’d be able to take on a substantial quest chain to reduce Tenpenny’s influence.
Sabotaging Tenpenny’s competing robotics plant, organising armed revolt (more on this in the Tenpenny post!), assassinating Tenpenny himself, and similar things would all be on the cards. Likewise, the reverse will be true if playing as a less salubrious type allied with Tenpenny’s faction.
Next up will be… Tenpenny, naturally. I’m not so awful as to leave you hanging after mentioning his faction in this post. I’ll be talking a bit about the Roy Phillips quest and how Bethesda’s one-dimensional ideas of class divides might be fixed and improved, plus of course talking a bit about Tenpenny’s own operations, his control over the Talon Company mercs, and more.