Playing Fallout 4 without ever leaving Sanctuary


Every now and then I'll start playing a game, in this case Fallout 4, one that potentially offers dozens of hours of stories, quests, adventure, and excitement. And I'll say, essentially: "Nah. What else you got?" That's why when I climbed out of Vault 111 and arrived in Sanctuary, the first settlement area in the game, I decided to simply stay there. No exploring, no wandering, just staying put. I've now been there for roughly ten hours.

My other characters haven't done much with settlements yet, so I thought I'd see if I could build a healthy community and enjoy myself without ever once stepping outside the settlement itself. This new character, perhaps descended from a long line of cowardly dopes who were also completely uninterested in adventure, certainly doesn't look the type who would go out battling supermutants and monsters when he could just hang around the house.


Have nose, will not travel.

He definitely doesn't have the tools for it. I've not given him much in the way of strength and endurance, mainly storing his points in Charisma (for settler-attracting reasons) and Intelligence (high INT means more XP).

I leave the vault and arrive in the ruins of Sanctuary, where I have to begin with little bit of cheating, or at least some gaming of the game. To attract settlers (or new neighbors, as I want to think of them), I need to build a radio beacon. Beacons require a couple of crystals, a crafting component that can be a bit hard to come by if you happen to be dumb enough to play your entire game without leaving the starter town. Crystals are typically found in cameras, microscopes, and laser tripmines, none of which I've found in Sanctuary or Vault 111. There is another possibility, however.


You'll find this behind the house with the fallen tree. There's something on the roof as well.

There's an easy-to-miss root cellar in Sanctuary behind one of the houses, and it contains an advanced safe, a first-aid container, a toolbox, and a wooden crate. Since loot spawns when you enter a new area, and loot is randomized, there might be a chance of the crate spawning a microscope or camera (I'm not skilled enough to pick the safe's lock, and probably won't be for some time). If I save before I enter the cellar, and then reload that save and enter again, maybe one of those crystal-bearing items will turn up eventually.

I do this for, like, twenty solid minutes. Entering, checking the crate, then reloading and repeating, and while I see a variety of medical and junk items appear in the crate I never roll a camera or microscope. I'm about to give up on the entire endeavor and spend my time on a less stupid activity, when something interesting does finally appear in the box: a crystal liquor decanter.


The booze can't be too good if he drank the paint first.
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Can I break that down into crystals for the beacon? Yes! In fact, the decanter has four crystals so I have a couple to spare. Excellent. Now I can get going, by which I mean not going anywhere.

I build my beacon, and a generator, and wire them together, then head into the house to build a bed for myself. Just as I plop it one the floor, someone suddenly walks right by the window, scaring the butt right off me. I have a new neighbor! Startlingly! Already! Either that beacon really works fast or she's been crouching in the bushes all day. I put her to work tending the melon patch behind the house and build a water pump. We've got food and water, which means I need to increase the town's defense rating. I build two turrets and plop them in the street next to my precious beacon.


The polite thing would be to knock on the door. You'll find it lying in the street.

Day two brings a radiation storm, so I go back to bed until day three, when a second neighbor arrives and I put her work tending the scavenging bench I've built, which means she'll amble around finding additional junk items to add to my stash. There's a lot to scrap in Sanctuary—trees, logs, cars, fences, furniture, even entire ruined houses—but it's not going to last forever.

Between scrapping expeditions, I explore the grounds. Sanctuary is an island, sorta—the river flows around it on both sides, and I figure anything inside the riverbanks is technically part of Sanctuary, even though the buildable area doesn't cover the whole island. Down by a small dock to the north, I shoot a couple of bloatflies. While I'm carefully picking their remains out of the river, I'm shocked to look down and see a large dog slowly walking through the water, staring at me. He's not attacking, he's just looking. Uhhh. Hello? Who's a good boy? Are you?


Dogmeat, or just dog meat?

He is not a good boy and after some more staring he abruptly attacks me and I shoot him down. While I'm gathering meat from the dog, I hear some noises that sound suspiciously like bullets whistling past my ears. It's a raider, and presumably the dog's owner. He's a mile away, near a distant shack in the woods, firing at me from behind cover. I retreat and he eventually gives chase. Once he's crossed the river, I gun him down as well. Heading back to town, I greet my third settler, who I'm pleased to see has brought a mutant cow with him. I build a trough so he'll stick around (the cow, not the settler). Like my grandaddy said, a town ain't a town without a revolting mutated two-headed cow. My little neighborhood is growing!

A few days pass without incident. I scrap more of Sanctuary and build a boxy two-story residence on an empty foundation and fill it with beds. I set up a couple guard posts, and start building walls around the general area we're living in. Unless we get a steady stream of raider invasions, building things and planting crops is pretty much the only way I can earn XP.


A gross shack and a basketball hoop. Paradise reborn.

A fourth settler arrives, then a fifth. I start dressing them in different outfits, because they all show up wearing drab raggedy outfits and it's easy to forget who is assigned to what. I give one settler a green dress I found, and another a nice blue suit. I put one in my Vault 111 duds, and the dead raider's sack-mask goes on one of my farmers. The fifth neighbor I leave as-is because I'm pretty much out of clothing.

Speaking of running out of things, I'm starting to get a little worried because no traveling merchants have dropped by my shoddy little berg. I'd kind of hoped to see one by now. Traveling vendors are essential to making this work: I need to freshen my inventory and sell what I don't need, like these two wedding rings I have for some reason.


Please look at me with both heads when I'm talking to you.

While I'm hanging paintings on the walls of our communal shack, the turret outside briefly burps. I run outside in time to see a figure slump over in the bushes. A single raider, coming from the direction of that shack in the woods across the river. The next day, another arrives from the same direction and meets the same fate. I stuff the bodies in an empty house so we don't have to look at them, and take their meager gear.

Days pass, and I'm still scrapping resources (seriously, there's a lot here to recycle). I'm also a bit restless, because apart from the two raider incursions nothing else is going on in my town. Bored, I craft a scope for my pipe pistol, build a series of connected staircases on the bridge at the edge of town, climb them, and peer through the scope. I can actually see Dogmeat over at the gas station, sniffing around and waiting to be met by a lone wanderer. I fire a few shots, thinking maybe he'll run over here instead. He doesn't notice. He's waiting for someone who is never going to arrive.



Down by the river over the next few days, I kill some bloodbugs and some wild mongrels, and I draw fire from four raiders who are walking around on the hillside across the stream. They won't cross the river no matter how much I try to lure them, though. The following day I shoot at a distant radscorpion, and he burrows into the ground and pops up right under my feet. Neat trick, tunneling under a river. I head back to town to greet my fifth settler. I spend time harvesting and replanting crops, netting me a little XP. Still, no merchants have come by.

We do have one visitor, however. I step outside one morning and see an Eyebot serenely hovering down the street. It's advertising job openings at a chemical lab. I listen for a bit, then shoot it down. I hate to be unfriendly to newcomers, but the bot has circuits I need to build an additional turret. It's good timing, too: the next day there's a big incursion of four raiders, perhaps those I exchanged fire with. The turrets, my neighbors, and even the normally dormant Codsworth pitch in to defeat them. I spend the rest of the day dragging bodies, and parts of bodies, into vacant houses. Just feels weird leaving them lying in the street. My settlers keep saying things to me like "You should have seen us fight off those raiders!" I did see it, I was right here. Do I need to cut some new eyeholes in your sack-mask, you idiot? Now get back to melon farming.

More days pass. I've scrapped just about everything there is, and my sixth new neighbor has arrived. I feel like this is a decent little town now, really, but I still haven't had a single merchant come by, and I'm worried the game might not actually spawn them until you meet one somewhere out in the world, the world I have no plans to ever visit. I have a last ditch plan: raise my level to 14, enough to unlock the second rank of the Local Leader perk, which lets me build a store (it's not a real store, it just generates income). Maybe if I have a fake store, and staff it with a settler, the game will spawn a traveling merchant for me? I'm not particularly hopeful, but it's all I can think of to do. Only thing is, stores need 300 caps to even be built and I've only got about 60. And I can't get more without selling stuff to a merchant. It's a Catch 22 of my own making.


I spend my time in Fallout 4 building and recycling stacks of floors. That is what I do.

I start level-grinding in earnest, building stacks of wooden floors and metal signs, scrapping them, then building them again. It's slow and about as dull as it sounds, but I do kick over a few levels. Scrapping only returns a portion of the materials, however, so it's not long before I've completely run out of metal and wood. I craft the few things I can, I cook and perform acts of chemistry, and I cover most of the town with crops. I'm midway through level 12, impressive considering I haven't left Sanctuary, but it's still not enough to build the fake store that probably won't attract the merchant I need to afford to build the fake store.

This stinks. I think I'm screwed. I've simply run out of things to do, and there's still no traveling merchant in sight. That's where I'm at, right now. Waiting in Sanctuary. Waiting for someone who will probably never arrive.


Christopher Livingston
Staff Writer

Chris started playing PC games in the 1980s, started writing about them in the early 2000s, and (finally) started getting paid to write about them in the late 2000s. Following a few years as a regular freelancer, PC Gamer hired him in 2014, probably so he'd stop emailing them asking for more work. Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring storylines in RPGs so he can make up his own.