It takes about 41 minutes to walk from one side of Fallout 4's world to the other. Along the way, the game points out a number of locations to explore. But that's just the start; there are hundreds the game doesn't call out, little stories from the wasteland for players to discover on their own.Most people will see a few, but Thomas (who asked that I keep his last name private), and who goes by "The LAWD" online, wanted to see all 291 optional locations. After nine months and 750 hours of playtime, he finally did.
You can track what Thomas has been up to by looking at the green dots on this map.He's also been documenting his experience on YouTube, where his channel motto is, perhaps unsurprisingly, "get explorin'." When mulling a recorded playthrough of Fallout 4, Thomas didn't want to just play the game—he wanted to do something unique. And that's where his ultra-completionist approach to playing games came in handy; no one had tried this before."I always enjoyed just walking around the map and running into things and going 'Oh, that's not on the map," he told me. "That always sparked my interest."Most of the optional locations in Fallout 4 are unremarkable, but as Thomas puts it, "every location has a story." Sometimes he's the one that has to come up with that story, using only the evidence in front of him. Maybe there's only a stray note, maybe there are only a few bodies scattered about. One of his favorite locations, a random subway station, demonstrates it best:A man sits on a chair—a throne, really—with a teddy bear in his lap. A cigar draped from his mouth, his torso flushed with piles of cash, in front of him is a cage full of skeletons. This man, likely a diehard gambler, kept humans for amusement. Did he simply watch these people die?"You just have to make up your own mind on what happened," he said.Or the time he found a thermal engine prototype sitting in the middle of nowhere, ready to be played with. When he accessed a nearby terminal and tried to test the engine out, well…
Boom.At first, the videos were only meant for himself, with YouTube being a convenient way to archive the experience. Only 20 or 30 people were watching his daily explorations, until a friend recommended he pitch the idea to reddit. On a lark, he submitted his YouTube channel, and while he was away, it blew up and made the front page of /r/games, spiking viewership. A bunch of people decided to join Thomas on his journey, to the tune of 4,000 subscribers.Though 4,000 followers may be nothing to the PewDiePies of the world, it blew Thomas away. Suddenly, when he'd take a break from recording, which remains very much a part-time hobby, people would ask where he went."It's very motivating to have those dedicated people," he said. "One of them even referred to me as a daily routine, because I release a video almost every day. […] I went in the space of month from having 20 subscribers, half of which were family, to about 4,000 people. [laughs] A lot of them cared more about where I was and what I was doing more so than my family."Thomas didn't get into open world games—or even RPGs, really—until Fallout: New Vegas."My grandma just said 'Do you want a game?' and took me down to the game store," he said. "Fallout: New Vegas was just sitting there on the shelf. […] Have you seen the cover of Fallout: New Vegas yourself? It's pretty cool. None of the other games looked that cool, so I went 'Oh, I'll pick that one.'"
Something about Bethesda's approach hooked him, prompting a binge over four weeks. (Technically, Obsidian made New Vegas, but it's built on the structure Bethesda laid down in Fallout 3.) He missed a few days of school, and would play Fallout: New Vegas for more than 400 hours."Had to be done," he laughed.That 400 count is puny compared to how much time he spent with Skyrim, though. ("These are scary numbers now.") By the time he was done with that game, he'd hit 1,000 hours. As for how someone would even manage to play Skyrim on a single character for that amount of time, Thomas wanted to explore every dungeon, buy every item from every shopkeep, and generally do anything the game would let him to the furthest possible extreme. These are metrics the game isn't even tracking—the game doesn't care if you buy every single item."For some reason, these kinds of RPGs, open world games, I just have to complete it," he said. "That's why I'm not allowed near World of Warcraft, just in case. [laughs]"Thomas is in the midst of mapping out how to discover the optional locations in the downloadable content for Fallout 4, and has already kicked off a similar video series for Skyrim. His plan is to explore the optional locations in Skyrim, Fallout 3, and Fallout: New Vegas before Bethesda releases their next video game. The studio has already confirmed it's working on another Elder Scrolls, but they take their time; Thomas probably has a few years."At a video a day, two years would be spot-on," he said.You can follow Patrick Klepek on Twitter.