Another group of raiders opened fire on me from a ruined warehouse, and I immediately engaged VATS. The action froze and the camera zoomed in on the nearest target. (I could also cycle through all targets in visual range.) This system dramatically changes the pace of combat from the “Oblivion with guns” scenario to something slower and more tactical. For example, I caught the raider closest to me in the act of equipping a flamethrower, so I made him a priority target.
At medium range, my character’s perception was high enough to give me a solid lock on the raider’s head, so I cued up a couple of shots from my assault rifle and let them fly. The resulting critical hit, shown in glorious slow-motion, sent both the flamethrower and the target’s head rolling to the ground. The slow-mo kills instantly became one of my favorite things ever, and I finished off my first victim's two friends in a similar fashion by closing to point-blank range before pausing and blowing off a chunk of raider. My action points, which you expend when using VATS, recharged at a rate that let me use the system pretty much as often as I wanted, although not for every shot.
I finally reached Arafu - a small group of homes built atop an old freeway overpass - and found the town under siege by a nocturnal gang known as The Family. The lone defender, a trigger-happy old man named Evan King, singed my eyebrows with an explosive trap as I approached, but quickly changed his tune and asked me to do him a favor by checking on the townspeople. Most of them were fine, if a little stir-crazy. But when I found the parents of the woman who had given me the letter, they were lying dead on the floor with bite marks in their necks that went down to the bone, and their son was nowhere in sight - I presumed he’d been abducted by The Family. When I reported back to King with the grim news, he pleaded with me to deal with the Family threat, and gave me vague directions to the southeast. I tried to get more information, but my speech skill was only at 11 percent, and I failed to persuade King to spill his secrets.
I didn’t even hesitate to pick a fight when my path crossed a pair of heavily armed super mutants guarding a caged human captive in a church. That might not have been my best move - my rifle had a hard time punching through the mutants’ tough green hides, and one of them was armed with a minigun that had no trouble punching holes in me. It was time for a change in strategy: using VATS, I repeatedly targeted the right arm of the mutant holding the big gun. The crippled hulk dropped the cannon and charged with his fists, and I managed to cut him down before he reached me. Meanwhile, his buddy was picking up the discarded minigun, which was bad news, since I was now completely out of stimpacks. A tense shootout followed as I ducked in and out of cover, taking VATS shots at my opponent, but a concussion (damage to my head) threw my aim off. I eventually prevailed, but I was pretty beat up. Sipping some water from a nearby pond healed me up, but also increased my radiation level - eventually, that would make me sick, but for now it was manageable.
In freeing the human captive by picking the lock on her cage, I found a new lock-picking minigame in which you twist a screwdriver in the lock while applying pressure with a bobby pin. If the pin is at the correct angle, the lock will pop open - if not, the lock will turn slightly, and will turn more the closer you get to the solution. The pin will snap after a couple of attempts, though, so you’ll need another one in order to try again. Successfully unlocking the cage awarded me enough XP to hit level three, and this time around I spread my skill points more evenly among barter and medicine, and chose the Gun Nut perk.
Searching in the direction King had pointed me, I tracked The Family to their lair in some old train tunnels. After making my way through booby traps, including an exploding baby carriage, and being bludgeoned by a chunk of meat swinging on a chain, I encountered the Family’s sentry and drew my gun - but much to my surprise, he didn’t shoot at me. He was actually quite a nice fellow when we got to talking, if a little full of himself, and he invited me in. Inside, I met their leader, who revealed the horrible truth: The Family are vampires! Well, not really, but they sure wanted to be, and had been taking bites out of Arafu townspeople to prove it. I managed to negotiate a settlement whereby The Family would actually protect Arafu in exchange for donated blood packs.