I don't talk much about Fallout 3 reliability fixes in general around here, because it tends to be a personal thing. What works for one computer crashes another.
But Herculine's comment this morning about someone begging for her load order to "fix" their game, got me going on a bit of a mental tangent, and I decided to share.
Most of you believe the Load Order to be some equivalent of a magical Rubik's Cube - "If I can just get this lined up, my game will work perfectly!"
No, no it won't.
Look, I've been playing Fallout 3 - daily in most cases - since about 1800 local time on the day it went gold. I've been through all the patches, the unofficial patch, materupdating and restoring and auto load sorters and "expert guides"; and I'm going to level with you all, right now.
Fallout 3 is the crashingest game I've seen in more than a decade. There have been worse, make no mistake, but they were fly-by-night operations. To have seen this game win so many awards - not to mention that we're all still playing it - not only boggles the mind, but is a testament to just how stellar the game could have been, had the developers been interested in something other than selling DLC.
Do you want to know what a load order is? What it really does? I'll tell you.
It controls which mods get precedence to override which others as the game loads. That's. It.
Unless you run multiple mods that all alter the same thing, it's really pretty irrelevant.
For instance, I keep the RR masters at the end of the master section, and the plugins at the top of their section. Why? Because it keeps them all together, and makes it simpler for me when I go looking for one to activate/deactivate it. They work just as well at the end, and I have been known to move them from one end to the other within one set of savegames, without any crashing above and beyond the norm manifesting itself.
Why? Because the RR Companions Vault and its satellites are not FWE, FOOK, or MMM. They are innocuous, by and large.
The RR Companions Vault modifies one game setting, adds three doors to the wasteland, modifies the three pieces of relevant navmesh, and adds four map markers.
The game setting will simply be overridden by another mod, and the door additions will only come into real conflict if another plugin modifies the exact spot where they are. The spots were chosen to prevent that, and thus far I've yet to see or get a confirmed report of a plugin that they do conflict with. Navmesh, like the game setting, would be a simple override by one mod of the other, and would result in nothing worse than your companions not appearing with you when you come out the wasteland side of the door - they would, instead, appear at the next-nearest door in the navmesh. The map markers are like invisible static objects, and won't really conflict with anything.
These listed conflicts, I should also note, will not cause a game crash. The two objects would simply appear one inside the other.
Because of the number of objects replaced or modified, the load order within the RR series can matter, but the few conflicts there have been mapped out and fixes determined; and mostly revolve around Refurbished, which modifies nearly everything in Vault 1 - problems are to be expected when other plugins try to modify the same things.
The load order with companion plugins like Herculine's Scouts is completely irrelevant, except where it concerns the plugin's master files. A plugin must always come after its master(s). Trying to load a master after a dependent plugin will not end in a good day.
Assuming you have all the masters, and they're loaded before the plugin... it really doesn't matter where companions go. Really. Load early, load last, doesn't matter. As long as they don't modify default game NPCs, it really doesn't matter.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Crash on main menu load means missing master files. Fully 99% of the time, that's what does it. The other one percent is either a hardware or software issue (drivers, DirectX, codecs, etc), or very occasionally a corrupted game resource - though I've only seen that one twice; once was a conflicting mesh with the Ling's Finer Things.bsa, and the other a corrupted clothing mod. Removing the extra mesh fixed the Ling's issue, and simply removing the corrupted mod fixed the other. I've never seen it happen because a companion - or any other NPC, for that matter - plugin was out of place in the Holy Load Order of Antioch.
Crashing on loading a save game can happen with a companion plugin, if you're in an affected cell when you try to load the game, and one of an existing NPC is standing on the exact spot where one of the new ones spawns. The solution here is simple: load the game without the new plugin running, go into an unaffected cell, save, and then activate the new plugin. On entering the cell where the new NPCs are, the game engine will move them all around and make sure no one's clipping into anyone else.
Now, lest you think me one-sided, I'll admit there are times when load order finagling is warranted.
Example: as anyone who's been paying any attention whatsoever will know, I run Einherjrar's excellent 20th Century Weapons mod - and have since version 1.7 of it, before it even included Soviet weapons.
I've also recently begun running FWE. Both Ein's ALIVE series of plugins, and FWE in general modify leveled lists for loot, weapons, and ammunition - as well as some specific NPCs.
I could create a "merged patch" as the "ZOMG J00 HAV 2 MASTRUPDATE UR GAEM R IT WONT WERK!" sect is constantly yammering on about. Or, I could just put the ALIVE plugins below the FWE plugins in the load order. ALIVE gets to override FWE, the weapons I want to appear do so; while still allowing the lists 20thCW doesn't modify to do whatever it is FWE has them set up to do. I get 20thCW weapons for the most part, and the FWE items, and no issues. No fuss, no muss, it took less than five minutes to set up.
The fun thing about merge patches is that you have to recreate the goddamned thing every time one of the mods updates.
It's sort of like an FOMOD, only without the helpful automatic execution.
And those of you who want to run FWE, FOOK2, and MMM simultaneously? Stop being indecisive and fucking pick one. Your game will get 1000% easier to keep working, and considering that FWE and FOOK are completely different game-wide overhauls, I must react similarly to Arwen, when someone mentioned her tweaks and FWE: "...They do opposite things, why would you want to run them at the same time?"
Lastly, there is the matter to consider that some mods simply do not work together. No matter the load order, or game settings; they just refuse to get along. The only "fix" in most of these cases is to create the aforementioned merge patch, to go through setting by setting and decide which mod's changes to keep, and which to discard.
Me? I just decide which one I like better, and get rid of the other.