Part two of FBT’s special edition Wasteland wander through Fallout 3. I mean 4.
*Spoilers. Not that it matters, the twist is fricking obvious*
So, having been thawed out of a Vault, my suburban housewife character has not even bothered to look for her son, the main plot of Fallout 4. Instead the domestic goddess blazed through the wasteland like a grizzled survivalist. Likely because she’d played Fallout 3.
While most of Fallout 4 is Fallout 3 Redux, one new addition is the ability to create a settlement; amazingly this isn't a Bethesda money-grubbing DLC element like Skyrim's Hearthfire, it's part of the main game and a key element, the idea of carving out a place to call your own, of rebuilding the home you glimpsed pre-war, or building somewhere new, away from the memories of our recently lost other-half - it's great; well, a great idea but impossibly frustrating and boring. Speaking of our beloved, the tragic parent of our child, the man I shared domesticity with only moments ago, I should look for someone new to share it with. Well, that was a long mourning period, sixty years as an ice-cube; a girl’s got needs. Companions are back and largely the same as FO3 in that they can carry stuff for you and get killed easily. I don’t need to find my kid when I’m spending so much time saving, finding, reviving and shouting at my companion. There’s a relationship angle added that’s somewhere between Mass Effect’s romance process and CJ’s girl in every city. Each companion has a selection of actions they find Hot or Not. Take Piper the spunky journalist; she’ll have the hots for you quick-sharp as she gets turned on every time you pull out a bobby pin.
It seems like a good idea and a way for you to find your true love – a companion who matches your character’s personality. In reality, it’s a real pain because many actions are necessary within the game – for example Cait hates it if you’re generous and likes you being selfish (She loves you walking around naked too, that girl’s got issues) so it becomes a question of do you alter your style to please them because you like them, or will your actions tear the two of you apart? I might be giving Bethesda too much credit for this concept, I’m not convinced that’s their intention but it’s an interesting dynamic. And oddly I had to sleep with a woman at one point to get info out of her, and my fully-confirmed partner was with me. I’m not sure what happened that night but we’re still together, yet she gets well pissy if I flirt off-script with someone. Plus, the whole idea is undermined by the perk system; each companion provides a bump in some form or other, so you just keep around whoever has a perk most useful at the time and put up with their grumbles when you do something they don’t like. The majority of the companions are quite interesting with different takes on the wasteland, and the perfect partner angle (if that’s what Bethesda were actually going for) is interesting – but the perk system removes who they are and turns them into a power-up.
Of course, the wasteland isn’t completely empty. Aside from the faction missions and the main storyline, there’s tons of mini-missions, events and radiant quests to keep you schlepping back and forth. Most are standard clear this out, find that, uncover what that is, kill that, rescue this. It can’t really go any other way, but after games like Mass Effect 3, which for all it’s faults made sure every mini-mission counted, you kinda want to see more impact. It would tie in nicely with the opening scenes of blissful suburbia if every side mission or encounter added to your settlement, either by more refugees helping or providing services; it would have been nice to return on a whim and see how it’s flourishing, and encourage you to go out and adventure more so by the end, you've provided and created a community, a nod to the past. But, missions are all standard and you do it for the xp. Eventually I get badass enough that a Deathclaw doesn’t terrify me, and give up questing, bored. Plus the settlement looks like a dump and everyone in it moans. Washed out of the wasteland, I might as well get this done. Why am I here again? Oh yeah, the kid.
So I follow fairly typical plotlines that lead me eventually to the dreaded Institute. Throughout, I heard stories of those guys, that they were creating androids to replace people in preparation for invading and forcing everyone out of the area. ‘Cos it’s just prime real-estate n’all. I kept thinking, why would they waste such resource and effort? I don’t know. And that’s not my infamous lack of patience, that’s the game’s muddled and unfocused plotting. The Institute itself is spotless and futuristic, why'd they want to move above-ground at all? The institute, for all their brilliance – not to mention the fact that they invented a transporter – doesn’t seem to have a clear mission statement and they have more than a passing similarity to FO4's Steel Brotherhood; there's a slightly distasteful fascism to both factions yet they hate each other. Still, turns out the wasteland tales are true. They are building ‘synths’ which are roaming about insinuating themselves into the colonies and townships of the wasteland. Still don’t really know why. But anyway, turns out my bundle of joy was taken for his DNA to help build human-androids for … reasons. And here he is!
My boy is all growed up and become the Father of the Institute (‘Father’ - Wow. Mom meet Son called Father. That’s deep, right? I shall call him Fatson) I feel nothing when we meet; this should be a huge moment finally finding him only to discover my boy is old, indifferent to me and has a very different world view to the one I’ve formed while out in the wilderness, but it doesn’t gel because I’ve not shared any of my pain or feelings during my trip. The game doesn’t seem to know what to do with us once we’re together. After some wooden dialogue that doesn’t explore anything, the game shuffles me off on quests with a neat little ‘We’ll talk later’. And we never do, not really, not in a way that’s rewarding given this has been Jack’s focus. All conversations are carefully manipulated to avoid any plot-spoiling or emotion; he’s in his sixties and not had a parent so his feelings towards me should be curious at best whereas I should be staggered but their scenes together are little more than standard dialogue found elsewhere in the game. My chat with the Mr Handy was more emotive than this. When a machine is happier to see me than my own son you’ve got problems.
Reuniting with Fatson is a complete let down but not an unexpected one; I don’t feel cheated because it could only ever have gone this way; I never thought the game would have the guts to kill the kid; he could have died, that would be interesting – a mid-game emotional wallop that leaves me wondering my place in this world without the focus; we could have found our descendants, imagine grandma Jack and the kids rebuilding a settlement or me eventually sacrificing myself, too far removed from this world to settle but providing something to ensure Jack Junior's kids had a chance - Nope, standard plotting only please. Hell, it didn’t even go wide of the mark and say he’s gone but everyone in the institute is a clone of him intended to repopulate the earth and I was a clonemother. What would I do then, kill potentially hundreds of cloned grandkids I could spoil at Christmas? It just doesn’t do anything brave with what it has and I think that inevitability played a part in my reluctance to go looking for him. I didn’t want to be disappointed by a FO game. But it did it anyway, then compounded it; just before meeting Fatson, FO4 grins like it pulled a Keyser Soze-sized rug by revealing my son is the antagonist. Of course he is. You’re expecting this to create an emotional struggle, a difficult choice? Nope. Worse, that reveal is the second rug-pull in a row. In a scene ripped from a Spanish telenovela, I’d been led to believe my kid was a child still and sure enough, in the Institute, I find the child! *Cries in Spanish* But as we talk something weird happens; he … shuts down. It was a robot! *Cries in frustration* Cue Fatson briefly pretending not to be the boy before we 'realise'. Piss off. I wasn’t shocked I was disappointed and filled with suspicion this wouldn’t be the last I’d see of the robokid. Don’t you do it FO4 …
Anyway, having been sent packing by Fatson, I wander the institute. Every scientist I meet is a bit of a prick and they’re misinformed about the surface – if only the Institute had someone available with an intimate knowledge of life in the wasteland. But they don’t just dismiss me, they don’t even have the option to ask (It’s like Bethesda realised ‘oh crap, if she tells them it’s not that bad out there, our main storyline is shot / Just don’t have the dialogue option? / Great save! Lunch?’). Their attitude towards Jack also rankles me. I’m a badass wilderness survivor, they should at least be a little nervous having someone this dangerous leaving dirt everywhere. I have a nuclear weapon strapped to my back and they’re rude? Fine that they have an ingrained dislike of surface-dwellers but I can’t change their mind and I’m really not convinced those are the guys to side with. But I go off doing the side missions to see where this takes me. And I’m surprised; it takes me right into Fatson’s chair!
More ridiculous than the whole Fatson reveal episode, within 3 or 4 missions I’m offered the big chair; that’s just unbelievable. Plus, I’ve not learnt anything new, been swayed towards their world-view or even offered a view. An entire institution of scientists capable of building robots – including robot gorillas I noticed, why? – and a transporter beam and various other brilliant technologies and the person best suited to taking over Apple is the mud-covered luddite who’s been here a day? Okay so two scientists rebel against the notion, and do so by brilliantly locking themselves in the room with the gorillas. But everyone else just comes around to the idea, especially after that whole gorilla incident. Okay so if I'm in charge now I get to change their views toward the surface – Oh, no I can’t. More ‘don’t break the storyline’ control. I can’t influence the Institute at all. FO4 has jumped the gorilla. Even if I accepted that, and I can’t, this whole event should have come early on, to give me time to warm to their ideas and ideals, but now I’ve done most of the other factions’ missions and get where they’re coming from, I don’t care about the Institute.
It also turns out my little man is the one who let me out of the vault. Why? I dunno really, he mumbles some plot-papering about knowing I’d find my way to him. How, why, what? You’ve expressed nothing but contempt for the wasteland and had the power to let me out decades ago, but you think the best idea is let your Mother wander with no direction or inkling about your status and just figured I’d rock up? And then when I do, I’d automatically side with you and – oh forget it I’m disowning you, I’ve had enough, I’m gonna go hang out with those fifties throwbacks with the shark decals on their power armour.
Like happens in the real world, this family reunion has been a disaster. Fatson and the Institute should have been introduced from the outset, especially after the revelation he let me out - It would have been a wicked game-changer to find a grown man at the house, explaining he released me and he’s about to unleash synth Armageddon on the commonwealth and wanted to rescue me first, revealing his identity. But something prevents us from returning so instead we go exploring for a way back to the Institute and along the way we both learn something; based on my actions, he sees hope or despair in the wastes, compassion or brutality - my actions are his reactions; it informs his plan once back at the Institute. Maybe he becomes compassionate and I become hardened and it’s up to him to change me. Anything but this. So much potential squandered, the generic nothingness of it makes me so angry I launch a mini-nuke and murder-suicide the two of us. This game drove me to infanticide. Or patricide I’m not sure. Had the two of us wandered together I would really have the fate of the wasteland in my hands, side missions would benefit the main quest by swaying his opinion and I’d be able to shape it as I see fit. But no, I’m caught between the usual factions and go with whichever ones I personally prefer/finished the missions for. Just like FO3, just like NV, just like most of Bethesda’s games nowadays; they’re not just reskinning the world, they’re copy/pasting the plots and missions.
This time around factions include the Steel Brotherhood, who somehow - despite the presumed world-wide shortage of everything - manage to maintain a huge airship dreadnaught (admittedly that thing arriving in the sky was a high point as was blowing it up later), or the Railway who are dedicated to freeing sentient synths (The Railway? Seriously? Let’s leave alone the grade-school level commentary on slavery). Oh and those Minutemen. I forgot about them. Literally forgot them; someone in the Steel Bros mentioned the Minutemen and I was like ‘oh yeah!’ And then there’s the Institute with their plan to do make everyone upgrade their iPhone or something. They all hate each other. I can’t unite them. Why not?! We don’t even explore the hatred which in some cases, particularly the Steel Bros vs Minutemen, doesn’t make sense.
On top of it all, Jack is the worst kind of hero - a passive one. She’s happiest wiring plugs. I play her as an absolute badass and the game makes the character a complete meh.
Another option could have been to build your own faction. FO4 would have had the capability to do that. Your settlements could have become a force in the wasteland, a new power rising with your actions dictating how it’s perceived, become the major power battling the others; Nation of Jack. That would make me more inclined to build more than a rickety shed for my settlers. Anything! Damnit!
So I go through the motions and the missions, none of which stand out and eventually I destroy the institute. It’s telling that I forget to go see my son after all that. Had I followed his storyline, more would be revealed about the Institute and it’s intent and that’s annoying; to be cheated out of a resolution because I don’t follow his ideals despite being made the Father is a further insult and eventually I forgot him as if he was a Minuteman. I guess I assumed he’d appear at the last second begging me not to do whatever I’d done, but instead, little robo-son rocks up. Now believing Jack is its Mother, robo-kid asks to be taken with. I agree, although I'd rather take a Gorilla. It would be cool if robo-kid actually turned out to be a homicidal mini-me terminator but no, it’s just that kid from A.I and a hackneyed way to give Jack her son after everything.
Once we’d escaped the explosion of the institute – which took out most of the buildings folks were living in - I wonder was there really no way to take it over and move in? That's the only way to resolve this? In the middle of an irradiated wasteland, atomically blowing up the only safe haven for miles? And what about the poor robo-gorillas?! The Institute has exploded (helpful), the Commonwealth’s scientists are dead (helpful) and all their technology is gone (helpful), and my replacement son was nowhere to be found (helpful). I think he might have fallen off the roof we watched the explosion from. Finally, a Bethesda bug I can get behind. I’m certainly not going to look for him, one missing kid was enough and I was already aggravated the game would try to tie everything up so simply by giving me an iBoy. A happy ending? That’s not what the wasteland is, and it was never what Fallout was about. The best you could hope for was a better wasteland.
For some, the familiarity of FO4’s retread is more than enough. If you loved FO3, FO4 is just more of it and the settlement element allows you to bring some civility to the wasteland. It is beautifully detailed, involving and does what it says on the tin. For me though, FO4 was tame, safe and bland - I wanted to make more of a mark than a blast radius. As I prepare to fast-travel to the exit menu, I take a look at the landscape one last time. It’s an incredibly compelling world Bethesda created and it’s a testament to their dedication that we eventually call the wasteland home and want to better it. From up here that is. Down there in the ruins, we’ve seen it all before.
War. War never changes. Neither does Fallout it seems.
2015 | Developer Bethesda Game Studios | Publisher Bethesda Softworks
platforms; Win | PS4 | X0