2015-12-30

Fallout 4

Spoilers ahead.  You have been warned.

Assless Chaps finished the main story line of Fallout 4 (at level 65) last night by destroying the institute (and thus triggering the final cut scene, along with the closing "war never changes" bookend).

I'm not really satisfied with how things played out, and I think it is a fundamental lack of imagination on the part of the story's authors.  Insofar as how a structured story plays out in an open-world, sandbox setting.  What I was forced to do in the last minutes of the game were mostly at odds with how I had behaved previously.

For those unfamiliar with the game, there are four main factions that the player can align themselves with, or antagonize.   They are the Minutemen, the Railroad, the Brotherhood of Steel, and The Institute.   There are also various raiders (humans), mercenaries (gunners, not sure if it's possible to align with them, because they're instantly hostile), supermutants, mutated animals, and robot enemies.  There are also religious fanatics, The Children of Atom, that are hostile everywhere, except for one place in the glowing sea.

The various factions inhabit post-nuclear apocalyptic Boston, aka the Commonwealth.  In the Fallout universe, American society never progressed past the late 1950's-early 1960's, though technology continued to progress.   In 2077, nuclear war broke out between the US, China and Russia.  The game is set 200 years after the end of the war.  All sides devastated,  the planet barely habitable.

The Minutemen are the first faction the player encounters, which is during the in-game tutorial.  Like their namesake, they are a group of private citizens that aim to defend the more helpless population against the dangers of the Commonwealth (raiders, feral ghouls, and the like).  The player represents a rebirth of the organization, which had fallen due to infighting in recent years.  Generally, one of the handful of random settlements strewn across the Commonwealth will have a problem that needs to be solved, and the Minutemen will respond, solve the problem and secure the allegiance of the settlement (there's a side element of settlement building that I didn't focus too much on in this playthrough).

The Railroad first appears in Fallout 3 (I haven't played the first 2 games, so maybe sooner) during a quest where the player must track down an android, from the Commonwealth (assumed at the time to be Virginia, since Fallout 3 is set in Washington DC).  This android has been given a new identity, cosmetic surgery, and is living, undetected in the Rivet City settlement (in fallout 3).  During a random encounter while on this quest, the player will be confronted by a member of the Railroad, an organization that helps androids and other artificial humans escape their enslavement, analogous to the Underground Railroad.  This person will give the player an android component that can be given to the quest's originator as proof the android has been killed.

The Railroad in Fallout 4 is basically the exact same thing.  They assist "syths" (synthetic humans) in their escape from The Institute.  They oppose The Institute due to The Institute's enslavement of synths.   They believe synths are people, with the same rights as natural-born humans.

The Brotherhood of Steel is essentially an offshoot of the remaining military after the war.  They are obsessed with obtaining technology, and preventing it from falling into "the wrong hands" (which is to say, any faction that is not the Brotherhood of Steel).  They oppose The Institute on these grounds.  An ancillary benefit to being in their good graces is that they often hunt down and exterminate raiders, gunners, children of atom, and various other common opponents in their hunt for technology.   They also hunt down your Minutemen.

The Institute is the Big Bad of the Commonwealth, and are opposed by all other factions.   They are a highly secretive group of scientists living in a facility deep under the CIT (the in-universe MIT) ruins.   They are by far the most technologically advanced, having perfected a way to create synthetic humans that are indistinguishable from the real thing (the player can observe the manufacturing process for these synths).   The rest of the Commonwealth views the institute with fear; for decades the Institute had been surreptitiously meddling in the affairs of the above ground world, occasionally kidnapping people and replacing them with synthetic versions.  

The Institute seems noble otherwise.  They are primarily concerned with their own safety, and generally prefer non-violent resolutions to problems.   They view themselves as the future of humanity, and the only way to achieve their goals, which are never adequately defined.   They seem intentionally to be vague bromides without any real meaning, and the player is unable to take them at anything other than face value.

At this point in the game, Assless Chaps had been working with the Railroad, as an undercover agent in The Institute.  The Institute, at this point, "has plans," which somehow involves synths, most likely as labor, but don't elaborate on them.    Assless Chaps is now the director of the Institute, because of nepotism.  He is also assisting with a plot to free as many captive synths as possible.

Now let's step back and put the artificial human angle into some context.  I present Roy Batty:

All these moments will be lost in time.  Like tears in rain.

The game doesn't really explore the philosophical issues of artificial humans; instead they pit the Railroad, which believes that synths are sentient, against the Institute, which insists they aren't, and leaves it up to the player to decide who is right.   There is no further context presented in game, so unless the player has seen Blade Runner (or read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep), they might be more likely to approach the synthetic human question as if the Institute were right.

So, because we're all meat, and that meat is hard-wired to process information in more or less the same way, the manufacturing process of said meat matters not in whether a person is a person.  

And I couldn't get the outcome that would have progressed logically from my actions.

So at this point, the Institute wants to remove the Brotherhood of Steel from the Commonwealth, because they present the most serious threat.   The Railroad has also been forced to confront the Brotherhood, because the Brotherhood is trying to disrupt the Railroad in order to obtain access to Institute technology (synths).  

So the Railroad and Institute are in agreement: The Brotherhood must go.  But at this point, it doesn't seem possible to use the Institute to take them out, and then proceed with the Railroad's synth rescue plan.  The player is ordered to destroy the Railroad.

So ultimately, the player is forced to destroy the Institute, by detonating a nuclear reactor it contains.  It isn't possible to change the direction of the institute as its new director.   No option to attempt to restore the trust of the wasteland settlers, even if the Brotherhood must be destroyed (and frankly, their helicopters are really fucking annoying, so I won't be assisting them at all next time).

What I wanted to do was:

  1. Figure out why synths are so important, and why the Institute's official line on their sentience must so assiduously be toed.
  2. Figure out what the main plan for the commonwealth is.
  3. As director of the Institute, use my authority to implement a new policy regarding synths that doesn't involve enslaving them.
  4. As director, use my authority to effect a new approach towards dealing with wasteland residents.
  5. As director of the Institute, General of the Minutemen, and key agent of the Railroad, forge an alliance between these three organizations to work together to help the institute better help the wasteland at large, and to help change the Institute's overall image.
And none of this was possible.

I guess my complaint is that if you're trying to model complex inter-organizational relationships, then the stated goals of the organizations involved can't really be at odds with the outcomes intended by game designers.

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