Thursday, December 24, 2015

Fallout 4: Why I supported the Institute

Fallout 4
(a review with spoilers)

I love the Fallout games. I played Fallout 1, 2, 3, New Vegas, and now FO4. A retro-sci-fi world blown to hell by nuclear bombs, and now you must survive in it. Fallout 4 begins with a pre-war man frozen in a Vault and then thawed out 200 years after the bombs dropped. He witnesses his wife murdered and his infant son stolen. Now he climbs out of the Vault and into a bombed-out, radioactive Boston. There your character learns the people are paranoid of something called "Synths," androids that look so human they are taking the place of human beings. Nobody knows why, only that they come from a place called The Institute.

(At first I thought the plot resembled the Sega CD game Snatcher, but it's only superficial. At least we found out what the snatchers were for by the end of that game. FO4 can't claim that honor.)

I was overpowered by level 12. I could kill a Deathclaw with a combat shotgun by level 15. Almost never died past that point, even without power armor. This game is even more unbalanced than Skyrim. Caps are easy to get, good weapons and armor are so easy to find you almost never have to modify or craft anything, and there's so much stuff in the Commonwealth you'll never have a problem upgrading your weapons and armor or building anything. I reached the point where nothing is impossible so fast it's a letdown.

Character motivation is a bit of a problem, too. You do one thing for someone, and they want to make you their king. My character joined the Railroad for no good reason, helps the Minutemen even though he has no vested interest in doing so, and is offered to join the Brotherhood of Steel after doing one mission in which he mostly hides behind the guy with power armor and a laser rifle. This is a problem in Fallout 3 and New Vegas, but I think the fact that the player's character is voiced this time makes it more noticeable. When your character isn't voiced, you're free to imbue your own motivations onto him/her. Not so when he has a voice and a personality of his own.

Equipment no longer decays, which makes the game way too easy. I know it didn't decay in the first two games, but that's apples to oranges. Having to replace your shotgun every few dozen shots in a turn-based combat game would have made it more complicated than it needed to be.

The lack of skillpoints also makes the game too easy. Merging skillpoints with the perks system streamlines the leveling, but it means your character comes out of the Vault an expert at everything except lock-picking and hacking, and you merely add perks to make him even better at those things. Under the old system, you were inexperienced with weapons until you leveled up and added skill points to each category, and only then did your accuracy and damage inflicted improve. In Fallout 4, somehow your character knows how to aim a gun, use a missile launcher, handle a minigun, make weapon mods, use and maintain power armor, and cook Deathclaw Steak straight out of the Vault. It's not roleplaying. It's what Doomguy would be if Doom 3 had been an RPG.

In spite of this, I liked the main quest at first, and the sidequests were good as well, except for the settlement quests. They get tiresome quick. The whole crafting thing is tedious and ridiculous. No more ridiculous than your character somehow being able to carry a minigun, four rifles, three shotguns and thirty grenades on his person, but there's only so far you can take videogame logic before it stops being fun and starts being stupid. Somehow I can take wads of old paper money and turn them into beds?? I can build generators that never need refueling? I can build new houses by scrapping the ruined structures in each settlement? Come on, it's a Fallout game, not Simcity.

That the NPCs expect you to do everything for them is aggravating. If they needed me to do everything myself it would be ok, but no, they EXEPCT the player to do everything! Why do I have to go and clear out those ghouls? Why ask me to build you defense systems? Why ask me to build you a generator? Why can't you people do it? What are the Minutemen doing in Sanctuary that's so important they can't?!

It kinda gives people a false impression of what a military General actually does. He doesn't go out and fight bad guys himself; he orders others to face the enemy for a greater cause. Hell, real leaders don't do everything themselves. They tell others to do things for them! Leaders coordinate other people and then take the credit for their work; they're not some √úbermensch who can do everything alone.

If caps weren't so easy to get, and you didn't know where to go to find out what happened to your son, then you'd have a reason to get involved with all these groups and do work for them. But since it's so easy to get rich in this game, and you know exactly where to go and what to do, you have no reason to join the Railroad, or the Brotherhood of Steel, or the Minutemen. It wasn't an issue in Fallout 1 and 2 because there was no stuff to collect and sell for easy caps. Getting caps was a difficult task, and you didn't know where to go or how to accomplish your mission. You had to complete quests to level up so you could improve your accuracy with guns and progress with the main quest. There's no necessity in the Bethesda Fallout games, so character motivation remains a huge problem.

The game is much more combat-heavy than the previous installments. There are fewer terminals to read and fewer local stories to find. Hell, there are only 3 Vaults to explore, and nothing in Fallout is more fun than discovering how evil Vault-Tech was! We only get a little bit of that this time. In Fallout 3 and NV, you had to go through the entire Vault to find out what the hell was going on, and the story was spread out across multiple terminals. In FO4, you find a terminal at the beginning of each Vault that outright explains the Vault's purpose, and nothing else. No buildup, no living the madness yourself before you get an explanation. The game is underwritten and over-actioned. There's somebody to fight around every corner, even outside of Boston, and wow it makes exploration an arduous task compared to Fallout 3 and NV.

I enjoyed the main story a lot more than Fallout 3 or Skyrim (but not more than New Vegas) for a while, but the further I progressed, the more the lack of character motivation bothered me. I'm not vested in any of these factions. I don't like how I was FORCED to be an important agent in the Railroad, leader of the Minutemen, and leader of the Institute! I didn't want to be any of those things, and I have no reason to go along with it!

In fact, the Minutemen become annoying by the end of the game. They preach a message of how we have to help each other to make life better in the Commonwealth, but they don't do a damn thing to help anyone! They expect me to run around the Commonwealth and do their dirty work for them! Defend this settlement, retake their old castle, build beds for them, build defenses for this settlement! Screw them! You people aren't doing anything but lounging around in Sanctuary! Get off your asses and practice what you preach!

There's no proof that the synths in the Institute are mere slaves and need to be liberated. The Railroad has a goal, and it's an admirable goal, but I went inside the Institute, and I don't see any enslavement, oppression, abuse, or hints that the Synths inside want to be free. To me, they seem to be just machines. What's the reward for guiding a Synth to freedom but condemning them to a life wandering the Commonwealth dodging bullets? That doesn't sound like much of a liberation.

There's no indication that the Institute is doing anything bad. After all that trouble to get inside, all I know about the Institute is that they plan to create robots to populate the post-war world, but so what? How does this save mankind? Do they plan to wipe out biological life, or upload it into machines, or merely recreate it with computer programs? I've been all over the Institute, and I find no terminals with useful information, and nobody gives more details, so I can't tell what exactly they're planning to do. I'd actually be all for uploading. That sounds like an improvement. How is this bad? Is there more to their plan? What about the FEV experiments? Why is there no option to ask about them? Information is not being withheld from me. There just isn't any.

There's even less reason to get involved with the Brotherhood of Steel. I wasn't interested in them from the start because their goal seems to be martial law, but for what? The Brotherhood has been an ambiguous faction since game 1, so I didn't feel bad becoming their enemy. Your character has no reason to join them because doing so does not help him find his son!

Without more information about what each side's goal is, how can I make a decision about which faction to support? While I don't expect the factions to be black or white, I was hoping for more details about what they're doing. I was at a loss for whose side to be on. It's the lack of information that bugs me, not the ambiguity. I'd be all for ambiguous good guys and bad guys if I knew more about them so I could weigh the pros and cons and choose who to support, but the game doesn't give enough context to do so.

Again, underwritten and over-actioned. As many reviewers on Steam have pointed out, Fallout has become an FPS with RPG elements instead of the other way around. It actually made the game less fun as I continued the main story. The only reward for progressing is special loot. In previous Fallout games, more story was your reward for exploration. Loot is not a good reward when you're already overpowered; it makes you feel like that journey was a waste of time because you already have five good weapons and armor with special bonuses. More of that does not satisfy. I wanna know more about these people, and the game provides no details.

I sided with the Institute. Because your character's son is in charge of it, it is the only faction you have a reason to join after seeing the war zone that is the Commonwealth. I'm pretty sure it's supposed to be the wrong choice, but it's the only one that makes sense.

So I reached the end. I killed everyone in the Railroad, blew up the Brotherhood of Steel, was surprised I didn't have to destroy the Minutemen, and there is no multi-part ending sequence showing how the choices you made affected various areas of the Commonwealth. No information on what the Institute does without opposition, and what it means for the future.

No matter what you do, the ending is the same, and you never learn the consequences of your choices. What absolute bullshit. Much like the dialogue "trees," all choices converge on a single path to the same end. Why bother being able to choose which faction to support if the end is the same?!

Sure, it's a good shooter, the action is good, the details are great, and the conversation system is so much better with cinematic angles (but worse for a maximum of 4 dialogue choices that have no effect on the outcome of the conversation), but there's no writing, or roleplaying. Fallout has been dumbed down! It's the next generation of consoles; they could've done even more with the storytelling and the branching choices! But there's no story. There are no more details about each faction. There is no reason to side with any faction. Nothing you do changes the ending, and you never find out what the Institute was planning, and how the Commonwealth fares depending on which choices you make. Fallout 4 forgets to be a Fallout game. It's a good action shooter, but there's nothing underneath to support it. What a disappointment.

Now that the game is over, there's nothing left to do but try and romance a Deathclaw.