Wednesday, March 16, 2016

On grey and grey morality, and (the excellent) Fallout 4

Okay, the world of Fallout 4 is full of murky decisions. But on the bright side, you get a dog!

Note: Tons of ending ers for Fallout 4 follow.

One of the better-developed tropes on the ole TV Tropes is that of grey and gray morality, and it’s now interesting to me to see how more and more game developers are using it in their games. It’s been on my mind recently because, like seemingly everyone else with a current generation console, I’ve been making my way through the Commonwealth of Fallout 4 since the game’s release in November.

If you’re not aware of the game, but still reading this entry for some reason, a quick description – Fallout 4 is an open-world first-person shooter with RPG elements. It’s set in Boston after (essentially) worldwide nuclear war that was primarily instigated by the U.S. and China. In the Fallout universe, there are energy shortages that lead to war, with some timeline differences starting around 1945. The Fallout wiki had an exhaustive articles on the divergences and games’ timelines.

The main conflict in Fallout 4 is between different factions working together or against one another for control of the greater Boston area – The Institute, the Brotherhood of Steel, the Railroad and the Minutemen.

- The Institute are technological boogeymen who believe in the superiority of technology. They essentially try to control society from the shadows, with a secret base under CIT, the game’s stand-in for MIT. As an added bonus, your personal history as the sole survivor from an underground bomb shelter intertwines with the group. The game starts with you, your wife and your sweet baby boy being put into cryogenic freeze. Later, Institute scientists take the baby and shoot your wife when she tries to stop them. The game’s events are put into motion when your son – now a grown old man – frees you from the cryogenic prison.

- The Brotherhood of Steel is a militaristic group that believes strong in recovering an reusing pre-Atomic War technology. They’re the closest thing to an established “government” power in the game. They were one of the prime allies in Fallout 3, although far less militaristic. Backstory and in-game dialogue suggests that the leader of the Brotherhood from that game passed away or died, which led rise to a more authoritarian, younger leader. (His daughter, a prominent character who survives in most of the endings, is nowhere to be seen, and neither is the Lone Wanderer from Fallout 3.)

- The Railroad is the main antagonist group against the Institute. The Institute has developed synthetic human clones / lifeforms to do most of their above-ground bidding, but, they’ve become so advanced that they have consciousness and free-will to an extent. The Institute refuses to acknowledge this, but the Railroad is committed to freeing as many synths as they can. (Synths aren’t received especially well by the general public, which also means that the Brotherhood and some of the Minutemen are against them as well.)

- The Minutemen are the closest thing the game has to a “good” option. As you’d expect from the name, they’re a motley crew of Bostonians who have banded together to fight off Super Mutants and other baddies. However, as the game starts, their numbers have dwindled to about a dozen people, and you have to build them up from square one.

Regardless of what you think of the four groups, there isn’t a clear cut answer as to which one is “right,” like a lot of games, and each of their plotlines makes you do something squeamish to get the ending. To win as the Minutemen, you have to wipe out the Institute. To win as the Institute, you have to wipe out the Brotherhood and the Railroad. To win as the Brotherhood, you have to kill the Institute and Railroad. While you can play the sides against one another for a while, you eventually have to make a choice and pick one.

As a result, there is also an added layer to the experience if you replay the game from the perspective of the other side. Remember that soldier you mowed down when allying with the Railroad? Well, when you’re with the Brotherhood, you find out they have a fully-fleshed out history and backstory, and hey, he’s not such a bad guy. Fallout 4 has tons of “named” characters, and you’re faced with this dilemma when venturing through any of the four main plotlines.

For the record – In my “best” save, I went with the Railroad. The Brotherhood and Institute were completely untenable to me to keep around, and the Minutemen ending path hadn’t presented itself to me. (It tends to be a “default” ending if you screw things up too badly with the other groups to proceed.)

And, oh, the game itself? Fallout 4 is pretty rad. I enjoy when my limited knowledge of Boston comes in handy and I recognize something, and it’s mindless fun to just poke around all of the nooks and crannies of the map. I’m one (glitched) trophy away from a platinum, but unlike a lot of past Bethesda games, I haven’t had a single game-ruining bug or massive save issues. If you have a PS4 or Xbox One, it’s pretty much an immediate “Must Play!” if you’re a serious gamer.

The DLC for the game starts coming out this month, with a pack with some rowe-buts coming out in roughly a week. From there, another DLC is going to be about Bar Harbor, Maine! And probably three or four more places, since Fallout 3 ended up with about five DLC. This is the first game I actually shelled out the cash for a season pass, so I am excite.

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