WARNING – Reading this might ruin the experience of watching the video first. So consider that if you’d rather wait for the video. Some of the script may change when I record it. Some parts might be cut. It also hasn’t been EXTENSIVELY proofread because I automatically do that again while I record it. So there might be mistakes. I update the script with those changes while watching the completed video at the end of the project.
If anyone actually reads all of this before the video comes out please leave a comment. I’m curious how many go through all of the scripts beforehand. The main reason I post them is for people to read along with the video. My guess is that with long ones like this, most people only read a little. Which makes sense!
Fallout 4, One Year Later
November of 2015 was an important month in my life. My birthday is in November and that year I turned 30, which is too old to pretend you’re not an adult anymore. It was also my first birthday since becoming a father. And it was the month that Fallout 4 came out.
That last one doesn’t seem like it belongs, does it? Turning 30… birth of your child… Fallout 4. I know it doesn’t match with these other, monolithic milestones in life but it was still a very important event for me. Because Fallout 4 was the game that I decided to take this Youtube channel seriously. To treat it like a job.
So despite this game being the least important of those three things, it’s all I really remember about November, 2015. All I did was play Fallout that month. I vaguely remember a birthday cake. My son had some icing when he really shouldn’t have. I know I got some sleep at some point. But those are flashes among a huge blur of the Commonwealth, Diamond City, Piper and Nick, and those infectious songs on the in-game radio.
I don’t remember making the video. I remember writing the script and recording it. But the video part… not even a little of it, which is unsettlingly common when I look back at other stuff I’ve made for the channel. When I watch that Fallout 4 Analysis today, I can view it like someone else made it. And, considering how quickly I got it done after the game’s release, I’m happy with it. Parts are a little rushed. And I’ve learned a lot since then. But that’s a really good thing. A year is a long time. I’ve changed. The channel has changed. Fallout 4 has changed as well. And I think returning to the game is long overdue.
This video will, naturally, contain major spoilers. It will also build on a lot of what I said in my first video—if you’ve played the game then you don’t HAVE to watch it to understand this video, but I still recommend it.
<ONE YEAR LATER>
For that first video I played Fallout 4 for a hundred hours. The game has since been updated with six DLC packs. Four of these were mostly about expanding the settlement building side of the game. The other two were more traditional add-ons: more inline with the DLC given to Fallout 3 and New Vegas. They added new areas, new characters, and new stories to find and complete.
Playing the game again, and all of these additions, more than doubled my playtime. Today, I’ve spent more than 250 hours playing Fallout 4. And after all of that time, I have a confession to make. One that, if you watched my previous video, may surprise you.
I like Fallout 4.
There’s some gas left in the tank on this one. If you put a gun to my head and told me to play another fifty hours of No Man’s Sky or Darkest Dungeon, then I might risk losing an eye. If it was Fallout 4? I’d be okay spending more time stomping around the Commonwealth.
Realizing this about the game hasn’t been easy for me to rationalize. It’s also come with a reevaluation on how I feel about Bethesda. Because a year ago my inclination was that Todd Howard and his Merry Band of Merrymen were only in it for the money. There’s a meme on 4chan that has Todd Howard, often in an assortment of disguises, showing up and demanding that people buy and/or preorder Bethesda’s latest game. And he gets increasingly more irate as posters reply saying they pirated it, or that they thought the game was bad. Because that’s the impression I think a lot of people have gotten since Fallout 3, into Skyrim, and now Fallout 4. Which is an image the lead designer hasn’t really helped in fighting.
<clip from the Lead Writer’s talk>
This might still be true. But I find myself awkwardly reconsidering it as I try to weigh and measure the different parts of the game. Because it’s equally awkward to judge which reality is worse: that the terrible parts of Fallout 4 exist because Bethesda doesn’t care? Or is this honestly the best they can do and they just failed to live up to expectations?
After 250 hours I can say that Fallout 4 feels like a game born of conflicted priorities. There’s the Open World Shooter Game, and there’s the RPG. And maybe, initially, these two were meant to be well integrated. As time went on, a divide formed and split them down the middle. As even more development time passed one side grew and pushed the other away. And I’m left wondering if the game’s title, and the expectations that came with it, are the worst parts about it. Because this would be a much better game if it wasn’t Fallout.
I returned to Fallout 4 with one of my old characters in order to do the big DLC packs—Far Harbor, and Nuka World. Then I restarted with a fresh guy—Vault-Tec Salesman, Bombs Drop, Dead Wife, Kidnapped Baby, We Still Have The Backup—and decided to ignore all of it. I left Kellogg in his box. I left the kid napping. And started wandering the Commonwealth with the radio on full volume.
I saw another side of the game by doing this. One that I had caught glimpses of in 2015, but didn’t fully understand until this recent playthrough. The way I see it, there’s a cycle to gameplay in Fallout 4—one that must be deliberate in my opinion because it feels like the game is constantly pushing you toward it. Even when you pull on your knee-high boots and wade into the shit on the RPG side of the line, the game shoves you back.
Go kill this.
Go fetch that.
Another settlement needs our help.
The cycle goes like this:
In more detail:
You explore the world and discover a noteworthy area. These places are almost always marked on your compass when you’re nearby to act as a guide to find them. They then fill in your map when you get close enough and are introduced with a discovery title on your screen.
More often than not there’s something to fight in these locations, or in the surrounding area that leads to them. You defeat how ever many enemies there might be and then move onto the final phase.
You loot the location. And the bodies of your opponents. You gather resources for yourself—ammunition, chems, stimpacks, and maybe even upgrades for your equipment—and scavenge supplies for your settlements. It’s also common to find some sort of story in the environment: whether that’s a subtle placement of objects and corpses, or something told a little more directly with audio logs, journals, or computer terminals.
Now my guess is that, right now, people watching this are going to be in two groups. They’re going to be thinking, in reaction to what I just said, one of the following:
- “There’s SO MUCH MORE to the game than that Joe, what the hell are you talking about.”
- Or: “This is really simple. Of course this is the core of the game. Why are you wasting my time?”
In short: both of these reactions are correct. But sometimes you can learn quite a lot about something by boiling it down to simple terms. And I have to wonder if there really is SO MUCH MORE to Fallout 4 that this central, three-phase cycle is shrouded from the view of some people.
You have story. Character progress—in levels, perks, skill books, and bobbleheads. There’s quests and the dialogue system that comes along with it. Which leads to characters. Companions. Interactions with them. The settlement system—building and maintaining it. Social perks that unlock options outside of combat as another avenue of progression. Weapon crafting. Legendary enemies. Upgrading armor. And even more of this stuff added in the DLC that layer over these three key points.
But this is just one way of looking at it. It also happens to be how I looked at the game when I first played it. Today, I see all these things as like… the surface of a wheel. The three phases at the heart of the game are what keeps it all connected. You can’t do anything in Fallout 4 without going out to explore, finding things to kill, and then acquiring resources after “claiming” these areas. You spin through each phase, able to feed into the other parts of the game as you do.
I view this as Fallout 4’s greatest strength. And its most glaring flaw. It’s a weakness that could have been avoided if the game had been in a different series—if it had been called anything except Fallout. I know that sounds so stupid and simple—like I’m saying if the game had been called Boston-After-Trump with no other changes then it would miraculously become a masterpiece. I’m NOT saying that. The name change is a bit more complex because it’s not just player expectations that you have to weigh here. It’s also the obligation the developers clearly felt as well.
Here’s where I get into murky territory. Surprisingly, I’m not a mindreader. I’ll also be the first to admit that I know very little about the development process that results in a finished game. And, even if I did, what information I do know suggests that this process is very different from company to company. When I’ve spoken about “Developer Intentions” and the like in previous videos, I don’t think I’ve been as clear as I could have been in saying that it’s all just guesswork on my part. It’s INFORMED guesswork—by studying the finished product—but this is all so complicated that what looks like an intentional feature may just be a failed attempt at something else. Or even an incomplete or unfinished one when content was cut to make a deadline.
Or Bethesda’s Bug, from the previous Fallout 4 video, to explain that a function in the game might not be missing. It might just not be working properly.
Despite saying that, I feel confident that the split I showed earlier in the video is accurate. No matter where this divide was at the start of development, by the end Fallout 4 was meant to be an open world, exploration-based shooter with the RPG stuff stuck on like someone tried gluing feathers back onto the chicken they just plucked.
The three main ways I can support that are:
- Quests, and Those Three Damn Phases Again.
- Stories, and the Writer Behind Fallout 4
- (And Finally,) The Dialogue System
Let’s take these on in order:
This first one is the strongest piece of evidence that reveals the developer’s intentions. Because, like I said, going through these phases is fun. It’s good. It’s not incredible or great, but it is an enjoyable part of the game. Many of the places are interesting. The shooting is fairly standard. And searching for loot and valuable items is strangely appealing, especially if you’re hoarding them all for crafting. I’ll speak more about this later but for now I just want to make it clear that, not only do I think this is the foundation of the game, but that I also think it’s pretty good.
Unfortunately Bethesda feels far more strongly than I do, because they try to get you into this cycle at every opportunity. After this most recent playthrough, I have completed almost every side-quest in Fallout 4. I’ve also visited almost every area. I want to say I’ve done EVERYTHING but it’s possible I might have missed something somewhere so let’s be safe and say I’ve done 95% of the game.
Out of all of that, I can say that the overwhelming majority of the quests, or even simple tasks, given to the player involve exploring the world to find a location, killing a bunch of enemies at that location, and then finding something or someone there afterward. Time and time again, with so few exceptions that it’s difficult to even think of any, this is what the game has you do.
Here’s a quest. Go here. Kill a bunch of stuff. Bring something back for me.
It’s a very World of Warcraft way of laying things out. There are NPC hubs in the Commonwealth and they’re seemingly bursting with stuff for you to do. The game has radiant quests here as well as scripted ones. For those unfamiliar, radiant quests are continually generated by spawning enemies and an objective at some location in the world, so that there are effectively unlimited quests for you to do. It’s the reason why characters who hand these out are vague on details—these voiced instructions can’t be generated like a note or a quest marker explaining what to do.
My guess is that some people at Bethesda are really proud of how these radiant quests can sometimes appear like regular ones—that many players might not even notice that they’re doing “artificially” generated content. When in reality I think this is viewing it backwards: it’s that the actual, scripted quests are so dull and samey that it’s that THEY appear like radiant ones, not the other way around.
There are technically so many quests for you to do in Fallout 4, but because they all involve returning to the core cycle, they all feel the same. It’s Quantity Over Quality. Which brings us to the second point… Stories, and that Fallout 4 has no writers.
That video clip I showed earlier is of a talk given by Emil Pagliarulo, Lead Designer and Writer on Fallout 4. I’m not going to speak about much of what he says in this presentation, because I already spent most of another video going through the problems in his story. I do want to say though that, to his credit, writing for a video game must be dreadfully difficult. As he says in this talk—you can spend so much time writing wonderful stories and then have to watch as players tear out the pages to make paper airplanes instead of reading them.
We’ll be looking primarily at the side quests for now and the issue I have with them is directly linked with that analogy he uses. It seems to me that in the face of this reality of dealing with unpredictable players, they decided not to even try. It’s tied right in with Quantity Over Quality, and some of what Pagliarulo says in this talk makes me think some of my suspicions on how Bethesda creates their scripted side quests might be true.
Basically, for a while I’ve been wondering if there’s any actual writers that come up with most of these quests. Instead, it feels like they have a big meeting one day near the middle of the game’s development cycle and ask everyone at the company to think of any cool quest idea that they think would fit in with the game. They write a quick summary of that idea on a piece of paper and drop it into a box somewhere at the office. After a week or so the guys that make the quests, hopefully guided by Pagliarulo, put all these slips of paper into a hat and choose some at random to read out loud. If they like the idea then it goes into the game. If they don’t then it gets discarded.
That sounds absolutely crazy but bear with me here. Suspend your disbelief for a second. There’s a lot that supports this in the game, especially since so many quests can be summarized like they were written on that scrap of paper.
A melodramatic actor is stuck on a tower of super mutants.
You help repair a Chinese submarine so it can sail away.
There’s a ghoul kid in a fridge.
There’s a robot that can brew beer.
Find a cat and send it home.
Rescue some kid that ran off to become a raider.
You pretend to be a crime fighting superhero.
And so on and so forth. I think you get the idea. Now immediately you might think this is unfair. It’s easy to summarize and simplify something, right? Well the proof that backs this up is that these quests, and almost every single other quest in the game, has no more depth to it other than this surface-level description. There are rarely ever any decisions or ways to interact with these stories. But even if you excuse that, you still can’t ignore that there’s nothing really to these quests.
Like look at those examples fleshed out:
You fight your way to the top of the tower to save the actor. You then ride down with him to safety. The end.
You do fetch quests to find the parts required to fix the submarine and clear out the ghouls for the captain. That’s it. You can speak to him a bit and ask some questions that don’t really go anywhere. You also have the joke option to blow up the submarine along with you inside of it—which kills you and forces a reload. But there’s nothing else. No involved story about how or why the captain has never left the submarine in 200 years—or how he even survived this long. No optional objective to fix the submarine without killing the captain’s ghoulified crew. This is a fairly interesting scenario in my opinion and, instead of exploring this potential, the basic idea is all there is and used as an excuse to send you back into that three-phase-cycle.
The kid in the fridge I spoke about last time. There’s no way he could have survived in the fridge that long without food and water. The entire story here is to take him home. His parents are still there. You fight raiders for absolutely no logical reason—he just “wants them”. The end.
The Brewbot is especially egregious because this thing should be an extremely valuable machine. It could have been interesting if multiple parties got wind of its existence and were trying to get it. The game sort of hints at this since you can choose to keep it for yourself. But that’s the end. There’s no wacky story about different gangs kidnapping the robot and fighting over it. It could have been funny if each time you rescue it that it’s been modified in a new weird way each time, or learned new bad habits from its raider captors. Even without that, really think about how rare something like this must be in the post-apocalypse. Instead it’s a glorified fetch quest. Because the idea wasn’t explored past its simple description.
In Vault 81 a cat escapes when you arrive. You get the quest to go out and send it home. That’s the whole quest. Good job. I can’t believe I have to say this next sentence: this isn’t how cats work. A cat wouldn’t do this. Would it have been so difficult to have the player able to pick up the cat and carry it back? Maybe this quest was meant to be misdirection so the bigger quest chain in Vault 81 could begin while you’re gone, but they’re not directly linked so… I don’t know, Bethesda’s Bug?
The guy that’s become a raider is in a factory right next to the farm he used to live on. You clear the place out of raiders. You have a dialogue option at the end which consistently bugged out on me. You can help him reconcile with his family or not with one conversation. That’s the whole thing.
Pretending to be the Silver Shroud has slightly more to it, and it’s this example I’ll use to acknowledge that some people might think I’m cherry picking my quests to support my argument. If you’ve played the game enough then I’d urge you to look at a wiki and read through the side quests. Think about how many fit my criteria here. How many of them are: something close to a catchy concept or situation—Convince a guy to stop taking drugs, Robots Need Fresh Water!, or There’s a Deathclaw in Salem!–but ultimately end up being one or two extremely simple tasks involving combat or retrieving an item? It’s like, imagine there was a book called The Dog Barks at Midnight. And then you open it up to read and it’s just one single page describing a dog barking at midnight and then two hundred pages of blank, missed opportunity. That’s virtually every single quest in Fallout 4, because:
They’re thinly disguised excuses to shove you back into Explore, Combat, Gather.
The quests that are exceptions—or almost exceptions—link back to the third point on that list: the dialogue system. And also roleplaying or character building, depending on what you want to call it.
There are a handful of quests that are more substantial. The Silver Shroud, The Last Voyage of the USS Constitution, Hole in the Wall, The Secret of the Cabot House, and Human Error.
These have multiple phases, characters to speak to and problems to solve for them, and aren’t just one-shot fetch quests. Unfortunately they’re still highly linear and don’t have many choices until the end. They also still eventually involve a lot of combat and clearing out an area on the world map—you’re sent to a sewer system, or a hospital, or an insane asylum and have to fight through it all.
There’s no variety or branching decisions, or ways to change anything significantly with how you’ve leveled your character. This is true for the vast majority of the game: even speech checks rarely ever result in anything other than additional pointless lines of dialogue that really don’t reveal anything important…
…or they reward extra caps. There’s hardly ever an attempt at rewarding the player for choosing to approach the game in a specific way.
One exception that I found is among those five, which stands out as the only quest in the entire game that comes close to belonging in an RPG: The Last Voyage of the USS Constitution. This is about a crew of crazy military robots that have claimed an old ship and fitted it with advanced hardware, with the intent to launch themselves into the ocean and continue the war that ruined the world.
Now I’m not about to say this is stellar stuff, but it’s interesting enough to be engaging. It also involves a second party you can choose to side with—a group of scavengers—that want the robots and all of their hardware for valuable scrap. Plus, I doubt this is a coincidence, this is the only quest in the entire base game that I found that had stat checks. You can bypass some of the quest stages if you built your character the right way—you can repair some of the ship with your own skill rather than having to go out, find an area, clear it out, and carry something back.
It’s also the quest that seems to have the most work put into it. There’s a fancy rocket launch at the end. The ship flies through the air and lands in another part of the city. It’s the best side quest in the game and it’s still only one step above decent, which goes to show you how poor the RPG side of Fallout 4 really is. This should have been one of the middle-of-the-line, wacky scenarios in a series of great quests in the Commonwealth. It even sounds similar to one of the quests in New Vegas, and I consider it to be one of the weaker ones in that game.
So what does this have to do with dialogue? Well, first off, dialogue options would be one of the main ways that players could choose to express their character building choices—conversation paths and solutions that unlock if you have the right perk or stats or something. But even without those, dialogue options should be exactly that: an option. A way to steer the conversation and influence how the quest progresses. Or, even failing that most basic requirement, you should at least be able to ask appropriate questions so you can better understand what’s happening.
Fallout 4 does not do any of this.
Most of you watching this probably know by now how terrible the dialogue system is in this game, but even I was surprised by the depths Bethesda sank when I played again with a mod that expands every choice. Without this mod, what your character will say is labelled with a very brief hint. Some might think you’re meant to judge which is the best option for what you want say. Personally, I think these options are intentionally this castrated so players are unlikely to realize they don’t really have options.
The worst and best example was this one here, which is strangely in an area that’s quite enjoyable apart from this. This is a shopping center that was meant to be run by robots. They’ve all gone mad in 200 years and each place you enter has some deadly trick that you can try to avoid.
Here, you enter a diner. The booths are full of skeletons which should be enough to tip you off. If you accept the diner’s offer to serve you, then you are rudely shown how literal they mean that term when you take your seat. They’re going to SERVE YOU, AS dinner, not the other way around. When the robot asks how you would like to be served, your character has these dialogue options.
Which seem innocent enough, until you see the same thing with the mod installed. Three of these are exactly the same response just with a different label.
So maybe that’s not a great example though. It’s just some funny moment, right? The whole game couldn’t be like that…
Well, I strongly recommend you give the game a few more hours of playtime with this mod so you can see how much work went into giving you the illusion of choice. It’s so much worse than most people think: how you can’t ever really say no, and that your options are just yes, yes, or a sarcastic yes. It’s more insidious than that when you can read every option, because you can see how so many dialogue choices are the same line rephrased and reworded, all to push you toward a certain trigger question or statement so the NPC can unload the information relevant for you to…
Kill some guys.
Then gather resources.
At the risk of repeating myself from the previous video, I wish that Bethesda simply hadn’t bothered. There’s no way to express character building or true choices in these conversations, so why not make them fully scripted instead? I understand that having a voiced protagonist makes it so much more expensive to have dialogue options, but this also meant that the player character is… an actual character, and not an avatar for the player. As shown by that character’s origin story and emotions and motivations for their family. It would have been a good excuse to have scripted conversations with choices—if there are even any—left at the end.
Because the quality of dialogue suffers here too. Conversations already mostly work this way—there’s an intended conclusion to most of them that, if you exhaust every dialogue option, sits at the end of so much repeated information and awkwardly spoken lines when you consider how this back and forth is progressing between two people. Having one version would make the whole thing much smoother. It also could have made the dialogue camera a reliable tool that could be made to function properly, instead of constantly being stuck or clipping through other characters or walls or objects, since the game has to account for so many different variables if you choose to wait between dialogue choices or start speaking to someone from a direction that’s difficult for the camera to adjust to.
Seriously this sort of stuff happened to me all the time while I played.
If each conversation was a short, scripted movie then all this could be avoided.
This all brings us to a difficult question, and back to that conflicting feeling I spoke about at the beginning of the video: whether or not this game was purely about making money, or making a good game. Was this a cash-in, or was this honestly the best they could do?
To address this I think it would be good to answer a question I get asked a fair amount in the comments on my video. About another Bethesda game that I’ve mentioned enjoying a few times.
Why do I like Skyrim?
The first Elder Scrolls game that I played was Oblivion. Then, in an order that will make sense in just a moment, I played Fallout 3, New Vegas, Skyrim, and then Fallout 4. All of these as they were released.
These games all share a lot in common, but New Vegas and Fallout 4 stick out more distinctly in my mind.
First, to answer that question about Skyrim, I think the biggest reason that I’m able to like it is that I didn’t play Morrowind. Today, I know quite a lot about that game. Just like I now know quite a lot about Fallout 1 and 2 even though I started with Fallout 3—which is helped a bit by how much I played Baldur’s Gate, Planescape Torment, and a bunch of other of those RPGs that get the “classic” label from so many people.
Skyrim, for me, has never been an RPG. It’s something else. Something that’s half-unique to Bethesda. Understanding this has given me both a greater appreciation for the developer, and also a heightened way to be disappointed with them.
Skyrim has the same cycle that Fallout 4 does. You explore. You find some place that could be interesting. You engage in combat to clear it out. And then you ransack it for gold, magical trinkets, and resources for crafting. Or even for your treasure trove of a house if you’re playing with the Hearthfire DLC, which is like an eerie prelude to the settlement stuff in Fallout 4 now.
Almost all the quests in Skyrim push you into that cycle. So much more work is put into the environments you find and explore, rather than the stories, characters, and choices that a lot of people wanted.
This is an important distinction because, despite what the game’s genre tags might say, I don’t think these games are RPGs. They’re… a thing all of their own. The best way I can describe them is just to say they’re Bethesda Games. Which imbues a fresh layer of legitimacy to how many people said Fallout 3 was just Oblivion with guns. And that Skyrim was Fallout 3 with curved swords. Fallout 4 is Skyrim with guns… and so on.
This is a distressingly fitting way of describing these games.
RPG doesn’t mean a leveling system or stat points. It doesn’t mean a specific setting. Or that a game has a story. Most games have all of these nowadays and they’re not called RPGs. This is outside of the scope of this video but, for now, I think it’s fair to say that there needs to be a certain level of character building and the ability to choose how you interact with a game’s conflict and characters to be worthy of the RPG name. Otherwise it’s a dead term. It’s something that New Vegas moderately succeeds in doing while the other games on this list barely try.
So why is all of this a problem? Well most importantly, Bethesda themselves haven’t realized this. Or, far more likely, they’re afraid to fully embrace it. These expectations matter so much and, although the backlash I got for it was far beyond reasonable, I do understand why so many people were annoyed that I hadn’t played Fallout 1 and 2 before making my first Fallout 4 video.
But I think New Vegas was enough to show me how much people expect from this series, and how woefully short the supply is from Bethesda. Instead of embracing the way they want to make the game—open world, combat, explore, inspect, and loot—they have this weird half-ass, token attempt at it still in the game. Like they’re afraid too many people will be upset if they ignored it completely.
The result is that unbalanced split of priorities which shouldn’t really appeal to either group, right? Suddenly the really vocal, angry fans of the RPG side of Fallout makes more sense, because what they wanted was given so little attention. But the other side didn’t get a fully-fleshed experience either. So why has a lot of the reception this game has received been so positive?
Or, to repeat the question, why do I like Skyrim? It has the same problems.
Obviously I can only speak for myself. Even acknowledging how clearly the game was made to favor Quantity Over Quality… there’s not really many games that can compare to what Skyrim provides. So even though I definitely agree with the description “As wide as an ocean but as deep as a puddle”… I really enjoying stomping around, making splashes in this puddle.
Put another way, the idea of “You Can Go Anywhere. You Can Do Anything,” is an extremely powerful one. Even if only one half of that promise is really true, that doesn’t entirely extinguish that experience so many adore.
There is so much to do in Skyrim. So many places to explore and search through. Gathering resources and having so many different ways to improve your character—with immediate feedback as your guy gets better at that specific skill as they use it—all combine to make this constant progression loop that hits me as a good time. And that’s without accounting for mods improving the experience.
Even though the combat is a full step below passable, and that the animations are sort of bad, and there aren’t many interesting characters to find and speak to, the game can still be carried by the sheer amount of content in its varied locations. I like simply exploring the world in Skyim. Arriving at the different towns and exploring them too. Finding caves and ruins tucked in the corners of mountains. The quirky landmarks someone took the time to place in the world.
But I can’t shake the feeling that, if I had played Morrowind first, I would think very differently about it. Even though I hope I could see past my expectations and enjoy Bethesda’s intentions, I would still be disappointed that they chose to make a different game than the one I wanted to play.
Because that’s how I feel about Fallout 4 because I played New Vegas first.
Fallout 3 has never grabbed me like Skyrim or Oblivion did. I don’t know if it’s because of the setting—the constant wrecked ruined place into the next wrecked ruined place. Or crumbling subway after crumbling subway. But out of all these games we’ve spoken about here, Fallout 3 is the one I’ve played the least. Or maybe it’s just how combat works—guns and raiders change too much in someway. I’m not sure.
For Fallout 4, it was that the “Bethesda Game” side of development got more attention to finally make it good outside of just exploration. Combat is dramatically improved. And a lot of character progression is tied directly to finding new locations and searching them for resources.
Before we get into that, let’s address something on both sides here. I said earlier that the quests in this game are heavily linear and that they seldom have choices. Some of you might not care about that. Some of you might think, because you love the game so much, that the RPG side is perfectly fine. My question to challenge that is, even if you don’t care about choices and think linear quests in an open world are great, don’t you agree that the stories themselves still aren’t all that interesting? That the decision to have a lot of these, instead of fewer but more developed quests, might have been a mistake? Look at how boring and uninspired the stories in Fallout 4’s vaults are as the most disappointing example of this.
On the flip side, there’s probably quite a few of you watching that think, even despite the amount of work that went into the game’s exploration and combat, that it still isn’t all that fun. The shooting is quite basic. There’s not enough enemy variety in the base game. I think this all needs to be viewed in relation to the open world and freedom the game comes packaged with to be fairly judged, and to understand why so many people still like it, but I have to agree it could be better.
A lot better actually, because it comes back to that conflict in priorities. It’s not just that Bethesda should release themselves of the obligation to include minimal effort RPG elements—essentially, do something right or don’t do it at all. It’s that they should also fully commit to the other side and flesh out all of those mechanics.
So let’s look at that now. The three phase cycle in far more detail. How it succeeds in many ways, but also where it falls short of its potential.
Let’s approach these in the same order that we have throughout the video so far.
Exploration is by far the strongest part of the game and it’s clear to me that the most amount of work went into it. Not only that, but the most amount of love and care as well. I haven’t played every open world game ever made, but I have played enough to know that Bethesda succeeds in making Fallout 4’s world an interesting place to get lost in. From what I know about their two biggest series, and playing most of them myself, I can also see that they’re getting better with each game.
This is the only part of Fallout 4 that doesn’t suffer from Quantity Over Quality. It’s Quantity AND Quality instead.
On a broad scale, the Commonwealth map isn’t gigantic or anything, but it is large enough not to feel cramped. Yet there aren’t many empty areas either—even if there’s no marker for a place on a map, there tends to be a lot of minor locations littered throughout the world too.
There’s a lot of variety both in setting and the types of places you’ll find. What impresses me the most about it all is how smooth transitions from different “biomes” are in the world. There’s the sparse woodland in the northwest quadrant that you start in, the coastal zones on the eastern part of the map, the outer city areas as you start heading south, then the distinctly different inner city streets. Farther south than that are the wetlands and, of course, you have the alien looking glowing sea in the southwest corner.
That might not seem like much when it’s summarized but there’s a lot of different places that suit many of these parts of the map. The cabins and remote locations in your starting area. Then more signs of industry in the south—railroads, trains, a garbage dump, into some larger buildings that end up being tiny compared to the inner city towers. There’s a real sense of flow and change in the locations you encounter. The placement of many factories and the like makes enough sense that it doesn’t feel forced that you’re finding so many places to explore. Which carries forward when you enter these places and have natural enough interiors to fight through. Sometimes the way the places are falling apart inside feels sort of contrived and it’s obvious they were trying to make it feel like a dungeon, but more often than not these places feel authentically like a structure lost to the war.
Add to that the amount of detail on the outside of many buildings. Or that some of them don’t have interior levels at all, and instead have spilled their contents into the street when the bombs tore them open. There’s a surprising amount of vertical layers that make many of the city sections feel dense and rewarding to explore, since you’re learning the paths between the remaining pieces of a wrecked highway and the city below it—sometimes even accounting for the makeshift bridges that raiders or the gunners have created there too.
It’s a real shame that the game’s combat is so plain then, because this level of attention was also brought to the arenas in which you fight throughout the game. It’s easy to remember the first few battles around Sanctuary—with the raiders below the electrical towers, or at the satellite station to the east, or patrolling the road on the forest. Enemies liberally use the environment for cover and fighting those raiders hiding behind those trees is a strong memory of mine in the game for a reason I don’t fully understand—maybe it’s something as simple as this was the first moment I noticed they COULD use cover, back in November 2015, and was stunned that Bethesda had bothered adding interesting AI to the game.
Because here’s the thing: combat in Fallout 3 is terrible. It’s terrible in New Vegas. It’s terrible in the Elder Scrolls games too. I said Fallout 4’s combat was good in my first video and, while I stand by that comment today, I have to wonder if I was so surprised by how much work went into it that I was a little too generous with how I judged it. Because sure, it’s definitely a huge improvement from these other games, but it’s still… well it’s not exactly thrilling.
Like I said it’s easy for me to remember those first encounters. But it’s later areas that are far more impressive. Fighting raiders in a huge quarry, with cover and vertical levels spread all over the place. The same can be said for the factories and their skeletal walkways that snake all over the outside of them. The ones that most impressed me were the ruins of Quincy, and a similar lost settlement near there that was half flooded. There were so many wrecked houses and optional paths through what ended up being quite large combat arenas. There were a lot of options for how you find and move from cover. For flanking enemies and for them flanking you. Places to climb and get to higher ground. Places to hide…
There are even more examples of this in the DLC. Some of the arenas in Far Harbor clearly had a lot of work put into them—the raider town built around a wrecked ship as the prime example that comes to my mind. And the best of all would be the Galactic Zone in Nuka World, which feels huge even though it has so many stacked levels and different paths woven throughout it all.
So it’s a missed opportunity that combat in Fallout 4 is basically point, shoot, and reload. Even the cover mechanics are shallow. The only thing the game has on top of this is the VATS system, and the variety of its enemy types… which aren’t that great.
Look I understand that having a functional combat system alone is an achievement for Bethesda. And that’s not sarcasm either it must have been very difficult for them to get this to work in their Frankenstein engine since it took an entire new game to finally feel like a shooter, instead of the gun magically spawning bullets in front of the model like you’re casting a spell for each one in Oblivion.
I also understand that this simple version of combat also feeds into the exploration and scavenging phases. There’s no base-line health regen and looting specific ammo types isn’t reliable. Essentially you have a supply of bullets and stimpacks, and your task is to kill all of the enemies using as little of these resources as possible, so that when you loot all of their corpses it’s a net-gain. It’s for this reason that a lot of raiders drop stimpacks, as well as different kinds of ammunition so that you’re incentivized to carry around multiple weapon types and switch between them. There’s variety to be found there in the early and mid-game, before you become comfortably powerful with lots of perks and levels and legendary gear.
But all of that doesn’t change how bog-standard the minute-to-minute shooting is in this game. The best argument I can make is to ask you to imagine Fallout 4 exactly as it is today, only the player has the nanosuit from the Crysis games. So suddenly you have access to reliable stealth that depletes action points. You have super strength and speed in order to navigate these really cool arenas in more creative ways. All that verticality could be incorporated into the increased jump range that these modes provide to the player. And then you could use the armor function when it’s time to have a direct fight as an alternative way of spending action points.
It’s not a perfect example, but I think it captures the essence of the problem. I know this is also basically saying “I don’t like the game as it is NOW, I wish it was something else,” but that’s simply the reality of any solution when the issue is gameplay being too shallow.
I also know that the power armor in the game sort of already fills this role, but in my experience this is a severely limited way of playing. It’s slow and clunky to move with. There’s the constant ticking down of fusion cores that, for me and many other players, is enough to never use the thing ever. Even then it’s probably going to be a fast travel jump away a lot of the time which is adding load screens to every big fight. And most importantly for me, the game feels fundamentally different when I’m inside the power armor. It’s a cool concept, but I’d rather be more mobile and human-sized. I like flexibility and that feels better to play for me.
It’s the same reason why I don’t use VATS very much, because it’s slow to execute your commands and it eats away at the same resource bar that you use for sprinting. It’s cool to watch, and if it had a separate cooldown timer and completed its queue faster I’d use it a lot more. But I can’t help wishing that the jet-activated bullet time, that’s currently in the game today, could be another way to use those points. I’m still in control of aiming in that mode instead of relying on dice rolls to hit body parts. Which, while we’re talking about them, is another cool bit of potential that could lead to interesting gameplay. Dragon’s Dogma style monsters that require more careful shots on limbs or weak spots—aided by stuff like bullet time—could be really fun. The most the game does with it now are shooting the soft parts of mirelurks and blowing the legs off some enemies so they’re immobile. Imagine using the nanosuit’s high jump to get above an enemy with a weak point on their back or something. Or shooting off buckles on a mutant behemoth’s armor to expose it for more damage.
These suggestions tie closely to the gathering part of the core gameplay, so let’s move onto that. In the previous video I drew attention to what I thought was a cool feature: the perk books you could find in addition to bobbleheads. These things are far more rewarding than their Skyrim counterparts. The removal of skills from leveling up is more like a relocation to me now. They took, say, the 100 points you could have invested in a skill and condensed them into 5 to 10 books, and then placed them in the world as fun rewards. And they succeed in being great to find. I was always happy when I found one of these.
There are a couple of problems here and, admittedly, they’re all minor ones. But when you combine them all it gets worse. First off, I don’t think this needed to be an all-or-nothing change. Leveling up in Fallout 4 is markedly less exciting than in Fallout 3 because there are no skill points, only perks. Skills could have still existed as another avenue of progression, without stripping away what could have still been significant boosts from these books. On the flip side, it’s not good that some players may not find important books—especially the stealth ones that increase your sneaking effectiveness—if they’re trying to play a certain way. Having both could have alleviated this problem. Another example being finding a bunch of melee books when you want damage boosts for guns. Or energy weapons. You get the idea.
I really, really like how much character progression is tied to exploration and gathering, but the usual leveling system needed more. But then again, even compared to Skyrim, this exploration-based system still comes up short. Because, although I just said the skill books and bobbleheads are more substantial, Skyrim had a lot more chances to find cool loot. It wasn’t tied to hoping a legendary enemy spawned: you could find enchanted items in chests and the like. I know it doesn’t make as much sense in Fallout, but the amount of “cool stuff” you find is far lower in one of these games.
That’s not even the biggest difference though, because Skyrim has the Words of Power.
You find and collect these words that function as their own shout ability that’s separate from what kind of character you play. So even if you don’t use magic, these options are there for you. It’s not a perfect system, but it does give extra rewards and a sense of excitement when you reach the end of a lot of dungeons in that game. It doubles up functionality like that: more player options, AND more rewards for playing.
Finally let’s get to that then. How to realize the potential in the core of Fallout 4. It doesn’t have to be a nanosuit or those specific abilities, just something more. Something the player can build on and gain extra combat options from—because the current, mostly number buffing perks in the game sure don’t do the job.
There are multiple ways this could have been in the game. For one closest to the nanosuit idea, the vault suit you get in 111 could have been extra sturdy to withstand being cryogenically frozen, and one of the researchers in that vault could have worked on upgrading it when they saw how bad life on the surface was after the bombs fell.
Or: the Pip-Boy you find could have been a special Stealth-Boy instead. Then using stealth in front of enemies and they act like you mysteriously vanished could finally be explained. You could find technology to upgrade this thing—maybe some special Institute tech, or something like that. It could be integrated with more VATS options too.
The best one in my mind is to make it so the Institute now has many bases around the Commonwealth that you can find, clear out, and then loot. There could be “augmentations” inside that, since Synths are meant to be indistinguishable from humans, the player could use to upgrade themselves. It could even be explained that the player is unique in their ability to use these, because they share the same DNA as Shaun… the one they used to create the most advanced line of Synths and subsequently these augmentations. It fits really nicely.
Now you have Exploration as it functions now, only with new Institute bases that also show they have more influence in the Commonwealth. Combat options are dramatically increased with these new abilities, which also rewards the player for wanting to go out looking for them. Add skills back into the game and you have a more engaging leveling system without losing out on skill books and bobbleheads. And fighting in the already well designed combat arenas in the game is now way more enjoyable with the mobility augment powers.
Those are my armchair developer ideas in any case. They’re not amazing but, at the very least, I hope that they can function as a demonstration of how lacking the current version of the game is compared to anything like this.
Unfortunately we’re still not finished looking at the gameplay in Fallout 4, because there are a bunch of balance problems tied to what we just went through. The difficulty slider is the biggest culprit and sits in the middle of all of this. It creates so much variance that the cycle I described just a minute ago—about each encounter with enemies being a test to kill them all while using few enough resources that you end up with more ammo and stimpacks after you loot them all—may have sounded like I was describing a different game… if you played it on Easy. Or even Normal in the early parts of Fallout 4.
The difficulty slider makes you receive more damage, and makes the enemies have way more health. This method can be used to great effect in some games, but with mostly hitscan weapons and resource based health regen, Fallout 4 benefits very little from this implementation of difficulty options.
Simply put, on Very Hard many enemies become bullet sponges that are such an ordeal to kill that it becomes boring. But even on Normal, if you level up enough without investing heavily in combat perks, you will hit this same problem. Hopefully with enough stockpiled ammunition that you don’t run into the situation that I hit a lot when playing on Survival or Very Hard from the beginning: enemies taking more bullets than I could find.
There’s a wonderful balance to be found here which is related to that cycle. Players should want to carry around multiple weapons and feel happy about collecting ammo for each of them. Not only does it add some variety to what weapon you’re using, but it rewards the player for being prepared and choosing to carry options.
But this balance is broken. And I really, earnestly believe that Bethesda’s intention here is for players to constantly fiddle with the difficulty slider to self-adjust as they play. So when they reach a level and encounter bullet sponges, they go down from Very Hard to Normal. Then when they spend some more perks on damage boosts they bump it back to Very Hard. This is a terribly lazy system and is like they washed their hands of any obligation to balance the difficulties in their game.
It’s so bad that I wish there were two perk trees: one for combat, and another for social and crafting. You get a perk in each tree for each level, so you can keep up with all of the damage buffs you need to get to match the monsters leveling in the world, but still have the flexibility to take more of the fun perks. Or those that don’t have any influence on combat whatsoever.
The trouble is that I really do like the different versions of enemies that unlock as you level up. Deathclaws, into Albino Deathclaws, into Matriarchs. Or normal ghouls into glowing ones, into the bloated fungus types with staggering amounts of health. It’s one of the better instances of reskinned enemies since the changes feel a little more substantial. But when a non-legendary enemy can take multiple magazines worth of bullets to kill—and there are more than one of those enemies in each fight—then combat becomes more of a chore.
Legendary enemies are also a big part of this problem because they’re exciting to find and kill because of the special loot that they drop. It’s also a built-in solution to the bullet sponge issue because these enemies actually make sense to be really powerful, so the challenge of a big struggle with a demand for a lot of damage output can still be in the game. But in my experience some of these legendary enemies would sometimes have LESS health than the normal enemies around them, probably because of the way some enemies scale at high levels. Or, you know, Bethesda’s Bug.
These legendary encounters also spawn more often on Very Hard which, for me and I imagine many others, was reason enough to stay on that difficulty. This equipment is initially quite powerful and is another way the game can reward exploration—you want to see if there’s a legendary enemy with a legendary reward in a new place on the horizon. But then you’re stuck on the bullet sponge shitfest that comes with Very Hard.
I hate to repeat myself but these problems really show how inexperienced Bethesda are at making a real combat system, and that the moderate success they reached with Fallout 4 really is an achievement. And I’d love to be confident enough in their ability to learn—when they clearly are capable of improving, you can look at the animation quality in this game compared to Fallout 3 and Skyrim for proof of that—but then they went and added Survival mode to Fallout 4 in a patch. Which is all about gameplay changes, combat especially. And it is one of the worst game modes I have ever seen added to a game. It proves how they either know very little about this sort of thing, or that they simply don’t care. Maybe this was some haphazard attempt at appeasing fans of the series that wanted a hardcore mode like New Vegas did, and they whipped it up real fast to win internet brownie points for a free bit of DLC. And they did earn those points—even with me. I always try to think the best of people and their intentions, and if you view the problems in this mode as a symptom of inexperience instead of apathy, then it’s cool that they tried. Many other developers wouldn’t have.
And I’m genuinely inclined to believe this version. Because even though Survival Mode is as awkward as putting clothes on a dog, they’re still… cool clothes. They don’t suit this game AT ALL without additional changes, but the ideas here are sound.
The minor differences are the need to eat, drink, and sleep. Then there are new diseases to try to avoid. But the really big changes come from increased damage for both you and enemies and that you need to find a place to sleep in order to save the game. No more save anywhere. No more quick save and quick load.
There’s also this really cool idea with the Adrenaline System: the more kills you get, the more damage you can pump out. But if you sleep—and therefore save—you lose some of that boost. So hey that’s a neat idea of risk vs reward. You might debate stopping to save so you can keep that extra damage. Great idea.
But underneath all of this, the game is still Fallout 4. Enemies still have assloads of health like they do on Very Hard, so that it became incredibly frustrating to fight anything in the starting area. Some raiders and even bloatflies took multiple shots to kill—or even entire magazines—while only getting nicked a few times from their hits meant I died. Which would be fine if you could reliably dodge enemy fire… but they use hitscan weapons so you can’t.
Even enemies that are melee only are a gigantic pain, because they have massive health pools to accommodate that limitation. I just about ran out of ammunition fighting the mirelurks by kiting them around Sanctuary. And the reason I forced myself to fight them was because I was scraping the bottom of the barrel for opportunities in this starting area to get experience points to progress through survival mode.
It really sucks because I love the idea of this difficulty setting. Having to play really carefully and methodically clear out a lot of areas—both for experience and because resources are far more precious. But the killing blow for both my character and my interest in this mode came after a few hours, when I WAS playing really carefully and still died. I got into a fight with a raider to the east of Vault 111 and, as I used my Pip-Boy, I noticed a warning icon flash that a molotov cocktail was just thrown my way.
When I lowered my Pip-Boy, it hit me before I had any chance to move, and killed me instantly. I reload back at the bed and lost about 30 minutes of progress. It was enough to make me realize how the mode was flawed.
I wonder, like I do about everything in life, if it’s about Dark Souls. Tying the opportunity to save to beds and sleeping bags placed in the world sounds like the bonfire system. Having to decide to risk pushing on or to turn back and play it safe with a new save… sounds like the bonfire system. But Dark Souls tries so hard to make it so whenever you take damage it’s your fault, not something that’s unavoidable or even an expected part of the game like Fallout 4.
It’s even more of a shame because I’ve read that after you level up enough this mode becomes more enjoyable. The changes to combat damage settle to something close to Very Hard—it’s that difficulty is frontloaded with a struggle at the beginning, sort of like a few of the difficulty mods I’ve tried for Skyrim, funnily enough. But even with this, Survival Mode is broken in my mind because it doesn’t account for a huge part of the game: gathering loot from cleared areas.
Fighting enemies again can be enjoyable. But going through chests and containers and deciding what loot to take and leave is never fun the second time. It’s a chore and it’s something you do so much in the game. And if you die and are setback by even one area, that’s enough to make me want to quit for a while. And each time a player quits there’s a chance they won’t come back to the game. So the best course of action is to return to a bed at one of your bases to unload your loot and save frequently—which means why bother having the limitation at all in my opinion.
Worse than all of this, however, is that the game is still buggy! I only played Survival Mode for a few hours and it crashed on me twice. Once after I slept and saved which was no big deal. But the other time was after I had killed a few packs of enemies, looted those areas, and was fighting a bloatfly before heading back to save. And losing all that progress, because of an unstable game coupled with a strict checkpoint save system, is one of the most thoughtless combinations I think I’ve ever seen in a game.
Not to mention that some players might have enjoyed having the survival elements—hunger, thirst, exhaustion, and diseases—without all of the extras bundled with it. If nothing else I think the implementation of this mode proves how Bethesda can have wonderful intentions sometimes, but then trip and impale themselves when they try to make them a reality.
And with that I think we’re finally finished with gameplay, and have dipped our toes into the new stuff that’s been added to Fallout 4. We’re going to return to the story and the RPG side in the base game in the final section of the video. But now it’s finally time to get to the big DLC packs. Far Harbor is up next. Then we’ll take a trip to Nuka World.
DLC – Far Harbor
So stupidly contradictory statements about games are becoming something of a trademark of mine at this point, but sometimes they’re the most direct way to say something. In this case, it’s that Far Harbor and Nuka World feel like a string of missed opportunities. They have stories with so much untapped potential that I’m almost angry by how great they could have been. And yet, the story in the base game of Fallout 4 is so abysmal, that I can also say that this DLC is a huge improvement. It has the best writing in the entire game by a significant margin.
Now I have a lot to say about both of these DLC packs and most of it is about specific points in the story, the characters, and the quests. But some are more general remarks that may not make sense until I’ve finished going through both of them. Remarks such as: it would have made so much more sense if they released Nuka World first, and Far Harbor second. And that a huge feature in Nuka World would have been a much better fit if it had been included in the game at launch. There are a few more things like this that I want to say, so please try to keep that in mind if you think I’m glossing over something. It might just be that I’m saving it for later in the video.
Gameplay is a lot easier to deal with though because very little of it is new. So let’s quickly address that: Far Harbor and Nuka World take place in their own mini-maps separate from the Commonwealth. Far Harbor is impressively large and has quite a lot of locations to fit in that same cycle: explore the island, clear a nest of enemies, and then loot. Nuka World’s map is a lot more concentrated in a central location: the titular theme park. There are other locations on the map around it, like they’re caught in some sort of orbit, but it’s a lot more sparse because of this high density in the middle.
The only other addition is enemy variety. Nuka World is only okay in this category. It’s less creative—with swarms of insects, another sort of deathclaw monster, and yet another enemy that can burrow. Once you notice that, by the way, it’s hard to ignore how many enemies do that burrowing thing. I used to think the game had a good amount of different enemy types until I realized they were mostly humanoids, reskinned humanoids, slightly larger humanoids, and then a series of radioactive monsters that can burrow and then ambush you.
Far Harbor, on the other hand, feels like it has its own ecosystem. They have the amphibious monsters that remind me of the geckos from New Vegas, but the way some of them wait in that same old ambush is a lot more amusing—they’re pretending to be a type of plant you can harvest.
There are also the larger praying mantis monsters—at least that’s what they look like to me. And, my personal favorite, the hermit crab. Which is a fantastic combination of the scavenging shell idea and the gigantism brought on by radiation. I wish there was more of this type of creativity in the series instead of simply making an animal grow two heads. Or only be bigger.
Most of these new monsters lurk in the fog that covers most of the island in Far Harbor. It’s a major plot point and one we’ll get to, but first we have to rewind to the player’s journey to this place. You get here by boat, and it’s not something you can simply stumble upon. There’s a new main quest that sends you here and away from the Commonwealth. You’re here searching for someone’s missing daughter. A girl named Kasumi Nakano.
There are two ways to begin this quest: either you find the Nakano residence yourself while exploring and accept the quest from them. Or, after saving Nick in the main story and reaching a high enough level, the detective agency in Diamond City will reach out to you over the radio for you to take the missing person’s case. Which gets Nick involved before sending you to the Nakano residence anyway. Nick has a fairly substantial role to play during the DLC so it’s not a bad idea to bring him along for the whole thing. That’s what I did on my first playthrough.
On my second playthrough however, I started a new character. And I confirmed that you can skip the detective agency part. More importantly, even if you do save Nick first, you can actually receive and accept this quest… before finding Shaun. Before finding the Institute. You can actually agree to the urgent task of beginning a wholely new, fresh search for SOMEONE ELSE’S MISSING CHILD, BEFORE YOU EVEN FINISH FINDING YOUR OWN.
This section with Kasumi’s parents is pretty terrible. The voice acting wasn’t very convincing for me and it suffers more than most conversations from all of the circular options given to the player—the kind of dialogue choices that have the characters repeating the same lines and information over and over. Whoever voiced Kasumi herself did a far better job, and her audio logs you find throughout the house sound far more human than the conversation with her parents.
Which is doubly ironic, because the main hook of this story is that Kasumi thinks she’s a Synth. She believes that the Institute made her kill the real Kasumi and then replace her—that the same memory erasure that triggers on every Synth has caused her to forget doing it all, but that she’s a Synth nonetheless. She cites strange dreams of something that sounds like the Institute, and a feeling that she never really belonged in the house, as evidence. It just so happens that she’s also a natural at fixing technology and, with a newly repaired radio, has made contact with a Synth refuge in Far Harbor. This is like a more isolated version of the Railroad—a haven for escaped Synths. A place that also suspects Kasumi is one of them and has invited her to join them.
I want to repeat my spoiler warning here because it’s been about an hour since the start of the video. I’m going to spoil all the plot points in Far Harbor and a big one is coming up right now. Because the situation with Kasumi is a little more complex than this, and the game surprisingly enough gives you some options here at the start.
First off, Kasumi’s grandfather recently died. The impression I get is that she was closer to him than her parents. Those parents also vehemently refuse to consider that Kasumi might be a Synth. Which makes a hell of a lot of sense because why would the Institute want to kill and replace a girl who lives in the middle of nowhere? Now this could come back to the more general plot holes in the base game of Fallout 4—or, more realistically, the plot Grand Canyon that is the Institute’s motivations—but fortunately for us, I sided with the Institute on my second playthrough for exactly this reason. I did everything Shaun wanted me to do. Then I took over when he died. Because I was absolutely certain that the game would not have planned for this. If I’m the leader of the Institute, I can simply skip going to Far Harbor and just go back to my home base and ask someone if they killed and replaced a girl named Kasumi right? The Institute would have records of that. I’m in charge. And I knew that there was no way Bethesda would have been thoughtful enough to include a way to ask that. It would be yet another thing that should REALLY be possible in the game, just like dozens of other things like it that I went over in the previous video.
I teleported into the Institute, feeling all smug that I found another discrepancy, and then had to pick my jaw off my desk when there actually was a new NPC that I could ask. They had thought to include it. There was actually an option.
In my defense he bugged out so hard during this conversation that he randomly became headless, so…
Alright, credit to Bethesda where it’s due. However this does lead to a much bigger problem. The Institute says that, if Kasumi is a Synth, that she isn’t one of theirs. You can go one step further than that though and confirm it for yourself later. Every Synth in the game, when killed, drops a Synth component. There are no exceptions for this that I’ve encountered. Even Danse, when you don’t even do any of the Brotherhood quests, still drops a component when you do the Institute line and kill him during the assault for control of Liberty Prime. It begs the question why, if he’s a Synth, the Institute didn’t assume control of him for this attack but let’s not waste time digging more holes in that Plot Canyon. He drops a Synth component when you kill him.
So does everyone else at the Synth refuge in Far Harbor if you kill them all. Except for Kasumi. She’s the only one that doesn’t drop one. These facts are enough to conclude that she’s really human. The lack of a Synth component may be a Bethesda’s Bug, but that the Institute confirms they know nothing about this girl seals the deal for me on whether she’s a Synth. Kasumi is human.
This is, unfortunately, a massive problem in the story. But first let’s review the situation in Far Harbor.
This DLC is like a miniature version of the main plot in the base game. There’s a location that multiple factions are fighting over. These factions also mirror those in the Commonwealth. The people at Far Harbor, who have lived on the island for generations and want to be left in something close to peace, are most similar to the Minutemen who want to band together and defend the ordinary people. The Children of Atom are just as fanatical, and more than a bit crazy about their ideology, as the Brotherhood of Steel. Then there’s Acadia which initially feels like a much more competent version of the Railroad, but also has a lot of the Institute mixed in… which is by far away, by light years, the most interesting detail in the DLC. It’s also the biggest missed opportunity that we’ll be seeing shortly.
Captain Avery is the leader of Far Harbor but she’s more of a guiding voice rather than a strict leader. Conversely, Confessor Tektus is a lot more firm in his ruling role over the Children of Atom on the island. And DiMA, the Synth leader at Acadia, is somewhere in the middle—he is quite clearly the boss but is more open to discussion with his followers than Tektus.
The conflict on the island has arisen like this:
The fog in Far Harbor is like a supernatural force. You’re told that it gains and loses strength over time, like the moon goes through phases. Some years it stays powerful and causes more of the island’s monsters to attack settlements on the island. Other years it recedes to barely an issue at all and the people can build and live somewhat in peace.
You arrive at a point in time when the fog is at its most dangerous. And it’s been that way for longer than it should have. Some of the people under Avery believe that it’s the fault of the Children of Atom—their entire belief system revolves around worshipping radiation. They believe their goal in life is to Divide in that radiation, and somehow create multiple universes of existence when their body splits under the force. It makes sense to some of the people in Far Harbor that the Children have found a way to stir up the fog so that there’s more radiation for them to revel in—which was the reason they came to the island in the first place. They’ve even set up their home in a nuclear submarine base for constant exposure to radiation.
Tensions are running so high between these groups that, shortly before you arrived, a missionary from the Children of Atom was shot dead when they went to Far Harbor to try to convert some of the people to their faith.
So you have the Children possibly making the conditions on the island worse for the people who have been there for all of their lives. The people of Far Harbor huddled, close to death, in their last settlement on the island that’s safe from the monsters. And DiMA in Acadia elsewhere on the island trying to find a way to maintain peace between these groups so that everyone can continue to co-exist. His reasons for this aren’t entirely selfless however, because he wants to safeguard his own home full of Synths that were liberated from the Institute.
So this is where you come in. You get to pick sides and ultimately decide the fate of these groups on the island. Favor one with your help. Favor all of them and try to reach a peace agreement. Favor two and wipe one of them out. Or wipe all of them out. There are more decisions and player involvement in quests this time around. It’s one of the best things that the DLC does.
Before getting to that though, let’s return to Kasumi. When you arrive at Acadia, you have a long talk with DiMA and some of his people. There are a lot of details here to go through but the most important one for now is that they claim to know a way to tell if someone is a Synth. There’s DiMA himself, his assistant Faraday, and a freed courser agent named Chase. While talking to these three, it’s clear that they must have some method of identifying Synths in order to invite them to Acadia. But they are very vague on details. And I’m not sure what exactly Bethesda is thinking here.
Because they’re adamant that Kasumi is a Synth just like everyone else in Acadia. But she isn’t one. It gets even more complicated because DiMA heavily hints that YOU are a Synth too, which the player can choose to admit their suspicion of that possibility all along, but they won’t confirm it for you through whatever method they claim to have.
Either way this is terrible. Acadia has too many Synths living in Sanctuary for them to have just gotten lucky with finding them. But the way DiMA presents his arguments is more like a suggestion that it doesn’t matter who is or isn’t a Synth. That anyone could be one so therefore EVERYONE is one. So then why bother having the haven set up specifically for Synths then? Why waste resources taking care of Kasumi when she isn’t a Synth. Why propose that YOU might be one when that’s impossible.
The player character is not a Synth. This isn’t up for any level of debate outside of Bethesda’s Bug. Shaun’s actions and decisions—which directly resulted in you being freed from Vault 111 to find him to begin with—do not make any sense if you’re a Synth. Shaun believed that Synths had no free will. He treated them as property. He may have had some hope that eventually Synths could reach parity with humans, but even this is more of a plot hole than anything else. His sudden change of heart at the end of the game, with his orders to reprogram the younger Synth version of himself to believe he’s Pinocchio, is one of the biggest inconsistencies in the base game. You could argue that he had a change of heart on his death bed… it’s a stretch but it almost works. But he names YOU as his successor to take over the ENTIRE Institute long before this, while giving you tasks to reclaim Synths and treat them as nothing more than really advanced computer hardware. He wouldn’t put a Synth in charge like that.
DiMA’s proposal is that you’ve been a Synth right from the start. That your first memory from before the war really is your first memory—that’s when your Synth memories begin to give you the illusion of a lived life. What pisses me off is that making the player a Synth solves so many issues in the main story, if that fact was acknowledged and used. It could have led to some incredible moments when you reach the Institute that I’ll talk about later.
But no, you’re human. And the reason Acadia is vague on how they can identify Synths is because Bethesda wanted this to be a tease of a question: a “What if I AM a Synth?” DUN DUN DUNNNNNNNN. They thought the ambiguity was cool or interesting or something, and sacrificed a large piece of Acadia making sense in the process. In its current form, DiMA asking these questions, and insisting Kasumi is a Synth, proves that the whole place is fraudulent. Which admittedly does make some sense considering what happens next but I’m inclined to think this is a plot hole instead of being intentional.
Also, while we’re griping, you can’t tell Kasumi that you’re the leader of the Institute and KNOW that she’s not a Synth. The game won’t let you. The game will let you lead the Institute here to reclaim all of them for reprogramming, but it won’t let you tell Kasumi that you have evidence that she’s human, and she’s just a confused, grieving woman that’s searching for answers in the wake of her grandfather’s death.
The game won’t let you do this, because she has to give you a quest to investigate DiMA. She suspects that he’s up to no good—that he’s not quite the gracious benefactor that the other Synths believe him to be.
Despite my earlier comments, DiMA is the most interesting part of Far Harbor. He was built during the same prototype program that resulted in Nick—so, in a way, the two of them are brothers. Bringing Nick to Acadia results in some unique dialogue and this is pretty good. Especially since Nick doesn’t just blindly believe DiMA. There’s some debate and actual conversation about it, which really drives home how shit the companions are handled in the base game.
Nothing screams Quantity Over Quality than the broad selection of sidekicks you can choose in Fallout 4, that ultimately end up being reskinned versions of Dogmeat. Now I haven’t tried traveling with all of them for hours because even I have to draw the line somewhere and live my life instead, but the only ones that I thought had any effort put into them were Nick and Piper. And even these two have forgettable quests, barely any worthwhile conversations about events as they unfold—they never commented ever on Institute stuff when I traveled with them. Curie, another companion who ends up becoming a Synth herself if you travel with her for long enough, can end up providing some truly laughable scenarios.
The Institute just ignores your Synth traveling companion during your quest to hunt down and retrieve escaped Synths.
It makes me wish for only a select few companions with properly fleshed out options and reactions to things. The worst of these is yet to come with Preston in Nuka World.
In Far Harbor though, Nick gets another chance to be a proper character—even if the conversations are still a little awkward with the terrible dialogue system. Other characters in the DLC have had similar treatment, and the quests associated with them are elevated because of it. In terms of gameplay these are still the same as ever: here’s something for you to do or get. It involves going somewhere on the island and killing a bunch of things. Then fetch something back or return covered in blood to prove that you did the job.
What’s different is that many—not all, but enough—of the quest givers are actually people instead of mission dispensers. They have a background you can learn about. You can have conversations. There are speech checks that finally reveal new, somewhat interesting information about them. The Mariner in Far Harbor wants your help reinforcing the defenses against the fog monsters, but you can speak to her about her home, her motivations, and discover that she’s slowly dying of some illness. This improvement of the harbor’s walls is her final project before her death.
Other characters in Far Harbor are similarly fleshed out. They also speak to each other. And ABOUT each other. The quests they give out have a bit more detail to them than in the base game and, by doing them, you are earning the respect and trust of these people. Which actually matters at the end.
The same can be said about the Children of Atom, but to a lesser degree. Some of the people who live in the irradiated submarine base aren’t quite as crazy as you may first assume—although some of them are even more insane than you’d expect. When you speak to these people, things aren’t so black and white. And it feels like some actual thought went into how these communities would work and the interactions citizens would have with each other. The standout character here being someone who didn’t believe in the cause whatsoever, but joined for the sense of safety and community alone.
It’s a shame then that the final choices you make on the island aren’t better developed. Or, to put it another way, choices that actually require thought. The decisions you make at the end have answers that are too obvious. But we’ll get to that.
Returning to Kasumi and Nick: you’re given the task of making sure that DiMA is who he says he is, and that his aspirations for peace on the island are legitimate. You can hack your way to finding out, or eavesdrop on a conversation by Acadia’s leaders, or directly confront DiMA about it. Minor choices but welcome ones. From here you’re given the quest to infiltrate the Children of Atom in order to retrieve some of DiMA’s memories that are stored in terminals deep in the base.
As an older Synth model, DiMA has accumulated more memories than he can hold throughout his life. Some of them are moved to storage devices. I think he used to inhabit the submarine base before the Children of Atom arrived to the island and so some of those memories are still there. Important ones that he and Faraday believe could be useful in orchestrating peace on the island. This memory problem is also something Nick suffers from. When the two of them got out of the Institute, DiMA retained some of his memories. Nick did not. Which is why Nick doesn’t recognize him.
So this quest serves two purposes: it forces you to encounter the Children of Atom if you haven’t already. And it’s the next step in Far Harbor’s main quest line—and we’re already surprisingly close to the end, depending on how many of those side quests you do for each faction.
In order to peacefully enter the submarine base, you have to pretend to be interested in their religion. Before that though, there’s a scripted event when you arrive here that shows you what kind of people they are. Two of the disciples are returning home and are being denied entry until they prove their commitment to the cause. This is how that situation ends:
<clip of one guy shooting another in the back, killing him>
Try to remember that for later.
For you, the same guy who is pleased that one of his people just murdered another one in front of him says you have to pass a test to gain entry. You have to travel to a nearby radioactive spring, drink the water, and then report back on what kind of vision you have.
So you go and do that. Because why not.
The following problem isn’t something unique to Bethesda. It’s something I’m noticing as an epidemic in storytelling across movies, video games, and even some books. It goes like this: have you ever gotten to some shocking detail in a story and thought “Oh wow! That’s really interesting! I wonder how they’re going to explain THAT!”
It’s such a cool detail or a twist. Something that shines a new light on the story, and you can’t help wonder how it fits together with everything else you already know. And the ultimate answer is that they won’t bother explaining it. There is no answer. It was put in for shock value. Or a cheap way of grabbing your attention. I can’t imagine the balls on some of these writers. It makes me anxious just thinking about it. Because, in reality, the writer is along for the ride with you in that moment. When they wrote that part, they were just as amazed as you were. Only they were thinking “Oh wow! That’s really interesting! I wonder how I’M going to explain that!”
In Far Harbor, there are two major instances of this. The first is the supernatural fog. It’s never explained. It has no source. I thought it would be tied to a huge bunker of missiles underneath the submarine base—something the Children of Atom had tapped into and were releasing more waste or leaking missiles or something to create more fog. But no the answer is just… this island has fog. The end.
This would be acceptable—some places do have peculiar weather and foggy island settings aren’t unheard of. But the game specifically drew attention to how special the fog was, and heavily hinted there was some nefarious reason that it was creating such lethal monsters.
It’s never explained.
Likewise, the vision you have here never makes sense. Unless the game actually believes that the Children of Atom have a legitimate religion on their blistered hands here.
You’re visited by the Mother of the Fog—which is sort of like pouring vinegar into the wound of the last problem, isn’t it? She appears and guides you through the island to a place where you can claim her idol. Then she vanishes. You cannot interact with her in any way. She is mysteriously immune to all of your weapons. When you take this idol back to the Children, they act like your vision wasn’t meant to be surprising, but that you saw the Mother Herself(!) is a big deal. Some people inside the base are envious of the importance of your vision.
And this is never explained. It can’t be a hallucination because it leads you too perfectly to the right place to prove how important you can be to the Children—the information you have from this vision is enough to impress Confessor Tektus himself, and makes him trust you far more than he should. So the only conclusion I can come to is that Bethesda really does intend for this to be a supernatural entity that you encountered here. One that favors the Children. And one that sits idle no matter what choices you make… and something that they don’t intend to elaborate on. Because screw you.
Once accepted by the Children you can run some quests to earn more of their trust. These aren’t as substantial as the ones in Far Harbor but they are generally better than the base game: investigate the faith of someone, track down a traitor, stuff like that. I think I’ve shown enough of them now to say that I think these are good but they’re still not great. They’re an improvement because they aren’t totally mindless fetch quests, and the results of them build to something later, but they’re not amazing.
It’s still important to acknowledge that Bethesda did a better job here though. If I was going to speculate on why it wasn’t done even better, it would be that despite the size of Far Harbor much of it feels rushed. To return to the idea of picking stories out of a hat that I spoke about earlier, it’s like they did that again but thought about it for a few hours instead of just going with that surface description. More time and exploring more creative ways to develop these quests would have been even better.
Let’s pause the main story and go to the only other significant side quest in Far Harbor as a perfect example of what I just said. There’s a vault on this island. Number 118. There’s been a murder here and a robot has been sent out to find you, a detective, to solve the case. On my first playthrough I actually didn’t meet this robot and stumbled onto the vault myself. It was a cool surprise because it’s hidden underneath a ruined hotel. On my second playthrough I let the robot guide me there.
So here’s the From-A-Hat description of this quest: “There’s a Vault Full of Robobrains! One of them has been Murdered!”
Then the developers sat around and thought for a while. And settled on a really plain, boring motive—it’s just about money. These robobrains are pre-war people that allowed themselves to be transplanted into these bodies to live on. And they have continued doing so in the vault for over 200 years until the whole war thing “blows over”.
Again, like the previous video, 200 years is a lot longer than Bethesda thinks. This isn’t really plausible. The person who is murdered was done so because another citizen in the vault found out they had cheated them out of some money 200 years earlier when the vault was constructed. Why would they still care two centuries later? Why did this take two centuries to come out? Why write something that doesn’t make sense like this when it’s not even interesting?
There are also some unbelievably abrupt changes in tone that go on down here. Clearly the idea was for this quest to be one of those melodramatic, the-butler-did-it, stories with an impassioned, suave detective. So when you take that role, sometimes your character acts like they normally do. But then for some lines of dialogue the delivery is suddenly REALLY, REALLY different. This would be fine if the whole quest was delivered in this style, but it’s only some dialogue options. It’s like they ran out of time to record some lines with the voice actor doing the performance. Seriously listen to these examples. You’ll see what I mean.
This quest could have been great. The vaults in the other games are usually so interesting that it had my attention. And there are multiple robo-brain characters to find and speak to, each marked hilariously with some sort of decoration—a hat, or a bowtie, or a painter’s apron—so you can tell them apart. But that funny detail is at the heart of the problem here, because apparently those accessories aren’t just for the benefit of the player to tell them apart. This was the only way the people in Vault 118 could tell who was who for 200 years.
The twist in the murder mystery is that, Ezra Parker, the man who was murdered, is actually the murderer. He killed Julianna, a woman in the vault who only just discovered he embezzled her money. He killed her when she confronted him about it and then just swapped their accessories for everyone to think he was Julianna, and that it was Ezra that died. The voices the robobrains create are synthesized by design of course—brains can’t speak, the computer bodies do it for them.
Because no one could confirm that it was Ezra and just assumed it was because of his fashion accessory, that means there really was no way for them to tell who’s who. Which is really stupid but now I view it as a way they could have made this quest infinitely more interesting and wacky. If the two centuries were used as a feature in the story, instead of something to be hand-waved and ignored, it could have been hilarious if the robobrains had been switching identities like this for decades and decades. Two people decide to switch places for fun. Then another impersonates someone else. The accessories get mixed up. Two centuries later it could have been this gigantic tangled web of lies and deceit that comes out when someone is murdered, and it isn’t even who the murderer thought they were! Some people could have forgotten who they were originally, and the quest could have involved repairing some of the vault’s computers or something to verify everyone’s identity, with potentially funny results.
Instead you confront the real Ezra. You can pressure him for money or have him killed. That’s all. Only a little bit of thought went into tapping the potential of this idea they pulled from a hat.
Which unfortunately can also be said about Far Harbor’s conclusion. Returning to the submarine base, you have to fight your way through some of the remnant security bots guarding the computers that store DiMA’s memories. I must have missed the reason that explained why these security measures are still active even though DiMA once lived in this place.
When you get here, you use a program to enter the computer and have to beat some hacking mini-game to unlock the memories. I have a feeling this may surprise some people watching who have played Far Harbor, because this gameplay mode is admittedly sort of shit, but I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected after loading into this. I just stared at the screen, did a heavy sigh, and thought I was going to hate it. And ended up having a fun time jumping around blocks and finding “data” to use to construct bridges and defenses for my little computer bugs.
I’d go as far as saying that, if this feature was given some more depth, I would prefer it over the current hacking mini-game used in the series. It would have to be reserved for special terminals only—or, maybe, if you hack one terminal in a building then you unlock all of them via this method. Because it would be exhausting to have to do something like this for what must be over a hundred computers in the game. But if Bethesda could speed this up a bit—especially when you’re waiting for your bug buddies to scurry back home—and find a way to reduce the load time going into the computer, then I’d be happy to see this become a staple.
I think we could agree it’s more interesting than picking the right word from a list, at least. Especially after how many times you’ve probably done it now over these games.
Anyway there are five of these stages to get through, and you unlock one of DiMA’s memories for each one you complete. Two of these are inconsequential for the larger story of Far Harbor—one reveals the location of some special armor on the island, and the other is confirmation for Nick that DiMA really is who he says he is. The memory is when they escaped the Institute together and Nick went rogue. This was a painful memory for DiMA so he had it removed and stored on this computer.
And that’s something that’s crucial to understand here. DiMA only SUSPECTED or HOPED that these memories would provide options to find peace on the island, or at least prevent dangerous information from falling into the wrong hands. He didn’t actually know what was in the memories because, obviously, they were removed. He doesn’t remember them.
So the other three, far more important memories you uncover, are secrets and regrets that end up being more than uncomfortable for DiMA to learn.
You have options here. To return to DiMA immediately and then work together to verify his memories. Or you can skip that part and immediately collect all of the information yourself, and then either act on it or confront him.
These three memories are:
- The activation code for the nuclear submarine in the Children of Atom’s home.
- The existence of a killswitch that will deactivate an array of fog condensers around Far Harbor, allowing the monsters to attack in full force.
- And lastly, and far more importantly, that DiMA had someone killed in Far Harbor a long time ago, and replaced with one of his Synth followers so he could influence the people there to be sympathetic to his cause.
This last one functions just like the Institute works. Just like Kasumi suspected about herself. The person is killed, and the Synth that replaces them wouldn’t know they were a copy. The person in Far Harbor ends up being Captain Avery, the leader and first person you met when you arrived. It’s been many years and she doesn’t know that she’s a Synth.
You verify these memories by locating the separate codes from places around the island—once again entering the travel, kill, and loot phases—and uncovering DiMA’s secret medical facility where the Synth was repurposed. It’s also where the real Captain Avery was buried. Armed with all of this information, you return to DiMA and have the final series of choices left to make that end the DLC.
So this is where things get complicated for the video. I think all of this, and the decisions that follow, could have been handled way better than they currently exist. However, these revelations and the subsequent decisions are still the best part of the DLC. This is exactly the sort of thing that Fallout 4 was missing. It’s great to see Bethesda even attempt something like this, and I view it as a much tighter, far better written version than the story in the base game.
DiMA reacts like a genuinely disgusted person. Disgusted with himself. He mourns the death of Captain Avery but also views the Synth he used to replace her as equally murdered. He laments that his past self was so conniving to have the codes that could destroy both groups on the island, too. His reaction is very interesting and makes a lot of sense, and the dialogue options here matter a lot more than in other conversations.
There’s also a subtle twist when DiMA reveals that, despite being horrified with these memories, that he’s still the same person that he always was—someone who schemes and makes sure they have contingency plans to protect himself and his people. Because he immediately uses these memories as inspiration to solve the current dispute on the island.
His proposal is to replace another person. To kill Confessor Tektus and have a Synth step in. One that’s programmed to be more diplomatic and seek peace with both Acadia and Far Harbor—therefore solving the conflict on the island in a “peaceful” way.
The player has many choices. They can accept or reject this plan. They can convince DiMA to go to Far Harbor and admit what he did—killing one of them and replacing them. You can also go to Far Harbor and tell them yourself instead. You can deactivate the town’s defenses and kill them all. And you can detonate the submarine around the Children of Atom instead of replacing Tektus.
There are also choices within these choices. If you convince DiMA to confess his crimes to Far Harbor, you can go with him and try to control the reaction of the people. DiMA is executed no matter what, but you can try to calm their anger so they don’t raid Acadia to kill the rest of the Synths after killing DiMA. Depending on how many quests you did for Far Harbor—all those characters and their problems I mentioned earlier—will determine whether or not they listen to you. If you’ve earned their trust—which is demonstrated in a fairly good scene when they recount all your good deeds—then they stop with DiMA’s death. If not, they reject your plea because they don’t care enough about you to listen.
If you choose to kill Confessor Tektus and replace him there’s something similar, albeit to a lesser degree. You have to lure him to a secluded location in order to kill him. If you did enough quests for the Children then he will come willingly and believe you. If you didn’t, then he’ll arrive here with armed guards because he doesn’t trust you. You can still talk him down though which isn’t possible with the Far Harbor questline.
If you haven’t played the game that might have been hard to follow. The important thing to know is that I don’t think there was a single quest in Fallout 4 that had a quarter of the decision making and branching outcomes that I just described. It’s a big step up and is worthy of a ton of praise. However, like your mom, there’s a big but…
In most of these cases there is a clear answer. There’s not much to debate. Destroying Far Harbor makes no sense. Not only do they have the strongest claim of ownership on the island… your boat and way back to the Commonwealth is sitting in their harbor. You have no way of knowing if it’ll survive the destruction of the town—which it does, of course, because you need a way to leave. But in terms of the game having a story and a decision for a character to make, deactivating the fog condensers isn’t a true option.
Likewise, the murder DiMA committed has very flimsy motivations. It seems like he jumped to this action very quickly and the game doesn’t go into enough detail on why he felt so compelled to murder someone at Far Harbor like he did. They were tolerating him well enough at least, so it seems like a forced act to make the story have a twist rather than something he should have done. This makes judging him quite easy and even Nick agrees that he should be punished for it, even if he doesn’t like that his brother is ultimately executed for confessing.
As for the Children of Atom—dying in a nuclear blast is what they want. And if we rewind to what I pointed out a little while ago–
<clip of the guy being shot>
–then it becomes clear that, not only are most of these people crazy, that they have very little regard for the lives of their own people, never mind that of outsiders. This death scene here doesn’t seem to surprise or rattle anyone, does it?
So even though there are two or three sympathetic people living in the submarine base, achieving division through the submarine’s detonation not only removes violent people from the island, it is also granting them the highest privilege of a death that they can imagine. When you bring the code to them, you can convince Tektus to willingly do it.
So even though there are options, they appear to me like there were the answers that Bethesda planned for the quests, and then they brainstormed some other alternatives just for the sake of them. That’s not awful but compared to New Vegas, it’s a pale comparison.
Finally then, let’s talk about the missed potential in these choices. Let’s talk about DiMA’s proposal to murder and replace Tektus. When DiMA embraces his heritage and, for the second time in his life, BECOMES the Institute that he tried so desperately hard to get away from.
Even just saying it like I did there, it’s pretty compelling right? It’s so interesting to me. I just wish that it could have happened to the PLAYER, instead of this character.
Here’s what I mean.
Let’s make one change right at the start. Make it so you can’t receive the quest to search for Kasumi until you finish the main story in Fallout 4. This change will make sense in a second.
The rest of the DLC stays the same until you get near the end. The conflict between the Children and Far Harbor escalates a little bit, and it’s made clear to both you and Acadia that they’re on the brink of killing each other. This would occur when you return to DiMA after finding his hidden medical facility where he turned a Synth into Captain Avery.
At this point, instead of DiMA saying you should replace Tektus, the player has to mull it over and decide. The player has to choose one person on each side of the conflict to kill and replace in order to prevent all out war between these two factions. It would have to be made clear that any attempt at diplomacy has failed. This is the only option to prevent so many people from dying. The lives of two people versus many more on the island.
And suddenly YOU are the Institute. You’re conspiring from the shadows to try to keep the peace around you. You’re a murderer, but you have the best intentions. And maybe, if you choose the wrong people to replace, it doesn’t work. And you have to kill and replace one or two more. The player choice would matter a lot and it could succeed or fail. And there’s so much potential to be found in that decision.
If you’ve completed the main story before now, then the Institute has either been destroyed or you are in control of it. Either way, you have met and interacted with Shaun. You have either approved of his decisions, or judged him to be a monster along with the rest of the Institute. And here you are, some time later, given a whole new perspective on Shaun’s actions though these decisions. The player might find themselves reconsidering that judgement as they struggle to make the right decision—to make the best of a terrible situation, and to make the deaths worth it. Or, if they fail, they might see the futility of it and better understand the stress and struggle that Shaun went through with these decisions, even if they still do think he’s a monster. The player could also reject the whole thing and see the two sides destroy each other because of this inaction, proving that maybe the Institute may have had the right idea about some things at least. Their motivations would have to be cleaned up a bit but we’ll get to that later on.
Normally I get anxious when I suggest changes but I don’t feel that way about this one. This sort of thing in the DLC would have been an incredible moment for me. I know that for certain because the current way it works, with DiMA becoming the Institute, is already really good. It’s just so close—it needed that one last step. That one last level of commitment and thought about their ideas that Bethesda consistently fails to take in their stories and gameplay.
Lastly then, let’s fastforward for a moment. Let’s skip through Nuka World to the final scene in that game. You’ve reclaimed the theme park. You’ve appeased the raider gangs that inhabit the place. You’ve secured the power plant and restored electricity to the land. The lights fill up the night sky and fireworks appear, like some Mario Brothers celebration of your victory. You’re done the DLC. The last of Fallout 4’s content.
The order here is wrong. Your trip to Nuka World—a literal vacation spot that could be a break from Fallout 4’s story—should be first. Then you return to the Institute and Synth stuff. Far Harbor should be second, with this final reassessment of the game’s main themes and concepts. It would have tied it all back together. Not with fireworks in some foreign land that you barely care about, but with thinking about what you did to the people on this island. Or returning by boat to the Commonwealth to return Kasumi to her parents, with some fresh perspective on what the Institute did to this place.
The game let’s you see the family reunited. And, even though she is definitely not a Synth, you can still ruin this moment by telling her parents that she is one. Which, for some reason, Kasumi still believes is true.
I guess it can’t all be an improvement, right?
DLC – Nuka World
<Nuka World musical opening>
The opening to Nuka World has many similarities with Far Harbor. You receive a new radio signal to begin the quest. There’s a small staging area that leads to a vehicle sequence that’s uncharacteristically dramatic for Fallout 4. And it takes place in its own isolated location with only tenuous links back to the Commonwealth. There are many key differences though. The biggest of them is that the first part of this DLC is good.
I have to admit though that a lot of my enjoyment in the early parts of Nuka World is highly subjective. I really like theme parks. I really like Coca-Cola. And I really like Fallout New Vegas. This DLC is a stirred mess of all three of these. And that “mess” part isn’t quite so clear until you play it for a while…
To reach Nuka World you have to clear a transport center of Gunners, and then speak with a wounded man in front of a deactivated train line that leads to the theme park. I want to slow down and focus on this guy for a minute. His name is Harvey.
This guy is a slave kept by the raider gangs in Nuka World. It’s a deception that has a lot more thought put into it than most in the game because, even if you see through it, there’s a backup option that Harvey moves onto—another lie. If you convince him you’re going to help and that he should flee to safety, he’s still in Nuka World later because he went back to his raider masters safe with the knowledge that he did his job. He even has a good line about how he deactivated the train’s power to make his story look more believable.
If the player doesn’t see through his lies then they’re heading into a trap—a gauntlet of challenges created by the raider gangs for their own blood-sport amusement. There’s a third option that I found, however, which was not to listen to Harvey after you see through his lies. You can react with self-righteous anger and kill the guy for trying to set you up. And not only does the game allow you to do this, there’s some optional dialogue with one of the raider officers that plays in response over the train station’s speaker system.
Bethesda put a little bit of extra thought into this. And it pays off immensely. Just imagine how many other quests could have benefited from this level of detail. Not only that it’s a hint of roleplaying options that are sorely missing from the game. You can choose how you think your character would react to this situation instead of just doing whatever you think is the best or right option, and you can still proceed with a little bit of extra story stuff.
For me, seeing Harvey with a slave collar on in Nuka World on my second playthrough—because on my first one I murdered him after I saw through his lies—made me realize that I had been way too quick to judge him on that first playthrough. It also made me realize how hopeless the situation was for him and the other slaves in the theme park because, hours earlier, he didn’t have a collar on and I had more or less set him free. Yet he still returned to be a slave because he was so scared and invested in the other people enslaved here.
I’m not joking when I say this relatively brief interaction with a character is one of the most memorable moments for me, not just in Nuka World, but of all of Fallout 4. And that speaks two truths the way I see it: how effective this sort of thing can be with stories and characters, and how lacking the rest of the game is in this resource.
The rest of the DLC’s introduction sort of follows this trend of standing out as different from the rest of Fallout 4. If Far Harbor is about “becoming the Institute” then Nuka World is about “becoming a raider”. And the game becomes quite overwhelming in this early part.
First though, we have to survive the gauntlet. Which is a fun section that shows how creative Bethesda’s level designers can be when it comes to cramming interior locations with cool details, and neat small stories about how people died. Or their experience when they tried to get through this thing.
On the train ride you’re contacted by a man named Gage. Throughout the gauntlet, you’re continually taunted by another man named Redeye. Initially I thought these were the same person and that Gage was simply adopting a performance persona that’s different when he’s addressing the raider audience watching you struggle through their traps and cages.
Gage then contacts you again at the end of the gauntlet—which goes on for longer than I expected it to with more than one loading screen—when you reach a bumper car arena to fight the “end boss”. Who also happens to be the Overboss of all of the raiders in Nuka World. A guy named Colter.
Gage contacts you as you gear up for the fight—the raiders allow you to do this so you can put on a good show at the end. He says that the fight is rigged and that there’s no way you can win, because the boss has a suit of energized power armor that is kept active through the bumper car arena. Gage then helps you beat him by pointing you toward a water pistol stashed in the locker room that’s able to disrupt the power supplying Colter’s armor.
This is where the problems begin, although there’s a lot of great stuff in this introduction as well. I don’t like that you HAVE to use the squirt gun to win this fight. I’ve read that if you get massively lucky with crits on lower difficulty settings or something that you can beat Colter with your normal weapons, but I doubt there’s any dialogue after this that supports this version—Bethesda’s Bug is more likely.
I don’t like that my character would have died here if it wasn’t for the supposed generosity of this Gage guy. I’ve wandered the wastes killing who knows how many hundreds of ghouls, raiders, super mutants, and giant radioactive monsters, but my story would have permanently ended here because of some bozo in a suit powered by a theme park bumper car ride.
There could have been an alternative solution involving telling Gage to go fuck himself, and you win through being resourceful or finding a way to turn off the power—something like that. Instead, you have to use the water gun and then damage him when his electrical armor is offline. Probably because Bethesda wanted you to feel in some way indebted to Gage enough to listen to him.
Because after Colter is dead, Nuka World becomes a drastic departure from the base game in Fallout 4. In fact, this change in tone, character, and story is so dramatically different that I’m having trouble thinking of any other game that is on the same level of change as what occurs here. And this carries with it some major problems.
By killing Colter, you have become the new overboss. You’re in charge of Nuka World and, with that responsibility, comes three large raider gangs: The Operators, The Disciples, and The Pack. The game finally lets you be evil and make evil choices. You can become a raider and claim outposts for your gang, which is something many people thought was strangely absent in the original version of the game. Myself included. I actually kind of called this DLC in my previous video.
The massive, 400 pound western lowland gorilla of a problem here is that… Look it’s like Bethesda listened to all of this criticism and was like “Oh they want to be evil do they! Want to be raiders huh!? Well FINE! Here’s your fucking theme park full of raiders and murderers and there’s going to be slaves and corpses everywhere and caged animals and people who fight and kill and act like crazed lunatics and you’re in charge and you can be one of them if you want to be evil so bad here! Are you fucking happy now?”
Later on you can lead these raiders back to the Commonwealth, which has its own gigantic issues, but for now this concept doesn’t make sense. You can’t have virtually no option to be a bad person until this moment, and then suddenly think it’s okay to become the leader of three separate Hitler Youth Camps. You could make some questionable choices until now, sure, but nothing that comes close to the depravity that these people are up to. They literally decorate their home with blood and corpses for fucks sake.
However, let’s put these issues on pause for a moment. Especially considering there’s a minor solution to this problem. On my first playthrough, I was true to my character who hated raiders. I spoke to Gage and told him what he wanted to hear so he would open the door, and I could kill him and all of his raider buddies that just ran me through their gauntlet of fun. This decision was very much like the one I made in the base game when I first arrived at the Institute. There was no messing around with these people. Kill them all and get out. So that’s what I did.
And if you’ve played the game yourself then you know that I made a terrible mistake here and that it’s really funny in a way. Because the man I just shot in the head here is actually my son, and the boy in the cell is a Synth made to look like him.
Okay, seriously now, Bethesda should be given some credit for this. Because history doesn’t repeat here despite my jokes. The game is prepared for the player making this choice. You’ve given a new quest when you kill Gage to go and clear Nuka World of all of the raiders and free the slaves. It’s not quite as fleshed out as I would like, because when you’re done it sends you to speak to one of the slave leaders and the conversation heavily implies that this isn’t the first time you’ve spoken and that you should have probably interacted once already before murdering all the raiders, but it’s a big step up that the game doesn’t outright break if you decide to react like that.
You do obliterate a lot of the quest content by doing this though. Which is fine—decisions should have consequences, but a big part of the DLC is clearing out five sections of the theme park for the raiders to claim as new territory. This could have easily been transferred over to the freed slaves instead so there’s a story here for morally good characters, but hey it’s good that there’s an option at all. And you can still go exploring and do some of the side quests even though there’s no main story to follow with all of the raiders dead.
On my second playthrough I went along with Gage’s proposal to see the rest of that content. And it’s here that you see what I meant earlier: that Nuka World has something in common with New Vegas. It isn’t just the obvious though—the casinos and hotels in that game are in the same blazing, visual space as many of the rides and attractions in a theme park. New Vegas being like a theme park for adults, and catering for more mature indulgences. But there’s similarities to be found also in the story.
Without spoiling much, a man named House maintained the central city in New Vegas and is using it as a source of income. While the nearby Hoover Dam is the real prize in the region, New Vegas itself is not without its appeal to the NCR—the largest, and most stable society that I know of in the Fallout universe. Many soldiers and tourists visit the city and bring money with them. Money that fuels House’s plan.
In many ways, Nuka World shares this quality. But not just in how the attractions and location make it appeal to traders and visitors. It’s also naturally fortified and can be protected against outside invasions. Which is exactly why a bunch of traders had claimed the entrance to the place and set up a trading hub, complete with mercenary guards.
This is where Colter enters the story. With Gage’s plans behind him, Colter founded a fragile alliance between those three raider gangs I mentioned earlier—The Operators, The Disciples, and The Pack. Led by Colter, they launched an assault on Nuka World and killed the mercenary guards and enslaved the traders. Their end goals were to then use this foothold as a base to move through the rest of Nuka World’s main areas—both for more land and to restore the park to attract more visitors and traders—and then run the place just like the traders were. They’ve already started doing some of this by the time you arrive. Outside traders are allowed to come in, exchanges goods and caps with the slaves, which makes the raider gangs rich.
So this is already pretty good. At the very least it’s interesting. Far more interesting than many of the locations you visit in the base game, which feel like they’re stagnant and not doing anything really. But we also can’t ignore that big gorilla problem that appears again because, unfortunately, nothing about Nuka World really makes sense.
And I do mean that without any exaggeration. Almost nothing makes sense here.
For starters, raiders claiming this place to then use it as a trading hub is about the least “raider” thing you could possibly do. Who in their right mind would visit here, to do business with people who have explosive collars strapped to their necks? On top of that you have the dead bodies used as decoration that I mentioned earlier. If the goal is to make the place attractive for traders and passing people with money… Seriously do you already see what I mean? Raiders raid. Not trade. This story and situation is interesting but it shouldn’t have been done with an unstable alliance of raider gangs. It’s like Bethesda had this story already cooked up and then changed it to be raiders partway through development to appease people who wanted to have their own raiding group.
Unfortunately this just keeps going with many of the minor and major details of this place. Apparently the power plant that ran Nuka World is offline. But the place still has power. More of it is functional than it isn’t. It’s just a selective problem so that some areas can be closed off or something. It’s really weird.
You’re also not really in charge. Which almost makes sense but the more you play the more you realize how nonsensical it is. When Gage told you about the water gun he wasn’t doing it out of charity. Colter’s murder was planned from the beginning. You’re just the weapon the raider gangs chose to use. Colter had been ignoring the needs of his people for months. He promised that, shortly after taking Nuka World, he would lead everyone to clear the rest of the park—these five areas you can see now on the in-game map—and divide the land between the different gangs. For a reason that is never explained, he decided to do nothing instead. The raider gangs got tired of that nothing, so Gage devised a plan to replace Colter with the next guy who entered the gauntlet who was strong enough to survive—which, of course, ends up being you.
Bethesda has a consistent issue with making the player the leader of factions, to the point that it comes across as an obsession. I don’t think it’s ever been done successfully by them—and by that I mean, not only does it never make a whole lot of sense, but it’s not even an interesting result or a sense of accomplishment for the player. They don’t get to order anyone around or make decisions. Nor are they ever in charge, and instead are only the boss in title only.
It makes me wonder if this is how things work at Bethesda and this is Todd Howard’s ways of crying for help or something. No seriously though, I do understand that being at the top of an organization, or even a country as history has proven, isn’t always directly about issuing orders and bossing people around. Often you can feel beholden to those below you and, from what I’ve read, many decisions have to be weighed carefully not just for your interests but for dozens of others. But you still do have to make those decisions. Whereas in Bethesda games, you end up doing menial busy work for people who you should be ordering around, or there are no decisions ever. At all. There’s nothing.
This trend holds true in Nuka World. If you accept Gage’s offer—which isn’t really a choice to be honest, it’s either join them or kill them all—you can only do two things. You can go to the leaders of the three gangs and do those menial tasks for them, which are more radiant quests that send you back to the Commonwealth and through its lovely load screens and fast travel times. Or you can clear the sections of the park that Colter promised the gangs. The gangs that have way more man power than you and have just been sitting around doing nothing. You go yourself instead. To do what these big gangs couldn’t. Alone. It makes no sense.
There’s a reason for this and we’ll get to that shortly, but it’s tied up in a lot of stuff that’s wrong with this scenario that Nuka World drops you in. See this is yet another tired example of Quantity Over Quality—and that Bethesda will put in a tremendous amount of effort into some parts of their games, and next to nothing in others. In a way they’re shrewd about their priorities, because they focus on stuff that almost every player will see if they complete the quests, instead of any divergent paths and the world reacting to your decisions. That’s splitting your playerbase and, by design, will make it so any work you do will only be seen by half of the players unless they do more than one playthrough. It’s not an economical way of doing things and, if we recall something that was brought up way back at the start of this video, there’s a very strong possibility that the only reason Bethesda still has their hat in this rodeo of game development is to make money.
There are more cases of things not making any sense whatsoever in these individual sections of the park, but for now let’s address the main quest. There are five areas that are wonderfully realized. Bethesda really does this stuff well, and an immense amount of work went into each location. I said it earlier: the Galactic Zone is possibly the best combat arena in the entire game. It has many vertical layers, winding paths, and multiple routes to find and fight through. There are a ton of robots here and, while I still stand by my assessment that the combat is too simple, this is the best case of how the environments you fight in can elevate that. If only slightly for some players.
But there’s more to do inside the buildings around here. There’s an interior roller coaster. A vault-like tour. This commitment to making Nuka World feel like an actual theme park is continued throughout all of the areas and, I don’t know maybe I’m missing something about this, but I am thoroughly impressed by how much detail is in these areas.
There’s a western section with robots. A tour of a cola bottling facility with a river of nuka quantum. A radioactive fantasy land with castles and more interior sections to fight through. The first location, where the raiders are at, has an arcade and games to play for tickets and prizes. None of this is will blow you away or anything but it’s clear that it was still a lot of work. And my assumption is that it’s work that Bethesda has gotten really efficient at doing over the years, which is why they’re so lacking when it comes to other parts of the game.
The quests in each of these locations are abysmal. Worse than that, the main quest falls apart here too. For what I suspect is one key reason: they wanted to give the player a choice, and didn’t think it through.
These choices come up after you meet the leaders of each gang. The Operators are the most mercenary of the three and are only in the business for caps. All they want is money. No matter how they get it—whether that’s through showing their power or through trading or striking deals. They’re the only gang that makes sense to have set up the trading hub in Nuka World.
The Pack is all about showing strength and respecting that display. They’re the most feral, War Boys from Fury Road of the three, but they’re not totally psychotic. The understanding I got is that they believe the world has gone so far to shit that they just want to get wasted, party, and do whatever they feel the urge to do without any inhibition. Yet they still respect the strength of their pack leader, which transfers to you if you can show a similar quality.
The Disciples, however, are truly psychopaths. They want to kill and torture, and are likely responsible for all of the corpses stapled to the walls in the park. It makes no sense whatsoever for them to be part of this alliance. Not only do they get little out of the arrangement, but their needs will actively damage the reputation of the place and scare traders away.
Basically these three are some of the core qualities of raiders in the series condensed down to one thing: Caps, Chems, and Killing.
The player choice enters the story when you go through Nuka World and clear out one of the areas. Once successful, you have to select which raider gang you want to gift the area to. The more you favor one gang, the more the others will dislike you. There are five areas to distribute in Nuka World, and then another three settlements in the Commonwealth afterward. That makes 8. So you can’t keep things fair between the three even if you wanted to.
The problem is that, because there are five locations in Nuka World and so many possible combinations in which you can distribute them to the gangs, there’s no dialogue associated with the choices you make. Nuka World has its own radio station and, when you gift out land, the host does announce your choice in a very general way, but there’s no conversation you can have with any of the leaders of each gang. That work wasn’t put into it, because it would create so much hassle to make sure each combination was properly factored into those conversations. It makes sense, but it also doesn’t, because these choices aren’t interesting.
There is some work put into this. When you take an area, the gang will decorate the place and inhabit it afterwards. But they also don’t have that much relevant dialogue. The leaders never thank you either. You’re only given a chest with some caps and loot instead.
So the game feels lifeless in this respect because of this choice, because it’s a really bad system. Consider, instead, if the areas were already promised to each gang by Colter before you arrived. It could be another reason why they were so pissed at him. So now, when you go to each section, you can have some backup from the gang that will eventually own it, and they could be involved in the quest here. When you’re done, because it was decided ahead of time, the gang could have some dialogue and a response to you succeeding. Instead of it feeling like you did nothing for them when you return to the main area of the park.
I know this goes against what I’ve been saying for most of this video—I want more choices, not less—but this kind of thing really is a poor substitute. You get to decide which flag to raise… yay. The choice leads to one of the gangs eventually turning on you—whoever gets the least amount of land—so it is important since the player has to deal with the consequences of their actions, but this could have also been handled better.
This situation in Nuka World was ripe to be the first time Bethesda nailed being a leader. Because there are three distinct, clashing factions at work here. So imagine, instead of raising these flags, that there were decisions and situations that come up instead. Problems between the gangs, or dilemmas that need the attention of the overboss.
You get called back to the main area, or hit a trigger after taking some of the parts of the park, and have something to deal with. These could be really simple like a gang member has turned traitor and you need to decide what to do with them. Or someone beats the gauntlet and you have to play the sorting hat from Hogwarts and decide which gang gets to recruit him, or if you should just execute him. You know, stuff like that. Situations that require a decision.
Let’s say there’s 10 or so of them. By making these decisions, you would be showing what sort of ideology you follow and naturally drift toward one or two of the gangs, and away from one of the others. You could choose the bloodthirsty way to ally with the Disciples. You could show strength and amusement for the Pack. Or you could try to proceed with the most profitable choice and diplomacy to align yourself with the Operators.
You still get to claim territory. But now certain gangs like or hate you depending on tangible decisions you make, instead of being mad that one gang got one more piece of land than they did—which, again, this doesn’t make sense. When you get to the end of the main questline you are starting to gift out Commonwealth settlements. You could easily make this even and fair for all three, but the game hits a trigger point at 8 pieces of land so that one gang is always going to be pissed and turn against you. They were happy to sit around for months with nothing from Colter, but they don’t even give you a chance to take the next settlement for them. It doesn’t make sense.
But then nothing does really. Raiding the Commonwealth needed to be in the game from the start. You can’t add something like this so long after the game’s release and expect it to go smoothly. I already had so many settlements under my control and it’s just so fucking awkward. There’s an NPC that actually, literally, has to whip out a notebook when you’re deciding what places to raid to make sure you’re ALLOWED to. Because you might already own it! One of your followers might be there! So you’re not allowed to raid it. Why would they care? Why can’t I make the decision anyway? It’s by far and away the worst feature in all of the DLC and I do not understand how they thought this was good enough to be put in the game.
Another example that proves it: if you do select a settlement that’s yours, and there’s no follower there, then you can insist to raid it. So you go there and, remember, it’s a Minutemen settlement. All of your settlements are like that in the base game. You do a favor for these people and, just like that, you become the ruler of the place. You can destroy their homes, their farms, boss them around, change what work they do, and so on. It’s already a broken system from that. But then you choose to give it to a raider and, without any contact from you, the settlement suddenly doesn’t remember you. They have no knowledge of what you did for them. They don’t recall that you built the place or own it. They act like you’re a stranger, and you have to threaten them, kill them, or BRIBE THEM to leave. It’s a place you were already in control of but, all of a sudden, it’s something different because of the Nuka World quest.
Having a raider gang in the Commonwealth should have been an alternative to the Preston and Pals at the start of the game. You could have sided with the raiders attacking them in Concord. Or, like I suggested in the previous video, you could have taken over a gang that was already in Sanctuary. Kill them or become the boss. Something like that. Nuka World should have remained isolated in its own area to avoid these horribly awkward conflicts with what you’ve already done in the base game. And to avoid all of the load screens as you go through it all. If you play without fast travel on for this part then you have my sympathies. It must be terrible.
There’s also this weird incongruity with some of the player choices. You can do almost everything for the raiders without killing someone. You have persuade checks or, like I just said, you can use money. You can make yourself sound reasonable, like you’re trying to avoid violence, as you do the dirty work for these vicious gangs who think it’s funny to kill people and butcher them in their homes. If you have Nuka World but didn’t play, I recommend going through it all real quick on very easy just to see all of this. It is so, so surreal how Bethesda went about constructing all of this. It’s like they solved a jigsaw puzzle with pieces from six separate boxes.
The nonsense continues back in Nuka World though, with the quests in each part of the park. For starters, almost none of this should still be standing after 200 years. It’s same issue the rest of the game has. Robots are still active and working. The rides are still functional. Even if you ignore that, it gets worse.
The zoo section has a parody version of Tarzan, who has been raised by a bunch of Ghoulrillas. As much as I appreciate the pun, this whole scenario is as stupid as it sounds. I like to provide examples for most of what I say but I think this one speaks for itself.
There’s a bigger problem here. Each part of the park has something for you to do. In the Galactic Zone it’s to clear all of the crazy robots. That one makes sense. In the Western Zone, you have to do some boring quests for the robots to unlock the way to the fake mines to kill the bloodworm queen. Not the most interesting quest but it also sort of makes sense. Here, you have to find the source of the gatorclaw monsters and stop them. Tarzan tells you that they keep coming even though he’s killing them all.
Ultimately you discover that a scientist at the park was using a cloning machine to create animals as a food source. This was after the apocalypse and he wanted to use the machine to survive. He was successful, and then decided to create the monsters you’re fighting as a weapon to protect his part of the park. Which obviously backfired.
The biggest issue here is that the facility under this zoo is firmly locked down. There’s no way out of here. So how were the monsters escaping to terrorize Tarzan and his Ghoulrilla family? Really, there’s no broken vent or any way out of here, especially for how big the creatures are.
In the Kingdom section, you have to fight through radioactive gas that is kept constantly pumping through the air by the ghouls that inhabit it. Ghouls that were workers in the park. That have lived here and somehow survived for 200 years. What exactly are they eating? Why can’t you try to reason with their leader? What kind of society has emerged from this? All of these questions aren’t answered, because it’s a long combat section instead. Just like much of the other lazily made content in the game.
Also, the leader has magic. Actual magic. I thought that it would be revealed that it was all a trick because he was a magician before the war, or some effect of the gas he releases, but no there’s actually magic in Fallout now because of this quest. Terminals you find around the area reveal that radiation gave him powers.
You might be thinking that some of this is too nitpicky. Or that Bethesda clearly thinks that ghouls are closer to zombies. That would explain why so many of the quests that involve them use the 200 years that passed for an exaggerated effect. The kid in the fridge. The guy and his crew in the submarine. Or the Eddie Winter guy who’s been locked up in a safe room since the war. Same goes for these ghouls. They were able to survive for so long, cut off from the rest of the world, because Bethesda thinks they’re zombies.
There are multiple examples of ghouls needing food and water in the series. However, the thing that proves Bethesda has no idea what they’re doing with this stuff is right here in this DLC. Because back in the animal zone, with the guy who was using the cloning machine to make food… He was a ghoul. So this isn’t even internally consistent between quests that are minutes apart. What makes it worse is that the game breaks its own rules for really boring reasons. These quests aren’t even worth ignoring the basic necessities of the characters in order to make them happen.
In the end you deal with whatever gang turned on you, even though it makes more sense at any point to murder them all and free the slaves. For my run it was the Disciples that I had neglected. So you fight over the power plant with the other two gangs and then turn the power back on. Which was really on already but we’ll ignore that. Fireworks are set off and you get some okay visuals as your final send-off from Fallout 4. I think the context of this scene adds more weight to what I said earlier—that Far Harbor should have been last after this.
As a final word on Nuka World and the DLC, I’d like to show how badly it was integrated into the game in another way. Although I found the DLC to be far more interesting than the Commonwealth stories, it was still built on a rotten foundation. And that rot seems to spread anytime it’s linked back.
Preston Garvy wanted the Minutemen to stand for the ordinary people in the world. Specifically, it was an organization to defend settlements from raiders. Raiders that you, as the general of the Minutemen, lead to the Commonwealth in order to… raid.
You would think that Preston would have some strong opinions about your change in heart. And he does. Bethesda thought to include some dialogue with him. It goes like this.
Preston thinks you’re a monster. I was really happy when I saw this because, even though I agree with a lot of his views on the Commonwealth, I’ve wanted to execute him ever since he told me that I had to do more work for my own faction before building the teleporter machine to save my son. I was the general and he wouldn’t proceed with this rescue until I added another shitty settlement on the map for him. Because, somehow, that was more important than my orders.
But the game doesn’t let you fight him here. Because the game doesn’t go all the way with judgement. Preston shouts at you and, even if you threaten him, he backs down. You’re still the general. You can still take settlements for him. Still do quests with him. He goes back to his regular old self.
Even though you’re now the antithesis of everything he stands for.
Let’s Fix Fallout 4
For the last section, let’s return to the story in the base game, which was a huge part of the previous video I did on Fallout 4. We’ve probably spent too much time on this now but we’re here and already gone over the video’s estimate. In for a penny and all that.
A few people left a comment on the first video asking how the story could be fixed. At the time I answered that I didn’t think it was possible. Not without a total overhaul of the way the game was built. I’ve had a year to mull it over now and if the goal is to make Fallout 4 an actual RPG then my initial reaction is still what I think today. Almost everything in the world and the story—down to character creation and a voiced protagonist—would have to be altered. But making changes to have a better story within a “Bethesda Game” instead of an RPG… that might be possible.
Let’s identify some of the major problems before looking at potential ways to solve them:
- Character vs Player motivations.
- The Institute’s goals, actions, and general place in the Commonwealth.
- World building is hard.
- And Side Quest Depth.
I’m only including that last one so I can immediately remove it. We already went over that in the first half of the video and, I think, some of the better examples in the DLC the game received add further proof that the base game did a poor job with its quests and quest givers. This simply needs more thought and attention.
For more evidence of nonsensical missions in the game, you don’t have to look further than Diamond City. Some of the stuff you do here shows an astounding lack of thought. The standout example being another missing person’s case for Valentine’s Detective Agency. You’re looking for a guy who used to live in the city. You visit where he worked, speak to his colleagues, and learn that he was having poor luck finding a girlfriend before he went missing. Following these clues leads you to his home and the discovery that he underwent facial reconstruction surgery—thinking that the problem he was having was that he wasn’t good looking enough to get a girl.
The conclusion of this quest is visiting the surgical center in Diamond City and insisting to one of the two doctors that works there that you search the basement operating room that they have. When you get down there, the other doctor is standing over the corpse of the missing guy—the surgery was botched. The guy is mangled and dead and the surgeon has gone a bit mental over his mistake. You confront him. He kills himself. Then the other surgeon comes down to investigate because of all of the shouting. Case closed, the end.
You already might see how terrible this is. If not, let me make it clear that the guy was missing for a while. Days at least before you even took the quest. So the other doctor hasn’t entered his own cellar in all this time. Didn’t hear anything. Didn’t speak to his colleague. The doctor who killed the guy didn’t come out for days or find a solution in this time or anything. It makes less than zero sense. It makes negative sense.
For the others on this list, let’s take them in order. Especially because the first two are tightly linked.
The issue with the voiced protagonist is only the beginning for the problems in Fallout 4’s main story. The voice actor may say things in a different way than you feel about them. Even if you play with the mod that reveals all of the dialogue options, it’s a regular thing that your character will sound different than you intend. Or, because of the cost associated with recording so many extra lines, there may not be an option that you would choose at all. It’s the biggest reason why I think they should have made the main character their own person, like Joel from The Last of Us, and reduced a lot of the choices to big moments instead of every step in conversations. With scripted movies for these conversations as well.
But even doing that, you’re still left with another big problem. That the player character will shout and scream about their missing baby during dialogue, and then you decide it’s time to build some houses. Some beds. Set up some farms. Take some settlements for Preston. Make sure the Minutemen are happy and entertained. Go on some wacky adventures, singing along to the radio. Find another partner and practically get married again. This is a pretty big conflict here.
The only change I can see resolving this problem, without rewriting the entire background for the main character and almost all of the story of the first half, is to make the main character a Synth.
I realize this contradicts a point I made during the look we just did at Far Harbor, which is why a lot of the Institute needs to be changed to make this work. But this actually works in favor of this proposal to make the player a Synth, because it can help make the Institute a much more believable place. And a more interesting one.
I imagine this working like so:
Currently in the game, the leader of the Institute is a dictator. You can see solid proof of this in two instances. The first is when Shaun names you as his successor and, despite some grumbling, all of the other department heads accept it without having any method of debating the issue. There’s no discussion. No appeals. Shaun has spoken and that’s how it’s going to be.
Secondly, the only department head that does find a way to fight back, does so by sealing their section of the Institute and basically holding all of the food hostage—he’ll starve out the opposition until Shaun changes his mind. Not exactly a democratic process. At this point you’re functionally President-Elect and you have to decide how to deal with this. If you resolve the problem peacefully—by talking them into unlocking the doors—you can decide what sort of punishment the Institute can dispense on the temporary traitors. Two of these options are exiling them, or executing them. And the guy’s reaction to either of these drastic judgements, while not favorable, isn’t outright shocked. These answers aren’t rejected. They’re carried out because you’re in charge. The Institute is a dictatorship, and this sort of thing must have happened before.
This ties directly into what I said in my previous video. So much of this place is evil, and yet you’re not allowed to act on it. You can launch your own investigations—unprompted by anything in the game—and discover the immoral experiments they’re conducting, or the murders they’re committing on the surface. And yet the happy, smiling mask is the only layer the game ever allows you to interact with. The Institute, deep down, may actually make sense if you could confront Shaun about all of the things you find. In its current iteration however, you’re left wondering what it is the Institute is even doing.
So here’s my proposal, with the intention of fixing the story while changing as little of it as possible—in other words, a shift in the narrative that’s not only feasible, but one that uses as much of the current assets in the game already.
First off, the main character is a Synth and is so from the very beginning. After Kellogg left in the opening, the cryogenics malfunctioned and Shaun’s father died. Later on, after Shaun grows up and reaches a place of authority in the Institute, he learns about Vault 111 and launches a quiet investigation to see if anyone survived. He discovers his mother was shot and his father died sometime after in stasis.
The other big change here is that Shaun is not in charge of the entire Institute. I’d go one step further and say that NO ONE should be in charge and it should be ruled by committee instead—the same department heads already present in the game, with no single member being superior to the other. The other option is that there could be a different leader in charge who could serve as a villain, but that’s not really important for these changes.
Shaun is unhappy with how the Institute is being run. There’s a lot of issues he’s noticed—a list that matches those experiments, murders, and treatment of Synths we just went through—and now he’s discovered that they thoughtlessly murdered his mother and father when he was taken. This takes a plot hole—why on Earth would Kellogg and his team not take everyone for experiments from this vault?–and uses it as more motivation for Shaun to devise his plan.
One of the high ranking researchers in the Synth development department thinks that the creations they’re making are closer to human than the others care to admit. To be clear this isn’t a change. This character is already in the game today. Shaun works closely with this man, and perhaps a small, secret faction within the Institute that sympathizes with Synths—which, again, already sort of exists in the game today—to create a new Synth prototype that’s more advanced than any they’ve created so far. Perhaps the first Synth that doesn’t have a Synth component. No deactivation code. And total free will.
This Synth would of course be you.
You’re placed in Vault 111 and Shaun releases you, just like it happens in the game currently. You think your baby has been kidnapped, Kellogg took him, etc, etc. This part isn’t changed. The player still reacts strongly and passionately in dialogue when the missing boy is brought up, but you still have the freedom to ignore this search and do whatever you like. That conflict between character and player is, for now at least, still present and a problem.
So why would Shaun do this?
Much of this would initially function in the same way. Shaun is not the top dog leader, but he is still in a position of power. He wants to meet his father, and I doubt that anyone at the Institute went back to check if the cryogenics failed before now. So when you’re released the game’s story continues as it already did—the people who care about Shaun in the Institute would await the arrival of his father—and, by extension, grandfather of all of the Synths that were created with his DNA—with some amount of celebration. Meanwhile they’re unaware that this is another Synth coming into the Institute.
The bigger changes happen when you construct the teleporter and make your way inside. Shaun would have cleverly ordered Kellogg to remain in the Commonwealth as a lure for you to find your way, and also as the first level of revenge on the people who killed Shaun’s parents—which is exactly how it functions in the game today. When you reach Shaun, he would tell you that you’re a Synth. The double twist here would be that Shaun isn’t a boy anymore but that you’re not his real father either. You just have all of his memories. Then, he could ask you how compelled you were to reach him during your travels. The player could be judged for how directly they came to the Institute, or how long they dabbled doing other unimportant things instead of finding their missing child. If the player rushed to find their child, then Shaun would congratulate himself on successfully integrating his father’s memories with a Synth body, since your emotions and actions were in-line with each other. If not, he would lament that they could have done a better job making sure your memories were better matched with your decisions, because clearly you decided there were more important things to do. It solves that conflict in a way that I think could be seen as a powerful mindfuck moment. Either way, no matter what you do, the game could toy with your actions and decisions. It’s some fun commentary on player agency.
I picture this coupled with some dialogue from the player character, saying something like “I felt so strongly about finding you, but then that would fade away and I’d get caught up in something else.”
Shaun’s plan here is to reform the Institute from its evil ways into something more productive for the whole Commonwealth. You’re instrumental in this because very few people in the Institute know you’re a Synth. So you are in a perfect position to win their trust, help them out, and fool them into thinking you’re human. You are the perfect weapon Shaun could wield to prove to all those in the Institute that doubt the humanity of the Synths they’re creating—because they’ll have no idea they’re listening to one and treating one as an equal while you interact with them.
From here this would be another path the story could follow. The other paths—Brotherhood, Railroad, Minutemen—could be improved with these changes too but I don’t think I could justify going through all of them for this video. The key change here is that the Institute’s plans and motivations can finally be explored, uncovered, and addressed. Because you and Shaun will be working together in order to gather evidence of their wrongdoings in order to take down opposing factions within the place, that want to continue exploiting technology for their evil purposes. Murdering people on the surface. Abducting and replacing others. Genetic mutations.
This could lead to a truly peaceful end as well, instead of the Institute either wiping everyone else out, or being wiped out itself.
I think this would elevate much of the story in the game, because the lack of rock solid details about the main villain really hurt the game’s sense of purpose. I was never quite sure why it was I was fighting them, other than a misunderstanding on whether Synths were human or not. This confusion is also awkwardly addressed by characters in the game itself—even within the Institute. Even with Shaun, who miraculously changes his mind on his young Synth replica at the end of the main story.
Which leads us to the last point on the list: that world building is hard.
A big part of the reason why the Institute feels like such a nebulous entity is that all of them are really. The only solid one is the Brotherhood of Steel, that at least has a unified purpose and a backstory that makes sense, even if their appearance on the east coast may not.
The Railroad shouldn’t exist. Period. No one would put this amount of effort into helping Synths when real humans are still living in such crushing conditions. This should have been a Synth-created group of resistance instead. All Synths. All about destroying the Institute.
It gets worse though because not even Diamond City, Goodneighbour, or Bunker Hill feel right either. These are the biggest settlements in the Commonwealth. They’re the most successful, prospering groups of people, and yet they’re in the most dangerous part of it. They live in a place that is torn apart on a daily basis by raiders, super mutants, and roaming packs of killer robots. The inner city is a hotbed for violence and strife, and this is where Bethesda plopped down its major gatherings of people. This should be the SAFEST part of the Commonwealth, if nothing else BECAUSE of the presence of civilized people in the area keeping it that way.
Further than that, what do these settlements even do? Much of Fallout 4 reads like a bunch of people at Bethesda watched MrBTongue’s video on the series and called a huge meeting entitled: “We Have to Make Sure We Know What They Eat!”
If you’re unfamiliar, MrBTongue goes into detail on world building in his video and that asking and answering questions like this is important. Places in Fallout 3 don’t pass one level of inspection for this sort of stuff. They shouldn’t exist from just a lack of food alone. Bethesda should be commended for responding to criticism like they did, but “What Do They Eat?” is only the first stage of the problem. The next would be “WHY Do They Eat?”
Diamond City doesn’t produce anything. Neither does Bunker Hill. You could argue Goodneighbour is a hub for drug dealing and more questionable services—so that passes for now. Bunker Hill is all about traders, but nothing is being manufactured or gathered for them. Maybe Bethesda thinks they’re being supplied by scavengers still but that comes back to the old 200 years problem.
You specifically learn during your first visit to Diamond City that they rely on outside traders to survive. The question from that is: what exactly are they paying for these supplies with? They don’t produce enough things for themselves. A kid owns the water supply and charges for it. Piper runs and sells a newspaper. There are multiple shops and the like. But they’re selling things, not making them. How are the ordinary citizens here earning caps to spend at these stores?
There’s no reason for Diamond City to exist and my issue with this isn’t just a nitpicky one, but rather another chance to point out a lost opportunity. The thing about world building is that, if you do it right, you can find some surprising opportunities for stories and cool details. To build on Fallout 4 as an example of how this can happen: if you give Diamond City some sort of function—maybe a nearby ammunition factory, or some sort of other rare resource—then you can now build on that. It’s not just an explanation to satisfy pedantic story nerds like me. It can be used for more quests and stories within the game. It can lead to problems the characters need to face or struggles over power. New Vegas did this with the Strip. And Nuka World did it WITHIN THIS GAME with the theme park.
You can keep on unraveling this from these details. Places still having power after 200 years isn’t a plot hole to be waved away, but a problem that a Commonwealth organization or game mechanic could solve. A group who has a goal to re-electrify the wasteland. Or, like I said in the previous video, fusion cores could be used to power these places and they could change when you loot them. The power goes off—find another way out. Maybe that could be something another group could be producing somewhere in the Commonwealth—a town that’s claimed a fusion core production facility and employing people to make them.
See what I mean about how quickly it can interweave with other settlements and ideas? Addressing these difficult questions and trying to solve them leads to opportunities, not plot holes that seem so scary that you don’t want to fill them.
However this is looping us not so neatly back to the idea of roleplaying in the game, and the conflict between RPG and Bethesda Game. Having these details leads to a richer world and would accommodate more thoughtful character stories that players could think of. I think that even a Bethesda Game would want to have as interesting a story as it could possibly have, but I can’t stop thinking that this RPG, world building side is something that the developers have very little interest in doing anymore.
Instead they want to stay in that three phase cycle. They want you stumbling onto areas and finding cool stories there. And sometimes they’re successful. I had a blast in the robot shopping mall. It was fairly short but it was a neat, wacky idea that didn’t involve some terrible radiant quest or poorly fleshed out mission dispenser. I simply found this place during my travels and solved the problem while I was there. I wish there was more of that sort of thing if that’s the sort of game Bethesda wants to make. More details in the stories that happen in each area, even if they’re only tiny details like the New Squirrel tapes you find in an abandoned trailer park. Which even had some subtle pre-war propaganda in it with the new squirrel, who ends up bringing doom to the other squirrels, being communist red.
I love stories in video games. I want more games to take it seriously, but only if they truly want to. For Bethesda and so many other developers like them, it should be a case of do it right or don’t do it at all. Do what you want to do and not what you feel obligated to do.
You could have made one incredible game with Fallout 4. One wonderful, incredible game. But instead you chose to make two. One decent one. And one terrible one.