SPOILER WARNING! There will be discussions about moments throughout the whole game (specifically the endings); you’ve been warned.
Last week I finally finished Fallout 4’s main campaign. After 60 plus hours of wandering The Commonwealth, killing super mutants, picking locks, and searching for adhesive, I proceeded to side with The Brotherhood of Steel and nuke the crap out of The Institute. While I was satisfied with the ending at the time, I think that more had to do with how long I’d been playing the game than it being a worthy conclusion. That’s not to say it was a bad ending, but certainly wasn’t one that wrapped up the story nicely. Part of the problem with massive games like Fallout 4 is that the story sometimes suffers because the focus is on an excellent gameplay experience, which Fallout 4 certainly delivers. But as I thought about my time playing Fallout 4, I couldn’t help but notice the flaws in the narrative. I thought I would attempt to put my thoughts in writing to explain what I see as the biggest problems with Fallout 4’s story.
Consistency and Dialogue Choices
Imagine you’ve just woken up after being frozen for 200 years in a nuclear wasteland that has managed to hobble itself back together. You’d be confused as you meet people who have been born and raised in this new world order and inevitably you would have questions. What’s a Ghoul? Where is Diamond City? What’s a Synth? All of these questions make sense early on in the game. But when you get to missions around 20 hours in, why is one of the main dialogue options “What’s a Ghoul?” Unless the player has the attention span of a goldfish, it makes no sense for these to be viable dialogue options.
Part of the problem with open world games like Fallout 4 is that the enormous amount of freedom you have means that there’s no order to how you play. As a result, dialogue choices are given to assume you come to a location at a specific point in the game, resulting in dialogue that would make sense if you get their early in your playthrough, but not so much later on. This is especially true if you play missions post the final campaign mission.
I’m not sure that there’s a solution to this issue, but similar to games like Mass Effect there could be a way to keep track of what the player has been exposed to. There are a lot of issues with the dialogue system, but I think enough people have complained about it that I don’t have to elaborate. Needless to say, it doesn’t help this dramatic tale Bethesda is trying to tell.
This next gripe is a minor one, but it showcases some seriously contradictory character development. As I decided to go primarily with the Brotherhood of Steel story missions, you eventually find out that your comrade Paladin Danse is a Synth. Cue the dramatic organ. So you’re tasked with taking him out, but if you’re like me and had high charisma and good rapport with Danse, you’re able to keep alive by having them exile him instead. The main downside to this is that if you’re traveling with Danse, you get flagged as an enemy of the Brotherhood, and they will shoot you on sight.
However, the issue isn’t with the Brotherhood’s reaction but with Danse’s. Essentially despite being on top of the BoS’ kill list, Danse continues to talk about how great the Brotherhood is and how “they” (being you and him) represent the Brotherhood. What? Also, if you ever side against the Brotherhood, he hates your guts even after he’s been banished. I get that he’s dedicated to the cause, but there’s dialogue in the game that alludes to him knowing that he’ll have to find a new path. Finding a new path involves moving on from the old one. Personally, I think this is just a lazy cop-out.
With that said, there’s hidden audio that’s been leaked showing that there was another story path that made more sense with Danse’s exile, but was cut from the game. Maybe that will be DLC; I don’t know.
Speaking of siding with the Brotherhood of Steel, a big issue I have with the story is the lack of a truly “neutral” ending. In theory, that should have been siding with the Minutemen. Yes, you do still destroy the Institute, but the Minutemen shouldn’t have any beef with the Brotherhood of Steel. You’d think that if the Minutemen have issues with the Brotherhood, the opposite would be true. However, there’s never a “Destroy the Minutemen” mission when there totally should have been. I would believe the Minutemen’s actions if we got any real instances of the Brotherhood asserting dictatorial control over the Commonwealth, but they don’t do that in the game. As a result, we have four endings where you have to pick which faction apart from the Minutemen survives. The neutral ending could have been having all three factions put aside their petty differences to defeat the Institute. In any case, I can’t help but feel that of the sides you picked, none felt truly justified for the actions taken against the others.
Fallout 4 is a phenomenal game. The gameplay is fantastic, the world is large and wonderfully detailed, and the story despite its flaws is still a good one. You just can’t help but feel that for the amount of time that was put into this title that more could have been done with the story.