Jay Castello
Freelance Writer
jaymcastello@gmail.com
@jayplaysthings

The Wasteland Never Changes?

So, I recently discussed the four major factions of Fallout: New Vegas and their endings, and it really helped me to solidify some of my thoughts about Fallout 4 in comparison, and to pin down why I don’t think that they hold the same subtlety or gravity.

Obviously this will contain spoilers for various parts of Fallout 4′s endings!

Still with me? Great. Here we go.

Where Fallout: New Vegas has you fight for Hoover Dam, which provides power to the whole Mojave, Fallout 4 pretty much just has you fight to eliminate the factions you choose not to side with. In New Vegas, there’s a war that has no flawless side, and there will certainly be casualties. You can wipe out the NCR and/or the Legion, and you have to kill or disable (leaving him in a powerless and implicitly suffering position) Mr. House, unless you side with him. But you can also talk down the leaders of both the NCR and the Legion if you decide to, whereas in Fallout 4 you are compelled to pick two of three from murdering all the Railroad leaders; destroying the Brotherhood’s floating fortress of an airship; and causing a nuclear meltdown that explodes the Institute’s underground base. 

And where New Vegas’ factions had nuance (except the Legion) – a serious discussion of the values of security over freedom, for example – Fallout 4’s fall short. The Brotherhood of Steel is the only faction calling for any kind of real government which would protect the people from raiders and such, but unlike New Vegas’ NCR, they won’t protect ghouls, mutants, or synths. The NCR won’t abide certain communities, but the Brotherhood actively detests large segments of society who could otherwise integrate peacefully with “fully human” citizens. The Railroad will free synths, but aren’t powerful enough to do anything about the chaos of the wasteland, and the Institute will look after its own in a way far beyond anything else the wasteland has to offer, but does this through enslaving synths and won’t share its knowledge and power with the vast majority of the people of the Commonwealth. And none of them can be persuaded to stand down against the other two.

A lot has already been said of this, and I respect the argument that the lack of peaceful resolution could be forgiven as playing up the theme of “war never changes”. What I see people discussing less is the lack of smaller successes or failures, and this is what really gets to me.

Fallout 4 does away with the ending slides from New Vegas and Fallout 3. It replaces them with the ability to play even after the end of the final main story quest, which I was incredibly excited for when it was announced. But somehow Bethesda managed to make this less impactful than the end cards to New Vegas and 3 despite those amounting to so much exposition.

Aside from the odd ambient dialogue and a new set of radiant quests, nothing changes in the suddenly monofactional wasteland. And I can understand why this is. The only post ending I’ve spent much time in (though I have finished the game all ways) is the Railroad ending, and I can understand why synths that have been imprisoned in the Institute their entire lives do not readily integrate into a society that has been taught to fear them. As I said, what I really dislike, possibly most about Fallout 4 compared to its direct predecessors, is the complete lack of changes on a smaller level.

There are literally hundreds of potential ending combinations in New Vegas and 3. Firstly, each of your companions gets a little blurb depending on the outcome of their personal quest. In Fallout 4, there is none of this. Companions spend the rest of their lives hanging out in whichever settlement you send them to, even if they have lives to get back to elsewhere. Yes, Piper will mention that she is worried about her sister Nat, but does she ever visit her when not travelling with the Sole Survivor? We get no indication that she does. Preston doesn’t get to help the Minutemen. Curie doesn’t pursue independent research. The list goes on.

In New Vegas’ ending cards, we are told how each little wasteland faction deals with the aftermath of the battle for Hoover Dam. In Fallout 4, these factions don’t really…exist. The delightful eccentricities of the Mojave just don’t come across in the Commonwealth. Insular communities like the Boomers, various casino owners, tribes like the Great Khans, quiet villages like Novac and Goodsprings; none of these translate into Fallout 4’s interpretation of the wasteland, whose map markers are almost exclusively populated with kinds of enemies, rather than kinds of people.

The closest Fallout 4 comes is with its settlements, and I will defend these radiant quests pretty hard (and I have) but it would be a whole lot easier to do if they actually developed and changed without the player having to do everything themselves. Base building is fun, but there could have been an option to toggle the settlers to start looking after their own stuff. A new settler turns up? Build them a bed yourself. Plant some more crops, and assign someone to work them. Slowly, the wasteland would have developed, and we could have seen the real impact that the Minutemen could have had on a struggling population. Instead, as with everything else in the Commonwealth, nothing changes.

This constant immutability is the core of my problems with Fallout 4. The Fallout series at its best addresses hope in the bleakest of situations, and the inability to really affect the Commonwealth, to address its groundroots problems or to bring about high level factional changes even despite the violence you’ve wrought, is, in my eyes, 4’s greatest failure. I love the Commonwealth as a wasteland playground, but I wish that I could also improve it in any kind of small but still meaningful way. 

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