The Boston Bastard: Being A Dick In Fallout 4 – Part 3

In the third and final part (parts one and two here) of my attempt to be as arbitrarily cruel and murderous in Fallout 4 as I can, I – well – fail. Am I a person who can’t be a dick in this game, or is this a game that just won’t allow me to be a dick? My concluding thoughts are below. Clearly there are ample spoilers throughout.

Finally, some workable dickishness! Diamond City may have gone out of its way to prevent my killing everyone, but it does seem to be offering me ample opportunities to be an arsehole.

Entering a bar, I saw a fight between a louche wife and a cuckolded husband. He slumped out, and it became apparent that she was cheating on him with the man behind the bar. So far, so BioWare. Later, wandering the city, I bumped into the husband again. He hired me to go into the bar and stand up to the barman, so I persuaded him to hand over 80 bottlecaps for the job. On arrival, I made it clear I wasn’t on anyone’s side – man, what a sucker. He pulled a gun on the barman, the barman pulled a bigger gun on him, and the sap went down. (The barman recovered from the shot directly to his heart remarkably quickly, even his clothes healing up after a minute or so.)

Pleased, the barman offered me more work, as muscle for a dodgy friend of his – sure, I figured, more chance for betrayal. But then a conversation option appeared offering, “Kill him.” Uh, okay! Blam blam blam, and down he went too. I left the bar with the contents of his safe, and the keys to both their houses. Now this is more like it.

But his wife was really sad.

I convinced a robot not to try to love. I’m stealing everything from everyone. I’m giving sarcastic responses. I’m helping out this guy with this thing, but I’m totally over-charging him! I’m taking on quests from nefarious sorts, because they’re probably naughty, I guess. I helped this ghoul get to Sanctuary, because he was sad. I’m completely failing at this.

I just can’t find the wherewithal to be mean here. I keep picking non-mean conversation choices, and then feeling guilty, thinking, “I just won’t mention this when I write it up.” What is that?! I keeping helping people, even though my self-set task is to be an arsehole.

The truth is, though, it’s not because I’m just such a lovely guy that I can’t bear to hurt the imaginary people. It’s because I know the other options are just going to be less interesting. They’ll either abruptly end the conversation, or they’ll piss the other person off into not telling me information or giving me more involved things to do. Worst, it cuts off potential quests and quest rewards.

My sneaky-guilty thoughts of, “Well, I can just miss this bit out of the article,” are most commonly because I wanted the game to be more fun to play, rather than wanted to avoid being a dick.

By the time you’re in Goodneighbour, there are ample opportunities to do things that are “wrong”, but you’re doing them as favours to others, to help other people out. Sure, they’re unpleasant types, and perhaps some players will decide not to agree to their requests because they cross a moral line. But from the more mercenary perspective of the mechanics of the game, they’re quest givers giving quests, for which you get rewards. Piper, Diamond City’s peppy reporter, is currently tagging along with me, and she sometimes disapproves of my actions – but it’s only when the text pops up saying so that I consider the ethics of the choices. In other words, even here I’m not agreeing to naughty quests to be naughty – just to make the game offer me more.

And that’s not as disparaging as it sounds. The game’s offering me plenty, while I cheat against my remit like this. I think – because a lot of my commentary in these three articles has been observing how the game doesn’t cope with wanting to be truly free to be a lunatic – that many have assumed I’m disparaging of the game as a result. I’m really not. I’ve been playing the game for a week and a half now, and I’m enjoying that time. While there is always a contingent – either coordinated or disparate – who want to heavily rail against Bethesda games with angry mallets, I’m not in their number. I find, as I have with their Elder Scrolls series (with the exception of the properly awful on release Elder Scrolls Online), that they’re flawed games I enjoy spending extended time playing.

That’s not to say there haven’t been some really big issues, too. It’s as buggy as you’d expect a Bethesda game to be, and it’s dreadful that we expect such things. Also, it’s plain weird, too. For instance, breaking into someone’s house saw the entire population of Diamond City teleport into the room to kill me as a crazed gang.

It’s been a disappointing experiment, all the same. Fallout 4, for all its many merits, really doesn’t feel like a game that supports its suggested moral freedom. Conversation options let you be unpleasant, or more often, “sarcastic”, but these generally shut down opportunities rather than craft your personality. Personality is far more defined by how companions perceive you, rather than any impact you have on the world. In the end, it’s a game that’s always less interesting to play when you choose to be nasty.

Which is odd, considering the situation. It’s a game that really wants you to be a hero, despite giving you no narrative rationale for that. Some guy, in horrible circumstances, at a massive disadvantage compared to the vast majority of people alive and familiar with the post-apocalyptic circumstances. Were you benefited in some way by your cryo-frozen origin story, given an advantage that the denizens of Boston have not, then this heroic calling would make some sense. But it’s rather just the trope of VIDEO GAMES that seems to be its entire basis. You’re playing, so you’re the hero.

I’d have loved to see a way to be less than that. To be some prick who ruins everyone else’s day, because his own life is so shitty. And while you can certainly be rude to people, it’s to your detriment, not theirs.

That’s the key, I think. You punish yourself by being horrid, not everyone else. And so, the further I went trying to be a dick, the more I became aware I was missing out on what the full game had to offer. Perhaps there’s some sermon point to be dredged from that, but not one that really makes sense in a post-apocalyptic world where most of the other characters are only looking out for themselves.

Or perhaps this is my bias, and if I stuck with it, persisted in trying to see who could be killed for no reason, stuck with refusing to help people, eventually something would come of it? Perhaps I just haven’t tried hard enough. But at this point, goodness knows how far or not far into the game, I find myself not wanting to waste any more opportunities for fun, for interesting events. I have, as I mentioned, failed.

42 Comments

  1. Sarfrin says:

    Poor show.

  2. Zenicetus says:

    “It’s a game that really wants you to be a hero, despite giving you no narrative rationale for that.”

    Really? You start the game as a family man, and IIRC there is a hint that your character is just starting to adjust to life as a civilian after military service. You’re a classic straight-arrow, not exactly psychopath material.

    Then you wake up in a post-Apocalyptic world, and are given a strong motive for revenge. It’s basically following the themes of the first Mad Max movie, minus the Vault bit. And Max is definitely a Hero.

    Sure, I’d like to see a more open-ended sandbox game in this setting with more options for interaction. But that’s not how this one was designed. I don’t get the objections that the game doesn’t support warping such a heavily pre-defined character into a psychopath. Like Mass Effect, the only option is to be a little more of a snarky hard ass along the way.

    • amcathlan says:

      Leaving me with the inescapeable conclusion that they’re far to into telling you who you are. Not very Fallout that, and goes hand in hand with the mass-effecty dialogue system and general lack of real choice, in more directions than just psychopath.
      They should have just auto-named your character “Hawke” and saved some audio resources.

    • ShinySpoons says:

      I think of it as a country like Haiti suffering an earthquake. Every first world country sees it as their duty to help by virtue of not living in a similar shithile. The player got to experience a relatively lovely prewar world and naturally feels inclined to help as they haven’t had hope and kindness beaten out of them. This is the point where I show you my knuckles tattooed with “hope” and “love”

    • Uninteresting Curse File Implement says:

      Really? You start the game as a family man, and IIRC there is a hint that your character is just starting to adjust to life as a civilian after military service. You’re a classic straight-arrow, not exactly psychopath material.

      What game have you been playing? It is stated in the prologue that the main character is a lawyer, so being an evil manipulator should be second nature!

      • aleander says:

        <3 (my lawyer mentions having rifle training during the vault part, though, but I just assume it’s a part of what every lawyer learns, y’know, for when the stars are right)

      • geisler says:

        You are a lawyer if you play the female protagonist, ex-military if you play the male one.

      • Razumen says:

        Having worked with lawyers, I’d say some of them can be just as “good” as any ex-military person. That is to say, drawing conclusions from either profession is flawed.

    • Marr says:

      A straight arrow just starting to adjust to civilian life after military service, suddenly dropped into a hideous post-apocalypse world sounds like a prime candidate for a psychotic break to me.

  3. RedViv says:

    Well, that IS the Bethesda game problem. You are playing, you are the hero. Do not arbitrarily recover that stone from the tutorial tomb, the Dragonpocalypse never starts rolling. Do not want to interact with any of the apocalyptic events, they do not happen. Enclave? Twiddling their thumbs and not taking the water purifier. Mehrunes Dagon? Just sending pitiful imp scum until the rubberbanding levelling hits.

    • RedViv says:

      [Interior Viv voice]WHY DO WE KEEP PLAYING THESE? WE DO NOT UNDERSTAND.

      • Sin Vega says:

        Because there’s literally no competition :(

        • RedViv says:

          Too real, Sin.

        • TheAngriestHobo says:

          What one of the bigger and more competent outfits should do (CDPR or Obsidian or something) is build a modern engine along Creation Engine lines, and set about constructing proper sandbox games. I’m talking about games that are primarily designed to be platforms for modding; games that eschew the idea of a “main quest” altogether in favor of smaller, tighter, standalone questlines. Add in a heavy focus on interlocking systems that lead to emergent scenarios (think Mount & Blade or CK2), and you’ve got a competitor that could easily displace Bethesda’s half-hearted modern efforts.

          It would be an expensive undertaking, of course, but so very, very lucrative if capably executed. We’re well overdue for some proper competition in this genre.

          • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

            Yeah, i guess it boils down to that.

            I can not avoid loving this game, because i crave for games of this kind, but it’s more like no one else is doing anything better i suppose.

          • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

            TW3 doesn’t cut it either since even while it’s a stellar game, it’s another kind of experience.

            It will be hard to wait for Cyberpunk that’s for sure.

  4. heretic says:

    oh man… the lock picking is a reskin of skyrim?? was that the same in fallout 3? I forget

    • LionsPhil says:

      New Vegas certainly has the same angle-a-bobby-pin-and-rotate-lock-with-screwdriver mechanic as Skyrim’s lockpicks. I don’t know about 3.

      • Premium User Badge

        Andy_Panthro says:

        From what I’ve seen and read, the lockpicking and hacking mini-games are identical to Fallout 3 (and New Vegas).

    • Sulpher says:

      Lockpicking is identical across Skybrim, Fallout 3, New Vegas and F4. As are many, many other things.

      • geisler says:

        Why is this still a surprise to people? These games have been running on some iteration of the same (gamebryo / creation) engine for almost 10 years.

        • Razumen says:

          Because new gameplay mechanics are not tied to the game engine? Maybe that’s why?

    • Jusey1 says:

      I’m glad they kept the same hacking and lockpicking minigames… Because THEY FUCKING WORK and make sense.

      I don’t want another Oblivion lockpicking minigame… That literally makes no sense whatsoever and is utterly stupid. I just “auto” on that until I succeed because it was just so utterly stupid.

  5. JarinArenos says:

    Unique advantage in the wasteland… well, you have professional military training in a wasteland that hasn’t seen that in nearly two centuries.

    • RedViv says:

      Outside of the Brotherhood of Ceramics, the Republicenclave and various other military-founded organisations.

    • grodit says:

      Given that you play as a male. The female vault dweller is a lawyer.

  6. f0rmality says:

    woulda been way better had you sided with the husband in the bar, then you can kill the bartender, find out about a drug deal, take the husband with you, kill the dealers, collect all the caps and chems, convince the one survivor to tell you where their big stash is, taken all their caps and chems, then killed the husband when he asks for his cut. That’s the ultimate dick move, and it’s what i did. I came out of it with a buttload of caps and chems and nobody survived, except the wife.

    • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

      And i’m sure a lot of other stuff like this will pop out down the line.

      Still too many essentials, but i suppose it’s a bigger problem when you don’t know how to deal with the various things thrown at you. In a particular settlement you can do a massacre once some things are settled, and i can remember many other essential statuses revoked.

      It’s an heavy handed approach, i won’t deny that, but you arguably get to experience more things especially when you don’t have to fear that a glitch will unexpectedly kill some dude you might have needed.

    • Zenicetus says:

      You can also defuse the fight between those two, and end up accompanying both the bartender and the cuckolded husband on that drug deal.

      The game ain’t perfect, but it does have some of these alternate outcomes that are interesting. And you won’t see this one if you just kill everyone in that bar.

      • Premium User Badge

        John Walker says:

        Sure you do. You get a note from the bartender’s corpse that tells you about the deal, and the quest to go intervene on your own.

        • whatfruit says:

          I have always thought that video game bastardery to the poor NPC’s is a poor imitation of what you can achieve in a P&P game against your fellow adventuring companions.

          link to criticalmiss.com

    • Lachlan1 says:

      Ultimate dick move would be telling everyone your son is the main villain.

      • Jusey1 says:

        Your son is kinda the main villain honestly… Out of the four main faction, the Institute is the #1 baddie and who is the leader of them? Oh yeah! Your son!

  7. 1Derby says:

    Congrats. You’re a dick. Enjoy that.

  8. Chaoslord AJ says:

    Like to read how to be a dick in Fallout. I can’t be because I picked up a seemingly nice female companion who turned out to be a social crusader later (in the game). If someone gives me a deadly job and I ask for 72 caps “she doesn’t like it”. Seriously?

  9. AyeBraine says:

    Unfortunately, there are a couple of facts that more or less fix the main character’s origin story, and also explain why he succeeds at post-apocalypticking.

    1. He/she is a decorated soldier who presumably has seen an enormous amount of combat. The local veteran’s association manager muses to himself about how incredibly succesful the speech by your character, the war hero, was with the audience, and what an honor it was for him – and also plans for more speeches in other branches. Source: hacked computer log, intro to the game.

    2. He/she is an upper middle class person with more or less successful, still fresh marriage that at least one of the parties finds happy (“Hi, Honey!” tape). So he/she may be a very awful person underneath, but he/she is generally very decent and “upstanding” (either sincerely or out of habit).

    • Razumen says:

      If you play as the girl you were a lawyer, not a war vet.

      • AyeBraine says:

        Oh. Sorry. Didn’t play as a woman yet, my only playthrough already seems frighteningly endless. Well, in the wife’s case, her superbadassery may be nicely handwaved by “mama bear” wonder power (which I like; because it’s true and awesome – dedication that some mothers have for their children can frighten Chenghiz Khan). Hmm, I’ll definitely do a female playthrough! So far, the main quest feels really weird. It feels more like my grizzled soldier / 50s man just keeps telling everyone and himself he wants to save his son, but really just goes on tangents and hunts for new guns =)).

        If my character was a fish-out-of-water lawyer and a mother, it would make MUCH more sense to rack up some experience, prepare my revenge, try to find out more about the world… And also it might make the reveals about the son more poignant, making me fear and doubt the reunion. I mean, so far my character just plays the high morals horse, which sounds tiring considering all these things he does aside (or even in the process of) seeking his son. Maybe the fem-wanderer would (at least in head canon) be more cautious about actually going after him, and more of a moral journey.

        Of course, I’m only at the early middle of the main quest yet. Seems that the issue that RPS review touched on is real: the main quest doesn’t give you any “narrative gaps” like “and then he wandered for months”, according to script, you’re supposed to do main quests back-to-back. When you don’t, it feels wrong and gamey.

        • Razumen says:

          I don’t really care about justifying my characters actions based on any backstory, real or not. I mean, regardless of what they were like before, the fact that the world changed so much is a good enough reason for someone to change drastically.

          The biggest thing I can agree with is the lack of choices available in the game to affect the quests in the way that suits your playstyle.

  10. Jusey1 says:

    So basically, it’s real life…

    If you’re mean to someone like that in real life, of fucking course they aren’t gonna ask for help from you (and then later reward you)!

    No offense but how did you NOT think of that being realistic? What did you expect? Did you expect being able to do quests when you’re evil? Or what?

    Now, you would’ve made a point if you at least mention Raiders. A cool evil option for the main questline can be about you starting your own raider clan/empire, taking over the Commonwealth and slaughtering people and helping your clanmates (evil still helps evil after-all). That would be a great argument but what you’ve done here… All it does to me is make me question your intelligence and believe that you are rather ignorant.

    Again, what do you expect to happen when you’re being an evil/nasty person?

    • dglenny says:

      Gosh, you must be fun at parties.

    • Marr says:

      > Did you expect being able to do quests when you’re evil?

      Well, yes. Evil quests. New Vegas was full of ’em.