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.