Fallout 4. Sometimes Bigger Isn’t Better (Story)

Fallout 4. Nick likes me.
“I got you as a friend. There’s nothing more an old bot could ask for.” This is one of the more satisfying aspects of the game, or is that a social outcast sort-of-thing to think? Here, Nick Valentine, a synthetic human with the memories of a 21st century detective (who’s fiance had been murdered by a crime boss), professes warm friendship.

This is the second part of my Fallout 4 review, Fallout 4.  Sometimes Bigger Isn’t Better.  For the first part, with the introduction and description of what’s similar and what’s different in this newest edition to the Fallout series, please go to Fallout 4. Sometimes Bigger Isn’t Better (Overview).

The Story, or, an Outline of a Story

I don’t know if it was bad directing or bad choices that made the story so shallow in Fallout 4.  This game has a huge map, voice acting, cut-scenes that accompany all the dialogues, all kinds of crafting and building, and many followers that have a lot more comments and quips than in previous games, and all of those things take up memory and developing them would have used up the game’s budget.  Those are things that either weren’t in the previous games, or they were but to a much lesser degree.  So choices were made, and the newest story suffered; it is much more of an outline than an actual story.

The main stories in Fallout New Vegas DLCs, like Old World Blues and Honest Hearts, for example, have more to them than this new whole game does.  Characters in those DLCs talk a lot more about what they’ve done and what they’re doing than in Fallout 4, which has a story where all the missing explanation is an irreconcilable, glaring annoyance.  Your own character doesn’t have the ability to question much of anything, like any normal person would, nor do they have anywhere near the normal level of frustration, sadness, anger, etc., expressed in all things related to your son and your quest for him.

Regarding those reviewers who say the story is so good, I can’t understand it.  Either they don’t read stories in real life, or they have no real life experience (the story would be incredibly traumatic if it happened in real life), and they can’t have really played earlier Fallout series games and DLCs.  Or they’re paid to be positive.  My family has come to the conclusion (based on Fallout 4 reviews, but also on reviews of other games from the past year or two) that you truly cannot put any credence in the larger web-based game reviewers.

In addition, there is a lot of incorrect information floating around the internet from early-playing reviewers of the game.  We all wish the gaming companies would stop the recently introduced practice of giving games out early to reviewers who will give them positive reviews.  An example of some bad information out there–one of many such examples that are high in Google searches because of their early releases–is an article that claims to provide all possible faction endings.  The Minutemen ending, it claims, would mean the destruction of not only The Institute but the Brotherhood of Steel, too.  All the endings, in fact, are said to lead to the destruction of two of the four factions.  This is not true.  I played the Minutemen ending and everyone was fine but The Institute.  You just have to be careful to not hit anyone from a faction you’re friendly with during any multi-faction battles or side quests.

Huge Spoiler Alert:  The Fallout 4 Story (with Commentary)

What is the story?  If you haven’t played the game yet and don’t want to know, please stop reading this and go play the game.  For all others, the story goes basically like this:

You are either the mother or father of a baby boy named Shaun (kudos for phonetic spelling!), living a normal life until the nuclear war of 2077 strikes.  You rush to a Vault Tec vault for survival and are scuddled into a chamber for decompression, or so you’re told.  In truth, it’s a cryogenic chamber and everyone is frozen for some experiment.  Vault Tec plans go awry and all the frozen people like yourself are left as they are.  At some point you, your spouse and your son (they are both in the same chamber), are woken up.  Someone wants your baby and they take him, killing your spouse in the process.  You are then refrozen, with everything being beyond your control.

Some time later you awaken, having been mysteriously released from your chamber.  You discover that everyone else in the vault is dead, and leave with your family tragedy very fresh in your mind.  Upon reaching your dilapidated home, there is your family’s hovering mechanical butler, Codsworth, still whirring about!  Has it been 20 years, or possibly 50, you wonder.  Codsworth tells you that you’d been gone 210 years, making it the year 2287 . . .

Codsworth has kept a holotape that your late spouse had made shortly before the bomb struck, and he gives it to you.  The message is enough to bring anyone to tears, but your character has no reaction–even though there are an untold numbers of inane-by-comparison in-game dialogue cut scenes!  For a short while, you can tell people you meet that your baby has been kidnapped and ask them if they know anything.  Of course, there’s no reason to logically think that the kidnapping just happened and that your child is still a baby, so already in the very beginning of the game you, the player, discover that your involvement in the story won’t be all that complicated or realistic.

You help out the Minutemen early on, which is the lead-in to building settlements.  The Minutemen are a Commonwealth group that basically act like a police force, and of course they are one of the four game factions.  At the time you meet them there are very few left, since the Gunners have killed many.  So you become a new “Minute Man” and help folks along the way, gaining their support for this local and level-headed group.  You soon meet up with the Brotherhood of Steel and can start doing quests for them, too.  This militaristic faction is not local, but has come in to clean the Commonwealth of the abominable synthetic humans.  The third faction you meet up with, sooner or later, is The Railroad, which was described in the “Overview” part of this article (if you haven’t read that, The Railroad helps runaway synthetic humans just as the Underground Railroad in the United States helped runaway slaves in the 1800s).

The fourth faction, which takes longer and takes more effort to get involved in, is The Institute.  That is the organization responsible for kidnapping your son and making all the synths that exist.  In listening to various people, you also hear stories about The Institute kidnapping others (replacing some in order to infiltrate society) and killing citizens for various reasons.  Nick Valentine, the friendly synth detective and companion, tells you how The Institute went to a meeting of Commonwealth groups’ representatives and simply killed everyone attending.  This put a stop to a possible new form of Commonwealth governance by the people who actually live there.

If you explore at all, you should also run into two guys named Art that look the same.  One of them is trying to kill the other, and if you intervene in time you might be able to stop the execution style murder.  Done right, or fortuitously, you find out that the rumors about kidnapping and replacing people with synths appear to be true.  Taken together with Nick’s story, at least, you can determine that The Institute does not have the people’s best interest in mind (heck, you can even run across brahmin with synth parts in them!).

No one knows where The Institute is exactly, and therefore how to get into it.  You eventually learn both things.   You are able to locate Kellogg, the man who killed your spouse and kidnapped your son, and meet up with him with the hope of getting answers.  He doesn’t tell you much before attacking you.  From a synthetic piece of brain of his you’re able to find out that your son existed when he was about 10 years old, anyway, and that he called someone else father.  You also find that the way into and out of The Institute is via teleportation.  What?!  Ok, so that “suspension of disbelief” needs to run strong here.

The assassins of The Institute, the Coursers, have a chip in them that allows for direct teleportation, so you go out to find a Courser and get his chip.  Once you have the chip, you have the first faction-based decision to make.  Which one will you bring the data to in order for them to help you?  It seems that, since this choice is before you, that you are joining your chosen faction for good.  But that’s not actually the case, you  find, as you play more.  I went with the Minutemen since that seemed the best choice; my son had played this far in the game before me and had chosen the Brotherhood of Steel.  The things they wanted him to do really upset him, however, so he actually quit playing that character!  (It seems that a role-playing game shouldn’t lock you into something that you can’t get out of later, especially if the choices going forward seem unexpectedly “out of character.”)  The Minutemen choice I made was fine, but it did cause the leader of The Railroad to glitch out for a while.

Fallout 4 The Institute
The underground Institute.

Once in the underground Institute you meet your real son, but not after getting unsettled by a synth boy that looks just like him (from the memories of Conrad Kellogg; according to the Fallout Wiki the memory is actually of the synth child).  Your real son is in fact the Director of The Institute now, called “Father” (because his clean, pre-war DNA was/is used to make all newer synths) and he’s much older than you are.  Upon meeting him, you don’t get to ask him much or react much at all, which is just so frustratingly bizarre.  You do discover that he was the one that let you out of your cryo chamber, but apparently only to see if you’d kill Kellogg.  Kellogg was The Institute’s main dirty-jobs man, but Father Shaun didn’t want to get rid of him himself because he was physically enhanced by The Institute (a cyborg, of sorts, who was 108 or ~180 years old, depending on the source) and because of how long he was with the organization.

So . . . your son actually meant for you to kill Kellogg or get killed yourself.  If you play as the male in Fallout 4, this makes slightly more sense, especially since Shaun’s biological father had been in the military.  But if you play as a female, his mother, geesh.  Physically, you were a new mother and otherwise appear to have had no combat training (you were educated as a lawyer).  How he thought you could kill a very hardened and experienced cyborg assassin is nonsensical.  This is your son.  Cold-hearted and incurious about you, and you can’t react to this.  It’s really dumb.

In any case, you are welcomed in The Institute and can roam around and find out whatever information you may find.   If you snoop around enough, and listen enough, you discover a number of things (I won’t list them all): Father Shaun is ill; a lot of scientists don’t at all like developing a child synth like Shaun; a lot of scientists really don’t seem to have a clue about The Institute’s above-ground activities; a lot of them don’t like synths and question how mankind is actually being helped by developing them; and, relatedly, why The Institute isn’t augmenting humans instead of replacing them.  Imagine what these doubters would think if they knew what was going on up top in the Commonwealth!  So, you come to realize that most of The Institutes’ regular people are not in on the bad stuff that goes on.  A certain Brotherhood of Steel quest shows this first-hand–you can convince one of the scientists to leave The Institute after proving to her that the director has lied about things (this scientist is Madison Li from Fallout 3).

From then on, the story can move along very quickly.  I took one quest from Father Shaun just because he asked me to, and it seemed innocent enough.  It was beneficial to the Commonwealth people, and no doubt it was meant to manipulate me into thinking The Institute was good.  After completing this quest, I was given a residence there.  Father Shaun said it contained weapons and what-not and that I should be pleased.  But when you finally find it, you’ll discover that it’s a small residence compared to the others and that it holds only one (average) weapon.  I looked around, thinking I missed something because of his glowing description of the place, but I didn’t find anything else around.  I think this is a clue regarding the honesty and/or sanity of Father Shaun and The Institute leadership.

Fallout 4 Your Institute Residence
I was changing my character’s clothes in my Institute bedroom, and thought this image kind-of surreal, like a 60s painting or movie. The Institute is clean, at least. My character’s name is Olivia, by the way; I had tried making her look like Olivia from the Fringe series (and Codsworth “knows” Olivia).

After this I took the next Institute quest, but that one pits you against The Railroad, so I ended up not doing it . . . well, not doing it “right.”  If you do what I did in the game, Father Shaun will meet you outside of The Institute, at the CIT ruins, since you may or may not be allowed back into The Institute, depending on your dialogue choices.

If you happen to choose the right dialogue (you don’t get to do these dialogues over, so I recommend saving before talking in case you want to try it again), you can finally react a little to your son’s unethical and uncaring behavior.  Your son, who was very violently taken from you, has no desire whatsoever to know what you think, or to hear any advice you might have.  This despite never having lived in or visited the people in the Commonwealth before.  The Institute is very close-minded and is simply right in its own eyes.  That’s all there is to it.   . . . it seems pretty unrealistic, and if nothing else, very unsatisfying.  Your son is not curious about his real mother, and oddly enough, you never hear anything about a mother who might have raised him.  Strange.

Fallout 4. The Institute is watching you
The Institute is watching you.

After this, The Institute mounts an intense attack on the faction that helped you get into their abode.  This is a battle intended to wipe you and your associates out (and as a game-play note, this battle is very hard because you can’t hit any ally at all, or else they turn against you).  So . . . get this straight.  Your son originally was going to make you the new Director of The Institute, after thinking you’d probably get killed by his assassin (which makes no sense whatsoever), and upon surviving shows no actual interest in you or what you think, and now he’s flat-out trying to kill you just because you’re critical of The Institute’s past actions and surmised goals.  Wow.  I think this is really why my son quit playing the game.  As for me, I enjoy the building and exploring enough to actually keep playing, despite my deep dismay.

Once that is over, your faction plans on how to get rid of The Institute since it is bent on destroying them (the game doesn’t give you the option to attempt negotiation).  I’m sure it’s the same for every faction–blow up The Institute by sabotaging their reactor.  An issue I had with this, that made me not want to continue the story, was that there’s nothing said about all the children and other innocent persons within The Institute.  I don’t know what is with Bethesda . . .  Anyway, once you infiltrate The Institute, you will be told that you have the option to broadcast an emergency message to residents to vacate the building.  So, thank goodness, there is that, but why not simply mention it sooner, like any sane person would?

After the nasty deed is done, the Commonwealth people are very happy about it.  You’ll get quite a few comments from all kinds of people about how relieved they are that that menace is now gone.  I have continued to play the game to see how much there is to do after the main story ends.  The little quests that you got from the factions before continue, and there’s more to Diamond City, but I don’t yet know how much more.

The main story, then, is the vehicle for the game’s big battles, and not much more.  This is a sad statement in regards to the Fallout series.  You never find out what The Institute was really up to, and guessing just seems cheap and unsatisfying (see the Reddit source below if you don’t believe me).  You never get to hear from Father Shaun why he thinks making synths to replace humans is such a good thing.  You never get an explanation as to why improving people via experiments with his “clean” DNA isn’t being done, or why The Institute doesn’t help people through implants (cybernetics), like they did with the evil Kellogg.  The people who control The Institute seem simply insane and bent on total control of the Commonwealth, but you never find out anything more.  Your character is never allowed to pose these questions, or react fully like a real human being and parent.  I don’t know why they went with a story that was very tragic and grown-up only to let it fall flat, as if they started out wanting the mature adult players, but changed their minds and finished it for teens.

How Would I Rate the Game Overall?

I can only come at the rating of the game as a fan of the Fallout franchise.  As such, I’m more disappointed than not with Fallout 4, but at the same time, I still enjoy playing it.  It’s a huge game, with the combat, building & crafting, and exploring, being fun and challenging.  The problems with the game are the story, the way too frequent radiant settlement quests, and the relatively significant bugs that are more and more evident the more hours I put into the game.

Considering how long they had to make this game, this all seems kind-of absurd.  For a number of years there were legal issues that ended up in court involving this franchise.  I’m sure that played a part in the timing and the budget of the game.  But otherwise, the game comes off as having a lot of attention to detail given to it in some ways, and it having sloppy handling in other ways.  If you like building, modifying weapons and armor, exploring, and generally shooting things or making big explosions, then you’ll probably like the game despite it’s problems (as I do).  If you like star ratings, I guess I’d give it a 7.5 out of 10.


Additional Reading and References

Vault Dweller’s Survival Guide: Collector’s Edition.  Hodgson, David S.J., and Nick von Esmarch.  DK/Prima Games (Indianapolis), 2015.

Is anyone else completely baffled by The Institute’s goals?  [A Fallout Reddit thread; bad language alert]  Author’s note: There’s no chance of changing The Institute and their apparent goal to replace humans instead of augmenting them.

Fallout 4 Institute Gorilla
Instead of helping the human population, The Institute replaces them with synths and makes . . . gorillas. Soooo useful.

This post was last updated or edited on January 17, 2016

A verbal review with my son:

3 thoughts on “Fallout 4. Sometimes Bigger Isn’t Better (Story)”

  1. It’s like they weren’t even trying when they made the story… Bethesda has been going down a very bad road in their games… I mean, at least this had multiple endings, but the story is so shallow, that if it was a lake, I couldn’t drown myself in it if I tried… Thing is, there isn’t much hope, for me anyway, that they’ll change in a positive way… they are notorious for watering down games now… Fallout 4 is a great example of how they take the most important part of an RPG, the story, and kill it, and then hang it on display in the town square… even though it didn’t need to die…

    However, they did one thing right… the building! It just works!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Ya know, if this is the direction Bethesda is deciding to go with their games… then we’re screwed… As a TES fan, I would be completely outraged by the story being that bad… oh wait… I already am outraged… we need to make a petition to Bethesda to try to get them to start making great games again!

        Even in Skyrim the story was lackluster, as you were just drug along for the ride… no back door to the main quest… no alternate ending… just one way. The only other route was to simply not do the quest… given the lore they have at their disposal, there are so many options… so many things that can be done…. and yet they fail to go any of those routes, instead being lazy and making so the player literally has no choice… I mean, aside from kill the blades and choosing a side in the civil war… you had little influence on the final outcome of the story… it’s just pitiful. I mean, in Morrowind there are several ways to do the main quest, the story is well told, and there can be alternate outcomes, albeit not as many as they wanted, but they were still there!

        Liked by 1 person

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