on Jun 3, 2016
(Sorry about the janky framerate in these episodes. We have three more coming that were recorded in the same session. But the following week we’ll have this smoothed out. I find it’s actually easier if you watch the show at 1.25 speed. For whatever reason, that makes the jagged frames less annoying.)
Preston Garvey is a disaster of a character. He’s designed to be “safe”. He’s friendly, welcoming, and inoffensive. The problem is that:
He’s thematically wrong for Fallout, which is supposed to be a world gone mad. The big movers and shakers in the world should be insane, or quirky, or disgusting, or haunted by some past trauma, or not too bright. This is a game about monsters and robots and power armor and 200 year old deviled eggs. The only normal people should be peasants, and even those should be used sparingly.
His visual character design is making promises the character can’t keep. In a world of people wearing 50’s styled rags, he’s dressed as a soldier from the American revolution. He’s got a laser cannon duct-taped to the top of an ancient musket. We meet him as he’s holding off waves of psychotic raiders. He looks like a crazy, interesting, unpredictable character. And yet when we talk to him, he’s actually the most conventional and “normal” person in the entire game.
His dialog is repetitive and boring. He’s the most direct and obvious source of quests in the early game. He’s the first major character you meet, and he has a lot of quests for you to do. And they’re all the same thing: Go to location X and kill Y. He doesn’t have cool stories to tell about the places he’s sending you to. He doesn’t have cool stories about himself. He doesn’t have a running joke, or a hobby, or a hang-up. He doesn’t deliver any exposition. It’s just the same few lines of dialog, again and again.
He’s actually an annoying asshole and the game doesn’t seem to notice. He makes you general of the Minutemen, and claims you’re in charge. But he continues to order you around. That’s a wonderful hook for a crazy character, but the game refuses to do anything with it. If you stick to the main quest of trying to rescue your kid, then eventually you’ll get to the point where you need the help of Sturges help to build a teleporter. You (the “general”) have to ask Preston for help.
And then he says no!
He says no because “we have more important things to worry about”. Note that at the time, Sturges is wandering around YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD that YOU FIXED UP, doing jack shit. So Preston concludes that rescuing your child isn’t a priority, because he needs you to go out and continue to do his job for him while he and his friends lounge around this town you built.
This writer was so enamored of the idea of telling a dramatic story that they gave the main character a voice and built the whole thing on top of both a child-rescue AND an avenging-a-dead-spouse story. And then we come to this conversation, which ought to be an explosion of drama. This should be the moment where you and Preston become unable to reconcile your divergent goals: Your quest for murder and rescue vs. his alleged concern for the Commonwealth. This ought to be an abrupt end to your friendship. Or maybe a turning point for your own character where you decide to put aside your family for the good of everyone. Or a chance for a series of difficult speech checks. Or a face-heel turn for Preston. Something. Anything.
But the writer doesn’t seem to notice that this conversation ought to end in a gunfight. Instead, it’s just a generic “you can’t progress on that quest line until you do this other one”. Your character can’t call him out on any of this. Your character is never allowed to notice what a bastard Preston is, because the writer didn’t notice, because Preston isn’t a character. He’s a boring quest dispenser.
He doesn’t even have an arc! And no, “I almost gave up on the Minutemen but then you helped me and now we’re a success!” is not an arc. It’s an event that might fuel an arc.
Also, it appears Bethesda’s conversation / cutscene engine isn’t able to handle conversations more complex than the player speaking to one NPC. The three-person conversations always go horribly wrong. I understand that figuring out camera angles and lighting in an unpredictable environment is a hard problem to solve, but can’t we at least get the subtitles to work?
Like I said earlier: There are a lot of things to like in this game, but almost none of them happen in the first hour. Bethesda placed more importance on making a good E3 demo than a good story intro, and it shows.