So the hunt to find Kellog is broken. But it’s broken in a REALLY ANNOYING WAY, which is that it has various contradictory excuses sprinkled around the world, and taken in isolation they seem to address one fault or another. So you point out plot hole A, but then an apologist claims this is explained by excuse B. But then you point out that excuse B doesn’t make sense because of contradiction C, and then someone ELSE points out that C is maybe justified by theory D. This seems to solve the problem, until you realize that D doesn’t work with B, and thus you end up arguing in circles forever. Most importantly, there never comes a time where you can map out what happened and why. You’re forever concocting and dismissing theories.
This is annoying if – like me – one of your coping mechanisms for plot holes is to simply document them. But the complexity of the brokenness makes such a task impossible. Every excuse is supported by broken excuses which are supported by broken excuses, leading out into this endless fractal of stupidity and frustration. It’s like the Mandelbrot set, but for bad ideas instead of numbers.
So to get anywhere in this analysis, we need to spoil the big twist of the game. That’s not bad, since the twist is both obvious and nonsensical. Here goes:
Shaun is now 80 years old.
This is OBVIOUS, because the game showed you being re-frozen after the kidnapping. Most players realize RIGHT AWAY that some probably-significant interval of time has passed. But then your character is stupidly railroaded into looking for a “baby”, despite the fact that they really ought to know better. And even if they don’t, the PLAYER knows better and thus we get frustrated waiting for our character to catch up to what we already know. This can work if the writer has a strong pre-built protagonist like Geralt or Adam Jensen, but even then it requires a fine touch to avoid annoying the player. But in a game with a quasi-blank-slate protagonist like this one, having our avatar spend most of the game oblivious to something we figured out in the first five minutes is pretty much the kiss of death for tension, immersion, and roleplaying. Instead of working to unravel a mystery, we spend the entire running time waiting for our character to pull their head out of their ass so we can get on with things.
This is also NONSENSE, because everything else in the gameworld contradicts this. And here is where we get caught arguing in circles:
Plot hole A: Kellog hasn’t aged a single day in the last 80 years.
Excuse B: He’s part machine and so he doesn’t age.
Contradiction C: So if the Institute has CURED AGING, why is Shaun OLD and about to DIE?
Theory D: Maybe they didn’t actually cure aging as such. Maybe the Kellog we meet is just a synth based on the Kellog we saw at the start of the game?
But then we meet Shaun and he talks about Kellog like he’s a single person and not a series of synths. And since old-Shaun obviously despises Kellog so much, why would he continue to make synth copies of him? And if he’s a synth then what’s the difference between Kellog and a Courser?
Let’s do another one:
Plot hole A: Kellog was in town with a ten-year-old version of Shaun “a while ago”. That should have been decades ago!
Excuse B: Nick is a syth. Maybe he remembers back that far?
Contradiction C: You’d think Nick – being a detective and all – would note details like this. “We’re looking for a kid and our suspect left town 60 years ago.” He talks to Ellie about “the Kellog case” like it’s something she would remember, not some ancient cold case from before she was born. And other people seem to remember Kellog as well, and nobody has reclaimed or re-purposed the house, which would certainly happen if it stood empty for any length of time.
Theory D: Maybe the ten year old Shaun is a synth and was here more recently?
Contradiction E: But why? Why would the institute send Kellog to Diamond city with a child robot clone of their aging leader?
Theory F: Well, maybe this is all part of Shaun’s plan (or Kellog’s plan?) for you to pick up the trail and hunt him down?
But why? Why have us follow such a convoluted trail? How would that advance ANYONE’S goals?
Plot hole A: Kellog moved out of town “a while ago”. It’s long enough that people have noticed he’s “gone”, and not just “out of town for a couple of days”. Yet he departed recently enough that a dog is able to pick up his scent across a vast swath of wilderness.
Excuse B: Well maybe something about radiation and smells? Or maybe Dogmeat is slightly mutated to have super-smelling? Or…
Rebuttal C: Just… no. Also shut up. There has to be an upper limit on the amount bullshit we’re required to invent in order to patch a plot that is obviously broken in multiple places.
What we end up with is a world where all of the various characters are engaged in a massive conspiracy to obscure the obvious “twist”, so that the game will be able to “surprise” you with it later.
Surprise! That thing you thought was true but everyone acted in nonsensical ways to pretend it wasn’t true… IS ACTUALLY TRUE! DUN DUN DUN!
Dear Bethesda, please hire a writer. You have the budget, and this is disgraceful.
The Best of 2011
My picks for what was important, awesome, or worth talking about in 2011.
C++ is a wonderful language for making horrible code.
Push the Button!
Scenes from Half-Life 2:Episode 2, showing Gordon Freeman being a jerk.
A look at the main Borderlands games. What works, what doesn't, and where the series can go from here.
The Opportunity Crunch
No, brutal, soul-sucking, marriage-destroying crunch mode in game development isn't a privilege or an opportunity. It's idiocy.