on Oct 6, 2016
Why does Fallout 4 have a pre-war protagonist? It’s very expensive in terms of story resources and offers nothing but a weak twist.
Our character is different from everyone else in this game’s world. Shaun was an infant for a few months of your timeline, and ghouls have creaky memories of the before-times, but we are the only person on Earth to have closed our eyes on the pre-war world and opened them on a Boschian nightmare. This premise is a big deal. Every conversation and scenario is loaded with the understanding that we are from a different time, a comfortable time–a time that almost made sense. Upkeep on this idea is paid by repeatedly bringing it up, and when it isn’t paid there’s awkward and conspicuous holes in conversations. I’d say Fallout 4 pays upkeep about half the time.
The payoff on all this ought to be that we have some unique perspective on the game’s central conflict. That’s usually why games have bother with elaborate outsider origins for protagonists. Tidus is the perfect antidote to Spira’s dogma because he comes from a time before people compromised. In Alpha Protocol, there’s a very long tutorial area to establish that you’re a promising agent who’s been burned by his country–which does pay off, because the idea that you’re a hunted rogue agent adds drama and intrigue to scenarios. The protagonist of Far Cry 2 is a foreign mercenary because it means none of the factions who deal with you bother with ideological pretense. This guy’s only motivated to kill by self interest, so why pretend we’re different?
In Fallout 4, we’re from the pre-war era because…
…we can approach the conflict as an outsider? That’s important, sure–so how do we approach the conflict differently than, I don’t know, a settler from irradiated Delaware? Or a tribal from the mutant talking gator kingdoms of Louisiana? Or a diplomat from Mega Kansas? Or, hell, how about just another damn vault dweller? Did we really need to load the story with all this baggage to establish that we’re new here and don’t know all the factions and monsters? Factions and monsters, by the way, that can be set up in about six seconds of the ten-minute intro?
Was it so we could have the very convoluted and specific detail that the leader of one of the factions is our son? Because that’s another expensive detail that doesn’t do a damn thing for the story. Is there even a single scene besides our reunion that’s made appreciably more tense or dramatic by our special relationship with Father? From what I’ve seen–and I haven’t seen everything–it doesn’t seem to have occurred to the developers that this twist should have a point.
I mean, let’s say Fallout 4 was a well-told story. What would the payoff for this twist even look like? How would I’m your son, but I don’t remember you or really care that much apparently set up a satisfying conclusion? Is the game even willing to tell that story, or is it too excited to move onto its big faction battles?
So what do we get out of being a pre-war protagonist? Let’s say Vault 111 was just another vault, we’re just another vault-grown contemporary reject, and Father’s just another boring antagonist/faction leader. We’d immediately ditch a ton of baggage and expensive unique assets….and we’d lose, what?
This game is such a mess. I don’t know about Shamus and the rest of the crew, but I actually prefer Fallout 3‘s narrative. It was convoluted, but at least it had some sense of vitality and central purpose. This thing’s like spreading a pat of butter over a rubber exercise ball. You’re scraping it so thin you might as well not put any on at all, and–actually, why the fuck are you spreading butter on this?