The Blistering Stupidity of Fallout 3, Part 4

By Shamus Posted Sunday Jun 21, 2015

Filed under: Retrospectives 114 comments

So the themes are a mess, the setting is nonsense, and the most important character is a dumbass with a really intelligent sounding voice. But Dad isn’t the only man in this world who would lose to a wooden signpost in a thinking contest…

The Enclave are all dumb jerk idiot heads.

We’re here to kill people that have nothing we want and fix a machine that’s only useful to the people we’re trying to kill.

To be fair, they were never very bright. But at least they were dummies with a goal. Let’s just hand-wave the massive avalanche of contrivances and coincidences needed to explain how they somehow knew what Dad was doing and showed up five minutes after we turned on the power at the purifier, even though this place was free for the taking for the last 18 years. Fine. They’re here. Let’s talk about why.

Let me ask you about the Enclave in Fallout 3: What do these clowns want? At the end of the day, how are they hoping to improve their lot in life? What do they need? Land? Not likely, and this land is worthless anyway. Food and water? These people don’t have any. Slaves? The Enclave has a doom fortress of robots and magical technology to do their work for them, so the last thing in the world they need is a bunch of hungry, disease-ridden, irradiated slaves stinking up their nice clean base. And besides, what work needs to be done?

Sure, you can invent some reasons if you like. It’s not like pointless wars are some anomaly in human history. But in the game we’re not even given an excuse for why President Eden would launch the war, why the soldiers would give their lives, or why the people at home would support it. Nobody in this circus even has a notion of what they might get out of it. I’m not even asking for the bad guys to be smart at this point. I’m only asking that they have some basic inkling of motivation for why they’re doing the things they’re doing.

Here in the game, there is no reason given why the Enclave would invade the capital wasteland and seize control of a broken water purifier. The inhabitants have no resources, no technology, no power, and the land they’re on is a lifeless poisoned hellscape overflowing with mutants. It’s a waste of lives and ammo for the Enclave to come storming in here and gunning down civilians, and the purifier itself would be useless to them even if it worked.

Even if the Enclave wants to control the populace, they already have the power to do so by simply pointing their guns at people. And even if the guns weren’t enough, the purifier wouldn't help control people because people seem to be doing well enough with the water they've got.

The Brotherhood of Steel are all idiots with stupid brains.

We’re the good guys! Sort of. We try. Accomplishing things is so very difficult.

The chapter of Brotherhood of Steel in this game has supposedly gone off-mission. They’ve abandoned their quest for technology and instead are trying to help the locals. I am okay with this. In fact, this is one of the points in the story where the “200 years later” idea actually works. 200 years is a long time for a single group to adhere to a set of ideals, and it’s not surprising at all that eventually some people would try to shake things up. Maybe this doesn’t “feel” like the Brotherhood to Fallout fans. You can make an argument that rather than trying to justify the Brotherhood crossing the continent it would have been more expedient story-wise to simply make up a new faction. But whatever. That’s not the kind of argument we’re here for.

My problem with the Brotherhood isn’t their change in mission and mindset. My problem is that nothing they do makes any sense. They spend most of their time downtown fighting super mutants, and the rest of their time helping a radio DJ. (Who is himself an idiot and an asshole of dubious value.) If they actually wanted to help people, they could share technology, or guard towns, or escort traders. Instead they’re mounting assaults on entrenched forces that aren’t a threat to anyoneAny HUMANS, anyway..

Part of the problem is that it’s hard to help people who don’t seem to need anything. The people of Megaton do no work, have no income, and produce no goods. They’re not thriving, but they seem to be getting by. It’s not clear how you can help people that have no goals.

We can hand-wave and say that without the BoS, the mutant problem would run out of control and threaten the surrounding towns. It’s pretty hard to justify fighting them so inefficiently. From the perspective of the player, it looks like Brotherhood could just camp the subway exits and keep the mutants bottled up in the city rather than fighting them in the open. But whatever. In broad strokes, this works well enough: We can just pretend the BoS is solving a mutant problem and the game is just careless about portraying it.

This could actually work, story-wise. There’s a lot you can do with the idea that a fighting force is really bad at doing humanitarian aid. This would put them out of their element, and would even help justify their usual practice of not getting involved. The game even seems to be trying to do this. Sort of. AwkwardlyIt kind of falls through because the BoS guys that stayed on-mission are even MORE dumb and useless..

But in a world where everyone else is also a moron, it doesn’t give us any payoff. They aren’t a great army turned into a poor peacekeeping force. They’re not being contrasted against a more competent foe. They’re just another group of swaggering dunces, wandering around shooting shit instead of being useful.

President Eden is a numskull who can’t think.

Bethesda: Making idiot characters sound smart by hiring good voice actors since 2006.

Like the Brotherhood of Steel, it’s actually okay if this guy is a bit of a screw-up. He’s a computer, and having computers go crazy and fail in absurd ways is a staple of the genre. In a smarter story, it might be cool to have this one super-intelligent but slightly broken computer causing some kind of ridiculous havoc, and it would be interesting to imagine an Enclave that was ruled by an insane computer that thought it was helping them. It could be a nice riff on the themes of Paranoia. But when the entire Enclave is made up of even bigger morons, Eden’s stupidity kind of gets lost in the noise.

Eden wants you to add FEV to the purifier and turn it on, thus filling the Potomac with “clean” FEV water. Then… what? Point guns at everyoneIncluding all the wildlife. in the Capital Wasteland, march them all to the bank of the river and make them drink?

Doesn’t the purifier… you know… purify the water? Wouldn’t the purifier turn around and remove the FEV? And if not, what do we need the purifier for? Why do you need to fix the purifier first? Couldn’t we just pour the FEV into the Potomac directly? Yes, you can easily come up with a reasonable explanation for this, but the game can’t be bothered. It’s all sloppy and hand-waving nonsense that you’re not allowed to think about.

But fine. For the sake of getting this over with, we’ll just go with it.

Let’s assume everything works the way Eden wants. Every single living creature in the Capital Wasteland will die of FEV, because it’s all slightly mutated. Great. Then what? The land is still an irradiated ruin. Now it’s an irradiated ruin with corpses all over it. Who cares? The Enclave doesn’t want or need the real estate, technology, housing, or clothes these people have.

Also, why would the player agree to this? This is the big moral choice in the game, because someone at Bethesda heard that moral choices were a big deal these days. But this choice is loopy. You can exterminate every single human, beast, and mutant you’ve encountered since you left vault 101I mean, the ones you didn’t ALREADY kill. Heh. or you can… not?

This choice could work in a dumb “LOL EVULZ” kinda way. In the same way they gave you the option to blow up Megaton just for laughs, they could let you genocide the entire wasteland for laughs. But since your character is also tainted by radiation, you’d be among the victims. It’s like a version of Hitler that wants to kill all the Jews, but he is a Jew, but he’s willing to go through with it anyway because he’s willing to give his life for the cause. So the moral choice here lets you chose between being a “selfless” genocidal maniac who gives his life to kill everyone else, or a… sane person?

Really Bethesda? This is the moral conundrum you have for us?

And the really painful thing is that they could have fixed about a dozen serious problems with the plot if they had just swapped Eden’s and Autumn’s goals: If Autumn wanted to poison the water, then the Brotherhood (and the railroaded-to-be-good player) would have a reason to oppose the Enclave at the end. The game portrays Eden as the “nice one” of the two, but he’s actually Hitler-evil and your “nemesis” Autumn isn’t really that bad by the standards of the world. He’s not all that worse than the Vault 101 Administrator, or that dipshit that runs the vampires, and he’s a good bit less evil than Roy, Burke, and Mr. Tenpenny. In the long run, Autumn is just another mean asshole trying to get what he wants with violence. We’re never given any indication that he wanted to do anything besides fix the purifier and turn it on, and he’s willing to murder people to make that happen. Sure, the game TELLS you he’s evil, but based on what we’re shown, he has the exact same goals (fix the purifier) and methodology (murder) as the player.

And if you get the DLC that lets you play past the end of the game, you’ll find out the FEV doesn’t work anyway. Or it’s really slow? I have no idea. The whole thing is so muddled I can’t even argue with it because I can’t tell what it’s saying. The moral compass of this game is a weathervane in a windstorm. It has no idea what point it thinks it’s making.

But no matter how it works, President Eden is still an idiot with no coherent goal.

So basically every single character is a drooling dum-dum, nobody has logical motivation, and the player’s goal is to help people that neither want nor need their assistance. We’ll see how it all comes together next time…



[1] Any HUMANS, anyway.

[2] It kind of falls through because the BoS guys that stayed on-mission are even MORE dumb and useless.

[3] Including all the wildlife.

[4] I mean, the ones you didn’t ALREADY kill. Heh.

From The Archives:

114 thoughts on “The Blistering Stupidity of Fallout 3, Part 4

  1. MaxEd says:

    This series of posts is perfect. It’s what I come here for! Thank you!

    1. Thomas says:

      Seconded. You’ve inspired me to finally play Fallout 3 so I can experience the train wreck personally =D

      1. AileTheAlien says:

        Speaking of trainwreck…this series explains why I can’t remember anything about the plot of Fallout 3. I remember all the mutants, radiation, etc, but even when I was playing it, I just couldn’t be bothered to remember what was going on. To use an classic adventure movie example, Star Wars’ plot is very simple, but at least it’s memorable: reluctant hero goes on quest to overthrow evil that’s threatening his entire world. F3 just has a million plot contrivances, holes, things that contradict other things, and a million things that just don’t make sense. :S

        1. Jeff says:

          While you play FO3 you don’t actually notice or pay attention to any of this, because like a typical Bethesda game they have terrible writing and quests/areas completely unrelated to each other.

          So it’s basically a game of exploration and fiddling with bits as you find them, and you don’t really notice these story bits because you’re more focused on the good parts of the game.

          1. Kian says:

            I blame quest markers for this. If games had to tell you where to go and what to do, explanations would have to make a bit of sense or it would be impossible to get anything done. But because the designers know that players just follow the marker and kill everything along the way, there’s no reason to make sense or give clear indications.

            This extends to environments. When all you need to reach a point is follow a marker, it doesn’t matter if the environment makes no sense. If you were actually looking for landmarks, and looking at the environment, some of the clashing design choices many games have would stand out a lot more.

    2. Aitch says:

      That reminds me of a story.

      About 40 something hours into Fallout 3, a few months after it came out, I’d been nursing a fairly severe case of cognitive dissonance trying to make sense of it. After growing bored with the plot, I had taken to mods and wandering for side quests, making fun where I could for the sake of escapism. I remember sneaking up on some raiders surrounded on 3 sides by a fence with foot wide gaps between the horizontal planks. I was immersed, I was into it, I fired, and my jaw slacked open as I saw the bullet hole floating in midair between the slats. The laziness of the engine struck me like a brick. I tried to put the irate seething behind me, and walked off in a random direction, trying to forget.

      And then I found myself at Smith Casey’s Garage. I’d heard about this place, how it was where dad was and it was the gate to the endgame. I did what I could to avoid it or knowing anything about it, but I figured, you know what, it’s about time I give good old dad a stern whatforing.

      Cut to getting him out of the pod, and there’s no option to bring up dooming the vault with wild radroaches and leaving me to fend for myself with a guy in charge he knew to be unstable and violently insane. No options for anything I wanted to say. No answers for questions I wanted to ask. Just that dumb blank stare over that boiled flour lump of a voice… And I just lost it at that point.

      Mind you, up until now I’d played something around Neutral Good. I had no idea just how far Bethesda had gone in wrecking my beloved game series, and with such abhorrent insouciance. Because I must’ve put his body weight in lead into his face, and as he lay there I finally felt some degree of satisfaction with the game. I barely had time to blink, and like a nightmare, he stood right back up.

      That cognitive dissonance was quite suddenly no longer dissonant. The game was an abomination.

      I remember going back to reviews of the game, every review I could find trying to locate even one other person that came to a similar conclusion as me. Article after article lauding praise, game of the year, a masterpiece… I honestly had to wonder if I was crazy. I must’ve read every review written for it, scoured for any trace of what I felt was honesty. Nothing.

      With a sense of bizarre disbelief I got desperate. I started Googling “Fallout 3 sucks, is bullshit, writing is nonsense, is terrible, etc, etc”… It turned up a whole lot of nothing that I was looking for.

      Except for one single link. TwentySided. Here was one guy that couldn’t stand the nonsense either, and I’ve been a diehard fan ever since. It really was a dark and jaded and alienated place that this site saved me from. Like a single ray of light in the most coal black rabbit hole.

      I will always applaud Shamus for his clarity and honesty. The hours and hours of entertainment, intelligent discourse, and laughter, plentiful like a waterfall. I could never thank him enough. Or his crew, or the community – it’s a haven of solace.

      All the respect to you all.

      1. Lame Duck says:

        I had a similar experience with Assassin’s Creed 2. It seems that the vast majority of people writing about video games are either incapable of thinking critically about the plot or just do not care about it.

        1. Thomas says:

          I had the same experience for Mass Effect 2 =D, it’s why I came to the site.

          Shamus’ writing is a haven for people put-off by horribly written/designed videogames, who are alienated by the fact that not a single mainstream critic seems to have noticed

          1. Akratus says:

            There ARE other places that have and will remain sane, just so you know. The RPGcodex truly loathes Oblivion and Fallout 3. NMA is notorious for being critical of bethesda and Fallout 3. (I find this strange seeing as how they’re not nearly as critical as the codex.) Also, look up Mr B Tongue.

      2. Bropocalypse says:

        You know, this makes me wonder… Do gamers care about story at all? Do the vast majority of us, from the most ordinary player to the critic(exceptions notwithstanding) simply ignore the faults of the story that break apart with even cursory logical dissection?
        I don’t think most people play video games for the story. When was the last time you heard the fans of a game arguing over whether a plot was good or not? Certainly not when Fallout 3 was popular, since most seemed to have no problem with it.
        I don’t know. It seems kind of startling.

        1. Zekiel says:

          What I find most startling is that apparently *I* don’t care about story that much. Reading TwentySided was a revelation to me in this respect. Reading his commentary on Mass Effect 2 – one of my favourite games – I agreed with pretty much absolutely everything he said. (The railroading is clumsy, the plot is an inane departure from the overall theme established in the first game, the characters behave in stupid ways, the big bad game is lame, etc.) Yet I really enjoyed the game, and I didn’t feel like I had to consciously turn off my brain to do so.

          Much the same is true of Assassin’s Creed 2, a game I thoroughly enjoyed.

          Yet I had always thought of myself as someone who really appreciated good stories and writing. What’s going on?

          What I conclude was that I DO appreciate good writing at the level of dialogue and characterisation. By and large the characters in Mass Effect 2, and Ezio in AC 2, are good in that their dialogue is written well and the acting is believable. I feel immersed by this. And that level of immersion means I am able to (unconsciously) overlook the fact that the plot itself is dumber than a box of rocks.

          So there is my personal reflection why at least this gamer doesn’t find stupid plots to be a particular barrier to enjoying a game. But I totally respect that other people do!

          1. Majromax says:

            I think that much of it comes from the way we experience a game: the “main arc” in a game like Fallout or Skyrim is spread out over twenty to fifty hours of play, which we see in one to two-hour sessions.

            In that way, it’s more like a full television series than a single novel or movie, and we judge series on whether each individual episode feels good moreso than on the overall arc. Shows that do try to have an overarching, complete, multi-season narrative from beginning to end (Babylon 5, Lost, Battlestar Galactica) are much more the exception than the rule.

            Your “dialogue and characterization” is the per-episode storytelling.

            1. Mark says:

              Interesting point! And if you actually look closely at most arc-based TV shows, the arc is catastrophically stupid or a total letdown, in the same fashion the the overarching plot of 50-hour long games is frequently a mess that you don’t notice because you’re not seeing it all at once. Definitely in the case of Battlestar Galactica or Lost; I have lingering fanboyism for Babylon 5 so I can’t comment there, but the last season was definitely a waste of time.

              1. MichaelGC says:

                I’ve never actually watched Babylon 5, but I’ve heard it was always supposed to be five seasons, which is one reason it had such well-planned arcs.

                Then they were told they were only going to get four seasons, so they crammed everything they still had into the fourth season, in order to finish things off and tie up loose ends, etc.

                Then they were told they could have a fifth season after all… So by this point they’ve told the tales they set out to tell – albeit in a rush, and thus not as well as they could have – and they now have to suddenly throw together some new ones! Even without being a fan of the show, this is all rather headdesk-ey. (There may well have been good reasons for the switcheroo, of course, but either way it seems a shame.)

                1. wswordsmen says:

                  IMO Babylon 5 actually is stronger when it was cramming in all its plots into the end of season 4. That said it did weaken the show a lot as season 5 was by far the worst of them.

                  1. silver Harloe says:

                    You really are remembering season 1 far too fondly if you think season 5 was worse. I can’t even rewatch half those episodes, whereas Londo’s descent to Godhood and his ultimate redemption is still very watchable.

                    1. Phill says:

                      Agreed. Season 5 wasn’t the best one, but some bits, particularly Londo, were excellent. Whereas 90% of the stuff involving Byron and the telepaths, I found pretty bad. (The guy who played Byron – Robin Atkin Downes – does a load of voice acting for games and animation these days, including the current spoiler warning Batman – he’s been in probably half the games using voice actors in the past 10 years ;) ).

                      Season 1 had some pretty ropey episodes. There were a few good ones, and a lot of average or worse ones from what I remember.

                    2. To be fair, their budget was pretty low, they had no idea if they’d be renewed, CGI was just becoming cheap enough for syndicated TV, and a whole raft of other reasons Season 1 wasn’t as stellar as it could’ve been. However, the Season 1 episode “Babylon Squared” followed up by the two-parter in season 3, “War Without End” was the best time travel story done for sci-fi TV to this day, bar none. That’s how you plan an effing TV series, people.

                      And yeah, Season 5 wasn’t something JMS thought he’d get, so it was all stand-alone episodes to try and flesh out the universe and some that were supposed to build up to Babylon-5: Crusade. Crusade is another show that didn’t get a chance, had a great actor as the lead (Gary Cole), and suffered from so much executive meddling it was practically a farce. The suits making ridiculous demands didn’t even know when they were being made fun of for an entire episode of the show.

                      Another great show that JMS wrote which suffered from “continuity compression” after it was announced it wouldn’t be renewed was Showtime’s “Jeremiah.” It’s 1.5 seasons of awesome TV followed by half a season of about 3 regular seasons worth of plot. It also featured my favorite character to be played by Sean Astin, even over Samwise Gamgee.

                2. silver Harloe says:

                  He mostly stuck with his 5 year plan, but there was supposed more of a smearing: introduce the psi resistance late in season 4, resolve the Earth plot early in season 5 (possibly with help from psi resistance). The story was always about how we throw off the ancient aliens and the birth pangs of a galaxy under the rule of the “younger races.” A key point was just because the old ones left didn’t mean Everything Would be Unicorns and Rainbows.
                  Heck, key events in season 5 were foreshadowed in earlier seasons and experienced via time travel in season 3.

                  1. Phill says:

                    Regarding that, JMS (the guy in overall charge of Babylon 5) mentioned once that the end of the shadow war was probably moved forward by ‘a few episodes’ compared to the original plan. A lot of fans had been assuming that it was going to last well in to the fifth season, but as silver Harloe says, actually, the plan was always to wrap the war up in the middle of season 4, and then move on to the story lines dealing with the consequences – the civil war, the foundation of the Interstellar Alliance, all the unresolved telepath issues, Londo and G’Kar’s story (anything that involved Londo or G’Kar were always reliably the best parts of the series IMHO).

                    Some shuffling of bits of those plots between S4 and S5 was necessitated so that we weren’t left dangling with the earth alliance civil war unresolved and the start of the telepath story appearing by the end of season 4, but other than that (and losing Claudia Christiansen (Ivanova) not a whole lot got changed that much,

                    1. Bubble181 says:

                      Losing Ivanova is and remains one of the worst things to happen to the series. That and half of Garibaldi’s later arc.

            2. Falterfire says:

              Yeah, good character writing can definitely make up for bad plot writing. That’s the entire thing with Fire Emblem: Awakening for me. I loved all of the support conversations, but I could not care less about the plot. It’s actually somewhat impressive how inane and uninteresting the central plot of ‘bad guy invades good place because he’s bad’ is compared to how much fun (and impressively consistent for each character and varied between characters) all the side conversations were.

          2. MetalSeagull says:

            I also really enjoyed Assassin’s Creed 2. Although, if it weren’t for watching Josh demonstrate how to win the capture the flag carnival game, that probably would have been the end of the game for me. I think I have some cognitive dissonance going on, and I solve it by separating Ezio, whom I like, from some of his dumb decisions, which I don’t like. The foremost among them being murdering everyone who hurt your family, except the guy who orchestrated it all. It was phenomenally stupid, and also incredibly unjust.

            “All of your mooks and underlings have paid your price, so go free evil mastermind. You obviously have the power and resources to immediately retaliate, but my stabbing hand is kind of sore.”

            I blame the writers for that, not the character of Ezio. They knew they couldn’t murder an actual historical figure years too early, and they cheeseballed their way out of it.

            1. Vect says:

              If nothing, that decision clearly comes to bite him in the ass in Brotherhood since Machiavelli yells at him for leaving a powerful enemy alive and still in full control of his powerbase, thus leading to his son leading a siege on his homefront.

        2. IFS says:

          I don’t think that its a matter of not caring about the story, but rather not thinking about the story. There are probably plenty of gamers out there who claim to love stories in games, and consider Mass Effect 2 or Fallout 3 to have good stories, simply because they never thought on the stories enough to realize all the issues. This doesn’t mean those people are stupid, its quite easy to engage with something without really thinking about it. Especially so if the game is fun regardless of the story, as it makes it easy to go ‘well I like this thing, it has a story, and I like stories, so its story seems to be good’.

          The last time I remember people really discussing whether the story of a game was good or bad was with Spec Ops: The Line, which for better or for worse tried to call the player to think about their actions, and thus the story. Most games don’t do this, and Fallout 3 in particular was the first Fallout game for a lot of people so they didn’t have as much reason to think about the setting in comparison to anything.

          1. Corpital says:

            A lot of these stories seen as a whole are a mess, but if a player just thinks about what happens now or in the near future, the story is broken down into little bits that may make sense or are at least not too egregious.

            That at least is how I digested stories back in the day, until Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy threw a spanner in the works. And then set fire to it and rudely urinated on the ashes. Suddenly flaws and stupidity in other stories started to pop up! And once you see it, you can never unsee it.

          2. So I am going to go out on a limb here and say that in comparison to more traditional forms of story-telling, a lot of games have really dumb, bland overall plots. Even the ones that are held up by people as exemplars of writing in their respective genres.

            Now I’m not saying that there’s anything particularly bad or even surprising about that – games are a new art form and stories work differently when the audience is directly interacting with the text, so there are a lot of things that don’t work the way you’d expect from writing, say, written prose.

            Still – look at Mass Effect 1. What is the plot of that?
            (Spoilers if you haven’t played the thing)

            Shepard Shootman/Shootlady discovers an ancient prophecy that says we are all doomed and has to go on a quest to thwart the bad guy who has secretly been subverted by the space monsters and is trying to bring them into known space, but only with the backing of his super space team because the stuffy bureaucrats don’t know his life, man. Along the way there are a bunch of character moments and exploration of the setting.

            Or the first fallout?

            Vaultman/Vaultwoman has to save their hometown, but in order to do so they must first venture into a strange new world, then do a bunch of errands for people who live in various places. Eventually they manage to do enough things that the game pronounces their home safe from impending disaster and gives a nice epilogue about the other people they met. The characters are vibrant, interesting and just unreal enough to make their personal stories and place in the world seem natural and stop us from questioning why this sparsely populated, mostly rural environment has so much going on in it.

            Even Morrowind has a pretty simple overall plot – though some of the main plot points come with a lot of question marks attached to them (All these people want you to save the world, or the local island, probably, we think, in different ways and for different reasons. Pick one you like?). They’re all well-written games, and they’re all things I’ve loved playing and exploring the worlds of, but – the actual plots themselves are pretty simple to follow, and I think that honestly gave the writers of those games a lot more room to work on the little bits and pieces of the game that a player can engage with at their own discretion – and that is a really important part of writing fiction that can be interacted with, I think.

            IDK, just my two cents on the matter.

            1. Peter H. Coffin says:

              I think the difference is that it’s pretty easy to make the actions of the protagonist make sense. It’s making the actions and motivations of *everyone else* make sense as well that’s the challenge.

              1. Really? I’ll grant that they do provide two very different challenges when it comes to plot and characterisation (especially if you’re making a blank slate protagonist), but saying that a player character is easier to write for – that has to depend on what you’re writing and how you’re writing it, doesn’t it? I mean if you have them as a purely reactive entity in the story with the delivery of their motivations shifted onto other characters around them, or have the game set up so that the player can construct their own motivations (although that seems like it would require a bit of effort and planning to build a context where this will be a satisfying exercise for the player) – I suppose that works. But it still adds to the –

                You know what, I’ve done observation of this stuff, but very little in terms of formally studying stories or producing any for games. I’d be very interested to hear what Rutskarn thinks about the peculiarities of games writing, especially given that he’s not only done it before but has also started to talk on the topic in the various bits of commentary on this site.

                1. Peter H. Coffin says:

                  The reasons I say that are kind of … multiple.

                  First off, it’s kind of faddish to make protagonists as blank as as possible. If a developer is going that route, then there’s a lot of player imagination going into filling in the details for the protagonist, and the developers literally have less to do.

                  If NOT going the “blank slate” route, the player’s going to be spending a LOT of time with the protagonist, so there’s far more time to bring up all the whys and wherefores than with antagonists. And its usually easier to do so. Protagonists are almost always written with the goal of trying to change the world in some way; they very very seldom represent the status quo. So all the developer has to do is reveal the crapsack world in some way and that’s enough to wind our hero up and set things in motion.

                  Antagonists, on the other hand often represent status quo. And to show their motivation, you need to show how having the world this way benefits them. “Exploitation of the innocent” and “mine all mine” are great, simple, pretty universal and mostly credible tropes to make this happen, but you’ve got to have 1) something to exploit (victims), 2) something to take, 3) some way to MOVE what is being taken (most of the time. A location of particular strategic importance doesn’t have to move, but there’s other complications involved in that as a resource), and 4) some way to turn that which was taken into material gain. Fallout 3, in this set of plotwise criteria, almost never get past #1.

                  filler NPCs (such as the residents of various towns) have even less time to be fleshed out than antagonists, so the bare minimum is “show that they’re okay how they are” or “show how they’re not okay with how they are” and have the player be able to do something about the latter, if the player wants to/is supposed to. And F3’s failure here is that it says they’re not fine, but there’s no actual imminent threat apparent. “We need water”, but they have water, for example.

        3. I’ve had several online conversations with people convinced Fallout 3 is the best Fallout, even over New Vegas. In fact, New Vegas is rather handy in ferreting out where someone’s interests lie when it comes to open-world RPGs. Fallout 3 adherents like the post-apocalyptic aesthetic (ruined buildings, smashed civilization, etc) and the power fantasy side of things (one-shotting enemies, nuking Megaton, etc.) over well-rounded characters, intricate plots, and fewer plot holes.

          There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, it’s just where the interests are. F3 is best enjoyed, it seems, when you’re sightseeing while raining destruction down on the wasteland. The story is just there to let you find quests and get better equipment.

          New Vegas can let you become a ball of increasingly deadly gear, but it seems to do so with less assurance that you’ll come out on top, even at higher levels. You also have to do more talking and decision-making than in F3, though your main method of interaction with the world is still to shoot/explode things.

          1. Bloodsquirrel says:

            I think you’re presuming too much there.

            I didn’t like New Vegas as much as Fallout 3 because it simply doesn’t have as well-developed an open world. The main plotline is much better, but there’s not nearly as much to do if you step off of it. The world is more gated, and you can’t just do the Bethesda thing of picking a direction, walking, and knowing that you’ll come across content that was designed to be discovered that way.

            And Fallout 1/2 are such completely different games that they barely even share a genre, so it’s not surprising that some people are fans of Fallout 3 but not the old games.

            1. I found that NV was just as open, with even more locations than F3. However, you had to choose to step off the path, and New Vegas was very good at shepherding the player along. You aren’t restricted to going after Benny from day one. You can go explore the whole map before you talk to House (which I did, and that kind of “messed things up” when I finally went and got the quests for them, as my goals for those places had changed once I knew how they tied in to the main arc). Look at the Spoiler Warning season for New Vegas: They didn’t even cover 40% of the game, and that was with them (mostly) trying to stay on task.

              1. Ayegill says:

                New Vegas is theoretically almost as open as Fallout 3 (there are a few really egregious invisible wall-topped hill ranges that prevent you from crossing the map expediently in certain places), but it doesn’t seem nearly as fun to just walk off in a random direction(until you meet a person and they open their mouth – then you wish you’re playing New Vegas). It’s hard to put this into words with specificity, but FO3’s sandbox just seems to have been designed better (again, discounting the writing content).

                1. Hector says:

                  New Vegas isn’t a sandbox.

                  If you are looking for a sandbox, then by all means grab F3. Sandboxes are just that: walled-in playpens. As long as you remain inside the walls, there’s not a lot you can really mess up. You play with the sand. You can pile it up in any shape you feel like anywhere you want and that’s pretty much the start and finish of it. And any kid will tell you playpens are fun. The entire playpen is pretty much yours to toy with.

                  New Vegas is not, and never was designed as, a sandbox. It is open world, yes, but the intent was to simulate a living world which really didn’t give a nukarat’s tail what you thought. If you don’t go someplace, it’s your choice. If you don’t want to get off the marked trail, you don’t. Whatever was off that trail still mattered to world, maybe more than you ever did. If you have an impact on things, it’s because you chose to get involved and you’ll have to live with the outcome of that. If you want to just wander off and mess about in the desert sands doing whatever comes to mind, you will quickly come to learn that this world wasn’t made (solely) for your entertainment.

                  1. You can wander off, but it’s not a sandbox?

                    And what’s wrong with finding things that aren’t totally isolated from the rest of the world? If I go into the Fiend vault and murder everyone, how is it still not a sandbox even though that means I can’t sell the Khan’s drugs to them or that I rescued an NCR ranger before being asked to?

                    Where are you restricted from going off and doing whatever you want in New Vegas? At all?

                2. The invisible walls, most of the time, were the ones around the quarry. I’m kind of surprised the SW cast didn’t say anything, since it’s pretty obvious once you take the Khan quests, but they’re there to make sure you have to go through a bunch of Deathclaws to reach Melissa. Either you have to go through the quarry or you have to go through that area behind her camp which is also wall-to-wall Deathclaws (but without the mother and an Alpha, I believe).

                  To my mind, I would have put a tweak in the Survivalism skill that allowed you to walk up steeper and steeper slopes, but I also understand why they put the walls there. Just because people can’t cheese the system, as Rutskarn put it, “have frottage with yet another invisible wall” as you try to switchback up where you aren’t supposed to be, it’s a weak reason to complain.

      3. Sleeping Dragon says:

        I think I said it once (probably a few times?) before in the comments here but Shamus was the guy who actually showed me it was okay to look critically at vidya games’ stories. I have always played games largely as storytelling devices, which is why I godmodded my way through many when I was younger and couldn’t wrap my head around some of the mechanics. I knew I loved some, I knew I disliked some and I knew there were some that I had problems with but when I talked with other people about them I had to say they were good games. There was just no discourse happening about the narrative side of things, story was either praised or if it wasn’t it was just brushed over as a vehicle for delivering gameplay that wasn’t in itself important.

        Twenty Sided was the first place where someone told me that it was fine to be angry at a game’s stupid plot even if the gameplay is fun, it was okay to point out the stupidity of the story and say that yes, it affected my experience despite how cool some mechanics was or how pretty something looked.

        1. swenson says:

          Same here.

          Good example for me: I’d already been reading Twenty Sided for awhile when Mass Effect 3 came out, and Shamus helped me come to terms with enjoying the game (well, most of it), while still being EXTREMELY UPSET by the barrage of plot holes and contrivances. (I realized the other day that when I think of ME3’s plot, I usually forget Kai Leng even exists, that’s how annoying I found that part of the plot.)

          It’s… it’s OK to criticize the writing of a game, even if the gameplay is fun. It’s OK to value solid videogame writing. It’s OK to like some parts of a game and not like others. It’s OK to believe that many mainstream games are incredibly boring and not worth my time.

      4. Ciennas says:

        Yeah. I too wished for a couple of options to call out characters.

        Especially Dad. For the exact reason you mentioned, actually.

        “Why did you leave the vault? It was a perfectly safe place to live!”

        “Jonah thought so too. He’s dead. Because of you.”

        Hell, that would have even provided context for the dad blows himself up thing later.

        That would have been so cool. Depending on how you talk with him determines whether or not he survives the purifier, if nothing else.

        1. WJS says:

          I think that right there says it better than anything. When you meet up with him, he asks you why you followed him out of the vault. And the only answer you have is “because the quest marker told me to”.

    3. Mistwraithe says:

      I would like to add my thanks – I love reading this material. As someone who can’t tolerate videos (which is a lot of the content these days) it is very nice to get a good chunk of fun written content.

    4. Thebethe says:

      It’s a game. That’s it. It’s fun. Who cares? Fucking he’ll. I’m a fan of fallout, bethesda made changes other than some points of the story the game play is petty good. Bethesda made a good game.
      I love skyrim. They clearly know what they are doing.
      Maybe because they felt they had to make there game new and different from obsidians version.

  2. The Nick says:

    All of that always upset me, but it’s the weird interaction between every single side having a big goal that doesn’t make sense and is also opposed by every other side that makes the whole end game sequence feel weird.

    It’s like the leaders of the Fallout World are having an idiot contest specifically designed for you, because YOU are the lynchpin in each of their grand, stupid designs, made even stupider by the fact that without you, they will just fail.

  3. “…you'll find out the FEV doesn't work anyway. Or it's really slow? I have no idea.”

    If you drink the FEV-tainted Aqua Pura, you take damage. I think three is a fatal dose. Then, in almost every medical facility in the game apart from places like Tenpenny Tower, the beds will have moaning, writhing people talking about how “it burns” and so forth.

    1. Akuma says:

      It burns from the FEV, or someone told them the plot of Fallout 3?

      1. Trix2000 says:

        I think if it was the latter they’d already be dead.

    2. Wide And Nerdy says:

      And it makes sense for it to act slowly. In fact if they could make it even slower, they should. Once people start dying, its only a matter of time before people figure out that the water in the Potomac is to blame. The longer you go without giving that away, the longer the FEV has to spread.

    3. MrGuy says:

      How the FEV works is one place where I MIGHT give the writers of Fallout 3 a bit of a pass.

      Yes, it’s shown in Broken Steel that the FEV didn’t work the way Eden said it would. However, Broken Steel wasn’t written in advance – all the DLC for Fallout 3 was written after-the-fact (and BOY does it show!)

      All the nonsense around Aqua Pura is a retcon. It’s entirely possible that, when Fallout 3 was written, it was canonical that the FEV WOULD work the way Eden described, and actually wipe out mutation.

      I’m a little LESS inclined to give the writers a pass because it was the same writers for Broken Steel, so they made this mess themselves…

  4. Josef says:

    Isn’t in somewhere in Fallout 3 specified that Enclave are a bunch of racists who want to kill everyone “impure” (meaning everyone not Enclave) and want to use the water purifier to do it? Or is that Fallout 2 and/or my head-canon?

    1. Redingold says:

      That’s what Eden wants, but Autumn specifically doesn’t want to add the FEV to the purifier to kill mutants.

      1. Sleeping Dragon says:

        Precisely this. I’ve had a number of conversations where people had it mixed up in their heads like this and when I asked them “okay, so tell me why does Eden let you go and give you the FEV canister rather than have Autumn plug it in?” they will have this blank look on their faces for a minute or two before they actually put it all together.

        To be fair it’s easy to get confused like this because at this point the game kinda distracts you with “Boom! Base blows up! Fawkes with a minigun! There’s an awesome giant robot that shoots lazors and spouts propaganda lines! And go go go! Don’t ask questions things are exploding!” spectacle (aka: the Michael Bay school of storytelling) and at the same time setting it up in your head like this makes more sense in giving you some reason to stop the Enclave than the real plot.

  5. Erik says:

    Hm, i thought the point of the modified FEV was to revert radiation damage. This would flat out kill anything too heavily affected by radiation, such as the supermutants, ghouls and most of the wildlife, but leave humans (mostly) in working order.

    I may have been reading between the lines there, and I didn’t go for it in the game, since it had a whole nazi-germany vibe to it.

    Of course this would have also killed all brahmin, which seemed like the main source of (sustainable) food for people.

    1. ehlijen says:

      No, it was very much a poorly thought out copy of the Enclave plot from Fallout 2, where they wanted to wipe everyone off the map (including all humans) so they could retake the land.

      There was no intention of leaving anyone in the wasteland alive. And yeah, it was a mix of Nazis and ‘get off my lawn, I only napped for like 200 years and now you’re wrecking the place!’.

      1. To be fair, if you wanted to wipe out the feral ghoul and super mutant population, it’s a safer way to go about it.

        I also got the impression the Enclave was studying the wasteland. They had their Deathclaw headsets to try and control them, and their outposts seemed to indicate they were gathering data on the locals, the monsters, and what weapons everyone hand.

        As for why they wanted to retake Washington, DC, I’m assuming it’s because it’s Washington, DC, the old-world seat of government power for America. Not that them having it would impress too many people, but I could see a 200 year old computer having that as a priority. If they’d made the Enclave out to be super-patriots, that could’ve worked as a motive for them as well.

        1. Mintskittle says:

          I got that impression too from listening to the enclave radio signal. Eden keeps talking about the good old days and how the enclave can make everything great again, so it would make sense for them to try to retake the DC area to reestablish the government in its former seat of power.

          1. MrGuy says:


            While they don’t do a great job with it, it’s hinted at multiple times that the Enclave’s real motive in taking DC is legitimacy. They claim to be the true heirs of the US Constitutional system of government (to the point that President Eden claims to be elected). And, recall, the Enclave is spread over the country. Having the ability to claim to be “our leaders in Washington” grants them an aura of legitimacy everywhere else they go.

            The most explicit (if ham-handed illustration) of what they’re trying to accomplish and why it would work is the guy in Megaton who loves the Enclave’s radio broadcasts, and believes letting the Enclave retake power will restore everything.

      2. MetalSeagull says:

        That’s a strange, but pervasive, idea that land in and of itself is always valuable and desirable. There are some places that are so beautiful that having it all to yourself could be a goal. But most land is valuable for its resources, or the money you can make from its people, or the work you can make the people do.

        What the hell would you do with 10,000 acres of barren, irradiated, vacant land? If that were desirable, the rich and powerful would be fighting over Death Valley.

        1. I have some “worthless” land in the Middle East I’d love to sell you. There’s no oil underneath it, but you’d be surprised the lengths people are willing to go to have possession of it…

    2. Ledel says:

      I had a similar thought when I talked to Eden about the virus. The takeaway I had from that conversation was that the modified virus would kill the Super Mutants and ghouls and such, yes, it might kill a few people who have been heavily irradiated, but wouldn’t harm the human population overall that much. Only after doing that ending and hearing how I killed everyone and everything in the Capitol Wasteland did it dawn on me how broken Eden was.

      1. ehlijen says:

        I’m pretty sure you can figure out that the FEV would kill you while talking to Eden, maybe it required at least a little science?

        Either way, the Enclave (in 2 or 3) trying to wipe the world clean so they could start over fit perfectly, to my view, into the theme of conflict between the awakening old world and the new world that has risen while the vaults waited.
        Even in Vault city there was a clear ‘we are more deserving of this land’ attitude to be seen. It’s a strong theme of colonisation or possibly returning refugees finding their ancestral homes squatted on.

        It never occurred to me that Eden might want to keep the wasteland humans alive (and he didn’t).

        1. Sleeping Dragon says:

          At the same time the divide between Eden and Autumn is so deep at this point that Autumn dug out the codes to override Eden and has them on hand while Eden actually sets the PC, someone who according to the game has little reason to feel anything but hostility towards the Enclave, free if only you “please, pretty please give the FEV idea some thought” without even setting you up with an explosive collar, or automated heartplug or some other form of insurance you’d go through with it*.

          *Ever so slightly justified in that Eden does honestly think this is the best idea ever and it’ll be obvious to anyone. Still doesn’t undermine the fact that he doesn’t go to Autumn, or any of the enclave soldiers, or even send one of the robots to do it.

          1. ehlijen says:

            I’m not defending the pants on head nonsensical FO3 plot, I’m only defending the blueprints it inexpertly and inadvisably copied from with extra thick crayons.

  6. Corpital says:

    Don’t have a problem whatsoever with the Enclave itself. Their stupid broken potus tells them to do stuff and they follow his orders. Too bad he didn’t order them to use their mobile battle fortress with the orbital missiles.

    Also too bad he cannot be convined to just shut off instead of blowing half the worlds supply in clean rooms and technology up.

    1. Sleeping Dragon says:

      The thing is, they don’t really follow his orders. Which is why Eden has to turn to the player with the whole FEV idea.

  7. Egathentale says:

    To be perfectly fair, there IS a reason why the Enclave would want the water purifier, and it is stated clearly: they want to turn it into a giant poisoning-machine that only kills mutants. They are well aware that the Capital Wasteland is a hellhole not worth spending soldiers and munitions on, but they still want the place because… well, it’s not really stated why. Let’s just say they want it for its historical significance in order to wrap themselves in the imagery of the old world to gain political clout. It is not worth directly fighting over though, mostly because of the FEV mutated monstrosities hollering around (plus the power-armored boyscout-brigade that is already there fighting them), so when they find an opportunity to get rid of them by using Idiot Dad’s machine, they jump at the opportunity.

    Don’t take me wrong, I still thing F3’s narrative is pants-on-head dumb, but this was one of the few parts I would say makes sense.

    1. Sleeping Dragon says:

      Enclave does not want to put the modified FEV in the water, Eden does. Autumn wants to control the local populace with the use of the purifier, somehow.

  8. Lame Duck says:

    “The chapter of Brotherhood of Steel in this game has supposedly gone off-mission. They've abandoned their quest for technology and instead are trying to help the locals. I am okay with this.”

    I’m not. I don’t mind the idea of the BoS changing and you’re right that it’s not hard to justify it after 200 years, but the fact that they changed them into generic good guy knights is the most reprehensibly dull and unimaginative thing possible. Not unlike how they changed Super Mutants to just be boring stupid-evil brutes or the GECK to be a stupid MacGuffin; it seems like most of the time Bethesda changed something, not only did they botch the execution but their ideas were also just fundamentally uninteresting.

    1. Dev Null says:

      Well to be fair, the GECK has been pretty much a dictionary-definition McGuffin from day 1 of the series. As well as a pointless Deus Ex Machina vending machine for happy endings. They pretty much had to change/get rid of it to have any chance of the story being anything but a ludicrous cartoon.

      Shame they blew that chance.

      1. Merzendi says:

        I’ve never personally played Fallout/F2, but I was under the impression that (at least from Fallout 2) it was revealed to be incredibly sensible and realistic? I.E. A briefcase with chemical fertilisers and GM seeds that could actually be useful in the post-apocalypse.

        1. Ronixis says:

          I’ve heard that about Fallout 2 also, but when I played it (and finished it), I didn’t see them directly say what the GECK did at all. Maybe I missed it?

          1. ehlijen says:

            The closest I remember is that the intro video upselling the GECK and what you saw of Vault city which claims to have used up theirs when building that place were a bit contradictory.

            As in, it quite obviously gave them a good start, but it didn’t exactly seem like a self sufficient paradise.

            1. guy says:

              IIRC, the intro was from the perspective of the legends of your tribe, which doesn’t know much about the GECK.

              Apparently the details about what it does regarding Fallout 2 come from the Fallout Bible, rather than the game, where it appeared as a briefcase. But yes, Vault City is inconsistent with how it works in Fallout 3. Ironically, it would make more sense to use the type described in the Fallout Bible for Project Purity; it would almost certainly contain instructions and some critical components for a water purifier.

              1. ehlijen says:

                No, I’m pretty sure the intro was just an aggressively cheerful and overselling advertisement for the GECK. We do see everyone watching it in the intro getting killed after all.
                And it even had the *results may very disclaimer lol

        2. Tom says:

          According to the Fallout 1 manual, the GECK contains:

          *Base Replicator Unit- replicates food
          and basic items needed for building
          your new world. Just add water!
          (powered by cold fusion)

          *Holodisc Reader with Library-
          includes selections from the Library
          of Congress, complete set of
          encyclopedias, and other life
          saving information, all
          contained on four-hundred
          and sixty handy holodiscs! 1

          *A Miniature Pen Flashlight!

  9. Gahrer says:

    Maybe I am bringing over baggage from Fallout 2, but doesn’t the Enclave have a similar motivation in Fallout 3 as they did in Fallout 2? They don’t really want the wasteland or resources or anything like that, not now at least. Instead, their motivation is purely ideological: All (even slightly) mutated beings (and people) must die because they are “impure” (or something). It’s kind of nazi-y but it is atleast a motivation. However, as I mentioned, it is possible that this goal is not stated in Fallout 3.
    Also: I completely agree with Aitch. I started playing Fallout 3 about a year after release, only a few weeks after I had finished my first playthrough of Fallout 1 and 2. I quit in disgust after the dad dies-part and felt a similar feeling of surreality at all the praise the game got.

    1. krellen says:

      As someone stated above, the Fallout 2 Enclave actually DID want the land; their plan was to resettle the place using only “pure” humans, not mutants. There is no clear statement of such a goal here.

      1. Gahrer says:

        Ah, ok. I stand corrected then. :)

  10. Andy_Panthro says:

    I feel a similar way about Fallout 3 as I do about the new Star Trek films. It’s not outright hatred, just disappointment, and I am bemused as to how popular they are. They also both reference earlier works sometimes in a really pointless or annoying way. I’m really enjoying this series though, and I’d hope you’ll do the same for any other games you feel enough outrage for!

    A better motivation for The Enclave might have been to rebuild in the east after being defeated in Fallout 2, so the remnants wanted to secure Washington and then expand outwards and rebuild the USA (with their particular ideals in place). An ex-soldier would then be President, then perhaps after he died his thoughts/memories were put into a computer to live forever (in that standard sci-fi way) as the perfect eternal president. Then if they could be the ones behind the clean water supply, they could have endless people who might want to live under their rule so that they could access this pure water and food supply.

    Of course they’d have to adequately show the Enclave as a broken remnant of it’s former self, and properly show how the lack of good food/water was affecting the population… but as you’ve already written, they kinda sucked at that.

  11. thebob288 says:

    I am of the opinion that (feel free to disagree) all of fallout is stupid. All of fallout has always been stupid. It always will be stupid. The idea that any post apocalyptic game would involve anything other than walking for 12 hours at a time between towns and then a little bit of tense scavenging in which nothing happens repeated dozens of times until you fall through a floor or drop dead of a disease you did not know you had is ridicules. Bethesda totally threw out the plot completely and they didn’t even try to make it good I agree. But they transitioned from an isometric rpg to a fully 3-d world to explore one of the most impressive at the time. Thats the point of fallout 3. I don’t really care that its stupid thats fine for me I played shit tons of fallout 3 and will continue to do so. Say anything you want about the plot. Your right I can’t argue but ultimately, how much would a great story have added to your fallout experience?. It would have made the first couple runs better and more interesting but it wouldn’t be the catalyst for 100+ hours of gaming. I’m not going to sit here and try to be like “oh man shamus is a dick LEAVE FALLOUT ALONE” I understand the inherent fun in a good rant. However I shall happily have 1 more game as stupid as fallout 3 if has as much fun interesting mechanically pleasing content over 5 the walking deads. I can see a great plot anywhere. I can read a great book watch a great film,tv series,manga,anime I can play lots of games with great plots. But a game with hundreds of hours of sandbox gameplay is unique to this one medium. I will gladly trade effort put into the story to effort put into that unique gameplay. Fallout is incredibly stupid. I’d love to have 10 more games just like it.

    1. ehlijen says:

      You’re confusing having a ludicrous premise with having a stupid plot.
      Fallout 1 and 2 had ludicrous premises. But they crafted a world out of those premises that was interesting to explore, and by exploring I mean ‘let’s see how humanity has managed to live through this’ not ‘I wonder if there are 200yo cookies in that old robot factory’.

      Scavenging for supplies in old world buildings was never part of Fallout until FO3. It wasn’t supposed to be. You were exploring a new world, not ransacking an old one.
      Yes, there were a few old structures you could loot, but they were few and far between and all had very good reasons as to why they hadn’t been looted yet.

      The travelling 12 hours with nothing happening is actually a thing FO1 and 2 did, they just fast forwarded through that via travel on the world map. FO3 created the problem of having places too close to each other by abandoning the world map in favour of a continuous open world.

      The 3d world they built and filled was impressive. But while they filled it with wonderful anecdotes, they had no overall plan and it shows. They didn’t plan how to compensate for the space compression requirements for the 3d world, they didn’t plan on how to make the world believable (results may vary, but FO1, 2 and NV spent a lot of time selling the world to the player rather than just dumping it in front of them).

      Basically, they may have made a passable sandbox game, but they did not make a fallout game (ironically, I think the walking dead licence would have fit their game mechanics worlds better) and they did not make a good RPG, both of which they claimed to have done and were somehow awarded for.

  12. Daemian Lucifer says:

    The big “choice” is a thing that really irks me about many rpgs.When will they learn that having a blank brick as a protagonist with no goals of their own,that can wobble from hitler to jesus is just stupid?You need to have some goal that your character is striving for,and then your choices would revolve around this(will you damn all these people so you can help a handful in your tribe,or will you help everyone at the same time).

    1. Decius says:

      “Will you damn this handful of well-written people to provide a small benefit to your tribe?”
      “What about this handful of people? There’s a lot of people that have stuff that your tribe could use.”
      “This caravan isn’t very heavily armed and is being attacked by deathclaws. You could probably make the difference if you helped them out, but if they die you can get all their stuff.”
      “Now that your tribe is doing pretty well, some people are asking for help. They want to trade food for a few cases of ammunition. Do you give them a few cases, nothing, or a single bullet each?”

      The way to have a big moral horizon is to make it lots of little horizons. Papers, Please did that very well, but “Are you lawful, selfish, or good?” doesn’t work in all contexts.

    2. ehlijen says:

      You need to strike a balance, though.
      Fallout 3 did give you a goal: Find your dad.

      What games really need to do is get the player invested in some NPCs, and have the player develop goals based on those feelings.

      Don’t say ‘your family is dead, go avenge them’. Show them a bunch of NPCs, then have things happen. If the player has no motivation after that, then you made crappy NPCs.
      Don’t have ‘some kid’ die. Have Joker tell you his sister is missing.

      Simply set the goals and the players will resent the lack of freedom.
      Set no goals and the players will shrug and run past.
      Offer them a selection of goals based on which NPCs they like, and they’ll likely not care that you’ve basically just set them a goal.

    3. Aoyagi says:

      Actually no. I don’t want to have a predetermined character in a game that’s very RP friendly. I want to make my decisions, not decisions which way to nudge the protagonist, whom I merely guide.

      1. Aoyagi says:

        I accidentally a word.

        “not decisions which are just a way to nudge the protagonist”

    4. Bloodsquirrel says:

      Presuming motivations onto the protagonist isn’t necessary. These are games where the main plot is optional, after all. I don’t really like the newer Bioware/CD Projeckt style of having a protagonist be 75% defined by the developers and telling the player that they can roleplay the other 25%. It’s the worst of both worlds: You have a character who can’t be defined by the decisions and actions they need to leave too much room for players to make diverging choices, but the player can’t claim any ownership over the character or treat them as a pure avatar because control gets taken away too often.

      What they need to do is not give the players only stupid options. And even better, give players more options that don’t assume that the player intends to enforce his will upon everyone in every situation (“Hey bro, I just kill things for money. Why are you asking me to decide this court case?”).

  13. Ah, the moral choices. The ubiquitous poor moral choice between be normal and be a destructive fanatic. But that reminds me that between destroy everything and not, is not the worst example of moral choice I’ve ever seen.

    The worst is in Star Wars The Old Republic. In the Balmorra bonus series for Imperials, you get to poison some farm soil so any crop growing there will be poisonous. As far as I understood it’s not lethal, but severely crippling. The idea being the enemy soldiers will lose that as a source for food. Makes sense. So far so good.

    But then I played a jedi and got to Balmorra. Among the regular Balmorra missions for Republic players (I haven’t played the bonus missions there, if they exist) you get a mission to deal with the aftermath of the previous. You find two guys arguing about burning that soil to remove the poison and another asking not to do that because then the soil won’t recover in centuries. You are sent to check if the soil is really poisoned (at the moment it is a strong hypothesis because those who eat foodstuff grown there writhe en agony for several weeks, so meh, it doesn’t make much sense they haven’t just walked there, you know I don’t remember hostiles around, and taken samples themselves). So you do your part and return with the information that indeed the soil is thoroughly poisoned and any crops growing there will be highly crippling for decades at the minimum and burning is the only way to remove it. Then you get the most outrageous moral dilemma I’ve ever seen:

    Choice A) Burn it. The poison will be destroyed and the soil will take more than a century to be able to support crops again.

    Choice B) Don’t burn it. Keep the soil fertile. If you think “so wild plantlife will grow and consume the poision and eventually recovering it for crips can be done” is the follow up you’ve thought wrong. The objective of keeping it fertile is… so the farmers can keep growing crops and sell it for consumption of general consumers around the galaxy. Yes, this option has the purpose of keeping poisoning million of people with severely crippling venom.

    And if you think that second choice is all sorts of retarded you’re still in for the worst of all: Option B is… THE LIGHT CHOICE! So yes, a jedi is supposed to decide poisoning millions of innocents so a bunch of farmers can keep rolling in the dough without the hassle to look for new farm land or jobs.

    Then again, The Phantom Menace shows us jedis aren’t LG. They may be lawful with exclusion of respecting laws, but they’re not evil. There goes this jedi to the store of Watto, who for all we know is honest, at least he seems like one of the best kinds you could find in a place like Tatooine, he lets his slave kid more free time instead of exploiting him to his physical limits. So he goes into the shop of an honest trader and uses the Force to try swindle him out of a part in exchange of something that has no worth there. Way to be good. And when the slave boy asks him to free them, his answer is basically “I’m here to repair my shiny limo not to free slaves”.

    A jedi walks in front of a burning orphanage, what does he do?

    He checks if dousing the flames or taking out safely the kids there is in his to-do list. If it isn’t, it’s not his problem.

    1. Henson says:

      I could understand Choice B at Balmorra if those crops are their only food source, and burning the soil will lead to inevitable famine. The choice being, whether it is better to suffer from poison for a few decades or suffer from starvation over a century. Is this the case? (probably not)

    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Wait,burning the soil will make it infertile for centuries?What is this,a place with no erosion?

      1. Dev Null says:

        How do you “burn” soil, anyways?

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Well,Im not sure if other methods exist,but there is a way to burn soil when it is infested with weed:
          Pour excessive amounts of chemical fertilizer.This will make the soil quite infertile for a year or two.But after that,when the excess erodes away,boy will you have some extremely fertile soil on your hands.So my guess is that this is not what they are talking about in the game.

          1. Ledel says:

            I guess you call in an orbital strike and black glass the area just to be sure?

            1. Syal says:

              Nah, they’re just stabbing it with a lightsaber.

        2. MetalSeagull says:

          Burning the weeds off land before plowing and planting is reasonably common. It doesn’t harm anything, though, and the ash contains nutrients the plants can use.

          So, I don’t know. I guess Balmorra’s ecosystem is wildly different from Earth’s.

    3. Corpital says:

      No wonder jedi regularly snap and go dark side. Wanted to bring up something like the dam in Jade Empire, but no. No. That one takes the biscuit.

      1. guy says:

        Ah, the dam choice, where if you pick the evil option the villains give you a richly-deserved chewing out for taking it.

        If you aren’t aware, it goes like this: There’s a town that operates off river trade, with a river made navigable thanks to a dam built a while back. The empire has opened the dam floodgates to retrieve a MacGuffin in the lake formed behind it. You have two options: you can close the dam, or in exchange for a trivial amount of money you can render it inoperable forever. If you take the second option, prior to the bossfight the local villain yells at you for breaking such a major public works project and says they’d been going to close the dam when they were done.

    4. lurkey says:

      Embarrassed as I am to admit I know this much about SWTOR, but you got that quest wrong. Dilemma is such: soil is indeed poisoned, and poisonous fumes are pain in the throat for Republic soldiers who are trying to fortify there. Their commander asks you to add some other stuff to the soil, so that the chemical reaction stops the fumes. The local scientist objects that stuff No 2 is horrendously toxic and that soil will survive the first poisoning but not two consequent ones and that he can whip up some McGuffin concoction that would grant them soldiers temporary immunity against fumes.

      However, this makes the whole Light vs Dark situation even stupider, because your choice is between:
      a)contamination of the largest farmland of already devastated planet;
      b)not a). Seriously, the dude who can make an immunity McGuffin is standing, like, right next to the military guy, and both branches involve you going into that toxic zone, so the evil way doesn’t even save your time.

      (Still not the stupidest alignment choice in that game, though. It has plenty of WTFery in that department)

      1. Oh, now that you mention I remember I did press space prematurely in the line where it explained how the soldiers that had been disabled for weeks got the sickness, then my brain assumed it was by eating the foodstuff from there and from that point I got to keep thinking it was poisoned foodstuff produced there instead of the fumes. Thanks for the correction.

      2. ? says:

        So this space faring civilization is unable to provide gas masks for their soldiers? Anyway, temporary immunity seems like superior tactical choice. Your troops are fine, attacking forces need to deal with fortifications AND toxic gas. It’s not moral choice, it’s common sense.

    5. Phill says:

      The stupid choice that bothered me most (in the bits I saw before I stopped playing) was on Taris. On the Republic side you come across a forward outpost that is basically under constant attack and running low on supplies and ammunition. Their resupply convoy is overdue and you are asked to go look for it. When you find it, there is a bunch of guys sitting around with their vehicles, and they essentially say, these [i]soldiers[/i] “we’ve heard there is heavy fighting up at that base and we are scared to go there”.

      Your choices are to tell them to a) suck it up, do their job and get the supplies to their comrades who are depending on them to survive or b) give in to your fear, ignore your orders, go back to your base and abandon your comrades to die.

      For some unfathomable reason, b) is the light side option, while a) is the dark side one.

      Everyone I know, who has been anywhere near the military in their life, were genuinely offended by that.

      1. Bubble181 says:

        If that’s a proper description of the choice given, that’s completely backwards. Fear is one of the strongest Dark Side emotions; bravery and helping others are decidedly Light Side. I can understand the choice given, but the alignments appear entirely reversed.

  14. Ledel says:

    I think the part about the BoS that bothered me the most was that they have their doors closed to all outsiders for half the game. If you approach the door before that point it feels like the guards are actively aiming their weapons at you and tell you to piss off before they shoot you. They act completely isolationist. Even the guys at NPR are very standoffish with you. Yet once Dr. Young (?) gets you past their front door and you talk to their leader they start treating you like an old war buddy. “Oh, we hated you last week and didn’t even want to smell your stink anywhere near us? Well, we’re friends now so here’s access to all of our secrets: Check out the big map; here’s power armor training so you can be one of us; Do you want to a back rub? C’mere buddy.”

    You can’t claim to be helping the people of the wasteland out of the pure charity of your heart, but then act one degree away from hostile to someone who just walks up and wants to say “hi.” Even if you’re playing an evil character I think Star Paladin Cross walks up to you and treats you like “I would travel with you, but I don’t want to right now” *shrugs and walks away*.

    1. Point of order: The people at NPR died 200 years ago, and if they were alive, they would happily give you a mug and a tote bag if you’d donate to their fund drive (for a karma boost, of course).

      To be honest, I’d adore an NPR-style version of Galaxy News Radio. Maybe NCR-NPR? That would be hysterical, especially if it commented on your actions, the plot, and had a few shows like A Wasteland Home Companion, Wait Wait Don’t Shoot Me, and Exploding Car Talk.

      As for the BoS’s behavior, of course they like you once you’re past the gate. If they didn’t, they’d have to code for and record dialog for them having more than one attitude towards your character, which takes time and effort (and probably money). IIRC, there’s a way to hop over the level geometry and make it into the Citadel, which is hunky-dory for those inside, since they’re coded to welcome you once you get in, presumably thanks to Dr. Li’s yelling.

      Even the Outcasts don’t have dialog that differs too much from when you haven’t given their leader a ton of salvage to get into their good graces. They start using the more neutral barks along with something like “We’re told you’re with us.” I suppose that’s all right, seeing as (unlike with the BoS) I wasn’t forced to sign up with them.

      1. Henson says:

        Cow Talk?

        Also, “Wait Wait Don’t Shoot Me” had me in stitches. Well done.

      2. Ledel says:

        I just want to imagine they all got turned into ghouls and still operate the radio station.

        All I was really looking for was either for them to treat me with kindness for the whole game, which would then make sense when the welcome me with open arms after dad dies. OR if they are going to make the change from near-hostile to brothers-in-arms to give you a proving quest. Maybe something close to doing even just one of the things you can do at Camp Forlorn Hope in New Vegas and then they start trusting you. Like, “Ok, well since you donated 10 stimpaks to heal up some of our wounded Paladins let’s get you power armor trained.”

    2. ? says:

      I guess their attitude is like many things in this game, copying things from F1 and F2 without giving them much thought. In both games they don’t let you in or even give a time of day until you do a quest for them, in F2 they even tell you they know who you are and your connection to Vault Dweller, but they still only let you in after the quest. So naturally in this game they do the same.
      Although it makes sense for them to not let outsiders into citadel or give out power armor training like candy. But they could have small humanitarian outpost outside the gate where they would trade and maybe give medical attention to travelers.

  15. Semeru says:

    Your evaluation of this plot (and the Skyrim Thieves Guild, in my opinion) should be mandatory reading for industry devs, Shamus. This is one of the most satisfying things I have read in quite a while.

  16. Aitch says:

    Not sure if you guys have seen it yet, but Smoosh Games did an Honest Games Trailer for Fallout 3. It touches mostly on superficial flaws only, but still it’s nice to see at least some people finally catching on to what this site has known for years.

    Honest Game Trailers : Fallout 3

    Also, how dare Smoosh go nipping at Shamus’s coattails right in the middle of this excellent article series. Rude.

  17. Aoyagi says:

    As for the DJ, don’t forget that he keeps talking with his annoying manner about the player all the time. He’s clearly Sauron. And the few dialogues with him are maybe even worse than the rest of them.

  18. Bloodsquirrel says:

    The Enclave do have a plan: They’re trying to rebuilt the Capitol Wastelands, and want to use the water purifier to help. But they’re doing it evily!

  19. Jabrwock says:

    Now I’m imagining Eden and Autumn arguing over the plan.

    *Assuming* the purifier actually works as your father originally intended, pre-GECK, I can see why Autumn would want control. If it’s a clean water tap, then as controller, he can ration it out, justifying Enclave rule over the region. This solidifying the Enclave as the “legitimate” government, since they can provide clean water for growing crops (let’s ignore for a moment the scale issue, and the fact that the GECK somehow clean-bombs the whole region, so the rationing is stupid).

    *If* the FEV works as intended, I can see Eden’s reasoning. He is, afterall, trying to implement the plan his predecessor (President Richardson) tried in F2, although on a much smaller scale. Purge the contaminated from the land. Repopulate with Enclave Vault dwellers (separate from the Vault-Tec system, which was just one giant sick experiment). Lebensraum. However we never see nor hear about any of these supposed “pure” vaults.

  20. natureguy85 says:

    Still going strong, although I have two questions;

    1) EDEN specifically says the player will not die from the FEV because of his vault upbringing. Do you say he will die because of all the time being irradiated, especially for the survival guide?

    2) Is it fair to blame the BoS and Enclave for the poor world-building? Yes, your questions are legitimate based on what we’re presented, but we are told that water is important. Given that premise, controlling water would be very important.

    1. somebody says:

      no, The Player was born in the wasteland.

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