Fallout 4: The Real Railroad
I really like Fallout 4. I think it’s the best of the FPS entries in the series, and probably the second best of the titles over all (I still like Fallout 2 the most). I wrote a few days ago on why I liked the most recent game, but today I feel compelled to write about something I really didn’t like about the game: railroading.
Now, there’s an coincidental connection with Fallout 4 and “The Railroad,” but the term I’m using is unconnected with the similarly-titled faction. “Railroading” is a pen-and-paper RPG term used to describe a dungeon master who forces his players into situations against their will, as if they’re passengers on a train out of their control rather than co-pilots to a group activity. It is generally considered to be a negative term used in an accusatory fashion from player to DM.
Every video game railroads its players by necessity. It’s impossible to program a video game to allow for every possible action a player may want to take, let alone be able to take from within the game system. That’s one area where tabletop RPGs shine; a good DM with good players can collaborate to create a story that’s far superior to anything any one person would imagine. Railroading, as a result, is the antithesis to that sort of creative engineering, which is why it’s so often reviled.
So why complain about a game for doing what it was designed to do: railroad the players? Simple: I felt the railroading was unnecessary and story-restrictive. Let me warn you, there are some spoilers below, so don’t read on if you haven’t pursued the main story line.
I had predicted that my kid was going to be old when I met him. I looked at every major character I met as a possible son prior to actually going into the institute. When I met my cyber “son,” I doubted instantly it was the real one, and when I met his creator, the father, I figured I’d found my mark. Nonetheless, I did exactly what I had planned to do: I shot the leader of the institute right in the face. Kid or not, here was the head of the monster which needed to be severed.
Of course, even though it was a silenced pistol, the entire Institute went hostile and I failed a quest. I figured fine, I’ll play along for a while, and reloaded to pursue the actual story, but I was annoyed. I didn’t want to get to know the Institute, I didn’t want to find out what they were all about, and I DAMN sure didn’t want to work with them – not only as a player, mind you, but as my character, who’d seen and heard the type of physical and psychological damage the Institute was wreaking on the Commonwealth. I was the leader of the Minutemen, damnit, and I wasn’t going to be swayed by some fancy technology and honestly irrelevant family bonds; hell, I only new the kid for what – a few weeks? Months? Not that long.
And yet, as a player, particularly one who wants to actually see the main story play out from start to finish, I was again and again being forced to work with the very enemy I was sworn to destroy, and on top of that, in conversation after conversation, I was being portrayed as this stupid, sentimental mother who can’t seem to understand the fact that her son is a bad guy in charge of a bad institution that harms the world. I had slayed the Mirelurk Queen! I was head of the Minutemen! I kill mutants left and right! Why was I being so dumb?!
Look, I get it; there’s nuances here. Maybe I get to be the leader of the Institute and change things, but I don’t know. I stalled in playing when I got to the next serious railroading moment, when choosing to pursue the Institute’s goals or telling on them to the Brotherhood would immediately and permanently make you the enemy of the other.
Why? How would they even know? I understand that perhaps during the mission an action I take in front of them might cause that, but just by accepting one side or another? Madness!
And I don’t even really like either faction! I’m a Minuteman. I’m okay with the Railroad; I think they’re good people who are just a little careless. But I don’t see the drawback with the Minutemen. I don’t see their flaw, like the Brotherhood’s hawkishness or the Institute’s moral bankruptcy. But I fundamentally do believe I can affect a change to improve the world better from inside than outside of a system.
I would just prefer to option to continue to play both against each other. I would prefer to be able to go to the Brotherhood and tell them that I intend to get the reactor back online and then blow up the Institute. In between, I can smuggle out some or all of the willing synths, which would piss off the Brotherhood but, hey, they don’t need to know. As complexly integrated as these missions and stories are, I don’t see why that wasn’t an option. Everyone can feel like they won (except the Institute, but I don’t care about them), and who really won was the Commonwealth, which, of course, is the goal of the Minutemen.
So I feel a bit railroaded. I don’t really want to help the Brotherhood or the Institute. I don’t want to make a permanent enemy of either of the Institute yet, either, which would likely prevent me from helping synths escape via the Railroad. So I’m forced to continue working with them, actually helping them, and make a permanent and lethal enemy of the Brotherhood, who I’ve been helping so far.
For such a nuanced game, this feel very brutish. I wanted better.
Stubborn (Bing-Bong. Please stand clear of the closing doors.)