The following contains end-game spoilers on the Main Quest of Fallout 4, as well as what happens if you side with the Institute.
I have some grievances with Fallout 4. It’s not the game it’s supposed to be, and while the Consolitis of the PC version is rather appalling, my main gripe happens to be with the decidedly lacking role playing aspect of a role playing game. Bethesda, it would seem, chose to make an open-world shooter rather than an RPG, despite the Fallout franchise being thoroughly rooted in the RPG genre.
To start with, the conversation system. Where did all the choice go? Four answers were hardly ever enough for an RPG, and yet, here we are, stuck between a perpetual hell of Yes / No / Gimme Money / Cancel, or sometimes four different tones on the same answer. I still remember that one time where I wanted to debate the nature of Synths with the Institute’s Director following the retrieval of an escaped one that turned to Raiding, and was only given four different flavours of, “yeah, whatever.” Whether I’m right or wrong, why couldn’t I argue in favour of Synths’ freedom? This sorry excuse for a conversation system seemed to have restricted Bethesda’s writers in adding depth to the game, and it suffers for it.
But let us go into the meat of the issue; ludonarrative dissonance. You see, as is customary with factions in Bethesda games, if you complete their related quest lines you will become their leader. As such if you side with the Institute you will become Director. Now, because Fallout 4 is a Bethesda-style open-world game, the quests must go on – at the detriment of the story, it would seem. You are made Director because you possess a know-how of the world above, you are a survivor, and such and such. You’re not like all those sheltered scientists who wouldn’t be able to survive a day out in post-apocalyptic Boston. You actually thrive – and no, it has nothing to do with your Intelligence score of 10. That doesn’t mean anything in Fallout 4 other than ‘gain more exp’. It’s another problem this game has.
So with all that executive power you’d imagine you’d start telling all those stuck-up nerds (except for you, Dr Clayton) what to do. Perhaps send a group of Synths at a settlement to boost its defenses. Maybe loosen the stranglehold the Institute has on the Gen-3 Synths? Affect some changes, y’know
The stuck-up nerds tell you what to do. Their NPC-Quest-Giver powers thwarts your authority; you have almost no influence over them. They seem to think that you were made Director to help them personally, that you’re some sort of Kellogg 2.0 that will do all their dirty surface work (The Institute is underground in case you weren’t aware). Even though that was your role when you first joined the Institute, you have ascended to a much different role now. Despite this, each of the division heads and their… uhm… vice heads… have some templated lackey quest for you do to do. One quest gave me a ray of hope because it didn’t sound like a reskinned version of Preston’s ‘help X settlement’ routine, but while it did have more complexity to it, it ultimately led nowhere. The Institute was still filled with a bunch of stuck-up nerds (Except you, Dr Clayton) and I, as the freaking Director, had no effect on the world whatsoever.
There is a point to be made about the fact that you can actually ask the scientists for a reward for a quest well done if your Charisma score is strong enough. While this little bit of role playing is a welcome quirk you might give your character, the idea that you have these errands to run in the first place makes this seem as though the game itself doesn’t care what your role in the Institute is and just treats everything as an opportunity to grease the quest engine. When you are given the quests all you can do is accept or decline. Telling them to send a Courser instead is met with the textbook, “No Coursers in the area, you’re our only hope,” to which my personal response to this is, “YOU HAVE TELEPORTERS!” With Bethesda, it seems, the engine of quests must turn, the cycle must continue. Do the quests. Dooooo the questsssssss. *Hiss*
This is not something unique to Fallout 4, however. The Elder Scrolls games have the same problem. Skyrim and Oblivion both showed a lack of recognition when you, as the Archmage, were just treated like some commoner. Somehow, it was okay with me then. I did think that not getting recognition was annoying, but when it takes place in a Fallout game, a game known for being a Role Playing Game, it cuts a bit deeper than that. I might also be getting old, so that’s also a possibility.
It’s an aggravating lack of respect for proper storytelling for the sake of mindless, endless content. If Fallout 4 didn’t have modding tools coming out soon, it would have been almost a repeat of the mediocrity that is Dragon Age: Inquisition. Here’s to hoping Bethesda has the sense of mind to give Obsidian the next Fallout gig. We could sure use a ‘New Vegas 2’. I don’t mean an actual sequel, I mean another proper Fallout RPG.
Oh well, at least Fallout 4 has good combat.