Fallout’s determinism-ridden slaves
One of the main features of the Fallout series is its world. The main story arc may often be nothing to write home about, but exploring the post-apocalyptic wasteland, discovering the artifacts left by its pre-war inhabitants and dealing with its current population is fun. True, the fallout in Fallout looks cheerful when compared with the bleak imagery of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road or Stephen King’s Dark Tower novels, but its intricate details stick together well enough for it to be convincing.
In Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, this cohesion is easily broken when the player decides to do something the developers have not intended.
Don’t get me wrong. Both games are in no way linear or restrictive and you are free to roam the world and do almost whatever you like. However, it is obvious that the developers have regarded certain behaviours as the default and, should you stray from those pre-defined paths, the world comes undone. It doesn’t brake, because you can still find your way to the “correct” path, but it’s embarrassing.
Spoilers will rear their heads as I get concrete after the jump.
Take slaves. I’ve previously described my massacre of The Pitt’s slavers in Fallout 3 and how frustrated I was when the slaves I was liberating declined to acknowledge my help. Something similar has now happened in New Vegas as well.
At some point in the game you may find yourself, platinum chip in pocket, in the Legion’s stronghold. The Legion is one of the Mojave wasteland’s warring factions and the platinum chip you carry is an important weapon that could tip the balance of power in several directions. Caesar, the Legion’s leader, naturally wants from you to help his faction. You can politely decline but they’re not letting you leave there with the chip and, if you’re not helping them, chances are you’d like to support some other faction. What’s a hero to do but submit the Legion to slaughter?
Frankly, they deserve it. There is not even an attempt on the part of the developers to give the Legion some redeeming features: they’re just disgusting and clearly evil. Also, they keep slaves.
You can’t help but feel sorry for the poor bastards who do the Legion’s chores. Unlike the slaves of The Pitt, who were furious at their fate and plotted revolt, these guys have accepted their role in the post-war world and that’s way sadder.
In The Pitt I was one of many who were fighting and slaves were doing battle, killing and dying all around me. But as I killed my way through Caesar’s Legion, the slaves there would coward to the side and beg for mercy. I felt sort of righteous for bringing punishment to the people who have made them so.
Imagine my disappointment then when, in what I now feel justified to refer to as Fallout tradition, they refused to acknowledge the change I’ve brought about. With the Legion camp purged of Legionaries, I was expecting the former slaves to take over. But they obviously didn’t feel like it, preferring instead to maintain their slavish routines. I tried talking to them, but they responded in their former manner, dutifully and without looking up. I had no choice but to leave them behind to sharpen machetes for now-dead masters.
The worst thing was I didn’t even hope that eventually things may change. It obviously isn’t in the game’s design. In the world of Fallout, quest-agnostic slaves are just not meant to be free.
This is bad for the game and the story it is trying to tell, because it removes some illusions that are important for the suspension of disbelief. I realise this is a bitch to pull off and I don’t even know if it’s possible with the technology we have, but maybe developers who seek to accomplish a complex and intricate world should renounce their deterministic ways. Until then their creations are doomed to be fragile and fleeting.