So I’m a few days into my first experience with the Fallout franchise. I’m not really sure why it took this long to happen. I like post-apocalyptic settings; I like Bethesda games; so you’d think Skyrim with mutant rats and guns would have happened a lot earlier.
Oh well. Regardless of how late I am to the party, I’m here now and I seem to have gotten myself into a bit of a bind.
Caution: here there be spoilers.
So there’s three prime factions at play in the Commonwealth: the Institute, the Railroad, and the Brotherhood of Steel.
The Institute is a secretive organization of scientists that live and work in a hidden underground base, presumably because of their generations-long ambition to become classic Bond villains. Speaking of the narrative, their central feature is how they create and employ synths – sentient robotic humans that would no trouble at all passing the Turing test. In addition to keeping these sentient beings as essentially slaves, the Institute has been known to abduct people from the Commonwealth (and I suspect are replacing some with synths), who largely live in fear of the shadowy group. Although they talk up their lofty goals and present the most civilized exterior of anyone in the Commonwealth, the Institute pretty clearly seems to be the baddies, and aren’t really in the running as a faction choice.
The Railroad exists in opposition to the Institute. Taking their name from the historical Underground Railroad, this rag-tag group of guerilla fighters work to liberate synths from the Institute’s control, hiding those synths’ true identities and reintegrating them into the Commonwealth society by passing them as humans. The Railroad are ostensibly the good guys, but I’m not so certain that makes the best choice.
The Brotherhood of Steel, affectionately colloquialized by myself as the ‘Sky Nazis’, are apparently the faction of choice for disaffected Redditors who think the Railroad is “too liberal”. A high-tech army of militant Luddites, the Brotherhood aims to control the ownership of technology; their charismatic leader preaches that humanity developed technology before maturing enough to use it responsibly. They’re zealous and dogmatic, but I’m not unsympathetic to their viewpoint in the context of an irradiated world destroyed by nuclear fire.
The story so far
My introduction to the factions began with the Sky Nazis’ arrival in the Commonwealth, born on the wings of a massive airship blaring their message over the thunderous thrum of its engines. These guys have style, I thought to myself. Shortly after I ran into a Brotherhood Paladin, known as Paladin Danse, on a mission at a local police station, and after clearing out some ghouls together, I was offered a place in the Brotherhood. I of course accepted, because paladins are my shit.
The Brotherhood of Steel is nothing if not sincere. They’re lead by a (superbly created) passionate, charismatic leader who makes me empathize with his positions even when he’s saying things seem kind of wrong or crazy. They value loyalty and respect, and legitimately want to make the world a better place, even if their methods sometimes cross the line. Of course, it wasn’t long before that started to happen.
After a mission to the Institute, I recovered intel that I later learned would indicate that Paladin Danse was, in fact, a synth, though he didn’t know it himself. As the Brotherhood views synths as an aberration of science, I was ordered to hunt him down and execute him as a traitor. When I finally did, the stupid bastard even thought it was a good idea. Fortunately, my charisma was high enough to convince him that that was a stupid idea and even convinced the Brotherhood leader to let him live in exile when Danse and I were confronted while making our exit.
Still, the whole experience soured me on the Brotherhood, so I went to help the Railroad. Underground resistance fighters are more my style than high-tech military anyway.
It started off well enough. We were rescuing synths from the institute, all of them scared of the new world they were entering, but grateful for our help. Clearly, the Railroad were the good guys.
Then they learned that I had acquired a way in and out of the Institute. An ambitious plan was struck, one to rescue all of the synths under Institute control in one fell swoop. It would be a bold undertaking, and as the details evolved, it became increasingly clear that it would more likely than not involve organizing the synths to violently rise up against their human masters.
The moral dilemma
So what’s a decent man to do in the Commonwealth?
On the one hand, you have a band of militant zealots who want to indiscriminately kill sentient synthetics, some of whom are my friends, and limit the growth and accessibility of technology to essentially just themselves, which is far from ideal, even if it’s understandable in the context of a world destroyed by humanity’s irresponsibility with technology (or say, the context of a country where a climate science denier was just elected to the highest office in the land).
On the other hand, you have a group of well meaning do-gooders setting us on the path for the great AI uprising, opening up the door for Skynet, or the Matrix, or Reapers, or a robocapitalist dystopia wherein the machines own the means of production and everyone drives on the wrong side of the road and eats their children, I don’t know.
In that situation, I’m inclined to vote humanity first and resume my work with the Sky Nazis.
All things considered though, I find this aspect of the game to be extremely satisfying. There’s no binary “choose 1 to be a good guy, choose 2 to be a total asshole” option, which is what we’re stuck with in games on far too many occasions. I mean hell, it’s a compelling enough decision to make me write over 1,000 words on the topic, and I’m extremely lazy. That’s impressive.