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May 4, 2012

The Picky Geek: Fallout 3 and the Battle Between Good and Evil

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The bane of fanboys across the ‘verse, The Picky Geek is a column that takes the glaring faults of popular games, puts them under a magnifying glass, and leaves them there until they’ve been fried by the sun. With snark, cynicism, and maybe even a little hyperbole, Ryan Larrabee explores why he never gets invited to any games industry Christmas parties.

Fallout 3 was Bethesda’s first shot at the Fallout series since they bought the rights to it. It was also the first we had seen of the Fallout name for years. Bethesda took their experience with open-ended, first person RPGs and applied them to the post apocalyptic wasteland of Fallout.

The game was a huge hit, scored well with the critics, brought the series into the mainstream, and wholly deserved all the praise. However, there’s one change that Bethesda made to the formula crafted by Black Isle that just didn’t sit right to me – the heavy emphasis on the fight between good and evil.

If you’ll remember, Fallout 3, you’re tasked by the DC chapter of the Brotherhood of Steel, a benevolent protector of light throughout the wasteland, with destroying The Enclave, a fascist remnant of the US government bent on destroying anyone who’s so much as come in contact with the world’s ever-present radiation.

The problem here is that this dichotomy turns the story into your cliché battle between the light side and the dark. Not to say there’s anything particularly wrong with this approach, as it has its place along with any other story structure. However, it downplays a major theme in the Fallout universe – the theme that, even after the population has been mostly eradicated, everyone is still human, and real humans are not cut and dry good or evil.

Okay, now I’ll be the first to admit that the Enclave has never been much more than a group of racist old men, mad with the thirst for the power their ancestors had when they ran the United States.

The Brotherhood of Steel, however, has proven to be shockingly similar. They’ve been seen to harbor disdain for the nonhumans of the wasteland as well, and the entire purpose of the organization is the belief that the general public is too stupid to handle any sort of technology without ending the world again. Their goal is as analogous to the Crusades as the Enclave’s is the the Holocaust.

Compare all of this to the Brotherhood in Fallout 3. Hidden away in their little bunker, they’re set on providing clean water to everyone in the wasteland. Of course, it’s canonized by explaining that there’d been a schism in the organization’s ranks where the more traditional believers of the Brotherhood of Steel philosophy split from the main group and started calling themselves the Outcasts.

However, from a design perspective, this seems like Bethesda’s way of saying, “We get how it’s supposed to be, but people might be confused if the good guys are dicks.” And that’s what it all comes down to. More people are going to appreciate the story if the good guys are great and the bad guys are evil.

If you’re looking for something to contrast this with, consider Fallout: New Vegas. Just about every single faction in that game had the noblest of motivations, but their plans to obtain them generally saw the murder and/or general displeasure of any number of innocent parties.

It’s my firm belief that it is impossible to finish that game without being an ******* to somebody, and that’s what makes Fallout what it is. It’s meant to show the struggles and communities involved in rebuilding after the Earth has been all but destroyed. Everything’s got a shade of gray. Well, except The Glow, that place is pretty much all green.

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