Fallout 3 has stayed with me longer than the rest of the series.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/nee7ew/the-first-big-choice-in-fallout-3-megaton-remains-its-most-troubling
Fallout 3 has stayed with me longer than the rest of the series.
I feel like the stark moral polarity that permeates Fallout 3 is what makes it one of the weakest ones. The moral grey makes it feel like my choices really mean something. It shoulders me with a burden that, most of the time, I’d rather not have.
Compare the end of Fallout 3: Broken Steel and the end of New Vegas: Lonesome Road. Both give you the option to nuke opposing factions. In Broken Steel you can drop an orbital missile on the mobile headquarters of the genocidal, fascist Enclave or the headquarters of the philanthropic if somewhat naive Brotherhood of Steel who up to this point you’ve been closely allied with. I spent no time in bombing the Enclave partially due to the fact I had already murdered everybody in their headquarters. It made the decision feel hollow. Up til now I’ve murdered countless Enclave and established the BoS’s firm grasp on DC and here I’m being presented with the option to just throw all that away. Nothing changed, no plot twists to cast doubt on my choice to support the Brotherhood, but here was this option to thoroughly undo everything we’d worked for. It felt like I was being presented an option by some cackling, mustache-twirling villain.
Contrast that with Lonesome Road. In the DLC, the antagonist presents you with two ICBMs and the coordinates for the capitals of the game’s two major political players: the New California Republic and Caesar’s Legion. Now, since I played Fallout 2, I came into the game already deciding to support the NCR, and quickly decided to directly oppose the Legion after witnessing the aftermath of their slaughtering of the residents of Nipton. My opinions on the violently expansionist, culture bleaching Legion never changed, but my views on the NCR did. At the end of Fallout 2, the NCR is lead by President Tandi, one of the last surviving members of an old desert-dwelling tribe from Fallout 1. As the NCR’s borders continued to grow and their technology continued to advance, Tandi’s experiences made her into a benevolent diplomat. The NCR quickly expanded to cover a space from southern Oregon to the Baha peninsula, all while respecting the wishes of tribes and settlements along the way. Tandi died and was replaced before the events of New Vegas, but I was surprised and dismayed to find out that their current administration was much more keen on rapid expansionism, opting for gunboat diplomacy and annexation (in fact, the game takes place during NCR’s annexation of New Vegas).
My disillusionment with the NCR on its own wouldn’t make much a difference if the decision was the same as Fallout 3’s, but Lonesome Road doesn’t just give you one choice. You can nuke the NCR, nuke the Legion, nuke both, or nuke neither. It stumped me. Of the two, I think the Legion is still the worse offender, but this isnt like the Enclave base. Using the nuke on either faction would immediately result in a massive loss of innocent lives, but not doing so would even further prolong the war in New Vegas. However, beheading the government of either side would ensure the other side would be free to run roughshod over the rest of the western United States. This choice, no matter what I pick, would have dramtic, widespread, unpredictable ramifications for decades to come. I was given a choice I was wholly unprepared and unfit to make. But it’s in moments like this that Fallout really shines for me. The name “Fallout” has two meanings for me. There’s the obvious one, and then there’s the one you hear about at the start of the game. The one they show you at the end. Fallout fans like to speculate about who fired the first missile that started the apocalypse and the writers refuse to say. Because Fallout’s not about nuclear war, it’s about what comes after. It’s about consequences.
It’s about the fallout of your actions.
My only regret is that I have but one like to award this post.
Bethsda’s handling of the story in Fallout has to me been painfully shallow. It seems every decision you’re faced with in Fallout 3/4 have no meaningful consequences.
Even at the very end of Fallout 3 if you choose to give your life for Project Purity you get resurrected in the DLC. The epilogue I got when I finished Fallout 3 read like a horoscope, it could have applied to anyone’s play through and only spoke of my actions in the very broadest of terms.
i haven’t revisited 3 in a while but i feel like most of the choices in it, Megaton included, essentially boiled down to “is this your evil guy playthrough?”. i don’t think a ton of people trying to play according to their own moral compass would bomb Megaton for no reason, or poison all the fucking water because the antagonist told them to, etc etc. the game provides you no narrative reason to do any of those things apart from getting your evil guy slider all the way down so you can get the evil guy ending achievement.
i think it’s memorable because it’s flashy more than anything else. you either doom or save an entire town by using a whole nuclear bomb. it feels more like the game hazing you into its karma mechanic than a meaningful moral choice. it’s basically the trolley problem except you don’t kill anyone if you don’t do anything.
there are minor sidequests in New Vegas that i feel if i went back to and tried to solve based on my current moral compass, i’d end up with a different conclusion than i did when i first played that game in 2011, whereas the answer to exploding Megaton is “no man, what the fuck?” every single time. stuff like that makes it hard for me to call any quest choice in FO3 troubling.
Exploring the option and going through the motions of actually nuking the place ends up making it feel even more of an absurd thing to do too.
There is just this tower of rich people living in squalor because nobody has cleaned up in hundreds of years, they seem to just be rich because they say they are and some mercenaries are willing to guard the doors even though god knows what they’re getting paid with. They want the town blown up because they think its ugly and are willing to pay you to do it. Luckily they’re in no way inconvenienced by their nearest settlement being obliterated due to the fact they don’t seem to exist within the bounds of physical reality that would bring any kind of requirements for labour or trade etc.
It’s just all so utterly weightless, you choose to blow it up for some nonsensical mustache twirling reasons for characters that barely even get established and presumably feel nothing because at this point all you’ve learned is its a town of people who have all settled around a nuke and don’t seem to have progressed at all in hundreds of years. Alternately you tell the guy in the bar telling you to set off a nuke as soon as you walk into town that you aren’t in-fact going to do that and he storms off and they never come up again. It’s like one of my go-to examples of shoehorned moral choice writing problems.
The choice in Megaton wasn’t a particularly hard one for me, because it’s just cartoonish. It’s basically “do you murder these people for $5 and a bad apartment or do you not?”. That’s even before thinking about Megaton itself, which doesn’t make sense as a settlement in the slightest. There’s no reason anyone should have settled there. The only water there is the pool the bomb is in, which is insanely radioactive. It’s not like the Church of Atom settled there first and other people moved in next to them either, they pretty clearly state that the Church was founded after Megaton itself and they just helped build it up.
But then none of Fallout 3’s settlements make any sense. On one extreme you have Megaton, a miserable hole with a literal nuclear bomb in the middle. On the other you have Rivet City, the largest and most well-fortified structure in the entire Capital Wasteland, a place that people should have flocked to and be bursting at the seams… but there’s only 30 people there.
Part of it is the engine Bethesda was working with, not being able to handle very many people in an area, but the other part is something that has bothered me in all the Bethesda-era Fallout games. The time scale and the level of development of the world is entirely skewed.
This is 200 years after the bombs fell but everything feels like it’s only 5 or 10 years at the most, aside from the people themselves. Most places haven’t been explored and scavenged, with the player able to see traps and security from pre-war. Most settlements are only a handful of people, with walls that are falling apart and garbage everywhere. There are distress beacons all over that were triggered during or immediately after the war, and yet the player can track them down and find the (always long-dead) person who set it off instead of finding it long-since looted and empty. Contrast this with Fallout 1 and 2, where in 80 years Shady Sands turns into the NCR, and then 40 years after that it’s taken control of most of California. Over that time frame 30 people in the Capital Wasteland build a wall around a bomb and 30 other people move into a crashed aircraft carrier while doing nothing about the mirelurks next door. For 38 years they do nothing about these mirelurks.
They want to have it both ways, with people acting like it’s been a long time since the war but with there being pre-war places for the player to explore still. In this regard all their Fallout games have felt like a big theme park set up for the player character’s entertainment. This is in contrast to the Elder Scrolls games which have always felt like a living world (that still revolves around the player, admittedly).
This has gone off track a bit. I’ve soured quite a lot on Fallout 3 since I initially played it. Fallout 4 did slightly better in the choice situation, in that it didn’t have any extraordinarily dumb ones (other than siding with the Inst. because why would anyone ever). New Vegas did pretty well at this also until Lonesome Road, whereupon the story they were telling unraveled into the weirdest nonsensical BS imaginable. Sure, communities started popping up because one courier walked back and forth between areas. … what? God I hate Ulysses.
Anyway, I don’t like Megaton’s choice or existence.