Today we are going to talk about Fallout New Vegas. You may ask yourself, why would I talk about New Vegas. After all that game came out like a century ago. Well, I seem to be determined to scare away all but my most loyal readers seeing how last week I reviewed a foreign novel that has no English translation. Now I’m going to talk about last year’s game. And not just an old game, but a game that I already spent several posts discussing back when it was still new.
What cam over me? Well, I recently revisited New Vegas after abandoning it for several months and finally got to play through the end game content. And you know what? It was good. It was so entertaining I decided that I need at least one more New Vegas post to give the game some praise. There are a lot of games out there these days that say they offer players interesting choices, but few actually do. Most offer you artificial binary decisions: you can be a saint or a murderous psychopath. Sometimes however, a game comes along and gives you a true conundrum. A choice so difficult you actually can’t make up your mind for hours. One of such games was Dragon Age Origins, and I wrote at length about the entire experience. I am pleased to report that I experienced something very similar while playing Fallout: New Vegas. While it was not as emotional and powerful as the Dragon Age decision, it was still quite difficult decision.
Interestingly what made my New Vegas play through so interesting was not the writing itself, but rather emergent game play. Being a sandbox setting the game allows you to pursue multiple quest arcs at the same time. It is the sequence in which I did some of the side quests, my choice of a companion heavily influenced this experience.
But let me start from beginning. The big deciding end-game moment in New Vegas is the battle for the Hoover Dam. Through your actions you can influence the outcome of this battle and the future of the Mojave Wasteland. You have an option to side with one of the three factions involved in this conflict: NCR (New California Republic), The Legion or the elusive Mr. House who controls the Vegas Strip using an army of robotic soldiers.
The Legion is pretty much portrayed as bad guys. They are slavers, they treat women as property, they crucify and torture people and have almost no redeeming qualities. There is little incentive siding with them unless you really like their Roman themed duds, or want to play a total jerk ass.
NCR are almost total opposite. They are a fledgling democratic government and generally come off as good guys. They can be a bit bureaucratic and heavy handed though. Their expansionism rubs a lot of people the wrong way, and their armies have been known for uprooting and driving away native tribes to make living space for NCR citizens.
Mr. House is a bit of an enigma. He is a 200 something year old living corpse in a casket, hooked up to a sophisticated computer system that gives him full control of the New Vegas Strip and an army of robotic servants. He is a bit of a technological genius and a visionary with dreams of restoring the Mojave to it’s pre-war glory. And you don’t have to take his word for it. All you need to do is to visit the strip. It is a place unlike any other in the wasteland. At night, you can see it from just about any place in the game – New Vegas is a neon-bright beacon of wealth and prosperity. The living conditions in Mr. House’s domain are far above and beyond anything that NCR or Legion could offer. He provides security, luxury, modernity and unobstructed free commerce – things that are hard to come by in the harsh post nuclear wastelands.
Of course Mr. House is a dictator – a benevolent one, but a dictator nevertheless. Choosing to help him over the NCR is choosing a totalitarian empire over a democracy. Still, House has proven to be fair, and stable leader over the past two centuries and he has at least one or two more centuries in him. While he can be an ass from time to time, his goals and vision are something exceptional. No one else in the Mojave has the knowledge, the foresight and the ambition that could match his. I was skeptical to help him at first, but then he got me. He promised not only to resurrect pre-war technology, but to improve upon it. He bought me with vision of Mojave becoming a technocratic utopia – it’s products and technological wonders flooding the rest of the world, inciting a restorative frenzy to rebuild and reclaim the humanity’s lost technological edge. And then he promised me the stars. Mr. House wouldn’t stop at restoring the planet to it’s pre-war glory. He would succeed where his contemporaries have failed and launch a space program to explore and colonize the solar system. If I was lucky and with the medical advancements he would introduce, I could live to see at least significant part of that plan to unfold. That struck a cord with me. How could I not work for this guy? I immediately signed up for Mr. House fan club and started doing his quest.
Veronica is a member of Brotherhood of Steel – an isolationist elite group of power armor wearing knowledge seekers and advanced tech hoarders. You may remember them as The Good Guys™ from Fallout 3, but this faction is a bit different. They are xenophobic and self-centered group. They seek out, study, restore and preserve pre-war technology but they keep it to themselves. It’s not that they don’t want to help the people of the Mojave. It’s just that they thing that they are better served by not having dangerous pre-war toys they could hurt themselves with. The Brotherhood believes that their mission is to prevent more catastrophic end-of-the-world events by controlling peoples access to advanced technology. Sharing their secrets with outsiders is strictly forbidden by the laws of their society. Which sort of makes sense.
Thanks to Veronica however I was able to somehow get in their good graces, and become one of the very few outsiders allowed free access to their base of operations. There I met some interesting NPC’s and discovered that while their values might be tad misguided they are still upstanding people who genuinely believe their cause is just and noble. Doing Veronica’s personal quest chain revealed more detail. While Brotherhood seems powerful because of their pre-war arsenal, their numbers were dwindling. Since one has to be born into the order the Mojave chapter was lacking fresh blood, and slowly dying out. Without opening up to the outside world, and taking in recruits and/or mates from local tribes they would surely perish in the next few decades.
Being an awesome guy that I am, I did a whole bunch of fetch quests for these people to gain their trust, then influenced their Elder to lift strict lock-down rules and allow people in and out of their bunker more easily. Then I brokered a peace agreement between the Brotherhood and the NCR, allying them both against the Legion. I made Veronica happy, I possibly turned around the Brotherhood around from the self-destructive path, and I made them cease fighting with NCR stabilizing the region a bit. In fact, these people liked me so much, they offered me a honorary membership in the order – a very rare, almost unheard-of honor. In short, me and the people of the Brotherhood became total “BFF’s”.
So me and Veronica went back to the strip, all happy, holding hands and all. I hit up the Lucky 38 casino to see what the big boss was up to and turn in his last quest. It turned out he had another assignment for me: exterminate the Brotherhood of Steel.
Fuck! Shit just got real.
You see, Mr. House views the Brotherhood as an imminent threat. They are technology freaks, and New Vegas strip just bristles with pre-war tech. The Brotherhood’s entire philosophy and value system revolves around keeping “dangerous” tech out of the hands of the unwashed masses. There is no way they would allow Mr. House to execute his vision of restoring the Mojave to it’s former glory. That sort of thing would go directly against what they believe in. So major conflict of interest was unavoidable. In fact, I just made things worse by propping up the faction that my boss genuinely feared.
Can you see the problem here? Mr. House just asked me to genocide the very people I just became friends with, and who just made me a honorary member. He told me to go wipe out an entire base full of named NPC’s for whom I did various quests, and who had interesting exchanges with Veronica while we were visiting them. What’s worse, he did not even want to hear about a possible diplomatic solution. With a Speech skill of 100 I was sure that I could speech-check the Elder into forming some sort of alliance, but that was not even on the table. Mr. House would accept nothing but a total annihilation of the Mojave chapter of the Brotherhood.
But could I stoop so low? Could I actually go through with it and kill these well meaning noble people that never did me any harm? Could I commit this unspeakable crime in the name of progress? Could I justify it as choosing a lesser evil to further a greater good? And hell, could I do this to Felicia Day? Could I just go and slaughter her people after having her follow me for most of the game?
Of course there was an alternative. I could side with NCR and give control of the Mojave Wasteland to a lumbering bureaucracy thousands of miles away and hope for the best. Or I could take out Mr. House and take his place trying to execute at least parts of his grand plan by myself. Both options however required me to give up on the dream Mr. House infected me with. I would have to de-throne this great man, and have lesser minds control Vegas.
What would you do? Would you kill your best friend’s family and friends in cold blood in the name of progress? Or would you give up on a dream, and ruin humanity’s best chance at returning to pre-war glory because of sentiments and moral doubts. It was a very difficult choice – at least for me. I’m a liberal technocrat, futurist and science nut – I really wanted to side with Mr. House. I really believe that people of the Mojave would benefit the best if he was in charge. But I just could not go through with the cold blooded ethnic cleansing he ordered. It was too big of a price to pay.
In the end I chose the independent route, took out Mr. House, gained control of his army and drove both Legion and the NCR from the Mojave Wasteland. But the dream died with the ancient genius. The independent state I created was relatively stable, but the promised technological utopia never came. I merely maintained peace and stability, but the people were no better under my rule than they were before. As predicted the Brotherhood became a thorn in my side, slowly growing in strength and plotting to take me down and dismantle Mr. House’s robotic army. Did I choose wisely? Was this really the best option?
This is an example of pretty decent writing, well designed sandbox and multiple valid endings culminating in a very profound moral dilemma. Note how this dilemma was born out of emergent game play choices and my personal beliefs rather than from some sliding scale morality meter. This is how you design good sandbox games ladies and gentlemen. You let the player tell his own story. In this aspect the end-game of New Vegas was by far superior to the binary non-choice I was given in Fallout 3. I had my own, very personal, deeply moving story arc emerge purely out of random sequence in which I did side quests and my companion preference. The interesting thing is that your experience with the same game content might have been completely different.
What ending did you choose on your first play through?