Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Moral Ambiguity of Fallout 4: Nuka World

    I've mentioned my absolute love for Nuka World before and that remains to be the case. It's an absolutely beautiful spectacle and blows the main game out of the water but it's also something which has been controversial for the fact it favors an "evil" playthrough. Indeed, there are only a handful of quests which do not require working with complete scum. However, it is that very need to work with the deplorable and blunt their efforts which makes an intriguing path for those who don't simply want to have their Sole Survivor crack and go Raider.

    The premise is the Sole Survivor is invited to a sick gladiatorial game under the guise of rescuing someone's family, only to kill the leader of the Nuka World bandits in single combat before being declared their new leader. It is all very Chronicles of Riddick. The game then encourages the Sole Survivor to go along with this, help the Raiders reclaim Nuka World then proceed to start settling the Commonwealth with outposts.  

Heavy is the head which wears the Overboss helmet.
    There doesn't appear to be much moral ambiguity to the Nuka World Raiders. The three gangs assembled by Raider Overboss Colter found the (apparently) peaceful traders of Nuka World. They proceeded to attack the town, take it over, and then turned it into their party palace. Colter further vilified himself by creating the Gauntlet, which is nothing more than an arena for witnessing the murder of innocents. The Nuka World Raiders keep slaves, one of the surest signs of evil in the Fallout universe, and are parasites on the Commonwealth if they build settlements. Surely, it is an evil decision to side with them.

    I'm not so sure.

    One of the interesting things I've discussed about Fallout 4 is there's no actual villain to the story. The Institute is, at worst, guilty of amorality in the pursuit of science and a refusal to acknowledge the sentience of their creations. They are paranoid and ill-informed about the surface world, using that to justify murder and replacement. The Brotherhood of Steel plans genocide against a sentient race but justifies it in the name of the fact they are not human and very likely capable of wiping humanity out. The Minutemen are good but incompetent while the Railroad is mono-focused on one issue. All of the groups are influenced by the Sole Survivor and changed by their relationship with him.

    In the case of Nuka World's Raiders, the DLC does something which I have long argued was necessary in the Bethesda Fallout games: it humanizes its Raiders. In the original Fallout games and New Vegas, raiding is an action rather than a state of being. Tribals, gangs, and organizations raid but they have motivations for doing so. The Great Khans are a culture, for example, who just so happens to have a tradition of stealing from outsiders to sustain themselves like so many historical peoples.

Nisha isn't a nice person. Could you guess?
    Bethesda's games have lagged a bit behind this with the majority of Raiders in Fallout 3's Capital Wasteland being a bunch of cannibals who attack you on sight. They are so numerous, its very possible they outnumber the actual settlers of the land and have possibly depopulated the region of major settlements but for Megaton and Rivet City.

    Fallout 4 was less extreme but still had Raiders exist in bandit camps that murdered anyone who approached. It also had terminals talking about their hopes, dreams, and aspirations as well as relationship to other Raider gangs. It also had the Gunners and Forged as a Vault-born pair of gangs which were primarily mercenaries but had become as Raiders.

   Nuka World's Raiders are divided into three individual gangs with the Disciples, Operators, and the Pack. The Disciples are the most overtly violent, surrounding their base in the viscera of the dead with prisoners kept imprisoned for torture. The Operators are the most mercenary, existing solely for the purpose of making money and being no better or worse than the Triggermen in Goodneighbor. The Pack, by contrast, is the most alien as they act more like original series tribals with odd traditions and an alien morality.

    Over these three gangs but under you is Porter Gage, who is an individual who has an interesting story. A farmer, he witnessed his family and friends repeatedly robbed by Raiders with no attempt to fight them. Switching to become a caraveneer, he soon found the state similar. Too proud to submit to thievery, he eventually decided to become a Raider himself. He has a simple philosophy based on a binary principle: you either take or are taken from. This sounds simplistic and self-justifying except the Sole Survivor is a Raider.

You see, Overboss, they can be reasonable. For a price.
    You kill and you loot your enemies' bodies as well as homes. Now, of course, the primary difference is the nature of your targets. Much as Dexter Morgan is the serial killer who kills serial killers, so is the Sole Survivor a Raider who kills Raiders. Sometimes, this is in self-defense but just as often, the protagonists seek out Raider Dens so they can be slaughtered for caps or goods.
    Certainly, when fired upon, the instinct of the gamer is to send his or her character barging in to slaughter their attackers rather than retreat. That is the nature of the game and one of the criticisms who favored pacifist playthroughs in the original game. Even the saintliest Sole Survivor is a mercenary for one faction or the other and ends up attacking locations where children live (The Prydwen or Institute).

    Still, none of the three gangs of Nuka World share the Sole Survivor's scruples. Missions for them can involve murder and mayhem depending on how you choose to play them. You will be offered missions which could very well turn whole towns against you. However, it is interesting to note you can actually play the entirety of the game without hurting any innocents. You can refuse Radiant quests to harm the innocent and only take the ones against groups you are enemies with like Super Mutants, Gunners, or (in my case) the Brotherhood of Steel. You can also buy the land and crops which will sustain the settlements which are necessary to keep your new kingdom in Nuka World going.

Maybe you can free them as Overboss. Eventually.
    But why would the Sole Survivor do this? Why would they not simply massacre every single one of the Raiders in Nuka World and liberate the enslaved traders therein? Well, the answer may well be they're trying NOT to act like a Raider. As Overboss, the Sole Survivor can potentially blunt or redirect the Raiders underneath him as well as achieve peace.

    They don't have to sentence all of the gangs to execution like Judge Dredd. By providing the Nuka World Raiders with the various theme park zones to loot or use as they see fit as well as settlements to keep them happy in chems, they can actually avoid simply eradicating them. You can avoid war never changing by introducing something foreign to the setting: peace and compromise. It's Gray and Gray Morality because you're capitulating to scumbags. None of the Nuka World Raiders is a model of good citizenship with Gage probably the nicest one of the bunch and he's a ruthless killer. Nevertheless, governments in real life make these kind of deals all the time.

The Pack are neither good nor evil. Just animals.
    The Raiders can also be used as a force against the other Raiders, Gunners, Super Mutants, and enemy factions in the setting. The Minutemen are grossly outgunned and even if you're backing them up with a major faction like the Institute or Brotherhood, its destined to be a bloody slog. The Radiant quests show the Nuka World Raiders aren't afraid of fighting any of them, though, and can be bodies on the ground for retaking the Commonwealth.

    As long as they're paid. Indeed, while their leaders are all monsters, the average Raider is simple in his wants and desires. They want to be fed and have lots of chems. With Nuka World and their settlements, they have the Commonwealth version of the sweet life. Even so, you're not going to be able to make peace with all of the Raiders and one third of their ranks will end up being slaughtered by you anyway. If one were going for the least malevolent option, it would be best to have the Pack and Operators as your allies while the Disciples are your enemies. At least then you avoid having serial killers in your employ.

You killed him and took his stuff.
     All of this would be pure speculation on my part if not for the fact this is a valid route detailed in the DLC with your Sole Survivor entirely capable of putting down or nay-saying the more violent quests of their allies. They can acquire territory with words or caps. You can be the peace-maker and the negotiator of the Raiders rather than the brute.

    You can get away with it, too, because the Raiders aren't animals and mostly just want to enjoy wealth and drugs like most criminals. You can also be less than morally ambiguous and just murder or intimidate the Commonwealth's settlements into compliance. You have the option of being evil in Nuka World but what is "good" is very nebulous as another pile of bodies is a questionable triumph for justice--even when it's as odious as a group as the one you're now in-charge of.

    Interestingly, the theme of making peace and compromises is one which is carried throughout each of the Zones. In Kiddie Kingdom, the best case scenario is to convince Oswald and his army of ghouls to move on so you can take over. You take over his land which he is bothering no one on, in order to give to Raiders but ultimately do him a favor. Dry Rock Gulch is a place where the robots are willing, even desperate, to serve as long as you play to their biases. Cito the Ape-Man can be convinced to share his territory with the Raiders, which works out fine because Cito is a hardass who won't have a problem keeping the Raiders in line. It'll also allow him regular human contact for the first time in decades. Galactic Zone? Okay, there's nothing wrong with Galactic Zone but some malfunctioning robots but diplomacy is still the preferred way of getting things done in this game.

Peace means Oswald has to give up his home.
     There's a price for your actions if you choose to play peacemaker just like making a treaty with the Brotherhood of Steel and NCR results in the firing of Ambassador Dennis Crocker. In this case, while the Minutemen might be willing to go along with a General who has decided to cede territory to Raiders (since they'd otherwise not exist without him), idealistic Preston Garvey loses all trust in his closest friend. The kind of realpolitic of making peace with monsters is unforgivable even at its softest. You lose him as a Companion and from then on, he is merely a cold business associate.

    The question is why would you want to? Why go to all this trouble for the bandits of Nuka World when you've killed so many for less? For me, I think it's a good roleplaying opportunity. I didn't play the Minutemen or Railroad ending because I thought the grayness of Fallout 4's main quest demanded a more cynical ending. It's why I went with the "cover-up" ending of Far Harbor. The Sole Survivor bends over backwards for these Raiders simply because he doesn't HAVE to kill them like so many others. A peace treaty between Nuka World, the Institute, and the Minutemen in my gameworld is an ugly uncertain thing but it's perhaps the best the Sole Survivor could manage. Who am I to gainsay them after they've suffered so much?

What would Cappy? Kill everyone, probably.
      Then again, perhaps the best option for Nuka World is to simply slaughter all of the Raiders and give back the territory to their victims. Nuka World will remain a mostly-hostile place full of monsters and horrors but you can, at least, turn the power back on. The Commonwealth will remain a safer place in the objective sense even if you don't have Raiders at your back to help you against the threats which assail it. Perhaps peace and keeping your followers happy comes at too high a price. Certainly, Preston Garvey agrees with the belief the Nuka Worlders deserve nothing but death and if you meet him after you've joined them then he will only become your friend if you turn on your brethren to slaughter them.

    Despite my words, Nuka World is not set up to be an ambiguous situation. The Raiders are awful people, through and through, while the traders are noble victims who do nothing wrong except under extreme duress. Even Harvey lures you to your doom only because he's witnessed the murder of friends. Yet, after playing a game of slaughtering hundreds if not thousands of people, I couldn't help but wonder at the fact Nuka World is the only time I can actually find a peaceful solution.
[QUOTE="CerberusGate, post: 4181982, member: 97288"]I don't as well; he's not devolved into Someguy's level of facetious trolling (i.e brings up a point and devolves into childish insults not offensive enough to be banned while defending said point) and has remained mostly reasonable in his posts though he admittedly slipped up (but at least has the decency to apologise for said slip ups).[/QUOTE]

I am sorry for some of the things I've said today. I really posted all night and day so I guess I had a LOT of pent-up passion from when the Bethesda forums moved.
[QUOTE="CerberusGate, post: 4181982, member: 97288"]I don't as well; he's not devolved into Someguy's level of facetious trolling (i.e brings up a point and devolves into childish insults not offensive enough to be banned while defending said point) and has remained mostly reasonable in his posts though he admittedly slipped up (but at least has the decency to apologise for said slip ups).[/QUOTE]

I am sorry for some of the things I've said today. I really posted all night and day so I guess I had a LOT of pent-up passion from when the Bethesda forums moved.


  1. I wouldn't say BoS or Institute are even morally neutral. Remember the Institute has kidnapped, murdered, and has a combination KGB/Slave Catchers as part of their inner circle. If you wander around the Institute you outright overhear a courser threaten a synth with a memory wipe for being curious. They are only willfully ignorant of the advanced synths sentience.

    The BoS has committed and will commit genocide against non-feral ghouls if they win. Under Maxson they see anything other than human as something to be exterminated which is a far cry from the West coast that worked with Super Mutants before.

    About the Minuteman and Railroad attacking the Prydwin? The BoS attacks first in both scenarios, incredibly stupidly in the Minutemen case as the Prydwin is well within artillery range. The Railroad and Minuteman just responded by cutting the head off the snake.

    1. I generally note the Institute's evil deeds are done by a small oligarchy of individuals who control the organization through webs of lies and deceit. No one knows about the Super Mutant experiments but Father and Virgil for example. Also, a lot of their darker deeds were done by Kellog and couched in harhs language. The citizens of the Institute are happy when you stop the Raider Synth and talk about how they wish they could help humanity above.

      The BOS are against nonhumans and shoot at non-Feral Ghouls under Elder Lyons but they never actually get to killing intelligent ghouls in the setting. Their distaste for Synths as a danger to humanity is pure B.S. but the Institute, itself, is a threat. Cut content would have also allowed Danse to overthrow Maxson.

      Just my .02.

    2. Considering that absolutely no one says that the Eastern chapter is killing non-feral ghouls, and characters like Kells and reprogrammed PAM specify ferals as a threat (and not all ghouls), I'm not sure why you think the Brotherhood of Steel is killing regular ghouls. Even their critics don't make such claims, and they don't do anything about places like Goodneighbor or the Slog.

      As for the Railroad, Kells' terminal entry references that the Railroad has been hampering their operations, so we really don't know who struck first. The whole point of the schism between the Brotherhood of Steel and the Railroad is that you have two ideologically opposed factions, and you have to kill people who aren't evil in order to progress with your goal.

      Furthermore, they only attack the Minutemen if you've allied with the Institute - the very group they came to the Commonwealth to stop.

    3. Talk to Hancock if you destroy the Brotherhood of Steel and he'll say he's glad you destroyed the BoS because "They'll not be cleansing anyone else now."

  2. There is no "peaceful" solution for Nuka World. People are going to die. It is the nature of the world, kill-or-be-killed.

    My SS this play through has been a coalition builder, a real paragon of virtue as it were. Ran through the Gauntlet to try to rescue Harvey's friends... Accepted leadership of the NW Raiders to try to guide them away from being Raiders, but that's clearly not going to work once Home Sweet Home starts.

    So the Raiders are going to die.






    Because they are a clear and present danger to everyone trying to live peacefully in my post-Institute Commonwealth. If they (the Raiders) could learn to live in peace, or set their sites somewhere else, I might've decided to let them live. But that is not their way, and so the threat to my people, humans, ghouls and synths, will be eliminated.

    Because war... war never changes. :-)

    1. A perfectly valid playthrough and good role-playing opportunity. In the end, I was willing to buy the land and goods needed for my Raiders but really they overstepped their bounds.

    2. I needed this. Thanks.

      When I capture Nuka World, that was one thing. Then they wanted me to give then my settlements? They took it too far with that. They'll never be satisfied.

      Going to kill them all when I finish all of the quests.

  3. So I gave up on Fallout 4 because I hated the plot, dialogue and lack of choice, but after hearing about Nuka World, I have to ask, doesn't siding with the raiders of the park break the game since logically the other factions wouldn't want to associate themselves with Sole Survivor after aligning with them. Or does only Preston notice?

    1. Only Preston notices and you can't use the Raiders to defeat the Institute. Of course, the Brotherhood and Institute aren't really concerned about the Commonwealth's peasantry.


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