Even though I was a little late to the initial release date, I can happily say that 57 levels and a month and a half after buying it, I’ve finally finished Fallout 4. I have to say that Bethesda really out-did themselves with this one in terms of graphics and intelligent changes to the game’s mechanics, taking the good parts of Fallout 3 and New Vegas and mixing it together with Skyrim’s simplified RPG approach. While I do admit that the ending left a little to be desired, everything in the story leading up to it was fantastic; changing up the usual Bethesda story goal of saving the world by instead giving the player character the more personal goal of finding their lost son, no matter what it took to do it.
So now while I wait for the Far Harbour DLC to be released next month to dive back into the world of the Commonwealth, I feel like now is a perfect time to answer a question given to us by a reader a couple of weeks ago about how the game introduced the player to use of companions.
Before we get into this one, I feel like I should avoid the possibility of an angry mob ringing my doorbell by pointing out that I may be going into spoiler territory for the identities of the game’s companions, as well as the first story missions up until the end of the “Reunions” quest. So if you haven’t played the game yet or haven’t reached that point in the story, this has been your warning and reminder that your self-control is your business. With that out of the way, back to our reader’s question.
This reader had told me that he felt as though starting the game off by having the story force the player to meet the fairly uninteresting companions Codsworth and Preston Garvey ruined his motivation to use the companions until much later into his game. As a result, for a large portion of the game, he would either be by himself or would simply take the dog companion, Dogmeat, along if he ever felt like he wanted some in-game company. He believed that if he met the game’s more interesting companion characters, such as the robotic gumshoe dick Nick Valentine, earlier on in the story, rather than at the very least four hours into it, he would have been a lot more open to using companions much sooner than he actually did.
This led to him asking us if we felt that Fallout 4 had messed up the introduction of the new companion-based moral system by having the story either force players to experience it via the objectively least interesting companion characters or not experience it at all by either exploring the world alone or with a dog.
Honestly, I can see where his issue with the introduction of the companion system comes from. The game sells the use of companions as a way to get new perks and expand the game’s story and world. They react to what you and other characters say and do based on their personal beliefs and they all have various reactions to what happens in the game’s world, including seeing a creepy looking mansion.
Or chatting it up with a cockney robot bartender.
But in my personal playthrough, it took me until I was about level 30 before I decided to bring along one of the seven companions I had picked up over my adventures in the Commonwealth for the very same reasons as this reader. Up until that point I was using Dogmeat because a) I loved how amazingly well animated he was, b) he didn’t give two shits what I was doing in the game, good or bad, and c) he would almost always find an item or container I had missed in areas I was looting. Of course, the major downside to having him around was that he was almost completely useless in combat and a major liability in stealth scenarios unless he was told to stay put somewhere far away from the enemies I was hiding from. But, it was a better alternative to bringing along the annoying British robot that got grumpy at me for dropping things to stop myself being over encumbered or dealing with Preston McBlandybland, who kept relentlessly filling my quest log with repetitive quests that would never go away.
However, after 30 levels and an amount of gameplay hours that would be too depressing for me to check, curiosity got the better of me and I decided to give the spunky investigative reporter, Piper, a try as my companion. And after that point, I was completely hooked on idea of bringing along as any companions as I could find. Suddenly I was being accompanied by characters that had actual character, backstories, personal issues and aspirations. It felt like I was slowly gaining their trust through the things I did around them and, through a listening ear, advice I had given them, and the occasional given quest, I helped them either solve their problems or open their eyes up to a new way of thinking about their world. Not to mention that when I reached their maximum companionship level, they were able to give me some pretty interesting perks that, for the most-part, benefitted my play-style.
Looking back on my experience with Fallout 4, I do find myself agreeing with the idea that if the more interesting companion characters were introduced in the story a lot sooner, I too would have been using them much earlier in the game than I did. But I don’t necessarily think that it was a mistake to have these companion characters be the first ones the player is meant to interact with.
I think it’s safe to say that, besides one or two cases, Bethesda has never been very good at implementing player companions in their games until Fallout 4. For the most part, I’ve felt as though they were always just one-note forgettable characters that served the purpose of being walking containers that could hold your things while also putting in an extra bit of damage against enemies until they eventually died. From my game of Skyrim, I can tell you I had two companions that I completely forgot the names of almost instantly after getting them; both of which died with no sense of loss tied to them. And the only exception to Bethesda’s track record with companions in my opinion is the super mutant Fawkes, found late into the Fallout 3 storyline. He was an interesting character to interact with because, unlike the violent and low-intelligence race he belongs to, he’s a well-spoken and intelligent character who is trying to become civilised; regretting when he regresses to outbursts of rage in combat and stating he needs to control himself better. He felt tortured by what he was, but also hopeful for what he could become. Hell, when Bethesda finally made a patch for it, Fawkes played a huge part in the most intelligent option the player could choose to solve the problem posed by the ending in Fallout 3.
So when we cut Fallout 4, we find that all of the companions the player can take with them on their journey across the game’s world have backstories, faction alliances and are given easily identifiable personality traits that give the player a general idea of what they like and dislike. But they also introduce the player to the story’s various issues and morals of each faction. This is probably because Bethesda didn’t want to repeat what Skyrim did in its opening sequence and present the player with a slow carriage ride full of words, terms and concepts the player knows absolutely nothing about, as explained here by the guys at Extra Credits.
The player needs an adequate amount of time to get used to the world they’ve been dropped into. So rather than starting off the story with a character explaining everything to the player in the first 30 minutes of the game about the various factions, cults, belief systems and issues that are currently dividing the commonwealth, the game takes an intelligently slow and steady approach using these first companion characters. Much like the main character, the player is slowly acclimated to the world they’re put into via what I would like to call a “Story Tutorial”. It starts off by giving the player a short path to the character’s neighbourhood to show the player that the old world of the past has been destroyed. But after the re-introduction of the character’s servant robot, Codsworth, the player gets the idea that robots and other people have survived the post-nuclear apocalypse. The next objective sends the player to find other humans, which in turn leads them to finding and assisting Preston Garvey and his group in escaping an attack from raiders, an enemy faction that the player is also introduced to through this objective; suggesting there may be other enemy factions to deal with later in the game. Finally, the “Story Tutorial” ends with Preston introducing his faction, the Minutemen, stating what they do, their beliefs and their current standing in the Commonwealth, which in turn leads the player to understand that there are other factions that they will encounter throughout the story. And from there, the player is able to roam the wasteland with a much better understanding of what they can expect to encounter during the course of the game as the story expands.
Also, considering that the moral system has changed considerably from Fallout 3’s karma system to one based more on the likes and dislikes of your companions reacting to what you do, these early companions act as a good way to introduce fans and series newcomers to the new mechanic. By giving the introduction companion characters little personality and very easily understandable likes and dislikes, the player can get an easy grasp on how the system works. The player understands that Preston and Codsworth like the player being a good person, so obviously being an asshole towards NPCs will get a negative reaction from them. Dialogue-wise, the player also learns from Codsworth that companions appreciate you speaking highly of certain things, as seen when he likes the player reminiscing about the main character’s family. Finally, the player is able to understand from these two characters that specific actions can raise a companions affinity, as seen when Preston and Codsworth like the player modifying and upgrading weapons and armour, something that is necessary for the player to do early on in the game to have an easier time reaching the areas that contain other story-introduced companions such as the previously mentioned Piper and Nick Valentine.
It’s important to remember that a player’s like and dislike of companion characters is up to a matter of opinion, regardless of their mechanical importance. I’m sure that there are players out there who love companions I don’t like at all, like Codsworth and Preston, just as there are ones who aren’t fans of companions I speak highly of, like Nick and Piper. But I think we can all agree that at the end of the day that squabbles over a game’s companion characters are pointless when you just take along a German Shepard that can wear goggles, a chain collar and a sick set of custom made dog armour.
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