Fallout 4 never leaves the player alone, and that's a problem

Fallout 4 companions

It takes no more than two minutes of wandering the wasteland before you bump into Codsworth, your old friend and servant from before the war… which come to think of it was only a few minutes ago. Not long after inviting Codsworth to join you, you’ll stumble into Dogmeat, immediately forcing you to abandon your charming robot butler for a loyal pooch. Journey down the road a bit further and you’ll meet Preston Garvey - who, in turn, will point you towards Piper Wright. Another few minutes and you’re wandering the wasteland with a wisecracking synth called Nick Valentine.

For more Fallout 4 opinion pieces, check out Jeremy’s thoughts on the problematic intro.

Exploring the Commonwealth on your own comprises of emerging from Vault 111 and running down a hill. Everything thereafter is done in the company of your fellow man/robot/dog/mutant, which sort of spoils the whole ‘end-of-the-world’ vibe Bethesda work so hard to cultivate elsewhere in the game.

Fallout 4 companions

The game’s 13 potential companions all have stories to uncover and uses that go far beyond lugging around all the crap you’ve accumulated on your travels. They’re fully-fledged characters, not just NPCs you can order around, which is why exposing players to five of them within the first hour of gameplay is nothing short of overkill.

It’s impossible to glean the sense of solitude and isolation that Fallout 4’s setting should entail when you’re constantly having to to acquaint yourself with new characters in order to progress through the game’s main quest. The noise of that first hour ensures you’ve been exposed to so many potential companions that the notion of exploring the game solo seems totally counterintuitive.

After a while, when the constant presence of an NPC nattering away in your ear grows tiresome, you realise that it’s not going to be easy getting rid of them. Because of their outrageous list of likes and dislikes, you’ve practically built your entire character around appeasing your wasteland chums: you’ve stopped killing innocents, ceased all drug use and started lockpicking everything in sight because it makes Piper go all gooey-eyed for you - which is pretty weird come to think of it; I mean, they’re just locks Piper. Oh, and don’t even think about getting naked in front of X6-88, it disgusts him.

Fallout 4 companions

In return for this bizarre level of commitment, you get someone who’ll gladly run through a minefield to save you, carry all your spare junk and gives you a unique perk if you behave yourself around them. So why would you even consider venturing out into the wastes without one of them by your side?

While it’s not easy to sell, loneliness is a key part of what makes the Fallout universe so compelling. Making your first foray into Fallout 3’s Capital Wasteland is about as suffocating as gaming gets, ejecting you unceremoniously from the safety of Vault 101 into a dank, grey world where everything in sight is either demolished, lifeless or inhabited by Raiders. Even friendly faces aren’t to be trusted, as a trip to cannibal-infested Andale quickly confirms.

If you manage to miss Megaton on your way out of Vault 101, you’ll spend hours simply looking for another non-hostile NPC. Every town is a miniscule fortification, separated from potential aid by miles of nothingness: empty homes, dead forests and crumbling freeways are all you’ll have for guidance. Fallout 3 is a game about wandering and loneliness, which is fitting given the player character’s name: Lone Wanderer.

Fallout 3 wasteland

While not particularly fun, loneliness is gripping. Expelled from the only people your character has ever known, you enter a cold, unforgiving world - there’s nobody by your side, and few that will welcome you into their community. It’s an emotional connection that few other games provide, offering a glimmer of hopelessness and misery that helps make the game’s world that bit more believable.

Fallout 3 doesn’t hand the player a companion until they meet Fawkes towards the end of the game’s main quest; others are available from the start, but finding and acquiring them is entirely player-driven. You can’t romance them either, and their preferences adhere to the game’s straightforward Karma system, which makes keeping a companion on your side easy. They’re glorified, combat-ready pack mules: any additional characterisation is the player’s prerogative. 

A few hours into Fallout 4 and Preston Garvey - apparently delighted by my virtue in such a hostile world - is madly in love with me. Curious to see what new paths this romance might unlock for me, I sleep with him, and now he won’t stop calling me “babe”. If this was a regular NPC confined to some tavern in a far-flung corner of the Commonwealth then I might be able to put up with it, but this man never leaves my side. Never. Even if I order him away he’ll end up at one of my settlements and continue to harass me whenever I return. I’d kill him… if the game would let me.

Of course there is a choice to all of this, you could opt out of companions altogether and enjoy the eerie peace of the Commonwealth on your lonesome. You’ll find combat a little tougher, inventory management frustrating, and dialogue with the Commonwealth’s other denizens a little less dynamic, which, collectively, is quite a high price to pay for a little peace and quiet.

Preston Garvey babe

Because of how quickly and forcefully Bethesda introduce companions in Fallout 4, playing the game without them feels like an enormous handicap. You can’t go mad collecting bits of circuitry, aluminium cans and bags of precious cement in order to develop your settlements, can’t rely on your ally to distract an Alpha Deathclaw while you scramble into cover, and you always feel like you’re missing out on some scripted quip or access to one of their unique quests.

Companions are much more than sidekicks in Fallout 4, they’re… well, they’re proper companions, and while that’s worth celebrating, it also marks a tonal shift in the franchise. Fallout 4 ensures there’s always someone by your side, an essential, utilitarian presence that shapes the way you experience the world around you, proffering an opinion on pretty much everything you do.

Previous Fallout games tethered the player directly to the world, letting them make it their own, perceive it through their own moral compass and shape it by their decisions. Fallout 4 never lets the player have that one-to-one connection to its world, everything is lensed through a faction or companion, and as a result it never feels personal or believable.

Disagree and think Fallout 4's companions are the best thing Sugar Bombs? Let us know in the comments below.

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Pseudonym avatarcorrosivechains avatarfonzi544 avatarTovias avatarbventon avatarDarksx avatar+3
Pseudonym Avatar
35
Pseudonym(3 days 2 hours played)
1 Year ago

Dogmeat doesn't judge you. Who else would you need?

2
corrosivechains Avatar
5
1 Year ago

While I do agree that Fallout 4 bombards you with potential companions way too quickly, I disagree a bit with the premise as to why you are against it. One of the harshest criticisms Fallout 3 received was how unrealisticly bleak it was considering it was 200 years after the bombs dropped. Fallout 4/Boston is going through a reconstructionist era and I do feel like that's one thing the game nailed. There are lots of faults and inconsistencies with the story, but the lack of bleak loneliness isn't one of them.

2
fonzi544 Avatar
3
1 Year ago

My character is built to play solo. I dismissed any potential companions right away. Problem solved.

1
Darksx Avatar
116
1 Year ago

And that's the beauty about the game and many others when you have a choice to either take them with you or not. I don't see why this needed to be an issue with anyone. That's why games should always present the player with options. Its never a bad thing to have to many options available.

1
Tovias Avatar
1025
1 Year ago

ADA and Dogmeat are god tier companions, anyone else is an obnoxious opinated moron, my hate for Preston burns brighter each playthrought

1
bventon Avatar
1
1 Year ago

I think this is just part of what makes the 2 games different. F4 is awesome but 3 was much more engrossing. You can't beat some of the vibes in that game. The first steps out of 101, creeping, terrified through nearby Springvale Highschool with a pistol and 6 rounds. My butt still puckers thinking about the first time I crossed the bridge into the Capitol area and wandered for days in the Subways, getting lost, and the huge sense of relief when I finally emerged near Rivet City. When I'd return to my house in Megaton I'd flip on GNR and then back in the real world of my living room I would have a whiskey and decompress the tension of my most recent excursions. For me, not sure gaming gets better than that.

1
carmichaelsj Avatar
1
1 Year ago

God I loved FO3. For a game that I bought on a whim 2 years after its release, with no expectations or real interest it got me instantly. That first play through, deep in the subway, my characters heart rate audible due to health damage, I had like 5 x 10mm bullets for the pistol and then a ghoul jumped me! That was it, hooked. I played the vanilla version at least10 times differently just to wring the game out. Then the best mod that has ever been created for FO3 lands - FWE. Man I played that version endlessly. That one game gave me 300+ hours of joy. Which is why I was disappointed with 4, it gives you too much early on for doing FA. “Oh you defeated this village, you are now our hero, and spokesman, and we'll endlessly bug you to do stuff for us”. Complete freedom is a commodity in FO4. Beyond that though, its been dumbed down, its all shooting and very little diplomacy. Probably due to the short attention span of the younger players who never knew the pain of 3 lives as a thing.

FO4 is begging for the FWE team to create the definitive better version.

1
Nomeka Avatar
3
9 Months ago

Well, I mean, you have a few perks that makes travelling alone very good. The Lone Wanderer perk makes you do more damage, carry mroe stuff, and have higher defenses withotu a companion. And it remains in effect if you have Dogmeat with you, so you have the additional benefit of his own special perks, one of which further reduces damage you take, and he can still hold all your junk.

That being said, I've never actually played with Dogmeat because I like the personalities and quips of the characters. Makes me feel like I'm playing with a friend. I want multiplayer D=

1
Kerik717 Avatar
2
6 Months ago

Actually, it makes sense to me that there is safety in numbers and few would want to wander around solo (from a realistic post-apocalyptic point of view). When I've encountered NPCs with different values than mine, I would dismiss them to find ones who were more agreeable to my style (much like I choose real-life friends).

Characters falling in-love quickly probably isn't that unrealistic in such a world either since there are slim pickings and the need to form tight bonds for trust and companionship.

Last, but not least, it's all up to you to choose such things.

1