What does it mean to be evil?
Google tells me it means “profoundly immoral and malevolent.” This is an important definition because morality is objective. What is evil to one person may not be evil to another. Why do I bring this up? Mostly because I started playing Fallout 4 again and while I think its a masterpiece of moral grey areas, others seem to have a hard time understanding the simple narrative and prefer the usual complaint of “I can’t choose to kill everyone, therefore I can’t be an evil character.” They go on to blame lazy writing, casual players ruining the franchise, and the IP being in the hands of the wrong development team (among other things, look at a YouTube comment section and you’ll see what I mean).
Could it be, though, that Bethesda is presenting you the ultimate type of story arch? The one in which the hero/villain is not clearly defined? George R. R. Martin takes this concept to soaring heights in Game of Thrones, ensuring that the heroes and villains are pretty much all grey and he is lauded for it. Bethesda does it and gets crap for it. I suppose without a karma meter it can be difficult to know if what you are doing it wrong, huh? Like murder.
Fallout 4, in my opinion, is reaching for a higher mark. Gone are the days of simply enslaving Wasteland survivors. Now we must ask a serious question, one that has far too important implications: How do I feel about artificial intelligence?
(And by extension: How human do you have to be to be considered human? Is AI life valuable? Is it even life? Do synths have rights? Do they have the right to exist at all? If they are indistinguishable from human and express all ranges of emotion, are they really just machines? If some synths do bad things, should we destroy them all? What if some are genuinely good? Should we distinguish between synths and humans at all times or just let it be? Do they deserve saving or eradication?)
This question defines your character in the game and when presented with the four factions, you must choose which prevails. (Spoilers from here on, btw.) You could choose to side with the Brotherhood of Steel who seek to destroy all synths and impose their military might and technology on the Commonwealth. You could join the Institute and your son, who are known as the boogeymen of the Commonwealth because they kidnap people and replace them with synths, acting upon the land like an experiment, guised as an attempt to somehow aid mankind. The Railroad seems like a good choice because they free synths from a life of slavery, but the ends always justify the means and they don’t care who they hurt in the process. The Minutemen on the other hand seem a bit like the good guys, desiring a rebuilt Commonwealth and destruction of the Institute. Though they seem unconcerned about the actions of the Railroad.
All of these choices are right and wrong! That’s the beauty of this. I’ve seen so many comments about how the factions suck and there’s no good/bad. And if you fall into this camp, perhaps try talking about the game with a friend. Ask them what they would do for real, not as a video game character, but if it were a real decision they were faced with. The answer might surprise you. And if you don’t have a friend, here’s what I’d do. I would fall in line with the Minutemen because my morals align with theirs for the most part. If I wanted to pick an evil option, it would be the Institute. I can’t get past their kidnapping people in the night. I believe the Brotherhood of Steel has good intentions, but are terrible at public relations, and I don’t agree with their policy of destroying all synths. The Railroad has a good message of freedom and liberty for synths, something I can get behind, but I’m not willing to kill innocent/uninvolved people in order to get there.
Like George R. R. “I kill everyone you love” Martin, I agree that the villain of the story if only the hero for the other side. Yes, Fallout 4 is less of a sandbox than the other Fallout games, but it isn’t just a good/evil apocalypse simulator. Its calling on you to consider far more philosophical questions with no right or wrong answers.