Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The Player and The Pitt

A.K.A. delicious moral ambiguity time.

As you might have guessed from some of my comments last week, I've been playing Fallout 3 a lot lately. I've been enjoying the game quite a lot thus far, perhaps in spite of the fact that I've been wandering around a hell of a lot more than I've actually been playing the main quest line that furthers the story. It is in part due to these wanderings though, that I came across another one of the additions that the DLC made to the game: specifically The Pitt from the DLC of the same name.

The Pitt isn't an extremely large piece of DLC, in fact it's only really three missions. However, while I wouldn't say that the writing in Fallout 3 is great -- certainly not bad, but there's been better -- I do have to admit that I was actually surprised by how the small self-enclosed story behind this offering played out.

A warning. This following discussion does contain spoilers for The Pitt DLC portion of Fallout 3. If for whatever reason you haven't played it yet (who am I to judge, after all?) then be advised that I will be talking about pretty much the whole thing here.

With that out of the way. The Pitt starts off with you getting a message over your Pip-Boy radio calling for assistance. Following the signal you wind up finding a man named Wernher, who tells you that the place where he came from is in dire need of some help. The Pitt has been under the thumb of raiders, and people have to deal with conditions that are by some grim circumstance even worse than the ones present in most of the Fallout universe already. People are being oppressed, used for slave labour, and eventually even turning into mindless horrors due to the continued exposure to radiation and the toxins in the area.

It all seems so straight forward. You're going to have to go in and play hero, and there's really nothing more to it than that. Or so it seems. See, one of the main catalysts for Wernher seeking outside help is the fact that the boss of the raiders, Ashur, has said to have developed a cure for the disabling sickness that afflicts a majority of the workers and slaves in the Pitt. It's your ultimate job to make your way to Ashur, find the cure, and take it so that it can be distributed to the people.

Everything seems to be going fine. You get captured (something that everyone expected to happen) and after doing some menial labour and engaging in some pit fights you earn your freedom and an audience with Ashur. However, upon speaking to the lord of the Pitt, it becomes apparent that while he by no means has clean hands in all of this, he's also not a monster. He implies that before he arrived in the Pitt that conditions where much worse, and that despite of having to resort to methods like dictatorship and slavery that he wants to help those that he found here. That's why the cure is so important to both him and his wife. Well, of course, that's not the only reason the cure is so important.

It could also have to do with the fact that the cure is their baby daughter, Marie.

You find out that Marie, the daughter of Ashur and Sandra -- a scientist working on ways to stop and reverse the mutations found in the Pitt -- is both naturally resistant to radiation, and also completely immune to any kinds of mutation. The research on the cure has been slow going, because neither parent wants to harm the child. Wernher knew going in that he was sending you to steal a baby, and decided that you'd be better off not knowing. Ashur knows that you're part of his former right hand man's -- another fact Wernher decided you'd be better off not knowing -- plan to try and and usurp him, but he believes that once you learn about the exact nature of the cure, that you'd see his side.

And this is where the beauty of this small plot comes in.

Fallout 3, like all the previous games, has a karma meter. You can get good and bad karma. But the thing about either choice you make in The Pitt is that neither one will get you any amount of either. Both choices have their consequences. If you side with Ashur then a lot of slaves are going to remain as such, with the hope of a cure still years off. And if you side with Wernher, then that means taking a child from her loving parents and perhaps putting her in a dangerous situation (after all, valuable as she is, it's doubtful that Wernher cares about her beyond said value as a potential cure). You can go either way, and the game neither lauds nor scolds you for either choice.

To me, whether or not the creation of this situation was intended is somewhat besides the point. In any other game and even in other areas of Fallout itself this would have been a straight up good/evil dichotomy. Ashur would have been a complete asshole, and Wernher a noble and gracious rebel leader. The fact that they were both significantly greyer than that made me enjoy the scenario that much more, but also made me long for more of the same in other games.

People want proof that games can grow up. I think that in a small way, this is definitely one such proof. Perhaps Spec Ops: The Line is a more fully realized rendition of some of the same sentiments being alluded to here, but in either case, good job and all that, Bethesda. You actually made me think about some of the consequences of my actions in game without hammering my head over whether they were good or evil.

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