When doing some digging regarding Fallout 4, I came across many gamers of past Fallout games who were miffed by the lack of a karma system in the newest game of the series. The Karma system in these games was affected by almost every action done by the player, as good acts cause positive changes, while negative acts invoke negative changes. In his article written about the game series in 2009, prior to Fallout 4’s release, “Moral Decision Making in Fallout”, Marcus Schulzke claims “the Fallout series is unique in giving players an open world in which they can make genuine moral choices. Moral dilemmas are not presented for passive contemplation – they are an integral part of gameplay”(Schulzke).
And having now played Fallout 4 for a significant time, I feel this feature gets lost. Schulzke talks about how Fallout 3’s lack of a moral code is a strength of the game, promoting immersion in the same way that a person is not bound to any particular moral code(Schulzke). In this sense, the game can be played however the operator wants to play it. Whether he wants to blow
up every town and become a “Devil” or save the world and become a “Messiah” (Devil and Messiah, titles bestowed by the game depending on a player’s level and karma, are the highest evil and good titles that one can receive), the choice can be made freely, and the game will adapt around your choices, allowing the player an individual path through the narrative that is influenced by their choices. But this choice is absent in Fallout 4, and instead there is a system where the main character gets “Affinity” depending on how his companions respond to his decisions. Similar, but also very different. And while this is interesting, I would’ve much rather played Fallout 3 and had the karma.
Perhaps Bethesda listened to criticism regarding the game’s lack of morals imposed on a character and decided to invoke a moral code. However, making important NPC’s invincible, or forcing certain important quests and factions upon the player regardless of their choices goes against the fabric of the series, causing a seismic shift in how free the player really is within the game.
Schulzke, Marcus. “Moral Decision Making in Fallout.” Game Studies9.2 (2009): n. pag. Gamestudies.org. Web.