I need to break Fallout 4 to finish it.
Last night, 91 hours into the PlayStation 4 version of Bethesda's post-apocalyptic open-world adventure, I ran into a bug that prevents me from completing the main quest. I'm angry. But, more importantly, I'm disappointed.
FALLOUT 4 STORY SPOILERS AHEAD.
Fallout 4 features four factions: the Minutemen, the Railroad, the Brotherhood of Steel and the Institute. You can join them all, but at one point the game forces you to make a decision. I knew this was coming - as you play Fallout 4 it becomes pretty obvious. But I wanted to put the decision off for as long as possible, in part because I hadn't decided who to align with, and in part because I wanted to see whether the game would reflect my indecision through dialogue and quest design.
I had worked my way through the Brotherhood of Steel's quest line to the point where they asked me to destroy the Railroad. There I left the Power Armour-wearing techno-zealots, and off to the Institute I went to flesh out the underground-living synth-creators' story. As expected, eventually, Father ordered me to destroy the Railroad and murder its leader, Desdemona.
Off to the Railroad I trotted. There, Brotherhood of Steel soldiers were scrapping with Railroad agents. Both factions were already flagged as hostile, so, like so much of Fallout 4, all that was required was to kill everyone. So I did, making my way through The Old North Church toward the wall that leads to the Railroad's secret hideout.
Let's go back a bit. You actually first meet the Railroad earlier in the game, during a quest called Road to Freedom. Here, you explore the Old North Church on the hunt for the Railroad's secret hideout, but the door to the hideout is locked. You have to solve a rudimentary puzzle that involves spelling out the word Railroad on a rotating lock. Line up the lock to a letter, press the button, next letter, press the button, and so on until the word is complete. The secret door to the Railroad opens and you meet Desdemona and her pals inside. I quite enjoyed doing the odd quest for the Railroad and Deacon, the Railroad agent companion you encounter there. But they didn't capture my attention for long, so I left their quest chain incomplete.
Back in the present, I have fought my way back to this secret door, the Old North Church littered with the corpses of my former chums. But the door is closed, and the puzzle lock is... broken?
Not broken as in, the Railroad had the foresight to smash its secret lock to bits, thus hindering my inevitable advance. No. Broken as in a glitch. Broken as in a bug.
The lock no longer lets me push a button to register a letter, so I can't open the door. A couple of Railroad agents are waiting for me, weapons hot, behind it. I see them as red dots darting about on my mini-map. I hear their dialogue: they hear something, but can't find the source of the noise. That's me, guys. I'm trying to open this bloody door so I can shoot you in the face. A little help?
I had, literally, run into a brick wall.
I spent half an hour trying to blow the bloody doors off. I punched the wall. I chucked grenades at it. I even sprinted at it in the hope I'd burst through the bricks. Defeated and deflated, I turned to Google for help. The mission I'm on, End of the Line, is, apparently, the final mission in the game. I'm so close! And yet so far. And, it seems, I'm not alone.
Google tells me this is a relatively common bug many players have run into (There are a number of videos on YouTube, such as the one below, that highlight the problem). It has to do with the order in which you've completed quests. Previously, I'd triggered a Brotherhood of Steel quest called Tactical Thinking, which charged me with assaulting the Railroad. This would have involved a Brotherhood of Steel soldier blowing the wall up with C4. I subsequently failed Tactical Thinking when I accepted the Mass Fusion quest, which cements your alignment with the Institute and flags the Brotherhood of Steel as an enemy. This, it seems, messes with the virtual brain that keeps Fallout 4 together. It thinks a Brotherhood of Steel agent has to blow up the wall, but this is impossible as I've turned my back on them. Whatever!
What to do? Well, I could load up a previous save and complete Tactical Thinking before taking on Mass Fusion, but that would mean losing hours of progress. No chance. I don't have time for that.
There is a workaround, and it involves glitching through a wall. It's quite silly, really. You wear Power Armour and back your character up against a wall inside the Old North Church, then you spin around while trying to exit your Power Armour. With a bit of luck you glitch through the wall and end up inside the Railroad HQ. It works, but I doubt it's what Bethesda's designers had in mind while creating the climax of the Institute's quest line.
So, I'm faced with the prospect of having to break Fallout 4 in order to finish it. But I refuse. Perhaps I'm being stubborn. Perhaps I'm being pigheaded. I don't care. I refuse to glitch my way through a wall to see the end of what by this point has become a tiresome story as a protest. I am, virtually, sitting down in the street and refusing to budge. I'm pissed off and I will not be moved until Bethesda fixes its shit.
Really, though, I'm just disappointed. I love Bethesda's games. Fallout 3 and Skyrim are two of my favourite games of the last generation - despite their many bugs. Fallout New Vegas - designed by Obsidian and built on Bethesda's game engine - was so good I restarted the game after 50 hours of play and a bug that meant I couldn't leave a room. Last-gen, I was happy to take this kind of rubbish on the chin and soldier through Bethesda's wonderful open worlds because they were worth it. No longer.
With the arrival of the next generation of consoles, I'd hoped this kind of game-breaking crap would be consigned to the past. I'd hoped the power of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One would help developers put an end to critical failures. Every game has bugs, of course. The odd glitch here and there is fine. And some of Fallout 4's are unintentionally hilarious (every now and then a Brahmin finds its way onto my bed in Sanctuary Hills - I've decided to find it charming rather than infuriating). But I draw the line at game-breaking bugs that halt your progress right at the end of the game and after 90 hours of play.
So, really, it's a disappointing case of same old, same old. How disheartening it is to find video game's most embarrassing problems persist alongside increasingly powerful hardware. Imagine getting to the end of a book you've downloaded to your Kindle only to find the final few pages are broken, or getting to the final scene of a movie you're streaming only to find it a pixelated mess? We core gamers know video games are fundamentally different than books and films, and so the comparison is unfair. More often than not we're willing to cut developers some slack when it comes to crippling bugs. But the average person doesn't give two hoots about the way their entertainment is built. And nor should they.
This problem is not the preserve of Bethesda. Many developers are guilty of it. But I hold Bethesda to a higher standard because I'm a huge admirer of the studio's work. Sure, soon enough they'll release some patch that fixes the quest I'm on, but the damage is done. My Fallout 4 story is over. The last page has been torn out of the book, and I'm not sure I can be bothered to piece it back together.
War never changes, Fallout 4 tells us. When it comes to game-breaking bugs, neither do video games.