Friday, September 28, 2018

Fallout 4's Railroad Faction: Why I Side with Them

Maybe someday I’ll write a Fallout rant that isn’t 5+ pages long. You never know. It could happen.

Definitely not today, though.

Fallout 4 allows you to select from 4 separate factions to determine the fate of the post-apocalyptic Commonwealth of Massachusetts. You can choose the Minutemen, which is basically a collaborative military force of the Commonwealth’s farmers and other common populace all pooling their resources to become a self-sufficient and protected series of communities. You can support the Brotherhood of Steel’s east coast chapter, fresh from Fallout 3’s Capital Wasteland. You can side with the Institute, who see the future of mankind in scientific advancement and replacement. Or, you can throw your lot in with the underdogs of the struggle, the Railroad, whose goal is to be the champions of Synths, helping them to live safe, sound, and most importantly, free.

This sounds like a fair number of choices, of course, as many as Fallout: New Vegas offered, and technically it is, but the less ambiguous ethics of Fallout 4’s factions means that, ultimately, it actually becomes a choice between 2 groups, instead of 4. If you’re playing an immoral, evil character, your only options are: A, the Institute, which remorselessly commits atrocities regularly against the people of the Commonwealth and values directionless scientific advancement toward some intangible, undefined ideal of future human perfection over the actual, living human beings working and suffering to make a decent, livable society in the Commonwealth, or B, the Brotherhood of Steel, which has been twisted and ruined by its current leadership, becoming a fanatical military group of bigots who define humanity by specific genetic conditions rather than valuing self-aware intelligence and empathy wherever it may be found.* And if you’re playing as a character who is not a complete asswipe, your choice is between the Minutemen and the Railroad.

Comparing the Minutemen and the Railroad, the choice seems simple enough. While it’s clear that the Railroad has a noble cause in standing up for the Synths’ freedom and wellbeing, as any organization trying to assist slaves and the downtrodden is noble, the Minutemen, pound for pound, accomplish the greater good with their cause. The Minutemen provide protection and stability to the entire region’s otherwise vulnerable settlers, farmers, and traders. They help establish and build settlements, they directly oppose hostile elements that prey on the weak like raiders and super mutants, they send armed patrols through the Commonwealth, they establish trade routes and lines of communication between settlements, and they jump to assist towns and settlements even outside of the ones who have agreed to be a part of their alliance. Well, okay, you do a lot of that stuff yourself as the protagonist, but, y’know, the idea is that the Minutemen as a whole are doing that. They oppose the Institute because it threatens the entirety of the Massachusetts populace. In essence, the Minutemen are helping pretty much everyone, by default including what Synths the Railroad has freed and established in the Commonwealth, and on top of that, they’re establishing an overall society from which higher levels of safe civilization can emerge and prosper.

The Railroad, on the other hand, just frees a very specific group of people** from slavery, and tries to keep them safe. They oppose the Institute specifically because it enslaves those people, not necessarily because it’s evil overall. Agan, this unequivocally makes the Railroad a morally good cause, and were it just them, the Brotherhood of Steel, and the Institute, there would be absolutely no question which faction was the right one to side with. And to some extent, they’re still laudable even by comparison to the Minutemen, for the people of the Railroad are putting their lives on the line by directly opposing the greatest threat (the Institute) with the least resources to do so. More than that, they are the sole voice and shield for an entire race of oppressed people. Even the Minutemen are at best ambivalent about Synths, so without the efforts of the Railroad, a great number of conscious, feeling, thinking people would be utterly helpless to escape from their enslavers. Though in some ways the Railroad can be criticized for turning its back on the regular people of the Commonwealth (although what exactly people expect this tiny, frugal coalition of mostly non-fighters to do about the grand problems the Commonwealth suffers through is beyond me), in other ways they are more noble than even the Minutemen, for the Minutemen themselves do stand to benefit from their good deeds, while the Railroad’s members risk everything completely selflessly, having nothing to gain personally from helping the Synths who cannot help themselves.

Regardless of whose ideals are truly higher, though, it’s quite clear that the Minutemen do the greatest good for the greatest amount of people. The Railroad performs a service to freedom and morality that the Minutemen do not in freeing and specially safeguarding Synths, but the Minutemen perform many more acts of good that the Railroad does not. So, ultimately, if the issue of deciding which faction to support in Fallout 4 truly was a question of which one was better, I would wholeheartedly advocate choosing the Minutemen as the faction you ally with to take down the Institute and save the Commonwealth. Completely and totally.

The thing is, though, that unlike all other faction combinations, with the Railroad and the Minutemen, it’s not an either-or scenario.*** And that being the case, the fact is that the Sole Survivor can do the most possible good for the Commonwealth, short and long term, by allying with the Railroad.

Let’s examine the goals of the Minutemen, shall we? Ultimately, the Minutemen want a safe, stable Commonwealth civilization in which everyone is free and secure to pursue a positive life. In pursuit of that end, the Minutemen need several things to happen. They need a strong and dedicated leader to take the reigns of their group. They need to retake their old base of operations, the Castle. They require settlements across the Commonwealth to pledge to support the Minutemen. By extension, the Minutemen want those settlements linked, by trade and other social relations, and built up to be strong, productive, and self-sufficient. The Minutemen want to force the predators of the weak and innocent out of the Commonwealth--the raiders, the Gunners, the super mutants, etc. They need to establish a strong and large enough force to send patrols through the Commonwealth to keep its roads and ruins secure. And, of course, the Minutemen must bring about the end of the Institute. With all of this accomplished, the Minutemen will have the strength and momentum as a military force and as a collaborative union of the people of the Commonwealth to build a greater community of the Commonwealth’s citizens.

Here’s the thing, though: all of that can be accomplished for the Minutemen, without actually choosing them as your endgame faction.

If you support the Railroad instead of the Minutemen, very little changes for the latter. Even while committed to your alliance with Deacon’s bunch of Synth-loving super spies, you can still accept the role of and act as the General of the Minutemen. You can help Preston and his Minutemen buddies retake the Castle, and then help them to reestablish it as their HQ. You can dive into radiant quests and settlement building, and thus acquire all the same settlements and support for the Minutemen from the people of the Commonwealth, and enhance them to your satisfaction. You can still return to those settlements to fight off attacks, and you still have exactly as many opportunities to eliminate raider gangs and other hazards through exploring the Commonwealth. Actually, you can do slightly more by siding with the Railroad, since a few of the post-game sidequests they give you has you hunting down a raider gang that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to attack. You can still have built up the Minutemen enough that their members are seen now and then patrolling the Commonwealth. And finally, it doesn’t really matter to the Minutemen whether they’re the ones to end the Institute, or whether it’s the Railroad that does the job--the important thing is simply to cease its threat to the people of the Commonwealth.

So you see, as long as you’re willing to dedicate the time and effort to do so, the Minutemen can have their goals accomplished even if you decide to side with the Railroad as your endgame faction. The good that the Minutemen accomplish is greater than the good the Railroad accomplishes, but it’s also not mutually exclusive to the Railroad’s good--you can support them both.

But of course, the question then becomes: isn’t the same true, in reverse? Since the Minutemen do not object to or obstruct the Railroad’s operations, couldn’t you also just choose the Minutemen as your faction to oppose the Institute, and still do the majority of the quests to help the Railroad? In fact, since the Minutemen don’t require you to act as a double agent in the Institute for so long as the Railroad does, you could argue it’s better this way around, since you won’t be forced to even mildly assist the Institute as a Minuteman the way you would as a Railroad agent.

Well, the answer is no. It’s not an equal matter on both sides, I’m afraid. If you support the Railroad, you can still accomplish every goal of the Minutemen and put them in the position to do all their good for the Commonwealth. But if you support the Minutemen, you cannot accomplish quite as much of the good the Railroad could have.

There are 2 major parts of this imbalance. The first is that in the attack on the Institute, the Railroad has specifically coordinated the captive Synths there to join the fight for their freedom and be involved in escaping from their captors. I’m sure that, during the Minutemen’s attack on the Institute, plenty of Synths use the opportunity to escape, but given that they weren’t expecting it, there’s a greater chance that many of them get caught in the middle of the fighting and perish, or don’t escape in time. And for those Synths who do escape the Institute during the Minutemen’s attack, they have no immediate protector, plan, or provider in the Commonwealth to help them, putting them at risk. The Railroad’s attack on the Institute, on the other hand, accounts for the freedom-seeking Synths of the Institute, and the Railroad has experience with guiding and safeguarding new Synths in the Commonwealth. So, ultimately, more good is done for the lives of the innocent and the free by the Railroad than the Minutemen in the final Institute attack.

The other reason, and the more compelling one, I think, is quite simply a case of which of the 2 factions needs the prestige more. See, the Commonwealth knows of the Institute’s demise once it happens, and Travis Miles does a report in which he acknowledges the Sole Survivor and the appropriate faction as the ones who ended the nightmare. Thanks to the gentle urgings of Diamond City Radio and Publick Occurrences, the people of the Commonwealth know that they owe a debt of gratitude, and to whom. And that goodwill is something that will benefit the Railroad’s cause a lot more than the Minutemen’s.

Oh, make no mistake, the Minutemen require goodwill to operate. It’s incredibly vital to them, in fact. The Minutemen is an organization that can’t survive if the common man doesn’t have faith in it. People’s willingness to trust and cooperate with the Minutemen is the lifeblood of these citizen soldiers, because the Minutemen ARE the people.

But the fact is that, provided you have appropriately built the Minutemen up, they have that goodwill. Your actions prove to the settlements which join up that the Minutemen can be trusted, and the game shows clearly that the Minutemen have regained their prestige in the eyes of the Commonwealth’s people. Random NPCs can comment in passing their approval of the work you’re doing in leading the Minutemen, and some of them can even stop your companion Preston and initiate a conversation with him in which they thank him for his work as a Minuteman. Hell, there’s enough positivity about the Minutemen that you can encounter a scam artist who seeks to impersonate Preston and take advantage of people’s gratitude by extorting them for donations. So it’s safe to say that the Minutemen can garner as much goodwill from the Commonwealth as they require even without being the ones to put the Institute down.

By contrast, though, the positive publicity of being the saviors of the Commonwealth would be a really, really great boon to the Railroad. The fact of the matter is that most people in the Commonwealth associate Synths with the Institute’s evils, and thus understandably have a paranoid fear of them. That kind of paranoia could lead to many acts of violence against the newly freed Synths attempting to find a place in this new world; this isn’t the kind of fear that is going to go away overnight, death of the Institute or not. But the knowledge that the Railroad, the faction known for being the champions of Synths’ rights and wellbeing, was the one to save the Commonwealth...well, that could go a long way to convincing a lot of the Commonwealth’s people to give Synths a chance, out of respect and/or gratitude to these saviors who think that Synths are worthwhile people. And considering that, with the destruction of the Institute, there’s now a ton of new Synths that the Railroad needs to move through and out of the Commonwealth in an attempt to set them up with new lives, to such an extent that the Railroad is actually openly securing checkpoints along the routes through which they guide their Synth charges, having the approval of the citizens is an important thing. Side with the Minutemen, and the Railroad will simply have to keep to a completely underground operation, and the Synths it cares for will continue to be at risk of oppression from their neighbors if ever discovered.

Admittedly, there is, I suppose, 1 other benefit to the faction that defeats the Institute, which I just brought up a moment ago: the military checkpoints, located here and there across the map. And in that regard, the Minutemen will do more good with them than the Railroad, since the Railroad’s agents occupy these checkpoints with the intention of securing safe passage for Synths, while the Minutemen take the checkpoints simply as a means of providing greater protection to travelers through the Commonwealth. So there is that factor to take into consideration...nonetheless, since the Minutemen will send out patrols through the Commonwealth anyway, and since I think it’s fair to also count the provisioners with which you connect your settlements as an additional measure of patrolling security, giving the Minutemen the military checkpoints is sort of just a case of strengthening one of the acts of good they already perform, while the benefits the Railroad garners from being the ones to defeat the Institute are otherwise outright unavailable.

So basically, that’s why I chose to support the Railroad during my playthrough of Fallout 4. I’ve seen a lot of people criticize the Railroad, and the players who throw their lot in with it, for choosing to help the few instead of the many. And that’s just not the case, because more or less all that the Minutemen accomplish for the greater good, they can still achieve if you side with the Railroad, while the reverse is not true. Side with the Railroad in Fallout 4, and you really can have your Fancy Lads Snack Cakes and eat them too.

* Also worth noting is that the Brotherhood of Steel isn’t really much better for even just the regular people of the Commonwealth. Yeah, they’ll definitely make the place safer, but they’ll have the Commonwealth’s citizens provide the Brotherhood with their food whether the citizens want to or not, and they’ll occupy and fortify whatever location strikes their fancy. The Brotherhood provides assistance by force, and independent of any wishes or stipulations that the people it supposedly protects might have. It’s basically like an organized crime protection racket, if a protection racket actually did offer protection. It ain’t the worst thing going on with the Brotherhood, but it is still a wrong.

** For the sake of this rant, we’re going to forego an argument about whether Synths are people and just jump right to the part where we all agree that they are. If you really want a rant where I lay out the reasoning behind that, then I can provide, but I daresay even the game itself isn’t too ambiguous on the matter, with party members like Nick, Curie, and Danse, characters like DIMA, Glory, and Mayor McDonough, and situations like Roger Warwick’s Synth’s slip of the tongue, the fact that the Synths are capable of wanting freedom, and the ambiguity of Synth-hood being a question for Kasumi and even the protagonist herself during the Far Harbor DLC. So yeah, we’re gonna just roll forward with the understanding here that Synths are people no more or less deserving of rights, happiness, safety, and all that jazz than any human or ghoul.

*** Okay, technically speaking, you CAN support the Minutemen without making an enemy of the Brotherhood of Steel. But members of the Brotherhood do express unease at the idea of the Minutemen being an armed peacekeeping force, and unless the BoS decide to turn around and go home--which doesn’t seem likely to happen; the game makes no indication that they will and they’ve already committed to setting up strongholds and policies in the Commonwealth--contention and conflict are pretty much a guarantee. Two rival peacekeeping forces in the same area is a recipe for problems already, and all it will take is the Brotherhood deciding it wants a particular settlement for strategic/scientific purposes, the Minutemen deciding they don’t take kindly to the BoS strong-arming their farmers into giving up their crops to the Brotherhood, the Brotherhood opening fire on innocent ghoul settlers, or some other inevitable incident of their incompatible ideologies and goals for the two factions to go to war.


  1. As Someone who tends towards high CHA high INT characters, I personally wound up siding with the institute for a simple reason: Other then being General of the minutemen,* the ending where you character has the most immediate and potential influence over a faction is the Institute. I shed real tears and Headcanon alternate solutions for the death of the Railroad down this path, but I firmly agree with the Institutes assessment of the potential of their technology, even as I disagree with their methods. The impossibly persuasive Sole Survivor, with their dual mantles of General and Head of the Institute, with the addition of their Pre-War life expereience, has the best chance to lead the Commonwealth to a Brighter Future Aboveground.
    *Which you yourself pointed out is not something incompatible.

    1. I've heard a lot of people talk about how they side with the Institute because they think the Sole Survivor's leadership could turn it around. I honestly can't say I think that makes any sense. First of all, the idea that its technology is a key necessity of humanity's future endeavors has no particular reasoning behind it: we've seen multiple examples through the series that humanity can reclaim the world and create a functional society already without needing a higher level of technology than is already available to it. Certainly the Institute's toys and discoveries would be helpful and convenient, but they're just as certainly not needed--and possessing a higher level of technology than of the wisdom to use it is how the Fallout world get into this mess to start with, so if anything, it might be harmful in the long run to advance technology further and continue to leave humanity's wisdom undeveloped.

      More substantially relevant, however: a CHA score of 10 weighs not so favorably against a decades-long culture of institutionalized slavery and devaluing synths as no more than resources, which was built upon an also decades-long mentality of scientific progress outweighing morality and of devaluing non-Institute human beings as no more than resources. The possibility that the leadership of the Sole Survivor, which is already something the rest of the Institute's leading figures were very reluctant to accept, could overturn a society whose every method and value stems from a dogmatic worship of a nebulous "future of humanity" is unlikely at best. The members of the Institute have labored for generations under the belief that it's completely fine to sacrifice real humanity in any quantity for the sake of tiptoeing blindly towards an imaginary future humanity that they're just too busy to define, and Nora/Nate isn't a leader that they asked for or wanted. Father built a powerful tyranny over the Institute before he handed Nora/Nate the keys, but even his reign was starting to show cracks in its iron grip at the end, as major members began to question his pet projects. Judging the mentality, history, and fanaticism of the Institute, the methods of labor and research that have become institutionalized in it, and the words and actions of its members during the events of Fallout 4, a Sole Survivor who isn't a completely amoral monster is going to either ruffle too many feathers with the idea that thinking, feeling, self-aware beings should be treated with some modicum of respect and sympathy, and get kicked out...or she/he will have to move so slowly and subtly to enact changes that the slavery, kidnapping, and murder of innocents will go on for years before the Sole Survivor has maneuvered the Institute's mindset and methods to a point where she/he can stop it without an insurrection.

      I can appreciate the idea of changing things from the inside out, but that's the sort of situation that requires a person to have a solid enough footing as leader that it can happen, and that's not what the Sole Survivor has as the head of the Institute. She/He's rulership is defined entirely by the word of an old man who's dead now, and whose rule was already beginning to be questioned at the time he installed his successor. Combine this flimsy position with decades of a very powerful mentality that is directly opposed to basic morality on multiple fronts, and the only conclusion I can see for a Sole Survivor who's a decent human being is for her/him to be either ousted, or to have to fight a war of moral attrition so long and slow in its victory that no moral person could accept the casualties along the way.

    2. Silly blogger, not logging me in when I post a comment so I miss the reply. ANYWAYS. Imma respond to your second point first. Point the Second (10CHA vs Founding Tradition), I really kinda disagree. 10 CHA is nice, but not overwhelming, I agree. Throw in full set of Sharp equipment, other miscellaneous boosts and consumable boosts though, and you can get a conditional boost of up to 32. (48 with DLC) 10 CHA alone? Yeah probably a long shot. Fully Specced? No one can refuse you. From a psychological point of view, I've actually made a point of exhausting all institute dialogue and listening to all voice lines, and as a student of manipulation I see ways to make rapid basic steps to prevent further atrocities, and longer term ideas to spread to move the institute towards good karma. As a optimist, I think I have a shot.

      Point the first though......Yeah. "War Never Changes." Technology never really solves anything in the Fallout does it? Within the Fallout meta, in the long term I'd probably be doomed to fail. Perhaps in the fashion of Elder Lyons, where after my death it would revert back to its inhumane ways... Still, I gotta hope. And hey, what is progress but a continual effort to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past? IRL quality of life has increased with level of technology, and because of the larger messes humanity has to clean up (Tunnelers anyone? Not to mention things such as, say, Project Purity.) Fallout needs better tools to do the job than pipe weapons. Every Lone Wanderer and Sole Survivor must make their own decisions. Siding with the Railroad is undoubtedly my second choice of the available options. I just think that my Nate would have a shot at putting things together for good.

    3. I still contend that the structured immorality that permeates every level of the Institute's culture and method would be impossible for a single, initially disliked leader figure to turn around regardless of CH score, and I'd like to point out that there's not even the barest whisper of narrative support for such an idea during the entire Institute path--whatever ideas you have about Nora/Nate being able to turn the Institute around, they are entirely born on your side of the equation. Nothing about what happens and what's said on Nora/Nate's side through the late stages of the Institute path indicate that the Sole Survivor, no matter how otherwise good of a person, has any intention of deviating from the course that Father and his lackeys have charted. We're allowed to make certain logical assumptions about how the Sole Survivor as we played her/him acts in the future, yes, but it's hard for me to agree with a possible future path that the game's own narrative only comes a little short of outright denying.

      Nonetheless, let's say that you're right, and Nora/Nate IS capable of turning the Institute around. How fast does that happen? You can't just immediately tell them to stop murdering and replacing innocent human beings overnight, because that's their primary method of both security and outside-world experimentation, and the Institute is based around science. There has to be a backup method in place that minimally satisfies the Institute's needs for experimentation and peace of mind through disturbing levels of spying, before they're gonna say "Okay, we'll stop looking at human beings like expendable lab rats."

      You also can't just immediately tell them "No more pretending that these clearly self-aware, feeling beings you're creating aren't people--and on that note, no more slavery" and expect that to change overnight. Even if you can somehow sweet talk everyone into quickly changing their lifelong, incredibly wrong perspective on Synths, you still have to come up with an acceptable backup social structure to replace the current way the Institute's entire society functions, because it's built upon slave labor. You immediately emancipate the synths, and you are gonna have social chaos as the established function of every level of the Institute suddenly changes while everything in the place ceases working because no one's fixing anything, building anything, or cleaning anything.

      So how long does the Institute continue doing evil, do you think, before Nora/Nate can find alternative ways to keep experimentation going and keep security reassuringly competent without murdering human beings, and before she/he can find alternative ways to keep the Institute physically functioning and able to handle an incoming surge of new civilians whose rights and happiness are suddenly as important as all the other members'? Because during the time that new methods and structures are being set up, people are still dying, and synths are still being born to be slaves. By siding with the Institute, you've already actively killed dozens of morally decent people in the Railroad, and inactively killed the synths they watch over in the Commonwealth if those synths are ever found out and killed when a Railroad member might have evacuated them. And on top of that sacrifice, you're adding each and every moment of synth slavery until you can reconfigure the Institute not to need it, and you're adding each and every man and woman in the Commonwealth that the Institute eliminates to keep its experimentation going until you can reconfigure the group's plan of action otherwise.

      Continued in a moment...

    4. Even assuming that Nora/Nate can convince the Institute to turn itself around, it will require substantial time to be able to do so in terms of practicality alone. Time in which people keep dying who didn't need to, and a race keeps suffering that didn't need to. You're compounding one hard, concrete, and terrible sacrifice (the Railroad) with more and more future sacrifices, on and on until the faction is finally fixed...and you're making all these tangible sacrifices based on a hope that the Institute may, at some undefined time in the future, benefit mankind in ways not yet fully determined in overcoming conflicts unverified as oncoming.

      And honestly, even beyond the logistical problems guaranteeing that the Institute will continue doing evil for some time no matter how persuasive and good-intentioned Nora/Nate is, just the fact that it comes at the cost of the Railroad's lives defeats your goals from a philosophical long-run point of view. Because you're basically killing innocent and decent people now, in the present, for the sake of your hope that you can derive something useful and positive from the Institute later. In other words...make terrible but convenient sacrifices now, for the sake of a vague idea that the future could be better for it. You're basically trying to change the Institute by employing the very mindset that led them down their evil path to begin with. You may as well not bother trying to change the Institute for the better at all, if you have to do so by vindicating the mindset that all their evil was born from. When you destroy evil using evil methods, the good you've won is temporary at best, because all who see what you've done will know that those evil methods are effective, and seek to use them for their own endeavors.

      Jesus Christ I need to stop getting so into these discussions. At any rate, that's why I still disagree with you on this point. But we can agree to disagree on this if you wish; I don't mean to be contentious. At least, not excessively so.

    5. We Will just agree to disagree then. (Though I will contend that arguing the death of the Leadership of the Railroad as a particular point to be invalidated when more individual lives are probably lost in the destruction of the institute, even including the evacuation that is able to occur. Not to mention the death of all the Brotherhood in BOTH of our preferred endings.) Still, good talk.

    6. The difference being that the people in the Railroad are decent people doing moral good, while the people in the Brotherhood of Steel and the Institute are people that, good intentions and goals or no, are causing immediate harm to humanity and synths with everything they do. That's not to say that each and every one of them necessarily deserves death, but the game forces you to choose which faction as a whole lives, then the lives of the righteous outweigh the lives of those who do evil to their fellow man and machine. To preserve those who consciously chose to murder and enslave, to make those dark acts a way of life, through the deaths of those who chose to risk all to help the downtrodden and do right, is most certainly morally indefensible, regardless of the numbers involved.