Fallout 4: The Problem with Voiced Protagonists

I am a huge Bethesda fan and continue to sink hours into Fallout 4 but I am torn on the whole shift to the voiced protagonist

If multiplayer is the number one thing I never wanted added to my Bethesda stew, voiced protagonists was a pretty close second. Base building? Hell yeah. Better gun play? You know it sister. A Fully voiced protagonist!? Ummm I don’t think we needed that.

Before I give my two cents as to why I have such a major issue with voiced protagonists in FO4, let me first praise the system. I know it seems weird but let’s do it. First off, what a massive undertaking. 111,000 lines of dialogue 13,000 of which are dedicated to the main character. Bethesda went all in on this. They believed it would add something major to their open world formula and they went for it. I like a studio that takes risks. We don’t see enough of that in the triple A space. Bethesda shook their open world soda and didn’t look back. To their credit, there are parts where it works, especially during the main quest line. Having a voiced protagonist lends a sense of cinematic assurance that other Bethesda games do not have. I feel comfortable saying that Fallout 4 features Bethesda’s best main quest and this is partly due to having a voice actor that talks. Without a speaking protagonist the third person cinematics would have never worked and a lot of the emotional weight placed on the character would have fallen flat.

Most of us don’t play Bethesda games for the main quest though. We play them to put ourselves into a foreign land or to role play as some invented character in our head. Bethesda’s playgrounds are a place to experiment with the rules of the world and to do and say things we never would in real life. This is where the voiced protagonist unfortunately fails. In Skyrim, when I choose a line of dialogue I always felt as though it was me saying this. In FO4, it’s generic male1 and generic female1 speaking. No matter what choices I make in subsequent playthroughs these characters never really become my own.

The fallout from this system reaches many aspects of Bethesda’s game design. We lose some seriously entertaining lines from Fallout 3 which feature some hilarious and terrifying speech options. FO4 is much more generic and doesn’t allow you to say outrageous things. We all remember lying to Moira in Megaton to avoid her annoying experiments and receiving subsequent payments nonetheless. The world of fallout 3 and Skyrim are much more malleable due to allowing you to choose voice options which are much more interesting. This is probably due to the fact that adding these odd lines would have ballooned the lines of dialogue in FO4 from 13,000 to 20,000. Also, how does generic male1 deliver a heartfelt line to a struggling waste-lander and then change his personality drastically to deliver a truly sadistic line. It simply won’t work. Brian T Delany and Courtenay Taylor do a bang-up job voicing the lone survivor but shifting tones so drastically would cripple even the best of actors.

Even more damaging, is the fact that we have to choose from four different options without really knowing what our character is going to say. This does not work in a Bethesda RPG. The sarcastic option rarely conveyed what I was thinking in my head. There’s a reason that shortly after the game came out there was a mod that brought back the traditional speech options where we could see what we were saying.

Looking forward, I wonder if Bethesda will keep this system. If they do, the only way to make it work would be to double down on the voice actors. You need at least three voice actors for each female and male survivor. If you’re talking about transplanting this into The Elder Scrolls, then you need two different voice actors for each race (male and female) and you can see this spiraling out of control quickly.

As much as I disagree with the decision, I can understand the inclusion of speech in FO4 on paper or in a board meeting. I even know some fans that like it (my brother). I mean, it worked so well in The Witcher series. Geralt of Rivia is a fantastic character to role play as. CDproject Red’s top notch writing always gives the players a choice of lines that fit Geralt’s personality. Unlike in a Bethesda game where you name your character, In the Witcher series you are Geralt. There are no voice options for him to say something out of character. You guide the white wolf through his story and make some adjustments to his personality but at the end of the day he’s still Geralt. Throughout the story you make major decisions that greatly affect the outcome of the world but we are still Geralt. When I play a Bethesda RPG my character is me. Sometimes I am super evil and sometimes I am generous when exploring the wasteland. I feel as though in Fallout 4 I am some amalgamation of myself and a character that the Bethesda writers have invented. I exist in a no man’s land and I sense that I am not fully realized.

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