Fallout 5: What Should Be The Ideal Karma System?
Morality in video games.
The idea of morality in video games, and especially in RPGs, is one that has long been something that developers have struggled with. A binary good/bad meter doesn’t seem to do justice to the spectrum of morality, and over the years, we have seen morality in games be tackled via some truly novel systems (the most memorable of which is Bioware’s Paragon/Renegade mechanism for the original Mass Effect trilogy).
Bethesda tackled morality in the Fallout series via their Karma system, a binary tracking of whether or not you were ‘good’ that lent more weight to your decisions. This system was actually removed in Fallout 4, which at first glance would appear to be consistent with the trend of dumbing down the game to beyond the point where it is an RPG that characterizes the game. However, I contend that a morality system was in Fallout 4– it just wasn’t implemented well enough.
Look, as important as it is to recognize that morality isn’t binary, but rather a cumulative sum total of your actions and intent, it is also important to recognize that morality is a social construct- that is in the absence of other people to judge your actions, your actions cannot be deemed good or bad. In other words, morality is always defined in relation to other people.
Fallout 4 actually seems to understand and espouse this view- the Companions system of the game means that your actions, depending on who you are with, are deemed either good or bad, and can advance or deteriorate your relationship with them. Stealing something might drive Piper away, but killing opposition ruthlessly would probably endear you to Cait.
This is actually a good base, but Fallout 4 doesn’t go all the way with it. While having morality and your perception be dependent on specific people is fine, I also think it shouldn’t be restricted to specific people- I think that your morality or karma should be defined in localized regions, depending on where in the world you go. In a band of raiders, you might be considered a hero if you’re known for stealing, looting, and killing, while the average settlement like Diamond City might consider you a threat, and a villain. This could have vast gameplay consequences, too- raiders would no longer attack you in the overworld, while Diamond City (and similar settlement) guards would. It would be harder to initiate and complete quests for average settlements over the ones from raiders, and harder to negotiate with average settlements. Or you could flip this, if you were playing as a goody goody.
The point is, morality is complex, and Fallout 4, strangely enough, seems to actually get that. It just doesn’t go all the way with the concept. Maybe this is something that Bethesda could look into doing with Fallout 5? After all, the idea isn’t entirely new- Skyrim actually did something like this, where your criminal standing was tracked separately across the nine holds. Let’s hope Bethesda take these seeds, and gestate them into something great for their next games.