Feudalism, it’s said, was the worst invention of humanity. It was the enemy of the free market, the bane of the poor and very poor alike, and was responsible for untold violent feuds lasting generations. And holy shit does Fallout 4 want you to take up that practice like it’s the next Macarena.
If you don’t think so, consider that returning to feudalism has been a major theme in past Fallout games, and it usually ends poorly for the would-be warlord (The Master, Horrigan, freaking Julius Caesar)
“Not this time!” Says Fallout 4. “This time, you are the one abusing serfs!”
Don’t believe me? Consider that…
– Firstly you’re asked to serve under an old banner, which you’re encouraged to take up.
When I say you’re ‘encouraged’ to take up the banner of the Minutemen, what I mean is that you have virtually no choice if you plan to advance the plot. Building settlements is required, and ignoring the Minutemen means a whole lot of console-quest fuckery. And, at first blush, why would you want to skip meeting Preston & Gang?
Ah, but look at this from a feudalism point of view. You run into the remnants of an old order literally during a siege, down on resources and manpower, who offer to take you under their banner if you agree to fight for them. You’re then issued a set of Knight’s armor that’s immune (nearly) to peasant weapons.
Then it’s on to building settlements. Which seems like an upstanding thing to do for fellow wastelanders like yourself, until you realize…
– You build a settlement, and settlers get no say in their jobs.
Another hallmark of feudalism is the serf. The serf is a peasant who must yield a percentage of their harvest to their lord, defend the land they stand upon, and obey when their lord orders them to a task– whether that task be to harvest mushrooms, sow crops, or starve slowly while you divert caravans around them.
In Fallout you’re given special settlement functions. You can plant crops, which you then assign settlers to toil at until they die or you assign them to something else. You can also set up scavenging stations, which is one short step away from ‘the mine’ from which they harvest raw resources. Or you can set up mercantile, the profit of which the settlers get to keep, so they can one day realize their dreams of…just kidding. You keep their profits, as they are automatically deposited into your coffers *Ahem* “Workshop.”
Oh, and if you forget to provide enough living space, food, or water–you know, the little things–they can’t rebel or relocate. They just get to complain, which you only hear when you walk within earshot.
You could argue that networking your settlements into a vast series of farms and resources isn’t necessary to the game. To which I argue that…
– You’re given armor and weapons to upkeep, which is easier to do with “Taxes”
Oh, sure, you could collect every goddamn desk fan, toy car, and tin can you come across in the wasteland, hauling them back in your knapsack like a meth-head on a recycling run. Or you can do what I outlined above, and have all that shit brought to you by serfs.
In fact, as armor and weapons get more advanced you’ll find yourself running short on aluminum, adhesives, ceramic, and radioactive material. And every time you subjugate a new land under your banner, the potential to gather these resources with serf power rises dramatically. Let’s do some quick and dirty mental math:
If you assign a settler to salvaging, he’ll bring in 3 random resource items per day. If you have 25 networked settlements (there are 30 available in the game, some of which can’t have salvage stations) and 6 settlers on each farm dedicated to salvage (max of 20 settlers, allowing the rest to farm or operate shops) you get 450 random resource items per day.
Want to use that fancy X-01 Power Armor for every mission? Better have material constantly flowing in–with serf power.
But what if you never touch power armor and you ignore the first settlement the game assigns you. Well, if you plan on playing through the story, I’ve got bad news…
-You must expand your lands, depending on which lord you serve.
If you side with the anti-slavery faction, The Railroad, you find yourself being asked to provide ‘Railroad Safehouses.’ Meaning you have to expand your lands enough to capture one of the 12 settlements capable of hiding escaped synths (slaves.)
Side with the fuck-everyone faction, The Brotherhood, you’ll be asked to gift to the brotherhood an entire settlement with crops, serfs, and all. And this can happen multiple times, depending on how many quests you do for them and how high you rise in rank. The ranks are, ironically, styled after feudalism, with player-achievable ranks like Apprentice Knight, Journeyman, and Head Paladin.
And if you side with the Minutemen you’ll be asked to annex every already-occupied farm in the game, especially if said farm has a family operating it. You arrive at a farm in trouble, offer to solve a kidnapping or end a raider threat, and in return they allow you to build whatever you want on their land and pay tribute to you in the form of excess crop yields and salvaged material. That’s more than the mob demands for bullshit protection payments.
In truth the game’s long-running plot is to make you choose between factions, who also want to treat your settlers like serfs. In the end you get to metaphorically bend the knee to another ‘King’ while using the goods from your settlements to upkeep your arms, armor, and wealth. This seems less like a whimsical post-apocalypse fantasy, and more like an introduction to robber-barony for the tech age.
Images, including featured image, are from Wiki commons or the Fallout Wikia.