[This post, more than the other two so far, is going to talk about the ending of Fallout 3 directly and what happens as a result of the last choice in the game. Therefore, assuming I haven’t spoiled too much for you thus far in this series, I’d recommend not reading this yet if you care about the ending of the game.]
I find the Super Mutants of the Fallout series of games fascinating. They are, for their fiction, one of the most unique and yet ubiquitous foes that the player faces. They are stronger, faster and often have better weapons than any of the other enemies. They shout and scream at the player. They stand upright and attack in groups. They act, more or less, humanoid because they are, on a base level, just that: human. The difference is that their DNA (and RNA) have been mutated by the Forced Evolutionary Virus (FEV).
It’s this mutation that has made them “Super” and has, in nearly all cases, striped them of secondary (and often primary) sexual characteristics as a result. They are all the same. Well, most of them anyway. Some of them, notably Fawkes (in Fallout 3) and Lilly (in Fallout: New Vegas) attempt to reclaim some semblance of a life through maintaining an identity other than as they appear. They are though, for the most part, androgynous brutes whose goals are two fold in Fallout 3: find more FEV and convert more humans into what they are. If anything stands in the way of either goal, they are to kill it.
It’s at this point that the player enters their history. In search of a G.E.C.K., a necessary part of Project Purity, the player will come to Vault 87 and find the source of the Super Mutants for the Capital Wasteland. An experiment was done on the inhabitants of the Vault: they were exposed to the FEV. Those who did not die of the exposure became Super Mutants and, for the last two hundreds years, these same people have been capturing other humans, bringing them to sources of FEV and converting them into new Super Mutants who then follow the same patterns.
However, they are not the only one whose DNA has been perfected toward a vision of what the group would look like and act. Vault 101 has the same technology or, at the very least, James has access to it. Drawing from the limited races and characteristics that the game presents via the Gene Projector, it can easily be interpolated that genetic manipulation is both common and a frequent part of creating a child. The biological interactions are interrupted and even superseded by those attributes that the parents apply to their children. It is not much of a stretch then to consider the fact that The Lone Wanderer, separate from any other person or entity in the fiction of the game, is odd in being able to “level up” and even take on mutations without negative side effects.
The Lone Wanderer is different from everyone else. That much, since the character is driven by the player, is true. However, it’s the “wrong ending” that highlights just how different (and the same) the character truly is to the environment.
When confronting President Eden, the player is given the choice to take a mutated strain of the FEV from him. Should the player chose to do that, a new option opens at the end of the game: the use of said strain to purge the mutated humans and creatures from the Capitol Wasteland when Project Purity is finally activated. Use of this option, should the player go through with it, transforms the Project Purity into its literal name: it will “purify” the land and kill off any “non-pure humans.”
If the “Broken Steel” DLC is installed and the player continues after this this choice, something interesting happens: the player learns that they are now affected by the water. The water that is to “purify” the Wasteland will, when drinking it, “purify” The Lone Wanderer too. They will die. By traveling in the Wasteland and receiving, through certain actions, quests or even perks, mutations, The Lone Wanderer is no longer, assuming they ever were to start with, pure human. They have been changed and the game will punish the player for this choice against James.
That’s the cost of choosing one ‘father’ for another. President Eden broadcasts through the Capitol Wasteland with speeches that are reminiscent of fire-side chats by past presidents of the United States. In fact, he confirms this if the player speaks to him about his past. He is a composite of various presidents and political leaders, he says. All the information that was on the various networks was combined into the persona of President Eden on a ZAX supercomputer.
He represents the alternative to James. While James is the absent yet scientifically driven father, President Eden is, literally, the result of science: he is an artificial intelligence. James seeks to bring water (and life) to everything in the Wasteland and Eden, despite his name, wants it for a select few that he sees as more deserving than the others — he is fine with killing all others. They both though push the thought of mutation onto their ‘child’. The player must accept one’ father”s vision of the future over the other — both want to change the water (and life) of the Wasteland.
The fulfilling of this vision, the actions taken along the road, push the player into killing to get to the goal. They must shoot others in order to support the plan of either ‘father’. They must change, mutate. They must take up weapons and force others to their will, either through combat or speech checks. The determination of the player toward the cleaning or even “purifying” of the water must take precedent over the life of The Lone Wanderer. They serve the ‘father’.
So, when the player learns that they have doomed themselves (and, conceivably, their progeny as well) with the choice of some life over another with the use of the FEV to kill mutations, it is James’ vision, his purpose and his ‘god’ that reigns down its vengeance. Rejection of the gifts and the ideals of the ‘father’ spell death for the ‘child’. Unless the player sides with James, embraces his vision, the environment will be poisonous and dangerous to the player.
Super Mutants shout and yell in combat. They follow a core mission and kill anything in their path. They have been created in the vision of a ‘father’ who purposely crafted them. Outside of hostile actions, they follow his commands and do not speak. They listen and follow orders. Their appearance does not matter. If they rebel, if they attempt to strike out against their creator, they are punished.