After some years of avoiding FO4 (having been initially put off by how different it felt from the other games) I've finally been playing through, and recently got to a high enough level that I could safely traverse the Glowing Sea with nothing but my combat armor and .45 combat rifle.
There are a lot of locations in the Sea that really struck my fancy, and walking through those wastes reminded me of exploring Fallout 1 in a way that none of the other Fallout games have been able to recreate – it felt dangerous, it felt barren and (unlike the reconstructed world at large) it felt like the aftermath of a goddamn apocalypse.
But something caught me off-guard at the southern point of the map. I saw it first in the distance: a hulking block of concrete, patently a military building from the shape and size. It was, of course, the Sentinel Site.
Walking in, I expected a few things. Maybe it would be a small space, no bigger than the external building, with a huge cache of higher-level supplies to reward Sole Survivors tenacious enough to make it there. Maybe it had been repurposed by the Brotherhood or the Institute, and my Railroad-supporting Survivor was about to get ambushed. Or maybe it was an unmarked boss location, and as soon as I walked through the doorway a deathclaw matriarch would burst through the opposite wall.
If you've cleared the location, you know what I found.
They didn't make much of an effort to hide what was going on after you pass through the first door. The visual design reminded me of the missile silos from Lonesome Road – this was a welcome callback, and it added significantly to the gravity of the discovery. Finding the bodies and terminal entries did too. It was a sort of extended realization – first came the knowledge that it had been a pre-War nuclear missile facility, then came the understanding that the workers had been trying desperately to defend their country and prevent the inevitable end of the world, and last came the profound feeling of sorrow standing in a room full of all these people's bones.
By the time that the ghouls ambushed me in the tunnels, I was so wrapped up in the solemnity that it caught me completely off-guard. But at level 55, a room full of stalkers and reavers took all of ten seconds to clear out. This was when the other shoe fell, and I realized that these ferals were the other employees of this government facility – and that they, the survivors, were the unlucky ones, damned to watch the world burn from within their concrete tomb and cursed to insanity by the mounting realization that their efforts had failed.
It was an incredibly emotional experience, the sort of thing that the Fallout series is great with – I had a similar feeling during Lonesome Road and when I first found Necropolis in FO1. But, for me at least, FO4 had been mostly devoid of these moments. So much of the game felt like a blockbuster action title that I had a lot of trouble getting into it; even Shaun's revelation at the Institute felt limp since I hadn't felt too attached to my son in the first place. But the Sentinel Site, with little more than a few terminals and a pile of corpses to tell its story, struck me to my core. More than that, it reminded me that Fallout is fundamentally a story about people, and in many ways about people's resilience in the face of absolute devastation. It was a beautiful moment in the game, and something that I'll remember.
Sorry for the long post, thanks if you've read this far.
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