Fallout 4 expects you to commit murder. While you can occasionally avoid killing others, the wasteland is ruthless and demands violence. That's how Bethesda intended the game to be played, anyway — but clever players are finding ways around it.
Back in July 2015, The Guardian interviewed Todd Howard, Fallout 4's game director. Howard was asked about what playstyles the game would support — traditionally, Fallout games let players approach problems in a variety of ways, many of which do not require killing anyone. Fallout 4 is different.
"I can't tell you that you can play the whole game without violence — that's not necessarily a goal of ours," Howard told The Guardian.
Sure enough, there are portions of Fallout 4 where the story railroads the player into killing certain key characters. You'd think, then, that it would be impossible to finish the game without having your kill counter show a few bodies here and there. But you'd be wrong.
Ever since the release of Fallout 4, dedicated players have been working tirelessly to find a way to beat the game with zero kills. One particular player, Kyle Hinckley, stands above the rest, though: not only has he completed Fallout 4 with zero kills, he managed to do so on Survival, the hardest mode available. And he documented the entire thing on video, to boot, so his zero kill claim is entirely verifiable. Via Hinckley's "The Weirdist" channel, here's the first episode of his pacifist run of Fallout 4.
"The thing about Todd Howard is, even he doesn't know what his games are capable of," Hinckley told me in an interview.
Getting to this point wasn't easy. "My first attempt was dismal," Hinckley admitted. "I got discouraged immediately on the first quest, which insists all the raiders in [one of the early missions] die." Hinckley was stubborn though, and he kept trying. He eventually found out that the raiders on that mission could actually be left alone, and this revelation allowed him to move forward. Unfortunately, on that particular run, he poured 75 hours into a playthrough only to find out that he backed the wrong faction. It was a mistake that cost him six lives, which is no good for a pacifist run.
So he started a new character. This one would be called Dizzy, and Hinckley was determined to make sure she was incapable of killing even lowly Radroaches.
Dizzy is built for mind games. Think of her as the Kilgrave of the Commonwealth. With a high charisma stat, Dizzy can convince humans and Deathclaws alike to calm down. Better yet, Dizzy eventually gains the power to turn people against each other in a murderous rage, all without having to fire a single shot.
Oh, just because this is a pacifist run doesn't necessarily mean no blood will be spilled. People do die in Hinckley's playthrough of Fallout 4. He just finds ways to make the game blame other people, while retaining this gem:
"It's not about whether or not I'm against violence, because the game doesn't give you like Fallout: New Vegas-esque abilities to avoid violence completely," Hinckley said in a video. "All that matters to us is [that the game doesn't count any kills.]...Robots, turrets, legendary enemies, synths, all this shit. Zeroes. All the way down the line.
"That's what we want. That's all we want. If we can do that, that's a pretty crazy achievement. That's something that most people have already dismissed as being impossible."
While this may seem like cheating — it's not technically a pacifist run, given how many bodies pile up by the time the credits roll — Kyle Hinckley's playthrough of Fallout 4 is still a fascinating look at the ways players bend and break games to do their bidding.
At first, the strategies for pacifism are simple enough. He exits the vault without killing anything just by trapping Radroaches in certain areas of the map, where they can no longer follow him. Later, he kites enemies straight into other NPCs, so they start fights with each other.
The start is easy. Everything that comes afterward, though, is a trip. Most of the XP granted in Fallout 4 comes from combat. That's not an option for Hinckley, so he starts the game out by focusing on settlements. He builds the same structure over and over again, dozens of times, to grind out enough experience to get to level ten — which is high enough to have some of the basic, necessary perks required for a pacifist run. This is as excruciating as it sounds, especially when you consider what little XP building stuff grants you in the first place.
The entire thing is a test of patience. The run makes ample use of save scumming, that is, the practice of saving before taking an important action and then reloading if it fails. Fallout 4 has a perk called "Wasteland Whisperer" which lets the player pacify enemies — instead of attacking the player, the enemy will simply put their hands up. However, having the perk doesn't guarantee it will work. It just gives you a chance of calming down your enemies, and Hinckley can't rely on a dice roll to complete the game with zero kills. So he reloads and tries, tries again, until it actually goes through.
It's a brute-force method, yes. Like I said earlier, Fallout 4 really doesn't want you to play the game this way, and all of its mechanics ensure that, at some point during a normal playthrough, you'll have to lodge bullets into someone's noggin. Even if you take the so-called peaceful perks.
So Hinckley gets creative. At one point during his playthrough, you can watch him repeatedly pickpocket a NPC — but he's not trying to steal from that character. Rather, he's trying to give that character better gear, so that they might have a chance of killing a particularly troubling enemy. Except Hinckley is repeatedly caught attempting this trick, and it's hilarious to watch an otherwise friendly NPC turn on a character that's only trying to help.
Sometimes, however, forcing a pacifist playthrough makes Fallout 4 lose its shit. There's a quest in Fallout 4 where the player must save a companion, Nick Valentine, from a vault. Nick Valentine goes into the vault searching for a missing dame, only to find out she had actually run off with a mobster type, Skinny Malone. At the end of this level, the player has a confrontation with both Malone and the dame. You have a few options. You can attack everyone. You can convince the damsel to turn on her lover. Or, you can convince the damsel to leave without having to hurt anybody.
In a pacifist playthrough, the last option seems like the most obvious one, right? As Hinckley progresses through his playthrough, though, it becomes obvious that the game literally doesn't know how to deal with a player who pacifies everyone into submission. So, he starts experiencing weird audio problems related to that peaceful mechanic. More notably, when he convinces the dame to leave, the game bizarrely spawns an enemy where it shouldn't, and this forces the peaceful encounter to become violent once more. Normally, this wrinkle can be dealt with fine — Hinckley can simply pacify the characters again. The problem is, after calming everyone down, the game borks itself. Characters won't continue their dialogue. Nick Valentine refuses to actually leave the vault, even if there's nothing stopping him from doing so. Hinckley becomes so desperate after this happens, he tries to physically push Nick out of the vault. It doesn't work.
In this case, one of Fallout 4's rare "talking your way out of it" options broke down because the player tried going through the entire game in a peaceful manner. The only way Hinckley could actually complete the quest was by picking the violent option, thereby starting a firefight that he couldn't actually participate in. Worse, he had to stop his own companion from taking shots at anyone, because companion kills are logged as player kills. It took a ton of tries, but eventually the AI found a way to kill itself without any intervention. It's amazing.
The biggest hurdle of all, however, has to be the part of Fallout 4 where the player has to kill a character known as Kellogg, the player's arch-nemesis. Hinckley has to come up with a way to finish the game without personally killing the game's main villain, absurdly enough.
Hinckley, miraculously, still works through it. He does so by luring Kellogg into a series of mines — not to kill Kellogg, but rather, to get his health down enough. Once past a certain threshold, however, Kellogg will start trying to heal himself (the bastard!) To stop that, Hinckley pops a cryo mine, a weapon that freezes enemies in place. This, in turn, gives the other enemies in the room, which Hinckley has brainwashed to fight for him, a chance to kill Kellogg where he stands. What you have to understand here is, the chances of pulling his off without a hitch — getting all the characters in the right place, having the pacify/incite mechanics pop without fail, and then having the AI successfully kill someone despite their terrible pathing and bad aim — is extremely difficult. The fight took five hours. Five entire hours.
"THANK FUCK," Hinckley exclaims at the end of the ordeal. "What a shit show," he proclaims.
"I'd love to ask [Todd Howard why pacifism is so difficult in this Fallout," Hinckley told me in an interview.
"I'm a little disappointed in the lack of diplomatic solutions in this game, it's a lonely departure from the rest of the Fallout series," Hinckley said. "My version of pacifism isn't really diplomatic, it's more exploitative of the game mechanics to achieve a zero-kill record. In other [Fallout] games, you had a lot of alternatives for bypassing the combat, whether it was with sneaking, speech checks, or a back door opened with lockpicking and hacking. In fact, in previous games (at least 3 and NV), your companion kills didn't count towards your record either."
Hinckley says that he felt sad when he found out how much Fallout 4 focused on combat — it made him feel like the developers forgot about about players like him, who have stuck with the series for a long time. In a way, Hinckley saw his pacifist playthrough as a way of showing the world that he refuses to be forgotten.
Hinckley's run isn't perfect. Already, other players are theorycrafting better, less painful methods of dealing with certain portions of the game. But this is it for Hinckley. While his time could be improved, he can't do better than the zero kills he already achieved.
"I wish I could've brought myself to use a mod to simply bypass the reload-reload-reload quality of much of the videos," Hinckley remarked. "But, that would have been seen as cheating, and I would rather torture than cheat."
"It was a little aggravating to reload as many as twenty or thirty times on a quest completion, but the fun came from putting problems behind me, rather than solving them outright," Hinckley said. "However, the sense of relief that I got from the synth killing Kellogg will never be matched by another struggle with this game. Knowing how to beat a game without doing personal damage goes a long, long way toward understanding what lies under the veneer of combat that Fallout 4 is associated with."
You can watch the finale of Hinckley's pacifist Fallout 4 run here: