There are four factions in Fallout 4 that you can choose to ally with. They each have different goals and ambitions that drive them. Sometimes you can ally with more than one of them, but often, these ambitions conflict with each other. This means that if you ally with one, you ultimately make enemies of the other.
While different, they all have one thing in common–they are all ready and willing to kill to achieve their goals.
This is, of course, just a game, and many people will choose a faction based on the perks, loot, or skills that they can get from siding with that faction. But many other players want to side with the “right” faction–the faction that most closely resembles their own sense of personal morality. In this guide, I break down the ambitions behind each faction so you can choose to ally with one that you think is “more right”.
Note: I have tried to keep this spoiler-free, but I’m not perfect. If you don’t want spoilers, please do not read any further.
Raiders are not really a faction. You can’t ally with them, but raiders are a good place to start when considering the ambitions of the various Fallout 4 factions. Raiders are everywhere, and all other factions fight raiders. Raiders have limited structure (except Gunners, which are a more organized group of raiders), and are simply out for themselves. Thy murder, torture, kidnap, and enslave people to get money, drugs, food, and whatever else they desire.
Raiders are the embodiment of immediate self-satisfaction, consequences be damned. Raiders are self-serving, and they do great harm to other people. They are the clear embodiment of the “wrong” lifestyle choice.
The Railroad frees enslaved synths. synths are man-made robots, created by the Institute. These robots are used as servants, warriors, and assassins by the Institute. The Railroad believes that synths have free will and are essentially human. Their goal is to free all synths who want to be freed, whatever the cost.
In the real world, robots are nowhere close to resembling humans, so this “civil rights issue” has yet to emerge. But in science fiction, this issue is alive and well, and we deal with it in Fallout 4. Can robots be alive? At what point do we distinguish them from human? The Railroad wrestles with this issue internally–some say all robots deserve civil rights, while others say that only the most human ones do. But they all agree that the Institute is wrong to force their own creations to do their will. It is your job, as the Sole Survivor, to free them.
The Railroad ending is bittersweet. I chose to ally with this faction and I have some regrets. (I wish I had done the Minutemen game ending). Since the Railroad is single-minded in their goal of freeing the synths, they don’t consider the consequences of doing so. Some synths they free become raiders who murder and pillage. They free so many synths that they are not prepared to care for them. This leaves synths wandering the wastelands, being easy pickings for raiders.
Ally with the Railroad faction if you are idealistic, and at some times unrealistic. You know ‘wrong’ when you see it, and you’re willing to fight for change, whatever the cost (and with no real plan to deal with change when it happens).
The Institute is an organization of scientists that lives underground. They escaped the nuclear apocalypse of 2077 and live in a clean world–as the world might have looked had the bombs never dropped. They are the greatest technological minds in the Commonwealth. Their ambitions are to experiment, pursue science, and protect themselves at all costs.
Sometimes these experiments bring them into conflict with the every-man. For example, the Institute kills innocent people and replaces them with synths that are exact copies, indistinguishable from the original–so good that even spouses and children are fooled. They do this to perform social experiments and to spy on people to protect the Institute. This habit demonstrates that the Institute is single-minded when it comes to their science. Morality does not exist when it comes to dealing with “top-dwellers”. The best good is to do good science, to have a good experiment, and to do whatever it takes to keep the Institute free and healthy to continue doing science.
Father, the leader of The Institute, has never been above ground, and his world-view clearly demonstrates this lack of exposure to humanity. In the end, the Institute has no desire murder and enslave all humanity, and indeed, if given the opportunity, they will use their synths to fight raiders and protect the every-man.
But all of this comes second to science and the Institute’s goals. He is happy to help humanity with his technology, but only if it serves a greater scientific purpose. Otherwise, he prefers to be left alone in peace, free to do whatever he wants, even with other people’s lives. At one point he produces a radio broadcast that warns the world to simply leave the Institute alone–or else. Father expresses his passion to bring the benefits of the Institute’s health, cleanliness, and technology to the every-man top-side to make their lives better–by force, if needed.
Father sees the Brotherhood of Steel almost like some odd religious sect that fetishizes technology. He is visibly angered and repulsed by the Railroad, whom he considered to have “perverse” beliefs.
Ally with the Institute if you believe that mankind is disposable. There are greater things out there than inconsequential individual lives, which can and should be sacrificed if the world–and science–can benefit from it.
The Brotherhood of Steel
The Brotherhood of Steel (BoS) is a military organization that collects pre-war technology. They believe that no one else should exercise greater technology than they do. They believe that mankind’s reckless pursuit of science has led to the post-apocalyptic world they live in. They want to prevent technology from creating future atrocities.
Naturally, the Institute is their greatest enemy. They are amazed at the sophisticated technology the Institute possesses, and it scares them. In particular, they fear the vast armies of synths that the Institute employs. Elder Maxson, the leader of the BoS, says, at one point, that the Institute’s army of synths is the beginning of a new apocalypse all over again. Technology unchecked, science untested–he fears that the world can and will be destroyed again by technology run amok. The BoS is there to stop it, and to save humanity.
The BoS also has bigoted and fanatical aspects to their culture. They think mutants, ghouls, and synths are disgusting abominations. They feel it is their duty to wipe them out–they should not exist on this earth. They cannot see the humanity behind the face.
This bigotry is a great character flaw for the BoS, and it manifests later in the story. They are so single-minded at destroying all things non-human that they will do so even if it makes the BoS weaker. Even if it means betraying loyal followers.
The BoS wants to help “civilians”. However, civilians are expendable if necessary to achieve the Brotherhood’s goals. At one point the BoS asks you to “persuade” every-man settlements in the Commonwealth to part with their hard-grown crops, for the benefit of the Brotherhood. The BoS sets up a radio frequency announcing their presence and warning the population not to interfere. They are there to help, but only after they help themselves.
Choose the BoS if you are a purist. If you fight anything new because you fear it. If you have an idealistic vision of the perfect society, the perfect human being, and you want to fight all else until you achieve that perfection.
The Minutemen are a loosely-organized group of civilian “citizen soldiers” who felt compelled to organize some sort of defense against raiders and other threats. They were more active in the past until destroyed by a devastating battle with raiders that ruined their reputation. Now, the Minutemen are rebuilding under the leadership of Preston Garvey and you, the Sole Survivor.
The Minutemen have no ambitions beyond securing personal liberty. They free enslaved settlements and defend them from attacks by raiders, ghouls, mutants, and more. They encourage settlements to join the fold, under the protection of the Minutemen. However they never force a settlement to join, and they offer protection to settlements that have not yet joined.
The Minutemen are a homegrown militia of people who are taking the defense of their lives and property into their own hands. They believe that all people, whether ghoul, mutant, synth, or otherwise, have the right to live peacefully with dignity, as long as they are willing to work and fight for it.
The Minutemen is the only faction that you can still remain allied with if you choose to ally with any of the others. The other three factions are almost indifferent to the Minutemen and do not take them seriously, with the exception of the Railroad, which considers them an ally. (Indeed, if you go down the Railroad quest chain, Preston Garvey of the Minutemen encourages you).
Choose the Minutemen if you believe that people should be free to make their own decisions. Sometimes they make good decisions. Sometimes they make bad decisions. But mankind must be free to make those decisions, and personally suffer the consequences of them. Join the Minutemen if you believe that each man must be responsible for his own life choices, not some communal Institute or radical Brotherhood.
Whichever faction you choose to end the game with, that faction will roam the wastelands protecting civilians from raiders, monsters, super mutants, and ghouls. Their reasons for doing so, however, are completely different. The Railroad does so to protect synths. The Institute, to continue their research. The BoS, to purify the wastelands. And the Minutemen, to defend the every-man.