Send a companion away in Fallout 4 and they don’t magically reappear at home. No, they walk there. Which got me wondering - what actually happens? What do they get up to? What do they see? As it turns out, a whole heap of crap.
To test this I took Dogmeat from Sanctuary, in the top north west of the map, right down to the Minutemen’s Castle, just about the most south westerly point without sea access. Once there I cut him loose. Set him free like a Christmas puppy at a gas station in January. And watched.
The first thing that becomes immediately clear is that oh my God this is going to take forever. Five minutes and he’s only reached the end of the first road. I’m massively regretting this idea already. It’s 10pm. I didn’t think this through.
As Dogmeat wanders off I trail behind, watching from a distance through a sniper rifle. The plan is to not get involved - just hang back and see what happens. I soon discover this isn’t going to work. Dogmeat doesn’t really kill things. He’s great at chewing and belly rubs but that’s about it. Within seconds of hitting South Boston he’s set upon by three ghouls who just pound him into the ground while I watch. There are yelps and whining, swinging arms whacking repeatedly into his crushed furry body.
I’m a terrible human being.
But it’s okay. Sort of. As soon as the Ghouls pound Dogmeat into submission they turn and attack me (yay?) So there’s a solution of sorts - wait until Dogmeat’s hurt and then kill enemies when they turn on me. I didn’t say it was a good solution but that’s the plan. I won’t interact with Dogmeat but if he gets in trouble I’ll kill things. I’ll be his Mysterious Stranger (or terrible owner, depending on your perspective).
Everything almost collapses, however, when I stop to snipe the carapace off a Mirelurk. I lose sight of Dogmeat while in scopes and realise it’s over if I can’t find him. Running around in panic I charge right into some Raiders who attack. Normally, that would be bad but I’m ashamed to say a little ripple of joy runs through me when I hear a yelp among the gunshots. I’ve found Dogmeat! He’s here! Being shot! YES! Wait, I mean ‘Oh no’. Look, the important thing is I haven’t lost him.
Soon he’s leaving South Boston, me watching him like a hawk, and heading out into the wilderness. At one point Dogmeat finds a Gunner camp. I’ve no idea what he did but something explodes and there’s a lot of shouting. I can see him mauling people as I take pot shots. I almost don’t notice the Vertibird that turns up because what could Dogmeat...HE’S CHASING IT. He’s bloody chasing the thing.
Me at this point:
Except the deer have machine guns.
Fortunately, the only thing more stupid than my dog right now is the Vertibird pilot who crashes into a bridge trying to line up a shot. So that’s that then. One less thing to worry… Wait, Dogmeat’s going after the survivors because of course he is. At least people fresh out of an air crash tend to have low morale and bits of helicopter stuck in them so they don’t put up much of fight.
It’s getting dark now and as we move through the wastes I start to realise I may have inadvertently created the most dangerous mission in the game. I can’t stop to loot bodies, for fear of losing the dog, so ammo and supplies are getting low. I’m also starting to suspect Dogmeat is some sort of walking disaster magnet. I think if he went into an empty room right now the floor would attack me.
n the distance a laser fight lights up the night and, through my scope, I find a Deathclaw. Fuck. That. I pray it stays there and find out that Deathclaws can apparently hear praying because it immediately turns and heads straight for the dog. At least someone up there was listening though: three Brotherhood of Steel soldiers turn up in full power armour and mince the thing in seconds. Score!
As we head past Shaw High School and towards Milton General Hospital, I really hope the ‘cleared’ marker on my Pip-Boy means I won’t have any trouble.
Even better, these are supermutant suiciders so every time I shoot one it explodes in a tiny nuclear mushroom cloud with a dog at its center. I’m not sure I’m helping. Eventually, though, we get through and reach Diamond City’s protective security guards and turrets. I’ve never wanted to hug NPCs more. For a few beautiful minutes nothing attacks us, no one explodes and for a while an Eyebot follows us playing ‘The End of The World’: “Why does my heart go on beating. Why do these eyes of mine cry. Don't they know it's the end of the world. It ended when you said goodbye”. I think Dogmeat requested it.
Leaving the safety of Diamond City we cross the bridge over the wreck of the USS Riptide towards Cambridge Polymer Labs. Night is falling on the first day and we’re maybe a third of the way. Dogmeat’s ability to stay on track, or even head in the right direction, is really holding things up - for every tedious 100 yards in the right direction there’s 500 of random wandering.
Anywhere even the memory of an enemy once stood seems worth checking. For a while he heads in completely the wrong wrong direction, walks up to a bus blocking his path and sort of looks at it for a while, before turning around and walking back the way he came. Clearly, the concept of ‘going around’ is not big in dog circles. It’s a good ten minutes lost to backtracking.
At least the next third or so passes without incident. Okay, Dogmeat sets off a couple of mines but we actually make it to Lexington with little more than a Ghoul attack. Some more ghouls. And another mine. By this point it’s been almost two hours and I’ve kind of shut down a bit. We pass Graygarden, a settlement full of greenhouses protected by turrets I’d previously built. I like turrets. It begins to rain. Sunrise is just starting to bother the horizon.
This is it, the home stretch. I can see my position and Sanctuary on the same map screen finally. Which is when this whole stupid idea faces its biggest threat. Legendary Supermutant? Bastard large deathclaw? No, fucking radstags. They’re not even dangerous, but as soon as they see Dogmeat they scatter and the idiot sets off after the one that flies past him. The one running in the wrong direction.
Holy crap, these things are fast. Dogmeat is off like a rocket back the way we came. Instead of trying to catch him I aim a long shot up the ass of the fleeing stag and end it. As Dogmeat turns around and heads slowly back I grimly execute every last stag I can find. All the moral options in Fallout 4 and this is the worst. Sorry mutant-Bambi, I just want to go home and my dog’s an idiot.
As I finish off the last one I lose Dogmeat for a second time - my heart drops. Not now, I’m so close. Fortunately, he’s not actually that hard to find because he’s on fire. God knows what happened, or how he managed it in seconds, but a car’s burning, Dogmeat’s burning and so’s the Gunner he’s trying to pulling the arm off. I’m not even mad...
By now I’m kinda done. I barely even register pulling up the gun to shoot things. It’s been a long walk. I’m tired. A lone Raider drops without even knowing what hit them. From now on the only thing that matters is home. Nothing will stop me making sure Dogmeat reaches it. That even goes for buildings. As we reach Abernathy Farm, the last location before Sanctuary, Dogmeat walks up to the fence, looks at it and then turns back. I think he hears my horrified gasp because he stops and returns to stare at the fence. Before he can change his mind I enter crafting mode and rip the thing out of the ground. I don’t care if you think it’s cheating. You follow the bloody animal for two hours and see how patient you’re feeling. Dogmeat walks through like nothing happened.
With the end literally in sight - the unloaded textures of Sanctuary teasing a distant conclusion - it’s almost over. This close to home there’s little resistance - a few bloatflies here and there who are swatted with extreme prejudice before Dogmeat can react. We pass the Red Rockets gas station and I CAN SEE THE BRIDGE. This is it. It’s over. I follow Dogmeat into to town and stay with him as he turns towards the nearest doghouse. He gets in and lies down, looking up at me with that big stupid face. Good dog. It’s 12.30am. I’m going to bed.