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Are Fallout 4's Covenant & Compound Really Evil?

Are Fallout 4's Covenant & Compound Really Evil?

Recently, I began my journey across Bethesda's less-than-loved Fallout 4, the Fallout entry that didn't particularly impress any fans of the franchise but still managed to find a following. Though this title is one of the first games I ever played on Steam (I'm a late bloomer) and the single title I've played the most on my account (ignoring endless ones like SMITE and Trove, both of which have a lot of idle time on them), I haven't really revisited it since I've felt like a "real" gamer.

Now that I've reached my 22nd hour across The Commonwealth, I've stumbled upon (and completed) the Covenant-associated quest, "Human Error", a quest that over all of my playthroughs, I've vehemently sided against the evil-doers and slaughtered everyone without nary a thought. This time around, however, I wanted to look closer at the Covenant and Compound and ponder: is the Covenant really evil?

The History of the Covenant

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To start, let's look a bit at the history of both of these areas. Though they're named differently, both of these places are, ultimately, the same thing: a settlement in the centre of The Commonwealth that takes in survivors. There's a catch to enter, however, as you'll need to pass their rigorous SAFE test, including the harsh questions like what you'd do if your neighbour is in possession of a Grognak the Barbarian comic book that you want and what position you'd prefer to play on a baseball team. Once you've answered everything, you're allowed inside the Covenant, a place filled with friendly (sometimes too friendly) folk who seem to be hiding something, and Honest Dan seems to think so, too.

This SAFE test, of course, is actually used to identify the possibility of every newcomer being a synth. Those who fail it are then kidnapped from the Covenant and taken over the Compound, where the subject is brutally tortured, questioned, and monitored, leading up to their inevitable execution to do an autopsy and identify whether they are synth or not. This was all started by Dr. Roslyn Chambers, the scientist behind the test who does the experiments and has been hellbent against Synths, seeking to destroy them all (yes, including our beloved Nick Valentine).

The Bad

The Covenant SAFE Test v11.3 Report Failure Rate2

At first glance, Covenant and Compound are rotten and evil — their views are bigoted against the synth (and the Institute), and they are torturing people in order to finish their tests and advance the SAFE test. Even this test, as said by Dr. Roslyn Chambers herself, is imperfect, stating:

Roslyn Chambers: "One day the SAFE test will be perfected."

Roslyn Chambers: "The margin of error is admittedly high, four or five false positives per synth. But one day we hope to get it to one or two false positives."

The dialogue seems to indicate that the Covenant has four or five failures per synth, meaning a 16–20% success rate. Everyone else (the so-called "false positives") is brutally tortured and killed because, as she says, there is no other way to identify them aside from an autopsy. 

Roslyn Chambers: "I'd have to perform an autopsy to be sure."

These arguments point towards Covenant being evil all around — though moral compasses and the existence of "good" and "evil" are complex, let alone in a post-apocalyptic world such as Fallout's. But one thing that's worth noting is why Roslyn Chambers takes the approach she did: the Broken Mask incident.

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For the uninitiated or those who didn't bother to read Publick Occurrences' entry "The Synthetic Truth" by Piper Wright, the Broken Mask incident took place in Diamond City in 2229 at the market bar, where The Commonwealth's Great Green Jewel was invaded by a human-like synth for the first time. After a few drinks, "Mr. Carter", a man known for his smile, laugh, and generally good personality, had what seemed to be a glitch and attacked everyone (even the friendly barman, Henry), killing a total of 10 people — two of which were Roslyn Chambers' parents. Left orphaned and traumatised by the event, she made it her life goal to be able to identify synths in order to avenge her parents and prevent what happened to her from recurring once again.

The Good

Dr Chambers Roslyn Recuriting for the Covenant Dialogue2

In the present time, the Covenant is filled with all manner of humans that have been affected by synths. While Roslyn Chambers lost her parents, everyone else has had horrors occur to them and Ted Huntley suffered at the hands of the Institute (the two accounts that we know from in-game dialogue). Everyone has been affected by the horrors of the Institute and has willingly sided with the Compound due to this.

Roslyn Chambers: "Covenant is many things. A refuge for the broken people left in the wake of the Institute's rampages. A place of safety and healing."

Jacob Orden: “I can't tell you how relieved we are. Everyone in Covenant has suffered dearly at the Institute's plan. All of us have lost people to the Institute... Poor Ted Huntley lost his entire family when a Courser retrieved a synth.”

Though the high false-positive rate of the SAFE test leaves some to be desired, it's worth keeping in mind that, according to Roslyn Chambers and Doctor Patricia Montgomery (the Covenant doctor who was recently transferred), it is getting more accurate. This means that though it does have its fails (as previously mentioned, with a measly 16–20% success rate), the Compound is confident that it can improve over time.

Roslyn Chambers: "Oh, yes. Autopsies confirm the test is getting more accurate."

This brings us to our original questions mentioned at the start of the article — questions four (Grognak the Barbarian) and eight (baseball) of the SAFE test. Both of these, according to Doctor Patricia Montgomery, are proving to have a higher success rate as they learn more about the synths and how they respond to them. A higher success rate — if we are to believe the dialogue — means that the Compound is finding a way to identify synths, something no one else in The Commonwealth can do. Whether the ends justify the means is a moral question that few can ever come to an agreement on, however.

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In a world that is at the behest of the Institute, being clearly overpowered and outgunned (aside from the Brotherhood of Steel, who arrive at The Commonwealth in the year 2287, 58 years after the Broken Mask incident), it makes sense that someone (in this case, Roslyn Chambers) would need to fight back. After all, not everyone is blessed with the capability of having protagonist plot armour and being able to open the console command with ` like our player character — someone needs to fight back against the Institute. Yet, it has to start by identifying the enemy first.

After the Broken Mask incident, it makes sense from the doctor's point of view. Few examples of "good" synths make it difficult to see the Institute as a force of benevolence, seeing as the highly advanced ones (Gen 3) are hidden, Nick Valentine is the only Gen 2 synth that seems to fit in, and the Gen 1 synths seem to only serve the Institute without trying to hide. Meanwhile, the few appearances of Gen 3 synths have been the Broken Mask incident and the Massacre of CPG, which stopped The Commonwealth from forming a proper government in 2230.

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But that doesn't necessarily mean the Compound is "good", either. Every test subject that is tested and killed is then scavenged for supplies and given to Penny Fitzgerald to sell at a significantly lower price — this, in turn, allows them to sell everything at competitive market value. Using this, they bring everyone into the Covenant by promising goods at low prices, then find out who's a synth, and then perform tests on those that fail the SAFE test (which has a very large margin of error). It really makes you double-think using the ever-powerful Justice legendary combat shotgun you can get there.

Penny Fitzgerald (after being asked “What do you sell?” when completing the Human Error on the side of the Covenant): “Whatever the caravans bring in. Plus anything Ms. McGovern can cobble together. You want to take a look?”

You can find the burn rate of their currency in the Penny’s Ledger item in her shop on top of the safe. In it, she claims that they are just a few short days away from running empty, burning 500 caps per week (as she claims — an unsustainable rate).

Plus, how could the settlement that houses Deezer and his lemonades ever be evil? It got me through my first Survival run, after all.

What Does The Commonwealth Think?

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Then, there's the question of the in-game factions. There are a total of four synth companions, and from the 13 companions (12 if you exclude Dogmeat because he loves you regardless) in the game, only three of them seem to approve of the Covenant (liking it when you gain entry for the first time) and six of them disapprove of them (disliking first entry or even hating for certain choices). The other three don't seem to care (which is strange for the likes of Codsworth, Danse, and X6-88, but we let that slide).

Affiliation-wise, it's safe to say that the Railroad and the Brotherhood of Steel under Elder Arthur Maxson would disapprove of the Covenant. Meanwhile, the Institute wouldn't care to level one settlement (let's face it: they've done worse), and even X6-88 doubts that their tests even work (which might prove that the SAFE test is just a hoax?). However, after completing the Human Error quest on the side of the Covenant, the settlement joins and raises the Minutemen flag. As a side note, it's worth noting that the SAFE test is a repurposed GOAT test from Fallout 3, but its modifications might be what gives it its "synth-detecting" properties.

X6-88: "This is the place with the so-called synth detector test. That's almost funny."

Jacob Orden: “We'd be honored to fly the Minuteman flag and contribute further to the safety and welfare of the Commonwealth.”

And that brings us to the Compound themselves. As an operation that hates the Institute, they have managed to become their worst enemy — kidnap and torture for scientific purposes. In their pursuit to end an evil that has been brought into The Commonwealth, they soon became the very thing they detested, embodying their worst traits. In fighting an evil organisation, can one forgive for becoming evil themselves?


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"A protagonist or notable figure who is conspicuously lacking in heroic qualities"
— Merriam-Webster's definition of antihero.

It’s difficult to make a definitive choice whether the Compound is “good” or “bad” because the black-and-white of it all doesn’t apply — morality is skewed when brought into real-life scenarios. The Compound has made a lot of choices that set it in different moral spectrums depending on how you look at it, and it complicates the entire viewpoint.

On one side of things, the Compound was fighting an uphill battle against an unbeatable enemy. Without the Brotherhood of Steel, the only forces that could oppose the Institute are Diamond City, which hides behind its tall stadium walls; the Railroad, which was more focused on freeing synths and doesn’t make much of an appearance from the Broken Mask incident in 2229 to even 2287, still believed to be a myth; and the Minutemen, which had fallen apart recently after the Quincy Massacre. When it came to “major settlements” and anyone who could fight the Institute, they either didn’t believe in The Commonwealth’s boogeyman (as proven by Diamond City finally turning a new leaf due to The Synthetic Truth), was fighting a war to free synths rather than fight back the Institute (as the Railroad even refused to recruit too many people and instead opted to memory-wipe synths of their Institute time), or had been abolished and was unable to fight even a group of gunners (not even former Minuteman Clint believed in the group). The Compound was the only way to reliably protect themselves from synths, and given time (and the success of the SAFE test), it could have made a prosperous settlement or a powerful addition to Diamond City’s strong walls.

Jacon Orden: We all believe in the mission but outsiders may not clearly see the sacrifices that are necessary to protect the Commonwealth. I... I don't know if the SAFE test will ever be perfect, but if there's a chance to tell who the real people are, the wholesome people… Well, we have to take it. Covenant's main goal is to improve our synth detection test. But it's equally important to help heal the casualties of this phantom war.

However, their methods verge on the brink of brutality. The holotapes of Subject 12 show Patricia Montgomery torturing the subject and trying to better the test — though torture and their high state of stress are necessary, it teeters into inhumane. And with a 16–20% success rate, it’s difficult to justify killing the already dwindling populace of The Commonwealth by employing the tactics of your very own enemy. Though there is no other way to prove whether they are synths without death and no way to better the test without torture, the Compound seems almost unwilling to make compromises, becoming zealots to their own mission and blinded by the belief that the ends justify the means, justifying their actions in the hopes of a “better Commonwealth”.

In their own story, the Compound encompasses an antihero more than any other moral alignment, making it — ultimately — an impossible question to answer.

Artura Dawn

Artura Dawn

Staff Writer

Writes in her sleep, can you tell?

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