This post is specifically (and only) about the Cambridge Polymer Labs in Fallout 4, and why its a perfect example of the great work Bethesda is known for. If you haven’t done the location yet and don’t want it spoiled (its a very minor, self-contained side quest/area), skip the post.
One of the things Bethesda does better than just about anyone else is pack smaller but still pretty incredible stories into their games. The thing that really works for Fallout is that the world overall is serious, but humor can be mixed in effectively without breaking immersion (unlike say the humor in WoW and something like Mr. T grenades.) This is important because when you spend hundreds of hours in a world, as you likely will in F4, variety is key, and the game being able to constantly mix things up is why you want to explore the next location.
Cambridge Poly Lab starts when an eye-bot (floating robot) floats near you and plays a recruitment message about employment at the location. This is somewhat curious because, well, the world was bombed, so is this really a job opportunity?
When you arrive at the location, another robot greats you at the door and performs a quick job interview. There is a pretty funny line about “decreased workforce causing an expedited hiring process”, and the job interview is literally one question; do you have experience in this area? If you answer yes, you’re hired! If only the real world was so easy…
After a brief tour, including a slide show in a room that it mostly destroyed (though one chair does survive so you can sit in it during the ‘presentation’), you are asked to step into a decontamination area, and when you do so the robot locks you in and informs you that mandatory overtime is in effect. The decontamination area then rapidly fills up with radiation and you have to scramble out through a hole in the wall.
Once inside the lab, there are various terminals you can read to pick up on the story. The lab is working on a coating for power armor, but the war interrupted their final test, and you are tasked with finishing the work. From a gameplay perspective, this involves finding different containers of material, placing them in a machine, and finally running the process to produce the finished power armor chest piece with the coating (this is the main quest reward).
The self-contained story is what really made this location a highlight for me. From the terminals, you find out that the research team was pushed hard to finish their work, ultimately being locked in the lab by the director. They hear the bombing happen, but are told its just a military drill and to continue working. They do so for a bit, but then one member has had enough and locked himself in a room to force a stop by threatening to enable the building security system, which would open the doors but also unleash the robots and turrets, which would target the lab workers and likely kill most if not all of them.
The other workers seek to stop him, and one of the skeletons in the building is clearly someone who failed to do so. Ultimately all of the lab workers died, either from fighting each other or from radiation. When you complete the research, the robot lets you out, and says the director would like to congratulate you personally. Following the robot upstairs, she unlocks the doors and you fight a feral ghoul in the directors room. With that done, you get paid a bonus (in pre-war money), and can look at the directors terminal.
Here you find out that the director wasn’t an evil bastard who trapped his staff just to get them to do more work; he did it because the only way the military was going to evacuate them after the bombs was if they were deemed ‘useful’ by producing the power armor. Without the research complete, the director could not save his workers, one of which was his wife. Unfortunately the director was injured from a trip out after the bombs fell looking for supplies, and he become a feral ghoul before he could get help.
There is also one email between the director and his wife, post-bombs, about the morality of lying to the staff about the bombs falling to keep them working. The director presented the fact that only finishing the work would cause the military to come evac them, while the wife argued that the other workers had families they possibly would want to go look for (which, given the damage from the bombs and the raiders/ghouls, was pretty unlikely to be very successful).
At a minimal, just gameplay level, this location isn’t anything major. The ‘puzzle’ of the research isn’t very difficult or time consuming, and the reward is decent but nothing amazing. However if you dig into all of the details, its a perfect example of excellent Bethesda content that fully rewards your full attention. The humor of the robot not realizing a war happened, the initial story presented about the director, and the ultimate reveal about his motivations; all of this expertly crafted and woven into the Fallout world.
Pretty great stuff for what is just one minor, totally optional location. The fact that Fallout 4 is LITTERED with such locations is what makes it worth hundreds of enjoyable hours to explore, and what puts Bethesda’s work above the rest.