I was surprised to discover that this game got a lot of backlash. I thought it was amazing. Currently tied for my favorite game of last generation with Catherine. I can see that there are issues, but for me they’re not that important in the grand scheme of things. The plot was quite confusing however, and has some issues, but I think I have it mostly figured out, though choose to interpret it differently. In trying to figure it out, I wrote it all out, so I might as well post it here:
Booker in one timeline (which I shall call the first timeline) accepts the baptism and becomes Comstock. In accepting the baptism he gains the ability to forgive himself for whatever he does, which sends him down the path of becoming a moral train wreck and leading Colombia as the prophet. But he also becomes sterile somehow. Maybe due to Lutece’s weird experiments but its not that relevant. Anyway, in another timeline (which I shall call the second timeline), Booker rejects the baptism, and thus never forgives himself for what he does. Timelines are split not by probabilistic outcomes that always end the same way, as shown by the coin toss at the beginning, but by the decisions that one makes. Thus choosing to accept or leave the baptism creates different timelines. This Booker that doesn’t accept the baptism then goes on to marry someone. She dies during child birth but leaves him a daughter, Anna. But he has a lot of debt and is still somewhat of a jerk so he ends up selling her to Robert Lutece to settle them, though he tries to get her back at the last moment which is how she ends up losing her finger. Robert Lutece is working with the Comstock from the first timeline as well as the Lutece from the first timeline, Rosalind, to get Comstock a proper heir despite the sterility, which was done by plucking her from the second timeline and bringing her to the first. In doing so he gets a child that is still essentially his flesh and blood despite his sterility. However Comstock was a jerk and tried to have both of the Luteces killed, though he failed so then the Luteces tried to fix their mistake of bringing over Anna, then known as Elizabeth. Thus they came up with a plan of having another Booker, the Booker you play as, deal with it.
The Booker you play as is the Booker from a variation of the second timeline. He is a variation in that the Luteces tried many many times, which can also be seen from the coin toss tally at the beginning. It is not entirely clear what they changed between trials however, though I’m guessing it was small things like maybe telling him not to pick a raffle number and differences in the various appearances of the Luteces throughout the game that ultimately have major impacts. Anyway, his memories have been changed by the Luteces through going between timelines and he now believes he is still in debt. He is then offered a different deal by Lutece to settle his debts by going to Colombia and bringing back a girl. At some point there is a branch where he ends up joining Slate and the Vox. I would assume this branch must happen pretty early on in the game, so I’m guessing it may be his decision during the raffle. If it was purely probabilistic then he would always choose the same number each time I would think, but since he was specifically told not to pick the winning number, it instead becomes a choice and thus timeline branch. It isn’t too much of a stretch to think that if he didn’t win the raffle he could stay out of sight until he got a stronger grasp of what Colombia was, and in doing so met Slate along the way, and ended up aiding the Vox. This Booker that joins the Vox ends up dying while fighting for them.
In the timeline you’re playing in he finds himself in the cross hairs of Comstock and he ends up diving straight into trying to rescue the girl in the tower and ends up on the run with her. Along the way Elizabeth opens a tear between timelines that they end up going through into the timeline from where Booker joined the Vox and died.
He ends up replacing a the dead Booker and Elizabeth had magically disappeared for some reason. When a tear is opened between two realities then memories can flow between them even if the people themselves don’t go through them. This is clear from the explanation of people remembering their deaths when they changed timelines. Memories also apparently do not transfer if the you from the other universe is alive as well, as is seen by Booker not gaining any of Comstocks memories till he died. That would also mean that a tear was created between the universe of the Booker you’re playing as and the future where Elizabeth destroys the world as Booker saw that vision earlier. Whether this is significant is to be determined. It may well have been the Luteces uses the difference in memories from that as a change in variables between trials.
Moving on, they continue forwards but Elizabeth gets captured by Songbird. Booker tries to save her, but there is no timeline in which he succeeds on his own. Hence, in all of those timelines Elizabeth becomes the destroyer of Earth. She has a change of heart however, and realizes that while she can’t prevent what she did, she can create a timeline where this doesn’t happen to an alternate her, and she uses her rifts to first bring Booker into the future to show him what happened, and then throws him back into a a variation of the previous timeline where Elizabeth hasn’t yet undergone the surgery that breaks her, and puts him in a position where he is able to stop it. They then go after Comstock and Booker kills him. He then begins to remember things that Comstock knew but doesn’t quite remember them. Why is that? In the other instances the memories came at will mostly from what I can remember. It may have something to do with how Comstock and Booker despite being the same person ended up so different. They are essentially different people and thus it may be far more difficult for them to sync, so to speak. It may also just be something the Luteces implemented.
Next they destroy the siphon, which completely unlocks Elizabeth’s powers and gives her proper conscious control over them. She goes with Booker to the sea of doors where she has go to various points in the world where Booker is from where he made major decisions and has him relive the timeline of the Booker that gave away his daughter in order to regain his memories. Note that reliving his memories is unsaturated color wise. He’s simply going to different spots to regain his memories at this point. He isn’t actually going through different points in the timeline. This is, right up until the point he enters the last lighthouse, at the Baptism for real and in color, but from a different timeline than the one he was in. He somehow merges into the Booker from that time line, and discovers that he’s Comstock, and accepts that he has to die to prevent what happened to Elizabeth from happening to her, which ultimately results in the end of the world. Booker merging in with his past self is just something that Elizabeth can do at that point and she does, not just with one Booker but many, each with their own Elizabeth. This entire situation gets a bit convoluted and somewhat of a deus ex machina, but just go with it.
Elizabeth (any of them) originally was not in the time line of the Baptism when it happened, but she is now. She is completely physically there and has the full capacity to affect things, so she is capable of making major changes to the branches that exist, such as in killing Booker. Another added mechanic is the concept of variables and constants. Some things can change and are thus variables, but something will always be constant. Some of these constants are constants of consequence. As in doing one thing will always lead to another thing. Booker obtaining the Baptism would always lead to him becoming Comstock, no matter what. Thus by killing him during the Baptism, the Comstock timelines are completely destroyed, but Booker’s timeline survives. Now without a Comstock, there is no one to steal his daughter, and thus Booker and Anna live happily ever after in another timeline, which you see in a post credit cut scene though it is highly ambiguous. The Elizabeth that was completely controlling the time space space continuous survives due to her powers, which is essentially only done for the sake of the DLC, but in a way makes the ending happier. Elizabeth survives. Book survives and isn’t wracked by guilt over his daughter as he never abandoned her. And a separate Anna survives and grows up with him as well. Thus as a major fan of happy endings, I’m somewhat satisfied.
Why I dislike this ending is that it ultimately means that Booker, or any individual in that matter, ultimately has no choice over their decisions. The system with variables and constants means that Booker despite everything he experienced with Elizabeth, despite the hatred he felt for Comstock, despite the entire journey he went though, would still become Comstock if he was Baptized. Events ultimately always play out the way they are intended to as forced by some randomly decided system or god rather than by personal choices made with free will. In some sense, I can see how that would fit into the overall themes of the game, where there are points that seem to clearly show that sometimes choices aren’t truly choices and the same things will happen regardless, essentially fake choices. But at the same time, the game is about different ways to choose to deal with regret and redemption. Booker chooses one way. Comstock chooses another. These different choices leading to very different people is one of the main themes in the game. That this choice gets minimized to being solely the result of being ducked into water at a specific point in time greatly diminishes this. Furthermore, that the entire journey that Booker went through is ultimately incapable of changing anything in regards to his character as compared to a single action also diminished the value of the ending. Thus it is an ending I am satisfied with, but it still rings a bit hollow.
And ending that I would prefer (woohoo fanfiction!) would get rid of the role of ‘variables and constants’ and instead focus solely on choice. The original Bioshock gave you a choice for the ending. I felt this should have as well, and essentially built up to one, but then never gave it to the player. It would go something like this:
When Booker appears for the Baptism, he is ultimately given a choice by an Elizabeth that has tremendous power and control over time and space and is able to pull off both choices through this, but ultimately wants Booker to make the choice. On one side he can accept that he is Comstock, and that he must pay for the sins that he has committed, or rather will commit, no matter what, even with his death and the disappearance of everything in those timelines. This would lead to the same ending as before, he dies during the Baptism, though this is ultimately just metaphorical, and Elizabeth is the one that completely removes all of Comstock’s timelines from existence, and thus disappears as well. Then after the credits there is once again the scene with Booker looking at Anna’s crib, and they ultimately live happily ever after. But the key here is that this was done through a choice Booker made and Elizabeth implemented, rather than trying to loophole a system that diminished the value of choice.
The other ending, is that he can choose to be Booker, someone that promised Elizabeth that he would stay with her and protect her, and chooses to look towards the future rather than trying to redeem the past. Thus he and Elizabeth both return to the timeline that they are originally from, Elizabeth loses her powers by returning to her original timeline for some reason, and they live happily ever after as father and daughter. The post credit scene is Booker and Elizabeth in Paris, maybe climbing up stairs up to a view of the Eiffel Tower. The other timelines would still mostly be a mess, but without the Luteces helping Comstock, he can’t screw them up anymore than they already are, and ultimately things would work out.
I half felt something like this would happen at the end when on one side an Elizabeth said “He is Booker” and another said “He is Comstock”. They could make each of those statements longer and give a better indication of what each of these entails, and then simply use the R/L bumper choice thing to implement the choice based on which side said the choice you want. A lot of earlier plot elements would involve modification, especially in relation to the infinite timelines mechanic and there may be issues, but the plot already has a number of issues and holes so that’s not too much of a detriment. The DLC would require major changes, but it already involves massive leaps of logic and faith, so I’m sure it would be managed with similar albeit different ones.
On a more broad note, the game was amazing. The smaller subplots to the stories were great. The character designs were spectacular, especially Elizabeth who was perfect. The voice acting, once again especially for Elizabeth, was perfect. The art direction, soundtrack, and overall atmosphere was incredibly immersive. The gun play I felt was solid, though a bit rough sometimes. But the vigors, tears, and just everything were super fun and pretty refreshing in this day and age. Very much looking forward to what Levine is working on in the future and am sad about the closing of Irrational Games way later than I should be. I believe it is confirmed for only PC only right now but I hope it also comes out on consoles.
Overall an amazing and thought provoking game with a lot of depth.