Why are the Brotherhood of Steel in this story? Frankly, what good are they?
Here at the halfway marker the player is well stocked with goals, enemies, and resources. James was murdered by the Enclave. Project Purity is both stalled and in enemy hands. Before the end of the game the player will need to find the GECK, escape the Enclave’s clutches when captured, and mount an assault to reclaim the monument and purify the wasteland. None of that requires the Brotherhood unless we say it does. Do we really need to introduce a unique location and dozens of NPCs if all we need to say to the player is, “Go find a GECK, it’s in this part of the map somewhere?” Is the idea of fighting through all the Enclave’s soldiers and singlehandedly reclaiming the monument more unrealistic than, say, fighting one’s way alone out of Raven Rock? Or wiping out small armies of Super Mutants? Or any of the other absurd battles the player’s obliged to win without backup? At best you can argue that you need an armed force like the Brotherhood to hold Project Purity after you’ve taken it…but why would you need them to? I mean, in the original draft, why do you need to occupy the monument once you’ve successfully purified all of the water in the wasteland? Isn’t a desperate lone-wolf attack to fix the device, press the button, and who knows if you’ll make it out alive more exciting anyway? Wouldn’t that give your likely sacrifice a greater sense of heft and dramatic inevitability?
In the game as written, the primary effect of the Brotherhood is to dilute the player’s agency and responsibility. They do nothing to justify this and oblige other tremendous expenses on the part of the artists, writers, scripters, and voice actors. But I can’t cut them out; that’s not the kind of lemonade we’re making here. Instead I will ask myself:
What good could the Brotherhood be?The obvious prerequisite to that question is, what are the Brotherhood of Steel in Fallout 3? They possess these primary characteristics:
- The Brotherhood is altruistic, noble, and concerned primarily with crusade against evil.
- Yes, I know. Doesn’t matter. Resurrecting Black Isle’s murdered canon is not one of the goals of my series.
- The Brotherhood is a source of advanced technology.
- And power armor training at a roughly level-appropriate interval. Don’t try to tell me the whole faction justifies this one mechanic.
- The Brotherhood is a military organization with aspects of a government.
- Which distinguishes them from the Enclave, which is a.) the opposite and b.) for some reason outrageously evil.
Proceeding only from this description, they’re a pretty dubious addition to our story. Assuming the player’s a good guy, this is a story about overthrowing tyrants and handing the Wasteland the means to its own self-empowerment. Now we’re making players pursue that goal through allegiance with a paternal techno-stratocracy? Besides the fact that the Enclave happens to currently be mean and the Brotherhood happens to be led by an infallible saint, what meaningfully differentiates the Enclave from the Brotherhood? Isn’t either one a good or bad administration away from becoming the other? If so, how can you trust them as your allies and ask them to occupy your father’s work with murderous robots and elite armored forces?
This distinction is a crucial one to establish; otherwise we’re on some shaking thematic ground. More than anything else, we need to emphasize the Brotherhood’s nonviolent interests in the Wasteland. Make it clear that their “good fight” against mutants represents the necessary front lines of a scientific aid organization, a sort of Engineers Without Borders that’s forced to pack miniguns. Ideally we should sprinkle some of their public works projects (successful and otherwise) throughout the Wasteland: little fountains or medical droids or power generators or hydroponics facilities that may or may not have been co-opted by scabby raiders. Since these projects are not tools of conquest, we learn that at the very least the Brotherhood is not leveraging all its resources towards self-empowerment, which puts them pretty obviously about the Enclave or just about any other government. It becomes easier to face the idea that we’re leaning on them for help.
Back to tour narrative: the player is taken into the Citadel with all the other project survivors. There’s no lengthy scene with Li and Lyons hashing things out; it’s straight off to a holding cell to be interrogated personally about the Project’s status and the intervention of the Enclave. If the player’s mouthy or uncooperative, no special action is taken, although it’s implied that Dr. Li already talked quite a bit. Eventually the interrogation gives a sense of what the Brotherhood believes: the Enclave are evil scum motivated more by desire for power and control than a sesne of what’s good for humanity. The Wasteland needs another source of clean water. Your father’s project, even if in enemy hands, is the best dog in that fight. Also, it probably sucks.
That’s the important subtle detail: the Brotherhood of Steel, who have not even taken a crack at the monument in all these years, don’t actually know how the purifier is supposed to work and are actually pretty sure it can’t. In other words, they don’t really believe the project can purify all the water in the Wasteland. Why would they? But even if it’s going to end up a glorified de-radifying water cooler, that’s a net good that at the very least should not be in Enclave hands. They tell the player that if they ever discover the proper components to fix it up, they’ll help evict the Enclave, free of charge.
Partially, this restructuring of ideas and faction purpose is to validate our parents as awesome geniuses who can’t even be anticipated, let alone equaled, by the scientists who replace them in the story. Partially this reframing preserves the sense of the player being the one with desire and agency, rather than a pack of wrinkly BoS questgivers who step in smoothly to fill in for James, who is dead[/anchor voice]. Whenever possible, though, conversations with Brotherhood workers should highlight their thematic role: they as a faction symbolize The Helpers. First and foremost they’re not a crack military force or de facto government, but a collection of people who spend their lives trying to make things right for complete strangers. They swap stories not just about duels with killer mutants, but about harvests failed, settlers massacred, injustices suffered, towns laid low by preventable disease. They should agonize about failures and nurse the scars of defeat, physical and emotional. Each is tormented by demons of effort squandered or people not saved. The Brotherhood should represent altruism at its most sincere, personal, and consuming. Among other things, as the final choice between charity and enterprise draws closer, their obvious strain and misery and mixed feelings should lead the player to wonder:
Is this kind of sacrifice really what I want for myself?
NEXT WEEK: LITTLE LAMPL—AW, CRAP
Silent Hill 2 Plot Analysis
A long-form analysis on one of the greatest horror games ever made.
Juvenile and Proud
Yes, this game is loud, crude, childish, and stupid. But it it knows what it wants to be and nails it. And that's admirable.
A Star is Born
Remember the superhero MMO from 2009? Neither does anyone else. It was dumb. So dumb I was compelled to write this.
The No Politics Rule
Here are 6 reasons why I forbid political discussions on this site. #4 will amaze you. Or not.
The Best of 2015
My picks for what was important, awesome, or worth talking about in 2015.