Anyone who has read this blog, or spoken to me on Twitter, knows that I have a love/hate relationship with the Fallout series. I am a diehard fan from the late 90's but I've watched as the series has gone down some creative roads that I don't agree with. It's not all bad, far from it, but there's enough there to elicit a sigh and get me shaking my head.
The Brotherhood of Steel is one such aspect of the series that I find troublesome. They were fantastic in Fallout 1 & 2 because they played their part well, primarily because they had a thematic role to play. But in subsequent games they became that friend that hangs around the party after it's over... it's nice to see them but at a certain point you just want them to bugger off. If you haven't already, go check out this blog post for a more broad view of the Fallout. This post is going to be focusing purely on the Brotherhood of Steel.
The Brotherhood of Steel has it's roots in the Mariposa Military Base. During the months leading up to the Great War, the soldiers stationed at Mariposa witnessed the horrors preformed by scientists who were experimenting with the Forced Evolutionary Virus. Eventually when it's discovered that the scientists are using military "volunteers" for the experiments, the soldiers execute the scientists. Three days before the Great War breaks out in October of 2077, the soldiers announce to the outside world that they are seceding from the United States of America, but they get no reply. The soldiers figure that if an entire military base going rogue and deserting their post isn't the pressing for the USA, then something bad must be happening. With this in mind, the soldiers rightly call their families inside Mariposa just two days before the Great War breaks out.
Now, beyond a really awesome origin story this part of the Brotherhood's history is important for a few reasons. First, it separates them from the United States. Unlike the rest of the soldiers who survived the Great War, they are not remnants of the United States Military because they seceded before it began. Because of this they're not bound by that old doctrine anymore, they are their own faction. They weren't bound to help other survivors or help rebuild the United States. They went rogue and so while they had no obligation to anyone else, that also meant that they were entirely on their own. This speaks to their isolationism, one of the beliefs that would end up defining them.
Second, the Brotherhood of Steel and the Super Mutants are intimately tied. The Master's Super Mutants come from Mariposa Military Base... which is exactly where the Brotherhood of Steel came from. They have the same point of origin, and it could be said that they only reason there are Super Mutants at all is because the soldiers who went rogue didn't finish the job. They may have killed the scientists, but their science was still there and the ability to continue their horrific experiments was not destroyed. The Master's Super Mutants and the Brotherhood of Steel aren't just random enemies, they're linked by a common origin and this is what makes them fantastic enemies.
Third, and finally, the Brotherhood learned what happens when technology is allowed in the hands of those too immature, stupid or callous to use it properly. They saw the horrific experiments that were being preformed in Mariposa, they witnessed the Great War first hand, and that's why they're so obsessed with technology. They don't just hoard technology because they like big guns, they have a zealous respect and reverence, even fear, of technology and thus think they're the only one's who can be trusted to safely own it. The Gun Runners, the Gunners and Talon Company, they all know weapons as well as how to use them, they even know how to manufacture them. The Brotherhood is more like the Children of Atom, they're a religious organisation that is fanatically devoted to technology and advanced weaponry.
After things settled down after the Great War, the solider's travelled south to the Lost Hills bunker to establish themselves and start anew. The journey took several weeks and many soldiers, and members of their families, died or were killed along the way. This is another contributing factor to their isolationism, they were hounded by scavenging survivors on their initial journey through the wasteland. This was their exodus from their old lives, and it left them scarred both outside and within.
Once at Lost Hills bunker, the brotherhood went quiet for a while, turning inward to establish and define themselves. They were out in the wasteland, scavenging or trading for supplies and tech but they were largely minding their own business. Their first real big foray into the Wasteland is in 2134, 57 years later, when a group of Brotherhood Knights sneak out of Lost Hills to go explore the Glow for lost technology. The reason they had to sneak out was because the Brotherhood Elders had initially refused their request to leave Lost Hills. So already at this point we're seeing their character being formed, and the internal conflicts that arise from a desire to collect outside technology and a desire to isolate themselves. Somewhat fittingly, the Knights who stole away in the middle of the night never returned home.
By 2050 the Brotherhood notice that a group of raiders known as The Vipers, originally Vault Dwellers from Vault 15, are gaining a bit of power in the region. By 2055 they start going after the Vipers directly, not out of any sense of obligation to the surrounding Wastelanders but more to protect their own interests. The Vipers are a massive group of raiders, a veritable army, they pose a threat to the Brotherhood. It was only after the war with the Vipers that the Brotherhood officially set up a trade relations with the outside world, a full seventy-two years after their inception.
In 2161, a year before Fallout 1 begins, the Brotherhood come across the corpse of a Super Mutant and this is their first real clue that some nasty shit is going down. It's not until the Vault Dweller arrives in 2162 that they realize that it's tied in with their own origins. The thing is, they almost didn't learn any of this because they tried to scare off the Vault Dweller by giving him an impossible mission to complete. When he finally does complete it, he finds out that he's the first outside to be admitted to the Brotherhood of Steel in *decades.* That's how isolationist they are. Once they learn that the Super Mutants are originating from Mariposa Military Base, their own point of origin, they decide to help the Vault Dweller.
All this ties together really well, we've got a faction that has firm roots and motivations in the Wasteland. They've got an enemy that's not just an opposing force but an enemy that could arguably be said to be of their own creation, one that they are responsible for.
After the events of Fallout 1, the wasteland starts to evolve. The New California Republic is formed, and thanks to their part in the war against The Master, the Brotherhood of Steel is invited into the NCR and given control of the lands around Lost Hills, which becomes the state of Maxson. But the Brotherhood haven't changed, they're still the techno-hoarding zealots they always were. A faction wanted to open their doors to the outside world, now that the NCR was formed, and invite new blood in. This was too much of a radical change in thinking for the elders so they sent these Brotherhood members off in airships to chase down the remnants of the Master's Super Mutant army across the eastern moutnains, effectively exiling them.
By the time of Fallout 2, in 2242, the Brotherhood is a shadow of it's former strength and influence. While it was once a powerhouse of advanced technology and research, it's isolationist ways weakened it and crippled it's reach. The NCR had grown into a powerful new nation, because it was looking ahead, and people outside the NCR had often regressed, or evolved, into tribalism. Either way, the outside world was changing with the times. The Brotherhood was a small state within the NCR at best, because it was stagnating and always looking to the past. In a world that was progressing, the Brotherhood of Steel was being left behind.
All this makes thematic sense, because it's a natural progression of events. The Brotherhood doesn't want to grow, they're stuck in the past and they want to hoard technology and keep out the filthy outsiders who they abandoned and who subsequently hurt them so much during the Brotherhood's exodus. This has very real repercussions however, because you cannot isolate yourself and hope to advance - that's just not how it works. The Brotherhood never advanced, and they never made anything new, they only ever gathered the best technology that the old world had to offer. That strategy works for a while, but eventually the rest of the world catches up. And while the Brotherhood were focusing on hoarding the rest of the world was focusing on advancing. By the time the Brotherhood realized what had happened, it was too late for them to do anything about it because they were set in their ways.
This was all Interplay/Black Isle who put this together, so it was the original creators taking their story to it's logical conclusion. When Bethesda took over however, they wanted to set their story far away from the originals but they didn't have the courage, or lacked the originality, to create all new factions. Because of this, Bethesda made it that in 2254 the Brotherhood traveled across the wasteland to the East Coast for three reasons. First, they were to search for the members they'd sent after the remnants of the Master's Army some 90+ years earlier. Second, they were to search Washington D.C. for advanced technology. Third, they were to respond to reports of Super Mutant activity on the East Coast.
All of this is just weak storytelling. Bethesda should have made wholly new factions for their game on the East Coast, they didn't need to drag factions and creatures from the West Coast. The Brotherhood of Steel had faded into obscurity by the time of Fallout 2, and they didn't even have the manpower to help the Chosen One defeat the Enclave. They didn't even get a mention in the end credits because they weren't important anymore. With that in mind, how does it make sense that they have the manpower to mount an expedition across the continent twelve years later? They get there, and yes there are Super Mutants, but they're not the *same* Super Mutants that share an origin story with the Brotherhood of Steel. The Brotherhood is in D.C. fighting a totally different breed of Super Mutants because... that's just what the Brotherhood does?
I have to pay respects to the Outcasts in Fallout 3 though, Bethesda knew enough to know that not all members of the expedition would be cool with their Elder's new humanitarian bent, and so they split away and became a traditionalist faction. The Brotherhood in Fallout 3 are basically knights in shining armor battling monsters, while the Outcasts are the xenophobic techno-monks that want nothing to do with you. Which of them sound more like the real Brotherhood of Steel?
When Obsidian Entertainment, basically a new company comprised of the original creators of Fallout 1 & 2, made Fallout: New Vegas, they knew they had a problem with the Brotherhood. This was a faction present in 2281 that was meant to have been little more than a shell of it's former self in 2242, so why were they still around? New Vegas is a lot closer to Lost Hills than Washington D.C. is mind you, so at least it made sense for them to be present in the game. Obsidian knew they had to incorporate Bethesda's ridiculous contribution of the Brotherhood being powerful enough to travel all the way to the East Coast, so they worked with what they had on hand.
The Brotherhood of Steel in Fallout: New Vegas is in hiding. The once powerful group who battled raiders and Super Mutants was now hiding in a bunker, because it was at war with the NCR. Their repressively isolationist and technology hoarding ways brought it into direct conflict with the NCR, a nation that was interested in advancing the world. The Brotherhood might have advanced weaponry and power armor but the NCR had thousands upon thousands of soldiers, who were all similarly trained. Their devotion to technology was so all-encompassing that an Elder, who was a Scribe and not a Knight, had them try and hold a facility against the NCR that any solider knew to be almost indefensible. The NCR crushed the Brotherhood in the New Vegas region and they've been in hiding ever since.
You can talk to the Brotherhood, even join them if you help them out enough, but even they're starting to realize how untenable their situation is. They're at war with a nation that has the manpower and weaponry to wipe them out, and they're so isolationist that most people end up having kids with someone they're more than a little related to. The Great War was 204 years earlier at this point, and with minimal fresh genes being dumped into their gene pool since then there has to be some serious in-breeding going on. You can broker peace between the Brotherhood of Steel and the NCR in New Vegas or you can wipe them out, either way they're not doing real well.
By the time Fallout 4 happens in 2287, the East Coast Brotherhood of Steel and the Outcasts have reunited and headed north, from Washington D.C. to Boston. They've been bringing in fresh blood for years, recruiting talented wastelanders who show the qualities the look for in their members. They've traveled north to destroy the Institute and their Synth creations, which sort of makes sense, but doesn't for a few reasons.
First, the Brotherhood's isolationism isn't just a story element that needs to be worked around to make them a viable faction - it's an integral aspect of their character and history. Recruiting wastelanders willy-nilly does "solve" their numbers issue but it's not something that's meant to be solved, it's an inherent flaw in their organisation and belief system. Bethesda didn't evolve the Brotherhood of Steel by opening up their ranks, they destroyed it.
Second, the Brotherhood is all about collecting and hoarding technology. The Institute is arguably the most technologically advanced organisation in the Wasteland and the Brotherhood just... blow it up? How does that line up with their character, or history, at all? They're techno-centric, not techno-phobic Luddites. Wouldn't an organisation that is fanatically dedicated to securing advanced technology want to secure all the technological advancements created by the Institute? Wouldn't an organisation that has historically had issues with manpower look at technology that can literally create soldiers from nothing and at least entertain the idea of utilizing it? If anything, the character of Danse just proves that Synths can make fantastic soldiers.
Third, the Super Mutants present in the Commonwealth are different from those present in the Capital Wasteland because these ones were created by the Institute with experiments on FEV. Furthermore, they're even further removed by the Super Mutants created by the Master, so why exactly are the Brotherhood fighting them? Bethesda turned the Brotherhoods xenophobic views of *anyone* not part of the Brotherhood into a xenophobic view of anyone that isn't *human.* There's a big difference there. The Brotherhood fights Super Mutants in Fallout 4 because that's just what they're there to do, to kill anything that isn't human.
If the Brotherhood had stayed true to their roots and stayed isolationist and continued to hoard technology I could get behind their inclusion in Fallout 4. The Brotherhood taking out the Institute just so they could utilize their Synth-creation technology would have been a fantastic twist for the organisation. The chance to create an endless army of Synths who are fanatically dedicated to the beliefs of the Brotherhood, how could any Brotherhood of Steel member realistically pass that up? That sort of technology would allow them to scour the ruins of the old world and establish themselves, and their beliefs, as the central power. If the only thing keeping them in check was their lack of manpower, what would happen when that was no longer an issue?
If you don't think something like that would happen, take a look at one of the endings that can happen in Fallout 1 if you happen to kill a key character.
"The Brotherhood of Steel, under new leadership after the death of Rhombus, becomes an overzealous, techno-religious dictatorship. In 20 years, the Steel Plague devastates the newly formed New California Republic, and starts a Dark Age that could last a thousand years."
The Brotherhood of Steel are not knights in shining armor, they're not the police, they're not human-purists and they are certainly not the good guys. They're a faction that turned their backs on their fellow countrymen in their darkest hour, and when they found themselves pitted against their former countrymen they isolated themselves and turned inward. They do not trust anyone outside their ranks and they do nothing that doesn't further their own goals, which often bring them into conflict with any and all outsiders. They're a religious organisation who's beliefs are incompatible with the outside world and in the long run these beliefs were meant to spell their doom.
The Brotherhood of Steel is a faction that had a time and a place where they designed to make sense, and taking them outside of the parameters of either weakens the series as a whole. The Brotherhood of Fallout 1 & 2 isn't the same Brotherhood present in Fallout 3 & 4. It's not an evolution of the organisation either, but a heel-face turn designed to shoe-horn a previously important faction into the narratives of the sequels. In Fallout 1 & 2, the world is advancing while the Brotherhood is left behind, in Fallout 3 & 4 it is the world that's stagnating while the Brotherhood advances.
The Brotherhood of Steel was meant to be a faction that perpetually looked to the past in favor of reaching for a future, they were meant to fade from relevance and memory until all that remained were mentions of them in the history books. At least, that's what was meant to happen until Bethesda got a hold of them...