A critique of Bethesda’s writing style and quest design in Steel Dawn

fallout 3 - A critique of Bethesda’s writing style and quest design in Steel Dawn

I will be spoiling pretty much all of Steel Dawn/Fractured Steel, so you have been warned.

Disclaimers: no this is not a “Hurr durr Bethesda bad” post, this is not a “Hurr durr 76 bad” post. I have over 600 hours in 76 and I love the game (probably a little too much), I am writing this to express my frustration with Bethesda’s shallow storytelling and quest design, which made Steel Dawn leave a bad taste in my mouth. I would be happy to hear other player’s thoughts, this will probably be a long post so I appreciate those who read through, even if you disagree with me.

I recently got back into Fallout 76 because I had beaten Fallout 2 and I really wanted to play more fallout. I am admittedly late to the brotherhood content as I was sort of burnt out and didn’t play at launch.

Playing Steel Dawn was alright, it wasn’t horrible, but I think it was some of the weakest storytelling Bethesda has put out in a long while.

Bethesda has always struggled with writing compelling branching stories fit for the title “role playing game”. All too often they create the illusion of player choice which ultimately lands the player in the same spot they would have if they chose any other choice. It’s gimmicky, it’s shallow, and it ruins roleplaying. Steel Dawn was no exception.

The problems start with the sixth quest, up until this point it was more or less an introduction to the Appalachian Brotherhood. “Property Rights” has you and Knight Shin track down the stolen weapons to a Raider vault in order to retrieve them and find the source. You can either kill them and question the survivors about the weapons’ source or you can talk to them and try and negotiate.

Negotiating with Pierce (the raider in charge) will cause the player and Shin to let them go as it’s clear they aren’t going to get anywhere with negotiations, Pierce suggests you meet them back at Crater to talk about it further. At Crater Pierce doesn’t cooperate and his friend Sheena will instead offer you betray the brotherhood by giving her information about patrol routes and other important info off of the brotherhood network in exchange for information on where they obtained the weapons.

Killing the raiders and wounding Pierce results in the player and Shin letting him go back to Crater as he won’t cooperate. Back at Crater he still won’t cooperate and Sheena will instead offer the player the same info swap mentioned earlier.

No matter what you do you wind up at Crater and Sheena offers the info swap. This is bad quest design!

If I negotiate with Pierce and I end up at Crater why on earth would I even humor Sheena’s suggestion of betraying the brotherhood? Sure opportunism would make sense, but my character has no relation with the raiders, I hadn’t even started their quests, why would I give them brotherhood patrol routes where they could kill brotherhood soldiers and steal brotherhood tech. I have no reason to work with them and I have all the reason to refuse the offer.

This is mitigated by the fact that if you speak with Scribe Valdez about the situation she suggests you give them false information and they’d be none the wiser. It still doesn’t make much sense if you choose the other option (real data) because the raiders don’t offer much in return, it would make sense if Sheena said she’d put a good word in for you at crater if you chose to help them, but she doesn’t. It’s pretty illogical to give them actual data which could lead to other brotherhood members getting killed for almost nothing in return.

And if you chose the violent option… why on earth would Sheena and Pierce even let you come over!? I have no relation to Crater and I just killed their friends and wounded Pierce! They should shoot me on the spot and I should lose raider reputation. If I chose violence there shouldn’t even be an option to talk to the raiders.

Regardless of what you chose to do you do the info swap. This is babying the player and it’s incredibly stupid. It really feels like they didn’t want you to lose rep or miss out on working with the raiders if you chose the violent option.

But that’s the entire point of a role playing game with choice and consequences.

If I chose violence I am expecting to burn that bridge with the raiders, I mean they’d have to be stupid to work with someone who just gunned down their friends.

Besides if I chose violence they could’ve added a quest where we capture Pierce or Sheena and interrogate them about the source. Or one where we spy on the raiders to learn the source. And these probably could be cool and enjoyable quests and it would make the player wonder what would’ve gone differently if they chose to talk it out at first. They could even make it so if you did choose these violent options it would make the raiders more violent in retaliation later down the line.

It took me 2 minutes to think of those and it adds way more depth to the story. I understand game development isn’t that simple, but how did this seriously get past the planning phase? Railroading the player into the same option because you couldn’t be bothered to think of different outcomes is just lazy.

In any case you give Sheena false or real info and she tells you that another group of raiders you never get to see strolled in a while back and said they killed some brotherhood guys and gave the Crater Raiders some weapons. You also learn the settlers also have these weapons.

I could complain about lazy writing and how this is “tell don’t show”… but this happens so frequently in fallout as a series that I’ve honestly given up hope. Besides, a passing mention of characters we don’t get to see isn’t always bad, it’s just kind of lame to do it in this case when they’re so important to the plot.

But something I can complain about is, okay, we know the raiders have these weapons, we know the raiders intend to use the weapons to harm civilians and brotherhood soldiers, If I am not working with the raiders why isn’t it an option to sabotage or steal the weapons back? Why would the brotherhood hear “Hey these guys who regularly kill and rob people have our high tech weapons” and just shrug their shoulders and be say “oh well, nothing we can do”. They could’ve made a cool mission like the one in new vegas where you use thermite to destroy the weapons cache in Gomorrah. Oh well, they could’ve done a million things differently, I just think it’s a poor decision to tie that plot point off like that.

Onto the settlers. Paladin Biscotti tells you to establish a trade deal with them and get the weapons back. You go to the supply depot, lady there tells you they spent a ton of money on these weapons and a group of them are testing them now. You go to find the group and surprise surprise, the poor bastards are in many pieces in many different places.


Let’s stop for a second. Who did they buy the weapons from? You never find out who; there’s no dialogue option. Obviously it wasn’t the brotherhood, because why would we be trying to get them back if we sold it to them. Was it those mystery raiders mentioned before? Well it wouldn’t make a ton of sense for foundation to deal with raiders but maybe they posed as weapons dealers? Or maybe someone in the brotherhood is secretly selling our weapons? Whatever the case this is hugely important information and it would probably help to stop the proliferation of these weapons if we knew the source. But why would they be bothered to write that in? Moving on.

Anyway you find out some dumbass kid blew his friends to smithereens after his finger slipped while testing the weapons, classic rookie mistake. He’s hiding from society in a cave because… you know… he just turned his friends into a meat tornado.

You can either kill him if you see him as an irredeemable murderer, you can convince him to run away forever because society will likely see him as an irredeemable murderer, or you can convince him to come back and essentially turn himself in.

If you do that he’ll try to carry the weapons back himself, if you have high perception or intelligence you can essentially tell him “lol no, I’m not letting you blow more people up you absolute doorknob” and then you can take them back.

Regardless of what you choose you come back and settle your deal with the settlers. If you are an absolute ape brain and you lost the weapons to them, good job, this has no plot impact. If you are galaxy brained and tell them they don’t need weapons but rather training, or the other special alternatives, you manage to secure the trade deal and the weapons. Good job, this also has almost no plot impact.

I’m sure by now you see where I’m going with this. There really isn’t a tangible narrative difference between the different options. The only difference is that if you lose the weapons you get no reward and Shin and Paladin Bugatti are angry at you for 10 minutes.

(Thing I found funny: if you choose to train the settlers Paladin Rahmani will express concern because she doesn’t want to increase tension with the raiders. Are you okay Paladin? What do you mean increase tension? They are already trying to kill us. Remember that part where they wanted our patrol routes… to kill us? Oh well.)

They could’ve made it so if you lose the weapons the settlers don’t really have a reason to make a trade deal with you. They then could’ve shown the brotherhood struggling to supply it’s soldiers and make you do an emergency spin off quest where you have to secure a cache of pre war bomb shelter food. This will only last the brotherhood so long and now they have to devote more manpower to obtaining a sustainable source of food and water, ultimately weakening them. Your failure could also make the other members more distrustful of you or something.

Forget about all of that! Next quest! Paladin Ramadan wants you to go to this radio facility to appease Shin, but surprise the facility is controlled by an evil robot! Wow that totally wasn’t obvious from the moment I entered the door! Well anyway you bumble around and kill some enemies in two hits because every god damn player is a bloodied stealth commando. You secure the mainframe and Rahmani and Shin arrive.

Shin takes you aside to put in a battery and tells you he doesn’t think the Paladin is the right person to lead the brotherhood. After this you talk to the Paladin and she brings up the village massacre which lead to the weapons getting spread across the wasteland, and how she wants to establish a new brotherhood away from the west coast elders.

Rahmani doesn’t want to contact the elders because she knows Shin will bring up what happened at the village and they’ll be stripped of their ranks. Why this would be a problem if Rahmani wouldn’t listen to them anyway… I don’t know, the writers probably didn’t either.

You can try and reason with Rahmani not to destroy the console or you can agree with her and destroy the console. Either way she war glaives the fucking console, nice custom animation I gotta say.

Shin comes in and is furious, it doesn’t matter who you side with because you get an emergency distress call that Atlas is under attack. By the raiders?! No, that would make sense. Random tunneling supermutants. You fight them off and the end.

That ending is so stupid I won’t even cover it. Shin should’ve tried to kill Rahmani after what she did, It would be awesome to see him fly into rage and you can either side with him to kill Rahmani or you can defend Rahmani and kill Shin. Then you can just imagine how they could write how the guilt of killing his own superior could weigh on shin, or the inverse for Rahmani. Maybe if you’re good at talking you could console either of them and tell them they did the right thing and maybe even choose the direction of the new brotherhood… but no.

My point is, this is just a better ending than that cop out supermutant bullshit. The mutant attack ruins the pacing, I was fully expecting some kind of showdown between the two, but all I got was the two of them living together like a divorced married couple living in a duplex. It was a deflating ending, and I know they wanted to make it a cliffhanger so they can add more later… BUT THEY SHOULDN’T HAVE!

The future content should’ve been building the brotherhood with the leader you chose at the radio station and the trials and tribulations of bringing order to Appalachia. They don’t need to make “Brotherhood Season 2: Civil War” because that’s STUPID! They already had an ending practically written for them, and they screwed that up!

The ending sucks. I hate to write that. I really do, I remember when Fallout 4 came out and people wrote it off immediately as a shitty game with shitty writing, hell I remember the same for 76, and I would think “those people don’t know what they’re talking about, they’re fine games, it’s just a lame circlejerk”. But I can’t say that about Steel Dawn.

The writing is bad, things don’t make sense, or when they do it’s just poorly done. The quest design gives the illusion of player choice but all the choices go to the same place. It’s all to railroad you to a pre determined ending. Everything feels like it was rushed through development, and I’m nervous about how they’re gonna make the follow up for this DLC.

TLDR: I whine about Bethesda for like 20 paragraphs. Call me an idiot in the comments.

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