I just played through Steel Dawn and I really enjoyed it. There were lots of things that I really liked about it: relatively infrequent combat (most quests could be ended with a talking down option, the very first quest is just going around talking to people in Fort Atlas), good role-playing options, and a stable day one release.
In terms of the writing though, I was seriously impressed. Not "this is impressive for Fallout 76" impressed, "this is impressive for Fallout" impressed. There were two things I liked in particular from a writing perspective.
The first is that the expansion didn't shy away from painting the Brotherhood as bad guys. The whole marketing about Steel Dawn and Fractured Steel is about the Brotherhood, and you work for them throughout. They're the good guys right? Well, not really.
The game is at pains to show that the Brotherhood are definitely not viewed as good by most people – they're essentially glorified raiders to new settlers who don't even have courtesy of saying they are raiders. The first quest is you meeting people who have an issue with the Brotherhood for whatever reason, which is completely different to how factions or DLCs are typically introduced. Throughout the questline, you're constantly reminded by at least somebody that the Brotherhood aren't great and mainly just change the status quo – every quest has at least somebody that paints them in a negative light.
The second is not an original idea per se, but it's something we've never really seen before in a Fallout game. In every other Fallout game, the Brotherhood might have different beliefs and interpretations of their original maxims (protect and preserve technology to help mankind) but within the game that's their only belief – Lyons' Brotherhood is pretty much unanimously in favour of helping the wasteland. Fallout 4's Brotherhood is unified on its anti-synth crusade. The West Coast Brotherhoods are all pretty isolationist.
Fallout 76 had the idea of "what would these brotherhoods say if they met one another?" and lumped it in the game. Rahmani is pretty much an insert for the East Coast Brotherhoods (particularly Lyons) who thinks opening up is a good thing for everyone – they can help more people and that's the important thing, rather than being isolationist and sitting on technology. Shin is the opposite – he's a classic West Coast Brotherhood member who wants to hoard technology in order to preserve it and keep it out of the wrong hands.
This is apparent from the beginning. Handing in the first quest, Shin remarks that the Brotherhood shouldn't be giving out resources to help others, and he's coming from an ideological position. Rahmani does the opposite and immediately sends you out to help people in the wasteland. Shin gets you to recover weapons from raiders by whatever means necessary; Rahmani places as much importance on a trade deal with Foundation as recovering weapons. You might not notice it through the quest-line, but it's there the whole time.
Eventually this culminates with Rahmani and Shin butting heads at the end of the quest-line and Fallout 76 does something even more unexpected to me. In lots of previous Fallout games, for example New Vegas, the idea of opening up and embracing new ideas whilst throwing off your isolationist shackles is seen as a good thing. The better endings for the Brotherhood in Fallout: New Vegas is doing what Veronica wants in I Could Make You Care.
Instead, Fallout 76 points out a situation where opening up is wrong and the West Coast Brotherhoods were right all along. Bethesda wrote a storyline that said their own interpretation of a faction and its ideology (in Fallout 3 and Fallout 4) is flawed. Shin, the arsehole with a stick up his behind and hates wastelanders, was kind of right all along, and Rahmani bends and breaks the ideals of the Brotherhood and it doesn't go well. Rahmani then takes out the means of communicating with the Elders because she can't accept that her method could be flawed like the method of the West Coast Brotherhood is flawed too. Putting two iterations of the Brotherhood in direct ideological conflict with each other is genius. It's like watching a political party who all have the same goals but to different extents – to understand the differences you need to know the nuances, but when you do the debate is so intriguing.
Maybe I played the expansion too fast and I'm reading too much into this. But I think that the writers for Fallout 76 have included possibly the most interesting concept for the Brotherhood in their game – a Brotherhood in conflict with itself. It wasn't rocket science: all they had to do was accurately adapt Fallout 1's and Fallout 3's ideals into opposing characters. Yet the result is fascinating and shows that both the Brotherhood's inclusion in Fallout 76 is definitely warranted and the people working on the game fundamentally understand the faction in all its forms and presented it in the best way possible.
I can't wait for Fractured Steel.
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