Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel is the creative nadir of Interplay’s time owning the Fallout franchise. It’s an ugly, boring, and flat out illegal production whose lack of ambition and good taste felt like an almost deliberate attempt to poison a once great name.
In a miracle you don’t really see in video gaming any more, the Fallout brand survived this horrific misstep. And yet, I still read the occasional comment suggesting Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel isn’t that bad if you ignore its more tasteless qualities. I don’t agree with that assessment. Panning the game nearly twenty years later might seem petty, but let’s do it anyway just to prove a point!
Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel copies its entire action-RPG template from Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance on the same game engine, whilst also cannibalising the same menu layout, the same character model data, and enough other things to make it feel like a shoddy reskin. Dark Alliance was already a straightforward Diablo clone, but it overachieved thanks to its stunning visuals, faithful setting, and absorbing gameplay. Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel has none of those things.
It all starts when a group of wastelanders arrive in the ruined town of Carbon searching for the titular brotherhood of isolationist gearheads. From there, players slog through many boring 3D levels shooting enemies with an uninspired arsenal of conventional firearms, or beating them to death with baseball bats and sledgehammers. The graphics are rough, with low poly assets and dreary environments like irradiated craters and scorpion-infested warehouses doing nothing to relieve the tedium that sets in almost immediately.
The tutorial is narrated by a robotic hologram who sounds just as bored as the players will be. Unfortunately, the writing is no better, as it descends into crass jokes and juvenile dialogue whose forced edginess felt weak and desperate in 2004, let alone 2023.
Consider a few of these creative decisions:
- The quest log describes Carbon as a “shit-hole” town, and introduces the Giant Radscorpion boss using a pejorative too offensive to repeat here.
- The one playable black character, Cyrus, exclaims “Sheeeit!” during his melee attacks, in a manner both embarrassingly stereotypical and annoying.
- The developers recycled the dark elf sorceress model from Dark Alliance to create a busty female enemy who seems to hate wearing clothes.
- One infamous moment even lets players pay a prostitute in exchange for cartoony sex noises heard against a black screen. Truly risible stuff.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City was hugely influential in the early two-thousands, so many publishers back then thought making their games feel like a Quentin Tarantino movie would be a profitable idea. It’s an immediate turn-off though. Granted, the old Fallout games were never the most mature or sensitive works either, but their adult material was usually more ironic and amusing than the puerile junk Interplay was peddling here.
There isn’t much to say about the gameplay because it’s all so worthless. The playable characters are nearly identical except for a few different perks they get when levelling up. Even then, those perks are just dull modifiers that boost damage or resistance in purely passive ways. There are no fun spells or activated abilities like Dark Alliance had. Even the descriptions are amateurish. One perk says it “improves” melee and special attacks in the most unspecific manner possible. Another claims to boost “treasure value” when it actually means the player’s ability to find treasure.
The control scheme is solid, and having health bars over an enemy’s head is useful, only it doesn’t end up mattering because the core gameplay loop sucks. Dark Alliance could be repetitive as well, but aside from looking much nicer and having more fun character abilities and equipment, players had limited inventory space and a teleport function for quickly buying and selling supplies when space filled up. There was a compulsive loop of battling and looting before warping back to town and making stacks of gold at the market. Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel has players constantly fighting, then forces them to tediously retread through a completed dungeon. The developers completely failed to find the fun.
The trademark themes of the Fallout series are barely present either. The Fifties sci-fi motif is missing in action, a charming main menu theme is quickly forgotten amidst unsuitable boss music, and there’s a severe lack of atmosphere in the levels themselves. The late Tony Jay lends his voice to a few areas, otherwise it’s hard to connect anything meaningful to the wider franchise here (surely a blessing in disguise). “I can’t believe this game exists,” said my brother when we tested the 2-player mode, and that really sums up the experience at large.
Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel is the Star Wars: Demolition of action role-playing games. It’s a meritless reskin that stinks of misguided financial desperation, as further evidenced when Interplay got sued for their unauthorised use of the Snowblind Engine. (At least this spared the world from ever seeing Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel II.)
Banner art by Jeff Jumper