"I am truly at a loss to explain how I managed to play this game all the way through more than once back in 2006."
Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel – bastard child of the Fallout series. Hated by nearly everyone who loves the other Fallout games. I played it multiple times back in 2006, and when I learned that none of my predecessors at RPGFan had reviewed it, I knew it was my destiny to do so. "Finally," I told myself, "this game will get the fair shake it deserves." And so, I set off to play it one more time, with a purpose. What I found made me question 2006 me's judgment. Strongly.
Brotherhood of Steel (BoS) is based in the Fallout universe that players of the series know so well, but it takes significant liberties with that universe. The major elements haven't been altered: the game is still set in the former United States of America several hundred years after they were destroyed in a nuclear war with China, and the world is still populated by humans, ghouls, super mutants, and various mutated animals and insects. One of the best things about the Fallout series has always been its meticulously detailed backstory, and for fans of the series, this is where BoS begins to go horribly awry. This game is not considered canon, though, so the many details of how this game deviates from the rest of the Fallout games are best left to the already existing websites dedicated to the subject.
In this game, players take the role of an initiate in the titular Brotherhood of Steel, tasked with finding a group of Brotherhood paladins who went on a mission and never returned. Of course, this soon turns into a much larger mission that requires players to defeat a cult, kamikaze ghouls, and an army of Super Mutants. This is an action RPG, so the plot doesn't really get any deeper than that; but this is a Fallout game, even if in name only, and the bar for Fallout stories has been set mighty high. Sadly, BoS chooses to limbo under the bar rather than make an attempt to leap over it.
And this is where my dilemma as a reviewer comes into very sharp focus. Do I score Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel as an average action RPG or as a Fallout game? It seems best to me to score it the way most players will approach it: as a Fallout game. Given that, if you're reading this review and don't care about how it compares to other Fallout games, you should add several points to all of the scores. Don't be deceived, though – even if this were a review of Nukeytown: Sisterhood of Iron, it would still get a bad score.
BoS plays very differently than its Fallout siblings, both older and younger. In fact, it is most similar to games like Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance and Justice League Heroes (two games I enjoyed quite a bit). In fact, this game uses the Snowblind engine that was used to create Dark Alliance. It is played in real time from an overhead view, and players move from area to area in a strictly linear fashion. Melee weapons and guns are both an option, and melee fighting does much more damage than ranged, which balances out the risk of getting up close and personal with enemies. Unfortunately, BoS gets a number of things wrong that suck the fun out of combat, whether the player is a Fallout veteran or not. Most frustrating is the fact that enemies with ranged attacks can see and attack at a much greater range than the player.
However, that's merely frustrating. What really makes the game bad is the lack of any sort of interesting character variation or development. As characters level up, players can put points into a number of skills, some of which are similar to standard Fallout stats or skills. They don't vary as much as those standard skills, though, so they don't offer much in the way of player customization. Instead, every BoS character is almost identical to the last, and without any interesting skills, combat quickly becomes button-mashing drudgery. I am truly at a loss to explain how I managed to play this game all the way through more than once back in 2006.
This game's graphics match the rest of the game: loosely inspired by the rest of the Fallout series rather than actually matching it. The style is very different from the games that came before it as well as those that came later, but the elements are still familiar. Buildings are either old and run down or made from scraps of metal and wood, '50s-futuristic cars are found on what used to be streets, and the game's various enemies are easily recognizable. However, the graphics are fairly cartoonish, and some of the characters feel very out of place. For example, as the game begins, the town of Carbon is under assault by a group of raiders who are led by a dominatrix. Her outfit just doesn't fit in with the series – not even when taking into account the "sexy sleepwear" seen in later games. Aside from the style mismatch, the graphics are just fine, although the game's lack of magical skills means that it doesn't really use the Snowblind engine to its full potential.
Sadly, the sound in BoS differs not only in style from the rest of the Fallout series, but in quality as well. The difference is clear from the game's opening scene, which is narrated by Tony Jay rather than Ron Perlman. Nothing against Tony Jay – the man does a lot of good work in the industry – it just feels wrong to never hear Ron say that magical phrase, "War. War never changes." Things don't get much better after the opening scene. Music starts playing, and it's not The Ink Spots... it's Slipknot. The music is certainly different than what is heard in the rest of the series, and the difference only underscores the appropriateness of the normal tunes. Given the history of the world in this series, Slipknot just doesn't make sense. It's almost a relief that most of the game is music-free. The voice acting is much better than the music, but the dialogue is written badly enough that I generally chose to skip listening to it.
The controls are the one aspect of this game with which it is difficult to find much fault. They are fairly standard for the genre, so action RPG veterans will know what to do right away, but even players without much experience in the genre are likely to have no trouble. Of course, the simplistic gameplay also plays into the ease of controls – when there aren't very many things to do in a game, it's not difficult to learn all of them.
Every family has that embarrassing uncle they don't like to think about. He looks funny, he doesn't act like everyone else, he doesn't have the same sense of humor, and he listens to Slipknot (kidding, kidding). For the Fallout series, Brotherhood of Steel is that uncle, and just like your mom would tell you to stay away from Uncle Freakshow, you'd do well to stay away from this game. And believe me – that is
giving it a fair shake.