…as always, the below contains spoilers…
Science fiction explores the effects that advancement, both theoretical and technological, have on society. In the majority of cases, the outlooks can be divided into those stories which present the technology as generally beneficial, improving human capacity, and those which show us the dangers of overstepping our bounds. Stories like Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde or Frankenstein long ago started a tradition where a great deal of the genre was about th dangers of science. Works like Star Trek explored the idea that when we were freed of our most basic needs, we could move forward as a species to our greatest potential. Even video games have this moral dichotomy. The technological advancements displayed in the Bioshock series are malevolent, while in Mass Effect it is what frees mankind to make the galaxy a better place. This moral dichotomy is not universally true, especially in some sub genres such as space opera, it is common enough that any piece of work which breaks the mold merits further examination.
As a piece of postapocalyptic fiction, Fallout 3 could easily fall into the dystopian branch of sci-fi, condemning humanity for messing with things that need not be changed. The game carefully and skillfully focuses its lens on the idea the people are always the same. As it states in the prologue “War never changes.”
To this end, none of the technology in the game is shown as either good or evil. It is always presented as a tool, which humans use to their own ends, as morality is a human concept. This presents itself most clearly in the three high tech factions present in the Capital Wastelands.
The Brotherhood of Steel
The Brotherhood of Steel is the first high-tech faction the player is likely to come across, especially in the main storyline of the game. Clad in power armour and wielding laser rifles, they are a sudden and extreme change from the rest of the Wasteland. Most people are wearing either old, dirty, pre-war clothing and armour, or patchwork gear made from scavenged junk worn by the raiders. Weapons are mostly knives and crowbars, with a 10mm pistol or a hunting rifle being a valuable find. Most of the world you see is put together by people using refuse you could find in a modern dump. The first encounter with these high-tech soldiers is a sudden reminder that the nuclear war that pushed humanity underground occurred a few hundred years in our future.
This technological bend extends beyond their equipment. Upon entering their base, you find a large number of librarians, members of the order dedicated to technological research. They both attempt to recover old technology, and do independent research, on how to power a giant robot and build new weapons like the Tesla Cannon. They are creating knowledge and technology, a stark contrast to the world of scavengers around them.
The Brotherhood are designed to exemplify the best of intentions. The language of their ranks brings to mind chivalric ideas, as they are squires and knights and paladins. The faction in the Capital Wasteland has broken from the main order in the west. After arriving in DC, the head of the order, Elder Lyons, was distressed by the state of the place. Instead of scavenging and repairing high technology, their original mission, they have taken it on themselves to help the people in DC. They wage war against the Super Mutants in downtown DC, and protect those who are unable to fight for themselves. There’s no indication of a reward on their behalf. They are just doing the right thing.
Players following the good path through the game will find themselves allying closer and closer to the Brotherhood of Steel, and eventually adopted as a member. The Brotherhood constantly stands against the evil in the Wastelands, actively fighting the Enclave as well as the Super Mutants, all the while distinctively high-tech. They become more and more involved in fighting the Enclave as the player uncovers more information on the threat they present. They actively strike against their enemies, in a game where most people are looking to hire someone else to destroy their opponents. This is expanded further in Broken Steel, a series of quests in DLC based on the Brotherhood’s campaign to seek out the Enclave
There are lower tech members of the Wasteland Society that match them in goals and ideals. They often appear as the sheriffs and security forces in towns, and those that support them. These characters are limited in what they can do, in part by the fact that they cannot walk through a hail of bullets, protected by power armour, or able to drop the more dangerous Wasteland dangers with the heavy energy weapons.
The Outcasts were once members of the Brotherhood of Steel. The initial mission that brought the order to DC was to recover technology. The plasma weaponry and high-tech vehicles were always intended for the good of humanity, but the greater Brotherhood vision puts the needs of the many over the needs of the few. It is not their true design to protect all people, but to ensure humanity as a species survives. When Elder Lyons, the leader of the Brotherhood, decided to defend the downtrodden, the Outcasts left the DC branch of the Order.
They continued to pursue their original purpose. They are looking for technology for its own sake. They are not overly concerned with the greater politics or even future of the Capital Wasteland. They are merely looking to find what they can and preserve it for posterity.
While they do not go out and actively engage the evil in the Wasteland, they do not cause it either. On the rare occasions you encounter them, they will let you go about your way as long as you leave them be. They never engage threats head on, and they always seem to be trying to avoid trouble. If something attacks them, or if something attacks you, or a good or neutral NPC in their sight, they jump to action. Their energy weapons are brought to bear, and they end the threat as quickly as possible.
Then they return to seeking out technology. They do not seek a reward, or even seem interested in talking to those they saved. They did it because they were there, and now that is over and they want to move on. They are most like the wastelanders and scavengers found throughout the Capital. They are willing to help if they have to, and the few quests that involve them show that they will work with you when mutually beneficial, but they never go out of their way to find a fight.
As an offshoot of the Brotherhood, they are shown to have their own librarians, but these are less prominent as the player spends less time in their bases. They study and retrofit the tech they do find, but are more curators and rebuilders than innovators.
Where the Brotherhood presents itself as a knightly order, the Enclave is a military, complete with uniformed officers. While the Brotherhood actively defends the player when met, and the Outcasts will assist if necessary, the Enclave attacks the player on sight at almost every opportunity. They enter the game most prominently when they stop the restoral of project purity, denying the Wasteland unlimited clean drinking water.
They are equipped similarity to the Brotherhood. Their lookis sleeker, but they still wear powered armour and wield futuristic guns. They also have scientists, who are found both doing field research in the wastelands, and lab work in their pristene headquarters.
The Enclave are trying to restore an America they believe once was. To that end, they want to control the waters from Project Purity, and pervert the intent from one of salvation to a method of cleansing the undesirable from the wasteland. They launch offensives, sometimes against non-military targets. They attack the player on sight, kidnap the player, and tempt the player kill every irradiated being in DC. They are aggressive, and visciously and remorselesly pursue their goals.
They are an exageration of the raiders, taking what they want and destroying anything else. They are voilent, and are concerned with how their actions affect those around them.
The main difference between the high-tech factions and the standard wastelanders comes down to capacity. None of the bands of raiders can shape the Wasteland in their image the way the Enclave might. None of the scavangers can gather or protect what the Outcasts can pull from the ruins. None of the lawmen in the towns can provide the scope or scale of protection the Brotherhood provides. Technology doesn’t change who people are in Fallout 3, it just makes them more.
Next time, we will take a look at how this is expressed in the artificial intelligences and robots of Fallout 3.