So, let’s talk about them in previous installments of the series!
The Brotherhood of Steel (BoS) was created when a group of soldiers, shortly after the Great War, discovered a secret military installation that was working on biowarfare projects, including the Forced Evolutionary Virus (FEV). Based on their discovery, and the fact that most of civilization had been destroyed by the war, Roger Maxson took his men, declared them all outcasts from the government and military, and commandeered the FEV laboratories to ensure that no one would ever be able to actually use these biological weapons. This departure from the military formed them into a new group “forged in steel” that would never forget what pre-war technology did to the world, and the BoS was born.
About a century and a half later, the BoS reluctantly aided both the Vault Dweller (FO1) and the Chosen One (FO2). During this era in the game timeline, the Brotherhood had become a well armed and armored paramilitary organization with a strong mandate to obtain and quarantine any and all pre-war technology to ensure that it never fell into the hands of anyone who would use it to wage war and/or harm the human race. They tended to be highly xenophobic, vowing to wipe out Super Mutants, Ghouls, and pretty much everything and everyone that wasn’t “human” by their own, very limited, definition. Taking pre-war military Power Armor, tactics, and weapons; they set out to hoard every bit of pre-war technology they could get their hands on – ostensibly to keep civilization safe from another nuclear annihilation event.
While some members were more open to the idea of post-human sapient beings (like non-feral Ghouls), the majority wanted nothing to do with anyone who was not a member of the BoS, and would shoot any non-human on sight whenever encountered.
Skip ahead nearly 50 years to Fallout 3, and we find that a group of BoS members was dispatched to the East Coast to determine the state of the former US Capitol (now the Capitol Wasteland). Along the way (according to games which were developed by not launched, or otherwise quasi-canon sources), the Mid-West chapter of the BoS was founded and remained in the Chicago area, while the remainder of the party went further east to Washington DC. The Mid-West group was more open to outsiders, and even willing to tolerate Ghouls and other non-human sentients – though they remained untrusted in the eyes of the Brotherhood.
The Capitol Wasteland branch of the BoS changed even further from the Mid-West group, adding to their mission the need to protect civilians and help rebuild society. They continued to collect and hoard pre-war tech, but now defended outposts and minor cities, and were much more tolerant of outsiders and non-humans. Super Mutants were still shot on sight, of course, but Ghouls were afforded warning shots and simply kept away from BoS facilities, not actively hunted. The local Elder (leader) – Elder Lyons – committed his forces to studying ways to make life livable in the Wasteland, even supporting and defending a massive clean-water technology project (codenamed Project Purity). Additionally, they actively attacked and attempted to destroy the Enclave – a group of pre-war scientists and politicians hell-bent on maintaining the old-world government. Their fight against the Enclave was not new (it was seen in FO2), but their desire to rid the Wasteland of the Enclave in order to save the civilian population was a new effort on their part.
Here’s where the pundits and fans get upset. The BoS was (in earlier installments and in the game’s canon), nearly completely disinterested in the affairs of anyone but their own group. They would actively dissuade – often at gunpoint – any outsiders from interfering in their plans; and would only ever work with such outsiders when their goals aligned with the BoS goals perfectly. In FO3, the Brotherhood was transformed into an altruistic group that would help the civilians of the Wasteland to survive, actively using technology to do so. This was “hand waved” by saying that the East Coast chapter had split itself from the BoS at large after the West Coast BoS was nearly annihilated by their fighting with the New California Republic (a nascent democracy in California and surrounding states). The split was so dramatic that some members of the East Coast chapter split themselves from the main group, forming the Brotherhood Outcasts who continue to operate under their original mandate.
Fans decried this change, saying that the Brotherhood was – and should remain – a group keeping themselves apart from the rest of society. Basically xenophobic war-mongers hell bent on keeping their technology safe and separated from everyone else, and attacking non-humans with no mercy. The radical departure from the BoS of previous games kept online forums and message boards burning with flame wars and other heated discussion. Fans of this “new” BoS did exist, but they were outnumbered by others who were livid that the BoS could be so radically re-defined and converted into a stereotypical “good guy” role in the Capitol Wasteland.
Fallout: New Vegas (FNV) saw a return of the old-school Brotherhood, hostile to everyone who wasn’t part of their group and maniacally intolerant of any non-humans whenever they encountered them. Fans were quite pleased with the return to the BoS’s roots, and applauded the decision. Much like in previous games, the player character (The Courier) could only join the BoS after going through several trials and quests to prove their intentions to aid the Brotherhood, and would otherwise simply be shot on sight.
The Brotherhood in FNV had only recently been nearly destroyed in a set of battles with the NCR, culminating in a last-stand event at a power station. Routed at that event, they retreated to a bunker complex in the desert and planned what to do next. They did, however, maintain patrols and intelligence gathering missions, and continued (on a smaller scale) to hoard technology to keep it away from the general public. The Courier can either help the BoS and foster a truce between them and the NCR, or wipe out the few that remain by destroying the bunker.
Which brings us to Fallout 4, and the interactions of the Brotherhood of Steel on the Commonwealth. Next time, we’ll delve into the current view on the BoS, and if they’re truly as evil as they seem at first blush.