So... yeah. I wasn't really impressed with Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel. It's kind of simplistic, you know; it's a brawler-slash-shooter where you just kind of sit there and trade hits with the other guy, since it's not easy to dodge incoming attacks. While I was playing it, just now, I developed this little mental checklist of things it could do better, that other games have done, and was thinking about how I'd improve it.
Then I looked up and realized I'd been playing it for eight hours, and did not particularly want to stop.
Perhaps my earlier criticisms are invalid.
Brotherhood of Steel is the fourth game in the Fallout series, and the first of them to appear on a console. Like the ones before it, it's set on Earth, decades after World War III turned it into a radioactive cinder; also like the ones before it, it combines black humor and gut-splattering violence. The phrase I keep using to describe it is "cheerfully nihilistic," where killing people is both easy and fun.
Unlike the games that came before it, Brotherhood of Steel is a beat-'em-up, running on a stripped-down version of the same engine that powers Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance. Like that game, you crush, slash, dice, shoot, fold, spindle, and mutilate monsters over sprawling and intricate levels, and in so doing, gain experience. Gain enough experience, and you level up; level up, and you gain points to spend on abilities that improve and customize your character.
As Cyrus, Cain, or Nadia, you (and possibly a friend) have come to the struggling post-apocalyptic town of Crater on a mission. You're initiates in the Brotherhood of Steel, an organization of self-appointed knights who, despite being vastly outnumbered and seriously outgunned, have sworn to protect the ragged remnants of humanity from the mutants, bandits, ghouls, and radioactive monsters that would like to, well, eat it.
You've been given a set of iron gloves, a homemade pistol, a handful of bullets, and no money whatsoever. Your job is to find a band of the Brotherhood's paladins, who passed through Crater on some unknown mission, and then promptly disappeared.
To carry out this task, you'll be killing both things and people across dozens of levels, from the old mine tunnels on the outskirts of Crater, to the heart of a broken city populated by rotting ghouls, to deep within the wreckage of one of the self-sustaining fallout shelters called Vaults, among other places. Nothing comes easy here; even getting someone to answer a simple question will usually involve you walking into a dangerous area, crowded with monsters or hostile bandits, and stacking up corpses like cordwood.
Brotherhood of Steel could be accused of being a mindless button-masher, and indeed, it can be played that way. It's perfectly possible to play the game, and to do well at it, by wading into the thick of your enemies and hitting X until they die. Then, press L1 to use a stimpack, the injectable medical cocktails that serve as "health potions," and heal your wounds. Lather, rinse, repeat.
That's the simplest way to play the game, but it's by no means the best. Each of the three selectable characters (with two more that you can unlock by completing the first and second acts of the game) begin as basically the same thing, with four hundred hit points and roughly equivalent statistics. As you accomplish storyline goals and pummel monsters into a thin paste, you earn experience points, which will eventually lead to your gaining levels.
In Brotherhood of Steel, a new level means you've earned another batch of skill points, which are used to customize and improve your character. Unlike the Dark Alliance games, there are no automatic improvements here; it's all up to you. If you like to fight up close, throw all your points into extra armor and Melee Skill; to improve your skill with guns, buy up the relevant ability.
Thus, the game's remarkably adaptable. You can turn it into a hack-and-slash dungeon crawler or a third-person top-down shooter, both of which are complicated and refined by your available arsenal. Grenades, flamethrowers, machine guns, plasma rifles, laser pistols, explosive charges, bodyguard droids, and a faithful dog that can somehow find a way to eviscerate a security robot are all available, and their usage, or lack thereof, can change the way the game is played.
In between bloody fights to the death, you'll also have to deal with minefields, hostage rescues, bottomless pits, mazelike tunnels, malfunctioning machinery, security lasers, lethal force fields, fetch quests, and one particularly agitating sequence where you suddenly have to navigate a treacherous, mutant-infested ruin without the ability to use most of your weapons. Not every problem you run into can be solved by hitting it in its face 'til it dies; the accusation of mindless button-mashing tends to come from people who haven't gotten very far in the game. After navigating a few hallways full of irregularly timed death rays, I would've rather liked it if the game was a mindless button masher.
With all that in mind, I've got to say two more things, really: the first is that Brotherhood of Steel is well worth a rental, if not a purchase. It's funny, it's got some truly intense fight scenes, and I enjoy using blunt instruments to turn my enemies into something resembling a Jackson Pollock painting. So it's got that going for it.
The biggest problem that I have with Brotherhood of Steel, really, is this: I played it right before I played Dark Alliance II. I'd never touched the original Dark Alliance, either, although I have since then.
Roughly all of the problems I have with Brotherhood of Steel are either minimized or eliminated entirely in Dark Alliance (not even Dark Alliance II, mind you; Dark Alliance; the first one), which truly boggles my mind.
Brotherhood of Steel can be described like this: Dark Alliance minus encumbrance minus magic minus feats plus guns plus grenades. It's Dark Alliance for dummies.
I played Brotherhood of Steel, and thought to myself, boy, it'd be nice if the characters had more individual skills, that only they could use. It's in Dark Alliance.
In Brotherhood of Steel, each character has four unique abilities, powered by skill points, amidst a bunch of other minor abilities, and that's it. None of them have spectacular, game-changing effects; it's stuff that makes you slightly better with one class of weapon than another.
Hell, none of the characters even have different stats; Cyrus is huge, but he is essentially just as strong as Nadia, the stick-thin white girl with the muscle definition of the Pillsbury Doughboy. He's better with blunt weapons than she is, and she's better with lasers, and Cain can just detonate toxic grenades point-blank, he doesn't care, but these are moderately subtle differences. Picking Nadia means you're effectively playing the same game you are with Cyrus or Cain, it's just that now, when you pay the town prostitute in Crater, she has a different voice sample. (You are now also a huge screamin' pervert. Good work. Carry on.)
I may overstate the case. There are differences between the characters. For example, Nadia can't use the heaviest weapons. The problem isn't that they aren't different; it's that they aren't different enough. If you go back and try playing through the game as a different character, you won't have a drastically different gameplay experience. That gameplay variety is part of the reason why I like the Dark Alliance games, and that's why I find its omission from Brotherhood of Steel troubling. It's made doubly so, when you consider Brotherhood of Steel in light of the original Fallout, a game that was made famous for its versatility and replayability.
I do have one serious issue with the gameplay that's unique to Brotherhood of Steel, and that's the fact that you can't strafe and run simultaneously. When I take aim at a guy, and my character starts walking calmly to the side while shooting, and takes three shotgun blasts to the chest, and loses enough blood to make the janitor at the slaughterhouse throw up, it is annoying. You'd think a game that has so many guns, and so many abilities related to their usage, would allow a simple circle-strafe. You can actually perform an evasion roll by pressing the Jump button while you're locked onto a target, but given as how very few of the projectiles in the game can be seen to be dodged, rolling isn't as useful as just running would be.
Brotherhood of Steel is, in other words, a flawed dungeon crawler. Its problems are made all the more glaring and ridiculous by the fact that another game made by the same company on the same engine does not make the same mistakes.
As I said at the start of this review, I made this list of mistakes over the course of eight hours of playtime that felt like an hour, so Brotherhood of Steel is by no means a failure. It's just got some weird quirks to it that I can't understand, since this other game over here that's a lot like it doesn't have the same issues. Brotherhood of Steel is fun enough, but with just a few tweaks and refinements to the gameplay, this would've been a truly great game.