Fallout 76’s newest major update is Steel Dawn, which will reintroduce Fallout’s most iconic—or at least most recurring—faction, the Brotherhood of Steel. The Brotherhood did appear in base game Fallout 76, but like everyone in Appalachia before the Wastelanders DLC, they were dead. While the Brotherhood is definitely one of the more recognizable Fallout factions, Fallout 76 should have used the reintroduction of NPCs to the formerly empty wasteland to bring back the most compelling aspect of the original game’s worldbuilding: the conflict between the Appalachia labor movement and the mining companies.
Of course, it’s clear why Bethesda is bringing back the Brotherhood of Steel. The Brotherhood is almost one of Fallout’s brand symbols at this point, almost to the level of Vault Boy or Nuka-Cola. They are portrayed differently in different games, from the religious fanatics of Fallout 1 to the dying traditionalists of Fallout: New Vegas to the oppressive techno-fascists of Fallout 4. In Steel Dawn, the Brotherhood seems to be portrayed at its most heroic, largely taking the role of saviors of the wasteland.
The presence of the Brotherhood of Steel in Fallout 76 caused a lot of arguments when the game was released, mostly due to the fact that the faction was founded around the same time on the other side of the country. Fans of the faction countered that the game did provide a plausible explanation for the Brotherhood being in both California and West Virginia. The argument went nowhere, and obscured the another issue: the fact that the Brotherhood changes so much between games prevents them from bringing consistent themes to Fallout 76. Of all the factions in Fallout 76, the Brotherhood are the least rooted in the culture of West Virginia and the themes of the game. It exists because this is a Fallout game, and the Brotherhood of Steel marks a Fallout check box in the same way that ghouls or super mutants do.
The labor conflict, on the other hand, draws directly from the culture and history of the setting. The conflict between the unions of West Virginia and the mining companies permeates the worldbuilding of Fallout 76. It also draws from the real life labor history of West Virginia, which is rife with protest, strikes, and even battles between labor and capital in the state. While Fallout 76 has fewer coal mines and more mines digging up Uranium and a new mineral called Ultracite, it still brings the radical history of the state into sharp relief.
The conflict also fits with Fallout’s themes. The world of Fallout before the war was embodied by cruel and indifferent capitalism. Much of the information players learn about this is through old computer terminals and notebooks, but a return of this conflict fits perfectly in a game like Fallout 76, which is only a few decades removed from the apocalypse. Additionally, while most games play the conflict as funny OSHA violations, Fallout 76 tends to treat it a little more seriously, with the labor movement fighting back against the deadly force of the mining corporations and their robots.
It would not be hard to reintroduce both factions to reignite the labor conflict. The mining companies were largely automated, and most of the labor repression robots they employed still roam the wasteland. All it would take would be a mining heir to return and attract other survivors to their side with the promise of robotic security.
The miners of Appalachia are already in the game, technically. Fallout 76’s mole miners are West Virginian miners who were fused into their protective suits. Currently, they are almost all aggressive (perhaps because vault dwellers with guns keep invading their homes and workplaces) but there’s no reason they have to be. There’s precedent for friendly mole miners thanks to legendary weapon vendor Purveyor Murmrgh. Mole miners are muffled by their heavy gas masks, but Fallout has successfully written mute or otherwise non-verbal characters before.
While it looks like the Brotherhood of Steel will be getting the spotlight for the moment, it seems that Bethesda will continue to update Fallout 76 for the foreseeable future. Maybe West Virginia’s labor conflict can still be featured in a future update of the game. Until then, players can don some power armor and hang out with Fallout’s most present faction.
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