The Fallout franchise has a lot of memorable factions: The Brotherhood of Steel, the NCR, the Khans, the Institute, the Kings, and the list goes on. Then there’s the Enclave. A lot of people like this faction and I’m not really sure why. Their ambitions are far worse than Caesar’s Legion and it seems there’s a lot of misinformation about what the Enclave actually does. Chalk that one up to bad writing.
The Enclave’s end goals are dubious, their plans poorly thought out and their leaders are morons. Ultimately, they have no stake in wasteland politics. This isn’t entirely Bethesda’s fault. Truth is, the Enclave was broke from the start.
The first encounter with the Enclave is a great story moment. Exploring the wasteland, you encounter a 12ft tall ribeye steak in shiny power-armor. This is Frank Horrigan, the secondary antagonist of Fallout 2. This guy is so big, he would make a space marine from Warhammer 40,000 look like a child.
Horrigan gives the farmer an ultimatum: return to the Enclave or die. The man and his family are mowed down without remorse. The point is clear. Whoever this giant works for is brutal, vengeful, and secretive. This makes Horrigan the Darth Vader of Fallout 2, a big scary robot inquisitor. That’s a great dynamic and it gets the point across. Horrigan is just the muscle.
While there are a lot of interesting Enclave interactions in Fallout 2 (Salvatore’s deal, Navarro, etc), I want to focus on the main story and faction goals. The problem with designing a credible threat in a post-apocalyptic setting is that the world is already destroyed. How much worse can it get? As a result, genre b-movies typically feature pointlessly genocidal antagonists. Fallout 2 suffered from this problem as well, not because of the trope, but because the first game had already done that story.
The goal of the Master’s Army was send a green tide across California, capturing as many people as possible and transforming them into super mutants. In time, post-apocalyptic Orks would rule the world. The goal was not to kill everyone, but to create a new era of peace through violence. When presented with evidence demonstrating the flaw in his plan, The Master has a moment of clarity. As a final act of redemption, he ends the evil he created. Genocide averted; the hero’s journey is complete.
The reason I bring up the Master’s plan is because it set the precedent for interesting antagonists in the Fallout franchise. The Enclave’s plan in Fallout 2, a plan they have spent nearly 70 years working toward, is to create a toxic airborne F.E.V strain that would kill all “near-humans” in North America. In pursuit of this goal, they’ve been enslaving people from the mainland and kidnapping vault dwellers.
What is a near-human you ask? It’s any human who hasn’t been living in a Vault-Tec vault for the past 164 years. Radiation has permanently changed humans on the mainland. It’s not a matter of having extra toes or anything, near-humans are genetically different.
The Enclave wants to kill all these people to preserve the purity of the human race, yet no one (not even the lead scientist producing the chemical) can tell the difference between a human and a near-human without looking at their DNA. The chief scientist even explains to you that while there are differences between humans and near-humans he doesn’t fully understand them.
Alright so the Enclave is several times worse than Hitler. What can we do to stop them? Well you can talk to the chief scientist. It’s honestly a little underwhelming since he doesn’t have a talking head, but that’s not the issue. The issue is how easy it is to change his mind.
“You are no more like me than a mutated, two-headed cow is to a normal heifer,” he says. To this you reply “The cow, as a species, has grown stronger. Change is an integral part of the natural order.” Seeing the error of his ways, the scientist infects his own people with the toxic F.E.V. and tells you to destroy the Enclave base, so this never happens again. Spoilers: It happens again.
The issue is that the Enclave’s basic motivation doesn’t make any goddamn sense. The President explains that background radiation has turned all mainlanders into near-humans. But there’s still abnormal background radiation in the Fallout universe. How is the Enclave going to reclaim the mainland without mutating themselves? Will they all live in bunkers? Then why leave the oil rig? Are normal soldiers at Navarro being mutated too? This is never, ever addressed despite being the first question anyone would ask about their plan.
Further, there are only 1000 people living on the Oil Rig. There are hundreds of thousands on the mainland. How is the Enclave going to reclaim America with 1000 people? You couldn’t claim Reno with 1000 people. Also, there are going to be corpses everywhere. Do you have a plan for cleaning up the bodies? Seems like it might be difficult to clean up 500,000 bodies when you don’t even have cars. You could say the animals will eat them, but then you have a deathclaw army to contend with. It doesn’t make any sense.
Adding insult to injury is that that the Enclave’s motivations in Fallout 3 are almost identical to those in Fallout 2. 36 years after the previous game, the Enclave is still trying to kill all near-humans, but on a much, much smaller scale. For context: By Fallout 3, the Enclave has been trying to enact the same genocidal plan for 106 years. For comparison, imagine that Abraham Lincoln outlined a reconstruction bill in 1865 and Richard Nixon was still working on it in 1971.
The Enclave somehow makes less sense in Fallout 3. 36 years after the previous game, the Enclave has revamped their sterile and secretive persona into publicly broadcasted nostalgic dribbling about apple pie and baseball. This doesn’t make any sense in a setting 200 years after the war. Two centuries is a long time for culture. It would be like George Washington using the radio to wax poetic about the joys of squab under glass.
The other problem is that Eden has no interest in befriending the people of the wasteland, but his fireside chats exist only for that purpose. The issue is two-fold. First, the Enclave doesn’t show up until Project Purity gets going. They have no outposts whatsoever.
The introduction to the Enclave in Fallout 2 was giant-Darth Vader showing up to interrogate some peasants. In Fallout 3, it’s bumping into a harmless eyebot seconds after leaving the vault. Then, when Eden reveals the Enclave army, he does so loudly and publicly while killing the chief scientists of Rivet City… within earshot of Rivet City. Then Eden takes credit for Project Purity on the radio when everyone in Rivet City was already aware it was James and Dr. Li’s baby. If the writer’s goal was for Eden to lure the wastelanders into a false sense of security, they failed to telegraph that idea and they failed colossally in the execution.
Why does the Enclave show up at Project Purity anyway? They had 18 years to get the purifier working and they waited until the exact moment its creator returned (but hadn’t fixed it yet) to launch their assault. Why? The Enclave were able to get it up and running on their own anyway, they just needed a GECK and the code. They already knew where to find a GECK and could get the code through trial and error. Even if they needed James, why not wait until the moment he turned it on, then invade? Wastelanders in Megaton aren’t going to know the difference.
Maybe this is less about the Enclave and more about Bethesda’s terrible writing, but the conceit of Fallout 3’s plot is a nonissue. There’s a giant water purifier. Both sides want to turn it on. It doesn’t matter who wins, the river will be clean either way. One side will distribute it to the people of the wasteland for glory and unity. The other side will distribute it to the people of the wasteland and continue to wage a pointless war on super mutants. The entire third act of Fallout 3 is about who gets credit for pressing a button.
What does the Enclave want in Fallout 3? President Eden wants to infect the water with F.E.V. so everyone but Enclave soldiers will die. In convincing the Lone Wanderer (a near-human) to do this, he kills multiple Enclave soldiers. In his fight to protect humanity, Eden kills some of the last full-humans on Earth.
Colonel Autumn does NOT want to infect the water with F.E.V. he wants to use the Enclave to unite the Capital Wasteland under his flag. Yet somehow he’s painted as the biggest baddy of all when his goals are identical to yours. The only way to make this conflict interesting would be to have Autumn use the F.E.V. while Eden has a moment of clarity. Otherwise there are no stakes. The Enclave and the Brotherhood of Steel have the exact same goal, but characters are only as smart as their writers. It’s actually even worse than that because the people of the Capital Wasteland don’t need a giant water purifier, but that’s a different discussion.
Moreover, why is the Enclave invading? What resources do the people of the Capital Wasteland have that they want to bargain for? Nothing. The people of the Capital Wasteland don’t do anything. The region’s only industry is slavery. Colonel Autumn comes on the radio saying “you’ve probably seen Enclave soldiers in your town” but that never happens in the game so we have no idea what they want. Autumn has no motivation and Eden actively works against his motivation. These are generic bad-guys on par with parodies of Cobra Commander. They only exist so the Brotherhood of Steel can seem like underdogs while wearing power armor.
Colonel Autumn’s plan at least has some backing to it. Eden’s plan doesn’t make a lick of sense. He wants to poison the Potomac so near-humans will die. Then what? What’s the end goal? As in Fallout 2, there’s still radiation and now corpses everywhere. If your plan is to poison the river, future generations will mutate into near-humans and will die when they drink the water. The very conceit of the Enclave’s 106-year plan is self-destructive. You still can’t question anyone about this. You can only convince Eden to kill himself by calling him “An abortion of science.”
The actual encounter with Eden makes even less sense. He tries to convince the Lone Wanderer to use the F.E.V. after there’s already been a reveal that the Lone Wanderer is a near-human. What embarrassingly bad writing. In Fallout 2, the Enclave didn’t try to convince you what they’re doing was right, they accepted that near-humans wouldn’t understand. It’s a cop-out, sure, but it explains why you can’t ask many questions. They just don’t want to answer them. In Fallout 3, the Enclave’s goals are posed as a moral debate. “Kill everyone you’ve ever met, including yourself… or don’t.” Yet you can only achieve intellectual victory through literal name calling.
The bigger problem with this scene is that the choice is unnecessary. For no reason, the Enclave kidnaps the Lone Wanderer to get the code to start the purifier. Using the wrong code floods the control chamber with radiation. It’s never explained why James installed a self-destruct system on his water purifier. Ignoring that, lets play with the pieces we’re given.
Why didn’t the Enclave just use robots to put in the numbers? They have lots of those. While we’re here, why didn’t the east coast Enclave even slightly improve their weapons and robots over the past 200 years?
Using a 200-year-old sentry bot design, identical to those found in the wastes, is equivalent to fighting the Vietnam War with Brown Bess Muskets. But hey, making unique models and stats for Enclave robots would be a lot of work. It’s not like Fallout 2 provided the Enclave robots with unique sta… oh wait.
I’m sure there are a ton of excuses for why robots can’t do it, but keep in mind that the radiation is confined to the control chamber. Therefore it poses no threat to observers.
The Enclave’s goal makes no sense and their only methodology in achieving that goal is to threaten and kill people. The Enclave, a faction of elite scientists and soldiers, didn’t even try a scientific approach. Characters are only as smart as their writers and it really shows here.
Then, in Broken Steel, we learn the Enclave has another, more secret base and a missile platform in space. Why didn’t they just nuke the Brotherhood of Steel? They already had the coordinates locked in and The Lone Wanderer can launch the nukes without so much as a science check. Wouldn’t they at least use missiles as last resort while their base is under attack? Doesn’t it make sense to give them a little payback? Nope. They do nothing, except die. How embarrassing.
The Enclave was broken from the start. What’s should be the most powerful, imposing faction in the Fallout universe is crippled by faults in the foundation of their ideology and a complete lack of self-awareness. In Fallout 2 the Enclave had a consistent goal. It didn’t stand up to even a single question of scrutiny, but we understood what they were trying to do.
In Fallout 3, the Enclave is underdeveloped, self-contradictory, and outright stupid. Nothing they do makes any sense. Their plan is copy and pasted from Fallout 2. The only change is scale and a halfhearted civil-war twist with no impact on the narrative. It’s a hot mess of bad writing, but that describes the Enclave as a whole.
The Enclave still clings to the past, believing America hasn’t changed in the past 200 years. But their own ineptitude will force them to forever suffer from the old-world blues. They need to let go. Their time is over, but our time has just begun.