Fallout - the Post-apocalyptic Computer Game Series Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Fallout - the Post-apocalyptic Computer Game Series

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War. War never changes.
The end of the world occurred pretty much as we had predicted. Too many humans, not enough space or resources to go around. The details are trivial and pointless, the reasons, as always, purely human ones.

– Fallout 2 Intro

In the post-apocalyptic future of an alternate reality of the USA, the descendants of the survivors of a massive nuclear war try to make their living in the wastelands which are the remains of North America.

Fallout is a role-playing game series with action elements, which is set in an open world where the player can go wherever they want and explore. The games were originally developed by Interplay Entertainment, but the license was bought by Bethesda Game Studios1 who developed the series since 2004. The Fallout games were inspired by the 1988 game Wasteland2, which is set in a similar environment. It was also influenced by the action movie Mad Max and the fear of nuclear war in the 1950s.

The Fallout series is at the same time very funny and terribly depressing. There are many puns based on pop-culture references, but the sight of this destroyed world with so many well known places in ruins is bound to make all players also a bit thoughtful. One of the most impressive settings in the games is certainly the destroyed Washington DC in Fallout 3. The area between Capitol Hill and the Washington Monument is full of trenches and there are mutants everywhere, as well as soldiers of the Brotherhood of Steel. The Pentagon is used as the Brotherhood's Citadel and the player can visit the History Museum and other tourist attractions.


In the world of Fallout, the science fiction of the 1950s comes true and the world is full of serving robots, hover cars and other exciting technology. Unfortunately this means that the world was also still dependant on fossil fuels, and therefore by the mid-21st Century a world war starts for oil and other resources.

A genetically engineered virus breaks out in the US, killing a large number of the population and leading to the infertility of even more people. Still, experiments with viruses continue. China and the USA fight for the control of Alaska and a nuclear war in the Middle East makes atomic bombs a threat. Huge bomb shelters are built throughout the US to keep at least part of the population safe. Meanwhile, resources are dwindling more and more.

Finally, on 23 October, 2077, nuclear war breaks out and within only two hours the whole world is destroyed. Only a few make their way into the safety of the bomb shelters, the Vaults. Those who stay on the surface are not only affected by radiation but also by the outbreak of the virus which was set loose during the attacks. Humans and animals mutate.

The US is populated by only a few humans who desperately try to make a living in this wasteland. They huddle together in small villages built from the debris of the former USA, always afraid of raiders and mutant attacks. Various factions are trying to gain control over the land.

By the mid-22nd Century the first Vaults have opened their gates. The descendants of the original inhabitants of the Vaults start to explore this new world.

The Vaults

The Vaults have been built to give shelter to the American population in event of a nuclear war. Each of the vast underground structures can house up to 1,000 people. Nobody can enter or leave a Vault without authorisation. There is only one entrance – a huge steel door with defensive weapons and an airlock. Each Vault is governed by an Overseer, who is responsible for all people and technology in the Vault.

122 public Vaults have been built in America, and they should be able to provide for their occupants for hundreds of years. In fact the Vaults were occupied by a much smaller number of people. Even if all Vaults had been at their maximum capacity, there would never have been enough of them to provide shelter for the whole population of the USA. This is because their true purpose is a different one. Those who were chosen for one of the rare spaces in the Vault would in fact be part of a large social experiment, conducted by the government. This is the reason why on some level each of the Vaults is a little bit different from the others and all inhabitants face different challenges. This should prepare the actual resettlement of a number of people on a destroyed Earth or the colonisation of other planets.

Most of the Vaults in fact did not endure the nuclear strikes, while others had conditions under which their inhabitants were forced to leave sooner or later. Only a small number actually worked as a shelter and also provided a sufficient social environment.


In each game multiple factions fight for influence. The most important organisations are the NCR, the Brotherhood of Steel and the Enclave. It is the player's choice which ones to join and which ones to fight. Next to those mentioned below, there are also various smaller groups with different interests appearing in every game.


The New California Republic is a federation which tries to reinstate order and democratic values. Wherever they go, the NCR improve the local economy and infrastructure. Their military protects the population of the wastelands. Still, not all is well. Corruption and the will to increase their control over the wastelands does not always let them make friends among the local populace.

The Brotherhood of Steel

The Brotherhood of Steel is a group of involuntarily genetically engineered soldiers. They were one of the first groups of people to come out of their Vault in the late 21st Century. They believe themselves to be the last true humans and heirs of all old technology, forming a quasi-religious society. The Brotherhood of Steel fights mutants and has small outposts all over the USA.

The Enclave

The Enclave is the technologically most advanced Faction in the Fallout games. They are a secretive organisation, the descendants of former government officials and other important members of the pre-war society. It was them who monitored the Vaults and who should resettle on Earth or a different planet. The members of the Enclave are the only humans who show no mutations or effects of the virus and they regard all others to be not human at all. They have re-instated a kind of government with a President and Congress and want to take back control.

The Games

Accompanied by music from the mid-20th Century, the player explores what is left of a 1950s utopia. The ruins of a better future, a scarcely populated USA which is overrun with mutants. A world where the caps of cola bottles are the new currency and numerous billboards tell of a better past full of happy families. Very often adverts are used to catch the attention of the player and leads their attention to certain places in the game.

The iconic intros of the series' set the games in context with wars in the real world. Every game starts with a short film of impressions of the game world, to which plays the theme music of the game. Then follows a picture show about the in-game history, which also relates to wars in the real world. The pictures are accompanied by a voice, telling the story of the games.

All locations in the games are more or less based on places in the real world, and it can be a game in itself to compare the locations with a map of the USA. This makes the post-apocalyptic wasteland seem even more disturbing and real.

It is also in the intros where the player first encounters Vault Boy3, the mascot of Vault-Tec as well as the Fallout series. This cheerful cartoon character appears in Vault adverts, manuals and the game menus.

The Fallout games combine role-playing elements with action. The player takes on the role of a character who explores the wastelands of America, meets many interesting people and fights mutants and other villains. During the course of the game many choices are made. Do you want to be good or evil? Kill a person or not? Each of them can change the course of the game and so it is possible to play Fallout games multiple times and take alternative routes with different outcomes. There is more than one possible ending to each game.

At the beginning of each game the player chooses the appearance and gender of their character and answers questions, which determine their strengths and weaknesses. While playing the game, skill points are gained by levelling the character; these can then be used to increase the characters' various skills, like the ability to use different types of weapons, or pick locks.

Although each game features a main quest which tells the major story, each player also has numerous ways to explore the world and there are many side quests to master. If the player only wants to do the main quest, it is their own choice and not a requirement.

In addition to the player character there are also NPCs4 with different abilities who accompany and help the player. These companions also tell their own stories and request the player's help on personal issues, which will in return improve their relationship to the player character.

Fallout: A Post-nuclear Role-playing Game

'Maybe you'll think of me when you are all alone.
Maybe the one who is waiting for you
Will prove untrue, then what will you do?
– 'Maybe' – The Ink Spots, 19405

Fallout was released in 1997 for PC and Mac and was developed by Interplay Entertainment. The game is set in the mid-22nd Century where the player takes on the role of an inhabitant of Vault 13. This Vault should still stay locked for a long time, but a faulty water chip forces the Overseer to send one person to the surface to try and find a replacement. This person is of course the player's character. For the quest to find a replacement water chip the player only has limited time, as drinking water in the Vault slowly runs out. In addition there is also a large mutant army to fight. The protagonist of this game is turned into a legend in the subsequent games and is referred to as the 'Vault Dweller'.

The first part of the Fallout series is set in southern California, where the player can, for instance, visit the ruins of Los Angeles. The game has turn-based combat and an isometric view on the landscape.

Fallout 2

'Give me a kiss to build a dream on
And my imagination will thrive upon that kiss
Sweetheart, I ask no more than this
A kiss to build a dream on'

– 'A Kiss to Build a Dream on' – Louis Armstrong, 1951

The second Fallout game was released for PC in 1998 and a few years later for Mac. After the events of Fallout, the Vault Dweller settles down in what was formerly known as Oregon. In the mid-23rd Century the village suffers from a disastrous drought. The Chosen One, a direct descendant of the Vault Dweller, is sent on a quest to find a Garden of Eden Creation Kit, a terraforming device which was once part of the equipment of almost every Vault and should enable its inhabitants to settle on the surface.

Fallout 2 has the same graphics and gameplay as the original Fallout game, but here is no time limit for completing the main quest anymore, which gives the player more time to explore. Taking on the role of the Chosen One, the player visits places like New Reno, the capital city of gamblers, prostitutes and drug dealers.

Fallout 3

'I don't want to set the world on fire
I just want to start
A flame in your heart'

– 'I Don't Want To Set The World On Fire' – The Ink Spots, 1941

Fallout 3 is the first Fallout game made by Bethesda and was released for PC, Xbox 360 and Play Station 3 in 2008. The game is set in 2277 on the east coast of the USA where the player character has to flee from the Overseer of their Vault. From this time on he is known as the Lone Wanderer and searches the area around Washington DC for their father who has also left the Vault.

Contrary to the earlier games, Fallout 3 has 3D graphics and real-time combat with a tactical mode to target different body parts of the opponent.

Fallout: New Vegas

'Blue Moon, you saw me standing alone
Without a dream in my heart
Without a love of my own'

– 'Blue Moon' – Frank Sinatra, 1961

Like Fallout 3, New Vegas was released for PC, Play Station 3 and Xbox 360. The game was published in 2010 and is set a few years after Fallout 3 in the area of former Las Vegas. The player takes on the character of The Courier, who is sent to deliver a package to New Vegas. On the way they are shot by an unknown person who takes the parcel away. Rescued by a robot in the last minute, the player starts a quest to reclaim the parcel and its mysterious content.

Gameplay in Fallout: New Vegas is similar to Fallout 3. There is a new optional 'hardcore mode' which makes the game more realistic by adding, for instance, the requirement to eat, drink and sleep. It is also possible to customise weapons.

Fallout 4

'It's all over but the crying
And nobody's crying but me
Friends all over know I'm trying
To forget about how much I care for you'
– 'It's all over but the crying' – The Ink Spots, 1947

Fallout 4 is scheduled to be released on 10 November, 2015, for PC, Play Station 4 and Xbox One. The game is set in and around Boston where the player enters Vault 111 with their partner and baby just as a nuclear strike hits the city. The same person emerges 200 years after the nuclear strike (which is about the same time as the previous games) as the last survivor of their vault. As a companion the player gets a dog whom they can give various commands.

The game offers a more open world than any Fallout game before. A new feature is the ability to build houses from scraps and this way found new communities of survivors. There is also a whole new crafting system with countless ways to combine and modify equipment. The game can be connected with an app on your mobile phone or other device.

Non-canon Games

There are two games which have been published by Interplay Entertainment in the early 2000s, between the releases of Fallout 2 and 3. Both games are not consistent with the canon of the other games and are therefore not considered to be actual parts of the series.

Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel (2001) is a strategy game featuring squad-combat and also has a competitive multiplayer option. Role-playing elements are not a strong point of this game. The story is set in the American Midwest and follows a group of Brotherhood of Steel soldiers, who are controlled by the player.

Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel (2004) is the only Fallout game which was not published for PC but only for Xbox and Play Station 2. The game follows the story of a Brotherhood of Steel initiate who is sent on a mission to find a missing group of brothers. Brotherhood of Steel is not played in an open world but has a linear story through which the player progresses, taking on the role of one of six available characters.

Fallout Shelter (2015) is available as free download for mobile phones. In the game the player is in the position of the Overseer of a vault. They have to take care of their inhabitants, give them tasks and expand the vault.

Blast off to the Future

Fallout is a game series for role-play fans as well as those who like action or 'zombie apocalypse'-type games. The gameplay of the newer games is very similar to that of Bethesda's 'Elder Scrolls' series, but the setting is very different. Fallout also has much more humour than the Elder Scrolls.

The games are available in electronic and games stores as well as for download on Steam6. While they are not online games and you will play them alone, they may need an Internet connection.

1Bethesda is known to most people as the developer of the Elder Scrolls games series.2The crowd-funding project Wasteland 2 was released in 2014.3If you have ever wondered why Vault Boy gives you a thumbs up, he isn't, he measures the size of a mushroom cloud in comparison to his thumb to see if he is far enough away.4Non-player Characters, who are controlled by the computer.5Originally the theme music was planned to be 'I Don't Want To Set The World On Fire', which was later used in Fallout 3.6An online distribution service and gaming network.

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