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Explaining the Lore of Fallout for Universes Beyond


War. War Never Changes. Today I'm here to give you an intro into the Fallout series! For those of you with no Fallout grounding, Fallout originated in the mid-90s during the heyday of computer RPGs, before console-based RPGs like Final Fantasy 7 gobbled up most of the RPG audience. For perspective, the original Baldur's Gate debuted a year after the original Fallout. The original developer, Black Isle Studios, went under after Fallout 2, and was purchased by Bethesda Softworks in the early 00's who redesigned the game as an action RPG using their Elder Scrolls engine. Please note, there are a lot of references I just don't have space (or the time or inclination to tackle). There's so much content here and I'm already at a double-sized piece!

Fallout's Backstory

Human Knight Token by Wayne Wu

The original Fallout was a spiritual successor to an even older game with the same themes, Wasteland (Wasteland is referenced in Bastion of Remembrance, as the Desert Rangers are from that game). The games are semi-satirical, lampooning American politics and corporate culture. The games also feature a 1950s retro-futuristic aesthetic that has become a hallmark of the series. The name comes from the nuclear fallout that devastated the world in the aftermath of the Great War between the USA, the Soviet Union, and China. This devastation happened in-universe in 2077.

A big element of the Fallout series are the Vaults, which were ostensibly designed as fallout shelters, but in truth were a series of sick social and eugenics experiments conducted by Vault-Tec. Many of the player characters throughout the games come from one of these vaults, and they're one of the most iconic elements of the Fallout series. They're not the only survivors, however, as lots of people survived outside the cities as civilization collapsed. Other survivors were exposed to so much radiation it mutated them into ghouls, humans with extended lifespans but with the physical appearance of a zombie. In many cases, the radiation also damaged their minds, creating Feral Ghouls.

The other pre-war companies you should know about are RobCo and Nuka Cola. RobCo is responsible for the various robots you encounter through the game, from domestic housekeepers with jet engines to massive weapons of war that you only want to tackle with the best weapons available. Nuka Cola is a soda company that dabbled in weapons research and also alarmingly irradiated a number of their drinks. Nuka Cola bottlecaps serve as the in-game currency in most games.

Perks, Ability Scores, and Iconic Stuff

Power Fist by Campbell White

Your abilities in each Fallout game are determined by your SPECIAL score, as shown off by the cycle of seven bobbleheads. In the Bethesda games, you can find Bobbleheads to permanently increase a score. Those bobbleheads are:

Pip-Boy 3000 is the forearm mounted personal computer that every Fallout protagonist wears. It serves as your pause screen and diegetic reason for your menu's in-universe. Think of it as a very big Iphone watch. V.A.T.S. is the targeting system in all Fallout games. An acronym for Vault-Assisted Targeting System, it uses the Pip-Boy 3000 to target limbs, at a penalty to accuracy. In the later games, it also slows down time while using it.

T-45 Power Armor is the iconic Fallout armor, developed for the Great War. You can get a set of this armor in pretty much every game in the franchise, and it is always the most powerful armor you can find (except in the cases where you can get newer armor). There are other armors in the games, like the advanced power armor that Agent Frank Horrigan wears, but the T-45 is the most iconic.

Idolized is a condition where you've maxed out your reputation with a given faction. Nerd Rage is a perk that varies between games but usually increases your combat prowess when your health is low. Grim Reaper's Sprint is a perk that gives you more action points when you kill an enemy. Wild Wasteland is a trait from Fallout: New Vegas that adds some really weird random encounters to the game. Animal Friend is a perk that allows you to pacify enemy animals and turn them against other enemies. Strong Back is a perk that gives you extra carry weight. Well Rested is a perk you get from getting eight hours of sleep. It gives you a temporary bonus to your stats. Almost Perfect does not reference power armor, but another perk that you can get in Fallout 3's DLC, which raises all your SPECIAL scores to 9 (the cap is 10).

Mysterious Stranger is a luck-based mechanic in the Fallout games, where the mysterious stranger shows up on a critical success and helps you defeat an enemy. They disappear right after. Finally, Inventory Management is something every Fallout player must suffer through. You can't carry all those bottles of Nuka Cola at once, unfortunately.

Lastly, Fraying Sanity is a callback to a 25th anniversary Penny Arcade comic for Fallout.


Nuclear Fallout by Jason Rainville

The original Fallout takes place around 80-90 years after the Great War in and around California, and is the subject of the saga Vault 13: Dweller's Journey. Vault 13 was largely a control vault, designed to work normally except the doors weren't supposed to open for 200 years, so the people inside were unaware of Vault-Tec's true nature. You play as the Vault Dweller, sent by the Overseer of your vault to find a replacement for your vault's Water Chip. Exploring the wasteland, you can meet people like Aradesh, the Founder, leader of the town of Shady Sands, or Ian the Reckless who is one of your first companions in-game. Junktown is also from this game.

The Vault Dweller finds a replacement for the Water Chip in Vault 12: The Necropolis, a vault that was designed for the doors to never close as a study in radiation exposure. It is referred to as the Necropolis because it was populated by the ghouls transformed by this experiment. However, in the process you learn about the looming threat of Super Mutants in the region, people who were transformed by the Forced Evolutionary Virus (or FEV) at Mariposa Military Base. Your vault will eventually be at risk from these Super Mutants and so the you travel there and stop The Master, Transcendent. The Master's plan was to create an army of Super Mutants to bring about Unity through creating one perfect human race.

Returning home a hero, the tragic and iconic ending is that you're not allowed back into the vault. Your experiences have changed you and your stories could encourage other vault dwellers to leave. You are Path to Exile'd.

Fallout 2

About 80 years after the original Fallout, you take control of the Chosen One, a descendant of the Vault Dweller whose town is suffering the worst drought on record. You take on the Mantle of the Ancients and set out to find Vault 13 and the Garden of Eden Creation Kit (or G.E.C.K.) located there. The GECK is a near-instantaneous terraforming kit meant to be used to instantly create a lush paradise for survivors. The problem when you arrive is that the vault dwellers are gone and Young Deathclaws are in their place. You can also find Marcus, Mutant Mayor and learn that not all Super Mutants were made overly aggressive and unintelligent in the process. Shady Sands has also evolved into the New California Republic, a (mostly) benevolent governmental body that controls large swaths of the wasteland.

The game largely follows you trying to figure out what happened and find the GECK to save your village. Along the way you discover the Enclave, an organization made up of the corrupt deep state remnants of the US government and the ones who commissioned Vault-Tec's experiments. They kidnapped the residents of Vault 13 to use in their FEV experiments (as the residents were free of radioactive contamination). You defeat Dick Richardson, the president of the USA, and Agent Frank Horrigan on their offshore oil platform (Dragonskull Summit) and return home with the GECK and the vault dwellers, and usher in an age of peace.

The Brotherhood of Steel

While I don't talk about them in these two summaries, the Brotherhood of Steel is the most iconic faction in the Fallout franchise. The Brotherhood is a quasi-religious paramilitary organization founded in the wake of the Great War by the US Army Veterans. Their goal is to keep advanced pre-war technology out of the hands of... well pretty much everyone who isn't them. They're ruthless in pursuit of their goals, and possess the advanced technology to make them a major player in any conflict they're involved in.

Fallout 3

Struggle for Project Purity by Billy Christian

Fallout 3 was the first of the Bethesda games, taking place just a few decades after Fallout 2, but on the other side of the country, in and around Washington D.C. (or the National Capital Region/NCR) In the game you are the Lone Wanderer, a vault dweller from Vault 101: Birthday Party. The Birthday party in the saga is part of the game's opening/tutorial that follows small snippets of your life growing up in the vault (also depicted in Path of Ancestry). Your father, James, Wandering Dad, disappears one day, and you leave the vault in order to find him.

The first settlement you can encounter is a town called Megaton due to the undetonated nuclear warhead the town is built around. In-game, you can decide Megaton's Fate by detonating the nuke. Three Dog, Galaxy News DJ operates the biggest radio station in the NCR and points you in the direction of Dr. Madison Li, who once partnered with James on something called Project Purity. It turns out that James raised you in the vault to keep you safe after the death of your mother, but now that you're an adult he wants to get something called Project Purity back off the ground. The Project is designed to purify the contaminated drinking water in the NCR (which is part of what is holding back large-scale rebuilding of society), but to finish it he needs a GECK, the nearest of which is in Vault 112: Sadistic Simulation. Vault 112 is the personal vault of one of Vault-Tec's chief scientists, the sociopathic Doctor Stanislaus Braun. James became trapped in a simulation with Dr. Braun, who has been torturing the other vault residents for centuries.

James and Dr. Li return to Project Purity, only for Colonel Autumn, leader of the east coast remnants of the Enclave, to attempt to seize control. To stop him, James irradiates the chamber (depicted in Anguished Unmaking) and urges the Lone Wanderer to finish his work. You accompany the remaining project team to the pentagon, under the control of the east coast chapter of the Brotherhood of Steel, largely cut off from the west coast, and led by Elder Owyn Lyons. To get another GECK, you head to Vault 87: Forced Evolution, where the Enclave was conducting more FEV experiments. You're captured by the Enclave and learn that they want to use Project Purity to infect the water supply with a version of the FEV that is fatal to anyone with any mutations, leaving the NCR to the Enclave's 'purity'. Back at the pentagon, you convince the Brotherhood of Steel to aid you in recapturing Project Purity, resulting in the Struggle for Project Purity. The Brotherhood (and Dr. Li) activate Liberty Prime, Recharged, a massive pre-war robot to help cut their way through the Enclave and reactivate Project Purity. Or at least that's what I did, there are bad options too.

While not super relevant to the main story, I want to mention a few other things. Butch DeLoria, Tunnel Snake is a 1950s greaser-style gang leader of the 'Tunnel Snakes', a counter-culture 'gang' in Vault 101. He's a bully to the Lone Wanderer early on but can be recruitable later.

The Gary Clone's are from Vault 108, where the experiment centered around repeatedly cloning the same man (like copying a copy) to observe the results. The clones became increasingly hostile to non-clones, and by the end were almost non-verbal except for saying their name, Gary. This is one of the more memorable, darkly humorous vaults.

Sierra, Nuka's Biggest Fan appears in Fallout 3 and 4, and she's exactly what is described on the cover here. She's a huge fan of Nuka Cola and can be found at locations majorly important to the organizations.

Harold of Harold and Bob, First Numens is a recurring character through the first three fallout games. Exposed to the FEV alongside the Master at Mariposa, Harold started to develop a tree growth growing out of his head he named Bob. After about a century, the tree grew so large that he rooted in place in the NCR, and much to his chagrin a small nature cult formed around him as their god. He hates it.

MacCready, Lamplight Mayor is a young boy who is the mayor of Little Lamplight, a small town made up only of children that is located in the same cave system as Vault 87. MacCready as an adult is a recruitable companion in Fallout 4. Sentinel Sarah Lyons is the Elder's daughter and a temporary companion in the game.

Finally, Moira Brown, Guide Author is a resident of Megaton who gives the player character quests for her Wasteland Survival Guide. If the player chooses to nuke Megaton, Moira is revealed to be still alive, having been turned into a ghoul.

Fallout New Vegas

General's Enforcer by Nino Is

Fallout New Vegas is the most popular of the Bethesda-era Fallout games, developed by Obsidian Entertainment, which is made up of many veterans from Black Isle Studios. It uses a lot of elements that were originally planned for Black Isle Studio's canceled version of Fallout 3, usually referred to as Van Buren. Taking place just a few years after Fallout 3, the story centers around Las Vegas, an independent settlement controlled by Mr. House, President and CEO, as both the New California Republic and Caesar's Legion, a brutal new faction themed on the Roman Empire, vie for control of the region. Also at play is Hoover Dam, the power source for New Vegas and a valuable site for both sides. The story culminates in the Legion's assault in the Battle of Hoover Dam, but it tends to be a very open ended game that it's much harder to do a good story summary of it.

You play as the courier, who is shot and left for dead in the Nevada Desert by Benny (as depicted in Lethal Scheme). Over the course of your adventure, you'll encounter all the sides to this issue. There's the NCR, who have good intentions but have stretched themselves too thin to be reliable, Caesar's Legion, who talk big but are just raiders with an aesthetic, and then finally Mr. House, who controls a massive army of Securitron robots and aims to keep New Vegas independent of either side. You spend much of the game in pursuit of the platinum chip, which was taken from you by Benny at the start of the game. The chip contains upgrades for Mr. House's securitrons, which would upend the balance of power in the region. Your decisions will affect the outcome of the balance of power in the region. Personally, I eliminated Mr. House and Benny with the help of Yes Man, Personal Securitron and took control of an independent New Vegas for myself.

Vault 21: House Gambit refers to a Las Vegas vault that has been turned into a hotel and casino in New Vegas. Vault 11: Voter's Dilemma refers to Vault 11's sick social experiment, in which the Vault Dwellers were told to sacrifice someone from the vault every year or the computer would kill them all. The vault dwellers held elections every year for Overseer, the person to be sacrificed.

Jason Bright, Glowing Prophet is a 'Glowing One', or a ghoul so irradiated that they literally glow with radioactive light. Jason is the leader of the Bright Brotherhood, a religious cult in which Jason wants to use an old rocket test site to take his followers to the 'Far Beyond'.

Caesar, Legion's Emperor is a brutal and charismatic man, well aware of the manipulative tactics he's using to keep his legion, made up mostly of former raiders, in line. His general, Legate Lanius, Caesar's Ace, is more of a true believer, and is one of the final bosses of the game depending on where you end up siding.

The Nipton Lottery needs some explanation, in that when the Legion came to Nipton, they held a lottery for what horrible way everyone there would die. Only one person would be allowed to live, hence what's happening in this card.

Some of the companions you can recruit in the game include ED-E, Lonesome Eyebot, a former Enclave Eyebot that the Courier can repair, Rex, Cyber-Hound, a pre-war cybernetic dog who needs a brain replacement to survive, and Veronica, Dissident Scribe, a Brotherhood of Steel scribe who is dissatisfied with the self-destructive direction the Brotherhood is taking. The Brotherhood of Steel have a smaller presence in this game than previous ones, but much of their plot surrounds Helios One and the pre-war weapon located there.

Arcade Gannon is a humanitarian doctor with a secret past upbringing in the Enclave, which he must hide or be captured and imprisoned for life in the NCR. Cass, Hand of Vengeance is a caravan owner on a quest for vengeance against the Legion, who destroyed her caravan. Craig Boone, Novac Guard is a NCR sniper assigned to guard duty in Novac, where he uses Dinky the Dinosaur as his perch (Temple of Abandon). Lily Bowen, Raging Grandma was a vault dweller until the Master raided her vault and transformed her into a Super Mutant. You'll find Lily at Jacobstown, a settlement for Super Mutants founded by Marcus from Fallout 2. Raul, Trouble Shooter is a mechanic and gunslinger, hence his title on the card.

Fallout 4 (2287)

Strong, the Brutish Thespian by Jason Rainville

Fallout 4 begins immediately before the bombs fall on Boston, and picks up again about ten years after Fallout 3. You play a pre-war army veteran, who along with your spouse and son are ushered into Vault 111 where you are cryogenically frozen. You awake, briefly, to find Kellogg, Dangerous Mind kidnapping your child and murdering your spouse. When you fully awaken, you find that you are the only survivor of the vault, where everyone else's life support has failed. This earns you the title of Sole Survivor. You spend the game trying to find your son in the Commonwealth, the name of the region around Boston.

While Fallout 4 is more linear than New Vegas was, there are still a large number of factions for you to encounter. The first are the Minutemen, led by Preston Garvey, Minuteman, who aim to create safe settlements in the region. Then there's the Institute, a highly advanced and secretive organization made up of remnants from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who live in a secret bunker and shape Commonwealth politics to keep any group from becoming too much of a thread. The Institute has developed synths, or synthetic humans, who become their sleeper agents on the surface. Paranoia around synths is one of the driving factors of the region. The Railroad attempts to free synths from the Institute, while the Brotherhood of Steel, who has arrived in the region from the NCR aboard The Prydwen, Steel Flagship, seeks to destroy them and the Institute.

While Dogmeat, Ever Loyal is in most games, this version of Dogmeat is from Fallout 4 and is one of the first companions you'll meet. You'll also encounter Codsworth, Handy Helper. Who was your home's robotic butler before the war and has been waiting centuries for your return. Tracking down your son to Diamond City, you meet Nick Valentine, Private Eye, a prototype synth who was implanted with the memories of a pre-war detective, and Piper Wright, Publick Reporter, who suspects something rotten with the leadership of Diamond City.

You'll eventually catch up Kellogg and kill him, discovering he was a cyborg and that his memories could still be the key to finding your son. The Brotherhood of Steel arrive in the Prydwyn, and you'll meet Elder Arthur Maxson, who was just a boy when you last met him in Fallout 3. You'll also be confronted with a tough choice due to Maxson's hardliner stance when you discover that Paladin Danse, Steel Maverick is in fact a synth himself, and whether or not you execute him as ordered will affect your relationship with the Brotherhood.

Kellogg's memories will eventually lead you to the leader of the Railroad, Desdemona, Freedom's Edge, and their secret base depicted in Rogue's Passage. It turns out that the Institute isn't so good at suppressing the free will of the synths they create, and actively hunts down the rogues which the Railroad attempts to bring to freedom.

Whichever faction you side with, you'll build a teleporter to access the Institute. Inside you'll discover the awful truth that your son, Shaun, Father of Synths, is an old man and the leader of the Institute, and that you were frozen much longer than you thought, with Kellogg's ageless cybernetic appearance and a synth of a younger Shaun making you think it had only been a few years. In his old age, Shaun had grown sentimental and wanted to see what their parent is like, and if they would be a good leader to replace him in the Institute. You can also see a glimpse of the inside of the Institute in Rustvale Bridge.

Ultimately, the Sole Survivor must choose a faction to support, leading to the balance of power shifting in the area. Let me tell you, this is not a good game to play as an expecting parent. It came out just before my son was born and the ending hit hard.

Some of the other companions you'll encounter in the game are John Hancock, Ghoulish Mayor, who actually joins you if you rob him, having taken on the persona of the revolutionary war leader and believing he had gotten too comfortable in power. Strong, the Brutish Thespian is a super mutant who a thespian attempted to teach Shakespeare, but he takes the poetic language too literally. Cait, Cage Brawler has lived a hard life, and if you free her from the fighting pits, she'll join you during the game. Curie, Emergent Intelligence is a self-aware robot from Vault 81, and if you free her from her duties there she will join you, and possibly even take a synth body as the story progresses.

Red Death, Shipwrecker is from the Far Harbor expansion, and while it is rumored to be a horrific sea monster, it is in fact a small, docile mirelurk whose unique glowing eyes have just lured a number of ships onto the rocky shores of her island by mistake.

Vault 75: Middle School is the best example of the horrors of Vault-Tec. Not really darkly funny like the others, in this vault all teachers, students, and their families at Malden Middle School were invited to the Vault, where the adults were executed and the children were indoctrinated into a eugenics program.

Finally, Silver Shroud Costume and Skullclamp are part of a fun super hero plot like where you can acquire the Silver Shroud's outfit to engage in a very comic-book-y interaction with the Mechanist, an old comic character in-universe whose identity is used by characters in both Fallout 3 and 4.

Fallout 76

Inspiring Call by Liiga Smilshkalne

I'll be honest, I haven't played Fallout 76 because MMOs are dangerous things for me to start. It takes place just a few decades after the Great War, making it the earliest game in the timeline. That also means, despite its proximity to the NCR, it's mostly its own thing, and I'm relying on the Fallout wiki for more than just jogging my memory here.

The Wise Mothman is a unique, purple-eyed mothman revered by a cult called The Enlightened. There are lots of mothmen in the game, but most have red eyes and more violent dispositions. Commander Sofia Daguerre is a pre-war astronaut who lands in appalachia in an escape pod from a crashing space station.

Overseer of Vault 76 was the leader of the eponymous vault in Fallout 76, although she left the vault early to conduct a secret mission for Vault-Tec to secure the nuclear silos in the area. Duchess, Wayward Tavernkeep opened her tavern near the Overseer's camp and after a storied life has settled down to the simple life as proprietor. Rose, Cutthroat Raider was believed to be a human who secluded herself away from everyone, but in reality turns out to be a heavily modified Miss Nanny robot who was reprogrammed to imitate the former's leader's dead girlfriend. The Motherlode, Excavator is part of a sidequest to discover the secret of a mining company. Paladin Elizabeth Taggerdy was a founding member of the Brotherhood of Steel, who joined in response to the crimes committed by the US government, not because she was a true believer in the cause.

That's all I have time for today, I'm already over word count by... a LOT. Hopefully you enjoyed this primer to Fallout lore!

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