High Level Summary of Topic
Fallout is, aesthetically, a game which takes place in a future inspired by what people within the 50’s thought it would be – art deco themed vehicles, architecture following Googie and Raygun Gothic design, computers designed on reel-to-reel technology, and armor reminiscent of Starship Troopers and Wasteland in their bulkiness. Even the robots that are prevalent throughout the series retain the ‘feel’ of the 50’s in the clunky models that are larger in many ways than they need to be.
Throughout the series, there have been five full RPG titles, along with a squad-based tactical RPG (Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel), an action RPG dungeon-crawler (Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel), and a simulation game on mobile platforms (Fallout Shelter). Arguably, the canonical installments of the series are restricted to the RPG titles – however there is still back-and-forth debate on how much of each title is faithful to the original concept of the series. The primary divisions tend to see Fallout, Fallout 2, and, to a small degree, Fallout: New Vegas as being along the same timeline, while Fallout 3 and Fallout 4 are somewhat juxtaposed in events – admittedly this is also along the lines of developer differences in the titles. Ultimately, the underlying theme of the post-World War II nuclear paranoia of the 1950’s runs throughout the various titles of the series and serves as, if nothing else, a connection to the various aspects to the central idea of the Fallout title.
However, note here that the game isn’t the 1950’s transposed into the future as much as it is based on the vision of the future that was prevalent in the 50’s. One prime example of this can be seen in the primary conflict being between the US and China instead of the more common conflict seen between the US and the USSR. Scott Campbell speaks of this in Origins of Fallout, No Mutants Allowed:
The nuclear Armageddon in the back-story was between the US and China. After shipping several people asked me why China and not the old standby, the Soviet Union. I made the choice when I remembered experiences with Oleg, a Moscow developer I worked with months before when I was assistant-producing a typing game. Once, in the middle of a phone conversation, I heard some muffled bangs, and the phone went quiet. When I asked him what the noise was, he replied, “Oh, it was just the Russian mob firing their guns in the street.” I thought he was joking – he wasn’t. After that, I had a really hard time believing that the once mighty USSR would be in a position to threaten the world any time soon. So I turned to the next major communist country that typifies “the East”: China.
There are, of course, a number of variances, but the above is one of the more overt. Another can be seen in the modification of the domestic politics of the United States – which by the year of 2077 in the series has seen the 50 unique states that we know today having unified into 13 super-states, known in game as the commonwealths. We’ll talk about that in a bit though.
A really excellent overview can be found over on the Vaultpedia site (link will be provided in show notes, of course) – which states the following:
Although events in the Fallout universe and the real world diverge around the mid-1940s, the defining moment of the Fallout universe was the Great War of 2077. Dwindling petroleum reserves led to a series of regional wars for resource control, and economies began to fold as nations were left without this vital lifeline. Alternative sources of energy were explored, leading to the maturation of nuclear fission technology, as well as various innovations in solar and hydroelectric power, and even nuclear fusion, but none of these were sufficient to serve the global population’s ever growing needs.
With the available reserves of crude oil in the world constantly diminishing, the communist government of the People’s Republic of China declared war on the United States, invading Alaska for the few remaining sources of oil there. The Sino-American War raged for eleven years, eventually culminating in a nuclear exchange between China and the United States. Both nations had built up huge stockpiles of nuclear weapons, and the mutual attack drew in enemies and allies from all around the world, igniting every hatred forged throughout the century-long cold war. Although the conflict lasted only two hours, the destruction it brought was staggering and complete. More energy was released in the early moments of the exchange than in all previous global conflicts combined. This global nuclear conflict came to be known as the “Great War”.
The world that remained was harsh and unforgiving. Ninety years after the Great War, humanity struggled to survive. On the surface, bandits and organized gangs fought over the crumbling remains of once-great cities, and mutants prowled the irradiated wastes. Underground, a fortunate few enjoyed the relative safety and comfort of the Vaults, designed before the war, with the proclaimed purpose of protecting residents and their descendants from the nuclear annihilation. Some planned to keep the world out, others sought to connect with and repopulate the outside. Wherever humanity survived, it was under constant threat by ravenous mutants, rogue machines, vicious raiders, and all manner of hostile mutant creatures.
Most of the events of the series took place in the United States. The first two games, Fallout and Fallout 2, were set in New California, the remains of the West Coast, in which the Master and the Enclave were the region’s main threats. The third game, Fallout Tactics, took place in the Midwest, between the city of Chicago and Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. The fourth game, Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel, took place in northern Texas in the town of Carbon and the ghoul city of Los. The fifth game, Fallout 3, was set on the East Coast of the United States in an area called the Capital Wasteland; this included the remains of Washington, D.C., parts of Virginia, Pittsburgh and Maryland. The sixth game, Fallout: New Vegas, took place in the Mojave Wasteland which included parts of California, Utah, Arizona, and Nevada. Fallout 4 is set in the Boston, Massachusetts metro area, including notable landmarks in the City of Boston and the City of Cambridge as part of The Commonwealth.
To wrap up this brief summary, I wanted to touch on the culture of the Fallout universe. In essence, the culture is that which was envisioned in the 50’s – known to us as “modern Americana”. Although the subculture movements, like Hippie, Beatnik, and Punk were around, the movements never materialized as mainstream. In general, Fallout has a culture that is far more egalitarian than the source material would imply, reflecting modern sentiments and tendencies. Women fight alongside men, occupy positions of influence, and even serve in armies on equal terms. Racism is conspicuously absent in the games, replaced by hatred towards mutated humans.
Chronological Order of Titles
The story begins in Vault 13, a Vault located in Southern California, where the water chip, which is responsible for the water recycling and other pumping machinery has broken down. Tasked by the Vault’s Overseer to find a replacement, the protagonist (known throughout the canon of the game series as the “Vault Dweller”) is given a device called a Pip-Boy 2000 to assist in keeping track of their progress and some meager equipment before being set out into the remains of the countryside.
Initially, the game was shipped with a time limit coded into the main mission of 150 days before Vault 13’s water supply would run out – a limit that could be increased through gameplay by 100 days if they were able to commission assistance. Upon locating the water chip and returning to Vault 13, the Dweller then learns of a mutant army which, under the leadership of a mutant known as “the Master”, threatens humanity through the use of Forced Evolutionary Virus (FEV). FEV, in the Master’s hands, is being utilized to convert humanity into a race of “super mutants” – which he is then collecting to create his own version of a perfect world. The Dweller is tasked with the killing of the Master, as well as the destruction of the Mariposa Military Base, which is where FEV is being stored. This mission had an initial limit set at 500 days – after which the mutant army discovered Vault 13 and invaded, destroying it and ending the game. In version 1.1 of the game, the 500 day limit was removed (to better enable the player to explore the game world).
The player can defeat the Master and destroy the super mutants’ military base in either order. When both threats are eliminated, a cut-scene ensues in which the player automatically returns to Vault 13. There they are told that they have done great things for the Vault and all of humanity but if they came back everyone would want to leave the Vault and that they must leave for the good of the Vault. Thus they are rewarded with exile into the desert, for, in the Overseer’s eyes, the good of the vault.
After they have been exiled, the Dweller will eventually go on to found Arroyo, which brings us to the starting point of Fallout 2 – and an explanation of the connection between the Vault Dweller and the Chosen One.
Following the events of Fallout, the Vault Dweller, along with a group of companions, travelled north from Vault 13, eventually starting a tribal village in Oregon named Arroyo. After writing memoirs, the Dweller vanished, leaving behind Arroyo in the hands of their companions and descendants.
In the decades since the Vault Dweller’s exile, a new government known as the New California Republic (abbreviated NCR) has begun to unify the southern towns and is spreading to the north. A mysterious new organization known as the Enclave has emerged with the most sophisticated technology in the wastes, even surpassing the Brotherhood of Steel. A new drug, jet, has become a cancer on many towns, its addictive properties forcing many to rely on the town of New Reno to keep them supplied.
It is in this world that the Chosen One, a direct descendant of the Vault Dweller, is brought before the elders of Arroyo and given the task of retrieving a Garden of Eden Creation Kit (GECK) for their village, which is suffering the worst drought in living memory. The GECK is a powerful piece of technology that is able to create thriving communities out of the wasteland that is the result of the apocalyptic Great War – and will allow Arroyo to survive.
Through their travels, the Chosen One locates Vault 13, hoping to acquire the GECK located within the Vault, only to find that the inhabitants have largely vanished. Returning to Arroyo, it is discovered that the village has become captured by the Enclave (revealed to be remnants of the US government) and also largely vacant. Through the recovery and activation of an ancient oil tanker, the Chosen One is able to locate and reach the Enclave’s main base, located on an offshore oil rig. It is here that they discover the inhabitants of Vault 13 and those missing from Arroyo – captured to serve as test subjects for the Enclave’s experiments with a modified variant of FEV.
Having modified the FEV into an airborne disease that targets any living creature with mutated DNA, the Enclave plans to purify the world and take control once again – until their base is destroyed by the Chosen One. Following the freeing of the prisoners, the Chosen One leads the group back into the wasteland, where with the assistance of the GECK from Vault 13, they create a new prosperous community.
The setting for this title is located within the wasteland of Washington, D.C. – known as the Capitol Wasteland. 200 years after the Great War, the story begins with the Lone Wanderer, a young inhabitant of Vault 101 following in their father’s footsteps outside of the Vault, searching for answers. While in search for answers, the Lone Wanderer becomes involved in the power grab between the Enclave and the Brotherhood of Steel – and due to the history between the Brotherhood and their father, they are coerced into joining them against the Enclave’s rise to power. Ultimately, the Lone Wanderer goes head to head with the Enclave’s new leadership, President John Henry Eden and his second in command, Colonel Augustus Autumn, finding out the secrets to not just their own questions, but the underlying mysteries of the Enclave itself.
Fallout: New Vegas
This title takes place in/around Las Vegas, where we learn that the city wasn’t hit as hard as most of the other districts – mostly still intact and having electricity and water provided by the nearby Hoover Dam.
While it does take place after the events of Fallout 3, it is more related to events from Fallout and Fallout 2, due to the area of gameplay. The New California Republic is a major component of the story, along with their rivals Caesar’s Legion (slavers) and Mr. House (overseer of the New Vegas Strip).
The Courier, who serves as the protagonist, is introduced in the middle of their mission to deliver a package from Primm to New Vegas, which is intercepted and results in their being left for dead. Discovered by a robot and saved through the intervention of a close by settlement, the Courier is able to survive and goes on to become a major figure in the fate of New Vegas.
The Sole Survivor, who serves as the protagonist, is introduced when they are forced to flee to the safety of Vault 111 on the day of the Great War along with their spouse and son – where they are put into cryogenic stasis. During the time within the Vault, the security force rises up against the science staff within the Vault – resulting in the death or exile of all dwellers not within stasis. Those in stasis slowly die off, until the Sole Survivor is woken in time to see the murder of their spouse and kidnapping of their child.
After witnessing the events, the Survivor is able to escape the Vault, only to discover that over 200 years have passed and their old home has long since fallen into disarray. However, the more urgent matter of their child’s well being pushes the Survivor to venture into the nearby Diamond City, which opens the path that leads them into becoming involved with the politics of the Commonwealth (in the ruins of Boston, Massachusetts) and coming into contact with the factions of the Commonwealth Minutemen, The Railroad, the Brotherhood of Steel, and the secretive Institute.
Upon finally finding a way into the halls of the Institute, the Survivor comes to find their son in the figure of “Father”, the current Director of the Institute – as well as learning that he is not the 10 year old they thought, but rather a dying 60+ year old man. It is revealed that while they did indeed witness the kidnapping of their child, they had been returned into cryostasis for another 50 odd years before Shaun reactivated them in order to bring them into allegiance with the Institute.
Major Factions within Series
Brotherhood of Steel
Quasi-religious technological military order that operates throughout the ruins of post-War North America, with roots in the US Armed Forces and various government sponsored scientific communities from before the Great War. Due to their history with experimentation with the FEV, the Brotherhood is a staunch opponent to the Enclave – though by the time they were aware of each other, the Brotherhood was a shadow of its former self.
As an order, the Brotherhood holds strongly to the tenets of the eradication of mutants and the veneration of technology. In the later years of the series, the view of the Brotherhood of not sharing technology with other wastelanders has begun to wane and relationships with the other factions and communities have begun to grow somewhat stronger.
Organization that claims to be the continuation of the pre-War federal government of the US. As such, they style themselves to be the United States of America – and it is primarily made up of descendants of both original members of the shadow government that controlled the US before the Great War as well as representatives of powerful corporations (such as Vault-Tec and Poseidon Energy).
As a whole, the Enclave views themselves as being the last known concentrated bastion of pure, unmutated humanity, aside from the unopened vaults, and being the most technologically advanced faction in the wasteland. This leads to a powerful isolationist paradigm for the organization, though they make up for the lack of manpower with the formidable technology that they have at their disposal.
The New California Republic
Large federation of states that are held together through their beliefs in emphasizing and supporting a myriad of old-world values, such as personal liberty, democracy, and the overall rule of law. The total population of the NCR is well over 700,000 and is based in California, Nevada, Mexico, and along the Colorado River. As such, the NCR is dedicated to restoring a general sense of order to the wasteland, including the improvement and further development of infrastructure and economic systems, as well as a basic common degree of peace between the people.
The NCR has a clear and strong connection to the Vault Dweller (protagonist from original Fallout), due to the initial community being born from the remnants of Vault 15 in the form of Shady Sands. This community was assisted in coming into existence due to the Vault Dweller saving the daughter of the current leader of Shady Sands – a young girl who would go on to become one of the future presidents of the NCR. By post-apocalyptic standards, the NCR is a paragon of economic success and good ethical character: political enfranchisement, rule of law, a reasonable degree of physical security and a standard of living better than mere subsistence are daily realities for its impressive population of citizens.
An autocratic, traditionalist, imperialistic society built around slavery and totalitarian dictatorship. Originally a scouting party from the Followers of the Apocalypse, the Legion grew into being after a series of events which lead to the original Caesar (Edward Sallow) taking over and organizing the tribe of Blackfoots which had captured them into what would eventually become the Legion. As time went on, this original group would grow through the enslavement of other tribes, bringing more and more into the thrall of Caesar – becoming one of, if not the, most powerful society east of the Colorado river by 2271 (roughly 30 years after Sallow and his eight companions had been initially kidnapped).
Though they suffered a devastating blow by the NCR during the First Battle of Hoover Dam in 2277, by 2281, the Legion had re-established its power in the West and was once again threatening New Vegas. This would result eventually in the Second Battle of Hoover Dam, in which the Courier (protagonist of Fallout: New Vegas) would prove to be a crucial component of.
This faction is an advanced scientific organization based in the Commonwealth. It is known and feared for its ability to produce advanced synthetic humans (also known as synths) of high enough quality to pass as true humans. The secretive nature of the Institute has turned it into somewhat of a boogeyman figure on the surface, and its presence is a major cause of paranoia for the people of the Commonwealth.
A major part of the story of the Sole Survivor (protagonist of Fallout 4), the ultimate end of the faction is still unknown at this time.
The Followers of the Apocalypse
Known often as simply the Followers, this is a faction based in New California that has established their presence in the Mojave Wasteland. Their goal is to tend to the inhabitants of the wasteland, as well as to ensure that the horrors of the Great War are never to be repeated. To that end, they serve as keepers of knowledge, a position which provides them with the skills they need to carry out their mission. Although pacifists by nature, the Followers will not hesitate to defend themselves against attackers and will take up arms against those who threaten their ideals.
The First Responders
Introduced in Fallout 76, this was an organized volunteer group made up of firefighters, police, and medical staff that set up emergency aid stations in various towns to provide medical assistance and necessities to survivors sometime around 2082. They held an uneasy relationship with the Brotherhood of Steel – though the two factions found a common enemy in the Scorched. Ultimately, however, the Responders would fail in their search for a vaccine against the Scorched plague, fading away into the annals of history before the opening of Vault 76.
The Free States
Introduced in Fallout 76, these were a group of local survivalists who gathered in West Virginia prior to the Great War and, had actually declared that they were seceding from the US shortly before the bombs launched. Surviving the nuclear attack and subsequent fallout in self-constructed bunkers, they emerged in 2079 and rebuilt the town of Harpers Ferry. While skeptical of outsiders, they did build some tentative relationships with the other emerging factions (such as the Responders and the Brotherhood of Steel) – though this would ultimately would do them no benefits, as they were attacked and effectively wiped out by the Scorched around 2102.
Looking at the Vaults
Explanation of the Vaults as social experiments from the Fallout Bible 0:
First off, thematically, it’s pretty creepy, and we all know that developers will pull all sorts of crazy shit to try and mess with players’ heads. It’s possible that Tim had just finished watching an X-Files episode and had conspiracy theories swimming around in his subconscious. As to your comment about the experiments being a bit over the top, well, yeah. We’re guilty as charged.
Secondly, as proven time and again in Fallout 2, the Enclave isn’t a particularly rational bunch of fellows. Thematically, they embrace a paranoid view of the world and a heightened sense of superiority over everyone else in Fallout.
Third, the federal government (or whatever branch of federal government was responsible – it was not necessarily the Enclave) may not have ever considered the Vaults as society’s best chance for survival – the government may have considered themselves the best candidates for rebuilding the world and already had their asses covered in the event of a nuclear or biological war by relocating to other remote installations across the nation (and elsewhere) that weren’t necessarily vaults. The Enclave certainly didn’t seem to be devoting much effort to digging up any other vaults and trying to use the human stock there to rebuild civilization.
Fourth, a lot of people did die because the vaults didn’t work. Some suffered worse fates.
Nonetheless, even members of the Enclave probably could not answer the question of who created the Vault experiments and their reasons, as many of the people responsible for the creation of the Vaults died long ago, and many records were lost in the great static of 2077. President Richardson was familiar with the purpose of the Vaults, but he never saw them as more than little test tubes of preserved humans he could mess with.