The Fallout series depicts the future as a wasteland marred by nuclear war. In each game, players take control of a survivor exploring this wasteland in hopes of figuring out how to make a better life for themselves - and, optionally, other residents of the world. Much like The Elder Scrolls games, Fallout has built a vast world throughout its many titles. For anyone looking to catch up on the franchise’s lore, it would be useful to learn about the Fallout games in Chronological Order.
Fallout 76 is a first for the franchise in numerous aspects. It’s the first Fallout game to feature multiplayer, and it’s also the first Fallout to occur chronologically. Due to updates and alterations to Fallout 76, the game currently takes place from the year 2102 to 2104. Ironically, 76 is the latest major release for the series.
As one might expect, this game is filled with references to the other titles. Characters and locations are given mentions, either through voicework or additional in-game text. These references are minor, pretty much serving only to bring a bit of fanservice to people that played those games. Fallout 76 might be the first game in the series’ timeline, but it’s hardly essential for anyone getting into the franchise’s lore.
The true first game in the series, Fallout, is a top-down role-playing game set in the year 2161. With humanity having hidden within sheltered Vaults to avoid the world-shattering nuclear war, new problems begin to arise. In Fallout, the player - living in post-apocalyptic California - is tasked with finding a device to purify their Vault’s water system before their stockpile runs out.
Due to its simplistic gameplay, one of the best-known traits of Fallout is its writing. There are many options a player will be forced to take and many actions the player can choose on their own. Some enemies can only be stopped through killing while others can be talked out of their ambitions. The series has changed quite a lot since this first game, but Fallout set the stage for what future games would become.
As the name implies, Fallout Tactics moves away from any other game in the series by focusing on Real-Time Strategy gameplay. There are very few interactions with characters in the game, and the only objectives involve battling armies and leading squads. Even the canonicity of this game is debatable, but there is some precedent for considering that possibility.
While not technically a main series game, Tactics gives some great insight into factions within the world of Fallout. In particular, the Brotherhood of Steel is featured heavily; that faction is the one that the player joins, after all. Interestingly enough, this wouldn’t be the last game to feature the Brotherhood in such a large capacity.
Taking place in the year 2208, Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel is the first Fallout game to feature combat closer to what the series is known for today. Instead of creating their own identity within the world, players choose from one of three characters to control as they travel through the wastes and fight against sadistic foes. This happens to be the last Fallout game made before the series was sold to Bethesda Softworks.
There are numerous elements in Brotherhood of Steel that reference previous Fallout games. However, Brotherhood of Steel itself is not referenced by new titles in much capacity at all. This makes it another non-essential title for anyone looking to fully immerse themselves in Fallout’s lore…unless a new game is released that builds upon this one.
Fallout 2 is a direct sequel to the first Fallout game, taking place in the year 2241 and allowing the player to fill the shoes of the original protagonist’s descendant. The descendant is tasked with finding a special device that can create thriving communities, even in the tainted lands Fallout is known for. This game built off of the first, putting more emphasis on gameplay and giving players a much larger toolset to complete their goals.
Fallout 2 is the last mainline title to follow the top-down RPG aesthetic of the first game. The original creators of Fallout, Interplay Entertainment, would go on to create the Tactics and Brotherhood of Steel spinoffs before selling the series to Bethesda. Both of the original mainline titles can still be considered canon, but the new games would move away from the old California setting.
As the first-ever First-Person Shooter of the series, Fallout 3 broke new ground for the franchise. It introduces more intricate characters and storylines on top of action-oriented gameplay. Players take control of The Wanderer, a Vault inhabitant on a search for their father. Numerous important plot elements make a return from Fallout and Fallout 2, culminating in an act of sacrifice that changes the wastelands forever.
The drastic change in gameplay style made for some changes in how the story is presented, as well. Many characters can be spoken with or killed, exploration is even more vast than ever before, and a greater amount of voicework brings more personality to NPCs. This is when the new era of Fallout began, with nearly every major game taking cues from Fallout 3 as they created new locales and improved gameplay even further.
Set in 2281, Fallout: New Vegas is the closest a spinoff has gotten to being considered a full mainline title. In New Vegas, the player - a courier on the verge of death - is thrust into a war between murderous factions trying to take control of the Mojave Desert. The apocalyptic wastelands of Fallout feel more lived-in than ever, with Vaults barely even showing up and numerous story elements of previous titles failing to make a return.
New Vegas is somewhat of a standalone game due to its status as a spinoff. Knowledge of the Fallout series might be useful in getting used to this title’s world and story, but it’s also not required for anyone wanting to delve deeper into the franchise’s lore. Characters and locations are referenced in the more recent Fallout entries, however, so New Vegas might be worth a closer look for any story-obsessed fans.
The final game in the series’ timeline, Fallout 4, takes place in the year 2287. For the first time, players are able to interact with the world before it gets turned into a nuclear pile of dirt. Afterwards, they’re thrust into an unfamiliar land with the sole task of finding their missing son. This game features hundreds of callbacks to previous entries, and even gives players the chance to relive some familiar scenarios as they travel the wasteland.
Fallout 4 continued to make improvements on the series’ gameplay, but many story elements were cut down as a result. It’s hard to say what endings in games post-Fallout 2 are truly canon, but there sadly isn’t much variety in how the player can truly personalize their experience in Fallout 4. If a new mainline entry to the series arrives, hopefully players can truly interact with the world in whatever ways they wish.
Fallout is an RPG, so it makes sense for players wishing to get into the series to play the games in chronological order. But with how much each game changes its mechanics, it might be better for a potential fan to simply start with whichever title best suits their playstyle. With how interconnected yet self-contained the stories can get, starting with a more recent entry can be just as easy for one person as starting with an older one can be for another.
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