Lore Explainer: An Introduction to Fallout

In this edition of The Lore Explainer, we’ll be providing an introductory overview to the darkly comedic world of Fallout, the Post-Apocalyptic Roleplaying series that blends together classic pulp sci-fi, modern cynicism and a healthy bucket of gory gallows humour.

With the release of the excellent Fallout TV series on Amazon, and the upcoming release of Fallout Factions from Modiphius this summer (for which you can find more coverage right here on Goonhammer.com), it’s never been a better time to explore the Fallout series. While this article will cover everything you need to know from the mainline games up until when the show takes place (and thus, some spoilers), we strongly urge you to play the games for yourself. Seriously, even the “bad” Fallouts are some of the best games around; give them a try, or watch a Let’s Play. Experience them for yourself, they’re well worth your time.

Except that one Xbox game. No one needs to remember that.

The bomb. Fallout 4 intro cinematic. Credit: Bethesda Softworks

Before the Bombs

Picture in your mind the quintessential Fifties American neighbourhood. White picket fences, smiling whitebread families, a car in every garage and a microwaved dinner on every table. The kind of red, white and blue Elysium that weirdos on Twitter with Roman statue profile pictures get hot and bothered over. The American Dream.

Now picture that plastic fantastic paradise, and throw some robot butlers in. The car’s now nuclear powered, and the entire family gathers around the cathode ray tv every night to watch footage of the brave Men and Women of the American military zap filthy commies with actual laser rifles.

This was the America of Fallout’s Earth, diverging from our own reality some time shortly after World War 2, when sudden technological advances thanks to the miracle of vacuum tubes and crude nuclear fission led to a world torn straight from the pages of pulp sci-fi. Corporations like RobCo, West-Tec and REPCON grew inordinately powerful offering American citizens a space-age lifestyle in the modern day.

But that lifestyle came at a heavy price; a hyper-Fifties mindset came with a hyper-Fifties need for consumption. Over the next 120 years natural resources were stripped out and processed at a terrifying rate across the world and the rising scarcity of raw materials caused the tensions of the extended Cold War to sharpen, flaring into limited nuclear exchanges across Europe and the Middle East in quick and bloody resource wars. The American public’s particular hunger for every scrap of material was all the motivation the increasingly fascist US government needed to launch vicious annexations of Canada and Mexico, provoking Communist China to launch a surprise invasion of Alaska. With nuclear Armageddon seemingly an inevitability, a market emerged for means for the average American to ride out the impending mass extinction in style.

And so emerged Vault-Tec.

Vault-Tec and the Enclave

Vault-Tec emerged in the 2030s with a simple pitch to the American consumer: they would construct a series of massive underground bunkers called Vaults, armoured against the hellfire of a nuclear war and self-sufficient so that its occupants could comfortably ride out the aftermath until it was safe enough to emerge and rebuild America from the ashes. Vault-Tec didn’t just promise survival, they promised survival without sacrificing the luxuries American consumers had become dependent on.

Despite the outlandishness of the pitch, Vault-Tec’s offer proved so enticing to both the US government and its public that it made Vault-Tec the largest corporation on the face of the Earth in only a decade or so of its existence. As the US government’s power diminished in the face of rampant corruption and bankruptcy, Vault-Tec grew in influence. Vault-Tec executives had the ear of almost every politician of note; not a single public work or institution lacked Vault-Tec poking their nose in somewhere. Companies that posed any sort of threat to the all-consuming monopoly Vault-Tec was building were quickly absorbed or snuffed out completely. You couldn’t go anywhere without seeing their Vault Boy mascot smiling empty-eyed at you.

This rising level of control of the country eventually brought Vault-Tec’s executives into contact with a secretive faction hiding within the US government, the Enclave. Hardline US nationalists, the Enclave believed that nuclear exchange not only was going to happen, it had to happen in order to defeat Communism and forge a stronger America that’d rule over what was left of the Earth. With this goal in mind, they began hoarding vast amounts of resources and advanced tech away to ensure the plan came to fruition. Together with Vault-Tec and the other massive corporations of America, the Enclave helped fund the vault project with a small change of purpose. Besides a selection of “control” vaults, each vault would implement some sort of scientific experiment upon its unwitting populace. As far as the Enclave was concerned, anyone who survived these experiments would be strong enough to serve their purposes, while the corps where more than mollified by the prospect of syphoning even more subsidies to furnish these experimental Vaults.

As the shadowy masters of the new America schemed, things were getting worse across across the nation. While the US military was able to push China out of Alaska with the deployment of the revolutionary new power armour combat suits, it was stretched thin trying to keep order across not just its occupied territories, but across America itself. Food riots and anti-war protests were erupting with greater frequency and ferocity, with increasingly scrutiny of Vault-Tec’s interference in the running of the nation putting the pressure on the corporation. Exacerbating things was the emergence of the New Plague, a horrific new illness that swept through the population, worsening conditions and increasing the ire of the American public.

But in this New Plague, West-Tec found opportunity.

Take a dip, ignore the screaming. Credit: Interplay Entertainment/Bethesda Softworks

Forced Evolutionary Virus and the Last Days

Discovered while attempting to develop a vaccine or cure for the New Plague, the Forced Evolutionary Virus (FEV) was a breakthrough West-Tec’s scientists jumped upon with reckless, gleeful abandon. Not only did it increase both physical strength and mental intelligence at paltry cost of heightened aggression, it made the genome of infected lifeforms extremely mailable, allowing for the splicing of different strains of DNA together, allowing for the creation of whole new creatures. The most common strain of these mutants would eventually become known as Super Mutants, hulking green-skinned humanoids who thrived on conflict and radiation. While most of them were dumb as posts due to their overstimulated aggression responses, the most exceptional Super Mutants were able to outwit and outmatch their scientist creators in intellectual tests.

For the beleaguered US government, FEV was the breakthrough they’d been praying for. The prospect of mutated super soldiers and living bioweapons enticing enough to funnel what funds it could into FEV research, with multiple facilities across the nation being converted into FEV testing sites. POWs, political prisoners and whatever undesirables West-Tec’s scientists could get their hands on were forcefully exposed to FEV to horrifying results, along with many a misbegotten creature being gestated for the purpose of dropping on China to sow terror, many of which escaped and began to haunt the rural communities of an increasingly paranoid and fractured USA. Tabloid newspapers were flooded with stories of nine-foot tall lizards, shambling mounds of musclebound meat and, of course, Mothman.

With the promise of imminent, enhanced reinforcements, the US Army was pushed to engage in probing attacks into Communist territory, as well as crack down hard on dissention within America’s occupied territories. Mass desertions and renegade army units were not enough to deter the increased aggression, nor were the preludes to a peace treaty floated between Communist and US ambassadors. Despite these tensions, for a brief moment it looked like reason would win out, and both powers would walk back from the edge.


Gone in the blink of an eye. Credit: Bethesda Softworks

The Great War, Its Aftermath and the Brotherhood of Steel

No one knows who first pressed the big red button, and in the end it doesn’t matter. All that is known is that both the US and China unleashed the full force of their respective nuclear stockpiles at one another, and the world ended in a storm of nuclear fire.

Thanks to a delay with the US’s nuclear warning system, not every Vault resident managed to make it into the confines of Vault-Tec’s bunker network, with many perishing trapped outside the immense bulkhead doors of their would-be homes. Many more perished attempting to take cover in home-made shelters or public refuges unsuited for the job. Many more still took their own lives before being consumed by the nuclear blast, Vault-Tec branded suicide pills the only consolation the company would offer to those who could not pay for a Vault slot.

Those that survived on the surface now found themselves facing the complete collapse of civilisation. For every community that banded together to help each other survive the encroaching radioactive fallout and the hideous things that emerged from it, many more devolved into riotous infighting and carnage. The first raider gangs emerged in the immediate aftermath of the War, looting and pillaging what they wanted from isolated and vulnerable survivor groups. With no central command to turn to for orders, many Army regiments splintered apart or formed their own communes, some turning to raiding, others attempting to keep some semblance of order.

One notable army group was that posted at the Mariposa Military Base in California under command of Captain Roger Maxson. Mariposa was a facility seconded to the FEV project with Maxon’s company assigned to guard the base, kept in the dark to the nature of the experiments occurring under their feet. Taking shelter within the base’s underground facility as the bombs began to drop, Maxson and his troopers were horrified at the sight of the malformed mutants their scientist charges had been creating. After interrogating and then ultimately executing the base’s science personnel, and having received no response from the chain of command, Maxson ordered the base to be sealed with explosives before leading his unit on a march across the freshly-scoured California to the government bunker of Lost Hills, their power armour saving them from the maddened survivors, frenzied creatures and radioactivity threatening the company along the way.

Rendezvousing with what scattered army personal had answered his radio broadcasts, a disillusioned and traumatized Maxson would reform the troops under his command into something new, no longer beholden to the US Government who’d had them protecting nightmares. Taking inspiration from knightly orders of old, Maxson’s new Brotherhood of Steel would gather and preserve the technology of pre-War America so that it may never be misused again by lesser men. After Maxson’s death, the Brotherhood would grow increasingly insular and dogmatic, their pledge to protect technology morphing into a religious obsession.


Country Roads, take us home. Credit: Wizards of the Coast

Fallout 76: Appalachia and the Scorched Plague

Left relatively unscathed by the ravages of The Great War, the Appalachia region of West Virginia initially seemed like the ideal place to settle and rebuild for surface-side survivors. Although years of industrial mismanagement had left parts of the region deeply uninhabitable, the wild spaces of the mountainous territory were fertile land to resettle and rebuild. The emergent survivors’ problems soon compounded however, first with anarchistic Raiders striking from the ski-resorts in the mountains, then bizarre mutants crawling out of an FEV facility hidden amongst the suburbs of West Virginia. The final nail in the coffin however was the Scorched, humans infected with a mind-controlling plague spread by immense bat-mutants known as Scorchbeasts. Though the various factions were eventually able to band together against the Scorched, their internal squabbling and lack of action proved lethal, with a final desperate strike against the Scorchbeast Queen’s nest only managing to delay the creatures from fully emerging to the surface.

A short while after the Scorched wiped out all traces of human life from Appalachia’s surface, Vault 76 would unseal. Its residents were charged with rebuilding the region, and ultimately America, uncovering the stories of the factions wiped out by the Scorched and taking up the fight against the remerging threat.


Life in the Vault is about to Change. Credit: Interplay Entertainment/Bethesda Softworks

Fallout 1: The Vault Dweller and The Master

Approximately 100 years after The Great War, California’s Vault 13 suddenly faced a crisis as a fault was found within its water purification systems. In desperate need of a vital Water Chip, a single Vault resident was chosen to venture out to the surface in search of any nearby Vaults that may have a replacement.

The Vault Dweller, as the chosen resident would become known, travelled across the lawless wastes of post-War California, encountering numerous isolated settlements and survivor groups eking out what life they could, by both Raider gangs and dangerous creatures that now ruled the surface, such as the zombie-like Ghouls or the ravenous Deathclaws. The Vault Dweller’s actions would echo in their wake, with the fates of these outposts and townships decided by the Dweller’s decisions.

As they searched for a Water Chip, the Vault Dweller would become aware of a growing threat emerging from the ruins of the old Mariposa base, an army of hulking Super Mutants under the command of a dangerously intelligent creature known as the Master, who’d excavated the site and rediscovered the laboratories sealed away by Captain Maxson decades before. The Master’s army had been raiding and kidnapping settlements and Vaults en-masse, submerging victims in the vats of FEV sealed away within Mariposa to create more and more Mutants, their ultimate goal to convert all of humanity into Supers and achieve “the Unity.” Seeking the aid of the Brotherhood of Steel and convincing them to break from their isolationism, the Vault Dweller would lead an assault upon the Master’s seat of power within the Cathedral, a massive structure built atop a captured Vault. While accounts differ on whether the Vault Dweller slew the Master in single combat, or convinced the creature of the folly of its plan, what is known is that the Cathedral was consumed in a nuclear explosion. With the death of their creator, the Super Mutant army broke and scattered, hunted across the California wastes and beyond by the Brotherhood.

Returning home with the Water Chip in hand, the Vault Dweller was surprised to be turned away at gunpoint from Vault 13, the Overseer of the Vault paranoid that the Dweller’s experiences and knowledge would contaminate others within the Vault and bring about its downfall. Disgusted, the Vault Dweller headed out into the wastelands yet again, followed by other residents of Vault 13 who refused to remain isolated from the world. These exiles eventually founded the tribal settlement of Arroyo.


No finer encapsulation of any game ever. Credit: Interplay Entertainment/Bethesda Softworks

Fallout 2: The Chosen One and the New California Republic

80 years after the Vault Dweller’s adventure, Arroyo was struck by a famine of unprecedented severity. Starving and desperate, the tribe’s elder proclaimed a young descendant of the Vault Dweller to be their peoples’ saviour, urging them to seek out a Vault-Tec terraforming device known as The Garden of Eden Creation Kit (G.E.C.K) in order to save their home.

This Chosen One set out beyond the isolated lands of the Arroyo tribe and into a California much changed from that which their forbearer explored. Civilization had begun to return little by little, with settlements such as New Reno and Vault City having developed into functional city-states. Most important however was the New California Republic (NCR), a thriving emergent nation that had sprung from a backwater by the name of Shady Sands, the first settlement visited by the Vault Dweller a century earlier.

As the Chosen One searched for the G.E.C.K and navigated through the tense politicking between California’s factions, a new threat made itself apparent. The Enclave had emerged from hiding and was making its presence known, with death squads of heavily-armoured soldiers roaming California in search of whoever the Enclave deemed impure. They butchered not just the Super Mutants and sapient Ghouls who’d begun to form their own townships such as Broken Hills and even slowly integrate into some of the more accepting city states, but anyone who didn’t meet an arbitrary standard of genetic purity. When the Chosen One secured a G.E.C.K only to find their entire tribe had been abducted by the Enclave, the only course of action became to stamp out their threat once and for all.

Seeking help from the Brotherhood of Steel as their forbearer had, the Chosen One found the order a shadow of themselves, increasingly irrelevant in a recovering California and increasingly paranoid of the power of the new civilizations around them. The Chosen One instead gathered together the friends they had made across their journey and used an aging tanker ship to travel to the Enclave’s stronghold atop a repurposed Oil Rig. Though facing impossible odds, the Chosen One and their companions succeeded in dealing a near-fatal blow to the Enclave, killing much of its leadership and setting the Rig to self-destruct before escaping with the kidnapped people of Arroyo, returning to rejuvenate their lands with the power of the G.E.C.K.


The ashes of empire and ambition. Credit: Bethesda Softworks

Fallout 3: The Lone Wanderer and Project Purity

Compared to the fast recovering California, the East Coast of the former USA was in a much worse state of decay. The Capital Wasteland of Maryland and Washington DC was a good century behind its West Coast counterparts thanks to the heavy saturation of nukes that landed upon it, with isolated settlements struggling against the untamed dangers of the wastelands as the NCR was building infrastructure and expanding its borders.

Within the deeply authoritarian but otherwise normal Vault 101, a young resident found their life upended as their beloved father staged a sudden and unexplained breakout from the Vault. Faced with imprisonment and likely execution at the hands at a vengeful Vault Overseer, the resident who’d become known as The Lone Wanderer escaped into the dangers of the outside, desperate to find their parent and get some answers.

After wandering about the various settlements of the Capital Wasteland, the Lone Wanderer would make contact with a local chapter of the Brotherhood of Steel, which had journeyed from California in pursuit of Super Mutants and lost technology shortly after the fall of the Master. Unlike the rest of the Brotherhood, this chapter had been swayed from their isolationism by the horrors they’d witnessed during the journey. They explained that the Lone Wanderer’s father was not originally a Vault resident but instead they were once the lead scientist of Project Purity, a massive undertaking to decontaminate the Potomac River and restore a stable supply of clean water to the Capital Wasteland. However the Project had stalled at the lack of a vital component, and the Lone Wander’s father bargained for entry into Vault 101 so that his newborn child could be raised in safety.

After rescuing their father from an insidious Vault experiment they’d become trapped within, the Lone Wanderer is confronted by the sudden arrival of the Enclave, survivors of the Oil Rig who’d made the long journey to DC and then immediately seized Project Purity in order to assert leverage over the people of the Capital Wasteland. After witnessing their father sacrifice himself to sabotage the Project, the Lone Wanderer travels to the Super Mutant infested Vault 89 to secure a G.E.C.K so that the Brotherhood can finish the water purifier once the Enclave are ousted, only to be captured by the Enclave and brought before the acting President of the United States, who urges the Wanderer to infect the waters of the Potomac to kill every mutated lifeform within the Capital Wasteland.

Helped by a sudden power struggle amongst the Enclave’s leadership, the Lone Wanderer escapes from their captors to return to the Brotherhood. Aided by their top Knights, and the jingoism-spouting battle robot Liberty Prime, the Lone Wander retook Project Purity and rejected The President’s offer, reactivating the machine and restoring clean water to the people. After a few weeks in a coma, the Lone Wanderer then leads the Brotherhood to victory over the last remnants of The Enclave on the East Coast, destroying an immense mobile base and its accompanying space laser platform in the process.

Also at some point they get kidnapped by aliens, but we don’t talk about Mothership Zeta.


Truth is, the game was rigged from the start. Credit: Obsidian Entertainment/Bethesda Softworks

Fallout New Vegas: Courier Six and Caesar’s Legion

Returning to the West Coast, Nevada becomes a flashpoint of activity with the re-emergence of Las Vegas. Newly rechristened as New Vegas, the city has grown to become a financial powerhouse overnight thanks to the machinations of its mysterious and seemingly-immortal benefactor Mr. House, who rules over the New Vegas strip with his army of Securitron robots.

Eager to add such a lucrative trove of trade, gambling, and lost tech to its growing territory, the NCR pushed in from the West, negotiating a treaty with Mr. House while slowly absorbing the various townships and trading hubs in the surrounding Mojave Wasteland. Increasingly bloated and inefficient, the NCR struggled to meet the needs of its new citizens and balance the demands of the influential cattle barons back in California.

However, the NCR wasn’t the only emerging power with an interest in New Vegas, as from Arizona came Caesar’s Legion, a brutal slaver state styling itself after the Roman Empire of old, ruled over by a charismatic tyrant known as Caesar. Having already taken much of the American southwest, Caesar wished to see the NCR crushed under his heel — an ideological victory above all else.

Weakened by a brief but bloody conflict with the Brotherhood of Steel for control of a vital power plant in the Mojave, the NCR was only barely able to repel The Legion’s advances at the First Battle of Hoover Dam, as both forces sought to control the vital stronghold that the dam provided to the region. As the overstretched NCR dug in at the Dam, Caesar had the commander of his forces set on fire and thrown into the Grand Canyon before setting up fort across the river from Hoover, sending raiding parties to probe and weaken the NCR wherever it could as Caesar’s forces streamed in from across his empire.

And against this backdrop, a wasteland Courier is robbed, shot in the head and left in a shallow grave by a man in a checkboard suit.

Saved by a robot cowboy, The Courier awakens lucky to be alive. Only able to remember their attacker, and the mysterious Platinum Poker Chip they were hired to deliver. Setting out in search of the sharply-dressed man, the Courier finds the Mojave wasteland a powder keg, with the NCR and the Legion almost ready to battle it out for control of the region once more.

Eventually reaching New Vegas itself, the Courier is contacted by Mr. House who reveals the true nature of the Platinum Chip, and the power it would grant whoever controls it. The Courier is then charged to make an important decision, finding the fate of the Mojave and all that live within it in their hands. Do they side with the corrupt but well-meaning NCR, the fascistic Legion, Mr. House’s free-market oligarchy, or do they play the wild card and take fate into their own hands?

That is up to the player, and more so than any other game in the series, we HIGHLY urge you to experience New Vegas for yourself.


The most radioactively refreshing place on earth. Credit: Bethesda Softworks

Fallout 4: The Sole Survivor and The Institute

While not hit as hard as other spots along the East Coast, the Boston region struggled to recover from the nuclear hellfire. Beyond the local powerful and antagonistic raider gangs reiving all but the few strongest settlements, Boston has been gripped under the shadowy grasp of The Institute, a mysterious organization that maintains its dominance through the use of Synthetic android sleeper agents. While opposed by resistance groups such as the civil defence militia of The Minutemen and the Synth liberating Railroad, these groups have struggled to make any meaningful gains against The Institute.

Into this fraught situation emerges The Sole Survivor, a resident of Vault 111 placed in cryogenic suspension since The Great War. After witnessing their infant son be kidnapped by a wasteland mercenary, the Sole Survivor breaks out and finds the world they once knew in ruins.

After making contact with the last surviving Minutemen, the Sole Survivor finds their way to the important settlement of Diamond City, a massive fortress constructed from the ruins of Fenway Park. There they uncover leads to their son’s whereabouts with the help of the renegade Synth detective Nick Valentine, discovering that the mercenary was hired by The Institute to kidnap the Survivor’s son that they may utilize the child’s untainted genetics in their experiments.

Resolving to break into The Institute’s stronghold to rescue their child, the situation is upended by the sudden arrival of the East Coast Brotherhood of Steel in an immense airship. However the Brotherhood have not come to save the people of Boston, but to crush The Institute and all others that pose a threat to their interests, having reverted back into a militaristic, isolationist mindset under the leadership of one of Maxson’s decedents and having reconnected with the West Coast Brotherhood.

Also amongst all of this, the Sole Survivor finds a moment to visit the ruined theme park of Nuka-World, a massive vacation resort promoting the Nuka-Cola corporation now run by a trio of raider gangs, the Pack, the Operators and the Disciples, with the Sole Survivor becoming overboss of the Raiders. (Ultimately Nuka-World doesn’t matter much to the overall events of Fallout 4, but it’s the setting for Fallout Factions’ starter box and it’s a neat one at that).


War Never Changes. Credit: Bethesda Softworks

Prepare for the Future

And that is Fallout, right up to 2294 and the start of the Fallout TV series. There’s so much stuff we haven’t touched on, and stuff we could do much deeper dives in, but this should get you up to speed to jump in to the newest entry in the series.

If you’d told a young Mentor back in the 00’s that one day, there’d be a critically acclaimed TV show of that really cool but hard game they keep playing on their junky family PC, despite how frustrated it makes them, they simply would have not believed you. But we’re here in the future now, Fallout is here to stay and we can’t wait to see what comes next.