With the arrival and success of the Fallout TV series, renewed vigor has been shot into the heart of one of Bethesda Game Studio’s most iconic franchises. Even I, after many long years since last visiting one of my favorite games, decided to boot up my Steam Deck to revisit Fallout: New Vegas after completing the show. However, with the TV series shining the spotlight on Fallout again, many fans, new and old, will want to know where to begin their journey through the unforgiving nuclear wasteland. As such, I’ve decided to compile a list of the main Fallout games with my opinions of where to jump in and a history lesson of how we got here. So without further ado, let’s dive right in.

Welcome to the Wasteland

For the uninitiated, Fallout is a post-apocalyptic sci-fi series set in a fictionalized alternate history where nuclear power drove scientific advancement, resulting in the widespread use of vacuum tube electronics rather than the modern circuitry we know today. Stylistically, the series heavily draws from the aesthetic of post-war 1950s America, despite being set in the distant future after a long-standing conflict between America and China came to a head and culminated in the Great War. This would go on to be the inciting event for global nuclear warfare in the year 2077 and bring about the nuclear apocalypse as we know it. To combat the impending doom, a series of underground bunkers were deployed across America known as “Vaults”, which aimed to house the future remnants of the human race until such a time as they could recolonize the planet and are often at the center of each game’s story and iconography. It’s undeniable that the Fallout universe ends up offering a uniquely compelling atmosphere and vibe unmatched by many other franchises due to its unique premise and lore. Each entry in the series features a new self-made protagonist and is independent of previous entries. Events and characters may be referenced but each game works as a standalone experience in a new location of the American wastes, making it an excellent series to jump into at just about any entry.

Fallout 1 and 2

To start, we’ll be grouping the original Fallout and Fallout 2 as they are important pieces of the series’ history but not representative of what we know the Fallout games to be today. Fallout 1 and 2 are top-down isometric Tactical Role Playing games from Interplay Entertainment and Black Isle Studios, respectively, which were known for work in the original Baldur’s Gate games and the Wasteland games with Fallout acting as a spiritual successor to Wasteland. Having put about 15 or so hours into the original Fallout, these two games serve to establish the world-building and vibe of the series as a whole and, due to their specific genre, still manage to hold up decently well today. Granted, they do feel old and take some time to acclimate to compared to modern games in the genre such as Wasteland 3 but, if you meet them on their terms, they are very interesting pieces of gaming history. From a gameplay perspective, Fallout 1 and 2 are older CRPGs that emphasize tactical turn-based combat where actions are limited by your number of “Action Points”. Outside of combat, choice-based quests set up many unique situations for the player, which becomes a staple of later Fallout’s powerful storytelling and design. Due to the overage age of the experience, however, I do recommend utilizing a guide, at least to start, to not be lost in the early hours of the game. With strict requirements and patience required, however, I don’t recommend anyone start here unless they’re really dedicated to seeing the evolution of the Fallout series. There are direct references to these games, especially in Fallout 3, but they are not required reading material to get you integrated with the world of Fallout.

Fallout and Fallout 2 are available to play on PC.

Fallout 3

With the acquisition of the series by Bethesda Softworks, Fallout 3 is the beginning of what we know Fallout to be in the modern age. Fallout 3 was released on October 28, 2008, to Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC and would become a groundbreaking experience for many players during the era. Fallout 3 took the series into an open-world first-person RPG where your decisions carried weight and changed the outcome of everything around you. To many, it perfectly modernized the various concepts and gameplay systems of the classic entries and created a unique Bethesda take akin to their work in the Elder Scrolls franchise. While mildly dated compared to later entries, Fallout 3 still holds up remarkably well and is well worth experiencing, especially on PC where mods can help bridge the gap with updated textures, improved controls and combat, and overall quality-of-life fixes we’ve come to expect.

As for the game itself, Fallout 3 puts you into the shoes of a Vault Dweller of Vault 101, positioned in Washington D.C., or as it’s now known, the Captial Wasteland. Due to a series of events, you find yourself leaving the vault into a world overrun by raiders, mutants, and the like as you follow behind the footsteps of your missing father. Compared to the original two entries, Fallout 3 adapts the old CRPG games into a massive open-world experience that, at the time, left many of us in awe. Traveling the dying, cruel Capital Wasteland without knowing what was lurking around every corner really put you into the shoes of a survivor long after the end. Meeting the Tunnel Snakes, deciding the fate of Megaton, and so much more still sticks with me today as a truly game-changing experience. I hold firm that, even now, it’s still just as meaningful and a game I can genuinely recommend to anyone interested in the Fallout series as a great starting point.

For those interested, PC (with Mod Support available) and the Xbox Series consoles via digital backward compatibility are the best places to play Fallout: New Vegas.

Fallout: New Vegas

To each person, their favorite Fallout game may vary for one reason or another. For me, Fallout: New Vegas is not only my favorite of the series, it’s one of my favorite games of all time. Developed by Obsidian Entertainment, Fallout: New Vegas is a spin-off entry built upon Fallout 3’s engine with some slight tweaks to the overall systems that make the game slightly more grounded and “RPG” compared to its predecessor. New Vegas takes place in the Mojave Desert and sees you take on the role of “The Courier”, as you travel to the illustrious New Vegas, a city seemingly untouched by the horrors of the wasteland that houses the future of the region. Through your decisions, you’ll decide the fate of the Mojave Desert by siding with one of many major factions or betting it all on yourself and taking control of New Vegas.

Of the Fallout games, New Vegas is considered the best written entry from its complex main story and branching paths to its meaningful side quests and companions. Having been developed by Obsidian Entertainment, a studio that was and still is comprised of many ex-Interplay and Black Isle employees, it was a homecoming for the series and an extension of the team’s original vision for Fallout. Even today, mention of certain factions, characters, and locations of New Vegas are referenced in the Fallout TV series so you can’t go wrong with playing one of the series’ strongest entries, if you have access to it. From a gameplay perspective, it’s very much in the vein of Fallout 3. Still, with additional mechanics such as weapon mods, item crafting, and general improvements to character skills, it stands as a pseudo 3.5 entry in the series and was further improved upon with a slew of DLC that were originally set up/teased in the base game and then capitalized on in each of the five extra stories, making them feel like a natural extension rather than bolted on. To be honest, my time traveling the Mojave in Fallout: New Vegas will always have a special place in my heart and is a game I can’t recommend enough.

For those interested, PC (with Mod Support available) and the Xbox Series consoles via digital backward compatibility are the best places to play Fallout: New Vegas.

Fallout 4

Fast forward to the next console generation and we arrive at Fallout 4, Bethesda Game Studio’s latest entry in the franchise and one that’s been recently announced to be getting a Next-Gen update for PS5 and Series X. Compared to Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, Fallout 4 is somewhat more devisive in that it wasn’t the leap forward we expected and makes some questionable changes to what wasn’t broken. Overall, however, it’s very much more Fallout in a slightly new coat of paint and is the most accessible entry as of writing this. Fallout 4 takes place 10 years after the events of Fallout 3 within the Massachusetts region now known as “The Commonwealth”, a name some players may recognize from their time within the Capital Wasteland. After witnessing the bombs begin to fall before entering cyro-stasis along with your family in Vault 111, you re-emerge into the world centuries later in search of your missing child.

With the move to PS4 and Xbox One, Fallout 4 is a visually more impressive game and sports better feeling gunplay compared to its predecessors. From a general gameplay perspective, Fallout 4 is the best feeling entry in the series, however, some of what is core to Fallout, ultimately, changed for the worst in this go around. With the choice of having a voiced protagonist mixed with the heavy downscaling of the dialogue options that come with that, Fallout 4 tones down some of the best RPG elements that the previous two entries had to offer by employing a ‘Dialogue Wheel’, which was clearly ripped out of Mass Effect. At the end of the day, however, it still is a solid game and not one I’d be shy to recommend to anyone who wants to jump into the world as it’s easily the most accessible to new players. If I had to pick one game to recommend that takes accessibility into account among many other factors, it would still be Fallout 4. Having been almost nine years since I originally completed Fallout 4, I’m planning to give it a renewed look when the Next-Gen Update releases later this month and, hey, maybe I’ll be able to see it in a new light now that I can play it for what it is and without the baggage of coming off of my love for Fallout New Vegas.

Fallout 4 is available on PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. Series X and PlayStation 5 versions are slated for release on April 25th, 2024.

Fallout 76

Fallout 76 is the latest entry in the storied series and comes packing a lot of baggage. Fallout 76 is an always online, live-service game that was not created by Bethesda’s core studio responsible for Fallout 3 and 4. Built off Fallout 4’s engine, players explore the uninhabitable wastelands of Virginia, now known as Appalachia, where they can meet and team up with others to explore and complete objectives. It was aimed to be a cooperative online experience but launched with several questionable choices that made it a mess of a game at launch, one of which was the complete lack of NPCs in the world meaning all story was told through audio logs and reading terminals. However, these days Fallout 76 has been heavily updated to become its own fully-fledged entry, allowing it some decent consideration. The world is far more populated and quest lines are more robust making it, conceptionally, feel more like a typical Fallout game. I even took a chance on it earlier this year and had a fun experience treating it as, essentially, a new single-player game where I’d sometimes see other survivors trudging along through their own adventures.

As for the story itself, Fallout 76 sees players leave Vault 76 to reclaim and re-establish the Appalachias for humanity twenty-five years after the bombs fell, making it the earliest game in the timeline. Upon leaving the vault, however, you discover that the remnants of the land had been wiped out by a plague related to a never-before-seen enemy, the Scorched. At its original launch, there truly were no other humans populating the wastelands leaving it feeling incredibly empty but now, many years later, settlers have returned to the once hollow land and bringing with them their many problems. The game continues the similar gunplay of Fallout 4 but, compared to previous entries and due to the online nature of the game, the V.A.T.S. system no longer stops the game and instead offers real-time auto-aim at enemies. Additionally, Fallout 76 also has a much heavier emphasis on crafting and building small settlements that you can relocate around the world using the C.A.M.P. device, allowing you to create your own home to invite your vagabond friends over. Ultimately, I wouldn’t recommend Fallout 76 as a starting point into this series, no absolutely not, but if you’re itching for more content after Fallout 3, 4, and New Vegas then I think with its numerous updates I can safely recommend giving it a try.

Fallout 76 is available on PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.

Fallout (TV Series)

Now, we get to today and the recent release of the Fallout TV series. To be honest, I think the Fallout TV Series is a fantastic rendition of the Fallout world that has a firm understanding of its source material. There’s a lot of care put into everything from the set design to the insane yet unique tone of the world. I was exceptionally surprised with each and every episode between the new, original story and the characters themselves. Ella Purnell and Walton Goggins especially carried the show through with their acting talent and enjoyable presence amongst the other many great characters and cast. Having completed the season, I would place it as one of the very best video game adaptations to date and believe it’s a series that more utilized the TV medium to propel itself forward compared to a series like The Last of Us, which I still loved but was less needing of a live-action adaptation.

The Fallout TV series focuses on the story of Lucy, a vault dweller of Vault 33, Maximus, a member of the Brotherhood of Steel, and The Ghoul, an irradiated mutant who survived the fall of the bombs all those years ago. Throughout its eight hour-long episodes, we see their stories intertwine as they go in search of a mysterious piece of tech that may serve as the salvation to each of their problems. During the journey, we’re treated to several Fallout staples from iconic weapons or items to the wacky, ghoulish tone of a world torn apart. Additionally, new pieces of lore dropped throughout the season expands the universe to justify the show as another important pillar of Fallout’s story. What surprised me the most, however, was not the stories of the characters traveling outside of Vault 33 but rather the continued internal struggles of the vault residents throughout the season as we learned the mystery that propelled this story in the first place. From my perspective, and I’m no TV critic, I think the team behind the Fallout TV Series did the series a lot of justice and I can’t wait to see where it goes from here as Season 2 has already been confirmed. For Fallout fans, I believe we’re in good hands.

Depending on available devices, I recommend any newcomers or returning fans to Fallout to start with either Fallout 3, Fallout: New Vegas, or Fallout 4, the latter being the most accessible and modern. If you’re someone who likes to see everything the franchise has to offer, then working your way up through the release order of the originals or jumping in at Fallout 3 and working upwards is, otherwise, recommended. Fallout is a great series that, despite its many entries, has taken a backdrop to the public consciousness over the past years so it’s great to see it get another shine in the limelight thanks to a well-executed TV series, showing the true potential of live adaptations when made with care and an understanding of what makes the source special. Overall, I think Fallout is a staple series to many so I highly recommend giving it a further look.