The complete history of Fallout lore, abridged
Fallout 4 is due to atomize the post-apocalyptic video game genre this November with everything we've come to expect from Bethesda, but the Fallout universe is full of more than a few bottle caps and the odd nuclear explosion. This is a series that pre-dates a large number of the consumers on the market today, and it has a story that stretches back even further. Yet where's a gamer to start if they missed the train on the original Fallout games and still want to be up to date and ready to roll when Fallout 4 hits store shelves?
No worries, we're here to help.
The Fallout Universe
Fallout seeks to capture the imagination of a dangerous nuclear What if? scenario, but it begins with a very simple technological split from our timeline. In the Fallout universe the transistor isn't developed until late in the 21st century, and as a result the miniaturization of technology and the general advance of computer science as a whole goes down a much different path. Culture is locked in a mid fifties Cold War picture frame, and although society goes through similar ideological changes they focus more on vacuum tubes and nuclear development rather than cell phones and the microprocessor.
The most important conflicts come as a result of a worldwide energy shortage, partly a result of the larger, bulkier technology at play. Imagine if instead of even moderately fuel efficient vehicles, all of our cars ran like the old battleships of the 60's and 70's. Oil prices would be sky high and the conflicts over oil around the world would be less focused on capital gain and more on simple survival. In Fallout everything big is either oil or nuclear, and as a result many of the cars you see in the Capital Wasteland and the Mojave are powered atomically and can cause massive explosions if fired upon.
This energy shortage led to a large number of political shifts, most notably when China invaded the United States by attacking Alaska for its valuable oil reserves. The resulting Resource War prompts the forcible annexation of Canada by the U.S., and eventually China is thrown out of Alaska thanks to the invention and utilization of Fallout's famous Power Armor.
This battle along with several other incidents across the world lead to the Great War of 2077, a two hour nuclear slugging match between the U.S., the U.S.S.R., and the People's Republic of China. Most of the missiles focused on wiping out major cities and military installations and by some stretch of luck their radioactive payload is minimally damaging. It's still plenty to wipe out most of mankind and irradiate those unable to find shelter in a local Vault, but rather than destroying the world entirely the radiation mutates a variety of plants and animals into larger, meaner versions of themselves, and renders the bulk of the world a desolate wasteland.
What's humanity to do? Well luckily the U.S. government put some careful thought into doomsday prepping and contracted the Vault-Tec Corporation to create underground sanctuaries known as Vaults. Each Vault was meant to be entirely self-sufficient, capable of supporting life underground almost indefinitely for those who could afford a spot. 122 Vaults were created in total each capable of safely harboring about a 1000 people. Unfortunately -- possibly as a result of giving the job to the lowest bidder -- the Vaults were far from what people expected when they bought their space.
Vault-Tec found that although creating 122 identical Vaults to save a small chunk of humanity would be fun, creating 122 unique experiments with 1000 test subjects completely outside the restrictions of any governmental body would be more fun. Some Vaults had their ventilation stations laced with hallucinogenic drugs, some tested the results of overstocking the armory and locking the doors, even more dropped the ruse of safety altogether and tested highly dangerous experimental mutagenic serums on the populace. All in all those few merry souls that made it to the Vaults before the bombs dropped rarely had a good time, and those who didn't fall prey to the experiments often fell prey to simple human nature or the hazards of the encroaching wastes.
Luckily for the human race not every vault strayed far from their original purpose. The main characters from the original Fallout and Fallout 3 both grew up in Vaults with no ill intentions towards their populations. Vault 13 was meant to simply remain closed for 200 years but was forced to open due to a broken water purification chip (this is the driving force behind the first Fallout game). Vault 101 in Fallout 3 was meant to remain closed indefinitely, ruled over by a seemingly all-knowing overseer.
The Story So Far (full of spoilers for previous games in the series)
The player takes on the role of the Vault Dweller, a dangerously ignorant scrub with little knowledge outside of the Vault, given a monumental quest to search out a replacement water purification chip in order to save everyone in his Vault from dehydration. Along the way the Vault Dweller saves a small town named Shady Sands which is full of survivors of Vault 15, unseats a corrupt casino owner named Gizmo, and eventually makes his way to The Hub, a merchant city where he has the option to hire several water caravans to extend the time limit before the Vault perishes at 100 in-game days. The Vault Dweller then makes his way to Necropolis, a city populated entirely by irradiated humans known as ghouls. Below Necropolis the Vault Dweller finds Vault 12 as well as the water chip he seeks.
Upon returning to Vault 13 the Vault Dweller relays tales of his encounters with a dangerous race of mutants to the overseer, who immediately tasks the Vault Dweller with finding and eliminating the source of the mutations. With the help of the remains of a pre-war military faction known as the Brotherhood of Steel the Vault Dweller travels to the Boneyard, the burnt out ruins of Los Angeles, and confronts the Master, the leader of the Super Mutants he previously encountered. The Vault Dweller destroys the Master and travels to a nearby military base where the Master was using the Forced Evolution Virus (F.E.V.) to transform humans captured in the wasteland into Super Mutants. The Vault Dweller destroys the military base, scattering the now leaderless Super Mutants to the wind.
Unfortunately when the Vault Dweller returns to Vault 13 he's met at the door by the Vault Overseer, who is extremely grateful for everything the player has accomplished but is fearful that his exploits will incite other members of the Vault to venture out into the danger of the wastes. He also professes that the wasteland seems to have changed the Vault Dweller, making it unsafe for him to return to the peaceful life of the Vault. As a result the Vault Dweller is exiled and never returns to Vault 13.
After leaving Vault 13 the Vault Dweller is joined by a group of other vault dwellers who left the Vault, presumably after hearing of his exile. Banding together with a group of wastelanders the party goes on to create the village of Arroyo somewhere in post-apocalyptic Oregon. The Vault Dweller eventually departs from the village, leaving it in the care of his daughter who becomes the village elder.
Several decades later the village is plagued by a terrible drought and the player character takes on the role of the Chosen One (grandchild of the Vault Dweller and child of the village elder) and is tasked with retrieving a Garden of Eden Creation Kit (G.E.C.K.), a device with the power to cleanse the wasteland and breathe new life into the irradiated soil.
The Chosen One eventually stumbles upon Vault 13, one of the few Vaults with a G.E.C.K., only to find it almost entirely empty. When he returns to Arroyo he finds that the Enclave, the remains of the pre-war U.S. government, have kidnapped his entire village.
The Chosen One repairs a pre-war oil tanker with a built-in auto-pilot and uses it to travel to the Enclave's base located on an offshore oil rig. The Chosen One learns that the Enclave has plans to use a modified version of the F.E.V. virus in the form of an airborne pathogen to wipe out those with mutated cells across the wasteland. In order to make sure the F.E.V. only affected those with mutations the Enclave kidnapped the occupants of Vault 13 as well as Arroyo as test subjects. The sheltered nature of the Vault meant that the vault dwellers were mutation free and should operate as an appropriate control test.
The Chosen One kills the president and destroys the Oil Rig, saving the citizens of Vault 13 and Arroyo in the process. With long lost family ties between the vault dwellers and Arroyo reforged the two groups use the G.E.C.K. to transform Arroyo into one of the most prosperous cities in the wasteland.
Taking place several years and half a continent away from the events of Fallout and Fallout 2, Fallout 3 opens with the player's birth in Rivet City, and later follows his upbringing in Vault 101. Once the player reaches maturity the character's father departs from the vault, ultimately causing the Overseer to go into a paranoid fit and attempt to kill the player. The player escapes Vault 101 and adopts the moniker the Lone Wanderer.
Chasing down leads to find his father the player character eventually makes his way to Rivet City where he meets Doctor Li, an old friend of his father James and his mother Catherine. Doctor Li explains to the Lone Wanderer that before Catherine died in childbirth that they all worked together on Project Purity, a long-term plan to build a massive water purifier in the Jefferson Memorial to cleanse all the water of the capital wasteland of radiation and toxins.
At the Jefferson Memorial the Lone Wanderer finds holo-disks indicating that James has traveled to Vault 112 to speak to James Braun, a pre-war genius that might be able to help with the development of Project Purity. Once the Lone Wanderer arrives at the Vault he's forced to enter a pre-war simulation created by Braun to house his mind and the minds of several of his colleagues that he tortures endlessly. Either by cooperating with Braun or usurping his rule the player frees himself and his father from the simulation and the two are finally reunited.
James reveals that he needs a G.E.C.K. to complete Project Purity, but the reunion is cut short when the Jefferson Memorial is invaded by the Enclave and in the resulting battle James sacrifices his life to ensure that the Enclave can't use the purifier for their devious purposes. The Lone Wanderer flees with Doctor Li to the safety of the Brotherhood of Steel.
The Lone Wanderer travels to Vault 87 in order to find a G.E.C.K. but finds his way blocked by Super Mutants and mountains of radiation. In order to access the vault he travels through a small underground village owned and operated entirely by children, known as Little Lamplight. Once inside the Lone Wanderer learns of the F.E.V. virus and the origins of the super mutants in the Capital Wasteland. After leaving Vault 87 the character is captured by the Enclave and taken to Raven Rock. After fighting his way to the president the player learns that the self proclaimed leader of the Enclave is actually a supercomputer with dreams of using the modified F.E.V. from Fallout 2 to destroy mutation in the Capital Wasteland. The president attempts to convince the player that they should infect the water supply with the F.E.V. to cleanse the wasteland of any and all mutation.
The Lone Wanderer, alongside the Brotherhood of Steel and a massive robot known as Liberty Prime, attack the Jefferson Memorial and storm the purification chamber. Once the G.E.C.K. is installed Dr. Li informs the player that the purifier must be activated manually and the choice is then left up to the player whether to enter the irradiated chamber themselves or to send in Brotherhood of Steel member Sarah Lyons. It's assumed that whoever enters the chamber will die, but in the Broken Steel DLC it's revealed that the Lone Wanderer survives the experience.
Fallout: New Vegas
Nothing beats a double tap to the head, except the main character of Fallout: New Vegas. Referred to as the Courier, the protagonist is shot in the head and left for dead by an accent-wielding gangster named Benny. Benny leaves the Courier and steals the Platinum Chip the Courier was assigned to deliver to the mysterious Mr. House in New Vegas. A robot securitron named Victor hauls the Courier's body out of the shallow grave Benny left him in and takes him to a local doctor named Doc Mitchel who patches him up and sends him on his way.
The Courier tracks Benny across the Mojave Wasteland, optionally picking up useful evidence and companions along the way, eventually confronting him at the Tops Casino in New Vegas. The story in New Vegas is extremely choice heavy, taking the standard set in Fallout 3 to a dramatic new level. As a result almost every player has a different experience as to how they handle the situation with Benny and the overarching conflict in New Vegas. The important thing to note is that no matter what the Courier retrieves the Platinum Chip and returns it to Mr. House.
After this event the Courier is confronted with a distinct set of choices and decisions as to how they let events unfold. They can either work together with the stretched-thin resources of the bureaucratic New California Republic, side with the slave-toting roman-themed Cesar's Legion, work with the enigmatic Mr. House, or take the Mojave for themselves by working with a hacked securitron known as Yes-Man. Similar to the Resource Wars that took place long ago, New Vegas is all about the energy that the Hoover Dam represents, and ultimately the decisions made by the Courier will influence who controls the Dam, and by extension the Mojave Wasteland and most of the West Coast.
Factions to watch
The Brotherhood of Steel
Created out of the remains of several military and scientific factions from the old world, the Brotherhood of Steel is one of the big daddies as far as technological weapons and armor go. They're united under an almost religious fervor and a knightly hierarchy and they'll go to extreme lengths to preserve the history and technology of days long lost.
Although they're rarely what you'd call sociable they can at times be negotiated with if your interests lie in line with theirs, and out of necessity they're often forced to recruit and train wastelanders to keep the number of knights high enough to continue their mission. Just don't try and steal any of their tech, as even if you manage to nab one of their laser rifles you'll likely be facing down multiple enemies toting power armor, energy weapons, and an absolutely murderous intent.
The source of almost all the trouble you've ever even thought of in the Fallout universe, the Enclave is the last remnant of the United States Federal Government, and despite the fact that they've been squashed again and again they just keep bouncing back. You'll almost always be able to recognize the Enclave by their use of high-octane plasma weapons and advanced power armor. They'll also often be working really hard to turn you into a conveniently sweepable pile of ash.
The Enclave only seems to have one goal, the eradication of any and all mutation to allow for total domination of what's left of the world. Of course this would probably be deemed acceptable on some level if not for the fact that because of the high levels of radiation permeating anything and everything in the wasteland, anything that hasn't lived in a vault or with the Enclave falls under that "mutated" category.
Ghouls are the unexpected result of what happened to the hundreds of millions of people that neither made it to the safety of a vault nor died in the nuclear fire that consumed the rest of the population. By some miracle or as a result of lucky genetic circumstances, a few humans didn't die from the radiation permeating the wastelands. Instead their skin rotted or sloughed off, their lifespans extended dramatically, and they adapted to the point where radiation can benefit them as much as it hurts other wanderers of the wastes.
There are several kinds of Ghouls to be aware of, and not all of them should be shot on sight. It's important to remember that ghouls were once human and on some level they still are. Many still carry the minds they had when they shifted and can be spoken to, bargained with, and even befriended -- although years of abuse from a population that considers them abominations has spawned a general racism towards so called smoothskins or non-mutated humans. Of course under certain circumstances a ghoul can go feral, causing it to degenerate into a dangerous creature focused entirely on its own survival, with nigh superhuman strength and speed. Unless you're told otherwise these ghouls should be treated as extremely hostile and should be terminated with extreme prejudice.
As an added tip, remember to never refer to a ghoul as a zombie. Although they look similar it's considered a grave insult.
Whether they're looking to kill you, steal from you, eat you, or find a happy medium between all three and a few others that shouldn't be mentioned, Raiders are the bottom of the bucket in a radioactive porta-potty. Although not often heavily armored they'll usually carry an assortment of small arms and rusty melee weapons, and can do a lot to make your life miserable. Often bound to specific gangs and tribes, be wary who you kill or maim as you can easily piss off an entire faction if you sling your bullets too freely. Just be wary and don't let them get the drop on you, keep your weapons close and watch their hands and you'll know whether you need to reach for your laser pistol first or just let the group move on to larger prey.
The Institute, the Railroad, and Synths
Not a whole lot is known about the Institute but we do know bits and pieces from the quest The Replicated Man in Fallout 3. The Institute represents a faction within the commonwealth that deals heavily with androids and genuine artificial intelligence.
We know that they've successfully created independently thinking androids often referred to as Synths that often attempt to escape the commonwealth and seek the freedom of the outside world. In Fallout 3 the Railroad is a faction that attempts to aid Synths interested in finding their freedom.
Despite their small role in Fallout 3 they're worth mentioning simply because of Fallout 4's location within the Commonwealth where the Institute is rumored to be located. Additionally we've seen several pieces of concept art showing off androids and Synths that could pose as either a dangerous threat or as a powerful ally in the new wasteland.
Created by exposing a human to the F.E.V., Super Mutants are massive, heavily muscled juggernauts well known across the Fallout universe as dangerously hostile enemies that a wise man doesn't cross lightly. There are several kinds of Super Mutants to be aware of as they come from two separate strains of the F.E.V. virus.
Super Mutants from the Mariposa Military Base on the West Coast are often intelligent and reasonable creatures. Originally ruled by the Master, they sought out humans large and small to convert to the super soldiers we fight in the Fallout universe. After the Master was killed at the end of Fallout they split into three factions. One was interested in peaceful settlement among humans, another was devoted to rekindling the master's dream, and another simply went East looking for new horizons. Most of these Super Mutants can be reasoned with but due to the nigh immortality granted by their advanced cellular structure, senility and schizophrenia commonly set in among older mutants, causing frequent violent outbursts.
The Super Mutants in the Capital Wasteland are the result of experiments with the F.E.V. in Vault 87 and are notoriously larger, meaner, and for the most part entirely unreasonable. In Fallout 3 the only Super Mutant you can communicate with is Fawkes, who reasons that the intense physical pain during the mutation process could be what causes their increased tendency to be violent as well as their reduced intelligence. The Vault 87 Super Mutants also never stop growing, and although they stand usually around 10 feet tall the oldest super mutants, known as behemoths, can use a monster truck as a table stool. These are most likely the super mutants you'll encounter in Fallout 4 due to the commonwealth's proximity to Vault 87.
Although not specifically a faction, the player should still keep a close eye out for the many mutated creatures of the wastelands. You'll see a variety of mutated animals both passive as well as dangerous. Molerats and Radroaches are largely not a threat, but Deathclaws, Cazadors, Mireluks, and Lakelurks should be treated with extreme caution. You'll hopefully see Deathclaws before they see you, but in the eventuality that you don't, go for a crippling blow to their legs and then retreat to a safe distance to finish them off as they waddle threateningly after you.
Items, Gadgets, and other useful tidbits
Representing the seven basic stats that define your character's base stats, Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, and Luck all will affect what your character does best. We don't know exactly how these stats will affect things in Fallout 4 but we can guess based off what they did in previous iterations of Fallout and what we've been learning in the weekly video updates from Bethesda.
The primary currency of the Fallout Universe, due to the popularity of bottled drinks such as Nuka Cola and Sunset Sarsaparilla. They're the common currency, although it's worth noting that in the post-apocalyptic world anything's up for barter.
The Pip-Boy or Personal Information Processor is the primary terminal the player uses to interact with their stats, inventory, objectives, and general mortality. Developed by RobCo industries, consider it the survivalist's smart phone for a post-apocalyptic world. It does everything you need it to and also picks up the local radio stations! As an added bonus to immersion Fallout 4 will allow you to download a companion app to your smart phone to manage your in game stats with a swipe of a finger.
Most importantly for many players, the Pip-Boy also allows for the player to use V.A.T.S. (Vault-Tec Assissted Targeting System) which gives the player instant combat feedback about projectile probability, enemy health, and the ability to target individual limbs for different effects. Just make sure you invest in Agility so you have plenty of Action Points to take full advantage of V.A.T.S.
The military contractor given the task of creating the Vaults to save humanity, working in concert with RobCo and the Federal Government this company orchestrated many of the experiments within each vault. Building the Vaults pushed Vault-Tec to become the largest military contractor in the nation and allowed them to branch out into a variety of fields both moral and immoral. On the one hand the Vaults that functioned as advertised saved a lot of lives, on the other a lot of those lives were made worse by their twisted experiments.
RobCo is a high-end computer and robotics company founded by the enigmatic Mr. House, focused on providing computers and software to a world that was just getting the hang of the transistor but fully understood the convenience of personal robotic assistants RobCo became a family name in maintenance robots with the creation of the Mr. Handy, and developed the Unified Operating System that you see installed on every computer in the United States. The Vaults were largely supplied by RobCo, and almost all of the robots you see in the Fallout Universe owe their existence to this titan corporation.
The Garden of Eden Creation Kit is a series of tools and technology designed to rehabilitate the wasteland in the event that nuclear destruction made it impossible to survive otherwise. G.E.C.K.S. were distributed to most Vaults and were contained in a small silver briefcase.
Got all that? Good! Then you're all set for Fallout 4, which will release on November 10.