This story originally ran on on Nov. 9, 2015. We’re republishing it to provide background on Bethesda’s Fallout 76 reveal.
One of the things that makes the Fallout games so special is the way they encourage players to carve their own path through the story. They’re incredibly dense, so filled with obscure quest lines that it's unlikely players will ever personally experience them all. Yet Fallout has a history, and that history … never changes.
But Fallout's lore can be a tough nut to crack. The same kind of open gameplay that makes your story feel unique also ensures you'll probably never find the time to see everything. One of the universe's original creators, Chris Avellone, made an attempt to collect all the information about the first two titles in the Fallout bible, but since Bethesda has taken over the franchise a lot of it has become non-canon. Making matters worse for digital historians, some spin-off games like Fallout: New Vegas and Fallout: Tactics each have multiple outcomes.
However, if you leave out the microscopic details of each game, the Fallout series has a well-established backstory. And, while the numbered games in the series also have nuanced endings of their own, when the final credits roll they all pretty much put players in the same spot. That makes for a tidy timeline.
Our goal with this feature is to catch you up on what you might have forgotten since the first game came out nearly 20 years ago, and to remind you of the story beats you may have missed during your own personal journey through the wasteland.
Most importantly, Fallout 4 begins far earlier than any game in the series to date. Your character will be a contemporary to some of Fallout’s earliest events. You can read Polygon’s review here, but what better place to begin your journey than at the beginning?
Timeline not loading? Not seeing a full alternate history of the world just above this text? Try this link instead.
Video editing: Danielle Riendeau
Illustrations: Bethesda Game Studios, Interplay Entertainment, Black Isle Studios, Micro Forte, Patch on Amazon, Wikipedia, The United Nations, MobyGames and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.