Which Fallout Game Should I Start With? – A Beginner’s Guide 2024

Fallout is, bar none, my favorite game series of all time. It is also the one closest to my heart. I’ve spent hundreds and hundreds of hours over the last decade in the wasteland exploring, making friends, creating enemies, and spamming stimpacks while I run backwards shooting wildly into the air. Fallout has an emotional connection for me, as it really saved me from myself during the lowest point in my life. But that’s a tale for another time. You’re looking to get into Bethesda’s acclaimed RPG series for one reason or another, so just think of me as your trusty Vault-Tec sponsored guide! Whether you’re here because you’re intrigued by the world,  tired of replaying Skyrim, or have fallen in love with the Amazon Prime TV Show, I’ve got you covered.

Fallout as a series is hard to condense into a single logline, as it has constantly reinvented itself through the last three decades, but I’ll give it my best shot. This post-apocalyptic RPG series sees the player take control of a traveler in the American wasteland in an alternate history where the transistor – the computer component – was never invented. Without digital technology, our nation’s innovations were driven by atomic sciences, leading to everything from nuclear powered cars to microwaves in every American home. The United States grew into its atompunk aesthetics, complete with the Tomorrowland architecture, 50’s trilby hats, and rockabilly fashion. In the year 2077, however, deep into The Resource Wars, a series of nukes were dropped on the US and decimated the country, leaving only a fraction of the population behind.

It’s a lot to absorb! But where to start? And where to definitely NOT start? This guide will tell you!

Fallout: A Post-Nuclear Role-Playing Game (1997)

Fallout 1
Watch out! I might even shoot this gun one day!

Fallout: A Post-Nuclear Role-Playing Game (hereafter just Fallout 1) is still one of the more smartly written and delicately crafted CRPGs  (Classic RPG) out there today. It is also very much a product of its time. Created by Tim Cain and developed at Interplay Studios, Fallout 1 was an attempt to create a vast, morally ambiguous RPG that drove the player through post-apocalyptic America and gave them the power to be a savior – or a monster. 4 years, 30 employees, and a whopping $3 million later (all metrics which were virtually unheard of in game dev back in the mid 90s), voila! Fallout.

Players create a character, set up their stat builds, and venture forth into the wasteland! Well, soon. You’re gonna have to fight a few dozen rats first. It’s going to take well over an hour. But then, freedom! The first two Fallout games are isometric turn-based RPGs that take place over an open series of connected maps spanning a few cities and featuring points of interest, enemies, and plenty of people to meet. See, the core of Fallout is its characters, and it has been from day one. In this, Fallout 1 still excels.

fallout 1 1
This was some primo artwork back in the day.

The intricate dialogue trees, multiple solutions to quests based on your build, and the thorough relationship webs are all still admirable. The Master is a fantastic villain. The art and iconography is beautiful. It’s funny as hell. For me, what kills Fallout 1 is the pacing. Fights are very, very slow, and don’t involve much animation to spice them up. Most of your attacks are going to miss, and most of the opponent’s attacks are going to miss, and we’re all going to spend a lot of time clicking the same button over and over again. Moving across the map is slow. Collecting items and progressing the story is painfully slow. The UI and menus are ugly as hell a pain to navigate. For me, a CRPG newb, Fallout 1 just doesn’t hit despite my many, many attempts to get into it.

I absolutely do not recommend you begin here, but you must come back and give it an honest try if you enjoy the later games! Fallout 1 received massive critical acclaim and is playable on modern PCs via Steam and PC Game Pass, though  I recommend checking out a few lore-friendly mods to enhance the experience.

Fallout 2 (1998)

fallout 2
It’s great to see perks and skills aren’t so different as in later games

Just a year later, Interplay’s Black Isle Studios, who would later go on to develop CRPG masterpieces like Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale, would release a sequel to the critically acclaimed hit. Though this was not the same team at Interplay who developed Fallout 1, their sequel reached critical acclaim, with many (including myself) seeing it as superior to Fallout 1 in nearly every way. This time, however, the sales didn’t come in. Just weeks after Fallout 2‘s release, Interplay filed for bankruptcy. They spent the next decade in financial limbo on the brink of collapse, until they had to sell the Fallout license to a man who had been after it since day one: Todd Howard. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Fallout 2 is basically an improved version of the first title in the franchise. Same engine, same graphics, same basic mechanics. The story in this game is much more interesting; however, asking the player to track down a mythical device called the Garden of Eden Creation Kit (the GECK), the last hope for humanity in 2241. Supposedly, the GECK can create water, and thus life, out of thin air. And every wastelander and their mother will do anything in their power to get it.

Fallout 2 2
Voice acting!

Fallout 2 has a much quicker start than Fallout 1, although it’s still pretty slow, and introduces you to a host of characters and locations pretty early on to keep you hooked. Animations are a little better, colors are a little brighter, menus are a little less ugly, and it’s not so damn confusing out the gate. Fallout 2 really got its claws in me the way Fallout 1 never did, though I’m sure you’ll find just as many fans out there who say the opposite. While it still is slow-paced by today’s standards, if you’re patient you’ll be rewarded with a great world to explore.

Like the first game, I recommend coming back here after playing the Bethesda games. But do come back! Fallout 2 is available on Steam and PC Game Pass and runs on modern PCs just fine. I recommend scouting either Nexus Mods or No Mutants Allowed for some mods to spice it up!

Fallout 3 (2008)

I get so nostalgic seeing these towns.

The year is 1997. A junior developer at Bethesda Game Studios has finished his first run through Fallout: A Post-Nuclear Role-Playing Game and had a thought. “What if this was an action game? A fully realized RPG… but also an action game. Just think!” This junior developer was, of course, Todd Howard, who appealed to the directors at Bethesda soon after the release of Fallout 1 and begged them to get the license for him based on his pretty much unheard-of vision for it. The studio executives smiled, nodded politely, and ushered him out of the room.

Nine years pass, and Howard is now the creative director of Bethesda after his massively successful directorial debut with The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. He finds a sticky note on his desk that reads “We got Fallout for you” with a small smiley face. It is time.

This real series of events led to one of the biggest franchises in gaming, and it really would not have happened had Todd Howard not been so irrationally persistent about transforming his favorite game ever into something completely different. Gone are the isometric camera, the 2D sprites, and the turn-based combat. Fallout is under new management. In 2008, Bethesda Game Studios revived the still beloved but almost forgotten RPG franchise as one of the most massive hits in gaming history.

Fallout 3 is a first-person shooter, but combat doesn’t jump all the way from turn-based to live. Fallout 3 has a Real-Time With Pause system called VATS, which freezes time during combat and lets the player scan and select different body parts of enemies to try and shoot, accompanied by the percent chance you’ll actually hit. You make your selections with a limited number of action points, just as in the classic Fallout games, and let it rip. VATS is one of the most insane ideas for a first-person shooter ever conceived, but guess what? It just works.

Get him in the hip! That’s where it hurts!

Fallout 3 is still a hardcore RPG through and through, but the seamless transition to an open world action game is still impressive. It defined the open world genre so dramatically that games are still aping it to this day. Fallout 3 gives you control of the Lone Wanderer, who escapes from life in Vault 101 at the age of 19 to find her missing father in a wasteland she knows literally nothing about. It’s a perfect introduction to the world, as you learn alongside your character that every corner you turn might be your last. 

More than anything, this game lets you explore. You can go far and wide, or stay on the straight and narrow. Care about the story or don’t. It matters exactly as much as you want it to. Find the people, go to the places, shoot the stuff, don’t shoot the stuff, it doesn’t matter. Just go! Any direction you please. Plus, Liam Neeson plays your dad! And Inon Zur’s soundtrack, including the premiere of the iconic Fallout theme, is nothing short of an all-time great.

Fallout 3 is my recommended starting point for the series – the best of the classics meets modern quality of life. Fallout 3 is available on Steam, Game Pass, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S.

Fallout: New Vegas (2010)

*Leans across the counter* listen buddy, I know about the secret menu.

Nestled comfortably in this series’ complicated release history is 2010’s Fallout: New Vegas. Following the success of Fallout 3, Bethesda rented out the Fallout IP to a new studio called Obsidian Entertainment, made up of the very ex-Black Isle Studios employees that had created Fallout 2. Bethesda handed Obsidian the Gamebryo engine and put them to work — and so it was that the planets aligned. All the intelligence, writing mastery, and story dynamics of the classic Fallout games met the quality of life upgrades, visuals, and moddability of the Bethesda version. It would be impossible to hide my bias here, so I’ll come out and say it: Fallout: New Vegas is quite possibly my favorite video game ever made. You should play it.

New Vegas gives players control of The Courier, a mailman who took a last-minute job delivering something called the Platinum Chip – and who paid dearly for it. On your way to take the chip to Mr. House, the mysterious owner of New Vegas, you are ambushed by a gangster named Benny (voiced by Matthew Perry) and left for dead in the desert. After being rescued and patched up by the good people of Goodsprings, you’re given complete and total freedom to roam the Mojave Wasteland and find out what the Platinum Chip is and why Benny was willing to kill you for it. (And get some revenge while you’re at it!)

fallout nv
Securitrons ain’t nothing to mess with.

It is almost impossible to understand the moving pieces of the world as they change around you in response to your decisions. Shooting one person at the wrong time could have ramifications that reach across the deserts and through to the end of the game. Dialogue choices become available to different players depending on how they’ve statted their character, so it’s unlikely any two people have played New Vegas exactly the same way. Dialogue is more clever than it has any right to be, all the way through to the end of the game, and your dialogue choices can have very immediate ramifications if you say the wrong thing. A pleasant chat can become a shootout in a matter of seconds…but hey, that’s the wasteland, baby.

There are many action RPGs in which players will try to power through the dialogue sections to reach the action; however, players will likely find the reverse true in New Vegas. Utilizing the correct weapons, armor, chems and skills will give you the edge in individual fights, but the overall war will be decided by how well you can play your character, whether its a max-strength barbarian or a lucky sonofabitch.

NV 2
Two guys shaking hands! I bet everyone here is super nice!

An endless cast of fascinating characters with overwritten backstories will carry the Courier through the wastes in search of the truth and land them in a very specific position to determine how the war plays out. Although the player is always in control, most repercussions of your actions are completely unintended and leave you scrambling to figure out how to repair an alliance or take a stronghold to remedy it. Obsidian has created the most intricately crafted game ever written, with excellent DLC and well over a hundred hours of content — and that’s not even touching on mods. Side with the New California Republic, Caesar’s Legion, Mr. House, or no one at all. The fate of the Hoover Dam is in your hands.

I recommend you play this immediately following Fallout 3, but not before. To truly appreciate the evolution from Fallout 3, play in release order! Fallout: New Vegas is available on Steam, Game Pass, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S.

Fallout 4 (2015)

fallout 4
Who’s best boy? I know!

Bethesda Game Studios was riding an all-time high following the release of Skyrim in 2011. Looking to take Fallout to the next generation in the same way they had done for The Elder Scrolls, Todd Howard and his team got to work in secret. Fallout 4 is one of the more impressive game development stories out there, because even with 500 developers, hundreds of millions of dollars, and a 5-year development cycle, they managed to keep it 100% secret until late 2014. Todd Howard took to the stage at E3 2015, walked audiences through a deep dive of their first next-gen RPG, and ended with “and it’s out in 3 months.” The hype for Fallout 4 was pretty unmatched in those months. To this day, few games have managed to recreate it. Fallout 4 launched that November to universal critical acclaim, generally positive reviews from fans, and sales that even outdid Skyrim.

In Fallout 4, players take control of the Sole Survivor. After creating your character in 2077 pre-war Boston, you, your spouse, and your child evacuate to a nearby vault when a nuclear bomb is dropped on the city. Tricked into cryo-freeze, your baby is whisked away by kidnappers who kill your spouse while looking you dead in the eye. After being unfrozen, the Sole Survivor steps into 2287 Boston, now known as the Commonwealth, and begins an expansive chase across the American Northeast to find their son. Meanwhile, the mysterious Institute is taking people and replacing them with lifelike synths, similar to replicants from Blade Runner. Who is real? Who is a synth plant? Can you trust anyone?

Fallout 4 3
What if there was a place with all the taste of Nuka Cola?

While I love the setup of Fallout 4 from a narrative perspective, it’s a little limiting from an role-playing perspective. If you play the male character, you’re a war veteran. The female character is a lawyer. Regardless, once Fallout 4 opens up after the tutorial, the player will find a marvelous open world sandbox to play around in. Joined by Dogmeat, your trusty but mangy sidekick, you’ll set out into the massive open world that’s like no other in gaming. No matter how you build your character, you get to choose whether the Railroad, the Minutemen, the Institute, or the Brotherhood of Steel comes out on top! My only real complaint is that the main story just isn’t very good, although excellent side quests like The Cabot House, the USS Constitution, and the Silver Shroud help a lot.

Fallout 4 gets flack from some fans due to its removal of some RPG elements. I cannot disagree that Fallout 4 is much more of an open world survival shooter than an RPG, with the main difference being that your stat build barely matters. Regardless of how your character is built, you can potentially reach any of the four endings, finish every quest, and collect every weapon some way or another. While this is welcoming to players new to RPGs, it dilutes the fun of personalized builds and sadly removes the satisfaction of specialized dialogue with skill checks. Luckily, Fallout 4 compensates by providing excellent shooting, ultra-moddable guns, armor, and ammo, settlement building, and hardcore survival mechanics that make the wasteland feel truly dangerous.

Far Harbor features perhaps the best suite of monsters in video games.

A wealth of terrifying new monsters inhabit a living world, where the universe keeps on moving even when you’re not there. For instance, you might come across a dead radstag on the road because a deathclaw killed it when you were halfway across the map and just left it there. Fallout 4 is strange because, even though it doesn’t feel like your choices are altering the world as much as they did in the previous games, the world is alive. It’s just living despite you, not because of you. There’s a huge loss of control for the player coming from the previous games to this one, and it’s very intentional. Fallout 4 is themed around the destruction of the old world and the creation of the new world from its parts, fitting in nicely with settlement building (which I’ve spent hundreds of hours doing). It is very much an “entry-level” RPG, but the excellent voice acting, memorable characters, great shooting, hundreds of fully realized locations, and unforgettable wasteland creatures make it an exciting adventure nonetheless.

The real treat of Fallout 4 is its DLC, particularly Far Harbor and Nuka World. While Nuka World is a decently fun time that probably could have been better, Far Harbor is an overhaul of the entire game that takes place on a new landmass about a third the size of the original map. With new, ghoulish monsters, the return of skill checks in dialogue, quests locked off by stat builds, three factions that actually change and react to your decisions, and the best-written quests in the game, Far Harbor is basically what fans imagined when they thought about next-gen Fallout. Far Harbor is unquestionably the best thing that Bethesda Game Studios has ever produced. Make SURE you get the Game of the Year Edition with all the DLC.

Play Fallout 4 following your playthrough(s) of Fallout: New Vegas! I’ve spent nearly 700 hours in it, so I’m pretty sure you’ll be able to find some fun. Fallout 4 is available on Steam, Epic Games, PlayStation 4, Game Pass, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S. A free next-gen patch hits PC, PS5, and Series X/S April 25, 2024 with enhanced textures, lighting, frame rates, and a few new quests to tie into the Prime Video TV series.

Fallout 76 (2018)

grafton mons
I think I’m good, actually.

I don’t think I need to recount for you the legendary launch failure of Fallout 76. Plagued with bugs, glitches, and basically bereft of any content, Bethesda’s foray into multiplayer was nothing short of a disaster. Fast forward to 2023, and Fallout 76 is not only fixed – it’s actually great. For a deep dive into how it’s changed over the years, check out my write-up from a few months ago. When I spent around 20 hours on the launch version, I didn’t think it was a salvageable game. Looking back now, spending the next few years rebuilding it from the ground up to save the Fallout brand’s value was the right move.

Fallout 76 is what Bethesda jokingly calls a “minuscule multiplayer online RPG”, and there’s not really a better description of it. When starting a new game, you’ll load into a world that you are sharing with just 20 players on a map that is four times the size of Fallout 4. You can and likely will play 76 for 3 or 4 hours at a time without ever running into another human player. When you do, it’s kind of a little event. Typically they’ll just wave and continue whatever they were doing, but, sometimes, high-level players will stop and drop free loot for you to welcome you in to post-apocalyptic West Virginia.

You’re going to need a squad to take down a Scorchbeast.

Besides being multiplayer, Fallout 76 is so unlike its predecessors in one major way – it’s a luscious, green, world where nature has reclaimed the land. No one dropped a bomb on West Virginia (why would they?), so it simply isn’t destroyed – just empty.  76 takes place just 25 years after the bombs dropped, so the world is full of NPCs who remember the pre-apocalypse and technology from a bygone era. It’s also full of monsters that have never been seen before, including many based on American urban legends like the Mothman and the Grafton Monster as well as zetans (aliens) and the half-zombified Scorched. Appalachia is one of the best maps in video games, and I implore you to explore it!

76 is hard to explain because it isn’t really like anything else that exists. It’s a much more hardcore RPG than Fallout 4 was, with the return of intricate dialogue trees with skill checks, multiple quest solutions, and six distinct factions with reputation meters. It also transforms your SPECIAL stats into perk cards, making it so you can essentially alter your character’s abilities at any time. I love this change, and sharing perks with friends on the same team kind of rocks. You can play alone and complete the four campaigns available (The Overseer’s Quest, Wastelanders, Steel Dawn, and Steel Reign) without much trouble, but for high-level events you need to squad up. The writing in Fallout 76 is excellent, and dialogue and characters rival that of Obsidian’s New Vegas

Aliens? In Fallout? It’s more likely than you’d think.

I won’t harp on about it too long, but Fallout 76 is a hell of a lot of fun. The base building mechanics are much, much better and allow you to have a permanent home in an ever-changing world. Plus, there’s no PvP combat – this is a purely co-op adventure. So you don’t have to worry about WaluigiButtmuncher69 griefing you and ruining your quest lines. More likely, he’s crouching and hopping around your camp dropping tomatoes for no reason. While 76 is still my least favorite of the shooter Fallout games, it’s actually excellent now and well worth your time. The microtransactions aren’t in your face and are pretty much all cosmetic, and there’s plenty of story content to keep you busy before you even get to events, raids, and Expeditions. Note that all expansions are free, so everyone is playing the exact same content all the time.

I recommend dipping into Fallout 76 after at least starting Fallout 4 and seeing how you like it. If you really hate multiplayer inherently, it may not be for you, but I think you’d be surprised how fun it is to team up with random squads and battle alien invasions. Fallout 76 is available on Steam, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Game Pass, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S.

Spin-Offs? Spin-Offs!

I don’t know, I think it could use a few more rooms…

I’ll go ahead and save you some heartbreak: the only Fallout spin-off game that is worth your time is Fallout Shelter, which is available on Steam, Android, and iOS. It’s a comfy little city-builder/management game that is free to play, and you can get a good stretch of 15-20 hours of playtime in one vault before microtransactions become necessary. It’s cute and low-stress, and I highly recommend giving it a shot. Fallout: Tactics is fine, and I can see how some enjoyed it, but Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel is a miserable piece of software I cannot believe Black Isle Studios allowed to happen. Do not engage with it. If you’re interested in exploring the universe in other ways, there’s a great mini-fig war game called Wasteland Warfare, the fun but overly complex Fallout: The Board Game, and an official tabletop RPG, Fallout: The Role-Playing Game.

Fallout Prime Video TV Show (2024)

TV Show
Lucy, my beloved

The Fallout series on Prime Video has no right to be as good as it is. The collaboration of Todd Howard with Johnathan Nolan (Westworld, The Dark Knight Trilogy) has turned out to be a match made in heaven. The tone, writing, characters, atmosphere, visuals, and humor are so unapologetically consistent to the games without requiring you to already have played them. Best of all, Fallout tells a new story that is canon to the game universe! The show takes place 8 years after the events of Fallout 4, and the events of the show could certainly be referenced in Fallout 5. The show works perfectly as an entry point into the universe of Fallout, or if you’re some kind of chronology sticker you can watch it on Prime Video right after playing Fallout 4.

Well, there you have it. A succinct summary of the Fallout universe and all it has to offer. The Fallout license has been through the ringer, with nearly every game being developed by a different team. But that’s what makes it so special! I recommend beginning with Fallout 3, then New Vegas, then Fallout 4, and then heading back to Fallout 1 and 2 if you’re really feeling it. And definitely give Fallout 76 a try while you’re at it!  War might never change, but you’re about to see America in a brand new way that brings the cracks in our society to the forefront while retaining that unbreakable American spirit. Welcome home.

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2 months ago

thank you. This is the info i’m looking for and will start with Fallout 3

Nirav G
Nirav G
2 months ago
Reply to  GamerDude

Glad to help! Best of luck out there in the Capitol Wasteland

2 months ago
Reply to  Nirav G

Weird thing is I’ve actually played FO2 before. Loved it but never did complete it coz of the time commitment. I played old skool CRPGs like Planescape : Torment and BG 1 & 2 growing up but didn’t really get into FO then coz of the turn based combat which was too slow for me. Years later when i picked up FO2, time is a major factor especially when I’ve gotten into Survival Horror types with their 15-20 hours long to just beat the game. Cheers mate!