Which ‘Fallout’ Game Fans of the TV Series Should Play First (and Which to Avoid)

Which ‘Fallout’ Game Fans of the TV Series Should Play First (and Which to Avoid)

Amazon’s TV adaptation of Fallout is among the best game-to-screen adaptations ever made; it’s so good, even people who’ve never played a Fallout game, or any game, are hungry for more of the franchise’s unique vibe. If that’s you, and you want to dive into the Fallout game universe but don’t know where to start, read on for a list of which games to play first, and what to know about Fallout before you begin.

What to know about the Fallout games before you start playing

There are a lot of games in the Fallout universe, between six and nine, depending on how you count them, but Amazon’s Fallout isn’t a direct adaptation of any of them. The series is an original, standalone story set within the larger Fallout universe, as is each of the individual Fallout games, so you could play any title and not miss important information. That said, all Fallout games aren’t created equally, especially if you’re a fan of the series, so choose wisely.  

Fallout 3 is the best, first Fallout game for fans of the Fallout TV series  

While the first two games birthed much of the franchise’s unique style, Fallout 3, the first “modern” Fallout game, crafted the raw material of alternative history, atomic-core design, and over-the-top black humor into a masterpiece. Unlike the first two Fallout games, Fallout 3 features action-rich first-person shooter gameplay that has the same whacked-out, so-violent-it-feels-like-a-cartoon style as the series. In other words: It’s fun.

Fallout 3‘s story shares broad strokes with show’s as well. Like Lucy in the series, Fallout 3‘s central character, The Lone Wanderer, was born in a Vault-Tech vault generations after the bombs destroyed earth. The game’s introductory section lets you experience peaceful underground life, like episode one of the series, then thrusts you into the unforgiving wasteland of Washington, D.C. in 2277, like episode 2 in Los Angeles circa 2296. Also like Lucy, The Lone Wanderer is on a quest to find their father and will meet ghouls, the Brotherhood of Steel, mutated creatures, and other familiar delights and horrors in the above-world. You’ll also learn more than you want to know about “The Enclave,” a faction shown briefly in the series during Dr. Siggi Wilzig’s escape, and be introduced to Deathclaws and Super-Mutants, both of which, I’m sure, will play prominent roles in Season 2 of the series.

Fallout 4: The second best introductory Fallout game

Fallout 4 is also a great starting point for new players. Released in 2015, during the Xbox One and PS 4 era, Fallout 4 took advantage of the extra power of those new-at-the-time consoles to expand and refine the Fallout universe. Fallout 4’s New England is a bigger, more varied world than the settings of previous Fallout games. It’s a more colorful, detailed game too, that looks uncannily like the series. Fallout 4’s opening chapter takes place in a shiny pre-apocalypse suburb in 2077 reminiscent of Cooper Howard’s flashback adventures in pre-bomb Hollywood. When you end up in 2287, the contrast is a lot like the series flashing forward to 2296. I won’t spoil anything, but Fallout 4‘s starting vault makes a lot more sense when you know what happened in the show’s Vault 31. On the negative side, in contrast to the fast-as-charging-Yao Guai pace of Fallout: The Show, Fallout 4 puts a heavy focus on exploration, discovery, side-quests, and colony building, so the story can feel a little slack at times and it’s easy to get side-tracked. A free Fallout 4 next-gen update for Xbox Series X|S and PlayStation 5 is scheduled to come out on April 25, so it’s a great time to give it spin.

Fallout: New Vegas is my third choice, but still an excellent first Fallout game

Set in the American west in 2281, Fallout: New Vegas is a great choice if you are a fan of the dusty cowboy vibe of The Ghoul, you want to learn more about the New California Republic, the faction lead by mysterious revolutionary Moldaver in the Fallout series, or you want to dig into the likely setting of Season 2 of the Amazon show.

New Vegas is widely regarded as the overall best Fallout game by hardcore fans of the franchise. It’s heavier on role-playing than the other modern Fallout games, so it’s a more open-ended experience and it allows players to create more varied characters and overcome challenges in different ways than either Fallout 3 or 4.

While New Vegas is definitely a great game, I didn’t connect with the characters and the extra-gritty setting as strongly as I did with the other games. Story-wise, it feels the least like the series of the modern games to me. But that’s probably just a taste thing; it’s still a solid introduction to the franchise.

Fallout Shelter: casual Fallout

If you want a super-casual Fallout experience, check out Fallout Shelter. This free game can be played on consoles, but it’s really designed for wasting a few minutes on your iPhone or Android. Shelter casts you as the overseer of a Vault-Tech vault. You’re in charge of expanding your home/prison, attracting new residents, and keeping everyone inside safe, sane, and radiation-free until it’s safe to return to the surface (like that will ever happen).

It may be a silly mobile game, but Fallout: Shelter is the only Fallout title that features the characters from the show. A recent update added Lucy MacLean, Maximus, The Ghoul, and (for some reason) Ma June as “legendary dwellers,” who might show up to live in your vault if you’re lucky enough to open the right lunchboxes. You can’t play as them, but you can see them, and that’s something I guess.

Don’t start with the first two Fallout games

“The beginning” might seem like the most logical place to start a series, but 1997’s Fallout and its sequel Fallout 2 are bad jumping off points for most people, particularly non-gamers. Both are punishingly difficult, hardcore role-playing games with turn-based combat and confusing, antique controls—fun for some, but torturous for most. They’re groundbreaking, fascinating titles to be sure, but even if you manage to suffer through the deadly beginning of each game, they don’t provide the same feel as the series; the run-and-gun gameplay of Fallout 3, Fallout: New Vegas, and Fallout 4 is way closer to the series than the slow-but-deadly vibe of the early games. Also 3, 4, and New Vegas have a “Very Easy” difficulty setting, so your rip-roaring Fallout adventure won’t end in frustration.

Don’t start with the most recent Fallout game, Fallout 76, either

While it won’t be as deadly as the first two games, Fallout 76 is not a great place to jump into Fallout world either. Released in 2018 and set in Appalachia in 2102, Fallout 76 is an online multiplayer game with a steep learning curve, MMO-style grinding and crafting, and a different overall vibe than the TV show and the other games. It tries to provide a Fallout-like experience, but the addition of other players means you’re not really the main character, and MMO-specific mechanics don’t translate well to Fallout. All that plus second-tier writing and voice-acting make Fallout 76 the least Fallout-y modern Fallout game.

Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel and Fallout Tactics: the bastard children of the Fallout universe

I’m a completist, so I’m including these two obscure, non-canonical Fallout games at the bottom of the list. I haven’t played them, but that’s OK; according to Todd Howard, director and executive producer at Bethesda Game Studios and executive producer of the Fallout series, “neither Fallout Tactics nor Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel happened.” Howard is the God of all things Fallout, so if he says they don’t count, they don’t count. Skip ’em.

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