If you’re not a Fallout superfan, a lot about that series’ universe and aesthetics might seem really… odd. Why do people talk like they’re in the 50s, when the bombs dropped in 2077? Why are there robots, but no cell phones? Where did all of these vaults come from, and what in the heck is a supermutant? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.
The world of Fallout is a lot like ours, but with a timeline that diverges following World War II.
In our world, computer technology became a key area of development following the war, taking a massive leap forward in the 1970s. This eventually led to things like personal computers, the internet, and of course, smart phones.
In Fallout though, computers (and microtechnology in particular) never really caught on. Instead, we became infatuated with analog tech, and the sci-fi ideas of the 1940s and 50 (ie the sort of stuff that you would have seen in Walt Disney’s original vision of Tomorrowland). For whatever reason, while technology continued to advance, this aesthetic really stuck around, creating a sort of retro-futurism vibe well into the 21st century.
The Resource Wars
The story of Fallout really gets going over century later. By 2050, fossil fuel supplies around the world were nearly exhausted.
In 2052, the Middle East began to raise its oil prices in response to the shortage, putting a stranglehold on the European Commonwealth, which was nearly entirely dependent on imports from that region. Europe responded with military action, kicking off a series of conflicts called the Resource Wars, which eventually drew in the major superpowers at the time: the United States, Russia, and China.
Notable events during this era include the collapse of the United Nations, the US annexing Canada, and a Chinese invasion of Alaska (which we saw a bit of in some Fallout 3 DLC).
Project Safehouse and the Vaults
The United States government, foreseeing what the escalation of these wars would likely bring about, put a massive fail-safe plan into motion. In 2054, they commissioned a company called the Vault-Tec Corporation to create a number of underground bunkers that could withstand a nuclear blast. These 122 self-sufficient facilities, called vaults, could house up to a thousand people each for hundreds of years if necessary.
They were marketed to the public as sort of an insurance policy against the possibility of nuclear war. However, the government had a much more insidious agenda at work. The Vaults weren’t just designed to save lives, they were also created to conduct elaborate social experiments, meant to help the government repopulate the world after the war.
These experiments ran the gamut from the relatively mundane (such as a vault populated by people with extremely diverse cultures), to the absolutely insane (a vault populated solely by clones of a man named Gary). Aside from 17 “control” vaults, each had its own radically different theme.
The Great War
The Great War was the final, climactic culmination of the Resource Wars; and a bit of misnomer considering it lasted a total of two hours.
On October 23, 2077, a nuclear exchange between the United States, Russia, and China resulted in the obliteration of nearly all life on the planet. No one knows who launched the first missile, but in a matter of hours, the world was irrevocably changed. Rivers and oceans were now radioactive, major cities were leveled, surviving animals mutated, and the entire world found itself under a global desert climate.
There were of course survivors though.
While billions died in the Great War, some managed to survive. These people and their descendants would go on to repopulate regions of the country, forming their own communities among the ruins of the old world.
As for the vault dwellers, some emerged from their safe havens shortly after the bombs dropped. Others would venture out generations later. And still more have not opened their doors to this day.
The US government meanwhile had retreated a top secret base built out of an oil rig shortly before the nuclear exchange. After the war, they became known as the Enclave. While a national governing body no longer “officially” exists, the Enclave continues to labor away at its own mysterious goals, using a high-tech private army as its boots on the ground.
Other factions populating the world of Fallout include the Brotherhood of Steel, a militaristic organization dedicated to acquiring and preserving pre-war technology; and the supermutants, former humans who were exposed to the Forced Evolutionary Virus, turning them into hulking, violent behemoths.
Where does Fallout 4 fit into this?
Fallout 4 takes place about a decade after Fallout 3, and approximately 200 years after the Great War. Both games are set on the east coast of the US, although Fallout 3 centered around a region known as the Capitol Wasteland, while the fourth game is set in the areas surrounding Boston, Massachusetts and New England, collectively known as the Commonwealth.
You play a survivor of the Great War, mysteriously kept alive for centuries in Vault 111. Emerging alone from the vault, you set off on a quest to discover what happened to your family.
Fallout 4 launches later tonight. Good luck out there in the Wasteland!