Unlike every other Fallout game before it, Fallout 4 will actually feature a protagonist who lived during pre-war America.
All three of the previous entries in the series have centered on characters who grew up in Vaults, or in the case of Fallout 2, in the Wasteland itself. So why the sudden shift?
Well before we get into that, let’s discuss what exactly that pre-war setting means.
What is the alternate timeline of the Fallout universe?
Fallout 4‘s alternate history begins a few decades in the future in 2052, as the world’s resources begin to dwindle. A series of conflicts ensue (commonly referred to as the Resource Wars), including a war between the European Commonwealth and the Middle East, the annexation of Canada by the United States, and a Chinese invasion of Alaska.
Two and a half decades after the conflict began, these culminated in the Great War, something of a misnomer as it only lasted two hours. No one knows who struck first, but on this day, all of the nuclear-capable nations around the world (although predominately the US, China, and Russia) fired their nuclear arsenals at each other, obliterating nearly all of humanity in an instant. In the aftermath, a new world was created, one with radioactive rivers and oceans, and a global desert climate.
Luckily, humanity managed to survive, thanks in part to a company called the Vault-Tec Corporation. During the resource wars, Vault-Tec began construction on 122 underground safehouses around the United States, marketed as long-term shelters in case of nuclear war (although it later turns out they were actually for experiments put on by the US government).
Each Vault was designed to hold up to one thousand occupants for an extended period of time, and centuries later, many Vault populations continue to thrive. These people, along with the descendants of those who managed to survive the war outside of the Vaults, make up the communities that dot the landscape 200 years after the end of the war (when Fallout 4 is set).
So obviously we’ve seen quite a bit of the latter end of the timeline in the trailers so far, but we’ve also gotten some tantalizing glimpses at life before the bombs dropped. These won’t just be flashbacks either, it’s an extended sequence at the beginning of the game that serves as both a gameplay tutorial, as well as an introduction to the game’s main story.
So why give Fallout 4’s protagonist a pre-war background?
Having a protagonist who didn’t grow up in a Vault or in the post-war wasteland is a huge break with tradition from the previous games, so it wasn’t a decision that Bethesda devs took lightly.
Putting this character in the middle of these two disparate worlds was an intentional design choice, one that will have big ramifications in the game’s story.
“For the other people in the world, [the post-apocalypse] is all they know – it’s normal to them,” game director Todd Howard said to The Guardian. “But the player character is coming in with a sense of the world beforehand. That kind of emotion plays heavily in our story. Any time we can connect the character on screen with the player – any time you both feel the same way – that’s great.”
From what we’ve seen in the trailers so far, many fans believe you will awaken in an empty Vault, 200 years after you first entered. It will be up to you to figure out what happened, and where the rest of the Vault dwellers went (your own family in particular).
It also ties into the game’s elaborate crafting system, which will allow you to build and maintain your town; a little personal slice of the Wasteland.
“It goes back to that sense of loss,” Howard added. “My home got blown up so I’m going to rebuild it; I’m going to make it new again. That goes to the whole theme of the game. And it’s fun.”
“You can’t change the entire world in Fallout 4, but there are a lot of spaces that you can make your own, if you want to,” Bethesda’s Pete Hines added. “That’s super important.”