Why Bethesda Set Fallout 4’s Opening Before the Nuclear War

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.

fallout 4 nuke

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).

Fallout 4 Vault 111

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.”

fallout 4 pre-war

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.”


  1. The alternate timeline in the fallout universe begins after the end of WWII, So everything from 1945 onward didn’t exactly happen as it did in real history. for example the transistor is never invented until shortly before the war in 2077, and China is America’s “cold war rival” while the Soviet Union remains on relatively good terms with America.

  2. Wellll….its a silly distinction, but….The alternate reality river starts flowing in the 40s/50s era, yeah. That’s when the Fallout world starts deviating from this one.

    However, Fallout 4’s canoe drops into the already flowing stream and the latest story begins as the first bombs are dropping .(approximately 2077) Of course, the hero/heroine staggers out of the shelter another two centuries after that.

    The silly variance is between “alternate history (general)” and “Fallout’s alternate history (like…um…an era…sorta thing, within the broader scope of thing)

    Sigh. now me little head hurts again…Oh, Cogsworth…two asprin and the brandy decanter please…

  3. Am I the only one who noticed the laser musket uses different amounts of ammo, that the minigun was removed from a wrecked verriberd, which explains the power armor suit being there, as well as the fact that the minigun atarted glowing red after being used? I noticed all this in the gameplay exploration video.

  4. “Fallout 4‘s alternate history begins a few decades in the future in 2052,”

    Nope. The alternate history starts somehwere between 1945 and 1969

    1. Aside from the divergence, the ball really gets rolling in 2052. That’s when thingsbetween the US and China really heated up and made it inevitable that the war was going to happen. Everything before that was more or less the same in the timeline, except for radically different scientific focuses between our world and the world of Fallout.

    2. But the plot begins in 2052. In the Fallout universe, the time period remains 1950’s-esque until the apocalypse in 2077.

  5. I don’t know much about the radio stations, but I am certain this installment will have a much wider variety of not only music but with decisions and gameplay ever did than Fallout 3. I have been waiting (just like everybody else) for years for this game to come out. And with only a few months away, I cannot contain my excitement. I already pre-ordered the game on my PS4. Fallout 3 was, and still is the best game I have ever experienced. I am still playing it to this day. I cannot wait. I have a goal to get as many assignments done this semester in college until the release of Fallout 4. Because just like Fallout 3 (and Skyrim), I know I will be investing hundreds of hours into this game, which I am certain will be a masterpiece.

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