To the uninitiated, the Fallout franchise appears to have the quintessential post-apocalyptic storyline: decades after a global nuclear war bathed the world in fiery radiation, a human surfaces from a sophisticated bomb shelter to make their way across what was once the United States. There are scarier monsters than super mutants in the Wasteland, however, and things more frightening than the prospect of being alone. The series has a well-stocked arsenal of creepy dungeons you can crawl into, and I’ve picked out the 15 most-unsettling Fallout locations that will keep you up at night. Strap on your jumpsuit, Vault Dweller, because it’s about to get weird.
No, really, it’s going to get weird. Like so many other video games, Fallout takes a lot of cues from weird fiction: a sci-fi subgenre that deals with eldritch abominations, cosmic horror, and things you can’t unsee. H.P. Lovecraft is the weird’s most famous purveyor, and references to his body of work can be found everywhere you look in the Wastes. Fallout doesn’t rely exclusively on Lovecraft for its creepy, crapsaccharine ideas, however. Ancient rituals and spellbooks abound, so be careful whom you tick off.
Before we get too deep into this, you should know that all of the unsettling Fallout locations on the list below come from the three most recent installments: Fallout 3, Fallout: New Vegas, and Fallout 4. Yes, we could be talking about the Hubologists, Vault 13, and the Master, but the Bethesda installments’ 3D open worlds make the Fallout series all the more horrifying.
Check out my picks for the 15 most-unsettling Fallout locations that will keep you up at night, and share the corner of the Wasteland that haunts you in the comments below.
15 Dunwich Borers
Found in the Commonwealth, this mining operation appears normal on the surface, but something sinister lurks underneath the dig site. This pre-War quarry functioned as a front for the Management to excavate a metal titan. Something underneath the mine drove both its workers and the future Raider occupants insane, and many of the Management’s former employees now exist only as feral ghouls deep in the dark.
The Management did something much more frightening than place its workers in jeopardy, however. Flashbacks in the Dunwich Borers reveal that company promises of all-ages fun lured many employees and their families to their sacrificial deaths. The Dunwich Borers shares a namesake with the Dunwich Building of Fallout 3, and both locations relate directly to a Lovecraft story, “The Dunwich Horror,” in which a young man of questionable birth is initiated into a world of black magic and ancient rituals by his faithful grandfather.
14 Sierra Madre
In many ways, the Fallout franchise centers on the stories of people and places that simply should not be alive, given their dire circumstances. Nowhere is that focus more clear than in the Fallout: New Vegas DLC Dead Money, which features a possibly sentient hotel that tempts Wasteland wanderers to step into its poisonous shroud.
The Sierra Madre Hotel and Casino was once a forward-thinking part of the New Vegas landscape. Owner-designer Frederick Sinclair intended for his resort to be a sanctuary against the horrors of his brave new world. Unfortunately, Sinclair’s desire to create a technologically advanced utopia led to the downfall of his people when an experimental substance known as the Cloud took over the miniature city, forcing the inhabitants to adapt or die.
13 Pickman Gallery
Boston’s art community hasn’t disappeared in the wake of nuclear devastation, but a whole lot of people have…
In Boston’s North End, a suit-and-tie guy spends his days creating horrific works of art, which he displays in the gallery that bears his name. Pickman’s kind of like the Patrick Bateman of the Fallout universe: he presents himself as a mild-mannered gentleman, but he’s truly quite disturbed. He has filled the Pickman Gallery with sculptures crafted from mutilated human bodies and canvases doused in his victims’ blood. An artist has to keep up his hobby, and Pickman knows just how to taunt the local Raiders into his studio to unwillingly stock his art supplies coffers.
There’s another Lovecraft reference here. The 1927 short story “Pickman’s Model” centers on a Bostonian painter whose disturbing artwork has gotten him kicked out of the local art circle.
12 Vault 75
Fallout fans know that every Vault is an experiment, but Vault 75's child-focused eugenics program might be the worst of them all. Players can’t hurt children, but game designers can, and Bethesda made Vault 75 into their child-torturing playground. Marketed as a Vault-Tec Vault designed to keep Boston’s children safe and secure in the event of atomic war, this was one of few U.S. Vaults to reach capacity before the doors were sealed.
Once inside Vault 75, the adult family members of Malden Middle School students were separated from their young charges and executed — all part of the plan. Vault 75’s watchful scientists raised the children to achieve their peak physical and intellectual fitness. Some of the children joined the science team upon reaching the age of 18, but most were executed, either because the Vault’s experiment required their genetic material, or because their researcher-guardians no longer needed them.
11 Tranquility Lane
Unlike most of Fallout's creepy locales, the crapsaccharine world of Tranquility Lane was part of the main story in Fallout 3. That’s right: the game forces you to go to this hellhole as part of the Lone Wanderer’s quest to rescue their father. The Pint-Sized Killer bit is optional, but that awful Jack-in-the-box get up is the mildest thing about this place. And somehow, the Leave It to Beaver-esque black and white makes everything seem worse.
Created by Overseer Dr. Stanislaus Braun, the Tranquility Lane simulation was marketed as an escape from the horrors of post-War living. Braun’s invention allows him to trap people’s minds inside the Matrix of his making, however, and the doctor — who lives on Tranquility Lane as a raccoon-eyed little girl named Betty — takes every available opportunity to play God with his captive audience.
10 The Ultra-Luxe
Another crapsaccharine location, the Ultra-Luxe is peak Lovecraft Country, even if it is located in New Vegas. Owned and operated by the White Glove Society, this hotel and casino prides itself on its genteel membership and good taste. The Ultra-Luxe is known throughout New Vegas for its delicious steaks, but that’s just the tip of the foodie iceberg here. There are other yummy meat morsels coming out of the hotel’s Gourmand restaurant, but those are only available to White Glove Society members.
Although the White Glove Society once had a much more sinister purpose, everyone assures the Courier that the Ultra-Luxe is just an ordinary, if highly selective, hotel and casino. But one of the Society’s two leaders, Mortimer, believes that the well-dressed faction needs to return to their cannibalistic roots, and he wants the player’s cooperation to do so.
9 Museum Of Witchcraft
Moreso than the other entries on this list, the Commonwealth's Museum of Witchcraft relies on atmospheric horror more than action-oriented chills and thrills to unsettle the player. Namely, there are mannequins, lots and lots of mannequins, bathed in bluish light throughout the surviving exhibits. But the Museum of Witchcraft isn't just a bunch of mannequin-laden creepiness; it has real, live, Deathclaw dangers as well.
After the Great War, some Gunners took over the Museum of Witchcraft. Although you’d expect, with the series’ focus on Lovecraftian horror, that they would wind up punished for hubris in the face of elder gods, the real reason for their abandonment of this place is much more down-to-Earth. The Museum of Witchcraft is a breeding ground for Deathclaws, and the Gunners who once took shelter inside its walls made for easy prey. Unlike the former human residents, however, the Museum of Witchcraft’s Deathclaw denizens are still very much alive…
The death and destruction of Nipton is something you just can't unsee, chiefly because the havoc unleashed upon it was downright biblical. Caesar’s Legion came through this little town in the Mojave Wasteland, found it wanting, and decided to teach it a lesson Nipton was a capitalist’s dream in the post-War Wastes, a town that catered to warring factions at different times of day. When the Legion asked Nipton’s mayor to hand over those visitors, the price was right, and a trap was set.
But Caesar’s Legion didn’t intend to let Nipton get away with double-crossing anyone, even the Legion’s enemies. A lottery selected four winners — one to be spared, one to be hobbled, and two to become slaves — before the Legion decapitated and crucified the rest of the townsfolk. As for the double-dealing mayor, he was burned alive. Nipton’s survivors have yet to dispose of the bodies.
7 Vault 22
Vault-Tec populated Vault 22 with environmental scientists whose mission was to find ways of sustaining life in underground containment using only plants. Unfortunately, a bug-killing fungus intended to help the Vault dwellers infected them, turning them into spore-bearing vectors for the mutagenic poison.
Of course, this may have been Vault-Tec’s plan all along. A sign outside Vault 22 advertises its location and invites wanderers to join the survivors below, which, combined with the unlocked Vault doors, suggests that perhaps the manufacturer intended for the fungus to create as many spore carriers as possible and spread the fungus across the Mojave Wasteland.
No matter whether you chalk up the spores spreading to an industrial accident, or a well-thought-out plot, be sure to visit Vault 22, where the plants kill — and one is crawling up behind you.
6 Dunwich Building
Yet another Lovecraftian location, the Dunwich Building is chock-full of feral ghouls, creepy books, and mysterious rituals. Found in the Capital Wastes to the west of Tenpenny Tower, this murder house belonged to the Dunwich Borers mining company, but has been overrun by ghouls once the Lone Wanderer reaches it. Most of the ghouls are feral, but one stands out from the rest.
Jaime Dexter Palabras has retained much more faculty than the other ghouls who share his home, but make no mistake: he has lost his mind completely. Brought to the Dunwich Building in pursuit of an evil book that was once in possession of his father, Jaime now lives his life in thrall to an obelisk found in the basement of the house. Don’t get too close.
Andale was once home to four families who survived the Great War, but now one of the founders is gone. The Wilson and Smith family heirs, a girl and boy of roughly the same age, plan to marry each other, but Old Man Harris doesn’t want that to happen.
As it turns out, Andale’s four families never married or procreated with outsiders, leading to a steady decline in the town’s gene pool. The Lone Wanderer arrives to find that the four younger adults in town — Jack and Linda Smith, and Willy and Martha Wilson — are, in fact, full siblings, the children of Old Man Harris Smith and the late Gladys Smith. In order to keep their secret, the people of Andale resorted to cannibalizing outsiders. Now, deeply regretful for participating in these atrocities, Harris wants to free his grandchildren from their baseless devotion to Andale’s founders.
Another of the Fallout series’ myriad crapsaccharine worlds, this great little place to live harbors a dark secret: the town has declared itself judge, jury, and executioner when it comes to the eradication of synths. Visitors must take a modified version of the G.O.A.T. examination in order to prove their humanity, and all who are determined to be synths are destroyed.
Covenant isn’t frightening in the conventional sense. There are plenty of synth-hostile locations around the blight that was once New England, and the synth companions of Fallout 4 are quick to tell you when something just doesn’t feel right. Still, even without paintings made in blood and guts, this eerily cheery town will make your skin crawl when you realize at what expense its residents have achieved their false sense of security.
3 Milton Parking Garage
In this unmarked location near the Milton General Hospital, someone has constructed an elaborate wooden maze, filled with deadly surprises, to trap unsuspected Wastelanders and steal their loot…or something. It’s not entirely clear why the maze-builder did what they did, other than to have some “fun” with the neighbors.
A ramshackle funhouse maze in the middle of Boston would be creepy enough, but the Milton Parking Garage has some added excitement. In between the switch puzzles and 50-plus traps, the maze houses a few feral ghouls, including glowing ones. Although the mindless irradiated — Fallout’s version of zombies — pose much less of a threat than the dozens of booby traps the maze designer scattered about the place, meeting them in an unsettling series of tunnels ramps up the scare factor all the more.
2 Parsons State Insane Asylum
No, we aren’t done with Lovecraft just yet. Built by the Cabot family to house the mentally ill locals, the Parsons State Insane Asylum features a number of subterranean cells, including one designed for the Cabot patriarch.
After Lorenzo Cabot found a crown-like artifact that granted him telekinetic powers and unnaturally long life at the expense of his sanity, his children thought it best to lock him away where he could not do any harm. That might have been the end of things, except for the fact that the other Cabots stole Lorenzo’s blood for selfish research, developing a serum to bestow his longevity on themselves.
Given the number of weird locations in Fallout, it’s difficult to read the Parsons State Insane Asylum as anything but a reference to Lovecraft’s Arkham Sanitarium, which appears in a number of the author’s stories, including “The Dunwich Horror.”
1 Vault 108
It really only seems fitting to have a Vault top the list of unsettling Fallout locations. Designed to descend into bloodsport, Vault 108 is more than just a gore-fest.
Vault-Tec installed as Overseer a man who would soon die of cancer, and left all other positions of power vacant for him to fill. The power systems had known malfunctions, ensuring that they would fail before the Vault door unsealed. And, naturally, Vault 108 was given a disproportionately large arsenal of weapons. Again, bloodsport.
But something far more interesting than that happened in Vault 108. The science crew took to cloning a Vault dweller named Gary dozens of times. With each new incarnation, Gary became more hostile, and the clones eventually staged a violent revolt against the non-Garys in Vault 108.
The Garys are still down there, though, communicating in the only way they can: Gary. Gary. Gary. Gary.