Post apocalyptic wastelands. The futility of war. Bottlecaps. These are the ingredients of the popular and long running Fallout franchise. Based on the fears of the Cold War era for the future, Fallout is an absurd mix of futuristic technology, old-timey sensibilities, and dark humor. Its unique setting is now iconic among fans of open world RPGs and has sold millions of copies worldwide.
It has had a long journey from fairly niche computer RPG to the global powerhouse it is today. The first game came out 20 years ago, and in that time there have been four main series games as well as several spinoffs and a chunk of DLC, produced by a total of five developers with different opinions on what makes a Fallout game. We've been abducted by aliens, thrown in the Pitt, faced off with a psychic, faced off with the Reds (in virtual reality), and even delivered some mail.
With so much to choose between, and each of the options requiring a not insignificant time commitment, it can be hard to decide which games and DLCs are worth the investment. Or maybe you're a fan and just like lists of things.
Either way, here's a list ranking all the Fallout games from the worst to the best.
21 Fallout: Brotherhood Of Steel
The last game in the Fallout franchise developed by the original developers, Interplay, Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel was an attempt to do something different with the franchise. Unfortunately, different doesn't always mean better. In this case, they tried to make a Fallout game using the engine they had previously used in the Dark Alliance games, giving us a game that was more hack-and-slash dungeon crawl than anything consider Fallout.
The game was widely criticized for being overly linear and repetitive, with many of the game's zones and missions feeling cut and pasted from previous ones. A planned sequel was canceled after poor sales, and in the end Interplay sold the rights to the Fallout IP.
20 Wasteland Workshop/Contraptions Workshop
I'm putting these two Workshop DLCs for Fallout 4 together because they perform roughly the same purpose. Neither adds any story, quests, or new areas to the game. Both simply expand Fallout 4's workshop feature, adding a number of new world objects. Wasteland Workshop brought with it the ability to build arenas to force captured humans and creatures to fight. Contraptions Workshop added displays, elevators, and miscellaneous machinery.
There are those who really enjoyed Fallout 4's Workshop feature and were happy to see it expanded. But at five dollars a piece at launch the price hardly justifies the lack of new, substantial content. They did come with a few low-value achievements, though, for those hunters out there.
19 Dead Money
A contentious bit of DLC for Fallout: New Vegas, Dead Money strips the Courier of all of his possessions, straps an explosive collar around his neck, and demands he explore the pre-war resort and casino of Sierra Madre. Fans complained that Sierra Madre was ugly and the gameplay was repetitive. There was a lack of enemy variety, as the only real enemy you had to fight were the Ghost People. There was also concerns about the difficulty; with all your equipment taken away, healing items were reduced to snacks and the odd stimpack.
The DLC is looked back on a little better as time passed, with fans appreciating the number of situations that required skill checks as opposed to outright combat and enjoying the story. Still, the linearity of the quest (enforced via collar) and the repetition of the same three of four 'dangers' throughout the whole mission rank this as one of the least enjoyable Fallout DLCs.
18 Operation: Anchorage
The first released Fallout 3 DLC, Operation: Anchorage saw the Lone Wanderer entering a virtual reality simulation of a famous event in the Fallout lore: the liberation of Anchorage, Alaska from Communist Chinese forces. Like many of Bethesda's DLCs, they used it to experiment a little, drifting from the conservative Fallout formula to a more action-based style. Things such as weapon decay are no longer an issue, corpses disappear instead of being lootable, and ammo and health are replenished at supply stations.
Unfortunately, for such a critical part of Fallout's lore, the battle to liberate Anchorage just felt… underwhelming. The whole DLC was fairly short and consisted of linear missions with little variety.
The Gauss Rifle was pretty cool, though.
The first piece of DLC for Fallout 4, Automatron consists of a series of quests during which you team up with the robot, Ada, to track down the Mechanist and save the Commonwealth from his hordes of killer robots. Once the quests are beaten you unlock the ability to build and customize robots at your settlements.
Like the two Workshop add-ons already mentioned, the draw here is to give builders something new to play with, and at the very least this one had the decency to include a story (albeit a short and straightforward one). The kicker here was really the price tag. A short quest chain followed by the ability to build robots hardly seems worth the $10 price of admission.
16 Fallout: Tactics
Developed by Micro Forte and released three years after Fallout 2, Fallout Tactics (full name Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel, not to be confused with another game also called Brotherhood of Steel) is a departure from Fallout's roleplaying roots. Its focus was on combat and tactical strategy. Its combat system featured three different turn-based combat modes.
Overall, the game was well received for what it was, a tactical combat game, but for someone looking for a true Fallout experience it hardly fits the bill. The game is all linear missions and there is very little if any roleplaying involved.
Interestingly, this game featured a multiplayer mode, during which each player controlled a squad of characters to face off against the other players.
15 Mothership Zeta
The Lone Wanderer has been put through a lot of stuff, but by far the most odd thing he has had to experience has got to be the time he got abducted by aliens. While investigating the ruins of an alien recon craft in Fallout 3, the player gets beamed aboard the alien mothership, Zeta, where they are kept as a prisoner along with all the other abductees from over the centuries. Of course, the player isn't just going to sit there as a prisoner, so they break free, form a team of time-displaced prisoners, take over the ship, and eventually get into some laser combat with other ships.
This is all very awesome, and the ship itself looked fantastic and sufficiently old-school spacey. Unfortunately, it got knocked pretty hard for release bugs, as well as repetitive corridor combat and largely linear mission design.
Have you ever been curious as to what it would be like to run around a post-apocalyptic Disney Land? That's more or less the premise of the Fallout 4 DLC Nuka-World. In the Fallout world, the Nuka-Cola Corporation (purveyor of fine soft drinks) is so big they have their own theme park, the namesake of this DLC.
Players explore the theme park and find it in the hands of three gangs of raiders. Unlike other dealings with raiders in the game, players actually take command of these raiders and begin to send them to raid settlements throughout the Wasteland (including their own) while restoring power to the theme park. Basically, the opposite of everything you have tried to accomplish thus far.
Exploring the colorful corners of Nuka-World is a lot of fun, as is getting to play as a raider boss. Storytelling lacks a bit, though, and raiding does lose its luster after a while making you wish there was a little bit more meat to the content.
13 Honest Hearts
Zion Canyon is untamed wilderness mostly left unaffected by the War. The Courier makes his way there as part of an expedition and is attacked by tribal raiders. During his stay, he determines the fate of the once serene Zion.
Honest Hearts features one of the most interesting and striking locales of Fallout: New Vegas. It also features a storyline with some pretty heavy decision making that leads to eight different endings. No matter what path you take, though, the story is fairly short, which takes a lot of impact away from the deep themes of redemption and religious morality it was playing with. If it had been a few hours longer and given its characters more of a chance to shine it would have been placed higher on the list. As it stands, it gets this far just based on shown potential alone.
12 Vault-Tec Workshop
The popularity of the mobile app Fallout Shelter showed the folks at Bethesda how much players enjoyed getting to play Overseer and generally messing with the lives of Vault citizens. It should not have come as a surprise, then, when they announced a DLC for Fallout 4 that looked suspiciously like the mobile app.
Like the other Workshop add-ons, a big chunk of Vault-Tec Workshop was dedicated to adding new Settlement items, this time all related to the construction of a Vault. What makes this add-on unique is the questline that has players building and maintaining a vault quite similar to the mobile app. At the end of the questline the player is appointed Overseer, from which point they can continue to enjoy tweaking the lives of their vault's inhabitants.
11 Fallout 4
The newest of the Fallout games, and the lowest ranked of the main series' titles. Much of the community is split in opinion for Fallout 4, some thinking that the simplified mechanics allow for an easier and less stressful jaunt through the wasteland, others begrudging the loss of systems so long considered core to the franchise in the name of streamlining.
Fallout 4 had a number of problems, including obnoxious radiant quests (“Another settlement needs your help!”), heavy emphasis on the Workshop feature, and oversimplified quest objectives. The most egregious mistake was replacing Fallout's classic dialogue trees with a simple radial wheel that pretty much amounted to “accept the quest” or “accept the quest sarcastically.”
It has its redeeming moments, though, such as kicking ass in the game's iconic Power Armor, and a strong storyline to serve as the game's backbone.
10 The Pitt
The primary theme of Fallout is to take the horrors that humanity can cause and spin them using dark humor, leaving players laughing and thinking at the same time. Such is the case with The Pitt, a Fallout 3 DLC taking place in the remains of Pittsburgh, with a story centered around slavery and abuse.
In The Pitt, the Lone Wanderer arrives responding to a distress call from a runaway slave and finds an area divided into two groups: the slaves and the overseers. The player is forced to become a slave and work their way to freedom. Along the way, moral choices are made, with the player being able to side either with the runaway slave or the head overseer.
This DLC features and interesting, if not particularly long, storyline, and decision making that is morally gray even by Fallout standards. In fact, choosing a side grants not karmic reward of penalty as both sides have good and bad points. A major bug that rendered the DLC unplayable on release garnered a poor reputation for an otherwise stellar bit of DLC.
The original. The one that started it all. The one that launched the franchise. Fallout introduced PC gamers to a unique world of post apocalyptic survival, eccentric characters, and bottlecaps. With its great storytelling, detailed dialogue trees, and healthy amount of content, Fallout remains a classic that is still great today.
For fans who were only introduced to the series with the more recent 3D games, though, they may find Fallout a daunting prospect. The gameplay was challenging and unforgiving, and many a Vault Dweller set out only to find themselves in a random encounter with raiders and getting completely wiped out. For those who dedicate the time to learning the intricacies of the system (and who is not afraid to run when completely outmatched), the story of the Vault Dweller is one worth playing through.
8 Point Lookout
Taking the 'dark' part of Fallout's 'dark humor' to a new extreme, Point Lookout is a Fallout 3 DLC that's one part Fallout, one part survival horror game. The Lone Wanderer travels to the namesake Point Lookout where he must travel through dark swamplands while fighting off inbred hillbillies with axes and other horror genre staples. He accepts quests from ghouls and a floating brain in a jar, and one questline even involves discovering the mystery of a Lovecraftian tome.
The swamplands of Point Lookout are quite large and with quite a bit to do, making this more of a proper expansion than a simple DLC. Unlike other DLCs, there is no single objective the player is tasked with. Instead, the game rewards exploration as the player discovers the various questlines, locales, and dangerous enemies.
7 Far Harbor
The only piece of DLC I'll put above the game it is from, Far Harbor is a glimpse into the potential of what Fallout 4 could have been. Listening to the feedback from fans over the main game, Bethesda released an expansion that expanded upon its beleaguered dialogue system to something more befitting the Fallout series. They added more roleplay potential, decision making opportunities, and puzzles to solve (although the latter was not received as well).
Taking place on The Island, the player is sent by a detective agency to investigate a disappearance. The Island is a fairly large area with plenty to explore and mysteries to uncover, particularly surrounding the namesake town of Far Harbor. With a good story and solid cast of characters, Far Harbor leaves us wishing more of the main game had been designed similarly.
6 Broken Steel
The original ending to Fallout 3 left something to be desired. After all, it ended with (spoilers) the Lone Wanderer sacrificing himself. And any ending in which the character you just spent upwards of 100 hours with dies is not going to leave many players happy. Broken Steel corrects this by altering the ending so your character survives, and introduces a new conclusion plot in which the player finally gets to take out the Enclave once and for all.
In addition to a deep B-plot concerning the problems that arise when a small supply of clean water starts to flow through the Wasteland, the main story is all action as the player assaults the Main Enclave base and takes out their deadly new weapon, the orbital canon. While none of it has the same impact as the main game, there are fun moments nonetheless and it acts as a satisfying conclusion to the storyline.
“Democracy is non-negotiable.”
5 Lonesome Road
The last piece of DLC released for Fallout: New Vegas and the definitive conclusion to the Courier's storyline, Lonesome Road picks up where the main story leaves off. It answers all the mysteries surrounding the Courier's attempted assassination, the man Ulysses, and the Platinum Chip. All you have to do to get your answers is one last job. A job which will take you into the depths of the Divide.
There was a lot of buildup for this storyline and expectations were sky-high. Fortunately, Bethesda delivered. Not only where the answers to these mysteries satisfying, but it also offered some of the most memorable gameplay moments in the series, such as the Courier's Mile. Truly a satisfying and fitting ending to a great game.
4 Old World Blues
Featuring some of the funniest writing in the series, Fallout: New Vegas DLC Old World Blues is all about the dialogue. When the Courier is abducted by pre-war scientists who have given themselves robot bodies and learns that his brain has been removed and lost, the player knows what kind of ride he is in for. The dialogue trees are all quite expansive and feature Fallout humor at its finest.
The labs and facilities are all open and explorable as the courier does quests for the Think Tank while looking for his misplaced brain. Players are rewarded for exploring with great new weapons, some interesting encounters, and bits of backstory for other parts of New Vegas. Definitely a great choice if you are in need of a laugh.
3 Fallout 2
I was really torn as to whether the classic Fallout 2 or the more recent 3D attempt Fallout 3 deserved a higher spot on this list. While I settled on giving Fallout 3 the higher spot (for reasons I will go into in the next entry) imagine if you will an incredibly small gap between them. Like, microscopic.
Black Isle Studios' Fallout 2 takes everything great about Fallout and cranks it up. It features a larger world, more open exploration, more advanced dialogue trees, more complex character advancement, better companions, and more. Oh, and a car, so you can ride around the wasteland is style.
New Reno remains one of the most interesting and morally gray areas in the series, featuring drugs and prostitution alongside average folks and merchants just trying to get by. The Chosen One can join one of several organized crime outfits, perform both heroic and heinous acts in pursuit of his goals, and even participate in pornography. A versatile and complete experience.
2 Fallout 3
This is the game that brought the Fallout series to the more mainstream audiences. A decade had passed since Fallout 2 and the series was all but forgotten. Bethesda took the IP and brought it to modern audiences, making the switch to 3D, abandoning the turn based system for a more shooter-inspired one, and opting for an open world formula similar to the one used in their Elder Scrolls games.
Fallout 3 was a massive success, with players all over exploring the Capital Wasteland and blasting Supermutants while listening to the smooth tones of The Ink Spots “I Don't Want To Set The World On Fire.” While fans of the classic games missed some of the more advanced dialogue trees and felt that the decision making in 3 was more simplistic, the game remains true in tone and style to its predecessors, and even features a few easter eggs for fans of the older games.
Its revival of the series and the subsequent growth of the fanbase earns it the number 2 spot on this list.
1 Fallout: New Vegas
Fans who only got into the series with Fallout 3 sometimes consider Obsidian's Fallout: New Vegas an inferior game due to its more linear story and heavy emphasis on NPC Factions. Fans of the greater series see it for what it is: an homage to the classic games while keeping the updated mechanics of Fallout 3.
New Vegas features detailed dialogue trees closer to the older games, morally gray decision making, opportunities to resolve quests and problems via roleplaying, and some truly challenging scenarios (including a 'hardcore' mode, in which the courier requires food and sleep as well as few other changes to make the game more realistic), and the city of New Vegas which shares a lot of similarities to Fallout 2's New Reno.
For players who enjoy some of what made the classics great but still like the modern conveniences and 3D style of the more recent games, New Vegas offers the best of both worlds.