The Best ‘Fallout’ Game to Play After Watching the Show

The Best ‘Fallout’ Game to Play After Watching the Show

Photo: Bethesda Game Studios

Amazon Prime Video’s new postapocalyptic show, Fallout, has a history dating back over 20 years as a video-game series. This probably sounds daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. If you just binge-watched all eight episodes or are simply curious to learn more about the genre-defining role-playing series, the good news is that you are spoiled for choice. Whether you’re a hard-core fan who’s already played the latest games or someone who doesn’t consider themselves a gamer at all, there’s a Fallout game for you.

In its current iteration, Fallout is an open-world RPG developed by Bethesda, the makers of Skyrim and Starfield. Bethesda essentially took a dormant franchise and revived it in 2008 with Fallout 3, the first game in the series with a first-person view and combat that occurs in real time. Though a departure from its initial conception, Fallout 3 and its vision of an irradiated Washington, D.C., was an immediate hit. Fallout 4, the follow-up that incorporated more of Bethesda’s DNA into the mix, is now the best-selling game of them all. No surprises there: The new games came up while the postapocalypse was in vogue for games. Pairing that with a more advanced version of Skyrim’s “radiant quests,” which provide the player with endless randomly generated content, was practically destined to print money.

Through it all, Fallout has retained some defining aspects. At its heart, Fallout is a series about being American and everything that entails, picket fences and a corporate-owned government included. Spoilers: The series is critical of these institutions, hence why the games pose a world where the government prioritizes saving itself and peasants are relegated to cruel experiments they’re not even aware of. Heavy subjects for sure, but Fallout has always lightened the mood by throwing fantastical elements into the mix, like billionaires who live inside computers and roving bands of murderous grandmas.

With all of that in mind, here’s what we recommend you play next.

Fallout 4 is not the best Fallout game — wait, hold on, hear me out. Fallout 4 is, however, the most modern game in the series, which by proxy makes it the most accessible game of them all. No matter what system you have, you can probably play Fallout 4 on it. No matter what system you have, whether that’s a console or PC, you can probably play Fallout 4 on it. Even VR sickos can get in on the action here.

Right now is a great time to jump in, too, as developer Bethesda recently announced more updates to the decade-old game that will make it run better on newer consoles, and they even added entirely new content. Best of all, you can get a “game of the year” edition of Fallout 4, which includes multiple DLC for heinously cheap given the hundreds of hours of entertainment they provide.

Fallout 4 follows a similar story to that of the show, but reversed: You’re a vault dweller who goes out into the wasteland in search of your son. While you won’t get to enjoy Ella Purnell’s performance here, your kid is kind of incidental to the experience. What you’ll likely spend time doing is surveying ruins of the commonwealth and meeting all manner of weirdos and people who are just trying to get by. You get to build a character from scratch and decide what kind of things you want to specialize in. Maybe you want to be a hacker who can break into anything, or perhaps you’re more of a scientist who sweet-talks your way out of problems.

Fallout 4 is a good entry point both because it’s easy to get and play compared to the other games and because Bethesda streamlined the larger experience. You don’t have to spend a ton of time poring over dialogue options, and unlike older Fallout games, shooting things is designed to feel fun. If shooting isn’t your thing, Fallout 4 also features a base-building mechanic that lets you create the postapocalyptic city of your dreams, complete with townspeople to greet you. Did I mention that Fallout 4 lets you run around with a dog who can help you out in battle and will sometimes fetch you goodies unprompted?

If you’ve played and enjoyed modern Fallout games, then you’re ready to take the plunge into old-school Fallout. Unlike newer Fallout games, the classic entries are tactics-based computer role-playing games with a third-person view. You’re going to spend a lot of time talking to people and digesting lore, which is why you want to make sure you’re already invested in the larger world. Playing Fallout 2 means tolerating tedium — including getting it to run on newer computers at all.

In Fallout 2, you play as a descendant of a vault dweller living in an encampment that’s running out of water. Unlike newer games, where the main story can outright be ignored while you take on side-quests, Fallout 2 actually tracks your progress. If you don’t get the water chip needed to save the village, the inhabitants die. Fallout 2 is also a harder game than modern entries, at times for frankly unfair reasons: You are at the mercy of hit percentages and scarce resources. The cherry on top of all of this is that Fallout 2 looks and feels dated.

At the same time, though, Fallout 2 is a richer experience than games like Fallout 4. You learn key lore, like the truth of how the world ended. The characters you meet are more complex and less likely to make you fast-forward through their dialogue. The tone in Fallout 2 isn’t quite as wacky as the newer games. While it’s possible to shoot your way out of any problem in games like Fallout 4, character builds and previous choices matter a lot more in Fallout 2 — which means it’s more satisfying to solve problems. Overall, Fallout 2 gives players the sense that the developers trust their audience’s intelligence. Some quests and loot won’t be marked: You have to actually remember what people say.

Gaming consoles are expensive and RPGs like Fallout are time consuming, so mainline entries may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Fortunately, there’s a mobile version of Fallout that’s completely free to play. In it, you manage a vault that can be built from the ground up however you’d like. Residents all have roles that can contribute to the overall community, and you can train them to take on adventures outside the vault. Every so often, the vault will be hit with an unexpected surprise — and it’s up to you to keep your citizens happy.

Fallout Shelter is a significantly more casual experience than other Fallout games; there’s barely any story or dialogue. This one is a good choice for people who want to spend more time in the world of Fallout without a huge time commitment and without really having to worry about any lore.

Fallout 76 is a multiplayer RPG where most of the world is populated by other players. You can certainly spend time exploring and clearing out dungeons, but all of this is set dressing for the real star of the show: you. Fallout 76 is only as good as you make it. Here, Bethesda provides players with all the tools to build a society. Base building makes a return appearance, but it’s been beefed up to give players a dizzying number of aesthetic options.

The result is a game where players take the series to places it’s never been before. Even old ideas take on a new life here. It’s one thing to meet an AI version of the Brotherhood of Steel in the main games, where they are limited by existing programming, it’s another to encounter a militant group of players who are intent on policing other players. I’ve seen everything from groups of cannibals who will eat you if you die to sadistic players who spend all their time building traps and mazes to torture others. You can even come up with your own messed-up vault experiment — and see how actual people would act under those circumstances. Best of all, Fallout 76, released in 2018, still gets the occasional content update.

Fallout games developed by Bethesda have by and large made concessions to create more of an action-oriented experience with some RPG elements to spice things up. Often, you’re presented with something that looks like a choice but that ultimately funnels all players into the same outcome. And usually, you’re expected to spend less time thinking and more time shooting.

But Fallout originally gained a following by providing deep experiences where choices and character builds matter. Out of all the modern games, Fallout New Vegas — which was developed by Obsidian and developers who worked on the original games — sticks most closely to the original vision. In it, you play a courier who is shot and left for dead. Naturally, you have to recover the package and figure out who tried murdering you in the first place. All of this takes place in the Mojave wasteland that houses a gambling strip that’s being contested by multiple factions. By far, this is the most interesting setting Fallout’s ever adopted.

You’re given leeway to create highly specific characters with idiosyncratic abilities that open up exciting pathways that most players may not see, because they didn’t spec their character like you did. By taking the “role-playing” aspect of the franchise seriously, New Vegas makes players feel seen in a way that other Fallout games don’t. You can even join a faction and set off on a series of unique quests that wouldn’t be available to you otherwise — because now, the other factions are your mortal enemy. There’s a reason that, despite its age, Fallout veterans consider New Vegas the best game in the series.

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