Where to get started with Fallout

A sampling of the four modern games in the series for those jumping in after the Amazon show.

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So I’ve decided, after watching Ella Purnell traipse humorously about the wasteland, that I want in on this Fallout thing, too. So where does an aspiring Wastelander, one who has little experience with the series, start? The answer to that is usually “at the beginning,” but I’m gonna focus on Fallout 3 through Fallout 76 because they’re the most popular games, and critically, I have a Game Pass subscription I haven’t used in a while. I spent an hour with each game (not counting the tutorials) to get a feel for which games had the smoothest onboarding experience and most interesting story and initial area.

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Fallout 3 is the game I was most familiar with. Initially, I thought I was going to be annoyed with the game’s opening sequence about growing up in Vault 101, but surprisingly, I enjoyed it. I liked talking with my fellow Vault dwellers, hitting on my friend Amata, and realizing way too late that Wordle is just a more complex version of the computer-hacking mini-game.

Fallout 3 is the most basic of the four games. With only an hour to make a good first impression, it’s just okay. The other games are better with their stories and activities. The Fallout series is known for giving players numerous options to solve the same problem, and that’s just not as refined in 3 as it is elsewhere. After leaving the Vault, I ran into a woman who had escaped the clutches of the man who ran Megaton, the nearby city. After using my speech skills on her, I convinced her to give me some money in exchange for telling her former boss she’s gone for good. Once I made it to Megaton, the man had information I wanted for a price, and I had no way to trade my info for his.

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a:hover]:shadow-highlight-franklin dark:[&>a:hover]:shadow-highlight-franklin [&>a]:shadow-underline-black dark:[&>a]:shadow-underline-white”>Fallout: New Vegas

New Vegas felt like the team at Obsidian heard players’ objections to the overlong tutorial in Fallout 3 and decided to nix it in favor of dropping players right into the action. My one hour got me through the Goodspings questline, fending off a gang of bandits to increase my standing with the townsfolk and another faction waiting for me in the eponymous New Vegas settlement. For some reason, though, New Vegas felt sparser than the other games — like there was less to explore and happen upon as I left Goodsprings to venture into the wider world. In Fallout 3, I ran into a bunch of raiders holed up in an abandoned school on my way to Megaton. My trip to Primm, however, was uneventful. In the Fallout TV show, The Ghoul (played deliciously by Walton Goggins) has a phrase that’s become a meme on social media: “Thou shalt get sidetracked by bullshit every time.” New Vegas didn’t seem to have enough bullshit in its opening.

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After sampling all four games, Fallout 4 feels like the weakest gaming experience (ironic since it’s the one with the biggest spike in new players and a new next-gen update) with the strongest story hook. You play one of the adults in an idyllic nuclear (if you’ll pardon the pun) family. After the bombs drop, you make it to your local Vault in the nick of time only to be shunted into a cryogenic tube with no knowledge of when you’ll be awoken. Sometime before you come out of cryogenic stasis, you see someone murder your spouse and snatch your newborn child, setting up the story. Too bad that compelling-as-hell premise gets bogged down with a new innovation for the Fallout series: base-building. 

Though I don’t prefer it, I didn’t mind Fallout’s crafting system. Making bullets, armor, food, or weapons on the fly is fine — though I think the spirit of Fallout is better served by scavenging the items you need to survive — but base-building is a bit too much. I’m in the wasteland to loot shit and find my son, not spend way too much time in menus, sorting through schematics, and tinkering with literal building blocks. Thankfully, if crafting isn’t for you, I don’t think it’s a system you have to engage with and can largely just ignore. 

I will say, though, Fallout 4 is the only game that gives you access to power armor within the first 60 minutes, then throws a deathclaw — one of the series’ most infamous deadly monsters — at you. So, kudos to that.

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a:hover]:shadow-highlight-franklin dark:[&>a:hover]:shadow-highlight-franklin [&>a]:shadow-underline-black dark:[&>a]:shadow-underline-white”>Fallout 76

Fallout 76 is the MMO of the family, and I did not think I was going to like it, but it wound up being the game I had the most fun with. Once you get out of the Vault, Fallout 76 gives you the option to boost up to level 20 and get a bunch of level-appropriate gear or stay at level two. I chose the boost, and it was the best decision I could have made. The weapons and perks made the first hour of fighting off The Scorched — a powered-up version of the series’ feral ghoul enemies — simple and enjoyable. Though I enjoy crafting my character with perks and attributes, there’s something to be said about being handed a decent premade loadout and set loose upon the world. 

There are some elements of 76 that are a bit unwieldy. You have to create a Bethesda account to play. Assigning weapons to the D-pad isn’t as simple as it is in the other games — which sounds trivial, but when ammo is scarce, being able to switch weapons on the fly is crucial. The world map can be a bit overwhelming, and crafting is back, and ho-boy, is there more of it. Despite disliking crafting and being somewhat overwhelmed by all the social and MMO systems, Fallout 76 had the greatest fun quotient of all four games I sampled.

During my first major quest, I was on my way to a radio tower, Pip-Boy playing tunes, totally vibing with the Appalachian scenery. Suddenly, I’m ambushed by a bunch of mutants, and I found myself mowing down enemies to the serene sounds of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” by the Beach Boys. The disconnect between the happy music and the violence was so funny I laughed till I cried, and it cemented Fallout 76 as the game I want to return to the most.

For newcomers, each of these four games has its strengths and weaknesses. Fallout 3 is the simplest place to start if you’re inexperienced with open-world games or first-person shooters. New Vegas is for those who want their wasteland to be a bit more challenging and interesting. Play Fallout 4 if you want to get some Animal Crossing in your post-apocalyptic adventure. And if you want to have the most overall fun, my vote is to play 76. More than anything, I’m surprised by how much fun I had with all four. Bethesda games have never been my thing, first-person shooter types even less so. But the series offers a unique take on the post-apocalypse that similar games fail to replicate. That world, combined with gameplay that allows just enough freedom to be interesting but not so much to be completely overwhelming, makes for a charming suite of games that can hook you in an hour or less.

This post was originally published on The Verge

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