Envisioning an alternate-universe, retro futuristic apocalypse teeming with mutated monsters, soldiers in hulking power armor and sinister human experiments disguised as bomb shelters, the Fallout franchise has spent over two decades establishing one of the richest settings in video games. Fans will next dive into that world later this year when Prime Video releases the first-ever live-action Fallout TV show, which will present an original, canon story set in the series’ desolate wasteland.
With the show’s April release date steadily approaching, there’s never been a better time to strap a Pip-Boy to your wrist and reacquaint yourself with the world of Fallout, but where’s the best place to start? Below, we’ll run through the franchise’s entire chronological history, as well as some advice on where to start for those embarking on their first-ever Fallout adventure.
Every IGN Fallout Review
How Many Fallout Games and Expansions Are There?
In total, there are nine main Fallout games – eight on home console and one on mobile devices. There are also thirteen major expansions spread across Fallout 3, Fallout: New Vegas and Fallout 4. The Fallout franchise is a core Bethesda game that will likely continue to receive support.
Which Fallout Game Should You Play First?
For newcomers, the best starting point is arguably Fallout 4, although Fallout 3 and New Vegas are still great ways to enter the franchise. Fallout 4 is the most recent single-player addition to the series, and as a result, is the most modern-feeling take on the universe. More importantly, it’s the only mainline single-player Fallout game still easily accessible on all modern consoles bar Nintendo Switch.
As for those worried they might be behind on the story, each Fallout game tells a fresh narrative with a new lead character and setting, and Fallout 4 is no different. Although you may miss a few references to the events of previous games, it’s pretty easy to jump in without any prior knowledge of the lore.
How to Play the Fallout Games in Order
These blurbs contain mild spoilers for each game, including characters, settings, and story beats.
One thing to note before we get started: We will not be counting two games on our chronological timeline. The first is the mobile vault management simulator, Fallout Shelter. Although the game does follow the lore of Fallout’s vaults, it also features characters and items hundreds of years before they appear in the Fallout storyline, making it non-canon.
We also didn’t count Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel, which Bethesda has confirmed takes place in its own chronology. That being said, we have included Fallout Tactics, despite its canonicity being questioned. Although Bethesda has since retconned elements of Tactics’ story, certain events from its narrative have been referenced in future games, making it at least semi-canon to the timeline.
Finally, we won’t be including any expansions that don’t contain story content. For example, Fallout 4’s Wasteland and Contraptions Workshop expansions aren’t featured on the list. The same goes for New Vegas’ Courier Stash DLC.
1. Fallout 76
Bethesda’s most recent addition to the Fallout canon is the first on the chronological timeline. Fallout 76 is an online experience that follows the first vault dwellers to enter the wasteland 25 years after nuclear war eviscerated the world.
Taking on the role of one of these pioneers, the player’s journey begins as they exit the titular Vault 76 and embark on a journey through Appalachia in search of their missing overseer. Along the way, they discover the world they once knew has been transformed into a nuclear hellscape, complete with mutated monstrosities, long-dormant killer robots, and zombie-like irradiated humans known as Ghouls. To survive, they can team up with other survivors, build bases, complete quests, and reestablish a community among the ruins of a fallen world.
Fallout 76 was Bethesda’s attempt at creating a fully online Fallout game for the first time, allowing players to explore the wasteland with friends. Although it was received poorly at release, it has been updated frequently in the years since, with the Wastelanders and Steel Reign updates adding NPCs and new questlines.
Fast forward 59 years and we reach the events of the first game in the series. Developed by Interplay Productions, Fallout follows a vault dweller living in a bomb shelter known as Vault 13. Hiding away from the apocalyptic wasteland outside their doors, the player’s peaceful lifestyle is thrown into chaos after the vault’s water systems stop working, threatening the lives of everyone living in Vault 13.
They’re tasked with a seemingly simple mission: venture into the wasteland, recover a new water chip, and return home to save their fellow survivors. However, the stakes of the vault dweller’s mission become far grander after they encounter an army of mutated abominations known as Super Mutants and their leader, the Master. Not only do these monsters jeopardize the future of Vault 13, but they pose a major threat to the entire wasteland.
Offering a markedly different gameplay style to the Bethesda-developed Fallout games released years later, the first Fallout was an in-depth CRPG, featuring turn-based combat and a top-down camera. That being said, much of Fallout’s future was present in its first entry, including a heavy focus on player choice and immersive role-playing.
3. Fallout Tactics
Three decades later, we reach the events of Fallout Tactics: a strategy spin-off developed by Micro Forté. Although some of the lore of Fallout Tactics has since been retconned and is considered non-canon by Bethesda, certain events from its story have been referenced in future games, making it at least partially part of the timeline.
The game itself sees players lace up the boots of an initiate of the iconic power-armour-clad faction, the Brotherhood of Steel. Joining the army’s ranks and leading a group of fellow soldiers, they complete various missions across the Wasteland.
Fallout Tactics took the gameplay of Fallout in a new direction, as players command their squad through a series of strategic battles against iconic foes such as Super Mutants, Ghouls and Deathclaws.
4. Fallout 2
Fourty-four years after Fallout Tactics concludes, the events of Fallout 2 take place. With Black Isle Studios taking the reins as developer, Fallout 2 was the series’ first major sequel, this time following a descendent of the Vault Dweller from the original game known as the Chosen One.
After their settlement is hit by a long drought, the Chosen One is selected to leave the confines of their home in search of a terraforming device known as a G.E.C.K. Their adventure takes them across the vast reaches of the Wasteland, landing them in the sights of a highly advanced faction known as the Enclave. As the Chosen One dives deeper into the faction’s goals, they discover the group’s hard at work on a sinister experiment.
5. Fallout 3
After Bethesda purchased the rights to the Fallout license in 2007, Bethesda Game Studios took its first crack at the franchise with Fallout 3. Set three decades after Fallout 2, Fallout 3 picks up the story in the new setting of the Capital Wasteland, casting players as a vault dweller known as the Lone Wanderer.
Living a mundane life within the sealed walls of Vault 101, the Lone Wanderer’s life is thrown into chaos after their father mysteriously disappears, causing the protagonist to be exiled from their home. Beginning a journey across the Capitol Wasteland in search of their father, they discover his disappearance may be more significant than it first seemed and eventually become embroiled in a sinister plot concocted by the Enclave.
Fallout 3 acted as a major reinvention of the Fallout series, trading in the previous entries’ CRPG gameplay for a fully 3D world with real-time shootouts, a first-person camera, and the series’ now-signature V.A.T.S. targeting system.
6. Fallout 3 – Operation Anchorage
The first expansion for Fallout 3, Operation Anchorage offers players a series of new quets set during the events of the main campaign. The story follows the Lone Wanderer helping the Brotherhood of Steel enter a sealed pre-war armory. The only way in is to survive a simulation of the infamous Battle of Anchorage, which took place in Alaska prior to the nuclear war that destroyed Fallout’s world.
Throughout the campaign, the player steps inside the simulation and takes on the role of an American soldier fighting against Chinese troops, experiencing Anchorage firsthand. The DLC allows players a lengthy glimpse of a previously unseen part of Fallout’s lore, as well as offering plenty of new combat encounters.
7. Fallout 3 – The Pitt
Fallout 3’s second major expansion, The Pitt also takes place during the events of the main campaign. It adds a new locale for players to explore in the titular Pitt, a ruthless, plague-infested city found amongst the ruins of Pittsburgh.
After meeting a slave that escaped the city, the expansion begins with the Lone Wanderer venturing to The Pitt to find a cure for a rampant disease that’s been transforming the population into blood-thirsty monsters. Along the way, they become involved in the conflict between the enslaved citizens and their raider masters, making tough decisions that will forever alter The Pitt and its inhabitants.
8. Fallout 3 – Point Lookout
Fallout 3’s fourth add-on, Point Lookout is set during the events of the main campaign and takes players to an all-new setting, with the Lone Wanderer setting sail for the haunting swamps of the titular coastal town. The expansion begins with the Lone Wanderer offering to help a mother find her missing daughter, Nadine, who recently embarked on a journey to Point Lookout.
Upon arriving in the town, they quickly discover the truth behind Nadine’s disappearance runs much deeper than expected. Lodging themselves in the center of a long-standing rivalry between the owner of a local mansion and a tribe of cultists, the Lone Wanderer is forced to contend with the swamp’s eerie mutated inhabitants, confront buried secrets, and even endure impromptu brain surgery in a bid to survive.
9. Fallout 3 – Mothership Zeta
The last expansion added to Fallout 3, Mothership Zeta is set during the events of the main campaign and offers a unique, B-movie sci-fi spin on the franchise.
After responding to a radio signal out in the wasteland, the Lone Wanderer is abducted by a UFO, experimented on by aliens, and imprisoned on their craft. Escaping their cell, the player teams with the aliens’ other human prisoners to overthrow their extraterrestrial captors and return to Earth.
10. Fallout 3 – Broken Steel
The third expansion for Fallout 3 but the only add-on to take place after the events of the main story, Broken Steel acts as an epilogue with a new ending. Although players were originally unable to continue their Fallout 3 save after the credits rolled, Broken Steel added the ability to resume their adventure, alongside delivering a short series of new missions.
Surviving their encounter with Colonel Autumn in the Purity Project control room, the expansion sees the Lone Wanderer team once again with the Brotherhood of Steel, assisting the group in eradicating the Enclave from the Capitol Wasteland for good.
11. Fallout: New Vegas
In the years following Fallout 3, Obsidian Entertainment took its crack at the Fallout license with a spin-off titled Fallout: New Vegas. Set four years after the events of the previous game, New Vegas tells the story of a courier who’s ambushed, shot, and left for dead in the Mojave Wasteland while transporting a priceless package to the glitzy, reclaimed streets of Las Vegas.
Found and patched up by a group of local settlers, the courier rises from their grave and proceeds to track down the man who attempted to kill them, unwittingly becoming the center of a power struggle between the various factions vying for control of the New Vegas strip. As they dig deeper into the package they carried and the man who stole it from them, the Courier realizes their decisions have the potential to change the Mojave Wasteland forever.
12. Fallout: New Vegas – Dead Money
The first expansion released for Fallout: New Vegas, Dead Money is set during the events of the main campaign and offers a new locale to explore. Taking players to the Sierra Madre, the story sees the Courier kidnapped, fitted with an explosive collar, and forced to rob a seemingly impenetrable pre-war casino with the help of three unlikely allies.
The task, by all accounts, is a suicide mission. The casino is surrounded by a cloud of deadly toxic gas, while a faction of ruthless survivors known as the Ghost People patrol the streets eliminating any and all treasure hunters. It falls to the Courier to organize a daring heist with the help of their allies to bypass the casino’s defenses and access the legendary loot behind its walls.
13. Fallout: New Vegas – Honest Hearts
The second expansion to hit Fallout: New Vegas, Honest Hearts falls within the events of the main campaign and sees the Courier venture to Zion National Park. There, they stumble across Joshua Graham, the legendary “Burned Man” who has become something of a bogeyman to Caesar’s Legion after surviving a seemingly fatal run-in with the faction’s ruthless leader.
Finding themselves in the center of a war between the Burned Man’s army and a rival tribe known as the White Legs, the player must team with Graham to save Zion and its people.
14. Fallout: New Vegas – Old World Blues
The third New Vegas expansion, Old World Blues takes place during the main campaign and begins with the Courier tracking down a crashed satellite projecting a mysterious message. After interacting with the satellite, the Courier is knocked out and taken to a scientific facility contained within Big Mountain, where they discover they’ve undergone a mysterious surgical procedure.
Exploring the facility, they meet a panel of nonsensical AI scientists, who inform them that their brain has been stolen by a nefarious robot known as Doctor Morbius. Teaming with their new AI allies, they adventure across the research facility to defeat Morbius, retrieve their brain, and learn more about Big Mountain’s secrets.
15. Fallout: New Vegas – Lonesome Road
The fourth and final New Vegas expansion, Lonesome Road takes place prior to the conclusion of the main campaign but wraps up a lot of outstanding story beats established during the main game and previous DLCs.
The adventure sees the Courier venture into a new area known as The Divide in search of Ulysses, the courier originally designated the job of transporting the platinum chip before it was entrusted to the lead protagonist. Promising answers about his real identity, Ulysses summons the Courier for one final confrontation, putting the pair on a crash course that will unveil their dark pasts.
16. Fallout 4
Returning to the IP for the first time since 2008’s Fallout 3, Bethesda released Fallout 4 in 2015. Beginning on the day the bombs fell, players take on the role of a civilian known as the Sole Survivor who takes refuge in Vault 111 with their spouse and son. Cryogenically frozen inside the vault, the Sole Survivor wakes up two hundred years later, finding their spouse dead, their son missing, and the world destroyed.
Emerging into the Commonwealth, Bethesda’s apocalyptic take on the Greater Boston region, they begin a tireless journey to track down their son. Along the way, they lock horns with a mysterious, scientifically advanced faction called the Institute, which kidnaps wastelanders and replaces them with sentient robots known as synths.
As their fight against the Institute rages on, the Sole Survivor learns the dark secrets behind the Institute’s plans, eventually teaming with the various factions of the wasteland to bring the group down.
17. Fallout 4 – Automatron
The first story expansion for Fallout 4, Automatron takes place during the events of the main story and sees the Sole Survivor go up against an antagonist known as the Mechanist.
It features a short chain of new quests in which the Sole Survivor battles the Mechanist’s robots and eventually tracks their foe down to their lair. The main purpose of the add-on, however, is adding the ability to build and mod robots you can take with you around the wasteland.
18. Fallout 4 – Far Harbour
The second story expansion for Fallout 4, Far Harbour is set during the events of Fallout 4’s main campaign, and sees the Sole Survivor sail to the eerie titular island in search of a missing girl. There they find a secret community of independent synths led by advanced AI known as DiMA.
As DiMA reveals new information about his community and Far Harbour, it becomes clear that the island is caught in a struggle between the locals and a radiation-worshipping cult known as the Children of Atom, who are attempting to cover the island in radioactive fog. It doesn’t take long for the Sole Survivor to get caught up in this dispute, giving them the power to make decisions that will irreversibly change the spooky locale and its citizens.
19. Fallout 4 – Vault-Tec Workshop
A small expansion released after Far Harbour, Vault-Tec Workshop takes place during the campaign and sees the Sole Survivor take on the task of building their very own vault. After liberating Vault 88 from raiders, the Sole Survivor meets an overseer trapped within the ruins who intends to revamp the abandoned bomb shelter.
Assisting her, the player is able to build their dream vault, recruit dwellers to live inside it and increase the shelter to maximum efficiency.
20. Fallout 4 – Nuka World
The final story expansion for Fallout 4, Nuka World is set during the events of the main campaign and hands the Sole Survivor the keys to an all-new area containing a massive, Nuka-Cola-themed amusement park.
After arriving and immediately being pitted against a series of ruthless raiders, trap rooms and robotic enemies, the player is granted the title of Nuka-World overboss. However, the position is hardly the dream job it’s cracked up to be. Their new-found leadership requires that they deal with three raider factions living in the park, forcing the Sole Survivor to decide whether to appease them and grow their territory or eradicate them altogether.
All Fallout Games and Expansions in Order of Release
1. Fallout (1997)
2. Fallout 2 (1998)
3. Fallout Tactics (2001)
4. Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel (2004)
5. Fallout 3 (2008)
6. Fallout 3 – Operation Anchorage (2009)
7. Fallout 3 – The Pitt (2009)
8. Fallout 3 – Broken Steel (2009)
9. Fallout 3 – Point Lookout (2009)
10. Fallout 3 – Mothership Zeta (2009)
11. Fallout: New Vegas (2010)
12. Fallout: New Vegas – Dead Money (2010)
13. Fallout: New Vegas – Honest Hearts (2011)
14. Fallout: New Vegas – Old World Blues (2011)
15. Fallout: New Vegas – Lonesome Road (2011)
16. Fallout Shelter (2015)
17. Fallout 4 (2015)
18. Fallout 4 – Automatron (2016)
19. Fallout 4 – Far Harbour (2016)
20. Fallout 4 – Vault-Tec Workshop (2016)
21. Fallout 4 – Nuka-World (2016)
22. Fallout 76 (2018)
What’s Next for Fallout?
As mentioned earlier, the next major addition to the Fallout universe is the upcoming Fallout TV show, which is set to launch on Prime Video on April 12. Telling a new story, it will take place in the ruins of Los Angeles with a vault dweller played by Anna Purnell venturing out into the wasteland. The show has a stacked roster of talent behind it, including Westworld creator Jonathan Nolan.
As for video games, Bethesda has made it clear Fallout 5 is on the way, thought it won’t be anytime soon. Speaking to IGN back in 2022, Fallout director Todd Howard confirmed Fallout 5 will come after The Elder Scrolls 6. Considering Bethesda Game Studios has only just wrapped up work on its most recent release, Starfield, it seems we’re going to be waiting several years before stepping back out into the wasteland.
Callum Williams is a freelance media writer with years of experience as a game critic, news reporter, guides writer and features writer.