The Fallout series has been with us since 1997, which at the time or writing makes the series 22 years old. Since then the series has seen four main releases, four spin-offs, 2 instalments considered non-canon, as well as suffered a few cancelled projects.
The Fallout series mostly consists of role-playing games, but it also has a few instalments which defy this label. As a result we cannot establish a common metric to which we can measure all of them. Nonetheless we will do our best to make the comparison as fair, comprehensive, and useful as possible, while still leaning in favour of roleplay potential.
The entries are ordered from the worst to the best.
|Bethesda Game Studios
|Survival and exploration
Fallout 76 ends up so low on the list for a simple, sad, and disappointing reason. The game simply has so many bugs it can’t fix some of them without causing new ones. It takes much more dedication to the cause than any other game in the series to keep playing, although there is no lack of people who exhibit just that.
The game has a huge map full of resources, monsters, and places to hole up in for the night, and many a player seems to enjoy exploring and surviving in the nuclear West Virginia, despite all the technical problems.
Fallout 76 is a multiplayer, open world, survival game set in a fictional version of West Virginia after a nuclear war ravaged the world. The game’s multiplayer nature carries the same risk it does in any other MP game: your experience will vary wildly depending on the type of people you encounter.
F76 has a very limited amount of narrative, relegated mostly to files discovered throughout the world. If you want to play solo it’s going to be a very lonesome experience.
At the time of writing Bethesda has just announced their roadmap for 2019 and expressed appreciation for their fanbase for sticking with it.
Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel
|Linear storyline and action-based combat
Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel was a curious attempt to find new Fallout fans in the console world, and much like Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance the game ended up existing.
Much like DA has been largely forgotten, so has FBoS. It lacked Fallout 1 or 2’s open world, replacing it with a linear progression through levels, it ditched turn-based combat in favour of something more engaging for the gamepad-hugging crowd, it didn’t really even have much by way of dialogue trees, bushes or mere shrubs.
It was probably a decent game at its time, judging by the 7/10-ish scores it received around its release, but it doesn’t have a lot to offer these days, even if you had hardware to run it.
Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel
Unlike the similarly-named previous entry on this list, Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel was a solid game with solid gameplay that still holds up surprisingly well.
Like the name suggests, its focus was largely on putting the players through combat scenarios, with some storyline tying it all together. There is a choice to be made towards the end, and the results are influenced by certain tactical decisions made throughout the game, but that’s more or less it, as far as story-related decision-making is concerned.
Nevertheless, FT goes all out on the satisfying turn-based combat of the first two Fallout games and delivers a great experience which may tide you over until a new XCOM game is inevitably announced or Phoenix Point is released.
|Bethesda Game Studios
|Exploration and crafting
Fallout 4 is, at the time of writing, the latest main release, the second one made by Bethesda, and the third on Bethesda’s engine.
Its storyline on the surface revolves around looking for your character’s kidnapped child, but it’s easy to get lost on the way. One of the main features of F4 is founding new settlements, for which the game provides ample tools, further supplemented in several post-launch expansions. The game also features a radiant quest system, which makes sure you never run out of things to do, even if they end up being a mix of randomly picked locations and a simple objective.
Roleplay-wise Fallout 4 lags behind other main releases. Dialogue options have been scaled down to a bare minimum due to the game being fully voiced. Unless you prefer a sort of… behavioural roleplaying, here expressed mostly by way of “which weapon do I kill them with” or “do I accept the quest right away”, you’re likely to be slightly disappointed.
|Flexible objective completion
The game which started the series, drawing inspirations from many places, including the original Mad Max movie, and Interplay’s 1988 game Wasteland.
The premise of Fallout was simple: your Vault had a broken water chip, so you had to go out into the post-nuclear wasteland to find a replacement in another Vault, ideally. If you hadn’t made it in 100 days, your Vault would have been doomed.
The game was happy to let you go your way about completing the objective. There were quite a few set locations, connected by a grid-based overworld map which you could uncover freely, if you wanted to. Each location had a connected story, which could help you accomplish your goal, or just flesh the world out.
Fallout was a very roleplay-heavy game, with evocative dialogue options, occasionally influenced by your ability scores—a character with a very low Intelligence would have very different lines from anyone with a shred of wit. There were even several ways to complete the final encounter: you could quite easily reason with the primary antagonist if you only found data to support your claims and had the Intelligence and Charisma to make a compelling case.
|Bethesda Game Studios
Bethesda’s first venture into the post-nuclear wasteland was met with very favourable reviews, despite many people’s apprehension towards abandoning the isometric camera for one that’s familiar to everyone who played this developer’s The Elder Scrolls games—Fallout 3 was released after Oblivion, but before Skyrim.
The map was huge and for the first time in the series the travel wasn’t abstracted on a separate map of the overworld: now you really had to go the distance, which worked well for evoking the sense of immersion.
The game was only partially voiced (the protagonist remains silent, but NPCs are fully voiced) which allowed for slightly more dialogue options than in F4, and left you with more freedom in defining who your character is, while F4 did that for you, for the most part. There were several big choices, including one at the end of the game. It must be noted that the original ending choices nonsensically lacked an obvious (if not very dramatically pleasing) solution, which was later introduced in the Broken Steel DLC, so make sure you get a version with that one included.
Fallout: New Vegas
One of modern RPG sweethearts, Fallout New Vegas endeared many a player to itself, despite game-breaking bugs running rampant at release. Years later, with the bugs fixed, it is a treasure covered in nuclear dust.
Although the initial character motivation can be resolved quickly, the core draw of the game (aside from exploration) are the factions vying over the region. With a complex Karma and reputation system, the ability to disguise oneself as a member of a faction, and roleplaying decisions (to which the factions are reacting), becoming a major player in this war is extremely satisfying. Doubly so, if you figure out a way to play all sides and emerge as the sole winner.
FNV also gives the player a lot of leeway regarding the protagonist’s personality and history, much of it left for interpretation or defined through occasional dialogue choices.
Structurally, FNV is built on the same base as Fallout 3, so the key differences lie in the role-playing aspects and the region everything takes place in. The Mojave desert with a hastily revived New Vegas is a suitably post-apocalyptic locale.
|Black Isle Studios
Fallout 2 is the entire series’ high point as far as the choices available to the player are concerned. F2 is made on a much larger scale than F1, and it’s not limited to the map.
There are many more places to visit, with much to do in each of them, too. There are more companions with personal agendas joining you on the way. There are also more things to do which in no way connect to your main mission, which this time requires you to get a Garden of Eden Creation Kit to save your dying village.
The thing is that once you step into, say, New Reno you might spend that time pursuing a boxing career, or becoming a star in adult movies, with a cheesy name you pick yourself. You can roll around the wasteland in your atom-fueled cruiser in search of easter eggs (the developers had a clear love for Monty Python and Douglas Adams), seek a religious awakening, run caravans, and much more.
Fallout 2 to this day remains one of the least mission-obsessed narrative-heavy roleplaying games, and it’s one of the coolest, and maybe also cheesiest, sandbox story-based RPGs. The development could focus on creating the world partially because the system was completely unchanged from Fallout 1, so nobody had to reinvent the wheel, which tends to be the case with every new Bethesda game.
Bonus entry 1: Fallout Pinball
Apparently there are a Fallout boards for Zen Pinball 2, Pinball FX 2 and Pinball FX 3, if these names tell you anything.
There isn’t really much to tell about them, but if you loved Space Cadet on Windows XP and want some of that sweet retro-futuristic overlay for a pinball game, you may want to check them out.
Bonus entry 2: Fallout Shelter
|Bethesda Game Studios, Behaviour Interactive
|Managing a Vault
Placing Fallout Shelter among the big guys would have been unfair to everyone involved. FS is a sweet, charming management game kept in the same aesthetic as the iconic, cartoonish Vault Boy character.
Your task is to create a functional vault of your own inside a mountain. This involves actually building and improving various rooms (like power generators or living quarters), sending your dwellers on expeditions in search of resources, and defending your vault against raiders and monsters.
Originally designed as a mobile game it quickly found its way to bigger platforms. It’s one of the games that require a bit of babysitting, because expeditions are played out in real time, so it’s not necessarily something you could leave alone for half a year. But in short bursts it’s quite fun to see the ant-farm view of a vault and cartoonish characters scuttling about their business.
This concludes our subjective ranking of Fallout games based on their general roleplaying qualities, general production quality, and subjective entertainment factor. Hopefully you will find this useful and informative in choosing the next Fallout game to play.