Fallout 76 is imminent (at least as we’re writing this article). So before the multiplayer RPG goes live, we at Fanbyte wanted to cement our opinion on the rest of the series. We’ve hammered this list of every official Fallout game released so far and ranked them all—along with some justifications for why each game goes where—in order of worst to best. Let the subjective, post-apocalyptic appreciation begin!
8. Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel
Brotherhood of Steel is notably the last Fallout game made by Interplay, the series’ original creators. That’s about all that’s notable about this particular game. It’s a somewhat passable action game where you mash through mobs of badly voice acted goons. It trades in the main games’ dark and quirky tone for a lot of mid-2000s edginess. It’s a weird artifact of its era, but not much else.
7. Fallout Shelter
Fallout Shelter is cute, but not every fun. The mobile game nailed the look of Fallout’s Vault Boy caricature and blew it on a lot of waiting around in real-time to click on stuff. Some micro-transaction money can grease those wheels, but it’s all in service of nothing. There’s no real endgame to Fallout Shelter besides waiting to click on more things.
6. Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel
Fallout Tactics isn’t much of a Fallout game in the traditional sense. You don’t move through an open-world. You barely chat with NPCs and the story most certainly isn’t much to write home about. In fact, the plot sports multiple inconsistencies with games that came before and after.
Tactics is more like a small-scale strategy game than an RPG. By those standards, and for its time, it’s quite good. Even though its length and complexity might test your patience at times. It mostly loses points on this particular list for, well, not being much of a Fallout game.
5. Fallout 4
Fallout 4 tried a lot of new things. It’s a real shame so few of them work well. Features like building your own settlements, a revised conversation system, and weapon crafting are all great on paper. They’re just clunky, meaningless, or even serious downgrades over previous games.
Settlements don’t serve much mechanical purpose in the game. What’s worse, they’re a real hassle to build at all. So there’s little excuse not to play other, better construction sims like Subnautica to get your creative fix. That’s doubly true if you don’t have Fallout 4’s collection of paid expansions. Most of them don’t add story content, but build on the bland building system instead.
Modders have taken some of the sting out of Fallout 4’s disappointing design. There’s one that lets you read dialogue choices before you say them, for instance, which is better than the irritatingly vague prompts you get otherwise. But no mod can completely flesh out Fallout 4’s empty spaces.
Other 3D Fallout games reward exploring every nook and cranny with strange stories on computer terminals and experiments left to rot for hundreds of years. Fallout 4 has far, far less of that. Buildings are basically empty; just full of more junk to fuel the settlement and crafting systems. What’s left is the vanilla main plot (never Bethesda’s strong suit) and a lot of walking.
Fallout 4 isn’t a terrible game. It’s just a disappointing one. Hopefully future installments will improve on the ideas it slapped together.
4. Fallout 2
Fallout 2 is pretty much what you’d expect from a sequel to Fallout. It’s bigger and directly continues many of the plot threads from the first game. Fallout 2 just wasn’t quite the same surprise as its predecessor. It was bigger, yes, but not always better.
The most obvious misstep over the original is Fallout 2’s ending. Part of what made Fallout so special was how it let you solve problems with stealth, violence, dialogue, smarts, or just plain exploration. That extended all the way to a final “boss” that you could literally talk to death.
Not so in Fallout 2. The sequel concludes in a big, video game-y brawl—one that might really screw you over if your character specialized in persuasion. Maybe that’s a petty reason to dock the game, but it’s just one example of Fallout 2’s slight drop in pizzazz compared to the original. Although it’s still a fantastic game in its own right.
3. Fallout: A Post Nuclear Role Playing Game
You don’t get the Fallout franchise without the original. You wouldn’t want to. The 1997 hit was a much-needed break from the swathes of fantasy RPGs of the day. Yet its clearly Mad Max-inspired setting belied a much more fascinating medley of 1950s futurism, gooey mutants, and Richard Dean Anderson.
Few games have made such a unique blend of ideas work together so cohesively, before or since. Fallout’s world just feels right somehow, even if there’s something very wrong with just about everyone living in it. But digging into their sordid back stories in conversation, or saying screw it and dicing them into a bloody mess, is half the fun. Much of what made Fallout so special was its seamless mix of combat and actual role-playing.
It does come with some rough edges. It’s not exactly easy on the eyes anymore (although the claymation-y character portraits are distinctive) and the user interface is fiddly as old world tech. Which isn’t helpful when you find yourself stuck behind a puzzle or fight with only one solution. Fallout has a few such moments and they just don’t gel with the feeling of open-ended problem solving that makes the game so special.
Those problems detract from what’s otherwise a tight, beautifully bizarre, and ahead of its time masterpiece.
2. Fallout 3
Fallout 3 deserves major props for bringing Interplay’s satirical world to a massive audience. In the process it seriously altered what we expect from every new Fallout game going forward.
The change from an isometric to third-person/first-person hybrid perspective lent the game physical depth. The ability to interact with nearly anything and everything redefined modern environmental storytelling. And thanks to the world of Fallout—where bizarre social experiments were hermetically sealed inside “vaults” for hundreds of years—those stories included a lot more than two skeletons hugging. We’ll never forget you, Gary.
Sure, the original ending was godawful. But the introduction, which flash blinds the sheltered player with sunlight and endless possibility for the first time, was undeniably appropriate. Fallout 3 delivered on almost all its initial promise with a density of scripted experiences, as well as breadth.
Three Dog howled from his never-ending DJ broadcast while we scoured ruins for micro-stories about people’s pre-war lives, scavenged technology, and battled cultists that worshiped a talking tree. A modified version of the turn-based Fallout games’ VATS combat blended that violent action with RPG math almost seamlessly. Neither half felt half-baked.
Some okay-to-good DLC built off that awe-inducing framework, but rarely layered meaningful changes into it. That came later in the series. One thing we didn’t have to wait for was an absolute sea of bugs—which is still a common caveat in Bethesda games today. The fact that we could look past those issues, however, is a good reminder of just how wonderful Fallout 3 was at the time.
1. Fallout: New Vegas
New Vegas was a dark horse in the Fallout franchise. The non-numbered spin-off was built off the Fallout 3 tech created by Bethesda, but externally developed by Obsidian Entertainment. At the time, the studio had a reputation for developing narratively fascinating—but often very buggy—sequels to big RPGs. New Vegas was no different. It was also very, very special.
Despite the 3D engine, New Vegas plays more like a direct sequel to Fallout 2. You don’t play a naive “vault dweller” just discovering the post-apocalyptic surface for the first time. You’re a courier that already knows the basic ins and outs of the so-called Mojave Wasteland. That is until someone shoots you in the head. The story begins as a revenge tale for that violent act, but morphs into something much stranger.
What really sets New Vegas apart from other 3D Fallout games, however, is its understanding of the source material. Fallout was always about warring ideologies. The old world—a superficially saccharine callback to 1950s Americana built on bloody imperialism—devoured its two-faced self in nuclear fire. Fallout and Fallout 2 pitted you against entities with twisted ideas of how the new world should be built on those ashes.
New Vegas revived that conflict through the dueling New California Republic and Caesar’s Legion. They were both ugly institutions that the player could dance between, or annihilate, but never support without reservation. New Vegas was a game with something to say. And sometimes what it said was “you can have an invisible, eight-foot orc grandma as a companion.” Obsidian does love its kooky characters.
Combined with the strong framework Bethesda created in Fallout 3, and the best DLC in the franchise, Fallout: New Vegas is a near-perfect blend of old and new. It was as buggy as its predecessor, sure, but often with hilarious results. It is, to put it mildly, an RPG classic.