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The Fallout world exists in an alternate timeline that diverged from the real world timeline after World War II. From this split until the Great War in 2077, a stylized representation of 1950s American culture (with more advanced technology) dominated the Fallout world. The science fiction anthology Worlds of Tomorrow, released during the Golden Age of Science Fiction in the 1950s, heavily influenced this representation.
Although the Fallout universe and the real world share a common timeline until about 1945, the defining moment of the Fallout universe was the Great War of 2077. On October 23, 2077, the United States, China, and other nuclear-armed countries commenced a brief but rapid exchange of nuclear weapons. Although the conflict lasted only two hours, the destruction it wrought was staggering and complete: more energy was released in the early moments of the war than in all previous global conflicts combined.
The world that remained was harsh and unforgiving. Even centuries after the Great War, humanity survived but struggled to do so. Above ground, small bands fought over the crumbling remains of once great cities while mutants prowled the irradiated wastes. Underground, a fortunate few enjoyed the relative safety and comfort of the Vaults. Some fought to keep the world out, others to connect with and re-populate it. Wherever humanity survived it was under constant threat by psychotic mutants, rogue machines, vicious raiders, and all manner of hostile mutated creatures.
Most of the events of the series take place in the United States. The first two games, Fallout and Fallout 2, are set in New California – on the West Coast and in the Southwest (from southern Oregon, to southern California, to western Nevada). The third game, Fallout Tactics, takes place in the Midwest – between the city of Chicago and Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. The fourth game, Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel, takes place in northern Texas, in the town of Carbon and the ghoul city of Los. The fifth game, Fallout 3, is set on the East Coast of the United States, in an area called the Capital Wasteland; this includes the remains of Washington, D.C., with parts of Virginia and Maryland. The sixth game, Fallout: New Vegas, takes place in the Mojave Wasteland, which includes parts of California, Arizona, and Nevada. Its second add-on, Honest Hearts, however takes the player to Zion Canyon in Utah. The seventh game, Fallout 4, moves back to the East Coast, to the region of the Commonwealth, which encompasses largely the former state of Massachusetts, centering prominently on its capital Boston. The eighth game, Fallout 76, moves the setting to the Appalachian Territories, encompassing the entire state of West Virginia.
Before the Great War
For most of human history, the Fallout universe and the real world shared a common timeline. However, in 1945, significant political and technological differences in the Fallout timeline set it on a different course. The most visible differences between the timelines is that engineers focused on advancements in fusion, robotics, and the miniaturization of nuclear reactors, while miniaturization of electronics was largely neglected. In 1969, the United States adopted a system of 13 Commonwealths. In 1970, China failed to adopt any free market reforms and remained similar to what it was under Mao Zedong. In 1991 the USSR had not collapsed.
No (currently known) major international conflicts would take place until the middle of the twenty-first century. In 2052, the oil rich Middle East nations raised oil prices causing the economic collapse of many smaller nations. The European Commonwealth (analogous to the real world European Union), similarly dependent on oil imports from the Middle East, begins the Resource Wars by responding with military force. The United Nations, weakened by its inability to prevent the conflict, attempts to intervene. Many of its member nations respond by withdrawing and the U.N. disbands that year.
The United States, being supplied by oil from Texas and Mexico, escaped any direct impact from the European conflicts. They were, however, to have their own problems. In 2052, the Texas oil fields were exhausted, making the Americans vulnerable to their own energy shortages. In 2053, the New Plague began to ravage the U.S. population, causing tens of thousands of deaths and the first ever national quarantine to be declared. Nuclear fears gripped the country when, in the same year, Tel Aviv had been destroyed by a terrorist nuclear weapon and, in the following year, warring nations exchanged nuclear weapons in the Middle East. In response, the Americans began Project Safehouse: a series of underground Vaults designed to survive nuclear war or biological plague.
In 2059, oil resources had become increasingly scarce. In order to secure the Alaskan oil fields, the United States increased its military presence in Alaska, creating the Anchorage Front Line. Relations with Canada were strained as the Americans pressed to have their military units guard on Canadian soil to guard the Alaskan pipeline.
In 2060, the Middle East oil fields run dry. This not only ends the Resource Wars in Europe, but the European Commonwealth as well. Without a common enemy, the European nations began fighting among each other for the remaining resources. Fossil fuels become too expensive to use in automobiles and alternatives began to appear in the market. Advances in nuclear technology allow its use as automobile engines.
In 2066, the Resource Wars shifted to the other side of the globe. China, its oil reserves exhausted and its economy near collapse, invaded Alaska. America strong-armed Canada into allowing troops and planes to move across Canadian territory on their way to the Alaskan theater. Relations between the neighboring countries would continue to worsen as the Americans helped themselves to Canadian resources, ignoring Canadian protests. Many Americans begin referring to Canada as "Little America." Their comments did not help the situation.
In 2072, the Sino-American War grinds on. While American power armor proves effective in localized conflicts, they are insufficient to completely dislodge the Chinese. U.S. continues to demand more resources from Canada. When an attempt is made to sabotage the oil pipeline, the Americans (officially) begin to annex Canada. In 2076, the annexation is complete. Also that year Americans deploy the T-51 power armor to the Chinese mainland. The suits are highly effective and American troops cut a swath through Chinese territory.
In early 2077, the Americans reclaimed Alaska but no armistice was signed. Those in positions to foresee the nuclear conflagration make final preparations: Robert House put himself into stasis. The President and the Enclave retreated to Control station Enclave. The American public, having been exposed to too many false alarms, largely ignored the warning sirens when the bombs begin to fall. Many Vaults are underpopulated as their doors are shut.
The post-War world
The collapse of global civilization made it impossible to ascertain the full extent of the damage brought by the nuclear bombs. As viewed from orbit, there were clear signs of a global catastrophe: parts of Western Europe and the USSR received nuclear blasts. Asia and the Middle East were encased under the ice from the subsequent nuclear winter. Antarctica's ice sheet was blackened and much of the world's oceans were tinted green by radiation.
The Great War's enduring legacy was the radiation that spread in its wake. Many of the plants and animals that survived the nuclear fire were killed by the irradiated rain that fell a week later. Of those that survived, many were mutated.
The American mainland was reduced to a wasteland. Most major American cities, with a few exceptions such as Pittsburgh and Las Vegas, were razed by the bombs. Even the surviving cities were reduced to hellish ruin as society rapidly disintegrated.
Although the Vaults were never intended to preserve the entire American population, enough people and technology survived to jumpstart civilization when they opened. The Core Region benefited the most from these early openings. Vault 12 established Necropolis in the Central California area. Eight years later, Vault 8 established Vault City in Western Nevada. The following year, the Los Angeles Vault established the Boneyard in Southern California.
The Mojave Wasteland was another incubator of civilization. It had received fewer bombs than any other area due to the foresight of Robert House. His technology was so far advanced that, by 2281, it was within a century of being able to launch a colonization spaceship.
In the east, during the early years after the Great War, Appalachia was largely untouched, with the worst threats being the Enclave-created Scorchbeasts and Scorched. The Capital Wasteland was also left surprisingly intact. With the Columbia chapter of the Brotherhood of Steel and the remains of the Naval Research Institute, it was able to support a radio station and a water purification plant on a previously unheard-of scale. The Commonwealth also largely survived, with the worst of the War creating a region known as the Glowing Sea.
As these regions rose from the ashes, so, too, did new groups. The Brotherhood of Steel was founded days after the Great War and would become a technological powerhouse by 2150, along with creating a chapter that unfortunately fell soon after its creation. On the Eastern Seaboard, the mysterious Institute originated in 2110 from the children of Commonwealth Institute of Technology faculty members who sought refuge beneath the institution. On the West Coast, the New California Republic was established in 2186 and would govern the majority of the Core Region a century after the war, while the Enclave - descendants of the eminence of the United States federal government and military-industrial complex - made its presence felt in the Core Region in 2237 and then in the Capital Wasteland in 2277. Most recently, a nation built from the teaching of the ancient Roman Empire known as Caesar's Legion arose in 2247, forged from the conquest of 87 tribes, and would control all of the former states of Arizona and New Mexico with much of Utah and Colorado.
The distinctive creatures in the Fallout world arose after the Great War and were the result of exposure to radiation or the Forced Evolutionary Virus.
Radiation led to the spontaneous rise of many new species three years after the bombs fell. The new species were larger, hardier and more dangerous than the animals and insects they mutated from. Radscorpions, Giant ants, and brahmin descended from Emperor scorpions, household ants and cows, respectively.
Heavy exposure of radiation mutated some humans, who possessed a particular genetic trait, into ghouls. Although their decaying skin gave them a frightening, almost inhuman appearance, they generally retained their mental faculties: their ability to reason and communicate were left intact. Ironically, despite their physical decay they had heightened senses and longer lifespans.
Varying degrees of exposure gave rise to diversity within the ghoul community. Ghouls exposed to prolonged radiation poisoning lost their intelligence and mutated into feral ghouls. Longer periods of radiation exposure resulted in further degeneration into Glowing ones: ghouls with heightened physical capabilities and who, literally, glow in the dark.
The remainder of mutations were caused by the Forced Evolutionary Virus (FEV). Its origins lie in the years preceding the Sino-American War. In an effort to defend against a Chinese biological attack, defense contractor West Tek initiated the Pan-Immunity Virion Project. The goal was simply to make the human immune system strong enough to resist any pathogen, natural or engineered. Some of the side effects, discovered during testing, were increased size and strength. The U.S. Army seized the project in an effort to create a super-soldier. They moved the project to the Mariposa Military Base. They also sent a large sample to Vault 87 on the East Coast as part of the Vault Experiment.
Following the Great War, Mariposa was abandoned - the surviving guardsman having left to form the Brotherhood of Steel. After laying dormant for 30 years, the base was rediscovered by Richard Moreau, an exile from Vault 8. After Richard Moreau (now "The Master") realized that the F.E.V. could be used to create a super mutant capable of thriving in the post-nuclear world, he attempted to raise an army to conquer the world, but was defeated by the Vault Dweller.
Despite the destruction of Mariposa base however, a sample of its F.E.V. was claimed by the Enclave. Using slave labor kidnapped from nearby Redding (among other places), the Enclave excavated Mariposa. Those slaves inadvertently exposed to the FEV mutated into a new batch of super mutants.
On the East Coast, the F.E.V. sent to Vault 87 was used to create that area's own variety of super mutants. Fawkes, then a Vault 87 resident was forcibly exposed to and mutated by it. While the mutation process took away much of his intelligence, he was astoundingly, able to reclaim much of it by studying the Vault's database. This variation of F.E.V. also made its way into the hands Dr. Weston Lesko who inadvertently, used it to de-mutate giant ants, creating fire ants.
The Core Region stretches from Southern California in the south to Southern Oregon in the north, to Western Nevada to the east. It is a largely inhospitable region, which is why most people have chosen to seek refuge in the ruins of the old cities, where they have found (relative) safety in numbers. However, as resources grew more and more scarce, people came to consolidate into groups of their own kind, as a result locations are far more homogeneous than one might expect from a world ravaged by mutation.
The ghoul population of the Core Region was mostly clustered around old Bakersfield (Necropolis), but were scattered after an attack by Unity. Most of the surviving ghouls eventually found a home in Gecko or Broken Hills along with humans and super mutants, both far to the north-east of their former home.
The Mojave desert is now known as the Mojave Wasteland. The Mojave is the second largest desert in North America, it occupies a significant portion of southern (and a part of central) California, southern Nevada, southwestern Utah and northwestern Arizona, and serves as the primary setting of Fallout: New Vegas.
Before the Great War, Las Vegas was the largest oasis of civilization in the Mojave, and New Vegas maintains that reputation. 77 atomic warheads were launched at the city and surrounding areas, but due to an intricate system set in place by Mr. Robert House, 59 were force disarmed, 9 were blasted out of the sky by a laser guided missile defense system atop the Lucky 38, and 9 hit the surrounding desert, resulting in the local climate and wildlife being much less radioactive, if not radiation-free, than in other places in the post-nuclear United States.
The N.C.R. is the most powerful faction in the region, with the Mojave being on the edge of the Republic's southern borders. Other significant powers are Caesar's Legion, a surviving pockets of Mariposa super mutants, (Jacobstown, the State of Utobitha, among remnants), New Vegas, run by Mr. House with the Three Families running the casinos, the Great Khans and the Brotherhood of Steel (Mojave chapter), once powerful groups who had fallen far from their original positions of power due to the Republic.
While, strictly speaking, the "East Coast" describes the entire eastern seaboard of the continental United States, within the Fallout universe, it chiefly refers to the Eastern U.S. Its major locations were the Commonwealth and Capital Wasteland along the coast and, further inland, The Pitt.
The Capital Wasteland encompassed the ruins of Washington, D.C. and the surrounding wilderness. The city's downtown, though surrounded by rubble and accessible only through its Metro system, was a hub of activity. The Galaxy News Radio building was operational, its signal amplified by dish atop the Washington Monument. A contingent of slavers operated out of the Lincoln Memorial. Upon their elimination by the Lone Wanderer, the Temple of the Union would make it their residence. Lyons' Brotherhood of Steel, Super mutants and Talon Company mercenaries fight to control the The Mall. The Museum of History housed the ghoul city of Underworld.
Just outside the city, Lyons' Brotherhood of Steel has a base in the ruins of the Pentagon (now the Citadel). Along the banks of the Potomac River, Project Purity operated out of the Jefferson Memorial.
The wilderness surrounding Washington, D.C. was home to various Vaults and settlements. Rivet City was the most successful settlement and was instrumental in delivering Aqua Pura to the area when Project Purity was completed. Vault 87 produced the region's Super mutant population. Vault 101 was the home of the Lone Wanderer.
To the immediate south of the Capital Wasteland was the former rural back country turned coastal resort town of Point Lookout. To the Wasteland's immediate southeast was Adams Air Force Base where the Enclave sought to reestablish itself after the destruction of their original East Coast headquarters, Raven Rock.
The Pitt was the steelyard and surrounding area in the ruins of Pittsburgh. It was infested by wildmen and trogs until a Brotherhood of Steel detachment on their way to the Capital Wasteland cleared the area. They left behind Ishmael Ashur, one of their own, who transformed The Pitt into a city-state under his dictatorship.
Factions in the Core Region
There are very few factions in the Core Region that aren't limited to one or two towns. After the defeat of the Master's super mutant army which was a major military force in 2161, the New California Republic became the most influential organization that unites several major towns, including Shady Sands (its capital, now known mostly simply as NCR), the Hub, Junktown, Maxson, and Dayglow. The NCR is actively trying to unite California under a single government.
In contrast, the Brotherhood of Steel is a mysterious techno-religious organization, with roots in the US military. While few in number, they make up for this with their arsenal of pre-War and post-war technology: They have laser weapons, power armor, surgical enhancements and combat implants. Unlike the NCR, the Brotherhood is not interested in conquests nor in saving humanity, but instead in keeping their secrecy and preserving and developing technology.
Prior to the rise of NCR, Unity was among the largest and most well-organized factions populating California. Comprised of the Master's mutant and human followers, Unity spread across the Core Region, establishing churches and missions in many prominent human settlements. Following the destruction of Mariposa Military Base and the Master himself by the Vault Dweller in 2162, Unity lost most of its power and collapsed in upon itself without the dynamic vision of the Master to guide it. Surviving mutants fled east, while the Children of the Cathedral ceased to exist as an organized religion.
The Enclave, the descendants of the éminence grise United States federal government that considers everyone other than themselves worthy of eradication, used to operate from an oil rig off the coast of California, but seems to have left the area after the destruction of its headquarters. It seems to have moved its base of operations from the west coast to the northwestern edge of The Capital Wasteland, inside of a sprawling underground maze known as "Raven Rock".
Factions in the East Coast
A few years after the Great War, survivors in Appalachia began rebuilding the world in their own ways, from the Responders being created to attempt to help as many people as they could, to the Appalachian Chapter of the Brotherhood of Steel forming by way of Roger Maxson using satellite communication from the Lost Hills bunker to contact and establish a chapter with the help of his old friend Elizabeth Taggerdy. Unfortunately, all the factions had died out by the time Vault 76 opened, with the region's fate currently unknown.
The most powerful faction in the Capital Wasteland was the Brotherhood of Steel. Originally an expeditionary force sent from the Lost Hills bunker in the Core Region to retrieve any advanced technology from the East Coast, they were later ordered to establish a permanent presence when they discovered of a large cache of technology in the ruins of the Pentagon (including the two-story high, super combat robot Liberty Prime). The expedition's leader, Owyn Lyons, changed their orders even more: instead of making the protection of technology their top priority, it would be the protection of people. While it endeared them to the area residents, they bore a heavy price. Their Core Region superiors cut them off from all support and a number of their own members splintered off to form their own chapter. In spite of their lack of support, they would be instrumental in securing the region's crown jewel, Project Purity, and crushing the Enclave remnants.
Possessing more advanced technology, (though lacking in leadership) the Enclave was a match for the Brotherhood. Like the Brotherhood, the Enclave in the Capital Wasteland originated from the Core Region. Prior to their defeat in that region, Augustus Autumn led a detachment to Raven Rock in the Capital Wasteland to establish their presence in the area. A mainframe computer at Raven Rock, through the persona of John Henry Eden took over Enclave operations when the California Contingent was defeated. Like its California predecessor, they attempted to kill a majority of the area's residents through a lethal toxin but were stopped by a former vault resident and the Brotherhood of Steel.
Rivet City was the most powerful, native faction of the area. Located inside a beached aircraft carrier, they were the region's most developed and scientifically advanced settlement. Their fame was well known throughout the region. It boasted a well armed security force, a research lab and museum. After the Enclave was driven from the Jefferson Memorial, Rivet City security was responsible for distributing fresh water throughout the region.
In the surrounding wilderness, the settlements of Megaton, Tenpenny Tower, Canterbury Commons, the Republic of Dave, Little Lamplight and their exiles in Big Town scratched out a living. Although the Brotherhood established a modicum of security, enough to establish some trade, they would still be troubled by Super mutants, Raiders, slavers and mercenaries.
A decade later, the Brotherhood, with the leadership of Lyon's successor, Arthur Maxson, had grown to have established enough hold over the Capital Wasteland to restore infrastructure to the area, soon setting their sights on the region known as the Commonwealth.
The Commonwealth itself had suffered problems in the past, with the foundations of a Commonwealth Provisional Government quickly falling apart due to a rogue Synth, the near-death of the Minutemen, and the growing Railroad, a group dedicated to using espionage to free Synths from the Institute.
- Natalia Dubrovhsky's background