The Ultimate Fallout 4 Primer

You could prepare for Fallout 4 by spending hours wandering the Wasteland, or you can get everything you need to know with our handy-dandy little primer, which give you all the information you need to survive the irradiated world. 


The world of Fallout is a rich, deep, complex and violent one. You could spend endless hours wandering the Wasteland and still not get find everything there is to know about its history and characters. So, in preparation of this fall's release of Fallout 4, we've gathered everything you need to know in one convenient location. Use this information how you will, and good luck out there, Wanderer.

Background and History

Originally inspired by the 1987 role-playing game Wasteland, which also took place in a post-nuclear apocalyptic world, Fallout's open gameplay and signature retro-1950s sci-fi style established a unique identity of its own. The game is set in a alternate timeline future, where the transistor was never developed following World War II. Although technology continued to grow more sophisticated, it was all based on vacuum tubes and atomic energy, which locked the world in an 1950s aesthetic.

Since humanity never developed miniaturization, other technologies like energy efficiency weren't developed either. Eventually, the planet ran out of oil to drive the power hungry machines, which set off a resource war. Results of this war included China's invasion of Alaska to secure its oil reserves, which prompted the United States to annex Canada so that it could use its resources to take back the state. The US eventually regained Alaska using its superior technology in the form of heavy powered armor. Then, everything blew up in 2077.

What's commonly referred to as The Great War is actually a two hour event in which the world's superpowers (primarily the United States, the USSR, and China) simultaneously launched their entire nuclear stockpiles at each other. However, the majority of these warheads were relatively low yield. So, even though they caused mass devastation, it was not enough to tear the planet apart. It even allowed for pockets of survivors. But the bombs did leave a mark on the world by mutating insects and animals, transforming most of the landscape into desert wasteland, and permanently changing the global climate into a nuclear summer.

Fortunately, the US planned for just such an event by constructing a series of high capacity bomb shelters called Vaults across the country. The bad news is, it was all a lie.

The Vaults

The US Government worked in collaboration with the private company Vault-Tec Corporation, which partnered with RobCo Industries, to construct high capacity bunkers called Vaults across the country. 122 Vaults are known to have been built, each designed to house about 1,000 people, and they were advertised as a means to protect thousands of citizens from a nuclear attack. But you'll rarely ever find a Vault packed to full capacity due to a combination of factors.

Accounts vary, but some records indicate that the 2077 attack happened so quickly that there wasn't enough time to get all occupants inside before the Vault doors closed. In other cases, people suffered from drill fatigue, and didn't get up when the alarms sounded. Another big reason you'll rarely encounter a fully populated Vault is because its inhabitants have a tendency to kill each other off.

Although Project Safehouse was the country's most expensive endeavor, its planners realized that it could never fully work. It would be impossible to build enough Vaults to house the entire population of the United States. So, they were built with a more sinister purpose in mind. As the Penny Arcade comic strip plainly states, the Vaults were never meant to save anyone. Instead, each was designed to conduct social experiments on a specific subset of the population. 

Some of these "let's lock everyone in a can" experiments had far reaching effects. Vault 15 was designed to lock people of extremely diverse ideologies and cultures together for fifty years. The result was a huge schism, with three of the four major factions becoming raiders when the doors opened. The last one went on to found a village that would grow into the New California Republic's capitol. The NPR is a major faction in Fallout New Vegas.

Certain Vaults house experimental substances and devices, the most prominent being the Forced Evolution Virus (FEV), which is used to bring on rapid and unpredictable mutations in living organisms. The FEV is the reason Super Mutants exist. There's also briefcase sized terraforming device called the Garden of Eden Creation Kit (GECK), developed by Future-Tec (a division of Vault-Tec). A GECK has everything you need to transform the blasted wasteland into a hospitable environment for resettling. Every Vault is supposed to be supplied with two of them, except for (so far) Vaults 8, 13, 112, and 101. Vault 8's GECK was swapped out for 13's surplus water chips (which are used for water recycling and purification), while both 112 and 101 were never supposed to be reopened, and therefore weren't issued any surface world settlement supplies.

Noteworthy Vaults

Vault 13: Where Fallout 1 starts, and is revisited in Fallout 2. Its experiment is believed to be a study of the effects of long term isolation, as the door was not meant to be opened for 200 years. Other accounts state that the Vault was meant to be a control group, with no experiment attached. It is located in Southern California, beneath Mt. Whitney.

Vault 101: This is where the player originates from in Fallout 3. Its purpose was to stay closed indefinitely to study the human condition, the genetic impact of breeding within a small group of individuals, and the role of the Overseer under these conditions. It is located in the Capitol Wasteland (formerly Washington DC). 

Vault 77: Vault 77 isn't technically featured in any game. In the lead-up to Fallout 3's launch, Penny Arcade put together a series of comic strips explaining the Vault's experiment, which involved a lone man and a crate full of puppets. The man eventually went homicidally insane due to prolonged isolation and escaped into the Wasteland, where he became known as the Puppet Man. Using his Vault Boy puppet, he murdered whole groups of Slavers. The only indication that Vault 77 might actually exist in the Fallout world is the Puppet Man's jumpsuit, which can be found in Paradise Falls, a strip mall converted into a Slaver haven, located in The Pitt (formerly Pittsburgh). The comic strip series, titled "One Man and a Crate of Puppets," has been removed from official websites, but you can still find them if you do a search.

Vault 87: Constructed with a very specific purpose in mind, Vault 87 is considered to be the birthplace of Super Mutants in the Capitol Wasteland. The occupants were locked into airtight chambers and exposed to a concentrated form of the Forced Evolutionary Virus. Ultimately, the entire population was either transformed or killed, but the Super Mutants kept much of their intelligence, even though they were extremely aggressive. The new Super Mutant race became obsessed with preserving its new species, since they lacked a natural means of reproduction. The only way to make a Super Mutant is to expose humans to the FEV, so they initiated a kidnapping campaign, creating much of the violence and chaos players find in Fallout 3. A similar plan was enacted by The Master, a very powerful mutant, in Fallout 1.

Vault 111: The possible place of origin for the main character of Fallout 4. It's located in the Commonwealth (near the remains of Boston, Massachusetts). The attached experiment is currently unknown, but it is the only Vault so far to have an above ground hatch, revealing an elevator that takes people to the inner Vault door below.


Each Fallout game has a unique set of factions depending on where the game takes place. However, there are a few that have a presence across the entire country.


Raiders are a constant threat throughout the Fallout world, and some are more organized than others. The most prosperous and feared groups are Slavers, since they don't always stop at stealing supplies, murdering people, and eating them. As their name indicates, they'll capture people and put them to work as slaves, or trade them with other Slaver camps. Every version of Fallout features a powerful Slaver group to deal with.

Brotherhood of Steel

The Brotherhood of Steel has roots in the pre-War American military and government sponsored scientific community. It has since grown into a sort of religious technological organization, complete with a neo-knightly order, based from outposts scattered across the country. They are characterized by their signature power suits, and though their numbers are few, they can be spotted patrolling the Wastelands.

Insular by nature, the Brotherhood maintains an uneasy relationship with the rest of the outside world. Its goals center on eradicating mutants along with finding and preserving technology and history. It is largely disinterested with the powers that govern the rest of the world, and rarely share the technology it collects. It doesn't induct new members from the outside very often, but its ongoing conflict against mutants and the Enclave makes recruiting efforts necessary, so the player may have an opportunity to join its ranks.

Fallout 3 introduced a splinter faction called the Brotherhood Outcasts, marked by red armor. They believe that the Capitol Wasteland chapter has lost sight of the organization's original goals in dealing with outsiders, which is to collect and preserve technology. So far, the group (by its nature) hasn't had an impact on the world at large, but that could change with time.

The Enclave

As a secretive political, militaristic, and scientific organization comprised mainly of descendants of the pre-War United States Government, The Enclave sees itself as the real rulers of the Wasteland. It also sees itself as the only true successor to the collapsed United States government. It has access to better technology than what the Brotherhood of Steel has, including more advanced power suits and Vertibirds for air transit.

As descendants of top-ranking government officials and presumably some top Vault-Tec employees, The Enclave has full knowledge the Vault Project's intended purpose and has access to its data. It is believed that the Enclave continues to monitor still functioning Vaults.

Originally meant as a means to preserve the government's elite, the Enclave's goals have radically changed over the years. It sees itself and Vault Dwellers as the last true humans left on Earth, since radiation has corrupted the genetics of surface world dwellers. So, the Enclave has made a point of cleansing the world of those it deems impure before rising up again to take over. In Fallout 3, players could choose to help the Enclave realize its goals.

Common Enemies

Giant Insects (Radroaches)

The Great War wiped out most of the wildlife and plants that covered the country, but some survived only to be mutated by the radiation and toxic rains. The most prominent result is the rise of oversized, irradiated, insects like radroaches and giant ants. They can be found just about everywhere in the Wasteland, crawling along the landscape or inside abandoned buildings.


Those that died from radiation exposure might have been the lucky ones. Others mutate into Ghouls, who look like their flesh is melting off them. The radiation also gives these unfortunate souls a radically extended lifespan. Some even regenerate when exposed to radioactive materials.

Although they all resemble zombies, Ghouls are divided into different categories. Many retain their full mental capacities and may contribute as fully functional members of society. However, their horrific look often marks them as pariahs.

Then there are Feral Ghouls, which come in different variations. These are individuals that have lost their minds to radiation poisoning, and will instinctually attack anything that isn't a Ghoul. Although they can be seen wandering the surface, they're more often found in dark underground areas like abandoned train stations, sewers, and even some Vaults. It is believed that these people were stuck underground when the bombs hit and couldn't escape the radiation.

Super Mutants

Despite the relative difficulty of producing a Super Mutant, they exist in every Fallout game. They result from exposing a human to the Forced Evolutionary Virus. Although some are more intelligent than others, each of these muscular monstrosities are gifted with superhuman strength and constitution. They are immune to disease and the effects of radiation, and are biologically immortal. But they can die from injury. Most Super Mutants also have an aggressive disposition and will attack players on sight. In some cases, they're very concerned with growing their numbers, and will resort to kidnapping humans to expose them to the FEV.


Tossing people into an FEV vats don't always transform them into Super Mutants. Most times, they simply die. Other times, they transform into something completely horrific. Centaurs are a result of FEV mutation gone terribly wrong, and have become a mass of rearranged human limbs. Its look has varied across the games, but the more recent Fallout games have settled on a human torso carried with four human arms for legs. Often accompanying Super Mutants like pets, Centaurs can spit irradiated saliva at enemies, or use its extra long multi-pronged tongue as a whip. Curiously, it is also capable of igniting flammable vapors


Robots, built to perform a variety of tasks during the pre-War era, can be found almost anywhere civilization once stood. You probably won't know if a robot is friendly or not until it shoots or helps you, but they're generally regarded as a somewhat neutral presence in the Wasteland. A high enough science skill may allow you to disable or reprogram the aggressive ones.

There are a few robots with personality, such as Mr. Gutsy or Liberty Prime, who are intent on waging a never-ending campaign against Communism. Robobrains have their memories and programming stored in an organic brain, contained within a clear domed top, and are functionally superior to most other robots. Although they generally don't have built-in weapons, they can wield tools and guns the way a human can.


The Deathclaw, one of the most feared and deadliest creatures in the Wasteland, is actually result of human genetic engineering, not mutagenic radiation. They are were created by re-engineering a Jackson's Chameleon with DNA from other creatures. Its intended purpose was to be sent into close-quarters combat situations before the Great War in place of humans. The Master (the villain from Fallout 1) refined the Deathclaw creation process, resulting in a creature with razor sharp claws that is incredibly fast and powerful, but (thankfully) lost its chameleon abilities.

As these sorts of experiments invariably do, Deathclaws eventually escaped the confines of laboratories and procreated. Packs of them can now be found from coast to coast. Among the dangers players face in the Wasteland, Deathclaws are among the deadliest. On the bright side, their severed claws can be made into melee weapons.

Prominent Pre-War Companies

The Fallout landscape is dotted with abandoned factories and warehouses made by pre-War companies. Here are some of the most prominent names you'll see along your travels.

Nuka-Cola: Before the Great War, Nuka Cola was the most popular soft drink in the world, and a shocking number of bottles managed to survive the bombs - making it the most sought after drink in the post-apocalyptic world. In fact, its bottle caps are the official currency of Fallout. Nuka-Cola comes in a number of different flavors, although they all tend to be warm, irradiated, and flat. Drinking one gains back health, and might temporarily boost your stats, at the cost of being irradiated.

RobCo Industries: If it's electronic, RobCo probably had a hand in creating it. Everything from the robots that wander the Wasteland to the Pip-Boy on your arm was designed by RobCo Industries. The company even helped build the gigantic Liberty Prime battle robot. Being the largest and most influential technology company in the world definitely had its perks. It's founder, Robert House, used the wealth he amassed to become the owner and leader of New Vegas. He even managed to survive to the events of Fallout New Vegas, where players can meet him personally and choose whether or not to back him as leader of the Mojave.

Vault-Tec: As a result of being the company spearheading the nation's Vault Project, Vault-Tec became one of the biggest military contractors around, rivaling RobCo. In addition to building the Vaults, the company is believed to have developed the Forced Evolutionary Virus, along with contributing high-technology to the Enclave. All computer systems found in Vaults and Enclave fortifications are built by Vault-Tec, but run off RobCo software. One of the company's greatest contributions is VATS (Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System), which allows users to queue up commands and target specific enemy body parts while providing real-time hit probabilities and feedback.

Useful Terms

Caps: Nuka-Cola bottle caps. They're the official currency of the post apocalyptic world.

FEV: Force Evolutionary Virus. A dangerous substance that radically mutates people in unpredictable ways. It is responsible for the Super Mutant population, among other creatures found in the Wasteland.

GECK: Garden of Eden Creation Kit. A briefcase sized device found in most Vaults.

The Great War: A nuclear conflict that occurred in the year 2077. It lasted two hours, and the world's superpowers launched their entire stockpiles of nuclear weapons at each other. This is the time when the Vault doors closed.

Karma: Your character develops as you adventure across the Wasteland, and your decisions shape the kind of person you'll become. Making selfish choices and hurting innocent people gets you negative Karma, while helping those in need earns you positive points. Either direction unlocks special skills befitting your character's personality, but people will regard you differently depending on your Karma level, with special dialogue options for the pure or dark of heart.

Perks: Perks are an extension of the SPECIAL system, and they provide special skills and bonuses to characters. For example: Black Widow and Lady Killer confer a 10% damage bonus to specific genders and opens unique dialogue options. Rad Child allows you to regenerate points of health if for every 200 points of radiation accumulated.

Pip -Boy: The Pip-Boy (Personal Information Processor) is a personal computing device manufactured by RobCo Industries that get strapped to your arm. It handles critical data like maps, quest logs, conversation recordings, and character health among other functions. There are currently two known models, the Pip-Boy 2000 and 3000, both with slightly differing looks, but the Fallout 4 trailer seems to indicate a third model will be featured. Trivia: Players can obtain a specially modified, gold and diamond encrusted, Pimp-Boy 3 Billion in Fallout New Vegas. For extra effect, pick up the Wild Wasteland Trait, which causes disco music to be played each time you swap it for the old Pip-Boy.

SPECIAL: An acronym for a character's main attributes. It stands for Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, and Luck. Players are given a fixed number of points and certain options will become available depending on how those points are distributed. High Endurance means that your character can take more damage, while extra Strength lets you carry more items and heavy weapons. Trivia: For a fun little experience, set your Intelligence way down in Fallout New Vegas. It will change the way you talk to people.

Traits: Similar to Perks, Traits provides the player with bonus characteristics, but they don't always impact gameplay. Bloody Mess causes enemies to explode into pieces once they are killed. Fallout 3 is the first game to remove the Traits system, but some of the selections can be found under Perks. Fallout New Vegas brought the Traits system back. It is currently unknown whether they will be a part of Fallout 4.

VATS: Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System. First introduced in Fallout 3, this system provides real-time information on an enemy and lets you queue up commands, aiming at specific body parts, by spending action points. Aiming for critical parts like the head might be tough to hit, but may quickly kill your enemy. However, hitting less critical areas like the arm or leg could impact the enemy's movement or accuracy. Trivia: Although Fallout 1 and 2 did not have VATS, they did have a similar move called "Aimed Shot." Among possible targets was the enemy's groin, which would temporarily disable enemies if hit. The crotch shot was not included in Fallout 3, and did not return in New Vegas. It is unknown whether it will be a feature in Fallout 4.

Vault: An underground bunker supposedly designed to house a large number of individuals in the event of a nuclear war, constructed by Vault-Tec and RobCo Industries, and funded by the United States Government. It turns out, these Vaults were not designed to save people, but were built as part of an elaborate series of social experiments.

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