In the 17 years since the Fallout franchise was introduced to the world, all of the games have been met with praise—which means that ranking them isn't easy. That's especially true when you consider that the post-nuclear franchise underwent a genre change.
Still, here we are. The Pecking Order god is not satisfied with our Grand Theft Auto, Pokemon, Final Fantasy and Halo rankings. It wants more. So we'll feed the beast another feature, this one ranking the Fallout games, from best to 'worst.' Here's some things you should keep in mind before we get started:
1) We'll only be covering the main entries in the Fallout franchise; no spin-offs or DLC. Sorry, Tactics!
2) Remember, this is my personal opinion. You might disagree! You're welcome to comment with your own rankings, if not debate my personal order—although naturally I'll do my best to justify my choices.
Let's do this.
1) Fallout 2
Okay, I'll admit it: this entry has a lot of personal significance for me—Fallout 2 altered how I viewed America and its politics, and it gave me a safe space to explore my sexual identity. But objectively, I see it as the pinnacle of what Fallout has to offer: a zany, post-apocalyptic game with an incredible amount of choice, a smart critique of American ideals—all packaged in a more cerebral genre than the modern titles. (It's a turn-based RPG.) The modern games feel too easy by comparison, and not in the good way.
This is a game where bee-lining to final boss in 30 minutes is a viable strategy (it's very difficult, but do-able)—or, you can opt to explore for dozens of hours. And if you do decide to explore, you can do all sorts of stuff—from becoming a porn star or a made-man, to being able to talk to the AI responsible for ending the world in the great war. It's the sort of freedom and versatility that most modern games that brag about "choice," and "consequences" can't touch.
2) Fallout 3
For a hardcore Fallout fan like myself, the fact 3 exists at all feels like a miracle—before Bethesda took charge, I kind of assumed my beloved franchise was all but dead. I remember immediately reserving the collector's edition of this game, and waiting outside of Gamestop at midnight the day before launch sort of thinking, is this really happening? Is there really a new Fallout game?
While I lament the change in genre—especially after XCOM proved that you can modernize a franchise without turning it into an FPS—Fallout 3 is the Fallout game most people are familiar with. With good reason: the capital wasteland (what a perfect setting for a game about America, by the way), in its full, open world glory, is a joy to explore. It's tough to forget unhinged characters like Moira, nevermind levels like Tranqulity Lane. And that opening level, in the Vault? It's gotta be one of the best introductions in a game, ever. Can't say I'm a big fan of V.A.T.S or how, mechanically, it felt like I was playing The Elder Scrolls with a different skin, though.
3) Fallout: New Vegas
Many consider New Vegas to be superior to Fallout 3, namely because of the writing. Unfortunately, having played the original games, it's difficult for me to rank it higher than third place. Now, make no mistake: it's more of the Fallout goodness that 3 offers—and that's great! It's a great game. But the entire casino/Vegas shtick? It's been done, and not by other games. By Fallout itself! Fallout 2 has New Reno...I'll quote Richard Cobbett on why New Vegas is disappointing when compared to New Reno, as he puts it well:
While I enjoyed Fallout: New Vegas, the actual town of New Vegas—to be more exact, the Strip—was a bitter disappointment. You spend a good third of the game waiting to get into this fabled gambling utopia, only for the gates to finally open and reveal four deserted casinos squatting amongst post-apocalyptic debris. No texture, no threat, no soul. Not so in New Reno.
You fight for control of the Vegas strip, but it feels inconsequential to the degree of control that you have over Reno in Fallout 2. That, and Vegas makes it so that there's a very specific and linear way to explore the world—which feels antithetical to what Fallout is about. While I have other criticisms, in the interest of not making it seem like I hate New Vegas, I'll end by saying that I appreciate that New Vegas feels like it's a more refined Fallout 3 in some respects, like when it comes to the RPG elements.
4) Fallout 1
Another game that I feel guilty of ranking so 'low,' but reminder: all of the games in the franchise are excellent. The original Fallout is no exception. Consider the story—Yannick, who is a bigger Fallout 1 fan than I am, explained to me this morning that being tasked to find a water purification chip for your vault is an excellent way to frame your adventure. Your goal is urgent—you don't want your vault to run out of water—and by the time you complete this quest and are able to explore the rest of the world freely, you're hooked on Fallout's fiction, Fallout's world. You want to see all of what Fallout's map has to offer because of the main story. Most open-world games, by contrast, always struggle to find the right balance between the open-ness and the story.
Mechanically, the game is fantastic, too. By now we're all familiar with the level of customization and choice the Fallout games offer thanks to the SPECIAL system and the huge dialogue trees, both of which allow players to approach a problem any way they see fit. This was the game that started it all—and, arguably, gave players even more choice than the modern Fallout games do. Couple those things with amazing, atmospheric writing (convincing the big bad to kill himself? Forget Fallout 3, Fallout 1 did it first) and it's difficult to find someone that doesn't adore Fallout 1...provided they've actually played it.
Of course, by nature of its age, it's the title that has aged the worst.
Now I turn it over to you guys. How would you rank the Fallout games, best to worst?
This post originally ran on June 2013.