The best Fallout games ranked from bad to rad

The radiant, radiated, and everything in between
Bethesda

Deciding the best Fallout games depends on what you want out of your Fallout. The Bethesda game series changed wildly over the course of its two-decade lifespan, going from a CRPG series like Baldur’s Gate to an open-world RPG and then eventually ditching the roleplaying mechanics in favor of guns and action. That’s not taking into account the mobile game spinoff and an MMO with a very rough past.

The short version is, there’s a surprising amount of variety in the nuclear-scorched wasteland, though they aren’t always executed well. Our Fallout games ranked list breaks down what makes each Fallout game work – or not – and where they stink worse than a Ghoul on a hot day.

Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel

A Fallout Brotherhood member wearing a steel helmet, wreathed in flames
Giant robot fights make for some fun fights, but not a great Fallout experience / 14 East/Bethesda

Brotherhood of Steel is a good strategy game, but a not-so-hot Fallout game. The tone shifts from Interplay and even Black Isle’s mix of irreverence and seriousness to something that resembles Mad Max more than anything. Which is fine! But not what I look for in Fallout. The actual tactics are good – as brutal and unforgiving as the CRPGs – but it just feels like something’s missing.

Fallout 76

A Fallout armor set against the backdrop of a decaying Atlantic City
A bumpy road with one massive pothole remaining / Bethesda Game Studios

Fallout 76 sure had one bumpy road to travel. It launched with dozens of game-breaking bugs, and its rough development cycle reportedly full of crunch and mismanagement meant that there wasn’t a whole lot to do in the Wasteland. Most of those problems are gone now, and the MMO game plays much better – assuming you have no interest in PvP. The competitive element is horribly unbalanced unless you have the best weapons, and if you want to play solo, you have to fork over for a separate monthly subscription. Just… why.

Fallout Shelter 

Several people depicted in the Fallout animated style, entering a vault built in the side of a mountain
Good fun, until it isn't / Bethesda Softworks/Behaviour Interactive

Fallout Shelter is a fun little management simulator for a few days, but there’s just not much to do after that. You dig down and build a Vault-Tec Vault, completing quests, unlocking new rooms, and getting everything all nice and cozy for the people privileged enough to spend the rest of their lives down there. It’s fun! It would just be more fun if there were actually post-launch support of some kind. 

Fallout 4

A Fallout survivor and a German Shepherd walking along a dusty road in the middle of a wasteland
High-resolution Dogmeat / Bethesda Game Studios

Fallout 4 isn’t a bad game necessarily, especially if you prefer your Fallout with more shooty and less role-playing. If not, well, you’re in for a disappointment. Fallout 4 shifts away from the original games and Fallout 3’s character builders and more complex morality systems in favor of more action and some straightforward allegiances. The story – of an artificial human trying to find their child – is decent, and the Far Harbor DLC is excellent. It just feels a little too uncomplicated for my tastes.

With the next-gen update finally out, though, there's never been a better time to dive into this vision of the wasteland.

Fallout 2

Fallout 2 is a bit of a weird one. Black Isle, makers of the excellent, story-driven Planescape Torment, were behind this one, but Fallout 2’s story and characters are rather weaker than the original Fallout’s. The tone is also wildly inconsistent, and for some reason, Black Isle saw fit to stuff Fallout 2 with pop culture references – out of character at launch and slightly impenetrable for anyone not around in the late 1990s.

A Fallout Brotherhood of Steel armor suit with elongated helmet and orange glass eye coverings
Complete with creepy bug-like helmet / Black Isle

The bright side is that Fallout 2 does everything else better than the original. NPCs are more useful, battles are better, and the whole thing is just less clunky and unpleasant to play.

Fallout 3

A Fallout survivor hoisting a large gun over their head, with the U.C. Capitol building behind them
Brown, brown everywhere / Bethesda Game Studios

Fallout 3 is an excellent Fallout game with a caveat, namely, that it shows its age. If you can look past some of the questionable character writing and 50 shades of brown, it’s an ambitious leap for the series that successfully translates the spirit of the first two games into a 3D, open-world experience, albeit one without some of the older games’ intricacies. Morality might not be quite as complex, but the Wasteland has enough deep, disturbing stories to make up for the fact that you don’t leave much of a mark where you go.

Fallout

A Fallout survivor wearing a large metal helmet with multiple hoses coming from it
It looks rough but this baby fits so much RPG inside / Interplay

The original Fallout might look appalling to modern eyes, but it’s up there as one of the best classic RPGs alongside Baldur’s Gate I and II. Interplay’s vision of the apocalypse is absorbing, with meaningful choices, a sharp, if sometimes a little shallow, story, and dozens of ways to create a unique experience. Want to try and be a nice person and help everyone? You could do that. It might kill you, but you can try. Or you can be a monster, a liar, a sneaky little thief – it’s entirely up to you and how well you build your character.

Fallout New Vegas

A Fallout New Vegas survivor holding a handgun across their chest
The best of both worlds / Obsidian Entertainment

Fallout New Vegas takes the spirit of the first two Fallout games and translates it to modern, 3D, open-world games in spectacular fashion. It doubles down on roleplaying and character development, nails practically every side quest, so even seemingly throwaway encounters have weight and meaning. 

The reputation system is back, so your choices matter and will kick you in the teeth later if you aren’t careful, and your companions feel like proper allies. The scorched wasteland of New California is crammed with interesting stories, and while the combat might not feel quite as polished as it does in Fallout 4, it’s a better use of Fallout 3’s systems than Fallout 3 made of them. Even Limp Bizkit likes it.

If you’re new to the series and want to see what it’s all about, keep an eye on Steam, where Fallout game sales are frequent. Amazon’s Prime Video Fallout Show is also newcomer-friendly, a standalone trek through the wasteland that stumbles on its way, but ultimately has some interesting things to say.


Published
Josh Broadwell

JOSH BROADWELL

Joshua Broadwell is a freelance writer with bylines for GameSpot, NPR, Polygon, and more.