Fallout 4 History and Overview

The history of the Fallout universe is a complicated one. Not only does the history within the franchise divert from our own, but the details we have from the terminals, books, and other dialogues scattered around the wasteland, are incomplete or damaged.

That being said, we do have a brief idea about what occurred in the years proceeding Fallout 4 from the other titles in the franchise and some confirmed pieces of history included both in-game and officially published game guides with this incredibly well thought out and detailed lore.

Fallout 4 is by far the bestselling title under the Fallout IP and, therefore, probably the most relevant place to start discussing the past events which have led to our intrepid Sole Survivors revenge-fueled crusade across the wastes of the Commonwealth. So, what are we waiting for? Let’s Go! Welcome to our Fallout 4 History and overview guide.

The Commonwealth, How Did We Get Here?

The Commonwealth

When the player first boots up their copy of Fallout 4, they are greeted with a rather different prologue than normal to this franchise. Instead of some dreary, beaten-down old vault, the player begins their character creation in their lovely Sanctuary Hills home, accompanied by their loving spouse and baby, Shaun.

After some typical character creation menus and difficult decisions regarding just what color hair you’re going to stick with, the player is encouraged to explore their pre-war home, giving the avid Fallout fan a taste of what life was like just before the bombs fell.

A quick knock on the door soon after, combined with a rather forgetful conversation with a Vault-Tec representative, passes the time until a rather fateful announcement is made on the TV.

It turns out that this is not just any day in Sanctuary Hills, in fact, it is the most important day in the history of the human race, October 23rd, 2077.

The die-hard Fallout fans among us would have already known what was about to happen before the newsreader announced that those allocated slots inside vaults should probably make their way to their underground shelters.

This is where the action starts. Not long after the announcement, the player begins to hear sirens outside, and the panic in your spouse’s voice is evident. Something bad is about to happen. With your family in tow, the player runs through a now crowded neighborhood only to make it into Vault 111 with less than a second to spare.

Soon after, the player and their family are ushered into what are initially believed to be decontamination pods for a cleansing process before being shown to their new home further below ground. However, as with any Vault-Tec facility, all is not what it seems.

These decontamination chambers are actually cryostasis chambers, and the whole goal of this vault is to study the effects of long-term chemically induced hibernation. This period of suspended animation was supposed to be ended 180 days after the first subject was put under via a signal from Vault-Tec’s head office.

However, considering your character woke up a whole 210 years later than that, I’m just going to assume that message got a little bit lost in the mail.

You do wake up for a short instance thought just before this, only to watch your spouse get murdered, and your baby be taken away from you as you sit helpless in your cryo-pod. When you eventually wake up, the player takes on the mantle of the ‘Sole Survivor’ and begins their quest for bullet-fueled revenge.

But why? I hear you ask. Why did the bombs fall? Well, let’s take a look.

The Great War

As many of you will already know, the world of Fallout is both very similar and very different from our IRL world.

However, one thing is true for both entities, the global superpowers in our world will always be fighting and vying for total supremacy, and that through selfish means will constantly undermine and deprive each other if the end goal can be seen as benefiting the acting party.

This is the train of thought which will probably inevitably lead to the demise of the world in general but more relevant to this article, it is also how both America and China found themselves at war with one another.

In 2066, a conflict similar to the Cold War broke out between America and China over the sheer lack of key recourses. This conflict, known as the Sino-American war, whilst not particularly violent at times, continued to grow over a ten-year period bringing us to October 2077.

At this point, both parties had reached their wits end with both the decade-long war and the need for resources. Neither country could take a step back or admit defeat, as it would announce to their people that the vast amount of money spent on the war was all for nothing.

Therefore, the only logical step in the minds of these two great superpowers was to bring out the literal big guns, threatening each other with nuclear Armageddon.

With Fallout, being developed by Bethesda Softworks, an American publishing and development firm, the decision that it would be China who would throw the first major strike was probably an easy one to make.

They justify this in series through the Fallout 3 DLC Operation Anchorage, which details how China decided to launch the nuclear warheads soon after being deferred and rolled back in Anchorage, as well as suffering great defeats back home as America invaded China.

The People’s Republic of China probably saw the writing on the wall at this point, launching the first of four nuclear warheads at 9:42 EST, the resultant American retaliation bringing the war to a close an entire 5 minutes later at 9:47 EST.

In Brief

  1. The Great War took place between America and the Peoples Republic of China and only lasted 4 minutes.
  2. The Sino-American war beforehand lasted 10 years.
  3. The first atomic weapon landed in New York at 9:42 EST.

The History of Fallout 4’s Factions

Fallout 4 takes place ten years after the events of Fallout 3 and a total of 210 years after the Great War. In this time, much like in Fallout New Vegas, different opposing powers have sprung up into the wasteland, each with their own motivations and end goals.

The Sole Survivor can choose to join up with any of these factions, this decision, therefore, changing the prosperity of said faction for the better. I mean, of course, it does. You have the power of quick saves on your side, am I right? In total, there are four different factions the Sole Survivor can choose from, including:

The Brotherhood of Steel

The Brotherhood of Steel

Who Are They?

The Brotherhood of Steel (BoS) is one of, if not the main recurring faction in the Fallout franchise. This group rose to power after assembling pre-war technology from the entirety of the American wasteland, forming out of the remnants of the US military.

Having scrabbled together out of the wreckage of the US military after the Great War, this faction is very keen on military discipline and order.

Their operation also exists under a strict hierarchy wherein members are promoted and demoted, similarly to the army we know today. They are commanded by the ‘Elder,’ the highest-ranking officer in the organization.

The main goal/s of the BoS is to bring back a sense of order to the wastelands they operate in whilst simultaneously eradicating all non-human life forms. This includes lifeforms which the player character may actually find very pleasant, such as ghouls, super mutants, and synthetic humans.

This central tenant may therefore create a moral dilemma for the player in regard to their interactions with the BoS throughout the entirety of the Fallout franchise but specifically within Fallout 4.

Their Place in Fallout 4

The Sole Survivor will likely come across the BoS during their adventure through the Commonwealth as they make their way towards Diamond City. During this trip, the radio signal named ‘Military Frequency AF95’ will appear. L

istening to this signal and then following it will lead the player to the Cambridge Police station wherein the player must help defend said police station from a bunch of ghouls alongside some BoS personnel attempting to set up shop within the police station.

Helping this unit, headed up by Paladin Danse, will therefore bring the player into the fold with the Brotherhood, thus allowing you access to more missions from the group.

It is through these missions that the Sole Survivor will learn of the Brotherhood’s particular hatred for the Synths. Not only will you learn that the Brotherhood would happily eradicate all synths in the Commonwealth, but they will also take no mercy on those humans who harbor them.

This stance on synths is one of the more complex moral decisions the player will have to make in Fallout 4. On the one hand, your spouse and child were taken away from you by the Institute and a synth in particular. But on the other hand, characters such as Nick Valentine and Paladin Danse prove to us that not all synths are bad.

You see the dilemma this game had me in? I came to shoot super mutants, not question what makes sentient life sentient. Come on, Bethesda!

The Brotherhood of Steel outfit that the Sole Survivor encounters in Fallout 4 is headed up by Elder Arthur Maxson, the last of the Maxson lineage and a character returning players to the series will have met before. As a child, Arthur served as a squire in the Citadel in 2277 and thus was an NPC in Fallout 3.

During the time between the games, one can see just how far the young squire has come, dragging the Brotherhood along with him into being a major power across the entire eastern seaboard.

Initially, the Brotherhood sent out three scout missions into the Commonwealth with the goal of finding old-world technologies. The second of these missions, carried out by Recon Squad Artemis was incredibly successful as they managed to bring back entire crates filled to bursting with such technology.

Soon after this, however, this squad was ambushed by Gunners, forcing the soldiers to both destroy their Power Armor and flee. Four of their number were also killed during this altercation.

After a short gap in the Commonwealth exploration plan, three years later, a recon squad named Gladius, headed up by everyone’s favorite Fallout 4 companion Paladin Danse, entered the wastes looking for more technology and documents.

This squad, however, would face some of the same difficulties that the previous unit had, being attacked in large numbers by feral ghouls at the Cambridge Police Station. At this point, the unit sent out a distress beacon to the Brotherhood, asking for further support.

Clearly, it was at this point that Elder Maxson decided the Commonwealth needed to be brought into line. In the form of help, the Brotherhood sent the Prydwen to the Commonwealth.

Therefore, the flagship’s arrival stated the continued presence of the BoS in the Commonwealth, thus allowing the Gladius unit to set up a permanent foothold at the police station.

This continued presence also allowed the Brotherhood to establish its belief systems upon the Commonwealth. They did not waste much time before putting a big target on the Institutes back.

In Brief

  1. The Brotherhood of Steel style themselves as a pre-war military faction and wish to bring order and democracy back the wastes.
  2. The commander of the BoS is Elder Arthur Maxson, a former squire for Elder Owyn Lyons in Fallout 3.
  3. The Brotherhood hates any humanoid creature other than humans. This includes super mutants, ghouls, and synths.
  4. Choosing the Brotherhood in Fallout 4 leads to the destruction of the Institute.

The Institute

The Institute

Who Are They?

You are first introduced to the idea of the Institute when one of their more advanced synthetic humanoid creations, a courser, comes into your vault whilst the player is still trapped in their cryo-pod. Upon entering, the courser both kills your spouse and steals your infant child away from you. Not a great first impression I’d say.

During the course of the game, however, the player learns that the Institute is a post-war faction concerned with the advancement of science in the Commonwealth and the world at large, stopping at nothing to achieve said advancement.

To do this, the scientists locked within the institutes very white walls decided that synthetic humanoids or synths needed to be both developed and bettered with each iteration in order to acquire necessary materials and information.

At first, these 1st and 2nd generation synths were nothing more than machines, easily discovered by humans on the surface; however, the Institute turned their vision towards the creation of synths that could pass easily as humans, the end goal of which is the acquisition of knowledge that would otherwise be impossible for the Institute to get a hold-off.

Another goal of this Institute is to produce a race of human-like machines that can replace the humans who caused such a horrible nuclear apocalypse in the first place.

By inventing something more enduring and adaptable to the new irradiated world they now find themselves in, the Institute, therefore, hopes to better the human race with their own creations.

This is the goal behind young Shaun and why he was being brought up as a real human being, in the hopes that he could adopt, adapt, and become better.

Their Place in Fallout 4

As one of the key factions within the game, the Institute represents not only the main antagonists of the game, with their synths continually attacking you throughout the main questline and their courser having killed your spouse.

But they also represent what could be, what the Commonwealth could look like via the power of science should certain sacrifices be made along the way.

Another moral dilemma then is thus presented to the player as to whether the good these scientists intend to bring to the wasteland actually warrants or excuses the very real human toll they are continually wracking up in their selfish pursuit for future achievement.

The Institute itself was built upon the ruins of the old Commonwealth Institute of Technology or CIT, basically, the Fallout universes version of MIT, not a very subtle change if you ask me. The formation of the Institute was actually pretty organic post the Great War.

Firstly, the children of the survivors who took refuge in the old CIT buildings ruins began building more and more complicated living facilities underground, digging deeper and deeper underground as they went. Soon, the building began to take shape into the Institute with the creation of laboratories and continued expansion of key infrastructure.

During this time of development, the organization continued to isolate themselves from the rest of the world, shunning old-world technologies in favor of their own, much more advanced alternatives up until, in the 2180s, they invented a molecular relay. Or, to us less smart individuals, a teleporter.

The invention of which allowed the Institute to fully cut themselves off from the outside world, with access to their facility becoming only possible via said teleporter.

Therefore, due to their isolationist nature and tendency to send out creepy-looking robots to both do their biding and snoop on other human settlements throughout the wasteland, it was not long until this organization gathered a rather poor name for itself.

In Diamond City, for example, the player does not need to stand around in the main street for long until they overhear a conversation regarding a predicted Institute invasion or a chat about how some citizens fear the presence of robots so human-looking that they couldn’t tell the difference between them and real people.

If the player decides to back the Institute in the overall storyline, then they will not only be cut out off all other faction related quests, but they will also have to take a very central role in the destruction of both the Brotherhood of Steel and the Railroad, wiping both of them from the face of the Commonwealth.

Upon completing the demolition of these factions, the player will return to the Institute, wherein Father (your actual child) will allow you to choose the future of the wasteland via a set of dialogue cues and also appoint you as the new director of the Institute.

In Brief

  1. The Institute was founded and set up organically by the children of Great War survivors atop the ruins of the Commonwealth Institute of Technology.
  2. This location serves as a direct replacement for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology IRL.
  3. The Institute is directed by the now fully grown Shaun, known as Father in the game.
  4. The Institute wish to create a better world, populated by synths that can more easily survive and thrive in the world of Fallout.

The Minutemen

The Minutemen

Who Are They?

The Commonwealth Minutemen are a direct descendant of the civil war era Minutemen. These original soldiers were civilians who independently formed a militia and self-trained themselves in weaponry.

The brilliance of this force was their ability to be ready at a moment’s notice, hence the name. they were also highly mobile and rapidly deployable, allowing the colonies to respond very quickly to threats.

The title Minutemen was also applied to other civilian militias later in the conflict in order to inspire a feeling of patriotism that was so deeply felt for the original group.

This is the mold the Commonwealth Minutemen, therefore, cast themselves in. They are a volunteer civilian military force, who have decided to come together in the spirit of the civil war Minutemen with the ultimate goal of protecting and helping the citizens of the Commonwealth during this highly dangerous time.

Their Place in Fallout 4

The group was originally founded in 2180 after they helped to repel a super mutant attack from the walls of the heavily populated Diamond City. With this victory fresh in their minds, the Minutemen’s leadership decided that it would be best to set up a provisional government with regional settlements in an effort to civilize the wastes.

However, probably seeing such an idea as contrary to their own ends, the Institute stepped in, ruining this plan by sending synths to murder a number of their members.

These murders did not stop the minutemen totally however as several other members journeyed towards Fort Independence with the goal of establishing their headquarters, calling the site ‘The Castle’. The group then held and operated out of this location for many years until 2240.

At this stage, under the leadership of General McGann, the headquarters was destroyed by a Mirelurk like creature which stepped out of the ocean beside the fort. By the time the Sole Survivor comes into contact with the Minutemen, the organization is still without a permanent home and leadership.

The position of general has not been held since the death of Joe Becker in 2282. Therefore, the player must, firstly, restore the minutemen to their former glory whilst also bringing them into the future, fighting on behalf of terrified settlements the entire time.

When the player interacts and becomes a member of the Minutemen, this membership does not rule out the player from siding with any of the other factions for the end game plotline.

Therefore, whichever faction one chooses, the Minutemen will act as you do, supporting their member and potential general in any way they can, declaring war against opposing factions on your behalf.

In Brief

  1. This militia faction is directly inspired from the Minutemen of the American Revolution and therefore are modeled after them in the game, including their values.
  2. There have been many Generals of the Minutemen since their origins however when the player arrives, there has not been a leader in some time.
  3. The Sole Survivor can ally themselves with the Minutemen by alienating the other core factions in the game.
  4. One of the Minutemen’s main goals is to re-acquire their former headquarters, ‘The Castle’, taking it back from the sea creature which ran out their predecessors.

The Railroad

The Railroad

Who Are They?

Simply put, the Railroad functions as an underground network wherein sentient synths are transported to locations of safety away from anyone and everyone who would do them harm. This includes the Brotherhood of course but also the Institute who would ‘enslave’ these synths.

The exact founding date of the Railroad is not known; however, we do know that they have been operating in some organized capacity since the beginning of the Generation-3 synths production, dating them back to at least 2220.

From this kicking-off stage, the organization has operated in the dark, helping synths in their quest for freedom in the best ways they could, however, the organization has faced, throughout its history, a series of discoveries and subsequent crackdowns from those who oppose their values.

The first of these crackdowns occurred under the leadership of Agamemnon, shutting them down in 2266. After this crackdown and subsequent massacre, Wyatt, another former leader of the Railroad, took the reigns of control and changed many of the operational structure of the organization, in particular, he decided to keep the HQ a secret from independent safehouses as this would, in theory, protect the HQ being found with information obtained from said safehouses.

However, even though this change to the Railroads MO did make a huge difference, this leader would soon also be killed in another Institute ambush.

Their Place in Fallout 4

As you can imagine, the Railroad and the other two main factions in this game do not exactly see eye to eye over the issue of synths.

The Brotherhood and the Institute would likely pay a great deal of money for the wiping out of the Railroad and therefore, if the player does happen to develop some kind of sympathy towards these robots, they will have to combat against both the powers of the Institute and the Brotherhood in order to establish a Commonwealth more in keeping with the beliefs of their chosen faction. But should you fall in beside the members of the Railroad?

Well, the Railroad which the Sole Survivor comes across in Fallout 4 is headed up by Desdemona, taking on the role in 2276. This new leader brought the Railroad truly into the present as they simultaneously improved many fundamental aspects of the organization, including security and compartmentalization.

Desdemona didn’t do this by themselves, however as the arrival of Thomas Weatherby, henceforth known as Tinker Tom, helped the Railroad with both weapons and technology development.

They are also in contact with the Institute via discreet means by the point the player arrives. Liam Binet, an Institute scientist using the alias ‘Patriot,’ contacted the outside world against Institute regulations, and this contact, in the form of a message, was intercepted by Tinker Tom.

This interception, therefore, allowed Tom to decode the message and has allowed the Railroad an internal communication point from within the Institute without Liam Binet even knowing.

It is with this knowledge and footing that the player must decide whether to help the Railroad in their mission or to help one of the other factions, in particular, the Institute, to destroy them with or without mercy.

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: What Caused the Nuclear War in Fallout?

Answer: The first nuke was launched by the People’s Republic of China off of the East Coast of America, landing in New York.

This bomb was launched shortly after China had lost to American forces during operation Anchorage and their Homeland was invaded by the Americans. After the first Chinese bomb fell, the US retaliated thus destroying the planet.

Question: What is Your Spouse’s Name in Fallout 4?

Answer: Depending on the gender the player picks, your spouse is either named Nate or Nora.

Question: What Really Happened in Vault 111?

Answer: Vault 111 was originally built to test the effects of long-term cryo-stasis on human subjects. The predetermined duration of this experience was supposedly 180 days.

After which time a signal would be sent to the vault, announcing the end of the experiment. This signal did not come, however, causing the experiment to fail and the Sole Survivor being trapped in their pod for 210 years.

Question: Where Would Sanctuary Hills Be in Real Life?

Answer: As Fallout 4 is set upon the landscape of Massachusetts, it is pretty common to narrow down possible IRL locations for in-game sites. Sanctuary Hills, for example, is likely located where Man National Historical Park can be found IRL.

So, there we have it. A good look at the history and overview of the Fallout universe up to and including the first time the player walks out into the wasteland.

Hopefully, reading this, you are just as excited to get familiar with some of these factions as I am and maybe, if you are particularly moral or immoral, you might know which faction you are going to pick.


  1. The Railroad’s ultimate goal is to deliver synths out of danger and perpetual slavery via transporting them away from the grasp of the Institute into safer locations.
  2. This organization is once again based upon the real Railroad which served during slavery to free said slaves from their bondage.
  3. The Railroad in this universe was first operating, in some way or another, by 2220, but no definite date can be found.
  4. The current leader of the Railroad, Desdemona, took charge in 2276 and still leads today.

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