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The popular videogame series Fallout is now a TV show but should you play it?

On April 11, streaming giant and megalithic online retail behemoth Prime Video will drop all eight episodes of Fallout, a TV series set in a comically dark world. One where nuclear war drove some of humanity underground, and for centuries the rest fended for themselves in a blasted irradiated landscape. The show stars Ella Purnell of Yellowjackets and features legendary character actors Walton Goggins and Kyle MacLachlan.

Fallout was developed by Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan, the television producers behind HBO’s Westworld and their second show for Amazon’s streaming service after The Peripheral. It’s based on one of the most successful role-playing videogame franchises of all time, and Nolan half-jokingly declared 2007’s Fallout 3 as an addictive experience that almost derailed his entire career in Hollywood. 

Now, is it necessary to play Fallout, in anticipation of the series on Prime Video? Probably not. Both showrunners are on record for saying the series was not made exclusively for die hard fans of the videogames, but are meant to introduce its compelling milieu to a larger audience. It is an original tale featuring a wide-eyed explorer, a mutated bounty hunter, and a devoted high-tech crusader.

But should you play the Fallout games? Absolutely. While nuclear holocaust stories are all too familiar thanks to movies like Mad Max and novels like The Road, Fallout is an original take with a unique alternate history. One in which the transistor was never invented and atomic power not computers defined the 21st century. Its aesthetic is unique, influenced by gritty 80s comics and 50s advertising.

As an OG Fallout fan from back in the late 90s, I’ve seen the games grow and change, sometimes in ways that aren’t to my liking. But I’ve come to accept that while today’s Fallout might not be my Fallout, every Fallout can be somebody’s favorite Fallout. And if you’re interested, then perhaps this article can be your guide.

For most people, the best place to start is Fallout 4. Released in 2015 to critical acclaim and selling over 20 million copies, it’s the most contemporary iteration of the modern Fallout formula under Bethesda Game Studios, the Maryland-based studio behind The Elder Scrolls, another beloved blockbuster RPG series.

Fallout 4 casts you as The Sole Survivor, a military veteran who had a life before the bombs dropped, but escapes cryogenic stasis to search for their kidnapped son. The game’s strongest aspects are its solid gun combat, developed by their partners at id Software, the studio behind Doom, which drives its popcorn blockbuster version of a survivalist fantasy.

Alternatively, one could begin their journey with the original Fallout, developed all the way back in 1997 by Black Isle Studios under the directorship of creators Tim Cain and Leonard Boyarsky. Described by its creators as the project “no one believed in,” Fallout set down many of the series’ conventions: the kitschy aesthetic and dark humor and emphasis on exploration and survival.

A turn-based CRPG rather than a modern action RPG, Fallout casts you as the one inhabitant of their underground shelter that drew the short straw. Known as the Vault Dweller, you exit the vault in search of a water purifier. The game remains fondly remembered for its creepy atmosphere, an ominous soundtrack by Mark Morgan, evocative art design and its darkly violent combat.

For millions though, their experience began with Fallout 3, released in 2008 for Xbox 360, PS3 and Windows PCs after a decade long absence. Publisher Bethesda Softworks sought to transform Fallout from a beloved cult hit into a massive blockbuster gaming property. By preserving much of the original spirit, but with gameplay contemporary to the time, Bethesda took Fallout into the 21st century.

As the Lone Wanderer, players depart from the Vault that raised them to search for their father, who has mysteriously disappeared in the Capital Wasteland of Washington, D.C. in search of forgotten secrets.

But for some, the real cult classic to go for is Fallout: New Vegas. The 2010 release builds upon the framework established by Fallout 3 but expands the mythology to the Southwestern states of Arizona and Nevada. It adds deeper combat mechanics, more intense survival options and features some of the most complex writing the series has ever had since Fallout 2. No surprise, as New Vegas was produced by Obsidian Entertainment under the leadership of Josh Sawyer with some of the folks who worked on Fallout 1 and 2.

Want to go over the top? Add Fallout 2 to your playlist. Developed under eighteen months, this sequel is known for the series’ craziest moments and cringe-inducing edginess. But despite some crass humor, it’s beloved by many. It might feature some of Fallout’s most juvenile writing, but it’s the only one that lets you screw people, shoot them and sell their drugs, which seems quaint in a post-GTA society, but it was wild in 1998.

And that’s about it as far as which Fallout games you should consider playing. There’s more to the Fallout games to explore like the mobile game Fallout Shelter, the online multiplayer adventures of Fallout 76, the quirky Fallout Tactics and even the maligned console spin-off, Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel, but to soak the retro-futuristic vibes and wasteland grandeur of the world ahead of the Prime Video series, start with the games above.

When the bombs drop – largely due to escalating conflicts over diminishing resources between global superpowers – is when the story of every Fallout installment begins and picks up generations later to explore how humanity has fared and if there is any hope left for the self-inflicted collapse of human civilization.