Fallouts 3 and New Vegas: The Two Wastelands

3 ex 1nv ex 2By Chris

Give me a platform that enables me to talk about games and I will talk about Fallout. It’s inevitable. And though I will hold back out of mercy for you, dear reader, I will not abstain entirely. I love the latter installments of the series; I’m looking forward to Fallout 4, and am going unhinged with fanboy anticipation. So, to ease all of this questionable tension, I thought I would dive into the previous two installments.

A common question that comes up among those who just enter into the Fallouts 3 and New Vegas is “which one is better”? And while both excel in different areas, Fallout 3 having a more crushing post-apocalyptic atmosphere and New Vegas boasting the ability to fucking aim a gun properly, a significant point of comparison and contrast is setting.

That in mind, I wanted to dedicate sixths article to the two wastelands themselves, and share with you my experience, and how I perceive these two world in comparison to one another.

Fallout 3 has it’s player character, The Lone Wanderer, roaming the remnants of a ravaged Washington D.C., which is dubbed The Capital Wasteland. Though downtown D.C. is a focal point for a good deal of the game’s plot, the actual wasteland stretches beyond Fairfax and Bethesda (shrunk, of course, to fit a single game).

New Vegas takes place in the relatively unmolested Mojave Desert, and stitches from Goodsprings (yes, it is a real place) to Hoover Dam, and includes the legendary Las Vegas, baby! This stretch of post-war hell (and in some sticky back rooms, heaven) is where New Vegas’s hero, The Courier, roams.

First Glimpses

As you emerge from Vault 101, you are given a scenic view of The Capital Wasteland. The moment is solidified in the haunting knowledge that this is your character’s fist interaction with the worth around them. This is a dead word, and it doesn’t care to even acknowledge your existence. You are given a clear view of everything around you, and yet there is nobody in sight.

Dead, brown trees... get used to them.
Dead, brown trees… get used to them.

You will experience adventures, danger and off-the-wall characters along your way, but these will all be punctuated by intermissions of wandering the cold skeleton of western civilization. You can easily find yourself as lost in the emptiness around you, and if you aren’t careful, one wrong turn will see you stay that way.

Looking at The Mojave Wasteland, you may think it to be the same experience. In fact, it may even seem like the same wasteland. There is, however, stark contrast between these two experiences. The Lone Wanderer steps out into the surface world for the first time, whereas The Courier has grown up in it. This important gives The Mojave Wasteland a more welcoming (relatively speaking) feel.

Point me to the waterin' hole...or water... or a hope in hell.
Point me to the waterin’ hole…or water… or a hope in hell.

Another important distinction is the fact that you are in a town populated town, and are only steps away from other people, trade, cattle and other gears of civilization. The crushing loneliness of The Capital Wasteland is replaced with the fires of new civilizations which are tearing at each other over the remains of their ancestor.


What do I remember most from Ocarina of Time? Seeing Death Mountain from a distance, exploring the graveyard and riding along Hyrule Field, looking for every secret the world had hidden.

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A Super Mutant guards the trenches of the D.C. Mall. A shadow of old world power looms in the background.

The two wastelands are nothing if not exploration-friendly. Secret rooms, caves and even settlements are tucked in everywhere from hillsides to sewers.

The Mojave Wasteland, though more settled and connected than The Capital Wasteland, still offers hidden gems and dangers for the Courier. However, the Lone Wanderer and the Courier experience vastly different sides of their respective wastelands.

An old world gem shines in the distance.
An old world gem shines in the distance.

The Lone Wanderer, while still interacting with growing communities, is most exploring the ruins of the past. Culture is, at most, a dress up of the past relegated to obscure pockets of the Capital Wasteland.

The Courier, living under the shadow of the New California Republic, experiences entire cultures taking their early steps into the new world, as well as vestiges of the old world, clinging to dated traditions. Entire communities grow up under political ideals, and strive to carve out their ideal existence in the Mojave. In The Capital Wasteland, day to day survival bears down mercilessly.

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While not the most exciting feature of the Wastelands, but arguably one of the most significant, water is prominent in both worlds.  In Fallout 3, you take on the responsibility of bringing purified water to the Capital Wasteland, and the focal battle of New Vegas takes place at Hoover Dam.

In The Capital Wasteland, Potomac River is irradiated, and clean water is a struggle to find.  You are frequently asked by destitute wastelanders for clean water, and you will never have enough to satisfy them all.

The irradiated Potomic cuts The Capital Wateland in half.
The irradiated Potomac cuts The Capital Wasteland in half.

The Mojave, by contrast, has a clean Colorado River, as well as lakes and streams that are safe to drink.  Radiation still haunts vast expanses of the wasteland, but having such a massive river free of the scourge eases the hopelessness of your wandering.

The Colorado's pure waters divide two warring empires.
The Colorado’s pure waters divide two warring empires.


As you can probably tell by now, which wasteland you will prefer will depend on the type of world in which you want to immerse yourself. For those looking to wander a skeleton of the old world, you capital wasteland will more than oblige. For those looking to see the frontier west take its second breath, and do some wicked gambling, New Vegas is your destination.

Whichever you chose, “stay safe, and good hunting”.

One thought on “Fallouts 3 and New Vegas: The Two Wastelands

  1. Really enjoyed this, particularly as I’ve just started playing F3NV again last week. That first sight you get of the Strip at night … wow, that’s why I play games like this.

    I remember how bright F3NV was compared to F3, the colours had me reeling at first.


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