|For a map of the Capital Wasteland, see Fallout 3 map.|
The Capital Wasteland is a loosely defined geographic region, spanning areas of Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia surrounding the Potomac River from (roughly) Harpers Ferry to the Potomac tidal basin. The term was coined at the turn of the 21st century and by the 23rd entered common parlance.
A once verdant and populated area of the U.S, the Capital, and its surrounding countryside received significant nuclear bombardment during the Great War. As of 2277, the area is little more than a scorching, barren desert where life for its inhabitants is a constant struggle for survival. It stretches from Raven Rock in the northwest to Rivet City in the southeast, with what's left of the Potomac River dividing it roughly in two. It serves as the game-world for Fallout 3.
The city of Washington and the surrounding environs were the heart of the pre-War United States and, as a result, a prime strategic target for the People's Republic of China. As the Sino-American War drew to a conclusion, the city was increasingly fortified against a nuclear attack. Buildings were reinforced with armored layers to deflect the blast wave and preserve their structural integrity and safeguard the legacy of the American nation, while infrastructure was upgraded and modified to become fully automated and capable of working even after centuries of no maintenance. The last monument to be erected within the city is the Anchorage War Memorial, situated on FDR Island in the Potomac River it was constructed after the conclusion of the Anchorage Reclamation.
By March 2077, in the light of the recent advances by the American military against the Chinese, key military, civilian, and corporate leaders abandoned Washington and the United States, expecting a retaliatory nuclear strike. The situation came to pass in October, when the American offensive pushed deep towards Beijing. National Guard units and their auxiliaries were mobilized and deployed throughout the nation. The most highly trained units were dedicated to Washington, D.C., to assist and evacuate the civilian population. Most servicemen were not briefed on the imminent threat. When nuclear weapons began to land on American soil, the West Coast was struck first. Its disappearance from the grid acted as an early warning, allowing civilians to get to shelter, and the armed forces to mobilize. In the end, it did not make much of a difference, as the future Capital Wasteland was saturated with nuclear weapons, coming in multiple waves. The densely urbanized center of Washington was spared most of the direct impact.
The intense thermal radiation from the bombardment set much of downtown Washington on fire. The conflagration lasted for weeks, perhaps even months. The National Mall was one of the few areas mostly spared from the fire. Some survivors used the Museums surrounding it for shelter. Others lost their mind after witnessing so much devastation, causing an already chaotic situation to degenerate further. Outside the city the situation was hardly better. What remained of the military joined remnants of the auxiliary units and civilian authorities, trying to establish a semblance of order and begin cleanup operations. However, the situation rapidly deteriorated. The absence of top level leadership resulted in a power vacuum and inability to coordinate relief efforts. While what remained of the authorities did its best to contain the situation and reclaim the devastated landscape (removing irradiated soil and dumping it in makeshift hazmat areas, cordoning off irradiated areas like the Metro. and setting up a network of military checkpoints on roads to control the flow of refugees), their efforts were too little to turn the tide. The desertion rate was high, increased by the high mortality rate among refugees exposed to radiation, and the ever decreasing ability of the remaining authorities to properly care for them. Many of the servicemen and their auxiliaries also suffered from radiation poisoning. In the face of a total collapse of society and the relief effort, the remaining authorities collapsed, leaving the wasteland in a state of chaos. A peculiar monument to this collapsed state was created when a dry docked aircraft carrier at the Washington Naval Yard attempted to exit the yard, but wound up beaching itself.
Survivors of the war took shelter in every sewer, Metro, and purpose-built shelter they could throughout the region. Those that emerged would settle where they could. Those that could not settle themselves, either because of lack of knowledge or materiel, would soon perish or become the region's raiders. One of the first settlements of the region was established a generation after the war. Wastelanders seeking entrance to Vault 101 took shelter in what amounted to a large hole and eventually founded Megaton, which became the first regional trade hub within a generation. A stable source of water thanks to the water purifier, a central location, and a population ready to take up arms in its defense at a moment's notice.
Many who could help the region recover, particularly various anti-government groups who retreated into remote rural locations and formed private militias promising to one day take back the government for the people, were absent. Most were killed by the nuclear blasts or perished in the chaos that followed, with only a handful surviving the worst of the first decades after the Great War. Those who did were incapable of effecting change on a larger scale. As a result, small communities flared up only to be extinguished by the uncaring wasteland in one way or another.
In 2103, a number of survivors would emigrate to Appalachia from the Capital Wasteland, joined by a group coming from the Pitt and parts of Pennsylvania, taking a train from union station out of the region, going on to form the settlement of Foundation. Some such settlers describe the Capital Wasteland as "hell on Earth." Others would come not from settler backgrounds, but as raider gangs and slavers, such as Sargento's gang.
Around 2237, remnants of the Naval Research Institute under the leadership of Horace Pinkerton established the Rivet Station Science Outpost within the derelict aircraft carrier at the terminus of the Anacostia River. For years to come they would use the intact science bay as the nucleus of their science efforts. By April 2239, a burgeoning civilian settlement sprung up around the station on the carrier. As a result, on April 25, Rivet City was formally established by Horace Pinkerton, Annette Holmes and Brad Danvers to better protect and organize this growing community. Governance of the City was relegated to a three person Council, staffed by one representative of each "caste" on board the ship: Scientists, civilians, and security personnel. Rivet City would eventually grow to become one of the largest and most prosperous settlements in the desolate Capital Wasteland.
Another major change occurred when Paladin Owyn Lyons and his detachment arrived in the Capital Wasteland in 2255, establishing a base of operations within Pentagon in the first few months. Though the Pentagon was largely destroyed, its sub-levels remained, for the most part, intact and its surviving stockpiles contained undisturbed pre-War technology and weaponry to sustain their operations. The crown jewel though was Liberty Prime. The discovery of Liberty Prime earned Paladin Lyons a battlefield promotion to Elder, and a new directive from his superiors in Southern California – to establish a new, permanent Brotherhood base in the Capital Wasteland, and continue the search for any other advanced technology hidden in the former capital city's ruins.
Shortly after their arrival, Lyons' scouts have identified a new threat in the area: a peculiar breed of super mutants, infesting the nearly deserted ruins of downtown D.C. Concerned by their presence and convinced that they are the primary threat to the Wasteland, Lyons initiated a protracted campaign of aggression to eradicate them that would last over two decades, claiming men and materiel for no appreciable return on the investment. Around the same time, they lent assistance to James and Catherine, a pair of scientists attempting to build a mass-scale purifier, intending to supply the wasteland with a virtually inexhaustible source of fresh, purified water, reducing their dependence on local purification methods. Ultimately, Project Purity failed to take off, despite the Brotherhood's involvement. Frustrated, Lyons withdrew his forces, leaving the Project to fend for itself. Project Purity died shortly after, together with Catherine, James' wife.
New settlements and routes
Still, between Rivet City's stable supply of food and the Brotherhood's aggressive pursuit of mutants, the Capital Wasteland caught a breather, allowing human settlement to increase. This included the development of existing settlements, like Megaton, the survivalist forerunners to the Republic of Dave, as well as founding of new settlements. The most notable is Canterbury Commons, founded in 2258 by Ernest Roe and his sister, Daisy Roe, which became the nucleus of a fledgling trading network between isolated human settlements. Another notable settlement attempts were Arefu, on a partially collapsed overpass, and Grayditch, founded by drifters from as far as New California.
However, the proliferation of humans also brought with it an increase in violence. Slavers of Paradise Falls could count on an increased number of transients and travelers to enslave and deliver to their clients. The emboldened flesh traders would start attacking weaker settlements to gather stock in bulk. At least two fell prey to them: Rockopolis and what became known as Minefield. Other settlements were consumed by the wasteland, like the wasteland gypsy village founded in an area lacking in potable water, food, or defenses, or Girdershade, whose homesteaders died at the hands of wasteland horrors.
With the steady increase in human presence, despite the challenges of the wasteland, the Capital Wastes slowly developed. New trails were created on a regular basis, as roads, rails, and highways were steadily taken apart for salvage or ruined by wear and tear. Ironically enough, much of this expansion would be the result of raider activities. By 2277, raiders would control large parts of the wasteland, though divided into petty, quarreling warbands. The largest raider settlement would emerge at Evergreen Mills, becoming a partner for Paradise Falls' slaving operation. Smaller groups of raiders would lay claim to a variety of locations, primarily as staging bases for attacks on wastelanders and their communities. Notably, many raiders would also revert to cannibalism due to constant food shortages, literally preying on their fellow man.
The Brotherhood chapter was unable to prevent the expansion of raiding or slaving due to its focus on fighting super mutants and attrition that forced Lyons to withdraw protection from much of the wasteland. Once occupying territory as far as the MDPL mass relay station and regularly patrolling the wasteland, Lyons' Brotherhood began 2277 as a diminished, weakened force, suffering from a shortage of qualified combat personnel and severely depleted stocks of weapons and equipment, along with a greatly reduced ability to project power. Outside the Citadel, the Brotherhood held only a handful of reinforced outposts scattered across the District of Columbia metropolitan area.
Elder Lyons' charisma kept his people together, though the Schism of 2276 marked a low point for his command ability. Having lost the Outcasts and a significant amount of materiel, Lyons was forced to step up his recruiting efforts and press barely trained initiates into combat. The attrition rate was tremendous: Without proper training, many died rapidly, despite being issued military-grade weapons and armor, up to and including T-45d powered armor. It is in this weakened state that the Brotherhood was forced to face the Enclave. The purifier they once abandoned has been reactivated by its former head researcher, James, with assistance from his child, known now only as the Lone Wanderer. The seizure of the purifier by the Enclave and the arrival of Dr. Madison Li at the Citadel with information that the Purifier can be made functional, despite previous data to the contrary, forced Elder Lyons to make a decision. The Elder decided that having the Enclave in control of the wasteland could not be allowed. To this end, he began to muster what little forces he had and gear them up for a campaign against the Enclave.
Despite numerous complications, including the capture of the Wanderer by the Enclave, Lyons' forces prevailed thanks to the reactivation of Liberty Prime thanks to Madison Li. The Enclave's concentration of forces at the Purifier turned out to be a grave miscalculation, as Liberty Prime carved a swath and inflicted terrible casualties on the faction on top of securing the Purifier for Lyons' chapter. Although it would later be destroyed in an ambush, the robot paved the way for a reversal of fortune in the Capital Wasteland, allowing the Brotherhood to use the active Purifier as a reliable source of water for the wasteland. Although the operation was badly organized and initially formulated as a pure charity, it was a step in the right direction, especially when coupled with the fall of Adams AFB.
Though Lyons would pass away within a year of the Enclave's defeat, with his daughter and successor killed in action shortly after assuming the mantle of Elder, the Capital Wasteland would soon see change. Though characterized as ineffectual, subsequent Elders oversaw the construction of The Prydwen, the very first airship constructed after the Great War, steady expansion of Brotherhood's control across the wasteland, and restoration of human civilization.
The Brotherhood leveraged its greatly expanded arsenal to forge strong relations with local communities, particularly merchant companies. The sight of a Vertibird swooping in to defend a caravan against a raider attack or particularly aggressive wildlife guaranteed their support for the Brotherhood - and the best prices. By 2287, the Brotherhood established firm control over the Capital Wasteland, in a dramatic reversal of the seemingly irreversible course charted in early 2277. The Capital Wasteland became an exporter of water, technology, and the Children of Atom.
However, the stability brought by the Brotherhood's rule also meant that opportunities for hired guns quickly disappeared off the market, forcing mercenaries to either change their job or find opportunities elsewhere.
The region known as the Capital Wasteland has been severely warped by the apocalypse. Although it was a lush temperate region before the war, the climate shift caused by the unprecedented scale of nuclear warfare unleashed on the world has led to desertification. Once made fertile by the Potomac, the Capital Wasteland turned increasingly desolate as the river dried up over the years. By 2277, the once-mighty river is little more than a swamp, with wastelanders able to cross it with dry feet in most places above roughly the neighborhood of Foggy Bottom. The drying up of the watershed has impacted the ecosystem and agricultural prospects in the region, with most plants unable to thrive in these conditions and the population of animals falling down accordingly.
The situation changes in the more urbanized areas of the region. Washington, D.C. weathered the nuclear storm but sustained severe wounds in the process. Much of the downtown area of the city has been reduced to rubble, its buildings but shells containing hundreds of tons of rubble. Certain neighborhoods evaded complete destruction and remain in better shape, although that's not saying much. Curiously, the automated infrastructure has survived intact, with automated power stations continuing to provide power, allowing capable survivalists to benefit from the technology of the ancients.
The adjoining territories of the pre-War states of Maryland and Virginia are home not only to derelict villages and townships, but also remnants of the pre-War grandeur of the United States: the grand Fort Bannister and the mysterious Fort Constantine, the crumbling Wheaton armory and National Guard depot, and what remains of its industry; the Corvega factory and the Nuka-Cola plant, as well as the extensive pre-War power line and monorail networks of Virginia and Maryland are but a few examples.
Compared to the rest of the United States mainland, the Capital Wasteland appears to suffer from severe contamination. Even two centuries after the war, the remaining radiation continues to interfere with agriculture, with all but the hardiest mutated plants able to take root in the contaminated soil. Most cities cannot support regular agriculture and trade for the necessary food. A fine example is Megaton, which has its own water treatment plant, but lacks agriculture and buys its food from traders.
Much of the wildlife inhabiting what is now called the Capital Wasteland died out. While the ecosystem has been severely damaged, some species survived and adapted to the changing circumstances. For instance the mirelurks are pre-War crab and turtle species that inhabited the Potomac, which has adapted to survive in the radioactive waters of the semi-dried upriver. Yao guai are also fierce, mutated bears indigenous to the region, whose natural lethality and resilience were only enhanced by radiation-induced mutations. radscorpions are also a common sight, evolved in much the same way as their cousins in the west. Their smaller insectoid siblings, bloatflies, have also increased in size, though are relatively harmless – and a good source of protein for hunters.
The relatively stable, even natural ecosystem that emerged in the Capital Wasteland is disturbed by a unique type of wildlife, endemic to the border areas of Virginia: super mutants. These giant, yellow-green beasts have a rudimentary level of intelligence and are capable of constructing simple structures and clothing, as well as operating tools of varying complexity. A fixture of the Wasteland since 2078, they became a permanent nuisance, dragging away people to be turned into super mutants, but never achieving major success due to their brain damage and lack of organization. Unlike other animals, super mutants are seen largely as pests and culled appropriately when practical.
In general, the economy of the Capital Wasteland for much of its existence was predominantly focused on subsistence and scavenging. The depopulation through nuclear fire has ensured that vast amounts of wealth remain untapped within the ruins, for those brave enough to enter them and scavenge. As mentioned above, slavery was a particularly lucrative business, though with a limited clientele, though certain locales, such as The Pitt and Paradise Falls have a high demand for slaves. Hunters could also expect to make a good living in the wasteland, as the changed ecosystem still produced prey that can make for a fine source of meat – even if that prey moved on two legs. The only settlement with a major agricultural output was Rivet City, the primary supplier of edible, non-irradiated food in the Capital Wasteland, trading foodstuffs grown in its hydroponic bays for essential raw materials with other communities.
Despite the harsh realities of the wasteland, a caravan route was set up by Canterbury Commons' "Uncle" Ernest Roe, providing one of the few reliable links between existing settlements. It was maintained by four merchants with modest protection and provided much needed economic exchange between the isolated settlements in the wasteland. Another trade route led as far as Point Lookout, operated by Tobar, who exchanged punga fruit and other goods produced in the region for salvage and other necessities produced by the Capital Wasteland.
Two weeks after the Battle of Project Purity, water merchant caravans could be found, transporting Aqua Pura to denizens all across the wastes, though some took advantage of the opportunity by selecting certain clientele and selling them snake oil.
By 2287, with the activation of Project Purity and the Brotherhood's rapid recovery, the situation stabilized greatly. The Capital Wasteland became a major exporter of water and salvaged technology, enabled by the Brotherhood's firepower and Vertibirds.
Compared to the developed lands of the West Coast, the Capital Wasteland lived up to its name after two centuries. The individual settlements were few and far in between, with the heavy presence of wild animals and especially human raiders, as well as the absence of viable farmland or stable sources of water heavily inhibiting the ability to recover. The largest settlement and de facto hegemon of the Wasteland was Rivet City, the primary supplier of edible, non-irradiated food in the Capital Wasteland, trading it for essential raw materials with other communities. Its scientific prowess was thanks to its aggressive reclamation efforts: anything useful was snatched up and brought to the City. However, it refrained from recruiting scientists from outside settlements, such as the Underworld or Tenpenny Tower, as the vote proposing such an initiative failed in the council. The city also had the fourth most powerful military force in the wastelands, right after the Enclave, Lyons' Brotherhood of Steel, and Talon Company. Although named as a simple security force, combat training was provided by wasteland veterans (Lana Danvers and Harkness) and each trooper was equipped with military-grade Army combat armor and automatic weapons.
The Enclave was briefly the single most powerful faction in the wasteland, boasting a coordinated, regimented army backed up by Raven Rock's industrial capacity, a fleet of Vertibirds, robots, and political leadership of John Henry Eden. However, internal disagreements coupled with a series of tactical and strategic blunders brought an end to its aggressive campaign of expansion into the Capital Wasteland. The Enclave was reduced to disorganized remnants after their defeat during Purifier Conflict, following the loss of all their major command centers, weapons stockpiles, and the bulk of their manpower.
Lyons' Brotherhood of Steel entered the year as a diminished, weakened force, suffering from a shortage of qualified combat personnel and severely depleted stocks of weapons and equipment, a direct result of twenty years of attrition warfare against the super mutants. Though once it reached far up the Potomac and its patrols protected settlements like Megaton, the Brotherhood's presence was eventually limited to the Citadel and only a handful of reinforced outposts scattered across the District of Columbia metropolitan area. The legacy of the war with the mutants was amplified by the Schism and the formation of the Brotherhood Outcasts in 2276. A year after the split, the Outcasts expanded into the wasteland with regular patrols scouring the wasteland for technology and began to excavate several locations, including the Virtual Strategic Simulations facility, in order to complete their original mission objectives. Ultimately, they planned to regroup with loyalist chapters in the West, though that plan was put off due to the need to protect Fort Independence and their considerable stockpile of powerful technology. However, the defeat of the Enclave brought a much-needed injection of ordnance and technology, allowing Lyons' chapter to make a dramatic return within the next decade.
Beyond the three organizations, the largest active group was the Talon Company. Rumors circulated that an unknown client has hired it to instigate a campaign of terror, preventing any meaningful recovery from taking place. Slavers of Paradise Falls, a major supplier of slaves to The Pitt and clients throughout the Capital Wastes, were disinterested in power plays and focused on enslaving the weak for the benefit of the strong – and their own coffers.
There were plenty of other, smaller settlements in the Capital Wasteland of 2277, existing outside the rudimentary power structures. The most unique of these was the Underworld, a haven for ghouls set up in the Museum of History. As it lies in the center of an active war zone, it was fortified to defend against all but the most persistent of attackers.
Following the disastrous conflict with the Enclave, the Brotherhood enjoyed a stable, but hardly unrivaled position. Suffering from severely depleted stockpiles and shortage of manpower at the beginning of the conflict, casualties taken during the fight with the Enclave and the loss of their most important military asset, Liberty Prime, made the future uncertain. Occupied by its research into the Enclave technology and the amount of gear and weapons it recovered, the Brotherhood slowly regained strength as it slowly chipped away at the years-long process. One of the greatest achievements of the Brotherhood of this time was starting the construction of The Prydwen, an armored airship greatly increasing the Brotherhood's ability to project power.
The biggest setback suffered by the chapter was the death of Elder Owyn Lyons circa 2278 and the loss of his successor, Elder Sarah Lyons, later that same year. With the seat of power emptied, the remaining Brotherhood members elected multiple ineffectual leaders, while the adolescent Squire Arthur Maxson matured into a capable warrior and tactician, eventually securing a victory over Shephard, the new warboss of the Capital Wasteland super mutants, in 2282. This feat earned him a provisional leadership position. In fact, this position was bestowed by West Coast Elders, who revealed that they still monitored their errant brethren. Maxson's position solidified in 2283, when he negotiated a treaty with the Brotherhood Outcasts, bringing them back into the fold and reforming the entire organization, merging Lyons' Doctrine with salvageable elements of traditional doctrines. Lyons' Brotherhood became a distant memory as Maxson took the united Brotherhood forces into a new direction. While some members found this distasteful and deserted, many more remained, proud to serve a refocused Brotherhood.
As a result, the Brotherhood became the single most powerful organization in the Capital Wasteland, exercising firm control over the region out of the imposing Citadel and Adams AFB. Under its control, the wasteland is a stable place, exporting goods and giving wastelanders a chance at a life beyond mere subsistence.
The Capital Wasteland is the setting of Fallout 3, and is expanded upon in its add-ons. A map of the Capital Wasteland appears in HELIOS One in Fallout: New Vegas. It is also mentioned in Fallout 4, its Fallout 4 add-ons Far Harbor, Fallout 76, and its update Wastelanders.
Behind the scenes
- The downtown D.C. area in Fallout 3 was over twice the size at one point, with 26 enclosed areas rather than final game's 12. The team decided it was too large and confusing and cut over half the zones.
- Originally the Capital Wasteland was significantly smaller, before being expanded relatively late in development in early-to-mid 2008:
This is because we were using the same POI density that had served us well for Oblivion. There’s no secret playbook at Bethesda that tells us what to do. We simply learn from what we’ve done before. POI density wasn’t something we really had a name for back then.
The trouble was that Oblivion and Fallout 3 are very different games. The sightlines in Fallout 3 are much larger, and you don’t have the major visual blockers of Oblivion’s forests and hilly terrain. Aside from all that, it’s a game where you’re supposed to occasionally feel lonely, and we weren’t achieving the tone we wanted.So we made a decision. We could have pared back, but we decided to add a significant amount of new area to the North and West ends of the map. Remember that we were in alpha, and a lot of this work was supposed to be done. If you’re a producer, you should be squirming in your seat right now. This took our entire environment art and level design teams offline for the better part of two months. It was a painful decision, but we felt it was the best option to make the game what we wanted it to be.”— Joel Burgess' blog