One Fallout 3 fan investigated how many bombs actually landed on the Capital Wasteland: it turns out, not that many

Vault Boy demonstrates how to duck and cover
(Image credit: GOG.com)

In the event of an actual nuclear holocaust, there probably wouldn't be a lot of sidequests left to complete or environmental storytelling to puzzle out, but that wouldn't make for a fun videogame, so Bethesda understandably played it fast and loose with nuclear physics in designing Fallout 3's Capital Wasteland. Even in the face of that, Any Austin on YouTube⁠—who has a bit of a speciality in puzzling out videogame open world logistics⁠—had to ask: how many bombs actually landed in Fallout 3, and where?

According to the capital-L Lore, it was in the hundreds, but the actual evidence in the game is a fair bit short of that. Any Austin started with the most concrete sites in his survey⁠—ones strictly spelled out somewhere in game⁠—and worked outwards to sites of a more "environmental storytelling skeletons hugging each other" variety. Radioactive puddle at the bottom of what looks like a crater? Sounds like a bomb site to me. How about some flattened trees and knocked down walls in Germantown suggesting an airburst detonation? You know what, I buy it.

There are only two 100% story-confirmed bomb sites in the game (leaving aside undetonated Megaton), but by applying a creative, investigative eye to the wasteland and turning to forum forensics, unearthing bombsite musings from yeoman gamer gumshoes of yesteryear, Any Austin was able to up that number to a staggering, uh, 12.

While 12 nuclear detonations in and around a major metropolitan population center would be an incalculable tragedy ushering in a new age of fear and horror the likes of which we haven't seen since WWII, it's still far short of the "hundreds" that supposedly landed on DC in 2077, or even the 77 that Mr. House thwarted in his defense of Las Vegas.

But before we have to resort to such barbaric defenses as "suspension of disbelief" or "artistic intent," Any Austin has a more elegant explanation: scale. In the Lore, places like Cyrodil or Skyrim are supposed to be the size of countries, but in-game they fill out the area of a mid-size suburban township. That's much better for gameplay though, turning them into the condensed "suggestion" of a real place chock full of things to do. If you want to explore something the size of an actual country, go load up Daggerfall and wander in one direction for fifty hours enjoying procedurally generated nothingness⁠—I'll wait.

Any Austin estimated that the Capital Wasteland's representation in Fallout 3 is about one eighth the size of the real thing, and if you multiply that by our 12 nukes, we get a 96 bomb-strong assault on the District of Columbia. Not quite the three figs of Fallout lore, but a little more respectable for such a strategically important target.

Any Austin's full, 19-minute voyage into the destruction of DC is well-worth the watch, and you can subscribe to his YouTube channel for more investigations into the logistics of Bethesda's simulated worlds. He also produces music as The Excellent Man from Minneapolis

Associate Editor

Ted has been thinking about PC games and bothering anyone who would listen with his thoughts on them ever since he booted up his sister's copy of Neverwinter Nights on the family computer. He is obsessed with all things CRPG and CRPG-adjacent, but has also covered esports, modding, and rare game collecting. When he's not playing or writing about games, you can find Ted lifting weights on his back porch.