Digging through the lore to get to the meat of the matter.
Edit: I added a bit about the Great Khans tribe, because they factor rather heavily into the lore of the game.
The Fallout franchise is flush with lore that extends well beyond the immediate setting itself. Between the original creators, like Interplay Entertainment and Black Isle Studios, as well as Bethesda and Obsidian Entertainment, there have been quite a few different groups contributing to the universe. Unlike Star Wars though, the Fallout series has yet to experience a culling of information.
But I’m not writing about that. I want to clear up some of the background of one of my favorite entries in the franchise, Fallout: New Vegas.
Fallout: New Vegas may start for the player with a scene seeming stolen from movies featuring the mafia families in Las Vegas, with the courier kneeling in front of a freshly dug grave, and a terribly voice-acted wiseguy waving around a handgun, but the real story doesn’t start there.
No, if you want to understand what’s going on in the background of the game, you need to go back almost a decade to when New Vegas was just a dilapidated city, populated solely by multiple ruthless gangs.
Dealt A Bad Hand
The New California Republic (NCR) had been doing what democratic societies do best (expanding), and sent scouts out east from civilization to see what was left of Nevada. It didn’t take long for them to find one of the largest hydroelectric dams in the world, the Hoover Dam.
Of course, Robert House was watching and waiting. Mr. House, the owner of the Lucky 38 casino and business entrepreneur, had protected Las Vegas from the brunt of the Great War’s fury with expensive anti-missile systems he had installed around his casino. He saw the writing on the wall, and he intended to help raise Vegas from the ashes of the war and build a new empire in the Mojave.
So long after the bombs fell, and the NCR scouts got done poking around and headed back to report their findings, Mr. House got to work.
He rallied the locals under his control, offering to uplift the tribes around Vegas in exchange for them living under his influence. They abode by those terms because let’s face it, scratching out an existence in a nuclear wasteland would suck, and Mr. House handed them a pretty good deal.
With the arrival of the NCR, Mr. House saw an opportunity. Instead of spending time and resources to restore the Hoover Dam to working order, he negotiated to maintain the sovereignty of New Vegas in exchange for the NCR retaining control of the dam (The Treaty of New Vegas), along with the majority of rights to power output and freedom to roam the Mojave. The NCR also gained access to the New Vegas strip and an embassy of sorts.
Which all played right into Mr. House’s hands. Mr. House got 5% of the Hoover Dam’s power output for nothing, the NCR’s protection, and any revenue from NCR citizens and personnel visiting the Strip.
As part of the arrangement, the NCR is given access to McCarran Airport in New Vegas, from which they begin mounting operations to eliminate the Brotherhood of Steel in the Mojave.
It’s important to note that the Brotherhood of Steel in the west isn’t the cuddly, help-the-downtrodden Brotherhood that exists out in the Washington D.C. area. They’re the hardcore, insular Brotherhood. The kind whose primary purpose is to secure advanced technology, and secondary purpose is to maintain their hold on it by any means necessary.
So the NCR not only has the task of protecting their trade routes and supply lines, but also must look after the newly renovated Hoover Dam, weed out a dangerous, hostile military organization, and somehow ensure that they maintain good relations with the locals.
Mr. House definitely got the better deal.
Of course, the NCR wasn’t the only faction that got the short straw. The Great Khans gang in New Vegas unfortunately decided that they’d rather go off on their own instead of working with Mr. House, which resulted in them getting forcibly removed from the city. They retreated to Bitter Springs, which became their new base of operations. When the NCR started their work in the Mojave, the Great Khans took notice, and began actions against them.
You see, the Great Khans have a colored history with the NCR out west. On several occasions, they were on the wrong side of history, and during the events of the original Fallout and Fallout 2, they nearly met their end. They weren’t natives to the Mojave, but they saw it as their home now, and an old enemy of theirs was encroaching on their territory.
Cue the raiding and pillaging of NCR civilians and military targets.
After suffering losses against the Great Khans for some time, the NCR began tracking down and neutralizing raiding parties and camps. The NCR eventually found what they thought was the Great Khan’s primary raiding camp, and attacked.
What they didn’t know is that they were attacking Bitter Springs, which housed more than just raiders… Bitter Springs was home to the Great Khans; where the tribe’s women, children, and elders lived as well. When the attack began, the NCR 1st Recon unit sent out for the operation received orders to wipe out the camp. In the heat of the battle, they fired on targets until their ammo reserves ran dry. They didn’t realize the truth of the situation until the smoke cleared… They had just murdered innocents.
So the Great Khans left the area, and headed further east, to Red Rock Canyon, carrying the scars and grudges you’d expect to see in a group whose most vulnerable members had been brutally slaughtered.
We Are Legion
Not long after the NCR gained control of the dam and built up their presence in the region, Caesar’s Legion started poking around in the Mojave. They had been slowly pushing west for quite some time, and the west side of the Colorado river would naturally be the next area to conquer.
Like the NCR, Caesar’s Legion is interested in expansion of their empire, though by considerably different means. At the time of the events of Fallout: New Vegas, the Legion has subjugated over 80 tribes throughout the wastes, and brought them into their fold. While the NCR and other governments are fine with many cultures being a part of the larger social identity, Caesar only wants one culture, one identity… The Legion.
So whenever a new tribe is conquered, the Legion’s leadership breaks them of their cultural identity.
The trade off is that a strength of unity comes with that sacrifice. Diversity of thought isn’t tolerated, so internal conflict is almost non-existent. Crime, debauchery, addiction, and any other negative behavior is met with extreme punishment. Examples are made of offenders by tying them to telephone poles in a manner reminiscent of Roman crucifixion.
Outsiders avoid messing with the Legion, or anyone associated with them as well. One of your potential followers in Fallout: New Vegas, Cass, even despondently admits that merchants and traders who do business with the Legion are as safe as can be, as long as they don’t cross the Legion.
After performing reconnaissance operations to determine the strength of the NCR forces, the Legion shows up en masse to begin preparations for an invasion of the Mojave. Naturally, the NCR takes notice, and begins preparing for the eventual battle.
The Legion more or less overwhelms the NCR forces, but the NCR performs a feigned retreat to Boulder City. The Legion advances into a massive trap, where NCR Rangers obliterate the Legion forces, and the remaining NCR forces rout the Legion back across the dam.
Reeling from the loss, Caesar burns the commanding officer of his forces for the operation (Joshua Graham) and throws him into the Grand Canyon. Thus, the legend of the Burning Man begins. He somehow survives this, and finds his way north to escape the scrutiny of Caesar.
So with both the NCR and Legion left licking their wounds in the wake of the battle, they sit on opposite sides of the Colorado river, plotting how they can conquer the other. All while Mr. House schemes from the Lucky 38.
You Walk A Lonely Road
It’s easy to assume that Fallout: New Vegas is a story of revenge. The player is initially tasked with finding Benny, the attempted murderer of the courier, but the story doesn’t end with Benny because he’s just a pawn in the grand scheme of things.
Everybody at the table in the Mojave has their own decks they’re trying to play, with their own aces up their sleeves. Mr. House wants to set the sovereignty of New Vegas in stone, thus ensuring his rule over the Mojave. The NCR wants to annex New Vegas to keep their country going with fresh sources of income and new technologies. The Legion wants to expand their influence and turn the Mojave into their new capital.
Tracking down Benny is only the first step because he holds the key to ending the stalemate between Mr. House, the NCR, and Caesar’s Legion.
A seemingly innocuous, platinum chip.
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