When Bethesda makes an RPG, they really put their heart and soul into the expanse and detail of their open world. This rings true for both the stunning fantastical landscapes of The Elder Scrolls as well as the bleak yet remarkably stylish wastelands of Fallout. Each time they make a Fallout game, they choose their setting from one of many colorful and diverse areas of real-life America and then they load the game with as many visual and cultural references to that real place as is reasonably possible. They mastered the western wasteland and now they’ve come for us here in New England.
As someone who grew up not far from Boston, playing Fallout 4 has been a particularly immersive ride for me. Bethesda hit it out of the park as far as achieving a truly New England aesthetic — many of the basic set piece buildings I’ve passed from Concord all the way into downtown Boston have had that very distinctive rustic look and New England structure that you can find in every town in Massachusetts. The wildlife feels strikingly similar too, which is kind of funny; it’s supposed to be a post-nuclear wasteland, but it really looks just like that awkward gap between the end of fall foliage and the first snow of winter. I always thought there was something a bit grim about this time of year.
Of course it’s not just the general aesthetic that impressed me, but also the numerous and very specific landmarks that I can personally identify. Boston is one of the oldest cities in the U.S., and it has a mountain of iconic history and architecture to show for it. Fallout 4 embraces this cultural heritage from very early on, with the plot almost immediately taking us through an extremely patriotic “Freedom Museum,” an analogue to the very real Concord Museum of early Americana.
To highlight this shared iconography, we spent an afternoon in downtown Boston visiting a whole slew of really touristy old buildings and monuments that are steeped in historical significance, and frankly look pretty neat too. We couldn’t possibly cover every famous place in the game in one day, so we got some help plotting our course from Burnam’s Walking Tours of Boston, and here’s what we have to show for it.
This feature contains mild spoilers.
BOSTON PUBLIC LIBRARY
We started our journey off at Copley Square in the Back Bay, where two major landmarks reside. If you get off at Copley Station, you find yourself alongside the Boston Public Library, the second-largest public library in the U.S. and the first of its kind. This was not the original location of the library, but when the first space proved too small, the current iconic building replaced it in 1895.
The library was designed by Charles Follen McKim, who called it a “palace for the people.” It was designed in a Renaissance style and if you look closely at the present-day photo, you’ll notice that it has a set of really brutal-looking spiky black lamps adorning the front entrance.
In the context of Fallout 4, you’ll be asked to return a very old library book and find the place a battleground between super mutants and protectrons, neither of whom will take kindly to your intrusion. You can get in through Copley Station if you’d like to make a less dramatic entrance.
If you’re in front of the library, turn around, and you will be presented with the lovely Trinity Church. It is a stylized Romanesque design known as “Richardsonian,” named after the architect, Henry Hobson Richardson (who happened to mentor Charles McKim, designer of the library). This church was another case of relocation, this time because the first site burned to the ground–something that can be said of most of Boston at one point or another thanks to the age and compact nature of the city. It now sits in the shadow of John Hancock Tower (known in Fallout as Trinity Tower), one of the tallest and most identifiable modern buildings in Boston thanks to its all-glass look.
The building is pretty neat, even if you’re not a religious type. The outside of the church is magnificent, and it’s full of murals and stained glass on the inside. The American Institute of Architects has called it one of the “Ten Most Significant Buildings in the United States.”
Unfortunately, by 2287 the church is full of super mutants who have grossed it up about how you would expect. It’s kind of a shame–I would have loved to make this place my own personal miniature castle.
HATCH MEMORIAL SHELL
From Copley Square, you can take a detour north until you hit the Charles River. There you will find a riverside park known as the Esplanade, which hosts the Hatch Memorial Shell (known in-game as the Charles View Amphitheater). This iconic open-air theater is best known as the site of the Boston Pops’ annual 4th of July celebration and fireworks display. People can gather on the lawn in front of the theater or drop anchor with whatever personal boat they might have access to in the river just off to the left.
The real-life version of the shell is a lot prettier and more acoustically-minded. In 2287, it seems to be stripped bare and re-purposed as a shelter for some pretty sketchy cultists.
BOSTON PUBLIC GARDEN
Returning to our original course along Boylston Street, we encounter two large parks that have been significantly downsized and slapped together in the game. The first is the Boston Public Garden, a lovely park full of willow trees and centered around a large pond. There are a small number of monuments around the park, among them a somewhat famous series of duck statues in honor of “Make Way for Ducklings.” There is also a pair of celebrity swans from the Franklin Park Zoo who nest here every year. They’re locally known as Romeo and Juliet…but they’re both female. Take that, traditional marriage.
The pond is known best for its Swan Boats–lengthy passenger paddleboats on which the operator’s station is encapsulated in a large swan likeness. Unfortunately, the swan boats are removed from the park this time of year in preparation for the winter, but you can find a shorter rendition of them in game.
Just…don’t get too close, or step in the pond, unless you’re at least level 25 or so. Trust me.
Across the street, you can find the other major park: Boston Common. This park is more of an open field deal with a scattered few small buildings and monuments and one really tall statue commemorating victims of the Civil War up on the hill. You can also get a good view of the State House from here.
This is the oldest public park in America, having been established back in 1634 when Boston was first settled. Back then, it was used as a grazing pasture, and awkwardly it was a theater for public hangings for about 200 years. Today, it’s the starting point of the Freedom Trail, as well as the east end of the Emerald Necklace, a series of parks that string through the Greater Boston area.
MASSACHUSETTS STATE HOUSE
The State House featured in Fallout 4 is the newer, currently functioning one. This is yet another case of re-location, but luckily this one didn’t burn down–the Old State House still stands over near Faniuel Hall, serving as the oldest surviving public building in the city and a historical museum for the Bostonian Society.
The New State House was designed by Charles Bullfinch and its iconic copper dome was built by Revere Copper Company, founded by the Paul Revere. That’s right, he had an actual career besides “Minuteman.” This building houses the governor’s office, as well as the meeting chambers for the State Senate and House of Representatives.
The inside of the State House is a hot mess by 2287. There’s a raider base, a high-radiation area, and even a Mirelurk Queen in there, so watch your step and maybe consider leading with grenades.
PARK STREET STATION
Here’s something that’s of more consequence in the world of Fallout than the real one. On the edge of Boston Common, downhill of the State House, you can find Park street Station. It’s one of the oldest subway stations in the country and part of the first subway line, but that’s about as important as it gets.
In Fallout’s timeline, however, it was bought out by Vault Tech shortly before the Great War. They began construction of Vault 114 within the subway station, but it was never completed in time to serve its purpose. By the time 2287 rolls around, the vault and the surrounding station have been commandeered by a local gang, which you will have to confront to discover the whereabouts of Nick Valentine.
OLD GRANARY CEMETARY
Just up the street from Park Street Station is the Old Granary Burial Ground, a small Revolutionary War-era cemetery known for several high-profile burials. The most prominent grave site is that of Benjamin Franklin’s family, denoted by the large spire in the center (which, as you can see, is way bigger in real life). Old Granary also houses three signers of the Declaration of Independence, including Samuel Adams and John Hancock. The famed Minuteman Paul Revere rests there as well. Before his death, Samuel Adams also insisted that several victims of the Boston Massacre be laid to rest there alongside these legendary figures.
We still don’t actually know how many people are buried here, but it is estimated that the 2,345 gravestones represent only about half of those laid to rest here. An entire new crypt was discovered in 2009, when a very old piece of slate gave way under a woman’s feet (she was unharmed, but had a very bad day).
You’ll likely bury a few ghouls there yourself if you visit the Wasteland version of this historic site.
OLD CORNER BOOK STORE (CHIPOTLE)
From Granary, we did kind of a zigzag to pass by the Old Corner Book Store. The fame of this historical shop stems from the thirty years when it was owned by a publishing company called Ticknor and Fields. During this era, the Book Store became a high-culture hangout for a whole slew of very famous authors: household names like Dickens, Emmerson, and Hawthorne. The building is now a registered Boston landmark, but if you go there in real life, it might not be as interesting as you would expect…
…Because it’s currently a Chipotle. This is a bit awkward.
Faneuil Hall Marketplace is a bustling cobblestone promenade and cultural hub of downtown Boston. Its namesake, Faneuil Hall, is a historic meeting place and host of various political speeches from the inception of the American Revolution to today. It was the site of various colonial protests, most notably in response to the Sugar Act and Stamp Act. This history has adorned it with the nickname “the Cradle of Liberty.”
The hall was originally donated to the City of Boston by a very wealthy merchant named Peter Faneuil, but the building has burned twice since it first opened. As it stands, the “Golden Grasshopper” weather vane is the only piece of the original building that remains to this day. Local legend has it that “what sits atop Faneuil Hall” was a test used to weed out British infiltrators during the War of 1812.
I very much doubt that the Super Mutants patrolling the Wasteland version of the building could answer that question.
If you cross the street east from Fanueil Hall, you end up at a charming little place called the Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park. This place isn’t marked in the game, but the moment I stumbled into it, I knew I’d been there before. It’s of little historical consequence, but it’s a nice place to stop and enjoy the view of Boston Harbor if you’re exploring the waterfront.
There’s also a surprising number of Radstags hanging around, so bring your rifle (but don’t actually in real life).
OLD NORTH CHURCH
Before we crossed the bridge into Charlestown, we stopped at the Old North Church and the neighboring Paul Revere statue. This iconic pair was one of the first noticeable Boston landmarks to appear in the announcement trailer just shy of E3 and has since provided some of the most recognizable imagery of the game. In real life, the statue is significantly farther forward of the church, so we shot them separately.
The Old North Church was first built in 1723, and it is one of seemingly few Boston landmarks that has never burned down at some point, although its steeple has suffered severe storm damage twice. It is most famous for being the alleged site of the lantern signals connected to Paul Revere’s midnight ride, those referred to by the famous line “One if by land, two if by sea.” Hence the statue.
By the time you arrive in 2287, the church secretly houses the headquarters of the mysterious Railroad faction.
The Bunker Hill Monument is a granite obelisk, similar to the Washington Monument, commemorating the Battle of Bunker Hill and its role in initiating the Revolutionary War. The Battle of Bunker Hill was the first major conflict between Colonial Forces and the British Army, during the Siege of Boston. The memorial is actually located on Breed’s Hill, where the majority of the fighting took place, making “Battle of Bunker Hill” a bit of a misnomer. In recent years, the monument has been accompanied by a new Bunker Hill Museum to exhibit the history of the battle.
In Fallout, the Bunker Hill Monument is the focal point of a relatively large settlement of the same name. It is affiliated loosely with the Railroad faction.
THE USS CONSTITUTION
The USS Constitution is, in my opinion, one of the neatest things to see in Boston. It’s a very old heavy frigate originally used for anti-piracy escorts and made famous during the War of 1812. It earned the nickname “Old Ironsides” because the hull was so sturdy that cannonballs had been known to bounce right off. It ran almost 100 years of active service and has since been preserved and used ceremonially.
Normally it’s docked just over the bridge into Charlestown and open to the public, but unfortunately it’s in dry dock right now, undergoing a restoration that will keep it out of the public eye for a while. There’s an affiliated museum nearby, but the Constitution itself won’t be open to the public again until 2018.
In the mean time, you should definitely visit it in Fallout, because there’s some wacky stuff going on over there. First of all, you can find it near its traditional docking home, but lodged two stories up between two buildings with huge rocket boosters added to the hull. When you approach it, you’ll be “conscripted” by a Mr. Handy who then directs you to go meet his commanding officer, Captain Ironsides. He’s a Sentry Bot wearing a bicorn hat. Wacky adventures ensue.
“DIAMOND CITY” FENWAY PARK
I’d be remiss not to talk about the “Great Green Jewel” of the Commonwealth. Fenway Park, as many of you will already know, is the home of the Boston Red Sox. It’s the oldest stadium currently used by Major League Baseball today, having operated as the Red Sox home field since 1912. It’s also one of the smallest, and was saved from replacement in 2005 thanks to its role as a cultural icon. Even as someone who isn’t big into sports, its hard to be from Boston or much of New England and not feel a connection to this place.
There’s a lot of superstition surrounding Fenway Park, from the odd personification of it’s “Green Monster” wall to the recently-lifted “Curse of the Bambino.” This 86-year string of misfortune was said to be triggered by baseball legend Babe Ruth’s departure from the Red Sox to join their bitter rivals, the New York Yankees. It was said that this curse would keep the Red Sox from World Series victory for 100 years, but this belief was shattered in 2004 when the Sox stepped over their rivals in a dramatic upset to finally take the Series. Since then, the Red Sox have enjoyed an extremely successful run, but it’s strange to think that an entire generation of die-hard Red Sox fans came and went without seeing their team victorious.
In a strange way, this story makes Fenway Park a pretty good symbol of cultural endurance, which in turn makes it a really fitting place to host the largest and most prosperous settlement in the otherwise-deadly Commonwealth. It’s a testament to how strong the people of Boston can be in the face of misfortune… And if that sounds silly to you, well, the quip “Boston Strong” wasn’t coined for nothing.
So that’s Boston in a glimpse. There’s plenty more to see, and plenty of things that I kind of wish made it into Fallout but didn’t. That said, they made a damn good run at creating a world that is distinctively New England in pretty much every way, and I’m still enjoying every second of it
You can see the entire photo shoot below, as well as some silly extras: