Fallout's most iconic imagery is its power armor and the Vault Boy mascot, and not surprisingly as Fallout as a franchise evolved, more power armor variations were introduced for new, interesting things for the player to find and use. However, also not surprisingly, this went on long enough to create several odd inconsistencies in the narrative, some of which are egregious and others not nearly as bad as many believe, both of which i will be covering and attempting to catalogue the progression of power armor according to the lore, and sometimes lack thereof. Much of this will be using the Fallout Bible and in-game lore, as Fallout 76 has some important things regarding power armor lore.
The first power armor fielded was the T-45, which was a glorified steel plated vehicle shaped with a human body shape. According to the Fallout Bible, it was a mechanized under-suit with large, rivetted steel plates covering it which burned through Energy Cells, being very protective but also clunky, simple, and with easily exploitable weaknesses regarding just targeting its energy source. It was also fundamentally a turtle in function and form, since it couldn't stand back up if tipped over.
This would be remedied by the T-51, which used advanced composite alloys and used microfusion power packs as well as fission batteries, which made it more durable, much more agile, lighter, and had advanced motions servos to allow standing back up when knocked down. The T-51 was actually the most technologically advanced "fielded" power armor, contrary to what many believe.
But wait, then what about the T-60, X-01, and T-65? Keep in the mind the importance of "fielded". Well, i will get to those in just a moment but first i need to clarify a "retcon" that happened with Fallout 4.
Fusion Cores are in form and function, Fission Batteries. They power up robots like the Sentry Bot, are commercially used, and are used in power armor just like the Fission Battery…except for some reason the name was changed. I have no idea why the name was changed, maybe a behind-the-scenes legal issue popped up, but this "retcon" is actually a renaming, and technically did not retcon what a Fission Battery/Fusion Core does. If anything, if one considers the two the same, the Fusion Core is even more lore accurate in use and gameplay to its Fission Battery ancestor because it being used in power armor was always a lore thing that wasn't implemented in gameplay until Fallout 4. It just baffles me that Bethesda did not state this as an explanation, maybe even have a in-game lore tip in Fallout 4 going "in 2076, just a single year before the Great War, Fission Batteries lost their naming trademark and adopted a new name, Fusion Cores. However, plenty of the power sources were still on shelves with their old labels, the two being sold together as the same thing but with different names".
This is important for explaining wtf the T-60 is, which thankfully Bethesda provided a smidgen of lore for which actually makes good sense, more so than i could have possibly expected. T-60 power armor is T-45 armor armor suits with some of the quality upgrades of the T-51 put into the undersuit/frame, with the plating updated to be thicker. This was because the T-51 was so advanced that it couldn't be produced in quantities needed for the Alaskan front, so the T-45s were upgraded to supplement the T-51s as discount quota filler. Effective discount quota fillers.
Lore-wise, this means that the T-60 provides more raw defense just like in Fallout 4 and Fallout 76, but is supposed to be much slower, albeit not as slow or clunky as the T-45, and wears down more quickly. The T-60 is thus much less advanced but much cheaper sidegrade to the T-51, not an upgrade, relying on sheer volume of armor plating rather than advanced, lightweight, low-volume composite plating technology like the T-51. Essentially, lore-wise you can probably do a cartwheel in the T-51 while the T-60 at most can do an awkward roll.
This ties into how and why the East Coast BoS chapter magically has T-60s in Fallout 4: they're still wearing their T-45s but just upgraded the plating during the time gap between Fallout 3 and 4 once they solidified their foothold in the region and could focus on advancing their tech. Them lacking T-51s in Fallout 4 is actually a really subtle lore detail since the East Coast BoS didn't have T-51s since they used the Pentagon's T-45 leftover reserve suits, so they didn't have much of a choice but to upgrade their existing T-45s to stay relevant in combat. Just sucks that, just like the Fission Battery/Fusion Core name change, this wasn't pointed out at all in any loading screen tips or dialogue.
This then leads to the the conundrum of the X-01, which thankfully has a lot of environmental clues and cues to explain its existence. In Fallout Shelter, it was described as being "fit to protect the president", only for Fallout 76 to reveal the T-65 power armor used by the Secret Service, which took a massive, steaming dump on the premise that the X-01 was secret service armor.
Well, the X-01 WAS secret service power armor…but it wasn't finished to the point where it was fit for service. The T-65 can be seen as T-51 suits with aspects of X-01 design, not yet fully delving into becoming X-01 suits in favor of being a in-between transition phase. And for good reason.
In-game the X-01's maintenance cost is absurd, and doesn't provide big enough difference in defense to the T-65 or even the T-60 to feasibly field it with multiple people, especially since players struggled to maintain ONE suit of it with the literal entirety of post-war Commonwealth's resources. This actually ends up fitting perfectly into the Fallout Bible regarding the Enclave's Advanced Power Armor, or the real X-01 so to speak. The X-01 should be named the X-00, if anything.
We know that it wasn't ready for fielding because it was functionally only used as a promotional prop, as shown in Nuka World. It was still so deep in its prototype stage that its only realistic usage was to show people "Yes, we do have bigger and better power armor being made!", without telling them that they were having huge trouble making it fit for fielded combat. But…it did eventually reach that stage. After the Great War.
According to the Fallout Bible, the Enclave experimented with existing advanced power armor technology, having several terrible accidents in the process. What this means is that they worked on having the prototype experimental X-01/X-00 schematics provide its defense with a reasonable maintenance cost, which they eventually succeeded in doing with their "true" X-01, Advanced Mk1 power armor suits. We know they succeeded because they could field their army with this suit and not immediately have to scrap Poseidon Oil Rig to maintain that army. It truly was as advanced as it was advertised, albeit achieving that defense-cost ratio seems to have needed sacrifices since in Fallout New Vegas, the suit may have been unparalleled in raw defense, but it wore down very quickly when receiving damage compared to other power armor suits. But, considering that the Enclave did not do long, sustained engagements, they could perform enough regular maintenance for this to not be an issue for them.
This then leads into fallout 3's weird X-02 suits which for some reason are…worse? And only about as protective as T-45? Wut?
Well, this apparently has an explanation in the…ugh…creation club. Downloading the official mod provides a lore tool tip (which i didn't buy, screw that, and just looked it up online) where its revealed that the X-02 is essentially the T-51 to the T-60. It's a sidegrade, not an upgrade, as its composite plating is much more advanced to be much lighter and nimble to the point of being described as "ultra light", the fastest mobility power armor suit ever made, but as a result it's not as protective.
What this means is that the X-02 is the sanic of power armors; being something that lore-wise a soldier can sprint around in while doing backflips like a maniac with minimal speed loss compared to conventional armor, while retaining as much defense as a T-45 power armor suit. Which is actually a pretty damn good tradeoff since T-45 is still one protective mofo to wear despite its simplicity. This also leads to a surprisingly, if not shockingly, logistically sound explanation of how and why Colonel Autumn lost in Fallout 3: the X-02 is an assault suit, made for attacking, infiltrating, and speedy operations, but he had to defend a position with these which is completely counterproductive to their function. That's like using rogues as tanks against a raid boss called Liberty Prime; it's not going to work because the roles of rogue and tank aren't interchangeable. The East Coast Enclave became so reliant on fast, covert operations that they ditched their slower, tankier X-01 suits which led to their downfall when for the first time, they weren't the attackers.
Fallout 76 fits into all of this because there is no access to the "completed" X-series power armors because they don't exist yet in the timeline. X-01 is still a high-maintenance suit because it's still the janky, prototype X-00, and the secret service suits are the best power armors available because the Enclave hasn't yet created and perfected the true X-01 and X-02 suits. The T-51 is on the cover art because it was the pinnacle of pre-war power armor to the eyes of the pre-war Appalachians and Vault76 residents, the T-60 being a technologically inferior sidegrade rather than an upgrade to it which they would all know with how much military parading and propaganda was being blasted before the war. The T-51 is thus the face of pre-war America, as all other models after it did not have much publicity, if any at all considering the top secret nature of Secret Service equipment.
TL;DR: T-45= clunky tank armor, T-51= all-round balanced armor, T-60= bigger clunky tank armor, T-65= advanced all-round balanced armor, X-01= expensive asf prototype super armor, Enclave X-01= reasonable cost super armor, and Enclave X-02= sanic armor.
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