For my 1000th post, and with Fallout on my mind at the moment, with the recent release of Fallout 3, I decided that I'd finally write a review of Fallout 2. It's a bit of a throwaway review, completed in two hours and only really scratching the surface, but I'll accept it as my milestone post. I suggest that those people who do not know about the series before Fallout 3 also consult my review of Fallout: A Post-Nuclear Role-Playing Game.
"It's a peaceful village. Except for the plants possessed by evil spirits... and of course, the temple of trials filled with those deadly spear traps and the man-eating giant ants."
--The Chosen One
Fallout 2 - A Retrospective Review
Fallout 2 is a 1998 PC-format isometric turn-based RPG, developed by Black Isle Studios and produced by Interplay. Following in the footsteps of its predecessor, Fallout 2 was the first game developed by Black Isle as a separate division of Interplay.
The year is 2241, eighty years after the adventures of the Vault Dweller, whose actions have become legendary in the wastelands. After his exile at the hands of the Overseer of Vault 13, the Vault Dweller travelled north, acquiring companions along the way and eventually established a small village named Arroyo.
Arroyo flourishes at first, using the scientific and survival knowledge of the Vault Dweller to their advantage, but eventually, the Vault Dweller grows tired of his life in Arroyo, leaving the town, but leaving behind his Vault suit and his Pip-Boy, which become worshipped as sacred objects by a society tending towards tribalism.
The Vault Dweller's partner gives birth to a daughter, who in turn gives birth to a child, known as the Chosen One. After the droughts of 2241, the village is short on food, and only advanced technology in the form of the Garden of Eden Creation Kit, secured within Vault 13, can save them.
So, as the Chosen One, the child of the Village Elder and grandchild of the Vault Dweller, you must venture forth, exploring the wastes in order to secure a GECK. But the wastes are still hostile, with distrusting human communities, groups of raiders and the remnants of the Master's mutant army, and even some groups who would see the wastes cleansed of all human life. Slavery and racism is all too common in a society only starting to relearn the lessons of civilisation.
Fallout 2 is a game very like its predecessor. Built on the same engine, with similar gameplay and graphical standards, it seeks to expand on the gameplay of the original Fallout and grant the player freedom and flexibility.
The plot, on the face of it, is ostensibly very clichéd, but once you venture outside of Arroyo, the game begins to show its real charm. The freedom found in the original Fallout, where the player dictated the path of the game, is even more pronounced in Fallout 2. Indeed, with the wit and humour throughout the game, Fallout 2 almost seems like a game which is designed to defy almost all role-playing clichés, and one that doesn't treat its subject matter in an overly-serious manner. Topics such as slavery, racism and genocide are treated within the game, and yet, the game never develops any polemic and leaves the player to develop their own thoughts and views on the subjects in the game.
The gameplay is very similar to the game's predecessor, with its turn-based, third-person perspective, elaborate character creation systems and the ability to choose several solutions to a single problem. The SPECIAL system remains one of the most balanced role-playing systems present in the computer gaming world, allowing for diplomatic solutions to problems which would only be solved by violence in other games.
As well as that, slight improvements have been made to several components of the action and combat, including uses for skills neglected in the original, such as Big Guns, a more elaborate NPC control system, allowing you to replace their weapons and armour, while also dictating certain parts of their tactics, and a larger selection of Perks to choose from. The black comedy arising from the combat system remains, with people still being chopped in half by laser rifles, flayed by submachine gun fire and burned to a crisp by pulse rifles and blasters. Overall, because of these improvements, the combat feels more refined, while still retaining the essence of the original game.
With the more elaborate NPC system in mind, whereas Fallout's NPCs were often frustrating, leaving it as a game which felt like it was designed for individualists, Fallout 2's NPCs feel far more useful. Levelling up in conjunction with the player, and now with the ability to wear different forms of armour, many of them remain useful throughout the entire game. By making the characters more useful, the developers also found a way to make use of the Charisma statistic, because a player can only have a certain number of NPCs based on their charisma, and this ties in with certain other events which serve to show the distinct freedom present in the game.
Unfortunately, all of that freedom wreaks havoc on the storyline. Unlike the original, where the arbitrary time limit for the first quest meant that the player had to follow the narrative quickly in order to find the water chip, thus finding out more about the world they were present in, Fallout 2 suffers from a lack of focus. By the time you progress past the first few towns, it's all too easy to forget that you have a main objective. While this allows the player to explore without feeling pressured and gives the game a distinct sandbox feel, it does mean that players looking for a finely-crafted story aren't going to find it here.
There are other issues with the narrative as well. As hilarious as the game can be, it sometimes suffers from an overuse of popular culture references, which seem alien in a game based around the post-apocalypse. While pop culture was always a factor you could feel in the original Fallout, the references were measured and didn't feel as if they were shoehorned into the game. There would be no reason why there should be references to Rocky or Nintendo games in a timeline which split off from our own, for instance.
The gameplay has a few issues which remain from the first game. Even with the improvements made to this game, the skill set still remains unbalanced, with Throwing and Gambling remaining rather useless in this game. The Perk list contains some very strong entries, followed by a lot of mediocre ones and a lot of rather useless ones as well.
As well as that, while the original game could feel difficult in several areas, particularly near the end of the game, Fallout 2 knocks up the difficulty quite a few notches. Dialogue is on a razor's edge, where impunity will be punished with bullet ventilation, and you can often be only a single option away from a rather undignified death. Random encounters are more difficult than the first game, with flamethrowers and automatic shotguns turning up around mid-game. I have little objections to this difficulty, but it may lead to several players becoming frustrated at the difficulty posed by the game.
Finally, the graphics remain as dated as the ones found in the original Fallout. They still manage their goal of displaying a wasted world, in this case, one that is beginning to show signs of life once again, but the single perspective isometric viewpoint can lead to technical difficulties, with objects trapped behind pieces of scenery, and leading, in some cases, to pixel spotting as you try to find objects among the brown soils of the wasteland.
Bottom Line: Despite a few flaws, and a lack of focus in the storyline, Fallout 2 is one of the most fun role-playing games ever made, and possesses huge amounts of wit and charm.
Recommendation: Buy it. As part of the Fallout Collection, which only costs about 10, it has hundreds of potential hours of gameplay, and is therefore very much worth your money.