When Interplay released Fallout late last year, the roleplaying genre received a much-needed shot of adrenaline thanks to its gritty, violent tale of mutants, radioactive ghouls, and wild-eyed bands of survivors. Brought to life with moody graphics, a slick character creation system, and an easy-to-control turn-based combat system, the post-apocalyptic setting and bloodthirsty combat of Fallout revealed itself to be more than a clever gimmick -- it was an honest-to-goodness roleplaying game that both veteran RPG fans and novices could enjoy.
Now little more than a year after its release, Interplay has returned to Fallout’sdesolate wastelands with a full-blown sequel that rewards the player with deeper gameplay and greater emphasis on character development as they traverse its deadly world.
Set decades after the end of the first game, Fallout 2 builds on the gritty post-apocalyptic feel by introducing you to a different part of the world -- Northern California -- and puts you in the shoes of a naive villager sent on a desperate mission. A descendant of the heroic vault-dweller from the first game, you must brave the unknown to save your people from impending doom as crops lay dying and violent outsiders threaten the tribe’s way of life. During the opening sequence, the tribal elders send you in search of the Garden of Eden Creation Kit (G.E.C.K.) -- a marvel of technology that will allow you and your people to create a vibrant new city.
Once outside the village boundaries, you begin making your way to the small, and not so small, outposts of humanity scattered throughout the region to try and locate the G.E.C.K., and even get the chance to visit some old haunts from the previous game. However, while veteran vault-dwellers will have little problem figuring out what to do, the pace of Fallout 2 may take a bit of getting used to. For starters, Fallout 2 is several times larger, with more quests, a more challenging economy, and far deadlier foes; you begin the game with very limited resources and few opportunities to advance. As a result, careful attention to your character’s development is far more important this time around, as the skills you choose to enhance can have a profound effect on your experience, especially early on.
During the initial stages of the game, you’ll need to employ a variety of skills and abilities to ensure your survival since weapons are extremely difficult to find, and healing items, though free, require a lot of legwork to produce. Ultimately, you’ll have to rely on your character’s abilities and skills to make up for the shortfall in supplies and, in my case at least, this meant using tactics I’d never even bothered with in the original Fallout. After struggling to get ahead in the first few towns of Fallout 2, my character made heavy use of the Steal ability just to scrape together enough bottle caps (the unit of currency in this post-apocalyptic world) to gain adequate weapons or health to complete my first few quests. After getting caught rifling through the pockets of drug addicts and mental cases, I resorted to grave-robbing to fill my pockets. While it didn’t help my karma one bit to be seen desecrating graveyards, I could at least console myself with the knowledge it was more profitable than stealing from children -- and less dangerous.
While it is far more difficult to get ahead in Fallout 2, the problems you encounter fit well within the fiction (after all, things are pretty bad all around), and the designers have added a few extra features that do allow you to get a leg up. By talking and training with certain non-player characters you can gain valuable experience in a number of areas. In one town, I learned how to skin geckos (overgrown lizards with a nasty bite), a skill that allowed me to earn money without resorting to digging up graves or pickpocketing winos, and in another, I improved my melee fighting abilities enough to kill the geckos without wasting precious ammunition.
As in the original Fallout, talking with NPCs plays a significant role in developing the plot and mood of the game, and on this front, Fallout 2 does a great job of giving the people and locations you encounter a personality all their own. Towns are more than just colorful quest locations; they are small societies struggling with survival in their own peculiar ways. In some towns, you may find the populace fearful of outsiders due to past indiscretions by previous travelers; in others, you’ll find crime, corruption, and sex running rampant on the streets. Throughout it all, you’ll have to decide which side to take on such issues such as slavery, prostitution, and drug dealing. For instance, you can become a slaver and collect "servants" for a price, solicit "attended" baths for personal pleasure, or join the drug scene and tune it all out.
Once you’ve sampled the local wares and talked to anyone who’ll listen, you’ll pack up your gear and head out to complete your overall quest. With a world map several times larger than in the original game, there is a lot of ground to cover. A high rating in your Outdoorsman skill can make things less dangerous, giving you the ability to skip some of the random encounters with raiders, creatures, or oddball characters, but even if you skip them all, moving from place to place on foot can be a time-consuming and arduous task.
To their credit, the designers have provided a solution to this traveling dilemma by adding the ability to use a car (if you’re lucky enough to find one in working order), and this does alleviate much of the problem. Unfortunately, traveling by car is also one of the buggiest features in the game, as graphics have a tendency to disappear during certain situations. In fact, there are a number of bugs, some which can crash the game, and others which cause unpredictable results. At the time of this writing, Black Isle Studios has issued a beta patch to correct many problems, including the car bug, but the patch has introduced a new problem all of its own -- it’s incompatible with earlier save games, which means that after installing it, you’ll have to start the game all over again. After investing a great deal of time in the game, I decided to skip the patch and completed it with only a few minor interruptions and annoyances, but I suspect many gamers won’t be quite so tolerant.
Is Fallout 2 worth it? Definitely. From top to bottom, all of the best parts of the original game have returned for the better, and the deeper story line, flexible playing style, and attention to character development will undoubtedly leave roleplaying fans grinning from ear to ear.