Fallout2

Few RPGs provide so deft a balance between the wandering monster-slaying and the NPC interaction phases of role-playing. Both elements are involving and demanding. Dialogue-tree conversations can seem a little repetitive when you're interviewing everyone in a town, but the development of the plot never seems forced and the game can actually be played in a very non-linear way.There's no pre-scripted course, and you can visit any location in any order. Assembling the puzzle pieces of information that lead you closer to the GECK doesn't rely on an established sequential chain; the discoveries come haphazardly and the game unfolds in different ways dependent on your choices.

Few RPGs provide so deft a balance between the wandering monster-slaying and the NPC interaction phases of role-playing. Both elements are involving and demanding. Dialogue-tree conversations can seem a little repetitive when you're interviewing everyone in a town, but the development of the plot never seems forced and the game can actually be played in a very non-linear way.There's no pre-scripted course, and you can visit any location in any order. Assembling the puzzle pieces of information that lead you closer to the GECK doesn't rely on an established sequential chain; the discoveries come haphazardly and the game unfolds in different ways dependent on your choices.

There are some astonishing locations to visit. New Reno is a decadent gambling city that revels in crime and prostitution; the designers pull no punches in displaying the vulgar underbelly of an already harsh and dehumanizing post-nuclear society. The well-guarded army base, which you'lleventually have to penetrate, is as challenging an environment as I've ever come up against in an RPG (and, as usual, its resolution demands insight and conceptual leaping as opposed to relentlessly attacking and hoping for the best). Along the way, you'll caravan with traders, win the hearts of underground vault squatters, sail on ships to offshore islands, and subdue a renegade reactor that threatens a city's precious water supply.

Every new environment and plot twist is fascinating, and the game never sinks into the kind of highway-hypnosis funk to which long RPGs are prone. The game rewards frequent saving and the playing of different angles in different situations-it's sometimes amazing to see just how differently play progresses with the simplest of divergences in your decision-making.

Fallout 2 definitely ups the ante on blood, guts, weaponry, and mayhem. NPCs who join your party are much more flexible than they were in the original: they follow battle orders like "fight" or "flee;" and whereas the original's just offered themselves up as cannon fodder for your cause, these guys sometimes back out of trouble. Fallout 2 does allow you to upgrade your NPCs' gear and weapons, and even their skills. The cornucopia of mutants, soldiers, cyborgs, and other radioactive nasties means there's rarely a dull moment when wandering the wasteland.

I wouldn't dream of giving away the mesmerizing endgame, but it must at least be hinted at because it's an eye-popping stretch of gameplay. Let's just say that Braveheart and Saving Private Ryan collide for an ingenious reverse amphibious assault, the outcome of which will leave no doubt as to where the balance of power rests in post-nuclear America.

Fallout 2 is a first-rate RPG, and it will appeal to anyone with a hankering for an epic story with addictive gameplay. The long and (for Interplay) costly wait is justified by its accomplishment: from rueful opening cinematics to the spellbinding conclusion, Fallout 2 establishes Interplay's RPG wing Black Isle Studios as the best in its business.

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