Fallout 2

Developer:  Black Isle Studios
Publisher:  Interplay
Year Released:  1998

Review by Steve Metzler (August, 2003)
The sequel to Fallout was released with great anticipation, and amidst much speculation. Would it be bigger? Would it be better? And perhaps most significantly, would it ship with more bugs than a termite farm starter kit? And the answer was: all of the above! Regarding the bugs, I really don't know what people were expecting. But when a game is released just in time for the run-up to Christmas, well, I knew what to expect. I brought the game home, put the box on the shelf, and waited for the patch... which as I recall, arrived about a week before Christmas. You see, I'd heard that the patch would invalidate your saved games, so there was no way I was going to get all wrapped up in it and then have to start over. At any rate, the patch was released, I duly applied it, and it was Fallout 2 that got me through the long winter of '98 (I actually can't remember whether or not that was a particularly severe winter, but it makes for good dramatic effect).

If you are a newcomer to the world of Fallout, then you should probably go read my review of the original game before you delve into this one. The back story and game mechanics are detailed there, and this will give you a good idea of what to expect as this sequel is not miles away from its predecessor in terms of atmosphere and game play. And since Fallout was a fantastic accomplishment to begin with, that's no bad thing.

Once more into the wasteland
The events in Fallout 2 take place about 80 years after Fallout. Your ancestor, the ignominious hero who saved the day in Fallout and is remembered with reverence as the Vault Dweller, had settled down after his exploits and founded a small village called Arroyo (which if my Spanish serves me correctly, means 'stream'). Several generations have now passed and Arroyo, which was once a thriving little community, is now on the verge of collapse: crops are failing, children and cattle are starving. Things aren't looking on the up-and-up at all. But the village elder, a crusty old wise woman, has heard legends that tell of a miraculous device called a Garden of Eden Creation Kit (GECK), which could save the village should someone be able to procure one. It turns out that you are that someone. First, you must prove your worthiness by surviving the Temple of Trials, which also cleverly serves as a tutorial. Then you are sent out into the wasteland wearing nothing but the Vault Dweller's 'sacred' Vault 13 suit. Oh, and you have a spear. Go on then. Save our sorry souls and be quick about it!

Building character
Whereas Fallout had you wielding Weapons of Mass Destruction and blasting everything that moved in relatively short order, the game balance in Fallout 2 is much better, and you won't be wandering upon anything more powerful than a handgun for a good portion of the game. For this reason, it is all the more important to choose the starting attributes of your character carefully. In fact, you'll likely need a decent amount of either Unarmed or Melee Weapons skill just to survive the Temple of Trials! As with Fallout, Fallout 2 also comes equipped with three pre-rolled characters. But for me, most of the fun in an RPG is derived from building a character from scratch that suits your playing style, and I strongly suggest that you do that.

The skills and traits that were available in Fallout are all there in Fallout 2, largely unchanged. But where Fallout 2 outstrips its predecessor is in the area of 'perks'. These are bonuses that become available to your character every three levels, and they can be used to tweak your character's skills. Nearly twice as many are available to choose from as there were in Fallout. Of note: each of the SPECIAL (Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, and Luck) attributes has a 'gain one rank' perk so that you can eventually rectify mistakes you made at character creation time. Another powerful perk is Living Anatomy, which gives you the medical knowledge necessary to inflict even more damage on your foes with every shot. There is even a perk of dubious merit called Kama Sutra Master that, as the manual puts it, "confers great stamina and skill when doing the dirty". Ahem.

Which brings us nicely along to the next topic: content. I didn't think that this was possible, but there are even more references to sex and drugs than were present in the original. You can marry certain NPCs this time, and there is one important NPC that both male and female characters can sleep with to further their cause. There is also a series of quests revolving around a terribly addictive synthetic drug called Jet (which you can become permanently addicted to if you're not careful). So this game is not really suitable for your kids either. And there's another strange thing. In order to comply with strict laws in Europe dealing with the portrayal of violence against children, all images of children were removed from the European versions of Fallout 2. But it would seem this was done almost as an afterthought, so you still see their disembodied voices appearing on screen! In one town, the kids will pickpocket you even though you can't see them. Very disconcerting altogether. I recommend that if you are at all capable of playing the game in English, you should source your copy from the U.S.

And there's more
Essentially, there is a lot more of everything in Fallout 2 than there was in Fallout: the game map is at least twice as big, there are many more quests to solve, a lot more weapons and armour to choose from, and also a lot more NPCs that are willing to join your party. But the single biggest addition affecting game play comes in the form of transportation. Since the map is a lot larger, it would be mind-numbingly tedious to have to travel everywhere on foot as you did in Fallout. So, the designers have thoughtfully provided a car this time! But first, you have to find some parts for it...

One of the nicest features of Fallout is that important NPCs appear as 'talking heads', with whom you can converse extensively. There is a tribal warrior who will join your party early on, and he will consult the spirits of his ancestors for you upon request. Another is an absolute 'gas man', as we say in Ireland. He's the geeky, whiny-voiced post adolescent who invented the highly addictive Jet drug, and you can have a lengthy and amusing conversation with him about how the technology behind Jet was accidentally discovered.

Some of the gripes players had concerning the interface in Fallout were addressed as well. Most notably, your inventory 'stack' is now LIFO (Last In First Out). That means that the last thing you put into your inventory (or the boot of the car. It can store a lot) is the first thing you see; whereas in Fallout, you had to scroll all the way down to the bottom of your inventory to find the item that you only just put there.

Another complaint was that you had absolutely no control over your party members in combat. This too has been rectified, by the provision of a set of menus for each character that enables you to govern things like: weapon preference, aggressiveness, how quickly they resort to healing themselves, etc. It has some limitations in that you can't, for instance, entirely tame a naturally aggressive character. But you can get him to stay by your side rather than running off on his own attacking everything in sight. And now your party members can also wear armour. It doesn't appear on their on-screen representations, but it's there protecting them nonetheless.

Fallout 2 works just fine in Windows XP, as did Fallout. No messing about required. The manual is entertaining and very informative, and you will need it at least to plan your strategy concerning all the available perks you can acquire. A lot of them have minimum skill and level requirements.

And finally, as with Fallout, the plot in Fallout 2 is superb - and the pacing is even better. There are many approaches to tackling the various quests, depending on the type of character you are playing. Diplomatic characters can talk their way past nearly everything but the ultimate battle (the finale of which features an amusing death animation featuring the arch-villain), and even then you can enlist some allies at the last minute with a bit of fast talking. You can also hack into a security system to turn the tide of the battle in your favour, such is the depth of game play provided.

Fallout 2 is a worthy successor to Fallout, and one that deserves a place in every dedicated role-playing gamer's collection. Don't be without it!

See the Fallout 2 walkthrough. rating:  

Copyright © Steve Metzler 2003. All rights reserved.

System Requirements:
IBM or 100% compatible P90, 16MB RAM, Windows 95/98/NT (with DirectX 3.0a or higher), DirectX certified SVGA card, 4X CD-ROM, DirectX certified sound card, mouse