Fallout 2 - Reader Retroview  

Twice in a Lifetime
by John Boske

Moderate to Difficult
35-50 hours


Rating definitions 

   A lot happens after the hero walks off into the sunset, as Fallout's hero can likely attest to. Cast out from the Vault, the jumpsuit-clad wanderer from the first game ambled north and set up shop along the coast of post-WW3 California, founding the village of Arroyo. Fast-forward about eighty years, where, apparently, the Vault Dweller's poor luck has been passed on to his descendents. The village has been hit by a lengthy drought, and once again someone has to draw the short straw and go for help. Welcome back to the world of Fallout, and it's just like that Talking Heads song. You know the one.

   As a direct sequel to Fallout, Fallout 2 borrows the exact same engine, and thus controls basically the same; point-and-click to move or talk with/pick up/use something, right click to switch between movement and interaction. There are a few differences, such as being able to push people out of the way if they are blocking something, but by and large it's the same setup. The same can be said for combat, which is still pure turn-based. Combatants are sequenced by their stats, and use action points to move, attack, reload, and so on during their turn. One major difference this time around is the interface for dealing with party members. Upon speaking with them, you can issue positioning orders, trade equipment and set AI behavior - when to shoot, who to target first, when to run or use stimpacks, among other options. They also periodically advance in levels, as you do. In short, the player has a greater degree of control over their party members, but otherwise the gameplay is largely unchanged.

   Visually, the game hasn't changed much either. Obviously there are new locales, and new artwork to accompany them, but the look and feel of most areas has that same desolate, dry, vaguely retro quality to them. Despite the sameness, cities and other locations have grown larger and more intricate, and there are also more of them. Some areas from the previous game make a return, and have changed quite a bit; Shady Shands has grown a lot in those eighty years, to name one. The background music borrows some tunes from the first game, but comes up with a handful of new, appropriate tracks, and generally the soundtrack does a better job of standing out here. Sound effects, to the weapon and critter, are unchanged. The voice talent picks up the slack, once again sporting quality dialogue, and there are a few speakers here and there that some players will recognize. Cutscenes are still sparse, but otherwise are as good they've ever been, particularly the intro which makes good use out of Louis Armstrong's "A Kiss to Build a Dream On."

Hmm... 'Re-no'... I wonder if they have gambling here. "Hmm... 'Re-no'... I wonder if they have gambling here."

   While the original Fallout was hampered only by its learning curve, in terms of difficulty, Fallout 2 ramps up the danger a few notches. The opening level, for instance, can be problematic for those characters who aren't skilled in unarmed or melee combat, and it can take up to an hour or so before the player finds a gun. There are a few new critters and a wide variety of random encounters, though humans are still the more challenging opponents, even more so due to the slew of new weapons; .44 revolvers, Jackhammer shotguns, heavy machine guns and pulse rifles to name a few. Additionally, there is simply a lot more to do this time around, and with the negation of an obvious time limit the player has more leeway to explore the wastes. Fortunately, one can find a car to expedite their travels, and to haul their excess treasure arround. Barring speed runs or tricks, a thorough first-time playthrough could take in excess of forty hours, and even veterans of the first game are likely to take their time in their quest.

   As with its predecessor, the chief redeeming factor for Fallout 2 is its versatility in character and story development. The character creation system is still one of the most robust and comprehensive of its kind, using physical stats, trainable skills, optional traits and special perks to help customize characters and accomodate for different play styles. Small guns diplomats, Rambo wannabes, martial-arts masters, stupid doctors, blind ninjas... the range of options is more than enough to encourage a replay or two, and the game's scripting is up to the task. As with the original, good and evil are both means of getting things to go your way, and provided you've got the weapons and skill to do it, you can kill basically everybody (or almost nobody) if that's what it takes.

Our hero stumbles across one of the game's sunnier moments. Our hero stumbles across one of the game's sunnier moments.

   The story obviously is patterned around the same formula from the first: your home is in trouble, go out and find the thingy we need to fix it. In this case, it's a handy little pre-war doodad called the Garden of Eden Creation Kit, which can restore previously uninhabitable land. GECKs were standard-issue to vaults, including the one the original Dweller came from, and thus the search is on for Vault 13, the entrance to which has long been forgotten. Yeah, it's the same song and dance from the first game, and once again there's more going on than just the quest for the GECK, but the story takes some very interesting twists along the way, and sheds a lot of light on the circumstances surrounding the war. The progression of the game is still loose and fairly non-linear, and the story does well to accomodate the multitude of character preferences and paths.

   The main strike against Fallout 2 on its own is its buggy nature, such that a patch is almost a bare necessity right out of the box. Otherwise, the drawbacks are mostly in comparison to Fallout 1, and all stem from a lack of true evolution: the graphics, the music, the plot, the gameplay, it's all the same, just bigger and more of it. Nevertheless, Fallout 2 is one of the best, most versatile PC RPGs available, and anyone who at all liked the original will almost assuredly like this one. It epitomizes the More of the Same sequel, and while the end product can't avoid feeling dated, the wastes are as violent, fun and open-ended as they've ever been.

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