As you can infer from the title, this is the sequel to the much-ballyhooed Fallout. New locales exist to explore, a few new enemies, a LOT of new politics, and a handful of improvements to the system round out the package. If you’re ready for a substantial amount of additional adventuring in the nuclear wastelands, you’ll be delighted with what this game has to offer, though be prepared for a much darker shift in tone.
Fallout 2 takes place another 70 years after the original, and covers the territory northeast of the events from the first. While the first was heavy on discovering the mysteries of pre-war times, most of the “history” here comes from the first game. It’s not a requirement that you play the first to understand the second, but you will certainly get a lot more out of it if you do. You’ll certainly appreciate the references, as well as the slight shift in tone. The sequel is helmed by Black Isle Studios (who would later become Obsidian), and it’s interesting to see their take on the Fallout world. If nothing else, you’ll see the continuation of a theme – with the first game about the transition from nomadic survivors to communities, and the sequel about the challenges of transitioning from separate communities to a unified state.
You play as a resident of a secluded canyon village founded by the protagonist from the first game. This doesn’t mean much for practical village life – you and your brethren are still subsistence farming and healing wounds with powders from ground-up roots, but it does color your history and the knowledge of your elders. One such piece of knowledge regards the legend of the “Garden of Eden Creation Kit” or GECK – a mysterious device supposedly stocked in the Vaults that is meant to instantly create a flourishing civilization from nothing; just add water and stir. It could either be the equivalent of the Genesis Device in Star Trek II, or a parody product hawked by Dan Ackroyd in a skit on Saturday Night Live, but your elder believes it is real and that it exists somewhere out there. So when the village falls on hard times, you are selected as “The Chosen One,” and are sent out into the wastes to search and find the legendary Vault 13 from the first game and, hopefully, retrieve its GECK.
I like this setup, as it ties knowledge and experience from the first game into the second in a non-cheesy way. You WILL revisit locations from the first game, but less than 1/4 of the total locations are rehashes, and all of them have changed rather significantly in the past 70 years. It also helps that, if you got into the first game at all, you’ll be excited to find out what happened to these places – especially Vault 13 – in the time between the two games. The other new locations are excellent as well, though the level of general dickheaditivity has risen considerably, so don’t expect any touchy-feely camaraderie from the denizens of the wastes, and do expect an increased level of politics, hostility, and the need to choose a side.
The original Fallout started you out with a pistol and a Vault full of tradeable treasures to help get you started. You may not have even realized how pampered you were until you start this game – and look out man! You start out here with a sharp spear and a bag of healing powder. That’s it, and your village won’t be any help either. This is just the first reason of something I will explain further through this review – Fallout 2 is a much harder, complicated, and longer game than the first. You’ll like it if you stick with it, but be aware that you’re going to be starting out flat broke and combat inept, and it will take a long damn time to dig yourself out of this hole. You’ll be pulling your hair out if you want a quick adventure, but it will be a dream if you’re ready to settle in and role-play.
Graphically, the game is identical to the original. Same colors, same deserts, you even inherit the “Pip-Boy” PDA from the hero of the first game, so you’ll have the same interface. Some minor improvements exist – many, if not all, of the new enemies seem to have been designed in the computer instead of hand drawn, so they look slick, if a little goofy. Everything from the first game also forms the base of the second, so you’ll be seeing the same buildings, textures, and characters. However, there are a number of enormous and impressive buildings that nothing from the original game even came close to. So despite your certain initial reaction, you haven’t “seen it all.”
There are also a number of welcome improvements and additions to the game. The character creation system is exactly the same as before, except that charisma now plays a much more influential part. Sexual aptitude is now also a hidden, but tracked, stat that can be improved through perks and traits. If you’re a dynamo in the sack, you can now “persuade” your way through many more situations than before. NPCs are just as rich and diverse as they were in the first game, and now they have been expanded to follow the game’s day/night cycles. Basically, if you enter a shop in the morning, it’s open. If you enter at night, the lights are out and the owner is often back in the bedroom, leaving you to come back in the morning, or swipe some goodies if you’re quiet enough. Shopkeepers also get visibly restocked, unlike the first game, so when you return they will have more money and new offerings. And as more an interesting example of attention to detail than anything practical, if you time it just right, you can follow people leaving their homes and walking to take their positions at work.
Friendly NPCs have also been gratefully overhauled, so you can have much more of a traditional RPG “party” than you could with the first game. If you can convince someone to join up (maximum of two at a time) you now have a transfer window to move items between characters instead of having to pay or steal from your buddies to get equipment back. In this same NPC control window, you can also adjust their behavior to a highly effective degree, and get information on the damage they’re causing, their health, how much their carrying, etc. To further sweeten the deal, there are many more recruitable NPCs this time, and they all have a specialty skill they’re exceptionally good at. Some are good with varying combat skills, but the real prizes are good at repair or doctor skills – meaning you don’t have to worry about spread your own skill points to cover everything. If you have a party member better at a certain skill than you are, when you try to apply the skill normally, they will do it for you with greater chance of success.
This may sound small, but it also highlights a change in the way Fallout 2 plays over the original. In Fallout 1, it was a good idea to allocate points out evenly so you could handle any situation, from lockpicking to repair, and especially science to learn about the past. In Fallout 2, you simply don’t have the points to be everything at once. In the first game, I played an intelligent diplomat scientist with high medical skills, who could also hit a rat in the eye with a pistol from fifty paces. You just can’t be an effective jack-of-all-trades like that in the sequel, and as a result, you can’t do everything with one character. You’ll have to rely on your NPC buddies, find another way past, and have to play through the game a second time to see everything because, depending on your skills, you simply won’t have access to certain quests. This also means that you won’t be getting XP as quickly, you won’t have tons of cash, and you won’t have the best supplies. Remember how I said Fallout 2 was harder?
It’s also darker, and addresses areas the original was reluctant to go. Sex, drugs, and organized crime are all present, setting up major conflicts and acting as clear examples of what the NCR faction hopes to wipe out. Of course, the freedom to do evil is still present, so you can elect to help the mob, run drugs, help slavers, or even sell your own party members into slavery for cash. Your karma is still tracked globally, but Fallout 2 also introduces a localized “Reputation” system. Reputation can be tracked by town or faction, and is contingent on being seen committing a crime. Keep your thievery petty and quiet, and you might be able to keep your crimes unnoticed by the guards.
While it’s a more demanding game, it’s certainly worth it. You won’t have to worry about a lack of things to do, or interesting ways to make a difference. The dark humor from the first game also makes a grand return, and aside from the standard “clean up a mine” or “take sides in a dispute” quests, you’ll be able to become a boxing legend, “act” in some porno films, play chess against a genetically-enhanced scorpion, become a citizen of at least two new societies, and even get involved with followers of a parody of Scientology (complete with celebrity mouthpiece “Juan Cruz“). Also, if you played through the first game, you’ll get a number of excellent and cruel jokes at your expense – like the warehouse full of boxes of water chips (the rare goal from the first game).
Fallout 2 makes an excellent sequel to the first, and a nice way of bringing things full circle (there’s even a secret random encounter where you travel back in time and accidentally break Vault 13’s water chip). All questions won’t be answered, but many, including some you weren’t expecting an answer to, will be. It’s also a more demanding and lengthy game, which can put you off if you aren’t ready, but will provide you with a great amount of fun if you are.
Fantastic sequel, strong as the first with even more to see and do. Party members are much more useful this time around. Expands further on the morality system of the first game, both mechanically and with the subject matter of what you’re able to get away with.
Noticeably harder game than the first. Skill points are harder to come by, forcing you to specialize much more than before.
“So here you are at last. The savior of the downtrodden, the righter of wrongs, the icon of hope for humanity. Well, before you start any boring speeches, I’d just like to say that I’m not fucking interested.” — Darion