When the original Fallout shipped, it was hailed by many to be the savoir of computer RPGs. With its gritty story, compelling art design, and brilliant mix of old school statistical based combat and an interface easy enough for a beginner to use, the game not only pleased the hard core niche market, but also introduced the joys of role-playing to a whole new generation. Now all the company had to do was to make another one that would make everyone just as happy. With Fallout 2, the company has done just that. Despite the loss of crucial team members, economic difficulties within the company and an irritable consumer base, the development team at Black Isle Studios, Interplay's internal role-playing division, has put together a game that is everything the original was and perhaps, a bit more.
Let's bring you up to date. You are the descendant of the original Vault-Dweller who wandered the plains in search of a water chip. As the game starts, you are asked to run a gauntlet that will prove you to be the Chosen One, the one worthy to wear the suit of the Vault-Dweller. Once you complete this relatively easy task, you find out what's really going down. Your village is dying. In a last ditch attempt to save the town, the elder is sending you out into the real world to find a device that has been whispered of in legends called the Garden of Eden Creation Kit (or G.E.C.K.). Sent away from the only home you've ever known, armed only with a spear you must wander into a world filled with mutants, ghouls and raiders in order to save your people.
Okay, so the basic story line is very similar to the first. You are an outsider wandering from town to town trying to find an old piece of post-war equipment. In each town there's usually a whole bunch of wrongs that need righting (or wrongs that need doing, depending on how you want to play the game) and you earn experience and knowledge that brings you closer to your goal by jumping in with both feet. What is different here is the number and depth of the quests and sub-quests. There's so many different things that you can be doing at any given time that it's almost guaranteed that every player (who's not following a cheat guide or their friend's advice) will find a much different way of finishing the game. The writers have done a fantastic job with extending and realistically aging the world created by the Fallout team in a way that will really please fans of the old title. Specifically, you'll get to see towns that have grown up quite a bit since the last time you saw them (Shady Sands is a lot different these days) hear what happened to characters you came across in the original, and basically see the way that society has formed itself around the events that unfolded in the first game.
One thing that should be mentioned about the story line is that it's a lot harsher this time around. I mean a lot harsher. As you travel through the game, you'll meet (and perhaps purchase the services of) prostitutes, drug dealers, slaves, and cannibals. There is an unbelievable amount of profanity and abusive language in the game, and while it seems that most of our generation is pretty much inured to it, enough violence to turn heads. Don't get me wrong, I love the fact that all of this is in the game (especially since it all fits very well within the story), but people who are thinking about buying this title for anyone under the age of 18 should probably think again. This game is... well, it's harsh.
There's not really all that much to say about the game's look. If you played Fallout, you've pretty much seen it all. While there is a nice new introduction, a few new faces and a load of new monster types, they all look a lot like the designs seen in the first game. On the positive side, it seems that the artists had a lot of time to add in a slew of new grisly death animations that are a real joy to watch. There's also some great looking dream sequences that take place throughout the game that look and sound excellent.
Gameplay's not going to surprise any old fans either. All the controls and interfaces from the original game have been brought back here with only minor tweaks. One big change that was made is the ability to give your NPC comrades some basic guidelines on how to act in combat. You can tell them (roughly) which weapons to use, which armor to wear and which enemy they should be shooting at in combat. Better still, you can also trade freely with them, which means that you can use them to carry items for you without having to worry about buying them back later. I did have a few problems with the fact that enemies seem to view your character as the best target in combat, deviating from centering in on you only if they can get through or another character has attacked them. I always seemed to find myself at the center of a pile of attacking monsters while my NPCs each tangled with one apiece. Still, for the most part, combat works just as it did in the original.
Unfortunately, there are quite a few little bugs in the game. While it's hard to be specific without giving away a lot about the people in places in the game, suffice it to say that you'll most likely run into a couple of lock-ups here and there as you play through. My advice? Save early and save often. While Interplay insists that the game can be played completely through as is, there are a couple of locations that you won't be able to experience as you should. Worse still, the patch that Interplay is putting out to fix the problems (which should be out sometime next week) will make your save games unusable. This means that if you've already started the game, you're either going to have to start over from the beginning, or just stick it out and play the buggy version. Yeah it sucks, but I haven't really had all that many problems with it. A lot is being made about the situation on bulletin boards right now, but people seem to be forgetting that the original Fallout had its share of problems too, and we all know that it was a great game.
So, what's the final verdict? A lot of people have complained that since the storyline, the graphics and the gameplay haven't changed much, that the game itself is no good. I just didn't find this to be the case. While there's no doubt that this title is extremely derivative of Fallout, I tend to want to thank the programmers for not fixing something that wasn't broken. With its great storyline, huge game world and well written scripts, Fallout 2 gave me many, many hours of totally absorbing gameplay. That's all I'm really looking for. If you're an RPG fan, I highly recommend this game to you.
-- Trent C. Ward
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