I admit it, I’m part of the unwashed filth that was first introduced to the Fallout series with Fallout 3, but since I first dug into that game, it had been my intention to visit the games that had initially spawned the franchise. Fallout 1 frustrated me by placing my character in borderline unwinnable scenarios. In Fallout 2, I couldn’t make it through the damned tutorial. Screw that temple. Having recently reconciled with the original game for long enough to see its finale, the obvious move was to then revisit its sequel for a similar reunion. Screw that temple.
A KISS TO BUILD A DREAM ON
Fallout 2 picks up roughly 80 years after the original. You play as a descendant of the previous protagonist as they set out into the wasteland to recover a Vault-Tec Garden of Eden Creation Kit (GECK) to save their dying tribal village. In a way, it’s a retread of the first game’s storyline, hitting the same narrative beats. You attempt to get information on where you can find the McGuffin, and in your attempt to retrieve it, an outside force adds an additional complication.
In a lot of ways, Fallout 2 really does feel like a do-over of Fallout 1. The flow of the game is largely unchanged, the combat is completely the same aside from some additional functions for companion characters, and the mechanics and interface are carbon copied from its predecessor. The graphics and artstyle are unchanged, the general atmosphere hasn’t been touched, even the intro to the game echoes the intro of the first. Fallout 2 sometimes feels like it’s just an expanded and refined version of the previous game.
Yet that may actually be a good thing. Fallout 2 really feels like Black Isle took the parts of the first game that worked really well and ran with them. For the sequel, everything is bigger and better. I struggle to think of a single deficiency that it holds when compared to its progenitor.
The wasteland is populated by interesting people, something that the previous game sorely lacked. Moreso, the factions feel as though they operate with ambition. As the player character, you can assist or hinder whichever faction as they vie for power, fearful of the plays made by other factions. None of them are depicted as clearly good, each one featuring their own bright spots and dark bruises. And yet, siding with one is never treated as a stark allegiance; you’re not locked into a specific quest line that carries you through a faction specific narrative. You’re free to choose exactly who you assist and how you do it, whether you blow smoke across the undercarriage of the big players to get their cooperation, or simply eliminate the opposition with force, it actually feels like you have agency in the matter.
That freedom carries itself through many of the game’s facets. You don’t have to pick a faction, nor do you have to acquire power; most of that can be ignored in favour of just bumming around and doing work for yourself. Indeed, that’s what I did, becoming a porn star early on thanks to my adherence to characters who are more agile, both with their bodies and their tongues. I proceeded to sleep my way across the wastes, eventually finding myself in bed with the son of a slaughterhouse owner, talking my way out of a confrontation with said father, then repeating the same mistake with his daughter. This lead to a shotgun marriage, after which I sold my newly gained spouse to slavers whom I later slaughtered without provocation. After all, I may have shaky morals and a tendency to extreme problem solving, but that doesn’t keep me from being a self-righteous do-gooder.
Afterwards, I bought a car and drove to San Francisco. Living the dream.
LIVING THE DREAM
As the above anecdote reveals, Fallout 2 tends to lean a bit wackier than its predecessor. Fallout had a pretty dark sense of humour to begin with, but this is compounded and focused upon for the sequel. Portions of the game delve into parody of various films and real world organizations, making pop-culture references at every turn. It’s practically saturated in them. At other times, it gleefully breaks the fourth wall, explores dark humour, or dips its toes in all-out absurdity. It’s a nicely mixed bag, and I’m sure most people will find something that makes them chuckle.
It’s also genuinely funny, for the most part, and it dabbles in a range of jokes. Dialogue displays a skillful hand, with each character, big and small, presenting unique personalities. It’s rarely boring, even when it delves into exposition, and it makes even the more long winded conversations a treat to partake in.
It doesn’t always hit the mark, however. Some of the humour gets a little close to being offensive and is sometimes too on the nose. The deconstruction of American jingoism is woven well into the narrative and manages to maintain some subtlety, but the Hubologists in San Fransisco are such an overt reference to Scientology that it feels a bit malicious. That didn’t stop me from aligning myself against them, but it felt a little too direct. Similarly, early jokes in the game lean heavily on the protagonist’s tribal background, and while this is sometimes wielded effectively, it frequently treads on the cliché, “This ‘money’ you speak of scares and confuses us,” sort of humour. It doesn’t help that re-visiting some of the earlier areas has your now worldly and well-traveled character tripping over those same lines of dialogue.
As for what some people may find offensive, I never encountered anything that felt intentionally malicious. The worst I found was a suggestion of date rape, but it was used to emphasise a character’s lack of moral fiber and overall creepiness, and didn’t seem to be making light of or glorifying the act. It’s easier to say that, in an effort to cover as many tastes as possible, it crossed a few lines that should have been handled with a bit more sensitivity or not at all.
One of the issues I found with the original Fallout was its failure to fully live up to what it promises at the outset. Too many skills go underutilized, too many quests invariably end in violence; for as open as Fallout was, it was also very restrictive. Fallout 2 doesn’t really suffer from that problem. Talking often gets you into and out of many situations, and there are a lot of ways you can walk the line between being the world’s stalwart hero and being a completely selfish jerk.
My character was capable of holding their own in combat by the end of the game, but I made most of my progress by asking people nicely for things. I hit the quickload button frequently not to undo poor combat decisions, but to take another swing at a dialogue structure that I wasn’t clairvoyant enough to navigate the first time. Wherein Fallout 1, I can easily recall many occasions where violence was the only option to solve a quest, in Fallout 2, I struggle to think of one that required violence. More often than not, when things got bloody, it was because I decided that was the best or easiest solution, rather than it being the only one. Some portions of the game actually felt almost too easy as I breezed through the conversations and walked out without so much as offending an enemy.
When things did get hairy, the combat revealed itself to suck just as much as the first game. The only difference is that there are more options. More guns, more armor, more enemies, more companions. None of this makes the combat more exciting, but it at least add some more variability to it.
NOT THE END OF THE WORLD
I’m not proud of the fact that I wasn’t overwhelmingly enamoured with the original Fallout. On the contrary, I’m disappointed. It’s therefore a relief to me that I was able to fall in love with the sequel. While the original was something I muddled through on the side, I was thoroughly engrossed in Fallout 2 from beginning to end. The simple reason is: there’s more to do. It’s a livelier, deeper, and more sprawling game. It’s superior in every way to the original, except where it comes to subtlety. There’s a lot of freedom in how your adventure unfolds and the world is full of colourful character that makes it a joy to explore.
I absolutely loved Fallout 2. Playing through it may have been a long time coming, but I now feel that it’s cemented as one of my favourite titles in the series. It still holds the same unfriendly exterior as the original titles (seriously, screw that temple), but the rewards for enduring its trials are that much more significant.
This review was conducted using a Steam copy of the original game, purchased by the author.