Fallout 2 (PC) review
"The wasteland truly does give a not inaccurate portrayal of what could be the cause and effect of nuclear war, and the aftermath which would erupt from it. Play this game, and express the power to choose. This is pre-GTA3, pre-Shenmue...Fallout 2 is a pioneer. "
PC RPG's aren't like console RPG's. They've always been different. The free-roaming, multiple-path gameplay style is practically the opposite to the linearity found in games like Final Fantasy VII. Some even claim that these very open games are more true to the genre, in the sense that you definitely get to ''role play'' more effectively. Simply put, Fallout 2 takes this whole concept of freedom in an RPG to a new level. The original Fallout was awarded PC Game of the Year in '97, and it deserved it for all the reasons which make Fallout 2 so great. The first game introduced a fair number of new elements to the PC RPG scene. However, the sequel gives more of everything that the first one offered, and really shows gamers the effect a great RPG can have. Controversy, freedom, action and humor are aplenty in this entertaining role-playing game.
Fallout 2 is a potpourri of fun, interesting and diverse side/sub-quests which are supposedly optional, but they're really what make up the entier game, so you won't be skipping the majority of them. The game starts out with the character customization screen. Here, you get to mess with dozens of different options which helpt to determine the outcome of your character, and ultimately, how you play the game. The basic ones are your status, which include things like Charisma, Strength, Luck, Stamina, etc... You'll also be able to choose from over 20 different skills which you'll specialize is, and 10 different traits. This is truly awesome, and was one of the first times such an in-depth character customization system had been incorporated into a videogame. The decisions you make in the beginning truly do affect the entire game, so it might take as long as 15 minutes for you to make up your mind about everything. After that, you'll be shown a cinematic narrative scrolling the credits, showing black & white photographs and drawings to help tell the story of the game. From there, you basically jump into the action. Without any tutorial or real explanation, you find yourself in a dungeon, taking a ''test'' to prove your ability as the chosen one. After this, you'll end up in your hometown, where over half a dozen sidequests await you.
You can choose to simply speak to a few people, and move along with your quest, or you can complete all the side-quests, obtaining new items, abilities and knowledge. In the next town, this pattern is repeated, but there is more to do. The town is bigger, with more rooms, more inhabitants, more diversity and more choices. But again, all you really must do is speak to a few people and you can be on your way. This is pretty much the pattern for the rest of the game. However, if you don't complete any side-quests, you'll be weak and basically unable to continue. That's the simple explanation of the game, but there's a whole lot more which I'll briefly go through to give you an idea of the depth.
In the game, money is a big thing. It's not just something you pick up from monsters when you kill them which enables you to buy weapons and items at shops. No, in Fallout 2, money is a truly precious commodity. From the time you leave your hometown, you'll be given just $150 to start out. To give you an idea of how much that is, a night at an inn costs around $25, a beer costs $10, guns cost several hundred dollars, other weaponry generally costs $100+ and basic healing items cost around $60. So, as you can see, $150 isn't much at all. After this, there are several ways to get money. One, you can steal money by thieving just about anyone walking around. You can break into houses if you so choose to power-up your lockpicking skill and loot whatever goodies you can find. You can salvage money from dead bodies, abandoned houses and other nooks and crannies of the town. You can earn money from helping people out in the form of sidequests. And you can barter.
Bartering is a massive part of gameplay in Fallout 2. Basically, you can trade anything in the game with just about anyone. Just initiate a conversation and pretty the ''barter'' button and a trading screen will come up. You can trade, sell or buy on the barter screen. What's useful to you might not be so useful to other, and vice versa. This makes trading very versatile, as it is possible to go through the game without actively thieving anyone or going out of your way to obtain money. The items you acquire along the way will be sufficient means for gaining money through the form of bartering. The items you find and barter for in Fallout 2 are also nothing but conventional. You can abrter weapons, healing items, personal items, key items or any other crap that you find around. Strangely enough, drugs can be traded for a hefty load of money. Which brings up another topic; the prices.
Bartering prices are determined by a few factors. The first is your Charisma. If you have high charisma, people like you more, and will be more inclined to give you better deals. If your charisma is low, you won't be penalized, but you'll generally just get the normal prices. Another factor is your bartering skill, one of the many items on the long list of special abilities you can learn. The last stat which will determine bartering prices is your Karma, which I will go into later. I'm sure this all sounds pretty in-depth, which it is, but to give you an idea, this is just one of the many, many key elements in the game, and it's one of the simpler ones.
You can learn a LOT of different skills in Fallout 2. Every time you gain a level, you are awarded a number of skill points determined by a several other factors, which you can put into any skills you choose. Initially, you are prompted to choose three skills which you will have an affinity for and learn significantly quicker than the others. The range of skills in Fallout 2 is huge. There are battle skills, such as throwing, small guns, big guns, melee weapons, unarmed and more. And then there's...Everything else. Outdoorsman, doctor, first aid, thief, stealth, science, just to name a few. The skills basically cover everything you can do in the game. Bring your doctor skill up to 300% (the max) and you'll be a great healer. Bring your thief skill up and you can pick locks as you feel fit. But those skills are entirely different to the battle skills, which are only effective while you're actually fighting, yet they all use the same points. This makes is incredibly tough to choose which ones you'll invest points into. Each point increases a skill about 2% (on average) and with 15 points (average), even if you invest all your points into one skill, you'll only be brought up 30%, which is only 10% of the max (300%). And because gaining levels is so damn hard (You'll gain about one for every hour of gameplay, on average) you'll want to choose wisely. All in all, the skill system is fantastic. It's great to be able to specialize in just about everything, because all the skills are handy in their own way. Some more than others, but it all depends on how you want to use them.
You can basically do everything and anything in Fallout 2. You can walk into a village and start killing random civilians to steal their money and gain a few experience points, but there will be drawbacks. The most tangible is your Karma. When you bring up your character screen, one of the many stats at your disposal is your current Karma. There will be a number and ''title'' up top, which can range from ''wanderer'' to ''killer'', and then an adjective describing your reputation in each of the towns you've visited. In most towns, upon arrival, you'll be either ''neutral'' or ''accepted.'' From there, it can go up or down, depending on what choices you make. If you do what the game would expect you to do, not straying from the norm much, your status will stay about the same, but that's no fun. Part of the joy in the game is to be extreme--either help everyone, or help no one. Be evil, or be heroic. It all depends on your personal preference, and, while being evil is challenging, there are many assets at your disposal.
Upon levelling up, in addition to a number of skill points, you'll also receive your choice of ''perks.'' Perks are essentially character attributes which range from things like high-metabolism to quick-learning. They're all great in their own way, so again, choice requires a clear sight of what kind of character you're trying to be. It's hard to stick to the path of a strong, melee fighter with so many other tempting abilities, and it's also hard to stick to the path of being a charismatic sex goddess, but if you do, the game will be that much easier. If you mix 'n match, albeit fun, your character will be an uneven, muddled up freak with a variety of odds-and-ends abilities, which might not do you so good. Perks are just another way of customizing your character, and I guess that they called them something different from skills or traits to avoid confusion.
Battle is Fallout 2, though easy to learn, is truly unlike that of any other game I've played. Everything is run by skill points, which act as a kind of in-battle currency which you'll have to use everytime you do everything. Moving takes action points, accessing your inventory takes action points, triggering objects uses action points, different attacks use different numbers of action points...Everything in battle requires action point expenditure. When your action points run out, your turn is over, and the enemy gets to use their action points. While you start with 10 action points at the beginning of every battle, when it comes back to your turn again, you will charge some action points, which is again determined by a number of things, particularly your agility. If you have 10 agility, you'll recharge all of your action points after every turn. Most attacks require 4 or 5 action points, and every step you take uses up one. Accessing your inventory requires 4, unless you have a certain perk which reduces it to 2. These numbers I gave you are just there to give you an idea of the battle flow. It's turn-based, but everything has a cost, and it's all action-points. There's no MP or anything else, just AP and ammo for certain weapons. All in all, the system works extremely well and has no faults I can think of. Just be wise as to which choices you make in everything battle-oriented, because, chances are, it'll affect your action points.
Like in most RPG's, you do have the ability to befriend other characters, and invite them to come along with you on your quest. However, they're a bit different, because they're NPC's, and are never really controlled by you, and don't simply join you at certain parts of the game. You decide whether they stay or not, and you can ultimately shape whether they come with you at all. Your charisma, divided by two will give you the number of NPC's you can have at one time, and it will also affect what they think of you. I made the bad choice of putting my charisma at 1, thinking that having high strength would pay off, but instead, I wasn't able to get any NPC's on my side. Luckily, I played again, and saw how fun it is to have AI helping you along on your quest, because they don't feel like they're ''your'' party members, but rather people just there by their own choice, who could leave at any moment and possibly even betray you. They're definitely an interesting part of the storyline, simply because if you don't try to get them, they won't even be there.
Odds and Ends:
With lack for a better term, Fallout 2 just has so many odds and ends which make it so much more dynamic and complex. For instance, there are drugs in the game. They have good affects, such as healing and strength increase, but the more you use them, the less effective they are. They have unpleasant side effects which will harm you in some way. When they're sitting there in your inventory, it's so hard to resist, but the more you use them, the worse it gets. But if you don't use them, you might die. Little paradoxes and incredibly difficult choies like this are incredibly common in this game, and it's part of what makes the game so great. You can help the two hicks kill steal the village idiots cows, or you can wait till they leave their shop and steal their semi-useful crap, and then kill them if you please. The game feels almost like life, filled with difficult choices and lessons in risk vs. reward, cause and effect, form follows function. The gameplay is amazing, and deserves my highest regards as one of the most amazing games there is to play.
Compared to the rest of the game, the graphics are extremely unremarkable. Not only are they completely uncustomizable, with only one resolution and no display options, but they basically look like a more stylish Diablo II, set in the future. The environments themselves look good enough, but everything is just so plain, so ordinary. The animations are incredibly simple, the special effects are nothing impressive and the cutscenes aren't all that great, either. The graphics are purely mediocre, and fulfill the absolute minimum requirements for playability. However, they do this excellently, managing to not hinder the gameplay in any shape or form, which is satisfactory. And although the graphics themselves are nothing special, the presentation is great. The menus, designs and rugged, ''tech'' look of the game is wildly successful and worthy of a mention when commenting on the game's visuals.
Again, the sound, much like the graphics, deserves little mention. The startlingly good voice-acting is rare and only present on ''important'' characters, the sound effects are dull, and the music is ambient. Often, I play with the game muted, because I simply know that I wouldn't really notice if the sound is on, and I'd rather listen to my own music. The sounds you'll hear going through town is often low-key drumming or other non-melodic ''music.'' Aside from the exceptional voice-acting, nothing in the game is aurally pleasing or displeasing, it's simply existent.
Along with the gameplay, the storyline of Fallout 2 is the game's most alluring feature. After over-population lead to nuclear war, a small fraction of the population took cover in underground shelters for a number of years. After everything was over, the formed ''tribes'' emerged, bearing witness to the aftermath. Now, the land is nothing but a barren desert, littered with the ruins of a civlization long since fallen, filled with homeless, corrupt and independent peoples. There is no industry, no agriculture and the world functions almost fragmentally except for small, loyal communities and the still-used metal currency used for trade purposes. It seems as if all hope is lost, but there is legend of GECK, a Garden of Eden Creation Kit which will supposedly ''magically'' restore life to the sterile wasteland. You have been chosen to venture out into the world and search for this ''GECK'', starting in your hometown and traveling wherever your adventures may take you. As you search for hope, you'll come to see that in this world, no one seems to care about hope anymore. No one has faith. All the inhabitants of the wasteland are driven only by their need to survive, and only ever help others to create security or betterment for themselves. Even you will end up committing foul deeds to stay alive and do what is needed for you and your tribe. Racism, corruption, segregation are all key themes in this story, as a broken civilization tries to get back on it's feet, but really only ends up worsening the already tragic reality of post-nuclear war.
When it comes down to it, Fallout 2 can be as long or as short as you want it to be. With all the sidequests, 50+ hours is a fairly conservative estimate for the length, but I suppose it could be as short as 25 if you so wish. With all the side-quests to complete, people to meet, places to see, personalities to be, skills to mix 'n match, enemies to dispatch...The game is massive. I would be thoroughly surprised if any gamer was unsatisfied with the game's completeness or questioned the adequacy of it's replay value.
There is so much to Fallout 2 that can't be explained in a review. There is so much to it that can't be understood until one has played it, and seen the game in all it's glory. Seen how many choices there are, how many customizations are available. Never before has a game, let alone an RPG so ingeniously created a world which feels almost like reality, yet not. The wasteland truly does give a not inaccurate portrayal of what could be the cause and effect of nuclear war, and the aftermath which would erupt from it. Play this game, and express the power to choose. This is pre-GTA3, pre-Shenmue...Fallout 2 is a pioneer.
Replay Value: 9.5/10
Staff review by James Gordon (July 24, 2002)
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