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Fallout 2, Black Isle, 1998

I must confess immediately that I have never before played a role-playing game (RPG), in any form. After playing Fallout 2, I suspect that I will never do so again. That is not meant to be an insult, but rather reflects my wariness at spending such insane amounts of time on any one piece of entertainment. I have no other RPG experience to measure Fallout 2 against, as I've already stated, but this particular RPG is wildly addictive, and as with any addiction, a certain love-hate relationship develops. I could hardly stop myself from playing the game, but as my character grew more powerful, I looked back at my earlier quests with contempt. The structure of the game itself made me less apt to enjoy the moment, and more obsessed with minutia and just finishing it. And by the time I reached the final battle, with quite the advanced character and a powerful party, I was ready for anything. Or so I thought... I may have enjoyed playing Fallout 2, if such a grueling marathon could be enjoyed, but the ending was hugely anti-climactic. And largely impossible.

Fallout 2 begins with an extended introduction sequence. The first half consists of a commercial for, among other things, the G.E.C.K. (which I'll explain in a minute). The second half of this video sequence is a montage of images explaining the background of the game. Nuclear war, followed by the conflict between humans and mutants which happened in the first Fallout. These opening sequences are too long, but set the mood of the game rather definitively. Even the voice of the narrator is hard-boiled and fatalistic. "War... war never changes," he says, but nuclear war is the war that changes everything.

The game of Fallout 2 proper begins with a character generation screen. The statistics are meaningless to anyone who is not familiar RPG arcana, so I stumbled around with several useless characters before settling down with some helpful attributes. Fallout 2 comes with one of the most thorough and well-written manuals of any game that I've played -- kudos to Black Isle for bucking the current trend to cut corners on the manual -- but the fact remains that you have to be a RPG-player to understand how these assorted numbers will be important in the course of a game.

The quests begin immediately. You are the Chosen One of the village of Arroyo, and you must survive the Temple of Trials before finding out why you are Chosen and what you must do. As it so happens, you are chosen to find the G.E.C.K., the aptly named Garden of Eden Creation Kit. Arroyo is slowly dying, due to crop failure and so forth, and the G.E.C.K. is the only hope of your fellow villagers. The over-arching quest is given some sort of achievable first step with the directive to find Vic, a trader, in Klamath. The quests often consist of boring find-the-object for so-and-so variety, but some of them are quite clever. New Reno in particular is a fun city to visit, with the four competing crime families. Who do you work for, and what will the other families think if you complete this quest? Vault City and New California Republic both had enough local politics to keep you on your toes. I will add that I played through the game as a "good" character, and ended up with a very favourable reputation. Most of the quests require help from a party or from the locals -- you might be able to survive as a "bad" character, but don't depend on it.

I liked the graphics of Fallout 2, although the game will certainly not tax the limits of your video card. The overall design philosophy of the game exhibits a trait that always impresses me: consistency. Everything about the game, from the box to the manual to the introductory video to the game interface itself, all of these things share the same visual qualities. Black Isle also did a wonderful job with the art representing each location. Decay, corrosion, and the scum of society have never been so evocative. Fallout 2 is a graphic game, in its portrayal of violence. Fortunately, Black Isle included an option to tone down the violence, which of course begs the question of why the gore is so extreme in the first place. The post-nuclear world is a harsh one, I suppose.

I will mention one thing about the bugs in the game -- I did not encounter any. However, I was fortunate enough to play Fallout 2 about half a year after its release, and so I downloaded the patch from the Black Isle web site. According to the first reviews of the game, it was almost unplayable in its initial version, 1.00. I played with patch 1.02D, and so had no problems. Neither did I have to deal with the following huge oversight on Black Isle's part: the patch did not work with saved games from 1.00. Fallout 2 is an immensely complex game, which must have made it quite the challenge for the quality assurance people. However, that's hardly much of an excuse, as the Q.A. job description must say something about game-stopping bugs. The internet makes distribution of patches easy, but again, that's hardly an excuse for shipping a buggy game.

On the whole, I came away from my first RPG experience with mixed feelings. Fallout 2 is an intense, addictive game, quite the trip for those obsessed with minutia. I've been there now, and I'm not sure if that's an aspect of myself that I want to encourage. I enjoyed immersing myself in the post-nuclear world, with all its paraphernalia of vaults, mutants, and heavy weaponry, but I was also happy to return to normal life and pre-nuclear civilization. I can only hope that it will stay pre-nuclear.


Last modified: August 3, 1999

Copyright © 1999 by James Schellenberg (james@jschellenberg.com)


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