I’ve tried to play Fallout 2 three times. I only had to play Fallout once. According to these mathematics, I should have had to play Fallout 3 nine times, which means, if logic is infallible, I have a long, long slog ahead of me.
Sadly (slightly?), I only played Fallout 3 once, and I completed it, and all was right with the world, so Fallout 2 remains as the one game (outside of Morrowind, which lies not yet done) that has lived so many incarnations through me by chance (one restart, for example, was due to my old laptop dying on me, being sent to the parent company, fixed, and returned to me as a tabula rasa) not by choice. (I’m looking at you, game that I love and have played again and again as a result of that love!
Which, to my knowledge, has never happened. There are many games I’ve enjoyed enough to say that I love them, and most of those games I kept around for many years, as a collector, the same way that I keep books around that I’ve really enjoyed, not with the idea, really, that I’ll read them again, but just so. And, in fact, I may read them again, as I’m doing with Brust’s Taltos series, or I may use them for research or for teaching, but that isn’t really the point. What is the point? I don’t know.
Which is why I’ve been getting rid of video games that I’ve completed, unless I plan on doing something else with them or, actually, think I might play them again. So far, none so evaluated have passed the test.)
The story of Fallout 2 is this: You are a member of a tribe who is dying in the Post-Apocalyptic Wasteland that used to be the West Coast. You’re tribe is descended from the Vault Dweller, the hero of Fallout who left his Vault (a high-tech fallout shelter) and solved a whole mess of problems in the distant past. You are the chosen one of your tribe, which means you are lucky enough to go out into the wastes to try and find the solution to your tribe’s problems, a G.E.C.K., a Garden of Eden Creation Kit.
The story with Fallout 2 is this: When I first tried to play it through, I was bothered by the fact that, every so often, I’d get a psychic communication from my tribe’s shaman. The message was this: Hurry up! We are dying! The call became more and more frantic until I figured I’d wasted too much time and had to start over. End attempt 1.
Attempt 2 failed when my hard drive was erased.
Sometime after Attempt 2, I figured out, probably while reading about Fallout 3, that there is no way to save your tribe – I should’ve known this from playing other similar exploration RPGs. The main story-line moves forward at a pace determined solely by you. This is done so that you can, if you wish, fully explore the world that the designers so lovingly created. If this is done poorly, you feel like you’re in a theme park. If done well, you feel like you are in a living, breathing world.
Fallout 2 is done well.
For my third incarnation, I decided to play a survivor. There are no classes or professions in Fallout 2, so this means just that instead of specializing in weapons or stealth or persuasion (i.e. Politics), I built up my core attributes and tried to cover all my bases.
In general, this is a bad way to play. A jack of all trades is an expert in none and most likely dies when encountering their first radscorpion. It took me a good three or four hours just to make it successfully through the introductory level because my skills were so poorly adapted for, well, anything in particular.
That being said, a generalist is generally better off later in the game because instead of just having one particular option (Strength, Stealth, Sconversation), you have them all to choose from. And since I approach games like this similar to reading a Choose Your Own Adventure book, I want to accomplish all the quests I can to explore the world, and the story, most fully.
(If you’re wondering how I read a Choose Your Own Adventure book: Every time there is a choice to be made, I mark the page where the choice occurs, and then I follow each of those choices, and when those branch I follow each of those choices. I don’t really like reading books over again – which is how the CYOA books were designed – so I, instead, read all of the possible storylines at once.)
What this means, essentially, is my character died. A lot.
Fallout 2 has an amazing storyline, and it’s deep enough so that you never feel like you’re able to grasp the whole of it. Things remain unexplained. People and cities have lives that go on without you, and continue that way after you leave them (assuming you don’t destroy everyone and everything in your wake).
Apparently, though, Fallout 2 was hurried a bit out the gate and there are a lot of bugs and loose ends which aren’t so much bugs as they are pieces of the original game design that were scrapped in the hurry to publish. In one sense, this adds to the “wholeness” of the world. Not everything can be solved or completely understood. In another sense, it adds frustration.
For example, I’m really thrown out of a game when something happens in it that seems to be against the logic of the game itself. My classic example is System Shock. The story is unimportant to my point (but it involves you, in a spaceship, trying to stop an insane artificial intelligence), but it is enough to say the game is your (now) standard first-person action RPG. At one point, I found myself in an area facing a key enemy who proceeded to tell me about all this stuff that foiled its plans and, here’s the key part, I hadn’t done any of what he accused me of. Somehow, I’d stepped through a hole in space to reach a point I shouldn’t have reached yet.
It only makes sense that it a game as complicated as Fallout 2, and with so many ways to achieve success, that you’d expect similar such stumbling. So when I was in the final mission and found a scientist I’d never heard of before and he agreed to help destroy the evil forces, I was surprised and, well, felt like I’d cheated. Unintentionally, of course.
There are other such moments in Fallout 2, but they fail to detract from the glory of the game. If you haven’t played it, you should play it. There’s a patch that fixes many of the issues I mention (I didn’t know about it until I’d already completed the game) that you can find here. But with the patch or without it, the game is a novel in the telling, and worth your time. If you don’t believe me, then just look at this.
Now do you believe me?