Buy and Download Homm3: Complete Ed. from GOG!

REVIEW: Fallout 2 (1998, PC)

Monday, 31 October 2011

Fallout 2 – legendary sequel to the original Fallout released at 1998 for PC. The game was developed by Black Isle Studios and published by Interplay. Those were the days when some great computer games saw the light of the day (approx. 1995-2000). Black Isle Studios created some timeless classics such as Fallout 1 and 2, Planescape Torment and Icewind Dale. Great game studio ranking right up there with some of the very best ones including Looking Glass Studios for example. Even though it’s bit silly to review Fallout 2 before the first one, I’m going to do so, since this is the one I played most recently out of the two. Perhaps review for the first one will follow later (prepare for repetition in the review, since they are quite similar!).

The game’s sci-fi story is based on fictional future in year 2241. It's the post-nuclear fallout – the world was turned into one huge wasteland by mankind, by wars between the nations. Game events take place 80 years after first Fallout, where original Vault Dweller saved his own Vault (a buried safe house built for a community of nuclear assault survivals) by killing king of all evil – The Master – morbid form of life who was taking over present world. After this heroic deed, Vault Dweller tried to return to his original home, but was rejected at the gates of his own home (Vault). Not a good fate for their savior to be turned back to the wastes. Vault Dweller then traveled far north to a village named Arrayo where he settled to live with local tribals until to the end of his life.

In Fallout 2 you are descendant of the original Vault Dweller – Chosen One – living peacefully in Arrayo where your forefather settled years ago. But the future to your tribe does not look very bright. The village is infested with disease, hunger.. and water is running out. The Elder of your village sends you to a mission to recover G.E.C.K – Garden of Eden Creation Kit – a device which has ability to transform dead irradiated soil of wasteland into viable land suitable for farming. In other words, you are sent to the wasteland (not again!) to look the device which can save your tribe from dying of hunger and thirst. But before you get to your journey you will have to finish a challenge and get past Temple of Trials – located at Arrayo Village and then return to your tribes Elder. And this is where the actual game begins – well right after you’ve created your character that is...

Character Creation

Character creation is life-blood of any serious cRPG, which is why I'm presenting all skills and choices quite extensively! Before you can start your journey through Temple Of Trials must you create your character, or pick a pre-made character build. There’s three pre-made characters: Narg, Mingan and Chitsa. Narg is more warrior with high strength, Mingan is hunter with high perception and Chitsa has personality. It's strongly recommended to make a custom character, though, to get the best gaming experience out of the game. 

There are seven attributes which are the major factors to determine what kind of character you play and what are your strengths and weaknesses. These are:

  • Strength
  • Perception
  • Endurance
  • Charisma
  • Intelligence
  • Agility
  • Luck

Strength determines how heavy and big weapons you can use, how much melee damage do you do, and how much you can carry. Perception gives you ability to see longer distance accurately and sense things. This means you can make long shots more accurately and see enemies on your map from further distance, and the skill may also allow special options in conversations with NPCs (dialogue). It also allows better usage of Energy Weapons and Explosives as well as improves lockpicking. Important skill! Endurance determines amount of your health points and resistance to poison/radiance (dangers in the modern wasteland), and also affects for Big Guns skill. Charisma affects to your barter and speech skills as well as improves your change to be effective on conversations with NPCs. Intelligence has big influence on your medicine, repair and science skills, as well as it also increases effectiveness on conversations. Agility determines number of Action Points per turn which you can use in action – so it’s very important combat-skill. Luck is the last attribute and has effect little bit on everything including critical hit chance, and chance to encounter positive random-events / avoiding negative ones on your travels. And there you have seven main attributes you’ll spend your attribute points to in character creation, determining what kind of a character you want to play Fallout 2 as.

The next things you'll get to pick are “Optional Traits” and there are 16 total of them, out of which you can pick two. Most of the traits have one positive effect to your character with cost of one negative effect. So it’s all about balancing your character. For example “Bruiser” trait increases your Strength with cost of action points per turn – making your hits more hard but making you slower. “One Hander” increases your single handed weapons skill with a cost of two handed. "Bloody Mess" might be only non-trade off trait. It doesn’t do really anything effective, but rather makes you see more brutal deaths and gore. Bloodier combat sure doesn't do anything helpful but it’s fun as hell! At least the first time. Traits do not only affect to combat skills, though. There are other options too.

Then there are skills, which can be divided in three categories: Combat skills, Active skills and Passive skills:

Combat Skills

  • Small Guns
  • Big Guns
  • Energy Weapons
  • Unarmed
  • Melee Weapons
  • Throwing

Active skills

  • Doctor
  • First Aid
  • Lockpick
  • Repair
  • Science
  • Sneak
  • Steal
  • Traps

Passive skills

  • Barter
  • Gambling
  • Outdoorsman
  • Speech

Personally I like to use small guns since you can get decent small weapons early on, so it’s good to raise the skill since day one. That means no gun points invested in it goes to waste since it’s still decent at the end and you don’t need too much strength either to use any small guns meaning you can invest to something else like charisma for better dialogue choices. Lockpick is really handy too since you can to see what’s behind all locked and discover hidden items. Secret gun stashes, money and such. Speech is effective for dialogue choice booster as well. But you can experiment too and not always make the “best build” there can be to finish the game most efficiently. Remember attributes contribute your skills too, as do Optional Traits.

There’s one more thing – Perks. Every 3rd level-up you will be granted one perk of your choice. They are special abilities you can choose to improve your character. Perks available to you depend on your previously selected perks (perk-tree/branch), attributes and current character level. As an example of perk, "Mr.Fixit " grants you +10% to Repair and Science skills while Gambler perk +20% to gambling. Perks are fine reward-system for leveling up, bringing some necessary "depth" to character development along with the regular thing of putting skill points to your skills.

In Fallout 2 will level up your character after collecting certain amount of experience points required to move up to the next level. You gain experience by killing enemies and completing quests. When you level up, you’re granted skill points to spend to raise your skills up.

Character and leveling system works quite flawless. It's quite in depth and there's much freedom of choice to build several different type of characters in Fallout 2. You can play the game with more than a few different types of builds to get different game experience on each play trough. Talking about some re-play value? You got it!

Let the Journey begin..!

(Temple of Trials - this is where it begins and believe me it's not your most interesting moment)

So after you’ve just created your character it’s time for your first challenge – Temple of Trials – and this is where your actual journey begins. It’s a place to learn some basic combat mechanics, with facing scorpions and rats, but mostly this place is also bit of a boredom. You'll spend first twenty minutes running through uninteresting temple with rats, doing it for a sake of proving yourself -- and *oops* in case you didn’t make character who can compete in melee at all, be prepared to do a lot of repetitious save-reloading in the temple. Once you’ve finished with scorpions and find your way to exit doors, there awaits your fellow tribesman who claims to be your test’s final challenge. You have to beat this guy with bare fists and he's not exactly as easy as another scorpion or rat. With non-combat character, especially at hard difficulty, it can get quite frustrating. So eventually you’ll get over it, and return to Arrayo’s Elder, who will assign you to your trip to wastelands to seek G.E.C.K (you can still do side quests on Arrayo to some extra experience which is recommended even though the place is one of more boring ones in Fallout 2 – you are eager to get out to wastes most likely right?). One of Fallout 2's major flaws in my opinion is terribly uninteresting and slow beginning – but don't let it foo you! It gets much better after first hour or two, and you won’t be disappointed! So don't give up with the game in the damned village!

After you have finished with Arrayo and start journey to the unknown wastelands – in theory you can pretty much go where ever you want. Fallout 2's map is totally open for exploration. However, skill level of this game is decently hard, and there’s no level scaling in Fallout 2, so walking straight to San Francisco or other harder level area would be a suicide most likely – that is if you made it so far. What I like about Fallout 2 is that you can freely do many quests in any order you like, and pass the ones that don't interest you -- except the main quest that has some linearity in it. But it has several open decisions and ways to go through it too! Fallout 2 quest-structure has quite minimal linearity. Of course some quests will eventually lead to anothers, but there's lots of freedom, with different ways of solving quests, many different possible outcomes, including varying rewards and reactions by the game world towards the player. It's a delight to play Fallout 2 again all the way from the start with new character and try something different the second time, only to get that "wow, this isn't what happened the last time"-experience!

(Moving between sectors and exploring world happens in map-view - You can enter any sector, but not every each of them contain anything, sadly)

Combat, gore and blood... and Bobbleheads!

Fallout 2 (and it's predecessor) back in the days had some quite gruesome death scenes, even though graphics weren't hugely advanced compared to today. Something you wouldn't quite expect when first time launching the game. Sometimes, when you shoot at an enemy, you rip the whole head off, or arm, leg.. well even whole chest. The reaction by a player at the first time would be "I didn't see that coming". Even though old 2D doesn't look so accurate and detailed than the games nowadays, stylistically and artistically speaking, bloody death-scenes of Fallout 2 stand the test of time well. If you've little twisted mind, all blood and gore in the game is even comedic, as it was probably intended to be. Graphical violence is bit over-the-top (in a funny way), but it also adds to the impression that wasteland is gruesome place, which works. Games like this shouldn’t first selection for children anyway (not even if the graphics are "dated").

The guns range from bare fists to Small Guns like pistols (Desert Eagle, Sniper Rifle) to Big Guns (rocket launcher, minigun) to Energy Weapons, not forgetting explosives like grenades. There isn't as big weapon arsenal in Fallout 2, than for example in Jagged Alliance 2 (which is one of the best selections of weapons ever in featured computer game) but selection can still hold it's own well. The amount is large enough to keep several character builds interesting, even towards the end-game. One more great thing are weapon upgrades available for some of the guns, which are quite expensive, and will give additional options to use "the old friend". In a way, they expand on weapon selection. Bullets are also quite scarce for certain weapons ensuring that you have to think before you fire. There's no such thing as unlimited ammo in the game.

While selection with weapons and items is rather average, Fallout 2 shines with usefulness of items. Most of them have their special place of usage. A dead-end with fishy looking wall? No problem, go for a dynamite! Objects in the game often react with special items, which needs some problem solving to figure that out. Finding some special items is also rewarding experience, and such example would be “Bobbleheads”. These items are scattered around the game world, hidden especially well, and will grant you extra points to spend for your attributes. Good luck finding them (and some other unmentioned easter-eggs)! You might also be able to get a hang of one of the rare implants granting your character bonus to some stats... but I don’t want to reveal more than that. 

Back to the combat system of Fallout 2. It's quite simple but it works very smoothly. And since this game is not only about combat, that part definitely holds it's own ground well. When you engage in combat, the real-time game pauses and starts turn-based action sequence. In turn-based combat mode you have action points to use per each turn any action you take such as: shots, throwing grenades, and moving. Number of your action points is  dependent of your character agility-skill. Also heavier guns tend to take up more action points to fire, so any heavily armored character should have fair amount of agility and strength. Who ever engages battle gets first shot, and then combat continues turn by turn.

Turn-based combat is handled by "V.A.T.S system" – in where you to choose which body part to aim to, while V.A.T.S shows the percentage for a successful hit. Other options include fire modes: single shot, burst fire or aimed shot. Success rate depends upon gun type versus shooting range combined with your gun skill and perception skill. Different gun types also require different skills to work more efficiently. Pattern how combat's usually take place is quite simple: aim – select body part to hit – fire – reload. However, this doesn't really leave wish for more in-depth system since system is rapid but tactical enough taking your character build and weapon choices in consideration, and bloody animations makes it fun to play. Combat is sort of a painless and flowing aspect of the game, which handles well, and doesn't take up too much time in comparison to other role-playing elements such as discussion and dialogue (which are far more important in Fallout 2).

There's some random element in the combat too, since success of hits are presented in percentages, but nevertheless it works. Also, how much should you try to talk your way through things, and how much should you use brute force is much dependent of your character build. Both ways are equally interesting and possible to play. Don't expect something with tactical depth of Jagged Alliance 2, though. This is "Jagged Alliance 2 extra lite" in terms of combat.

Dialogue and world reactivity shines in Fallout 2!

Charisma and Intelligence highly expand your dialogue options with NPCs, while Speech skill also has factor to add to it. Dialogue in Fallout 2 is nicely written and options vary much depending of your character build. The questions and answers between NPCs are multiple choice picks, where you choose the best of the options available, that you think is suitable for the situation -- or the one that's suited for the type of character who's role you play. Intelligent characters can still screw up because they see most of the “bad” answers in conversations too, along with the the “best” choices, which less intelligent ones won’t be able to choose. This really breaks the linearity of intelligent characters always winning, while stupid ones always losing. There certain flexibility out there, and you really have to pay attention to the story and dialogue to make good choices. There's huge emphasis to the overall outcomes with the dialogue, depending of your character build, but wise character isn't automatic win-situation in a conversation. Funny thing is, that if you set intelligence very low you might be only to choose options like “Huh? / Uh-huh / Uh”. But that's only for really low level intelligence characters with lowest possible numeric value. As an intelligent and charismatic character, on the other hand, you might be able to talk your way through some missions, without firing any bullets, or reach more profitable end-result than more stupid character ever could. Profits could include gaining either more experience points for completing quest or perhaps other extra resources: cash, guns, and so on.

It’s kind of a important task to speak with most of the NPC character in all cities, because they can either be able to help you with your current main quest, or perhaps offer optional way to complete on-going one – or grant you new side quests. NPCs may lead you to special treasures which otherwise would be passed without noticing. There are tons of NPC characters in Fallout 2 with unique dialogues, quests, and several end-results for all the topics that are quest related. This is what makes 2 special game. Even though multiple choice answers might look simple, there’s quite complex system hidden behind it all and may lead to varying success for each play-through. How cool is that? Many games nowadays have forgotten this aspect, being too linear in terms of quests and end-results, with main focus to fancy pre-written cut-scenes. In Fallout 2 you will be facing some big challenges, like negotiating peace between human and ghouls, and possibly getting involved in New Reno gangster business, on your way with your main-quest. The best thing along multiple ways of solving is, that the world reacts to your deeds. What you do, will matter, both short-term and long-term.

The environments and atmosphere

There are 12 cities in Fallout 2 overall, which all have their own atmosphere. Every place – except perhaps Arrayo which thank god is quite short stay – has many things to do. You will be spending much time in the cities meeting inportant NPCs, getting new quests, information about G.E.C.K, turning in old quests, bartering, or even gambling. Areas of Fallout 2 are atmospheric indeed, and this all is enhanced with the fabulous soundtrack by composer Mark Morgan. It's just one of those most memorable sound scores in video game history, where music actually sets the tone for the environment you're in. One of the best game soundtracks ever (although it re-uses major part of Fallout 1's soundtrack. Well, doesn't matter, since it's just so great)! Gloomy, mystic, sad, scary, horrific, with certain industrial touch to it – describing perfectly the post-nuclear wasteland experience, be it a trader city or abandoned military outpost. Mark Morgan has just done fabulous job here and it really adds to the general feel of the game.

(This robot doesn't seem to like you too much - regular day in Wasteland)

Fallout 2 graphics succeed describing remaining glimpse of human race destroyed by nuclear fallout well: lot of destroyed buildings and cars. Though game's maps graphically look perhaps slightly repetitive, with samey looking buildings, and brown-gray color palette through the almost whole game, generally, there's still enough variation with few different types of environment settings ranging from your tribal village Arrayo to trader town Den, dying and silent town of Modoc, ghoul city of Gecko and Las Vegas-style gambling-town New Reno with its gangster culture for example. Many of the games characters are also memorable and have their own personalities presented by some great in-game dialogue. Fallout 2 is quite huge and will grant you long hours of gaming ‘till you’re finished with it -- and even then it holds fair amount of replay value. One of those games along the predecessor that you just have to re-install later on.

(New reno is the neon light of the wasteland)

Karma and companions

There are some other things yet unmentioned. First of all – Karma. Your deeds and doings determine whether you are good or evil in the world of Fallout 2. This is a bit black and white vision, but it’s better than nothing. There's bunch of recruitable NPCs to be added to your party in the game, and karma has a big factor on that, along with your intelligence and charisma. Good karma makes “good” characters like you more, and therefore you can also get “good” NPC characters to join your party. If you're a psychopathic bad-ass, then your Karma is "evil" and evil characters will be more likely willing to join your party.

Intelligence and charisma have special affection on getting more than one companion at once, which is possible with the right character build. I think you can get either four or five companions maximum when the skills are maxed out. Companions aren't perfect by any means, as they do not have such personality than in Baldur's Gate, where they would have different reactions and things to say in certain areas and towards each others. Another complaint about them is that companions might act bit stupid on some combat situations and shoot you in the back if you stand in their line-of-fire, no matter how obvious it is that they're going to hit you instead the thug. You can interact then in quite limited way, giving them any gun or armor they are able to use due their attributes and stats. A nice thing is that they do learn skills and get better over time. Although dialogue and control of your companions feels a bit limited, it’s still very cool add-on and works decently good overall.

Bottom line

Well, in case you didn’t play the predecessor Fallout 1 already, then I suggest to get it and finish it first. Then move to Fallout 2. The games are quite similar, so most things stated here fits also to the first game. The first one is bit shorter, but other than that it’s just as classic as Fallout 2. It starts out perhaps little better than Fallout 2, but the fun is over earlier. Fallout 2 has pretty much everything that adult cRPG fanatic would ever wish for a computer role-playing-game. It has tons of areas to explore freely, and main areas of interest (cities etc.) have huge amount of things to do, with tons of quests ranging from side-quests to clever tips for your main-quest. All NPCs in the game have quite large amount of great written dialogue and options to choose from, with several different end-results and world-reactions. I love how you can complete most of the quests – be it major or minor side quest – several possible ways or even screw it up totally and gain no reward. Brutally honest, as it should be.

Main quest of "seeking G.E.C.K for your tribe" might not sound more than decently interesting, but to actually find it is another story, and journey in seek of G.E.C.K. gets thrilling quite soon as you reach out of the boring Arrayo. There are so many twists and turns in quite non-linear main story, that not many adventure or cRPG games can ever match Fallout 2. Often times to get information about G.E.C.K, you are asked to complete totally other kind of quest in exchange. After suffering your first hour of the slow start in Arrayo village, the game turns much more interesting and is rewarding blast until the very end.

Another aspect that Fallout 2 succeeds with in a memorable way, is it's character creation and progress. In my opinion Fallout 2 has sufficiently in-depth character build system to lead into interesting game play and mechanics, offering several different ways of playing varying situations. Every skill has their place in game play, and can open up different ways to approach events in the game. Skills of the game combined with attributes, traits, and perks give you lots of freedom to build a character you like. Not a lackluster cRPG character system at all.

Fallout 2 has that certain joy of exploration and discovery in it's open-ended game world. There’s tons of unique items to find (main-quest related, easter eggs, cash, weapons), and if you’ve high lockpick skill, then you've even better to access otherwise non-accessible areas. There are also several unique NPCs which which will give leads to finding G.E.C.K., and discovering such NPC is always rewarding. And believe me you're going to need all the help you can get, because unlike the hand-holding games of today, with a compass pointing where you have to go, in Fallout 2, you have to figure it out and find everything yourself (with clues). Different ways to solve quests and seeing the world actually react to your deeds both short- and long-term is always rewarding. And what would wasteland be without traders? You can always find new traders and barter. Adventuring at the wastelands is very thrilling experience, though minor complaint, again, is that some of the areas are empty that provide nothing but a reason for random encounters (which are cool on their own right). But all-in-all, actual game content is phenomenal, ample, complex, huge as hell, and high quality. Only thing I really miss really is wider selection of enemies. The amount is pretty scarce after all, because putting just a different gun on human NPCs hand isn't really enough. And how about monsters (which, also, are scarce)?

(This game kills!)

Bottom line is this game’s a classic as it gets! Some argue which is better – Fallout 1 or 2 – but it doesn’t matter! To me it is the second, because it offers larger content to play, but just with a minimal margin. One of the best adventure based cRPG’s ever, standing the test of time surprisingly well, unlike some of those early 3D games they used to produce in early 2000's. If you never played it – get it! If you never played first one either – start with that and make your way to second! If you played it ten years ago – you know you want to give it another re-run. A thrilling and adventurous role-playing game experience, that makes you pay attention to the dialogue, clues, and choices you made. Not for the ones without brains!

The Good
  • Catchy storyline that keeps you hooked
  • Multiple companions
  • Impressive dialogue with multiple outcome-possibilities out of almost any situation
  • Stat- and skill system accompanied with perks works great
  • Tons of Quests
  • Rewarding game (exp, items)
  • Humor bites and gore shocks
  • Totally awesome atmosphere and one of the best soundtracks in computer game history
  • Highly reactive game world!
The Bad
  • Low amount of enemies (especially monsters)
  • Graphics are average (and slightly repetitive)
  • Quite slow start (but gets more interesting shortly after)
  • AI, especially friendly AI is not very bright
  • Interaction with companions is quite superficial
  • Solid, but not impressive combat


No comments:

Post a comment