Fallout 2 Journal Part I
Note: It should be more than obvious that I will be discussing Fallout 2 in such a way that involves spoilers. Don't read this article, or any article in this series, if you intend on a spoiler-free Fallout 2 experience.
I finally decided to sit down and put some time into Fallout 2. I anticipated a quirky, post-apocalyptic romp through an America stuck in the bizarro 1950s, punctuated with engaging gunfights. In effect, the only thing I knew about the game was that it was an isometric RPG, and the only thing i knew about the canon and atmosphere was informed by Fallout 3. My expectations were almost immediately shot down, and I couldn't be happier.
Fallout 2 is unforgiving. It is stark, desolate, at once brutal and sensitive, at once expansive and detailed. I haven't put more than ten hours or so into it, and it is easily one of the most difficult games I have ever played. Once again, I couldn't be happier.
I downloaded Fallout 2 off of Steam and applied Killap's Restoration Project, more for the ability to play at higher resolution than for the patched content, which I glanced at in summary but didn't absorb. The patch accommodated my request to play at 1680x1050 but I found it difficult to read the HUD text at that size, and switched to a more reasonable 1024x768.
The impression that you get from Fallout 3 is that the America affected by the nuclear war was flash-frozen in a psuedo-1950s, and that the recovering civilization from then on was simmered in that specific atmosphere. In Fallout 2—at least in my playthrough so far—this couldn't be further from the truth. Your character hails from what can only be described as savage. The places you visit don't have enough set pieces to simulate any kind of ambiance. The basic descriptive language is: "dry, rotting, dirty, low". Even cities that have been touched by industry follow this pattern; hollowed out husks of buildings, drug-addled vagrants wandering the streets mumbling to themselves in chemical hazes. In Fallout 3 the happy-go-lucky Galaxy News Radio and the lost-in-the-Golden-era residents were an ironic counterpoint to the world they inhabited. In Fallout 2, there is no room for irony. These are people for which every day in a struggle, and any day could be their last. The stage is appropriately set.
I spent about an hour in the introductory temple, and got my ass handed to me so consistently I swore it was an incongruity in how I rolled my character. I rolled again, taking care to pay attention to the attributes I enhanced, and the abilities I tagged. The next time through was a little easier, but I still saved before and after every single fight, and used most of my action points per turn running away from my enemies so they wouldn't have points left, after catching up to me, to get in an attack.
The artificial economy is incredibly well done. I wandered into my first city loaded up with Radscorpion tails, wondering what kind of firearms I'd be able to barter for. The answer? None. There were none of any kind available. At best I was able to steal a basic rifle: a pop gun in comparison to my foes. Even after I had trudged through the quests of the first city, and made my way to the second one, there was at most one pistol and one machine gun available for purchase. The pistol was 30 times more expensive than the cash I had on hand; the machine gun, even more expensive than that. It gave the impression of a deserted, empty world. This wasn't Fallout 3, with spare rifles and grenades around every corner.
As unprepared as I was for the combat and difficulty, I was even more so for how the game reacted to me. I traipsed into a bar looking for information and trade. The bartender had nothing to trade but women and whiskey, the latter being 20 dollars a glass. On a whim, I chose a dialog option insulting him for the steep price of his booze. He got into a fight with me about it. I said something else stupid, and we left the dialog screen and entered combat when he punched me in the gut. By about this time, I had had enough of people trying to beat me up for whatever arbitrary reason, so I kicked him in the groin and shot the fucker. If you've had any experience with Fallout 3, this would be the time when you reloaded, since killing a member of a community typically sets that whole community against you. In Fallout 2, in this case: no one moved. The entire bar was docile, staring into their glasses. Steeped in roleplay, I imagined this was just another day of reckless violence for them. There were no loyalties; there was another bar where they could drink. When I returned to the town some time later, a sign had been placed over the entrance to the bar: Out of Business. That was incredible to me.
My playthrough ended, for the time being, based on my own stupidity. I fell through a trap rug in a deserted farm, to find a group of people who had eked an existence out underground. They asked me to return a letter to the surface, and I dropped it somewhere in a cornfield. After spending about twenty or so minutes clicking around trying to find it, I gave up, and discovered I hadn't saved in the past half hour.
I'm probably going to roll again, and pay much more attention to the things I'm trying to accomplish in the game. I'll chronicle that in another entry. For now, some final thoughts and advice:
- Combat is a bitch, and you need to pare it down at the beginning just to survive. You will be running away, a lot, from things you believe you are equipped to handle. Combat is also monumentally frustrating at the default speed. Change it before you go insane.
- It helps to actually equip your party.
- Use of healing powder includes a dent to your Perception skill. Only use it when you know you can sacrifice the hit. Maybe there's another drug to counteract that effect, but then you introduce addiction, etc.