A fantastic and detailed adventure through a post-nuke world ripe for tons of role-playing.
I consider Fallout 2, first of all, a better game than Fallout 1. My biggest reason for this was that the world is a much bigger place - not just in size or number of cities, but most every town or area was built around the idea that a role-playing game SHOULD contain more places where you're able to choose a different path. In many places, these choices can interlock, especially without you knowing or even including implications you didn't think of. This creates much more of an immersive experience, implying things are going on behind the scenes, without you knowing it.
As is my usual opinion, the game uses a skill-based characters, therefore I almost immediately love the game. This allows deeper characters, and more interesting situations that generic classes. Skills are used quite a bit in individual locations throughout the game, i.e., special places where the skill is put to story- or quest- based use, rather than having generic situations where the skill is used (combat skills, speaking skills...) One situation that I liked involved lock-picking a safe, checking your perception to notice the trap, and trap disarm to see if the bomb was disabled. Of course, you could find the combination to the safe by wiping out the raiders who have the combination...
These two points, the skill system for character growth, and original and involving situations, really make for some cool moments when playing Fallout 2. Cool in the role-playing sense and the way it makes you say out loud "That's AWESOME!"
Something else that I really appreciated about Fallout 2 was the "Mature Subject Matter". Black Isle really handled these issues well, constructing situations where characters not only had to deal with grey areas, but required the player to think about their character to proceed - is drug use really that bad if it makes life worth living again in this radiated hell-hole? If no one's hurt from it, is it okay then? If perfecting the effects of the drug required human subjects, but works out in the long run, is it still okay? A lot of areas treat adult themes with taste, depth, and most of all, originality. It's great to see such an attempt to put *art* into a computer game.
One of the biggest criticisms about Fallout 2 was the bug count, which, for me, wasn't that bad. True, a lot of annoyances crept into my games, but the diligent patching by Black Isle fixed tons of reported problems (including all of mine). Due to this, I can't really berate Fallout 2 on the bug count, but your milage may vary.
Unfortunately, some areas in Fallout 2 seem to be the product of inconsistent designer meetings. Some areas are lacking in explanations and necessary details, or require a certain type of character, which your character may not be. One of the better examples of this is the Toxic Caves, a fairly necessary area to resolve the early town you visit. This area is seemingly a dungeon crawl, with tons of tough enemies and very little chance of getting through without being really really good at combat. This simply makes the region frustrating. Another spot that bugs me, to this day, is a ghost - yes, a ghost. This is a wholly unoriginal quest where you have to find the "lost item of great personal value" so the ghost can finally find eternal rest. I would tolerate this in a fantasy game, but come on - this is a futuristic, post-apocalyptic journey across a scarred America - and the designer resorts to tossing a quest like this in? Pardon my ranting. My point here is that there a few, glaring, sores on Fallout 2 that could have easily been fixed with some *overall* game design philosophy and directing.
The main plot, in my eyes, could have been better. It serves the purpose, quite nicely in some places, but isn't quite as original as it should be. Figuring out what is happening in the world, and what the evil guys' plot exactly IS, is a cool mystery that you discover as you progress through the game. But it could have been better, especially considering the great moments and situations your character and party get through in the game. Also, even though different paths are possible in the game, none seem to be available in the final parts of the plot.
The Bottom Line
Fallout 2, if I may make an analogy, is the girlfriend with an okay body and a really fabulous personality. She's deep (sometimes amazingly so), she's funny (sometimes hilariously so), she's a perfect companion. But, she does have a few sores that sometimes bug you. But come on - if all you're going to look at is the surface, if you want to look at just the bad stuff, you won't see the great stuff underneath, the stuff that really does make Fallout 2 a GREAT game and not a time-passer.