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SummaryFlexible role-playing in all its glory
The GoodAs a sequel to one of the most perfectly crafted role-playing games in history, all Fallout 2 had to do is preserve every single element from its predecessor, give us new locations with new quests, and we would have accepted it with gratitude. However, the developers went further and expanded Fallout with utmost generosity. Fallout 2 is not just bigger: it is more colorful, more varied, and the freedom of role-playing it offers is positively staggering.
I won't discuss the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system or the series' design philosophy in detail in this review, since they are pretty much identical to the first game. I'll therefore specifically refer to things Fallout 2 does better than its predecessor in this section.
For starters, the game world is much larger. Those who say it's too large miss the whole point of world size in free-form RPGs: you go where you want to go, not because a scripted plot takes you there. There are only a few requirements you have to meet to reach the ending - everything else is entirely up to you. Which means that you can complete Fallout 2 without even having seen some of its major locations. If this is not replay value then I don't know what is. You are basically given a gigantic playground where you can do whatever you want.
The new locations are not just bigger - they are more interesting and more diverse. The "sinful" city of New Reno or the Chinatown in San Francisco are just examples of memorable locations that break the post-apocalyptic monotony of the wasteland. There are more setpieces, more unique and unusual quests, and a richer setting that includes, among others, tribal villages, haunted caves, secret bases, encounters with ghosts, aliens, etc. You never know how the next location you decide to visit will look like, or whom or what you are going to see there. And you can even use a cool retro car for easier transportation.
Larger and stylistically more heterogeneous world paired with the fantastically flexible design philosophy of Fallout results in even more choice. Role-playing in this game ranges from being a naive provincial kid respecting his traditions and choosing a spiritual path devoid of any violence to a greedy slave trader and maniacal child killer who betrays and backstabs everyone who trusts him. High intelligence will help you to get through this game's complex world without a single combat engagement, but nothing can prevent you from drugging yourself, stealing powerful energy weapons and mowing down populations of entire cities.
One of the most important improvements over the original is party management. No more stupid companions who will go fight some critters in the corner of the map while you are being demolished by tough deathclaws. You now have a combat management menu available, accessing which allows you to tell your friends exactly what you want them to do. They will attack, according to your instructions, either the toughest enemy, or the one who is currently attacking you, or any enemy of their own choice. They will finally be able to wear the armor you give them. They will use any drugs if you tell them so, or will fight until the bitter end without healing themselves even once.
The interface is still a bit wonky when dealing with your companions, but at least you gain some of the much-needed control. Also, party members are noticeably more interesting than the somewhat bleak figures of the first Fallout: there is more dialogue and much more insight into their personalities, which also leads to different reactions to your deeds and less erratic behavior.
The BadThe problem with sequels to great games is that no matter what the sequel tries to do it cannot change too much, for fear of damaging the delicate balance of components responsible for said greatness. They can mostly only go for quantity - expanding the game world, adding characters, items, etc. Thus, even the best sequels will always be accused of either copying too much or, conversely, adding unwanted content.
In a game like Fallout 2, this is much less of a problem, since the majority of content is optional - if you don't like a certain town, just don't visit it; if you think a certain quest is ridiculous, don't take it. Still, I can see where much of the criticism leveled at the game is coming from: in an effort to add as much content as they could, the developers sometimes crossed the line between meaningful additions and random stuff they had to put in just because they liked it. The humor, for example, is mostly hit-and-miss, and can be a bit jarring with its pop culture references, somewhat disrupting the genuinely grim atmosphere the original game boasted. Also, the main plot is frankly silly, with confusing pacing and continuity problems, and a cartoony showdown in the end.