Rugged History

Fallout 2 – The grandfather of modern RPGs

by Jack Napier on June 2, 2014

War… war never changes!

I’ve been talking a lot lately about old games and how they are a large part of my inspiration. Well, games and sci-fi and fantasy books. But an entire different discussion I won’t take up today.

I was fortunate to grow up in a time when we could simply sign to borrow books published by Nemira (biggest local book publisher for sci-fi and fantasy books) and Tolkien’s novels were rarities.

In a period in which a Sega MegaDrive or Super Nintendo cartridge was extremely expensive, but meant hundreds of hours playing with friends. A period in which Dune 2 was the climax of RTS gaming, when Prehistorik and Jazz Jackrabbit were amazing PC platformers, and last but not least, the golden age of adventure games, RTS and RPG.

The list of games that burned through my daylight and nights as well in those times is long. King’s Quest, Gabriel Knight, Diablo, Anachronox, Final Fantasy, Monkey Island, Dungeon Keeper, just to name a few. But no game remained in my memory like Fallout 2. Ok, Half Life isn’t far from it either, but Fallout 2 at the time, offered what many other titles did not: FREEDOM!

Freedom to play the game whichever way I wanted, no matter how violent or pacifist I wanted to be. As a small subnote, Fallout 3 for me was a massive dissapointment at release, the ending making me want to smash up the controller in rage, smashing it with over 9000 newtons of force.

Anyway, Fallout 3 wasn’t good for my health. As for Fallout 2, I can still remember the names of the characters and locations, where I can get Power Armor fastest and more, and how to use a bug to get the car faster in order to finish the game in under 40 minutes. What can I say… it stuck with me.

Probably many of our readers are quite young and missed the golden age of Black Isle Studios, one of the few studios that created not just one, but many of the best RPGs of all time, such as Icewind Dale, Planescape Torment or Baldurs Gate.

I myself have had the pleasure, and accumulated they must have eaten up over a full year of my life. Whenever Black Isle publish or develop a game I had to know all abut it, what stage production was in and I especially had to know when I could pick it up from the stalls at St. George market. (for anyone wondering, in the 90s, St. George market was the place where you could pick up pirated CD’s from the Russians and Bulgarians at prices well below retail – which was irrelevant either way, since in those almost pre-internet days, distribution for such titles was almost nonexistant in eastern Europe).

We are talking of the era of Dial-Up, when you would wait until after midnight to get online, and would wait for hours for a two-minute game trailer to load, as today’s great gaming sites were just infants, or not even that. I’m talking of the days where games were largely obtained through trading or borrowing from friends. Times when games came on two to six CD’s. Barely the prehistoric period of the internet.

It is in this era when I first met Fallout 2. The game that taught me humor and caused endless laughing spasms and bellyaches. The game that showed me that not every RPG had to be linear like Diablo, and that a world can be developed in a unique way. For a 16-17 year-old kid raised on NFS, Diablo, Quake and Duke Nukem, Fallout 2 was like going from a Pinto to a Ferrari.

The game was on a whole other level. In the year 2000, when I was playing this title, to be able to walk on a huge map and develop your character to your liking was something I hadn’t seen before. Only towards the end of that year did I get to enjoy a similar experience through Deus Ex, of which I’ll talk in detail some other time. What made Fallout unique was that you, a humble Vault Dweller, reached influence over an entire world, your decisions influencing all Wasteland.

In addition, there was no strict moral code to follow. If you wanted raze a whole city off the face of the planet because reasons, it was your choice and and the game would not try to stop you. I still remember how I managed to obtain the awesome Bozar, a kind of automatic Barret 50 Cal, by killing a shop keeper in New Reno. This was the level of freedom offered by the game in 1998.

I played the first game sometime after Fallout 2, around the year 2002, and somehow I felt slightly restricted by the time limit imposed by it. Fallout 2 only told you to get something done, how you went by doing it was your problem. You wanted to sneak through a base full of Raiders and kill just the boss? OK… if that’s what you wanted. Wanted to send your companions forward and stay back and snipe from behind a rock? OK… if that’s what you wanted. Wanted to specialize in SMG’s or Energy Weapons? OK… your choice. You could do whatever crossed your noggin.

I finished this game in so many ways. Under 40 minutes? Done. Without killing anyone? Done. Wiping out whole cities? Using just Small Guns. Or just Big Guns. Or Energy Weapons. Convincing opponents to commit suicide. Sneaking through my enemies.

By far the most hilarious way to play in my opinion is Melee. It’s the way I shed most tears of laughter at what the game showed me on the screen. For example:

“You hit him for no apparent damage, but his spine suddenly becomes visible.”

Or maybe, “You hit seven times in the form of Major Ursa. He stops, smiles, and then his head explodes.” (A reference to Fist Of The Northern Star for anime enthusiasts).

I’d send the Super Mutant companion ahead wielding a Bozar, and my character would approach from behind like some kind of millenial ninja ready to shred the Wasteland. So yeah, this game ate up hundreds of hours of my life.

Fallout 2, even today, is a title that aged extremely well. The humor hasn’t aged, the graphics can be considered Indie, although the turn-based gameplay and the rarity of voiceovers may discourage quite a few gamers. However, it was forgotten in light of the new and shiny Fallout 3 and New Vegas.

I’m not the biggest fan of Fallout 3, although the devs seemed to realize where they spilled the radioactive milk and have covered many of the flaws through DLC’s. Fallout: New Vegas is closer to the original Fallout universe, in my opinion. It seems to have managed to capture a bit of th dark humor and freedom of Fallout 2, though not as much as I’d have liked.

I learned to love dark humor, unique characters, the friendly mutant zombie, Sulik, the K-9 companion dog and the rest of the characters that you could converse with and tearfully laugh at. If you want to have a serious blast of fun, I recommend you party Skynet, a proud intelligent robot, who is convinced he was developed by aliens.

Fallout influences can be found in most modern Open World RPGs. From Dragon Age to Kingdoms of Amalur, they all borrowed something when it comes to story and its presentation to the player. Fallout influenced many other titles as well, but by itself it is a pillar of what RPG mean today. Fallout 2 may discourage many RPG players, thanks to the lap in combat and absence of voice-overs during conversations, but at the time disk space was costly and voice actors were expensive as well.

I’ve said it before and will say it again: “To understand the present, we must look to the past.”

Sure, maybe for many Baldurs Gate is the definitive Black Isle RPG. But for me, Fallout 2 remains the living example of how an isometric tactical RPG should be built, and with a story that made you laugh like a madman at 5 am in front of a CRT monitor.

This signature classic is still on sale today, either as a digital download code or, for the more collector-minded, as a retail box.

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