I play Fallout 1 and New Vegas almost yearly, but for one reason or another I hadn't gone back to Fallout 2 for quite a while and by quite a while, I mean about five years. Then I recently replayed this after playing ATOM RPG
and not really knowing what to think about that game and I find that coming back to this game after that one and after such a long period of time, is surprising in a few ways... That I will now elaborate on in the rest of this mad scramble to get my thoughts down before mental illness finally overtakes me, assuming it hasn't already. My brain is diseased like this wasteland, but that doesn't mean we can't have fun looking at what I now see as a game with a lot of really high highs and really low lows.
Graphically this is the same if not slightly better than the first game. It also doesn't change much aesthetically from that one for the first half or so of the game. One thing this game definitely did improve graphically and in animations was the look of the talking head characters. They seem a lot less stilted and more expressive than Fallout 1.
I think the music and the general sound stay about the same high level of quality as the first game. I do think Fallout 1 slightly edges this one out with music, but not enough to really rate Fallout 2 worse for it and Fallout 2 gets a crutch in that the game contains most of the music of the best music of its predecessor in parts. Especially in locations that were featured in the last game. "Vats of Goo" which is one of those songs and is used in Mariposa is in the running of the top five greatest video game tracks of all FUCKING time for me. I think a quarter of the first game's atmosphere was rested on that one track alone and it held up there and in this game. If you disagree drop yourself into a vat of goo. I think the new music in the game and the general sound effects are pretty high quality for the time.
The voice acting for the characters with voices is about as good as the previous game as well. Worf from Star Trek does Frank Horrigan and Marcus, both super mutants and both characters he does a great job with. Fuck Myron though. This game also has a plus in the sound department in that one of the most memorable things of the whole fucking series is Ron Perlman's game over "speeches" in these first two games. Which to their credit accurately state what your death means for the wasteland given your current circumstances in the game. He also makes you feel bad enough about dying and how it basically means the death of your village that you feel compelled to keep playing. This is no easy task because and this is where I will transition to gameplay. This game is definitely the hardest game in the series and it doesn't ease you into that difficulty at all, it starts out hard and gets harder throughout the adventure. It's almost become a meme that the beginning temple is brutal and requires early optimization of your character and stats to get through it. Compared with Fallout 1 where you start off in a simple small cave with a few rats to kill this is a definite step up from the challenges of the previous game. There are way more enemies on each screen in this game and the enemies, in general, are tougher. relatively early in the game, you're faced with an entire series of caves of Wanamingo's who are about as hard as any enemy in the previous games final areas, super mutants aside. There is a random encounter where exploding cows will instakill you and most of your followers. Even the jokes in this game are tough on you and your companions... I think in terms of difficulty the series peaked with this game. So if challenge is the only metric by which you rate a game then I can see why this might be your favorite in the series. Granted the first game did have worse RNG in some areas and if your stats for armor and other protections were low you could have some really rough playthroughs, but I think Fallout 2 has more consistent difficulty across most playthroughs regardless of what stats you pick.
The difficulty wasn't the only thing that changed gameplay-wise. In fairness to this game, it does have a lot of improvements in tons of different gameplay ways and fixes a lot of oversights from the first game. Which Is why despite liking the first more, I usually like to have mods that add in some of this game's combat and gameplay fixes. One thing I hate about both of these GURPS games in comparison to the Infinity Engine games developed or produced by Black Isle/Interplay is the limited movement in combat. I don't really see what purpose this serves and what "balance" it brings to these games to limit your movement other than to just annoy the shit out of me. I think what it does is actually balance environments in favor of players. Since they can't immediately run into areas with enemies like they could in Baldur's Gate for instance, it makes it harder for players to become surrounded and in small areas with lots of enemies. I think the makers thought players needed this balance because enemies in these Wyatt Gurp games are much tougher to kill and a lot of them in this particular title hit like a fucking truck. The more you play these first two games though and the more you realize how unbalanced you can make things for yourself with certain stat builds and weapons, the more and more the crutch of not being able to move shows. Did I mention there is a bug in the first game where you can move around enemies without attacking them, thus further making this gameplay mechanic redundant and more conducive to the player than the enemies we're supposed to be fighting? I'm going to talk about not liking a lot of this game's content later, but to steelman this game a little bit. I do like that there are a lot more dialogue-less exploration areas in this game and things to do that don't directly relate to the main story or even any quests. So let us talk about the good things with the story first. I think the best parts of the story are the first couple of towns, Vault city, and NCR. If you know anything about the game before this review you'll know that these are the areas that most mirror the first game in execution, atmosphere, and tone. They're the parts of the game that take themselves the most serious and even where it gets wacky in these areas it's not so wacky as to break my immersion... At least not yet. The quests in these areas also have the most interesting branches and outcomes. I especially like the behind-the-scenes alliances you can make happen with the leader of Vault City and NCR. I think in fairness to people who think this is the best game in the series, these are the areas they think of when they think of this game and if the entire game had stories, quests, and outcomes like these it still wouldn't be my favorite, in fact, it would still be third out of a three-man race of the only "real" fallout games, but at least the quality between this one and the first would be much harder for me to parse out and really say with confidence which one I think is better.
Vault City is fallout 2 at its storytelling peak. The city and its Spartan idea of citizenship and how cruel this GECK-made utopia has become is a truly great bit of world-building and storytelling. I like how the leaders of the city have tried to change the language around what they're doing to hide the fact that their society relies on slavery. Something a lot of shitty societies have done historically. I like how NCR even this early in the burgeoning democracies' existence has fallen to corruption, oligarchy, and nepotism. We're merely one generation away from the dream of Shady Sands and it has already become a boring bureaucratic nightmare. I think Tandi is one of the best characters in the series and I like how she pretends to be folksy while she is selling you and the NCR down the road... Look, listen and let me be clear, I feel like I have seen this same fake folksiness before in real life. I like the progression of Tandi too, like how when we met her as a character in the first game she was this idealistic young woman and in this game, she is a bitter old coot that cares only about power. I'm going to speculate a bit here, but the game says Aradesh and Seth disappear searching for Vault 13... But I feel like the game was implying more, about this and for a long time, a thought that I had seeing how much Tandi changed between titles was that maybe she had them killed. Maybe there is a detail in the game that disconfirms this and I just happened to miss it in all my playthroughs, but I thought I would share that to see what nobody thinks because no one ever responds to these reviews.
Anyway, I also like Broken Hills and it's the storyline about a racist society and wasteland that is trying to be multicultural, and yet every single one of the races is plotting against each other. It's kind of a depressing take on the subject matter, but sometimes things just be like they do. It's funny that Marcus a character that seems to have boundless optimism is tied to this particular town. I really like Marcus and I like how the game early on tries to show you that not all super mutants were bad and unreasonable brutes. I think that is one of the more interesting understated stories of this game and New Vegas, how super mutants have dealt with the dissolution of The Unity after the death of the Master in the first game. How these characters that aren't really trusted by the rest of the wasteland are going to make a life for themselves. The story kind of takes a further depressing turn in New Vegas when you connect the dots that Marcus had to abandon the dream of a multicultural city and is just rying to make life work for himself and some super mutants up on that snowy hill.
I think the towns and stories that I like in this game illustrate a theme that the game may or may not have been intentionally trying to convey but that I know was being conveyed intentionally n New Vegas. That being that it won't be enough to just rebuild society. We have to actually find a way to progress beyond the problems of pre-nuclear war America or the same shit is just going to happen again and war... Well, war never really will change.
Before we even move on to the stuff I feel medium about I do want to bring up something that is a disappointment to me about these areas and that is that the overall effect you have on the Fallout 2 wasteland, especially given how big this game "appears" to be in comparison to the first, doesn't really amount to much by the end of the game. I would say the fallout 2 protagonist has the least amount of impact on the series. The one major thing we know they do definitively is cripple the Enclave into submission on the West coast, but aside from that the things you do aren't reflected much in this games ending or in subsequent games.
Bridging off of that point, one of the things I always convinced myself of in this game and that Fallout 2 Stans always like to fallback on is the "sheer" amount of content the game has in comparison to other entries in the series and seeing as I had only done about three runs of the game before this review and only one "completionist" run to the extent that is possible for a game with multiple choices I always thought there was probably way more to see in the game than what I had seen. Only after playing it thoroughly a few more times for this review I can say that the game has the illusion of more content than it actually has. The first two games have a lot of neat things like dumb/smart playthroughs and other RPG staple builds that are fun to do, but the actual quests and choices get funneled into a few small outcomes and changes that mean a lot of the "choice" in this game is an illusion. Fallout New Vegas is a third of the way finished game with one of it's major factions the Legion and the main area the Strip being gimped due to cuts and console port nonsense and yet I feel like the choices even with those cuts and limitations mean way more for the Mojave wasteland than what Fallout 2's protagonist gets to do with all the factions and choices here in olde southern California, in the heartland, where life is simple, in the heartland, right in your back yard, in the heartlandddddd... STATER BROS. Just a little SoCal "reference" there, sorry. This leads to an even bigger criticism I'm going to talk about in "the bad" section, a lot of choices aren't good because the content connected to them is fucking crap. But instead of getting ahead of myself with that let's move on to the medium for now.
Since I mentioned it there I want to admit a bias I have in favor of these first two Fallout's and New Vegas that heavily influence my love of the games. I'm a native Californian and while Hollywood exists here and we get a little overrepresented in mass media because of that, we don't usually see unique takes on the State and video game wise we aren't really represented much at all. So the few times these two things combine I'm admittedly a little biased in favor of the games, it has probably helped smooth over a lot of my problems with these three games in particular. But it isn't even just limited to Fallout, L.A. Noire is a favorite of mine for the same reason. I'm giving the Bethesd' Bro's a little excuse here to call me a hack and walk away angrily. You can cite this bias as reason number 1 for why my opinion on these games can't be trusted.
A lot of people who think like I do about this series like to say the Enclave was ruined by Shithesda in Fallout 3. Well, The Enclave as a group was pretty stupid and mustache twirly in the game. I think that the way they wrote the main antagonist of that game was dumb, and it was a severe waste of Malcolm Mcdowell's talents, but everyone has been wasting his talent the past thirty years, including himself. The real problems with the enclave as a faction existed before even Bethesda could ruin them.
First, I think the Enclave are a step down from the Master in being antagonists. Frank is a good Evil strong guy henchman you have to fight, but the rest of the faction is almost as dumb in this game as they are in Fallout 3. Their interactions with the wasteland just don't make a lot of sense they have all the resources they need and the means to take more and yet they're pointlessly secretive and squabbling with peasants. This is the same unthinking power dynamic I described about The Institute in Fallout 4. It's hard for me to believe this faction hasn't comp stomped the whole area they're in and the game doesn't really give me a reason for why this isn't happening. Oh yeah because they're going to use a version of the FEV to wipe out "muties..." And yet they're wasting time kidnapping people from Arroyo, sending Frank to kill a runaway scientist and they don't seem to have a goal beyond just killing people on the mainland. Their plan of a FEV virus purging the wasteland seems to forget that the virus is just as deadly to them as it is to "muties." So how long are they planning on quarantining this and why? Oh yeah, because they're evil. In fairness, people like Tim Cain have said their goals would be similar to House' in New Vegas, that they want to rebuild the country and eventually want to colonize space with a new "pure-breed" of humanity, but we aren't really given a faction with that much depth in this game and Tim Cain only worked on Fallout 2 the first couple of months of its development along with a few others who left to form Troika. I want you to keep that sentence in mind for when I eventually review Troika's three games, but I also want you to remember this for later in this very review when I start talking about how the last third of this game... Well, we will get to it soon enough anyway.
The individual characters in the enclave also aren't that interesting. The president is boring and a major letdown from seeing The Master the first time and more importantly the choices you have with him aren't as interesting because he is one-dimensionally evil "joke" character but without the joke. I also find the direct political satire of the president to be toothless for a game series that is predicated on heavy criticisms of America their idea of a bad president is just presenting him as a moron that wants war. Unfortunately, reality shows we have highly credentialed well-educated vampires that make it into the political class and who want war for reasons as dumb and vanity driven as a dullard of no merit, that to me is a lot more alarming and sad than a dumb person that just wants dumb shit to happen. They don't really use him to say anything pointed about America and it's politics. The character is a masterclass in wasting potential and wasting my time. Of course, it could always be worse, it could be like some other areas of this game. We could have a President of the Enclave named Brill Crinton, who has a wife named Brillery, who plays the Tuba, instead of a saxophone and who has a hilarious affair with a ghoul named Mo-Nika Lewd-Winsky. I mean a game wouldn't make references that direct, hackey, and lame would it? Lets put that thought aside for now and think about the principle of the matter here. I kind of thought in general that coming back to this game the politics of the Enclave would seem more interesting to me now than they did with my prior levels of knowledge and actually they seem less interesting the more I know about actual politics and American history. It actually got me to appreciate one aspect of Fallout 3 more and its depiction of the Enclave in that, because the wasteland in the game is Washington DC the depiction of the Enclave and what the horrible pre-war American government was like, is much easier to imagine given that we see how the political capital changed before the war and after the bombs dropped. I think because Bethesda lacks any kind of subtlety at all their weakness became a strength in depicting some aspects of the fascist Enclave and how it directly tied to broader US history. Because it's Bethesda I'm certain only a quarter of that was intentional but I think they lucked out in that narrow regard. A broken Pete Hine's is right once a day.
On this same note, there is a faction in World of Warcraft called "The Scarlet Crusade." Who have a similarly dumb plan and view of the world and other people in it. They're highly anti-undead and they inhabit undead occupied lands, but they hate the undead so much they see everyone that is not their faction as "undead." In the same way that the Enclave sees everyone else as mutants. The difference between the depiction of these two factions is as wide as Whitemane's thighs. We actually see them crusading against other people and their war and passion against the undead is reflected more in the story of the game. The enclave for all its mutant hating isn't really crusading against the abominations they see out in the wastes that much. You can defend this slightly with their "FEV plan" which is their way of saying why run down, when we can walk down and fuck'em all? I just feel like if this stupid plan didn't exist and they were a more military-focused faction and we saw them killing and kidnapping more people on the reg that would be more enjoyable than this. As is, I can't even feel the vicarious reactionary fervor of them hating "mutants," the way I can with the Scarlet Crusade and their hatred of the "undead." If there was at least a passion here that would be something, but I can't even really enjoy The Enclave fully on a mustache twirly level because they're too muddled in their depiction for even that to be really enjoyable. I used to hate Bethesda for taking them too far in that direction but after playing this game more and seeing that the Enclave were a lot less developed in their first depiction than I had previously remembered I can at least appreciate that the faction embraces how fucking dumb it and it's plans are a little bit more now. I would rather they become a more realistic and reasonable faction with goals that make sense but are at odds with other people in the wastes, but in the absence of quality, I'll take the full embrace of camp and cliche over a boring and shitty middle ground.
The characters of The Enclave can't really interact with those of other factions because again they think they're all mutants so there aren't any interesting connections The Enclave has to other people and factions in the wasteland. No Enclave characters surprise you with a personality, decision, or anything you wouldn't expect them to. To be fair to the Enclave here all of the criticisms in this paragraph are also true of the Legion in New Vegas. The Legion has the same problem other than slaves, Joshua and Ulysses, you don't really meet any members or former members of the Legion that are all that complex, sympathetic, have connections to people outside the faction, or have personalities that are in any way anachronistic from what you expect from the Legion. This is tied to a bigger problem I have with the Legion and the Enclave is that we see all the negatives of Roman dictators and a nuclear crazed United States shadow government, but none of the positives and yes there would be positives with both groups in this extreme post-apocalyptic situation. But instead of illustrating that with abstract examples let me talk about another fictional society with a similar hierarchy and in a similar situation. Negan's group in The Walking Dead.
Negan is a violent dictator who rules directly over a large group of people but he rules over an even larger group of them through a tribute system. The negatives of Negan's society are obvious you're living under a dictator, his life is at your whim, your freedom is greatly curtailed. If you're a woman in his group you're basically a broodmare with no power. On the other hand, Negan's compound is the most secure place in the new zombie-filled world. The people that are closest to him get to live a lifestyle of luxury and security that is unheard of. His group is powerful enough that almost no other roving band can cause trouble for them. They have resources and the means to do things most of the other survivors can only dream about and because Negan is the law and his actions and rules are consistent, with what he says most of the time you actually have a more stable system of governance under him than you do in the other groups. You could say the same for the Enclaves council and the Legion. Ceaser might be a dickhead, but his rules and laws are consistent and the rewards for following them are as well. Which is one of the advantages of the Legion over the corrupt and murky NCR. Women live horrible lives in Negan's group and in the Legion they have a similar status and place in society. By contrast with the legion, the NCR is actually more progressive than our current society where even their military has women in high places and the second president of the NCR was a woman, the highest representative of the Crimson Caravan in New Vegas is a woman... Female CEO's are the ones corrupting democracy in the post-apocalypse. Why would a woman ever want to be part of the Legion in a universe where the NCR exists? Why would a woman want to be part of a group like Negan's if they can be relatively freer on the outside? Well, the first most obvious reason why is not everyone values personal freedom and social/career mobility. A sad reality you come to realize when researching the history of social movements and protests is often the people who would benefit most from what is being asked for are the ones most opposed to this advancement. I mean a woman was the biggest critic of the ERA here in America. Another sad reality is people get used to and settle into abusive relationships and they come to convince themselves that a better life and in this case a better society simply isn't possible. Even when they are and people are doing things more successfully literally and figuratively right next door. Now let's talk about some less abstract reasons. Well, in the case of Fallout not everyone can get to NCR lands. Even with some cars and planes still working most people have to travel by foot and the NCR only controls a small portion of southern California and you have to get to it to see the benefits of that society obviously. Communication in the wasteland also travels much more slowly than it does in our society and some people might think distant stable civilizations in the wastes are as much myth as they are legend. Communication and travel can get in the way of your wants and desires. Inbetween the NCR and Legion even in the relatively small territory of New Vegas has gangs of fiends large enough to threaten the NCR. Just ask that Motor-Runner sonofabitch. If there are gangs large enough to be a threat to burgeoning governments imagine how much of a threat they are to individuals and especially traveling women. Let's be real here for a second folks. If we were put in either Fallout's or TWD's apocalypse, do you think the sexual assault and rape statistics would stay the same as now? I'm sorry there would be rape gangs everywhere and people forced into sex slavery would be more normal than regular marriage. The situation would be more like the surface world of "A Boy and His Dog," more so than it would be either of these in terms of sexual realism. A woman in the vicinity of the Legion or Negan's group might well take the security of being a broodmare over the uncertainty of violent gangs and the constant danger of the outside world. I would take the safety of being a broodmare to daddy Negan even without the apocalypse. That aside, I would not want society to be run like this today, hopefully, that is obvious, but I'm recognizing what the pluses and minuses of horrible governments like this might be in extreme situations. We don't even have to stay in the realm of fiction a lot of European history is about running behind strong men and their fortifications against the outside world of roving bands of brigands and more generally nature. This was how all of society functioned under feudalism, people didn't work for kings, because they loved the guy, they wanted a better quality of life and security and unfortunately, with some extreme situations, this is the best you can ask for.
Coming back to Fallout 2. Keep what I said above in mind when I say. I think the benefits of the enclave should have been reflected more. The people in it were living the most luxurious and secure life possible. Compared to the other two "governments" I mentioned the Enclave is actually a softer form of dictatorship and from a personal standpoint I would rather live under the Enclave, than either of those two leaders. I would also prefer them over the Unity, mafia bosses in Reno, slavers/raiders, etc. There are good reasons to want to be in the Enclave in comparison to most of the wasteland, but the game just never emphasizes or shows that to us. Aside from obviously seeing that their tech, housing, and resources are all new. We get the visual and fresh appeal of them, but nothing else of value is really shown to us with these people and why they would want to be living and working with the Enclave. I mean The Enclave is the biggest faction in the first two games, just by number and how big both of their two main settlements are, and yet, for how big their faction is the internal lives of the people in this group is just so unvaried and so fucking boring it's unreal. It's funny that with the five "Remnant" Enclave members in New Vegas I learn way more about the Enclave and what individual members of the group think, than I do in a game where they're the biggest faction and the main antagonists of the fucking story. I wish we could see the conflict reflected in lower-level Enclave members we talk to, of having to do horrible things, but not wanting to lose the "good" life the enclave gives you in comparison to how "muties" in the wastes are living. I wish that the "gung ho" pro patriotic fascist members of the faction were more varied and amenable to people roleplaying a similar mindset. I mean even real-life fascists had allies outside of their "strong race." I expect the Enclave despite their ironclad racist beliefs to reflect that a little bit. Some of the scientists working for them will make it clear it's just a "job," but aside from that we get nothing out of these people and I'm, surprised by how many reviewers praise this depiction of the Enclave and give them a pass. When really they aren't that great in this game. If all you want is mustache twirlers then you kind of get what you want, but if you want a faction that is actually worthwhile to engage with and find interesting things in, you won't find it here.
I should mention that one captain of the ship who is a former Enclave member... Who still doesn't have that interesting of a personality, but he does exist and he does give you info on the faction. I know if I didn't say anything about him the only response to this review would be that so there you go. I also waited to say this to get your hopes up that I missed something, but I didn't so hah.
I think the makers of this game wanted us to see parallels between the Master's pro-mutant-supremacy racism and the Enclave's anti-mutant racism. How even though both goals seem totally at odds with each other, that they would effectively mean the same thing for regular people out in the wastes. I think that is a good idea, but The Master is a way better antagonist and the mutants, even dumbass super mutants with an IQ below 20 have more of a personality than people in the Enclave. So it doesn't equal it out into the interesting parallels they were obviously going for with these two groups.
The master also had a plan that at least made a kind of twisted sense on the surface, it just had some unfortunate for him, flaws he didn't foresee in the plan. The Enclave is just unreasonable dumb fucks who can't see reality for what it is and it's hard for me to sympathize with any of their plans unless I take some FEV to the brain myself. Maybe that is their real plan with the virus make everyone's brain melt to the point that their plans make sense.
A major criticism that people who think of these games the way I do for Fallout 3 and 4 is that the Brotherhood of Steel wasn't supposed to be as big of and as heroic of a faction as they come off as in those games. In fact, the first game implies that they're really small. As in there might be two or three other extremely small hold-out bunkers like the one you encounter in that game, but not enough to field an army. This is why they don't have and I wouldn't slap them with the criticism I gave the Enclave above where the scope of their power and the weakness of wasteland seem at odds with their place and use in the story. They have a lot of powerful technology but their numbers are extremely small which gives us a good reason as to why they're secretive and why they aren't trying to just outright reconquer areas with the limited population and membership that they have. The second game though does start the trend of making the Brotherhood seem way more numerous and powerful than they should be given the situation we were described with the first game. I wouldn't say they go as far as Bethesda games, but the trend started here of ignoring their pre-established lore in favor of "ooh cool guys wiv powah armor all ovah de wastes." Especially when half the appeal of the Enclave is them being a new faction with power armor. Thus diminishing the secrecy and coolness of the super-elite BoS. I even remember people I talked to about the game at the time of its release referring to the Enclave as "The evil BOS." I also remember some professional reviewer's characterizing them as such.
I will say in Fallout 2's credit they do keep the Brotherhood out of the main storyline and you really have to look to find them, but the lore as stated in the first game shows they probably shouldn't even be as big as they are in this game. Do I even need to mention Interplay's abysmal shit stain on the lore and what I consider to be the worst Fallout game bar none? Just in case you nubs don't know it's Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel and it accelerated this stupidity and the series reliance on the faction to levels never thought possible. So while I want to blame Hodd Toward for everything wrong in life, I can't entirely blame him for the shitty trend he embraced with his game. It was going in that direction in the Interplay titles before he even farted out FEV on the capital wasteland.
I was always one of those people who would defend Fallout 2 from accusations that the game has too many pop cultural references after my recent playthroughs I will no longer do that. The back half of the game is nonstop references to other shit to the point that New Reno and San Francisco might as well be joke towns. Which you might say isn't that big of a deal until you remember that at least a third of the game takes place in these two cities. Aside from these two towns every other town at least has one quest, person, or item designed around some kind of pop culture reference. I won't count the random encounters, because easter egg shit doesn't bother me since it's not tied to or weighing down the main story or my character's choices. The point is it does get to be overbearing when these references are nonstop and intertwined with key parts of the story.
The biggest thing that makes all these references such shit is that they make the story of the game surrounding these things, especially New Reno shallow and unimmersive. So much of New Reno is wasted on pointless bickering against reference factions that have no importance to the rest of the story in this game. Aside from some NCR corruption and that asshole Myron's "inventions."
All of the Kung-Fu bullshit references in San Francisco are the same thing, unimmersive and unconnected to everything else in the Wastes. The real tragedy of this game and what I'm gonna go out with this whole sordid aspect of the game's existence is "Hubology." Is it named that because it's a faction from "The Hub" thus tying us back to the first game... No, it's a joke name for this universe's Scientology. Complete with a joke Tom Cruise and a joke Nicole Kidman. I'm laughing my ass off right now because this is so damn funny.
Do you know what kills me about "Hubology" in particular... There is an anime called Shin Sekai Yori where *BIG SPOILER HERE* some children through one of the greatest established "twists" I have ever seen in a story find out that their society has some rather "unfortunate origins" and people that they thought were bad, were actually... Well, I think you should watch it to find out for yourself. I don't want to say anything more about the end of that story, but it did get me to think, what would be the worst origin for a new society in a post-apocalypse scenario be and one that I thought of completely divorced of Fallout at the time, was an insane cult that managed to live through the downfall of everyone else and now had a new horrid platform in the blank slate that is the post-apocalyptic world in which to enact their crazy beliefs and mainstream them through inertia and being the only ones around left to tell their story and superimpose it over actual history and reality. I think there is so much potential in a faction like this and in a setting like this one and what we get out of Fallout 2 is celeb jokes and a toothless parody of Scientology that didn't even reach the grandeur of the South Park episode on the subject.
In my ideal Fallout 2, you would have started out as a "Hubologist" or the quality equivalent of that and the first quarter of the game, would be setting you up with their version of reality, only to realize the rest of the wastes see things differently. In some ways better and in some ways worse. Maybe in a game even better than that one, your pre-established cult ideology precludes you from even engaging with other factions until a certain level of indoctrination has taken place. Like how real-life Scientologists have OT levels and even people of a high level need to be "Chaperoned" around other non-Scientologists. This is close to the same story arc that silver-headed boi in Mad Max: Fury Road goes through, imagine that arc but with the weight of a more established, pre-collapse cult and where they have total dominance over the ideology of their inhabitants, it would also make that whole temple bullshit at the start of the game make more sense. Instead of magic... Oh yeah did I mention this game introduces magic and shamanism to the series? Because that was totally necessary and needed. It's not like Arroyo, could have just given this lone wanderer a two-way radio or something to check up on his progress, no we definitely needed magic and telepathy to keep this story simple and straightforward. I need you motherfuckers to get serious, right now. Anyone who attacks my review, please write at least a three-paragraph defense of the necessity of magic in Fallout 2, or I will automatically fail your paper and suggest a retaking of my course to your parent(s) or guardian.
I think this is the real sad thing about a lot of Fallout 2's reference bullshit, is that beyond the references and lame jokes, there was something there to be gained and looked at and that could be really interesting to see work itself out in a story like this and instead of that we get something so shallow it's embarrassing. Take the new Reno mobs as another example, they could have started out as surface-level references, but as a "bootleg" private police force and protection racket, in a situation like the post-apocalypse, they might find more comfort and ease of just going legitimate. It would be interesting to see a mob that is in the transition of going from their old ways to becoming a Neo-Feudal government, but with mob aesthetics and mentality. Even if we take this game's dumb ideas at face value, there was potential in all of them that wasn't tapped. Why is the mob in this game still running their operation as if they're still under a legitimate government with a police force investigating them? Oh yeah because they aren't a real faction that has adjusted itself to the context of this game's universe they're movie bullshit.
Hubology being a joke version of a religion also misapplies humor to a really shitty situation. Aside from the Xenu bullshit. There really isn't anything funny about Scientology. It's a sad bit of con-artistry that breaks up families and ruins lives. The serious reality of this cult and especially given all the knowledge I have of it now makes it hard for me to just give a pass to bald parodies of the "religion." We don't always need to be serious, but beyond the crazier aspects of the religion, this a real tragedy in progress. In my infinite grace and wisdom, let it not be said that I am not merciful. While I think they were a little wrongheaded with the target of their humor here, in the developer's defense I think the publics' general knowledge of Scientology was a lot less then than it is now. We have had so many high-level defectors and leaks that we have a much better idea of how bad the situation really is within the church. Also, I'm a hypocrite if I saw that aforementioned South Park episode again I would totally be laughing my fucking ass off at every scene. It's not about being perfect folks, it's about fucking up less often and criticizing things now so we improve in the future.
I'm tempted to blithely breeze through this next subject because I'm not Asian... As far as you know. In particular, I'm not Chinese and I haven't been to LA's little China let alone San Fran's. I have been to the Korean district though, because if signs are any indication half of the City of Industry is Korean now, but let's put aside another So Cal reference and I'll try to stop stalling about what I have to say here. I have read some reviews that to put it nicely say Fallout 2's depiction of Asians is only slightly above Mickey Rooney's and Steven Crowder's. I have heard similar criticisms of another RPG about the Chinese I like Jade Empire. I wouldn't go that far in either case. In fact, in comparison to other 90's depictions of race, the more shocking thing to me is that they thought to have San Francisco become an almost all Asian city. The big thing about race in the '90s and media was erasure, meaning usually you would have media where every character was white all the time every time and people of other races only got to be side characters or guest appearances, if even. Racism by omission, which is especially odd because previous decades had seen successful shows and whole movie genres with PoC. So in that way, while I can see criticisms of their depiction here. I also give Black Isle a little credit for thinking so much of the Asian contribution of San Francisco that they have come to run the town in the post-apocalypse. Progressive changes aren't always a straight line, things that were progressive in the past might not be today. Uncle Tom's Cabin has been reevaluated a billion different times in a billion different ways it has been called racist and infantilizing of POC's. Yet it was also a book so "progressive" when it came out for its depiction of them and the plight of people under slavery that it was banned in most slaveholding states. I don't think people are wrong to see it, either way, sometimes things are a historical step ladder, and then we kick it the fuck away, when we no longer need it. Would it have been more racist for all the characters on the Simpsons to be the same color as the family and to just assume that the typical American family is white and that is all we need to depict like most other shows that came out around the same time or was it more racist to have a white man play an "Indian" Apu and at least try to show that life is more "colorful" than what most shows were showing at the time? I don't think there is an easy answer to any of this, a problematic portrayal of something can still be progressive for its place and time, even though we recognize the shortcomings of the way races were depicted and represented in the past. The worst thing about the depiction of the Chinese in this game isn't anything particularly problematic here. It's that instead of real people and characters we again get more goddamn movie references and "joke" stories with them. For the sake of argument though, let's pretend for a second that 99% of the rest of the game was written well with real characters and people with well-written personalities and then by strange coincidence somehow the all Asian town was just movie references and bullshit. In that event I would agree it's racism and refusing to see other people as people, but other parts of the game are just as unwritten and reliant on movie bullshit as San Fran, so it hardly sticks out in this regard.
I tried to think of a way to make San Francisco and its references work like I did above with Hubology and Mafia shit. Which I won't even go into detail with because I can't even think of a way to try and tie this shit into a post-apocalyptic setting. I guess I'll just end this by thanking the Chinese for rebuilding the city yet again for us in this post-apocalypse. You rebuilt it after the earthquakes and now you saved us again. I think that is what the Chinese are most known for in America, in the year of our lord 2021...
It may have taken me a long time to realize I'm not that into constant references and "joke" quests, but one thing I didn't like from the first time I played this game to now, is the payoff for the Vault 13 search. The main character of this game is a decedent from the hero of the last game who was exiled from Vault 13 at the end of the first Fallout. Your village needs you to find the vault to get "The GECK" to save your village. I want to reiterate again, the entirety of this main fucking quest is finding Vault 13 to save your village. Throughout every town, almost every NPC encounter period the game slowly builds up refinding that lost vault in the mountains. To the game's credit, the buildup works well even in subsequent playthroughs when I knew I wouldn't like the end result. So after months possibly years of in-game searching and talking to random people to try to find out what happened to that old vault, you finally find it by fluke in an unrelated quest when... You follow some talking death claws. The death claws lead you to the vault because, intelligent death claws, are the new inhabitants of Vault 13. Hilarious, what a tweeest, subversion initiated, things happened the movie. I'd like to say I can't tell you how disappointed I was in this being the conclusion to the game's main thrust and leading mystery, but I'm perfectly capable of expressing such disappointment. It's the same level of disappointment I would have if the significant other of my dreams, slowly but skillfully pleased me to a point of near blissful orgasmic reverie, only to then stop right when the action was about to get good, put a clown suit on, take a shit on my carpet and then walk outside without so much as a word to why things had to end this way. Talking Deathclaws is fucking stupid, the story behind them and the Enclave doesn't make it any better, it just gives me another reason to not think the Enclave is a serious faction when they're trying to do Umbrella-tier stupid experiments to make bioweapons when they already have a full spectrum dominance level advantage over every other group in the wasteland. So don't bother bringing it up to try and justify this. I would have preferred almost any other conclusion to this story over that. Even if we just saw it in ruins like vault 15, I would prefer that. I would like just to see the ancestors of the people we left behind in the last game. I would rather it be filled with the Master's radioactive afterbirth. I would rather it just be in The Enclave's hands. In fact, the most ironic twist the game could have mustered would be the rest of your village gets kidnapped by The Enclave and they get taken to Vault 13, while you were out searching for it this whole time. Anything but another "joke." Just not another fucking joke... No more jokes, no more laughter. Not another comic relief reference, please... If my sides had any less movement at this point, I'd be a two-party system controlled by one humorless oligarchy.
If the talking Derpclaws, weren't tied to the resolution of the main story. I would be more forgiving of their inclusion in the game. If they were part of some wacky side quest that takes place in the literal and figurative outskirts of the game's story, I still wouldn't like them that much but I probably wouldn't even mention them in this review.
Let me anticipate an argument from Fallout 2 defenders that Bethesda fans often make about their shitty "Fallouts." B-but Fallout 1 had wacky stuff too. Yeah, they had 1 crashed alien spaceship as an easter egg and a few other very rare references to shows. Notice that in this review I didn't judge Fallout 2 by its Wild Wasteland tier content but instead things that are important to the story, or at the very least canon. The entirety of Fallout 1's two biggest towns were not references to movies and pop culture. What is funny about Bethesda defenders of their games is they will often cite the bullshit of Fallout 2 as to why their games had to be taken further in an unrealistic and wacky direction. I just want to say that I'm consistent on this I think this shit is stupid in this game and it's stupid in those games too. I want the light sci-fi grim post-apocalypse depiction of 1, New Vegas, and the first few towns and major lore areas of this one that I mentioned at the start of this section. Not Fallout 2's full retreat into dumb assery that takes place in the last third or so of the game.
I honestly think if this game came out today, with references that are equivalent to their time and place in the culture now. The users on this site who go out of their way to bot-like stamp everything with the bete-noire of "Reddit-Core" would make sure to come and say that repeatedly for this. I think time and most people's inability to play games that came out four years or more before they were born is the only thing that has saved this game from the scrutiny of such heathens. If that wasn't direct enough for you, what I'm saying is, the last third of this game is Borderlands-tier humor, but without the defenses of social justice issues, so there isn't even a backbone or a sincerity to the cringe that is being presented here. I can say this for Fallout 2 though, at least it's not Anthony Burch.
A Fallout 2 fan might be tempted to go the Pete Hine's route I described at the end of my NV review. That the discussion of things being wacky is not interesting in a world that has ghouls and super-mutants. To which I say there has to be a line at some point in which a story immerses you with its world-building and ideas and when it doesn't. Yes, science-fiction and fantasy contain unrealistic elements, but that doesn't mean a storyteller should just start adding in bullshit to the gumbo and hope for the best. I'm willing to take some amount of unrealism and flights of fancy if the rest of the story around them is consistent and real enough that I'm not constantly asking questions about immersion-breaking elements that are added in. What if halfway into this game for no reason and with no explanation or context we started seeing towns inhabited by orcs, elves, and dwarves that never reference the fact that they're in a nuclear wasteland? They just exist in-game to give us more fluff content to play through and are only loosely if at all tied to the rest of the story? I wouldn't say the Chinese gangs, movie mafiosos, Hubologists, and talking death claws are exactly that, but they rim closer to that edge of the spectrum with their lazy implementation in the game than they do towards immersion and good storytelling.
Maybe it's an unfair bias on my part, but I'm more inclined to be fair to unreal elements like Ghouls and Super mutants that are introduced at the outset of a story than I am further unreal aspects added later. I just feel like good writers minimize the unreal aspects as much as possible and try to work within the framework they set up rather than expanding outward towards absurdity. At least in a story like this where I feel like the potential of the Fallout universe was already vast enough with the first game that we didn't need further fanciful things to move the story forward. We especially didn't need movie references and fucking magic... My face hurts from the real honest to god cringe, I'm experiencing.
I also have this question to ask people who still might be tempted to go the route I said above. Why don't we treat player-made story mods as if they're canon? Why draw a line with those, when the game makers themselves are putting fanfic tier bad bullshit into their own games? Because on some level whether people want to admit it or not, the story and the weight of the quests and choices it gives us matter on some level. We aren't just willing to accept bullshit from any source. An often-cited reason for not liking player-made stories is their lack of seriousness towards the source material. I think we should treat people who make games as harshly if not more so than a random kid learning how to program in their first sex scene with Marcus. Especially since the developers have more time resources and presumably experience when writing a story and yet people don't. They will accept mod tier slop from developers and then laugh at modders for the same quality of writing and world-building.
A lot of people like to misapply the term "dark humor" to something when people don't like the "humor" as presented. Which is my defense for all of my reviews BTW. I talked about this a little in my review of Deadgirl. The humor in this game is not dark, it is just straight references to bullshit that doesn't connect to the game all that well. Other than the setting itself which can be dark, just given the nature of its existence, I wouldn't say Interplay, Black Isle or even Obsidian really delve into dark humor all that much. The Vault "experiments" are kind of edging on that humor and the one about "elections" in NV is definitely in that category, but the most amount of dark humor you see in the series is in the Bethesda games and the expansion of the vault experiments into full-blown jokes of cruelty came with them taking a line in the Fallout Bible a bit too seriously. I think "Tranquility Lane" is a good example of this and I mean good in both ways. I think this was a genuinely good harsh scenario they created for the player to discover. I think dark humor is something Bethesda does well for once. I think when they dip into actual dark humor elements like with the Dark Brotherhood quest lines, the Sheogorath monkey-paw twist tier stuff with how he treats people and the world, and to their credit the vault experiments in these games they don't always knock this shit out of the park, but it seems to be more of a strength for them than a lot of other aspects of writing. I really tried to think of things in the second Fallout that I would classify with this term and I just couldn't. Maybe it's a difference in definitions here, but I really think people are just reaching with this defense.
Fallout 2 depicts a harsh world in some areas, but the humor is usually not tied to the harsher areas of the game. There isn't a lot of humor in The Den, NCR, or Vault City. It's tied to the shitty reference areas and one-off things within smaller areas.
Don't @ me Fallout 2 bois, I'll treat you like Texas Red and give you the full Trojan magnum force of the Big Iron. The only words I want to hear out of your asses as you die in neckbeard despair and misery is "Semper Fi." Salute me as you fall over too, because I outrank your asses in the post-war military and I'm an OT VIII in Scientology.
I want to say this a little less diplomatically than I said in my original New Vegas review, with the way Interplay was going with the series Van Buren would have been dog shit as well. I have zero confidence they wouldn't have made a game as bad as the last third of this one, BOS, and only about a third of Tactics was good too. I know I wanted to believe it would be a mythical lost classic like the rest of you but the more I have researched the fall of Interplay and played these last few games they made the less and less confidence I have had over the years about the title. Black Isle was a firework and we all talk about their ascendency and the bang of their success, but we don't talk about its slow dismal fizzling out in the last years of its existence. Give up the hopium and go full doomer about game developers, it's the only way to not be disappointed. You have died. Your series is lost, doomed to die of over-saturation and stagnation.
Do I think Fallout 2 is a horrible game? Despite what you may think, no, I don't. It's two-thirds a great game and 1 third a horrible misfire into stupidity. I can't fully bring myself to dislike it completely my love of the franchise and some of the towns and quests within stop me from fully condemning it. In comparison to a recent game, I reviewed I feel like the parts that I do like in this game hold up better than the parts of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
I still like. The problem is that what I think is bad about it mostly comes in a big chunk at the end of most playthroughs so the game has a savory foretaste, but a horrendous aftertaste. Kind of like drinking irradiated water. I would take a vacation after writing this, but our real-life leaders were dumber and less responsible with viruses than The Enclave. A short trip to "Boston..." Might not be out of the question for me though.