While I was studying abroad in France, I found that I had more free time than I had expected. The campus internet wasn't exactly fantastic, and it was metered to prevent over-usage. That meant I couldn't use Steam to download new games, and since I hadn't considered bringing very many with me, I was at the mercy of whatever I could find locally. Of course, being a huge nerd, I used this free time as an excuse to explore the local "Saturn" store (basically a big electronics store; not the sort of place you probably think of when you think of France.)
Yes, I know. I'm studying abroad in a beautiful foreign country and here I am, scrounging for a reason to spend more time sitting in front of a computer screen. I am painfully aware of this.
You can imagine my surprise when I found a copy of Fallout 2 in a bin full of classic games. For all intents and purposes, it appeared to be an English copy, too. I bought it and headed back to campus.
Cue a relatively significant period of time where I would build a new character, get them to level five or six, change my mind, and start over (I know I'm not the only one who does this.) After eight or nine times I finally settled on, "Dashing Dongwood", a roguish character inspired by Fallout 3's Herbert Dashwood.
The story really begins at the Den. If you're playing like an abnormal human being--and not trying to break Fallout as hard as you can--you will probably reach the Den about 1:30 to 2:00 hours into the game, depending on how long you spend in Klamath. In that two hours, nothing remarkable happened. I slowly punched ants to death; I ran around and stole everybody's shit; I preemptively took Vic's radio from his shack so that I could free him without having to run back and forth between the towns. The usual.
Then I encountered an interesting character while heading to the Metzger's slaver building.
To the casual gamer, this is just generic NPC #3. (The game likes to use the same 4 or 5 NPC sprites over and over again.) But to diehard Fallout players, generic NPC #3 is the sprite Fallout's Ian used. Ian is one of the first characters you can recruit in the original Fallout, and he was infamous for spraying his 10mm SMG indiscriminately--even if you were between him and his target. I've probably died to Ian's friendly fire more than I have to enemies in Fallout. The thing is, 80 years have passed between Fallout and Fallout 2. Ian should be dead of old age, or friendly fire, or something.
Side note: According to the Vault wiki, Ian was originally planned to be in Fallout 2. In a random encounter, you can speak to a character who claims he can be found in an area called "The Abbey" (however, The Abbey doesn't actually exist in the game.) Alternatively, Ian would have been approachable in Vault City, where he would mistake you for your character from the original Fallout.
The reason this caught my attention is because the, "Hey. You. Come over here." dialogue is not something you normally get while passing NPCs. As I approach Generic NPC #3, a dialogue window automatically opens up.
Note: I've taken screenshots with the replies I choose highlighted, so you can follow the conversation without me having to post a transcript.
Ian's dialogue ends with, "Why do you think I'm alive still?" regardless of the response you choose in this last picture. You cannot initiate a conversation with him again once the window is closed. What I get from all of this is: Your character in Fallout (the "Vault Dweller") gets kicked out of the Vault at the end of the game. He wanders North until he finds Gecko (and "Auger"). Unable to find a way into Auger, he backtracks aimlessly until he finds himself at Shady Sands, where Ian is.
It occurred to me that not a whole lot about the story made sense. Why would they have the Vault Dweller heading so far North, only to turn right back around and find a character (Ian) that--let's be honest here--didn't have a whole lot to do with anything? And then have the Vault Dweller turn around yet again and end up in Arroyo? Ian could have been familiar with Gecko because of his history as a Crimson Caravan guard, but why was he placed in the Den? And why are there in-game characters mentioning him being at the "Abbey", which isn't even in the game (but is close to Gecko and--potentially--Auger.)
The thing about old RPGs is this: They hate your guts. There are no magic compass markers, no hand-holding journals or handouts. You usually have to figure things out on your own. When internet searches turned up nothing, I felt like I was back in the old RPG-days, where bad hints were spread by word of mouth and everybody's uncle worked for somebody who said something. So I took Ian's bizarre story as a challenge.
Gecko (and Vault City):
The only tangible clue I had to work with was Gecko, so after picking up Vic in the Den, I made my way East. In the game, Gecko is a town built around a large, malfunctioning power plant. The residents, "Ghouls" (re: heavily irradiated humans that look like corpses), live at odds with their neighbors in Vault City because the power plant leaks radiation into the water supply, which the citizens of Vault City don't particularly care for. Both towns might try to recruit you to achieve their ends--in the case of Vault City, it's by being a dick and sabotaging the power plant.
Nothing in Gecko stood out as unusual though. Conversations went exactly as expected, and my backup plan--repeatedly clicking on random NPCs--only elicited the usual generic responses. Then I remembered that the developers had planned to put Ian in Vault City.
When I got there, Ian was nowhere to be found. I recruited Cassidy and the three of us began grilling the locals for any information by clicking on anything that moved. I abused the Pipboy's "rest" command, so I could check areas in the daytime and at night. I took up the small quests outside of Vault City, hoping that it would trigger Ian's appearance. I even aimlessly circled around Gecko and Vault City, hoping to stumble across Auger on the automap. But nothing.
Eventually I gave up and took the quest from Vault City to resolve the Gecko problem. Unlike Fallout 3 and New Vegas, your party members in Fallout 1 and 2 can supplement skills you're lacking in, like medicine or repair. Vic, for as fat and slow as he is, is a fantastic mechanic. This came in especially useful when I chose to ignore Vault City's advice (re: Sabotage the power plant and massacre the locals) and repair the power plant. Vault City didn't appreciate this solution, and, after a few choice words with their leadership, I effectively became a persona non grata.
Returning to Gecko to bask in the local praise, I was greeted with a very unusual warning from one of the NPCs.
It's difficult to read, but the ghoul is saying, "A little advice. Don't go East of here."
Of course, to me, that reads, "Go East of here! There's something really fucking amazing EAST of here!"
East of Here (Gecko):
I exited Gecko to find that my automap had been updated.
In Fallout 1 and 2, large cities were generally represented by a circle about 1x1 grid in size. Random encounters and smaller locations were represented by a much smaller circle. My automap showed that Auger--so far East on the map that part of its name was cut off--was most likely not a giant city.
Setting my destination to Auger, I found that I was consistently interrupted by a bizarre random encounter.
It took me a moment to realize that my party members--Vic and Cassidy--were already dead when the random encounter loaded. I reloaded my save and attempted to travel to Auger several more times, but ended up with the same results. Even when telling my companions to "wait" in Gecko, the random encounter would show them dead upon loading. This makes me think that anybody flagged as having been recruited--regardless of whether or not they're physically with you--are killed upon entering this random encounter. (Side note: I wish I had recruited Myron ahead of time.)
A very unusual character initiates dialogue with you the moment the worldspace loads, warning you to go back and basically cut your losses. If you say, "Fine, I'm leaving," you are able to loot your party member's corpses and flee from the location. However, if you try to travel to Auger, your trip is interrupted by the same random encounter. If you choose either one of the two remaining options, you initiate combat with the hooded figure and its tribal entourage.
Combat is pretty ridiculous, especially if you weren't planning on your entire party being dead when it begins. The tribals are typical enemies: They attack with spears and throwing knives and have a modest amount of HP. The hooded figure, on the other hand, has about as much HP as a deathclaw (re: a lot more than you) and can make short work of you in hand-to-hand combat. Every time I would get the figure's health down to "Almost Dead", it would use some sort of aid item that instantly regenerated its health.
The trick, I discovered, is to game the targeting system a bit. In other words, your best chance at success is to target the figure's groin over and over again until they're incapacitated. When they're on the ground, they can't move, attack, or use items. Then it's a matter of beating on them until they're thoroughly dead.
When combat was over, I searched the corpses in hopes of finding something interesting. But besides a lot of spears, throwing knives, and healing powder, there was nothing worth carrying. Assuming the path had been cleared, I continued to Auger.
Auger was a lot smaller than I thought it would be. That being said, I'm not really sure what I expected it to be--a giant, radioactive hole (a la The Glow), some sort of Stone Henge, a big goddamned head. Who knew!
As you can see, it looks like a large, crashed machine of some sort, with what looked like solar panels. There was a hatch off to the left, but nothing would make it open. The description for it was simply, "A large wreck." After several attempts to open the hatch, the prompt told me that I felt very strange. Usually a similar message would pop up after spending too much time in a radioactive area, but my PipBoy indicated that I wasn't taking radiation damage.
However, I discovered I had picked up a new quest at some point along the way:
For whatever reason, I was supposed to return to Hakunin, Arroyo's Shaman. Hakunin is a strange character who speaks in roundabout ways. Also, he talks to you in your dreams and tells you to hurry up if you're taking too long with the Main Quest. So there's that.
Taking my PipBoy's advice, I return to Arroyo. Along the way, my trip is periodically interrupted by the corpses of my dead party members. By that, I mean, I pop up in a random worldspace--like any random encounter--with Vic and Cassidy's dead bodies next to me. That's not strange, or anything.
When I finally get to Arroyo, nobody is at the bridge to greet me. Pushing further into the village, I find:
...everybody in Arroyo is dead, and it's not because of the Enclave. The sole survivor, Lucas, gives me a pretty vague explanation before suddenly telling me that I might be to blame for what happened.
At this point the Auger and Arroyo (main) quests are failed, but nothing ends my game.
UPDATE 1: I start doing what anybody would do in this situation: I decide to go to other locations and cause some trouble. I figure that maybe I'll even find out what the hell I did by traveling to Auger.
In Redding, things were different, to say the least:
Note the description upon entering town: "The air here stinks of blood and death. The sun is nowhere to be seen." Where the "Molerat Mambo" (basically cockfighting featuring Molerats) typically was, there were a bunch of corpses and poles. The locals stood around, shouting as if there was a fight going on. I couldn't initiate dialogue with any of the named characters, either.
There were no more NPCs in the Den, Klamath, or Modoc. The locations had become, quite literally, ghost towns.
Things were generally normal in New Reno. However, when I got near the Desperado Casino, I realized something had gone terribly wrong.
As you can see, there is a large statue glitched into the middle of the street, and an interesting decor pattern on the outside of the casino. Even stranger, the description for the glitched statue is simply, "Frank Horrigan."
UPDATE 2: Trying to talk to Louis Salvatore yields this response:
While most generic NPC dialogue has become some iteration of, "BLOOD! MORE BLOOD!", the few remaining named characters (that you can initiate conversations with) usually say some variation of the looping dialogue in this screenshot. Of note is that Louis Salvatore's specific dialogue seems to come from the Navarro generic Enclave soldier shouts. The same thing happens when speaking to Big Jesus Mordino (Lil' Jesus Mordino's sprite has been replaced with a Ghoul; clicking on him causes him to shout, "Hey! I recognize that tattoo!") I imagine this means that many quests have become broken.
The game has also become relatively unstable. For example, trying to travel to San Francisco, Navarro, or Broken Hills will crash the game. This might have something to do with the corpses of my party members, which not only follow me around everywhere I go, but are duplicating. And talking--although all they say is, "Hey. You. Come over here."
Note that this screenshot was captured at ~1 PM, but it appears to be night. The day / night cycle seems to have broken, since whenever I load a map, it's always night now.
UPDATE 3: Most of the saves I've made after reaching Auger are no longer loading.
UPDATE 4: Out of curiosity, I've gotten in touch with members of several forums that believe the copy of Fallout 2 I purchased is different than the ordinary UK final version (1.02e) that is basically analogous to an additional-content "GOTY" edition. Apparently there is rumor that a second, older version (1.02c) was being worked on and would encompass several cut areas from the original game--including the Abbey and EPA--similar to what can be found in the community-built "Restoration" patch.
While Interplay put its main focus into working on Van Buren, a small crew was assigned to working on Fallout 2's extended GOTY edition, possibly in a last-ditch effort to generate revenue when Interplay realized it was in financial trouble. The direction this team took with its in-house restoration project were strange; obvious efforts were made to recapture some of Fallout 1's darker setting (by this point, one of the most common complaints was Fallout 2's over-to-top satire and wackiness.)
For whatever reason (most likely Interplay's acquisition by Titus Interactive in 2002) this version update was supposed to have been scrapped. However, an initial batch of version 1.02c copies were believed to have been published after an embarrassing mix-up at Titus' Paris, France headquarters. While these copies should have been removed before making it to market, accidents can happen. The copy I purchased was indeed version 1.02c--but in typical, scary-story fashion, the CD was misplaced by a roommate and I was unable to find it before having to come back to the United States.