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Posted by Brother None

FOnline 2238 After-Action Review
Written by The Vault Dweller

FOnline 2238 is a fan-made modification, based on its own engine and using Fallout assets, meant to take the franchise into multiplayer. It gives us a setting loyal to the universe and takes place a few years before the events of Fallout 2. Players can travel both the Fallout 1 and F2 maps with new locations, which are appropriate and necessary for gameplay. Lots of content has been added and changed to provide an experience both fair and realistic to the player. The project has been in beta for over a year as constant testing leads to tweaks and updates. This reviewer tried out the game for a few hours when it was new, then stopped, and has now returned after about a year, to play it through and see how far it's come along.

Almost a year ago, I went through my first try, and had a wild few hours just trying the game out...

I had just gotten done picking up brahmin shit (with my bare hands unfortunately since the "cleaning" it up and for "picking" it up is more complicated than you would naturally assume) and went back to the pen owner. Since the shit wasn't actually cleaned up, but instead picked up as an item in my inventory I didn't get recognition for my services. No caps, no experience. Thinking the shit had some monetary value (an item is an item after all) I went to the nearest merchant. As I stood there, waiting for another PC to finish talking to the merchant, another guy walked up behind me. When I opened the barter screen, items began to dissappear as they were put up. At the same time the tell-tale "use on" animation was being activated by the PC behind me onto me. I was being robbed. I immediately exited the barter screen. He had already started running and I took off after him. We ran through to the end of the street, past the Maltese Falcon and turning at Bob's Iguana Bits. I saw that he was going to touch the exit grid well before me and escape with the goods so I figured to stop and let him leave with some cursing on my part. He reciprocated and stopped to speak as well. Or what passes for speech in online adolescent lingo. "i stole your shit bro" he mockingly said. For the first time ever the description fit the item perfectly and ironically. Furthermore he told me I could "take this crap" as he dropped the brahmin shit on the ground. I'm surprised he didn't keep it just to further spite me...or was he simply trying to mock my noob status? It wasn't hard to believe someone would be so cruel. I had passed by multiple corpses of PCs on my way into town. Maybe some of them had committed a crime and been killed by a vengeful player, right? No. I knew how they died. Either someone slightly higher level or better equipped killed them on the mere assumption they were carrying a few caps. Sometimes groups of powerful players would simply walk into town picking off "bluesuits" - the inventory empty, armorless, low-level new players. There had even been times I heard gunfire somewhere and continued my walk through town finding a fresh corpse. I wanted to go to someone and vent, but sadly and realistically my low-intelligence character had dialogue altered to fit his personality. "I am new here." became "me is new herr" and the only response was being ignored or laughed at by the other PCs. I had never felt so alone in a multiplayer game.

...and now that a year had passed I returned to give it another try.

Although not a MMORPG player myself, I had spoken to many I knew that cherished such games. Apparently having free PvP at all times led to players playing like their characters lived in a penal colony with no guards. Now while that sounded horrendous to play, it offers a pretty unique, open experience. After all, although you could depend on other people, it also means you don't have to worry about repercussions to killing someone. If you are fair game, well then, so are they. In fact, in the Fallout Universe of vast empty expanses and ramshackle towns clinging to their meager existence, this kind of behavior simply makes sense. However, I had learned (or lovingly made up) that after all these years Fallout fans had created a strong comraderie amongst each other. Unfortunately, the refined hatred or loads of new players un-aware of Fallout's history meant I was wrong.

After going through the ever-beloved character creation screen, I started a new game only to find my character as a single still frame from the "burning death" animation. A quick visit to the forums let me find a stickied thread with the solution of just saving and loading to fix it. Although starting a game for the first time and finding a "fatal" bug like was disheartening, the fact the developers had solved it and kept the notes handy showed them to be actively working to improve the experience. That's great to see in an all-fan development group.

So I was in a small cave with random stuff strewn about. I had a few pieces of random items, worth very little and none worth using. I took a ladder to the surface and found I was in a small area with a man and dog. After talking to them a little (happily doing so through dialogue trees), I found this NPC was meant to familiarize me with the game world. I was given the location of the nearest town, my first quest to meet someone, and my character background assumed to be a wanderer who just took temporary shelter during a sandstorm.

Upon reaching NCR I was immediately among numerous PCs. About ten were on screen either coming, going, talking, and some just idling. I noticed one person going from PC to PC doing something that involved the "use on" animation. I couldn't help but think they were checking inventories for things to steal. Being level 1 and having no equipment I figured nothing good could come of interacting with anyone so I just went and completed the quest. By the time I had completed all the short, simple quests around town I had gained my first level, obtained a full set of early equipment, and oriented myself to all the important places in NCR. Although I had an excellent knowledge of the town from the offline game I suppose it would be very useful to remind players or even to teach new fans. I had also noted and used the Friendly Lending Company (FLC) bank of which there were branches in many major cities throughout the game world. For only $100 I had an account which not only was safe from theft, but actually gained a small interest daily.

With one level of varied skill point distribution, I could now craft basic equipment. This enabled me to get right back on my feet after death and get started adventuring again. Alternatively I could sell such equipment in large quantities for small amounts of much better equipment. It is here in crafting that a great deal of time and effort are involved both in the games development and player activity. I'll lead you through what I call a "crafting run" of traveling, gathering, and finally crafting.

I traveled to an abandoned city. Along the way encounters in the mountains allowed me to gather flint along with xander root and broc flower for basic healing. After exploring a city encounter I had obtained junk and chopped down a tree for wood with a "primitive tool" made from the flint. Using junk and wood I made a knife and sledgehammer. I then traveled to a safe mine (this one run by the NCR). Along the way I used the knife to cut plant fibers off of a living plant. At the mine I used the sledge to collect iron ore and mineral chunks. Back in the NCR, at a free and guarded workbench, I combined the iron ore into metal parts and the mineral chunks into gunpowder. Metal parts and gunpowder make ammo (of many types) and metal parts, plus some junk, and wood can make a wide variety of basic weapons. If I had found and killed a Brahmin at some point I could have taken its leather and combined it with some silver gecko pelts and plant fiber to make a Leather Jacket. Also the plant fiber in multiple sets creates rope so I can tame a brahmin (by using the rope on it) then return it to the city to sell to a vendor for a price that goes up or down depending on how many are already in stock (which you can actually see in the pen where noobs go to shovel shit).

A few hours later I was level 5, having done small quests in Junktown and the Hub and even occasionally won fights against weak enemies like rats or common Raiders. I had used ten brahmin hides to make a tent put up in a created location of my choice which not only allowed me to store all my stuff, but that only I could access and hence was safe from thieves. It was time to start getting into the real reason people play MMO's: For the personal interaction. I was going to join a group either just for fun or as a member to do town control and just adventure together. Maybe visit the dangerous northern cities which didn't have an organized government (and no town guards). Unfortunately every group I spoke to turned me down as I couldn't fulfill a specific position, being a generalized character. They all wanted people with level 2 or even level 3 (which requires a character built almost entirely for it) profession level of armor crafting, weapons crafting, drugs, explosives, etc. In fact I even snuck into one town control battle, managing to get all the way to the town center without being seen only to ask the first member of the ruling gang if I could join while standing behind him. He turned without saying a word and killed me. I wonder if maybe we spoke different languages.

At this point I was seriously contemplating starting over with a new character. I hated the idea of losing my progress yet how could I do a proper review without taking part in all the activities I was missing? Fortunately I didn't have to decide. Fate intervened and in a way that probably will effect anyone and everyone who played or plans to play this.

The Wipe is what happened.

I had been wandering the world map, when a strange set of messages appeared in the announcement box. When the skill timers started going haywire I worried something was legitimately wrong so I headed to NCR - the nexus of all activity in F:O. I came upon a scene that shocked and surprised me. It was raining in the Wasteland. There were corpses everywhere, more than I'd ever seen before. All the NPCs and an dozens of PCs were scattered everywhere. This didn't bother me much, since at first I thought it was a special event as happens occasionally and announced only a day prior. Then I noticed the purple robed guys walking around proclaiming "The Wipe has come! All un-repentant shall die!". They were actually the game makers having fun and experimenting with stuff that would probably be too innapropriate normally (like the rain). For a moment, I wondered how all these people had died. Maybe the makers spawned thugs to fight them? Soon I found out the how of it, as I witnessed when my character suddenly exploded at a maker's command.

As a game in beta the data had to be constantly updated. Whether to test new features or to remove bugs the changes came every few months and could be quite drastic. They usually involved a deletion of the old data, including characters. These "wipes" were often discussed both in fear of what would be lost and hope for what would be added. Since I had already needed to restart I didn't mind it this time, but the effect is indeed a bit of a player exodus, though new players join constantly.

With a well-planned character and better playing from past experience, I reached mid-level very quickly. Dirk Hardpec was a full on combat boy built purely for H-t-H and a quantity over quality of attacks. I really liked that upon respawning my high HP and base damage meant I could take on small groups of enemies without weapons or armor and still win. Made for very easy solo leveling.

So I decided to do something other than a fetch quest: a full-on combat quest. The leader of the Regulators in the Boneyard ordered me to kill a pack of dogs. The quest reappeared daily (only some quests do so) and could be done multiple times. After taking it a location appeared on my map. Subsequent quests would appear in different place both in distance and terrain though at all times existing only for one day then disappearing along with anything left in it. On my first attempt there were only eight dogs, but on others twelve or even fifteen dogs! The number too was randomly determined for more fun and aggravation. I actually died twice, even with a partner attempting "Dogs of LA" with me, though fortunately our corpses and equipment stayed there until the location disappeared, allowing us to regain our equipment. Our reward was a set amount of experience and a randomly chosen type and amount of ammo with a bonus of type given with higher charisma.

Having someone accompany you on your adventures can be a bit of a problem if one of you is a real-time player and the other in traditional turn-based. Whomever starts the encounter (first to show-up) dictates their selected mode to whomever joins after. It can be a bit awkward for a real-timer to join a turn-based battle and downright dangerous vice-versa.

This is besides the usual fear of people backstabbing one another whether in normal PvP or just having someone join you on a "hunting trip". I had been killed multiple times by other players - always without provocation. Whether they were doing it for profit from looting my corpse or the joy of griefing I will never know, though I don't see much of a difference either way. They randomly jumped into my encounter or I into theirs. And this isn't even considered the gang controlled towns which I avoided. There it's always free PvP, but with special protection for the ruling gang, allowing them to do whatever they wished.

Meeting others in an encounter is always a shocking experience. When a PC is in an encounter that spot on the map is changed from creating random encounters to being a specific encounter with you, NPCs, terrain, and items. When another PC moves over that spot and would normally have a random encounter, they join your encounter instead. There is no warning for the joiner that they're joining a PC encounter, though. What's worse is that you can start a battle with some critters and someone will appear halfway through while you're half dead and surrounded. Fortunately most of the time it's just a harmless bluesuit who will just run away assuming you'll kill them.

In my few attempts at legitimate PvP I unfortunately discovered a fatal flaw in my character and one that probably can't be fixed according to the Fallout game engine. When me and another player faced off they could shoot me while I ran to one hex range. If they got a cripple crit I wouldn't be able to chase them with my lower movement speed. If they manage to knock me down a crit to the eyes would probably kill me. If I don't get crippled or killed on the way once I reach my enemy my high rate of attack in H-t-H should kill them though right? Well at that point they run. As long as they don't stop they'll get to the exit grid first and leave the encounter. Every PvP attempt came down to either them killing me or them running away. This was a problem I hadn't realised existed as Fallout had never been played with enemies under human control. I saw no way to fix it without just using ranged weapons instead. A shame to miss out on a whole type of legitimate combat, but it's not the 2238 team's fault since it's just a part of Fallout's combat system.

Of course, what if my enemy couldn't leave combat? Every MMO (so I hear) has an arena of sorts where players can arrange PvP often with rewards beyond loot. The 2238 team had just finished the new Hinkly Arena for organized PvP in a sport setting just outside of the Hub. Unfortunately at it's inception numerous problems appeared and it was shutdown pending the next wipe and update.

Perhaps the most nerve-wracking of my adventures was my first visit to the Northern reaches of the map. Due to those towns being owned by PC gangs, you could be killed for fun or profit with no repercussion by a member of the ruling gang or just a neutral visiting. I figured with my max level character I could handle fighting another independent or run if the town controllers decided to kill me. I was shocked by what I discovered.

Nothing. It turns out that almost no one would visit the Northern towns for fear of death and those I did meet were on the periphery running into or out of town obviously afraid of getting into fights. Also while there were countless hired milita defending the towns, the controlling gangs were nowhere to be seen. I was expecting something like this.

After asking around it turns out that when 2238 started there were countless little gangs. As they aggregated into larger gangs to gain more power, the only way to compete was to do the same and in the end only a few massive gangs were left. Also in order to organize themselves each gang only had members from the same world region or country, so they'd all speak the same language and be online at the same time. I heard of a Russian one, Polish one, and Finnish one as well. I heard a lot of talk about the 2338 team trying to find a way to prevent such huge mobs from being the normal way to play. No doubt it will be a complicated affair to plan and implement. In the meantime I couldn't join any gang, being an American. There went my opportunity for town control battles which looked like a lot of fun, not to mention having a pool of resources large enough to buy a base or create a running vehicle both of which I had never seen in game, but I knew existed from other players mentioning how they always knew someone who had one. Granted I could still have chosen to join a NPC faction like the Brotherhood of Steel or Enclave and those even have a trainer who teaches the best level of a profession (for example Raiders have Small Guns 3 and Vault City Doctor 3) that can only be earned in that one place. Also NPC factions already own a base (in the form of bunkers for the Brotherhood or Vault 8 for Vault City). Of course NPC factions don't take part in town control. At least not yet, as it's a feature to be tested in the future.

In that northern trip, I only encountered one person that did fight me. However it was easily the greatest fight in my entire playthrough since not only was my opponent max level like me, but also the only other person I ever met who was a H-t-H specialist meaning for the first time the fight was "fair".

I was in New Reno, which is neither gang controlled or government regulated. Instead, it has areas friendly to a specific crowds, like junkies or the Wrights. I was in Renesco's Pharmacy and had just finished a transaction when a PC clad in black leather entered and stood in the entrance that I was just about to leave from. I was suspicious at that point then downright alarmed when he used some sort of drug. Then he drew a bladed weapon and charged. I had metal armor MKII while he had leather and I had a super sledge while I could tell by the sound of his knife that it was a ripper. I should have outdone him on taking damage with such better armor, but our exchanges seemed to be equal. I take it the drug he used must have been Psycho. We both hit each other down to about a quarter HP then he ran off just outside the store. I used a first aid and a super stim then pursued. I found him right outside just having used a consumable and also being at full health. Now that we were both back to normal we resumed fighting. Again both our healthbars dropped, but this time I retreated down the street to the intersection with Father Tullys chapel then stopped to heal, which he did as well. We both stood and stared at each other for a few seconds. Then I ran away. He chased, but I got to the exit grid since I left first. I'll always wonder which of us would have run out of supplies first or got that lucky crit while low on HP for the kill.

The design team did implement one of a kind events for players, but to prevent the server from crashing they announce them only a day ahead of time so not too many hear about it and show up. Only one occurred while I was playing and it was at a bad time for my region so I missed it. These events range from silly escapades like navigating a large maze or a game of rocketball to serious life-or-death affairs like the defense of NCR from an Enclave attack.

Before I end this review let me tell you of a single experience which was not only completely unique in all the games I've played, but also completely fitting for the setting. If I'd tell someone only one event from this game, it'd be this: The "Wild West High Noon Standoff".

I was in an encounter with neutral merchants. I was just about to leave when another player appeared a few paces in front of me. Since there was no combat with critters neither of us were weakened or busy. I noticed he was armed. Certainly that could mean he came to kill. However I was armed too, to respond to such an eventuality. Of course I appeared the same way to him. Neither of us made a move. I waiting to see what he was doing, while he was probably using Awareness to check my weapon and health. Neither of us spoke. Then the other guy spoke. "It's cool man" he said. I dropped my shoulders in relief. We spoke to one another for a few minutes about how rare it was to meet someone who wasn't antagonistic. We parted on friendly terms. A shame since I actually do wonder what he had on him. Perhaps this is the temptation of going PvP.

Ultimately I left my FOnline 2238 experience happy and surprised. There was quite a bit of fun both solo and with others, in an appropriately set up Fallout world. Of particular note were the harsh, but necessary elements like the loss of inventory at player death, lawless towns, and a frightening dog-eat-dog mentality amongst players. Of course a lot of features are quite roughly done and need tuning, such as player gang number limits, setting up NPC factions for town control, getting the Hinkly Arena to work, and a good amount of polishing with regards to various skills and items.

In fact if there's one thing I'd like to point out it's that the development team has not only taken a single-player game and made it multiplayer, but thoroughly expanded the content to fit in ways suprising and appropriate...all for free. Just imagine to that anything left lacking is soon to be fixed or tested as newly included features. In fact the FOnline 2238 launcher allows updates to be downloaded and installed with just a press of a button! I honestly think they're superhuman for their accomplishments. Had you told me ten years ago that someone would have done all this based on the Fallouts, I would have thought you were crazy.