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Fallout 2: Set in Northern California
For anyone who has lived or worked in Northern California, playing Fallout 2 is especially fun due to the ability to visit the hypothetical surviving cities of the region, many of which are based on real world locations. This attention to geographic detail is enjoyable as well as integral to the Fallout 2 plot, which deals with the meeting between the player's character - the Chosen One of the village Arroyo - and the malevolent intentions of the Enclave.
Although the game begins in Arroyo with the Chosen One being sent out by the village elders to save the town, most of the action takes place further south, often in recognizable (to Northern California residents anyway) locations that exist in Southern Oregon, Northern California, and even bits of Nevada. Arroyo itself doesn't exist in our world, and in the game was founded after the Vault Dweller of Fallout 1 led a group of people into the rugged terrain of Southern Oregon to find a decent, well protected place to start a settlement. But aside from the village itself, many of the major towns in Fallout 2 can actually be found on a map of the US West Coast.
Specifically, and in general order of appearance, Klamath, Redding, Modoc, New Reno, and San Francisco are all directly analogous to the real world towns and regions with similar, if not always identical, names. Other major locations in the game are also at least analogous to locations in our world if not named identically. The Fallout 2 town of Den, for example, is quite close in location to the California town of Weed. The Sierra Army Depot, found during a mob quest originating in New Reno, is analogous to a real-life ammunition storage depot fairly close to Susanville, California.
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The First Plot-Significant Locales That Exist in Our World
These communities provide to most players the first Fallout 2 weapons more powerful than a spear. This is integral to the plot, because save for those few characters who survive using melee or thrown weapon skills, obtaining better weaponry allows the player to move forward with the game without endless deaths and constant re-loading. After every town visited while following the main quest, the enemies get tougher and appear in greater numbers, so sharp players will get whatever weapons they can each time they get to a new town.
The first town most players will visit out of Arroyo is Klamath. A community of farmers, moonshine brewers, and especially trappers, the real world Klamath is a region around the city of Klamath Falls, Oregon. The city is located close to the Oregon-California border and is adjacent both to the high desert endemic to the eastern portions of both states as well as more fertile wheat fields and swampy wetlands to the south. Its location would make it, after the end of the world, an ideal spot for trapping and agriculture. In Fallout 2, the pipe rifle is about the best weapon available in Klamath, and is found in Trader Vic's shack.
After Klamath, most players will end up in The Den, where they need to help Trader Vic escape from Metzger's slavers. The Den's location is very similar to that of the real world town of Weed, CA, which is basically a pit stop and intersection between Interstate 5 and highway that heads Northeast that is notable primarily for its name. One can purchase "I love Weed" t-shirts in stores all over this small town (in the real world). I'm not sure if the stores understand the irony of these shirts or not. Regardless, Weed is a major crossroads, and it makes sense that post-apocalyptic slave traffickers might choose it as a base.
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Onward and Southward...or Eastward. Modoc and Redding
From The Den most players will find themselves headed for either Vault City to the east, or New Reno to the south. Either way, along the way they'll run into a real world region that contains decent weapons and some interesting side quests.
To the east is Modoc, a real world county in Northeast California, centered around a crossroads town named Alturas and home to a few thousand people involved in agriculture. Primarily high desert, Alturas is a remote place with a high number of survivalist types in addition to farmers. For this reason the Fallout 2 plot appropriately portrays Modoc as a region that is home to impoverished and rustic farmers living above ground and a group of descendants of a survivalist group that fled to an underground bunker during the nuclear war.
South of The Den is Redding, and its post apocalyptic fate is to function as a gold mining town and major brahmin (two headed cattle) caravan stopping point. In the real world Redding is a large town in Northern California, the last major town in California's Central Valley that sits astride the Sacramento River and along Interstate 5. The very image of a California exurb, Redding exists because it is a convenient site for corporate distribution centers and government agencies, and land is cheap by California standards.
Redding's fate in Fallout 2 is to be reduced to a bunch of hardscrabble miners strung out on an addictive drug called Jet amidst growing political tensions over which bigger neighbor - Vault City, New Reno, or New California Republic - will annex it to control its gold. Oh, and there are aliens in one of the gold mines. Good times!
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New Reno and San Francisco: the Best Weapons in Fallout 2
Whether the player heads to Vault City after The Den or not, it is likely that the player will end up in New Reno. Although some may go directly to the New California Republic as part of a mission assigned in Vault City, and there get access to Vault 15 and Vault 13, New Reno is significant enough and interesting enough to divert attention along the way.
New Reno happens to be based on the real world town of Reno, Nevada - yes, the Reno of "Reno 911" fame. Reno is probably best known in the real world for its legalized prostitution, gambling, and that gaudy sign over a major street that names it "the biggest little city in the world". No surpise then that it is the hub of prostitution, gambling, pornography, organized crime, boxing, and drugs in the world of Fallout 2.
San Francisco is familiar even to those who have never been to Northern California, and is absolutely vital to the Fallout 2 plot. In the game it is the gateway to the Enclave oil rig and home to two rival groups: the Shi, descendants of a Chinese submarine that beached in the area, and the Hubologists, thinly veiled caricatures of real world Scientology adherents. There is also a Brotherhood of Steel base in the city where the player will receive a quest to infiltrate the Enclave outpost at Navarro.
As for its relationship to the real world, in-game San Francisco and the real world SF are similar in many ways. Home to a vibrant ethnically Chinese population that makes a huge contribution to the city, individualistic vagrants living life as they choose, and religious nutjobs trying to repair a Space Shuttle crashed on the Golden Gate bridge.
Frankly, I'm not certain where the game San Francisco ends and real world city of San Francisco begins.
- Fallout 2 User Manual, Black Isle Studios
- All screenshots taken by Andrew Tanner