There’s no denying that Fallout 2 is a great RPG, as one would naturally expect of a Fallout game.* But great doesn’t mean perfect, and every player’s sure to find something or other about the game that they don’t particularly like. Most of these complaints vary from 1 person to the next (I, personally, am annoyed to no end by the stupid, pointless, damaging retcon of super mutant sterility; thank Susano-o they Yo Dawg’ed that retcon later on in the series), but there are 2 parts of Fallout 2 that are pretty much universally reviled: the Temple of Trials, and Overseer Lynette. In the latter case, it’s expected, as Lynette was engineered with masterful craftsmanship to be an even more unequivocally frustrating and loathsome human being than Bobby Kotick, a man whose mere existence ironically champions the cause of nihilism. Less intentional, however, is the general irritation that players have with the Temple of Trials, which is generally (and accurately) seen as a tedious, clumsy, heavy-handed tutorial mission that’s as unnecessary as it is pointless and unwelcome. As an opening to a game, Fallout 2’s Temple of Trials is close to the worst that RPGs have to offer, for several reasons that I’ve gone into in my rant on the genre’s worst beginnings.
But you know what I just realized the other day, while talking with a friend who’s just started playing Fallout 2? I realized that we’ve only been scratching the surface of how bad the Temple of Trials is. For 20 years, we’ve been so caught up with being annoyed at the Temple of Trials for failing as a gameplay device, that we never noticed that it also fails on the far more important narrative level, too!
To whit: this temple’s existence doesn’t make sense.
To begin with, let’s just talk about thematic consistency. How does this stupid fucking dungeon fit into Fallout? This is a dungeon taken straight out of a fantasy-styled RPG, not a post-apocalyptic future RPG! This religious structure of stone walls and imposing steel doors would look perfectly at home in a western fantasy game like The Elder Scrolls or Neverwinter Nights, or countless JRPGs like Grandia or Threads of Fate, but nothing about it fits with the Fallout universe. I’m racking my brain, and coming up short: I’m fairly certain that there is not a single other location like this in the entire series. Supposedly it’s a structure that existed before the war, which the Vault Dweller just happened to stumble across during his founding of Arroyo...but it’s too archaic to fit with the many pre-war structures and locations of the modern world, even in terms of what we’ve seen of prewar structures devoted to more supernatural pursuits. It’s just totally out of place in this game and series...which just makes it all the worse that it’s the first dungeon of Fallout 2, because the first impression it’s making on a player is completely alien to every single moment of the game that will follow!
But beyond the aesthetics, it also makes no sense within the game’s own lore!
Because seriously, why the hell does the village of Arroyo exist entirely outside of the temple? They’ve got this massive, perfectly fortified stone structure with several rooms in it, and they just leave it totally and completely unused at all times, save for the 2 times in the village’s history when the village elder and the Chosen One go through it as their trial for being Arroyo’s leader and fetch-quest schmuck, respectively. In a single room, the village keeps the Vault Dweller’s clothing in a shrine, but every single other of the half-dozen rooms in this thing, along with the spacious and long hallways connecting them? Completely empty and unused. For 75 years, this thing has sat within a stone’s throw of the Arroyo village, and they’ve never so much as used it as a tool shed! And hell, even the single room being used as a laundry museum has only been that way for the last 30 years or so, since the Vault Dweller didn’t leave Arroyo for several decades after founding the village, and we can safely assume that he himself didn’t have the idea to ostentatiously immortalize his long johns there. And the temple’s use as a testing ground has been for even less time, since the village elder took the first test in it 2 years after the Vault Dweller left! That means that for like half of Arroyo’s existence, they used this giant, sturdy, safe mountain fortress for absolutely fucking literally nothing.
This is a village whose residents live in a bunch of crappy tents! These people don’t even have the luxury of a hut’s stability! No one ever looked at this colossal multi-roomed cliff-side palace and thought to themselves, “Hey, maybe we could hang out in there sometimes, instead”? There was never a particularly bad patch of weather over the course of 75 years that made the prospect of having to live in easily-destroyed, easily-blown-away tents less appealing than hanging out in an actual structure? I mean, I know the community’s all about raising brahmin and plants, and hunting-gathering, but they could still do all that during the day, and then go to sleep at night with a real, actual roof over their heads!
Hell, the Vault Dweller was a guy who lived his entire life in an enclosed structure built into a mountain, and only left it because he was forcibly exiled. After founding Arroyo, he never once got homesick enough to recreate the living experience he grew up with? The fact that this struggling little village never considered using the Temple of Trials for anything is already hard to swallow in terms of overall logic, but it also runs contrary to 1 of the few things we can safely glean about the Vault Dweller’s character!
For fuck’s sake, Arroyo, there are people in the Capital Wasteland who count themselves well off if they can secure a shack in the shade of a crumbling piece of a highway overpass. There are ghouls in the Commonwealth so hard up for a solid living space that they’ve created an entire settlement around the remains of a communal swimming pool! And you assholes are just sitting around in tents, ignoring a fortress safe haven that makes most of the actual fortresses in this series** look like rickety little cabins built by someone using Fallout 4’s Settlement Builder for the first time?! I feel like an exasperated parent scolding a picky child to appreciate his dinner because there are starving people over in such-and-such country!
Hey, Arroyo, remember that time in the middle of Fallout 2, when the Enclave showed up to kidnap your entire village’s population and savagely gun down everyone who resisted? Yeah, that was awful. Too bad you guys didn’t have a giant mountain fortress with defensible solid steel doors you could have holed up in, huh?
Screw the Temple of Trials, man. It’s a bad decision in terms of gameplay, it’s completely wrong aesthetically to the Fallout series, and it just makes no goddamn sense conceptually.
* Even if one would be dead fucking wrong 3 times on this matter.
** The Brotherhood’s Citadel (Pentagon), the Master’s Cathedral, and the Minutemen’s Castle, for example.