How to win friends and irradiate people: The secret Fallout MMO you never knew you needed

Fallout Vault Boy over screenshots of FOnline 2
(Image credit: Laptop Mag / Rael Hornby)

We've all caught a little Uranium Fever from the warm after-glow of the Fallout TV show's excellent first season. With no new episodes left to sink our teeth into, we've returned to Bethesda's back catalog for our Fallout fix.

The success of Amazon's live-action Fallout TV show has brought gamers back to Bethesda's post-apocalyptic wastelands in their masses. Fallout 76 and Fallout 4 have both witnessed an enormous homecoming of sorts as players dust off Commonwealth save games or awaken from their Appalachian slumbers to reorient with Boston's stomping grounds or the evolving rural landscape of West Virginia.

To paraphrase fellow Laptop Mag writer Stevie Bonifield, do you need to play Fallout before watching the show? No! But you should. To that end, I couldn't agree more (though I do disagree with my Gen Z oppo about skipping the first two titles).

However, while I have any of this franchise's games to choose from, I've recently found myself wandering the wastes of a Fallout game many of you will never have heard of. An MMO that brings you to classic locales that will be very familiar to fans of the original pre-Bethesda Fallout titles, like Junktown, Vault City, San Francisco, and even Shady Sands (before it was reduced to a giant crater).

FOnline: The Fallout MMO you never knew you needed

If you know your stuff when it comes to Fallout, then my mention of a true MMO will likely have led you to think of Project V13, or Fallout Online—a now long-abandoned effort by Masthead Studios and Interplay to create a true MMORPG within the Fallout universe.

However, Bethesda made sure that Interplay's Fallout Online dreams were crushed into a fine powder on its way to completely ransacking the license from its original owners in 2012.

Unofficially, the Fallout Online dream is very much alive, though not exactly thriving. Tucked away within the couch cushions of the internet (and far from Bethesda's prying eyes) is the FOnline Engine—a fan-made recreation of the original Fallout game engine designed to be used as a backbone for cross-platform MMORPGs.

The FOnline Engine began development in 2004, and now powers several Fallout-inspired MMOs. (Image credit: FOnline)

The engine began development in 2004 by a team led by Anton “Cvet” Cvetinsky and remains under development to this day with several key releases already under their belts, and an engine overhaul well on its way.

Wildly, the engine already powers several fan-made Fallout MMOs. Some return to the original two titles' versions of New California, and some take vault dwellers and wastelanders to all-new locations. Better still, they're all free to play. Even the engine is free for people to make their own Fallout or non-Fallout games.

To many, myself included, free-to-play and fan-made generally mean "low quality," but I won't lie, some of what's on offer is very impressive — and if you want to experience the original Fallout universe in a whole new light then this is a great way to do so.

(New) California dreamin'

FOnline2 begins like many of life's adventures, with you waking up in some dirty desert hippy's tent. (Image credit: Laptop Mag / Rael Hornby)

There are several titles that let you explore New California, but after a series of coin tosses I settled on FOnline2, an MMO set four years before the events of Black Isle Studios' Fallout 2.

I eagerly dove in and got to work registering my character, all while reveling in the nostalgia of Interplay's early Fallout titles revived in front of me. I planned out my character—an eagle-eyed pistoleer who's as quick on the dodge as he is on the draw. Perfect. Now to christen my character with my go-to namesake, Jimbo Wilikins.

Don't laugh, that's been my fantasy name of choice for years now. If you see a Jimbo Wilikins in any game, that's probably me! Unless they're doing something weird, then it's probably one of you rotters committing digital identify theft and sullying poor Jimbo's good name.

Before you know it, Jimbo was awakening in a strange man's tent with no memory of how he got there. I had to pause for a moment to shake off a sudden spring of panic accompanying the sensation of long-repressed memories resurfacing before reaching once more for the mouse and keyboard once more.

I pan the mouse around the screen to adjust to some of Fallout's controls, peering around the wasteland. "You see: Trash," "You see: Scrub" reads my Pip-Boy. Ah, to be home again.

Kenny and dog, the guardians of FOnline 2's tutorial area. (Image credit: Laptop Mag / Rael Hornby)

This wasteland stranger is Kenny, and he has the misfortune of acting as my guide to the game—taking time out of his busy day of counting tumbleweeds and baking in the desert sun like an old leather couch to teach me how to forage and craft.

Before you know it, I'm a regular wasteland lumberjack, crafting axes out of flint and sticks and hacking away at anything that even remotely looks like a tree. Oh, and Kenny's pet dog. To thank Kenny for his kindness, I agree to venture into a nearby cave and return with the cut-short lives of a family of Radscorpions staining my soul.

Surprisingly, even though I'm only equipped with a pickax, everything goes pretty well. So well, in fact, that my confidence got the best of me after scavenging a leather jacket off of the body of the largest Radscorpion (It suited me better, anyway).

I remembered Fallout being a far more difficult game, I have to say. I collected my reward from Kenny on the way out, and chose to abandon him and his stupid dog. I'm a wastelander now, nothing can stop me.

Then, after taking ten steps across the New California desert, I had my first random encounter—and instantly died, losing everything in the process.

The world of FOnline2 is brutal, and the heights of your successes are never too far from the lows of utter defeat. (Image credit: Laptop Mag / Rael Hornby)

Let's take that from the top

Knowing I'd royally screwed up, I decided a re-roll was in order. Thankfully, this wasn't my first rodeo, and I had an ace up my sleeve. Meet Bobby Wilikins, Jimbo's older and less impulsive brother.

Now practically a veteran of this title, I speed-ran the starting area. Panic attack, repress those memories, sticks and stones, chop some trees, attack Kenny's dog, bludgeon some Radscorpions, take the last few possessions of a man living in a tent in the wilderness, and I'm once again ready to step out into the wastes.

This time, the RNG gods smiled favorably upon me, letting Bobby Wilikins march his way over to one of Fallout's iconic locations, The Hub—a major New Californian trading post.

You don't have to start a new character each time you die in FOnline2, but dying early on and losing everything can severely impede your progress and force your hand. (Image credit: Laptop Mag / Rael Hornby)

It was here I stumbled across my first actual player, someone who seemed eager to interact with me. Given the fact they were wearing much better armor than my poor man's Mad Max cosplay and clutching a shotgun, I thought it would be rude (and fatal) to ignore them.

Thankfully, whoever МольКа was, they seemed friendly, they even offered me a gun and a sense of direction. However, before I could return to Kenny's dog and really up the ante this time, МольКа insisted that we go escort a local caravan for some quick caps.

Now armed to the teeth and with a formidable ally as backup, me and МольКа signed ourselves up to keep some lowly caravanners safe on the road to Shady Sands. It didn't take long for an ambush to strike, and we were thrown into a gun-slinging showdown with a group of raiders.

It was around this time that I realized I hadn't remembered how to load my gun with all those bullets МольКа had given me. So I spent much of the ensuing battle flailing and panicking. After being caught by a stray bullet, I turned yellow and high-tailed it back to the hub. He who fights and runs away doesn't have to re-roll his character and expand Jimbo's family tree, after all.

While the game's population is low, FOnline2 fosters its own community, some of who are quite friendly. (Image credit: Laptop Mag / Rael Hornby)

Winning friends and irradiating people

It wasn't long before МольКа found me sheepishly loitering in the hub. "In my defense, I never claimed to be good at this game" I informed them. Clearly sensing my untapped potential, or maybe just feeling sorry for me, МольКа decided to give me a second chance at playing guard for the local merchants.

We would eventually make it to Shady Sands, I'd even manage to shoot a few people along the way. It's on this journey with МольКа that we met other players too, one even offering me a robe, "Thanks, my mother always said I'd grow up to be a druid. Weird family." I'm going to blame the lack of laughter on the language barrier there, because just about everybody in FOnline2 seems to be Russian.

МольКа and their friends then spent a considerable amount of time raising funds and tracking down something from the ramshackle traders in the hub. A leaflet. One that would allow me to claim a base of my own and put down roots in New California.

It should have been a heartwarming gesture, but honestly, after having draped myself in combat armor and looting a gun with the bullets already on the inside, I was mildly preoccupied thinking about the look on Kenny's face as I went full-auto on man's best friend.

After МольКа and company did their thing, I was handed a leaflet and accompanied out to the wilds to put down the foundations of my desert abode. And then I accidentally dropped it. And it was gone.

With very little hand-holding in FOnline2, it's very easy to make costly mistakes like accidentally dropping your expensive player base leaflet on the world map. It's easy to do it. It's not my fault. (Image credit: Laptop Mag / Rael Hornby)

"You see: Trash," "You see: Scrub," I eventually took the cursor off of poor Bobby Wilikins and used it to awkwardly scan the environment around me instead, but little changed.

It was probably around this time that whoever МольКа was, they decided Bobby Wilikins was somewhat of a lost cause. Thankfully, the faces I'd encountered in our journeys took me in and let me use their base as a rest stop. They also gave me free access to a ton of goodies.

It was a little like cheating, a considerable leg-up on the game's challenging open world. But Bobby Wilikins wasn't going to complain, Bobby Wilikins was lucky if he could get bullets into his gun. He needed all the help he could get. And Bobby Wilikins needed all the friends he could get, too. Something that the wastelands of FOnline2 seemed to have in no short supply.

Look hard enough and you'll find fellow survivors out there making their way through life in the New California wastes, like Lacoste—who gave me a starter pack of guns and ammo. I'd be unstoppable if only I knew how the two came together... (Image credit: Laptop Mag / Rael Hornby)

Wasting time in the wastelands

The world of Fallout is barren and lifeless, save a few small pockets of humanity left over, congregating in the ruins of old and clinging to the remnants of civilization. My time in the game had seen me bump into only a handful of human players. In fact, seeing another player was almost an event in and of itself.

Yet somehow I was now shepherded into a group of these human-controlled survivors. Welcomed to the pack, even though I had nothing to my name except a trail of failures and the stubbornness to not Google the answer of how to keep my guns loaded.

Gathered around a campfire, I said goodbye to my new acquaintances. I was now locked and loaded, finally ready to bring my adventure full circle. Buckle up, Kenny. The wasteland is about to get a whole lot lonelier for you, friendo.

With one last adios, Bobby doths his combat helmet to these New Californian cohorts of his and steps out into the open world once more. Ten steps later, Bobby Wilikins was dead.

Death is an inevitability in FOnline2, but it's not the destination that counts, but the raiders you explode along the way.  (Image credit: Laptop Mag / Rael Hornby)

Outlook

Having lost everything all over again, I laughed and retired for the evening. I'd had a blast making an idiot of myself across the New Californian wastes, and I'd met some interesting folk along the way.

Even with their low player counts, many of these fan-made MMOs have dedicated communities, some welcoming and some not so much. While FOnline2 was just one of the games I tested, it was one of the more fun and social experiences I came across.

If you're interested in diving into some of these hidden Fallout worlds yourself, then here are a few more established options to pick from:

Don't let the late-90s sprite-based graphics dissuade you, the original duo of Fallout games are some of the best RPGs of all time for their mechanics, not visuals. While these fan-made titles have some way to go to measure up to that, each has its own quirks and community that make things interesting.

Who knows, maybe I'll see some of you out there sometime. Just look for the name Wilikins—and if there's two, I'll be the one pointing an empty gun at Kenny's dog.

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Rael Hornby
Content Editor

Rael Hornby, potentially influenced by far too many LucasArts titles at an early age, once thought he’d grow up to be a mighty pirate. However, after several interventions with close friends and family members, you’re now much more likely to see his name attached to the bylines of tech articles. While not maintaining a double life as an aspiring writer by day and indie game dev by night, you’ll find him sat in a corner somewhere muttering to himself about microtransactions or hunting down promising indie games on Twitter.