I was originally not planning on reviewing this title, as it is somewhat controversial whether it is considered a part of the Wasteland series or not. While it was intended as a sequel to the original Wasteland, neither Interplay or any of the original team worked on Fountain of Dreams. Even the game’s engine, despite being similar to Wasteland’s, was created from scratch. In a way, this foreshadows EA’s poor management that would lead to the death of remarkable studios and franchises. Despite all of these elements spelling disaster, I wanted to give this title a shot for one reason alone: this is a post-apocalyptic game set in Florida. Let that sink in for a moment, and you will probably understand why that piqued my interest.
An unique nightmare
The game takes place specifically in the area surrounding and within Miami, where your party of three customisable comrades are stuck. Our world has been transformed by the nuclear war and is now threatened by psychopaths, organised criminal factions, and creatures that generally make me realise that we are going to die soon. Because of the dangerous mutations and ionising radiations, your party is sent out to find the purifying water of the so-called “Fountain of Dreams” in order to heal the people. A bonus if you can take down the criminal organisations as well on the journey.
Fountain of Dreams presents a clear setup and I am glad it does so. By giving you an overall goal that is easy to understand, it becomes more interesting to figure out how you wish to accomplish this in an open world setting. You will only get one small overworld with four locations to visit, which might sound like Fountain of Dreams lacks any grand world-building. However, the developers took their time to make each location sprawling and memorable, instead of having too many areas that simply come and go. Compared to its predecessor, this entry is a good example of quality over quantity.
There is even a huge and impressive amount of text implemented with clear dialects and different portraits depending on who you are talking to, making this world immersive and intriguing. This adds to clearly establish characters and their attachments to one another, without breaking the atmosphere by going overboard with information or make you look into the manual. Be it your brother at home who is hoping to adventure with you one day, TomTom Mahut who is bursting with opinions and secret knowledge or the unfriendly bartender, everyone gives something to be remembered by and you are free to act towards them however you please. Because of this, Fountain of Dreams goes far to make this tale feel like your story and enhancing the concept of role-playing.
The world of Fountain of Dreams is strange, but never becomes forced with random elements for the sake of being random. You will meet many colourful characters that are all affected by the nuclear aftermath and act differently because of it, such as conducting criminal activities, take on religious beliefs, practising voodoo or actually try to uphold peace. Through this and with how people have different opinions on one another, you will see that everybody is coping with their situations differently and logically. This is a wonderful way to showcase how diverse this world is and still provides a sense of humanity in every person, even if it is almost gone to some of them.
It is then a shame that the overall plot will be diminished throughout the journey, since the fountain is not really interesting with little lore to go by. Thankfully, the game focuses more on the world and its inhabitants, and for a game with a lot of dialogue, it is a good thing that the conversations are entertaining. Although, I must declare that I do not know if the accents can be seen as stereotypical or just lighter nods to cultures, but I found them more inviting than anything else. The smaller quests are also engaging with alternative routes that all will have consequences. I suppose you could say that the plot was just there to get you started, but the world and its people kept me exploring until I realised that there was an actual reason for why I ventured outside of the comfort of my home.
Story Score: 7/10
A solid expansion
Similar to the game’s previous title, you start off Fountain of Dreams by deciding whether you want to go with a premade party or make your own. I wish to take a look closer at this aspect first, as there are some fantastic improvements presented already here. You can make upwards to three characters, choose their gender, and pick between five classes that range between survivalist, vigilante, medic, hood, and mechanic. Each has a clear function with passive and active skills being presented, such as lockpicking for active and how well you can use a knife for passive.
This is a great step up from the previous game, where IQ was the only element that could give a character more abilities. Here, IQ functions rather as a stat upgrade for how well passive skills work, while aptitude revolves around how well a character is at active skills. The rest work as usual, such as dexterity for dodging, accuracy for using firearms, and charisma for charming NPCs. This lovely setup provides more ways to create a unique group of adventurers with diverse skills, instead of just rolling the dice and hope for the best in every scenario, like in the previous entry. You can even implement the characters’ stats directly instead of rolling them, which is great for making specific builds!
After this, you are set in an overworld where you are pretty much free to do whatever you want. There are few areas to visit, but this makes it easily digestible to figure what pathways you can take. Perhaps you want to gather clues by talking to the inhabitants or find out what they feel about each other? Maybe you want to see if you can get more members to your party, since you can have up to five people? You could sneak around to find some goodies or just cause chaos for the fun of it. There are still law enforcers that will question your actions and even take half of your money should you be the one starting a brawl, making this title never having any downtime and clear consequences.
Fountain of Dreams is remarkable for giving the player a small playground with a good amount of freedom to tackle any situation the way they want to, especially for its time. I do severely miss a journal to keep track of hints and people, which you will have to make yourself. Thankfully, there are plenty of other elements that make Fountain of Dreams simply comfortable to play. Using skills, equipping tools, and taking specific actions, are all streamlined with only a couple of button presses, and the game is clear on the many possible actions you can take. This sense of freedom and the limits being clearly established, makes me always creative on how I wish to proceed with the journey.
You can even find books and learn more skills as long as your IQ is high enough, which is a fun detail. Although, my absolute favourite new addition are the mutations, as they will affect stats and abilities to your characters. These effects will come with both positive and negative elements to them, which made me actually question at times if I wanted to find a cure. For example, I was pretty happy having a chameleon in my party that had untraceable fingerprints, even if some of her stats took a hit.
The exploration to further your playthrough is strengthened by how much dialogue there is, as well as clearly establishing visually what is in every area. All NPCs have something that can nudge you in the right directions, and the few reused houses are just that: few. These elements made every location easy to navigate and explore throughout for more hints, as the game never became a blind hunt. Unfortunately, while I had a great time travelling around Florida in a post-apocalyptic setting (which is an interesting statement in itself), it was not without some big issues.
Sure, this is a dangerous world where the time always moves when you do, but this game can be close to unfair. Every enemy is a force to be reckoned with, you do not have many tools to use in fights, and the combat will become quickly harsh as you progress. You will go from criminal gangs to giant spiders early on, before you meet killer clowns that can easily cause a game over. The difficulty is not in a solid curve, but rather like a steep mountain to the point that you are going to love the fact that you can save at any time. Even falling coconuts can damage the party!
Fights are also problematic within themselves. Despite that you can personalise characters with stats and abilities, you only have a small selection of weapons to go by and nothing else. The same lack of diversity can be said for the enemies, as they are only distinguished by how hard they hit and the amount of damage they can take. The fights are quick, but also the only part of the game that are not engaging by being literal rolls of the dice with no strategy involved. You basically have to select whether you can rely on brute force or need to run away in every single battle.
An annoyance that is also still present, is that only the character taking out the last fiend of a group is rewarded XP, which is just bad design. Combine this with money being hard to come by, and items and equipment lacking descriptions, and you got a title that is unforgiving. If there is anything that makes the combat tolerable, it is that you can wait for enemies to get closer to your characters in order to use melee weapons, instead of being taken to a separate menu where you have to physically move your party.
However, Fountain of Dreams is not necessarily impossible, as there are plenty of options to consider, like hospitals, bars, and experimentation of skills to get you further. There is also one segment in the earlier parts of the game that will clearly signify that you are probably going to suffer throughout this title, which had me prepared for what was to come. Unfortunately, the combat is still a main aspect of the game, and it is overall dull and harsh with the random encounters being high. The exploration was enough to keep me going, but the game can breeze by due to its small map. It is at most a 15 hours ride, but it was hard to tell since I had to reload saves all the time due unfair deaths. I stopped counting them somewhere around the 39th time.
Gameplay Score: 4/10
I think the acid kicked in
The tropical take on a post-apocalyptic wasteland is quite the creative concept and makes Fountain of Dreams memorable. The lush vegetables, people wearing light clothes, and the distinguishable portraits, everything adds to the setting and are presented with strong colours. There are only a few areas included as mentioned throughout this review, but each one is memorable. Be it the busy bar, the households guarded by a tall brick wall or a church with a giant hole in it, I was always intrigued and unsettled wherever I was.
By making the game smaller, it allowed for more character portraits to be added in that made each NPC feel visually personal, to the point where even the doctors are memorable. Whether they seem to enjoy working out or doing surgery more than the average medical practitioner, this surreal tone is constant throughout and creates a world that is hard to grasp yet fascinating. There are a few reuses of portraits, but it never broke the atmosphere, especially when there were so many bizarre elements and creatures to encounter.
Everything is strange and uncomfortable, due to the over the top design. Giant rats, vicious hounds, wise men with necklaces made out of skulls, nothing in this world makes you feel secure. There is not anything grand here to provide a good sense of scope or diversity, and less yellow would have been nice as the bright colours can be a bit of an eyesore. Still, this is a solid and creative title that leaves a strong impact that will never truly go away. Lastly, there is little to speak of in terms of audio since this game is from an era where this was an uncommon treat on PCs. You only get minor sound effects to simulate damage and no music otherwise, so happy there is enough to see in this world.
Presentation Score: 7/10
I suppose I see why so many got disappointed with this entry, as this is a far smaller project than what the original Wasteland was. However, that is also what makes this entry confined and enjoyable (for the most part). There is more quality to the visuals, the progression is better handled, the dialogues are engaging, and the exploration is entertaining. The minor additions to the RPG aspects, also make this entry feel like an actual role-playing title. Sadly, that is all this sequel is: an improvement over the original. It still has ginormous problems and is hard to recommend to a general audience. Like a one shot session: I am definitely happy to have taken part in it, but I cannot deny that I wish for something more. We also need to remove the killer DM.