I always thought that the story wasn’t the most important in the classic Fallout games, but Games Radar clearly disagrees, since they placed Fallout 2 in their best stories in videogames list:
Fallout 2 was unlike any other game before it in that aside from a few mandatory plot points, getting to the end of the game could literally be a different experience every time. Because of its open format there was a beginning, middle, and end but it was up to you to fill in the rest. Depending on how you created your character, the story could be a smooth talking con man who manipulates people to his own ends, a scientist who hacks into computers and builds robots to fight for him, or even a mentally deficient brute who’s too stupid to converse with anyone and just pounds his way through the wasteland. Such true player freedom had never been delivered like this, letting you push the story forward any way you wanted.
While the game’s main story involves your battle against the Enclave and other corrupt institutions, the history behind them and the wasteland at large are hidden all throughout the world, in abandoned computers and in the minds of survivors. This makes the story as deep, or as vague, as you want it to be. The way the Fallout 2 lets you discover the story on your own adds to its mystery, drawing the player into the game.
Ultimately Fallout 2’s story is the best ever because of its realism, freedom, and fantastic writing. While many games now have open worlds and plots, Fallout 2 manages to do both yet still maintain its doom-filled ambiance. All the side quests and plot tangents feel like they’re still part of a whole, and not just tacked on to bump up the play time. When the bombs finally drop and the world is reduced to nothing but ash and marauding mutants don’t be surprised if it looks a lot like Fallout 2.