While the story may not be as gripping, and the technical execution may not be as polished, Fallout: New Vegas is well worth the purchase for any fan of the franchise, whether you've played Fallout 3 or not.
- More great fallout-style gameplay
- Dozens of hours of content
- A useful and robust companion system
- Captivating faction dynamics
- Incredibly, inexcusably glitchy
- Slowly paced, underwhelming side-quests
- Lacks an emotionally gripping single-player story
As the saying goes, war never changes, and if the newest entry in the post-apocalypic series is any example, neither does Fallout.
Fallout: New Vegas isn’t so much a sequel to Fallout 3 as it is an elaborate piece of DLC. It looks and plays the same as its praiseworthy predecessor, but fans looking for a wholly new, leveled-up experience will instead find a very familiar, if somewhat redressed, adventure. And it begins, as many great stories do, with a death…your own.
A Soft, Quiet “Pop” in the Midnight Desert
After a bullet tears through your skull in the middle of a mid-Mojave business transaction, you’re hastily dumped into a grave -- slug still in your skull -- only to be unearthed and revived sometime later by a drifting robot. A doctor in the nearby town of Goodsprings nurses you back to health, and it’s here where players will determine their physical appearance and undergo psychological testing that will determine their initial skill distribution. The skills (Strength, Intelligence, Luck, Perception, etc.) are essentially the same as in the previous game, although New Vegas brings back the Traits from Fallout 2, a selection of parameters that offer both sizeable advantages and equal disadvantages. You can choose two of these, or none, depending upon the trade-offs you’re willing to make.
You’ll quickly remember that you were a hired-gun courier, one of several tasked with moving some seemingly random objects from point-to-point throughout the desert, including a platinum casino chip that was stolen after your “murder.” The significance of that chip, and its role in a larger conspiracy leading to the very top of the New Vegas criminal hierarchy, forms the remainder of the story; it’s a kind of post-apocalyptic Scorsese film.
What (Doesn’t Really) Happen in Vegas…
The game starts abruptly, however, lacking the measured process of your birth and childhood in Fallout 3’s Vault 101. As a consequence, you’re thrust into the desert with no real sense of purpose or connection other than to find the man who put the bullet so gingerly in your dome. Some players will no doubt appreciate this expedience while others, such as myself, will feel a lack of emotional development or discovery. There’s no emerging moment. There’s no point when you climb up from the darkness into a massive, sun-baked landscape with a single, emotional goal. In Fallout 3, it was finding your father. Rather, New Vegas starts with a literal bang, pats you carelessly on the backside and says, “You’re on your own.”
As always, the player is free to shape their moral space in the world, but at least in the first eight or ten hours of New Vegas, the lines aren’t quite so black or white. Your “good” and “bad” choices aren’t particularly well articulated, and the world unfolds at a much slower, sometimes clumsier, pace than in previous games. It’ll take you awhile to get your bearings amongst the various players and townships; however, once you hit hour 15, you’ll no doubt feel rooted in the universe and properly equipped to make your way through it.
This Pack of Rats
The world of Fallout: New Vegas is as loaded with groups and sub-groups, allegiances and shifting alliances. The New California Republic – or NCR – is a semi-benevolent military organization attempting to both restore peace in the region and hold their control of the all-important power plant, the Hoover Dam. However, this has come with the cost of some hasty, uninformed military decisions that have led to a high civilian body count and placed a heavy demand on those innocent wastelanders left to make a living off land that the NCR is rapidly annexing.
Meanwhile, an army of neo-Roman centurions known as Ceasar’s Legion has been amassing strength and numbers with an eye on seizing the Dam and taking control of New Vegas and the surrounding territories. The Legion is generally a ruthless, power hungry gang of exceptionally well-trailed militiamen -- yes, garbed in full Roman regalia -- whose willingness to scorch the earth and all who live on it is only rivaled by their lust for the land itself.
Lesser groups in the wasteland consist of your usual Raiders and Fiends who’ll provide “good” players with bounty missions and “bad” players with less well-intentioned tasks. More organized gangs, like the Powder Gangers (two-bit, wanna-be convicts and thugs) are eclipsed by larger, more predatory gangs like the Khans: the equivalent of a post-War biker gang, peddling drugs and stims to the strung out masses of New Vegas. Later, in Vegas proper, the gangs find themselves a bit more organized: from the 50’s-inspired, slicked-back Kings, all the way into the mafia-esque nature of the elite who rule the Strip and everybody in it.
Fallout: New Vegas includes a slightly revamped Infamy system that will gain you either status or disdain with each group depending upon the quests you tackle or how many members of their gang you’ve left for dead in the desert. It’s a unique system that will open or close sub-quests depending upon your leanings, but the game’s armor system is more likely to get you into trouble than out of it.
You can collect the allied armor of any gang member you kill and wear it to help infiltrate enemy camps. It’s a useful strategy when planning out your missions, but considering that there’s relatively little neutral, non-allied armor in the game -- and even fewer places to purchase it -- you’ll likely find yourself wearing faction armor simply for protection. The downside, of course, comes when you accidentally stumble upon a friendly faction who believes you to be their enemy and attacks, forcing you to defend yourself and gain some unintentional Infamy.
Hedging Your Bets
Also new to New Vegas (or maybe old, so to speak) is the return of the crafting system from previous chapters. In addition to the familiar work benches, campfire crafting allows players to with sufficient skill to break down and re-combine scrap objects into workable ammo, stimpaks, etc. It’s a worthwhile addition for the junk collectors of the world, as well as those who generally put more value on Repair, Science and Intellect than on Guns, Lockpicking or Strength; however, if you acquire a few choice Perks throughout the game, it will hardly be necessary given the amount of equipment you’ll discover in ammo boxes and lockers.
Managing your resources will ultimately be as important to your survival as finding and selecting an appropriate companion. The friend system in New Vegas is a more pronounced component than in the last chapter and incredibly helpful along your journey. In some senses, the tweaked companion mechanic, which offers an intuitive wheel of selectable commands, is the greatest success of New Vegas. My chosen counterpart -- an NCR sniper named Boone -- proved invaluable in battle and the fact that you gain the XP from your friend’s kills only helps to sweeten the deal. In addition, your companions will open up deeper, more interpersonal storylines as your time with them grows, and it’s entirely possible that your followers will illicit a more emotional connection than any single event in the single-player campaign.
Fear and Loathing
As with any Fallout game, the single-player storyline is secondary to the myriad of sub-quests that you’ll discover as you explore the wastelands. The various gangs and groups will open and close possible missions depending upon your standing, but either way, there’s a huge amount to see and do in the Mojave. That said, the quality of the writing in New Vegas – which is to say, the degree to which these stories will compel you as you play through them – is only a scant shadow of what players have come to expect from Fallout 3.
Where missions in Fallout 3 might have you protecting a besieged town only to journey underground in search of vampires, New Vegas offers a fairly unaffecting selection of fetch quests, bounties and paint-by-numbers rigmarole. The constant back-and-forth between the various factions can become politically tiring if you’re simply looking to aid or thwart real, everyday folks out in the waste.
There are a few choice quests that feel close to the quality of Fallout 3, but these come later in the game, assuming you follow the general progression that the story suggests. If you like to head out wandering into the wastes and somehow avoid being overpowered by criminals and critters, you may encounter a few of these sooner rather than later.
Overall, questing in New Vegas is a lot of fun, and your inner explorer will no doubt be satisfied, but with the exception of a few choice quests, it’ll mostly feel like going through the motions. While the total landmass feels smaller, the world is jam-packed with locations, but whereas almost every building in Fallout 3 featured some associated quest, here, you’ll come across a large handful of structures with no real purpose aside from looting and exploration. Also, certain missions will only be added to your miscellaneous notes, not to your quest log, so managing some of the less defined goals can occasionally be a hassle.
You’ll also notice as you pass through the landscape that the look of the game, while graphically identical to Fallout 3, is much less involving. Long, open stretches of painted desert present a nice-to-look-at vista, but the Mojave simply lacks the character of the sprawling ruins of Washington, DC. Also, the flat nature of the landscape occasionally highlights a persistent pop-in problem as you’re moving across an empty field only to have a building appear directly in front of you. Interiors, as well, appear virtually no different than in the previous title, composed of the same ol’ textures whether you’re in a warehouse, factory or underground cave.
Let’s Get Glitched in Vegas
Perhaps the biggest, most substantive criticism of Fallout: New Vegas is that it’s glitchy. Not just annoying so, but utterly, game-breakingly glitchy. In a massive, marathon play-through (before the game’s official launch), the game crashed five times in a 26 hour period, often in the middle of the action during vital moments.
Quest markers were placed in random locations totally unassociated with the active quest. Mailboxes transformed into distending, amorphous blobs that moved about the environment and were identified as Radscorpions. Townsfolk and enemies floated above the ground, often passing through each other. Key characters ran off into the wilderness for no discernable reason, directly to their deaths at the hands of the local bestiary. Several times, my character was whisked away on a train ride to The Strip when he wasn’t even on the train.
These aren’t small, insignificant problems, and while issues with a game as massive as this are to be expected, there’s an obvious lack of quality control here for a property with the Bethesda brand stamped across the front.
You Are Now Leaving…
At the end of the day, however, this is a Fallout game, offering players a huge, populated universe to explore and dozens of hours worth of questing and leveling that’ll speak to any RPG gamer.
While the story may not be as gripping, and the technical execution may not be as polished, it’s well worth the purchase for any fan of the franchise, whether you’ve played Fallout 3 or not. While Bethesda is off developing the next Elder Scrolls title…or Fallout 4…or whatever it is they’re presently creating, the Obsidian-developed Fallout: New Vegas is a worthwhile, if flawed, appetizer for the anxious masses.