‘War. War Never Changes…’
Fallout: New Vegas is the latest chapter in the Fallout series, which started with the original Fallout back in 1997. After being brought into the first-person world with Bethesda Softworks’ Fallout 3, developer Obsidian Entertainment has created this latest chapter in the beloved series.
Unlike Fallout 3, where you begin life as a vault-dweller, the player starts as a mail courier who has stepped into the wrong place at the most wrong time possible. In fact, you kind of die. Kind of. Suffice it to say that, upon being brought back from near-death, you get to customize out your character in a fashion that will be familiar to Fallout 3 fans. Character customization is fairly straightforward and Obsidian has made some of the skills a lot easier to select. For example, no longer do you have various ‘Gun’ skills (small, heavy, etc). In New Vegas, you simply have a ‘Guns’ skill. Of course, there is still an Energy Weapons skill as well as Melee and Unarmed abilities, but at least most guns are now grouped together. This comes in handy as the land surrounding New Vegas is fraught with danger and you need to be able to handle weapons of opportunity, whether it be a rusty pistol or a shiny laser rifle.
The area of New Vegas is actually built over the leftovers of what was once known as Las Vegas. In fact, there are so many familiar settings in the game that it made this Southern California resident hungry for a trip up the I-15 to actually play some craps! For instance, I was pleasantly surprised to see the roller-coaster and ‘Buffalo Bill’s’ esque casino at Primm – not to mention towns like Searchlight, Jean, and Boulder City on the map. Unlike the D.C. Wasteland, the Mojave area was not directly hit by the nuclear warheads (well, not as many) so much of the ground water is rad-free and there is plenty of plant-life about… And animals.
The actual gameplay of Fallout: New Vegas is similar enough to Fallout 3 that no detailed review is needed of the system, suffice it to say that it still does work. Rather, the changes from that system are what truly matters in this case. For instance, some of the old gameplay issues remain, like a wonky cinematic camera as well as strange cinematic animations. However, Obsidian has made a few additions to the gameplay mechanics which add a lot to the overall experience. First of these enhancements is the new crafting system. No longer are you stuck just crafting various one-off weapons. Now you can craft ammo at reloading benches as well as new weapons, mods, and food at crafting stations and camp fires. There are a lot more component types out there to use in said stations as well. Going back to ammo, now you have various degrees of ammunition for each caliber of weapon. You can get armor piercing rounds of +P rounds even!
The next big addition to the game is the faction system. No longer do you have just one reputation gauge with which all NPCs in the game world judge you by. Now, you can earn and lose reputation with a multitude of in-game factions. From the roguish Powder Gangers to the New California Republic. Pissing off one side may increase your standing with another. Furthermore, altering your rep too much can cause some sides not to deal with you anymore, shutting off access to certain quests.
This allows for a lot more re-playability in New Vegas, as you can explore the benefits of each faction against the others. Also related to this faction system are disguises. If, for instance, you put on a Powder Ganger’s armor you will become disguised as one of them. This came in handy as I explored the correctional facility near Jean. I entered a cell block, eliminated the enemies in the area and donned some of their armor before leaving. The various enemies in the courtyard were not alarmed by me at all, even after repeating the process through several cell blocks.
Obsidian has also added a lot of new weapons to the game, from 9mm pistols to my personal favorite – the Light Machine Gun. Nothing says ‘fragged’ like a hail of 5.56mm rounds peppering an enemy target. There is even a laser-based sub-machine gun which will leave enemies burnt to a crisp in no-time flat. A big emphasis was placed on combat in this Fallout game, it is much more the Aliens to Fallout 3’s Alien.
The stories and quests of New Vegas are where this game really alters from its predecessor. In Fallout 3, your main storyline was VERY epic and all-consuming. In New Vegas, you are already born into the outside world and the main story feels like more of a guideline than a rule. At 18 hours in, I had yet to be in New Vegas and was instead doing all of the quests scattered across the landscape I could find. The game has an incredible amount to do and see. Its almost a post-apocalyptic life simulator than sci-fi game. This is not a negative by any means, it is actually rather refreshing.
Surprisingly, this Fallout game is plagues by bugs – including numerous crashes to the desktop. I have gotten into the habit of saving quite often just in case as these CTDs appear out of nowhere. These bugs are not just on the Windows PC version either, as many Xbox 360 gamers are complaining about similar issues (albeit not CTDs). One has to wonder how the Obsidian QA process contrasts from that of Bethesda’s in order to let these bugs hit retail shelves.
Visually, the graphics of Fallout: New Vegas look only slightly better than those in Fallout 3. They are good, but not great, and I was disappointed that the visual quality had not been increased further since the last game. Sound design is excellent, with the world of New Vegas and the Mojave area teeming with various ambient noises. Actors are all incredible, from Battlestar Galactica’s Michael Hogan to Friends’ Matthew Perry to Ron Perlman (like you need a reminder). Everyone does a terrific job at giving their characters vocal life.
Overall, Fallout: New Vegas is a great role-playing experience, whether you are new to the series or are experienced enough to remember when you heard Richard Dean Anderson in a Fallout game. Despite its bugs, the game will provide you with a tremendous amount of playtime, just go out and explore!