The year of 2008 was a notable year for RPGs in that it saw the resurrection of Fallout. Since Black Isle Studios went defunct, the series existed in a state of limbo before finally coming back with a vengeance with Bethesda’s Fallout 3. Putting the player into the shoes of one lonely soul wandering through the post-apocalyptic ruins of Washington D.C., it provided a fun adventure where one could explore a world that had long since gone to the mutated dogs. Two years later, a new game, entitled Fallout: New Vegas, was released by Obsidian Entertainment, a company that fittingly enough consists of former Black Isle employees. With that in mind, does it continue the legacy of both its oldest and most recent predecessors?
Viva New Vegas
As the name indicates, Fallout: New Vegas takes place in and around the titular city, which you’ll quickly learn has an interesting history. Somehow, the Mojave Desert was spared from the nuclear holocaust that engulfed the world two centuries ago, leaving the region relatively clean of radiation, and Hoover Dam largely intact. This has led to a battle of control over the area between various political factions. On one side, there is the New California Republic, or NCR, a nation that had modeled itself off of pre-war American values. On the other side is Caesar’s Legion, an army of slaves that has based itself off of Rome. At the heart of the conflict is the city of Vegas run by the enigmatic Mr. House and his small army of robots and rehabilitated tribal people.
You play as a simple courier. At the start, your latest delivery goes wrong when you get shot in the head and lose your package. After being saved by a kindly doctor, you set out after the man who shot you, only to gradually become embroiled in the power struggle that has overtaken the Mojave.
If there’s anything that can be said about the story of New Vegas, it’s that it’s fairly complex and multifaceted. It’s not a simple tale of good versus evil, but of various sides simply trying to increase their spheres of influence, like any good nation. There are no clear-cut good or bad guys; all have their positive and negative points, and the game generally lets you form your own opinion on who’s right and wrong. It’s interesting to follow and by conversing with the surprisingly colorful characters that populate the landscape, you can get a real feel for how the conflict at large affects people on small and large scales.
Not So Different
If you’ve played Fallout 3, then most everything about New Vegas should feel familiar. The graphics look similar, being as it not only uses the same engine but shares many of the same art assets. That’s not an entirely bad thing, as Fallout 3 was a good-looking game for its time, but the age is evident. The same goes for the gameplay. You’ll wander around a large map exploring the scenery at your leisure, completing quests, and acquiring experience. Get enough, and you’ll gain a level in true RPG fashion where you can improve any number of skills to improve your ability to do any number of things, like using guns, hacking computers, and talking to people.
Combat itself is also largely the same. It plays like a first-person shooter, though you can play from a third-person viewpoint if you so choose. Targeted shots are just as possible as before; you can aim for enemy limbs to make them drop their weapons or show down their movements. This can be done either manually or with the Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System, which calculates your accuracy to hit and gives you a cinematic view of the action. Overall, it’s not the sharpest shooting out there, but it gets the job done. If you liked the fighting in Fallout 3, you’ll be at home here. If you didn’t, New Vegas isn’t going to change your mind.
Tweaked and Balanced
While New Vegas may look and play similarly to Fallout 3 to the point where it feels more like an expansion pack than a sequel, deep down it actually contains more subtle differences. For one, your attributes have more and often unexpected effects on the gameplay. All weapons have a minimum strength requirement to use, luck can improve your chances at winning casino games, endurance determines how many stat-enhancing cybernetic implants you can install onto your character at a certain clinic, and so on.
Skills have also seen some changes. Speech, for one, no longer determines the chance that you will pass specific conversation options, but whether you will even be able to pass them at all. Science, in addition to allowing you to hack computers, also lets you recycle ammo for energy weapons. Barter often opens up negotiation options in quests, and a new skill called Survival allows you to craft your own items at campfires. This is only a small sampling of changes. Individually, they’re not much, but they do add up and ultimately make New Vegas a much deeper and more challenging experience than Fallout 3.
Most interesting is the addition of the Hardcore mode. When this mode is active, your character needs to regularly eat, drink and sleep. Failure to do so results in statistical penalties and eventually death. It sounds like it could get annoying, but in truth it’s the opposite; foodstuffs are pretty common to find, practically growing on cacti, and the respective meters fill up so slowly that it seldom becomes a problem. More impressive about this mode is that it also adds weight to ammunition, an effect that makes you more selective and strategic in what weapons you use.
What really sets New Vegas apart from Fallout 3, and most RPGs in recent years for that matter, are the quests. Every single quest, both major and minor, has multiple solutions, each of which may require different skills. For example, when you’re tasked to try and cure one man of his brain tumor, you can rely on your Medicine skill to see you through, recruit a doctor companion to do it for you, find the necessary medical equipment in an abandoned vault, or even secretly kill him and make it look like an accident. What quests you complete and how you complete them usually have long-term repercussions, which include altering your reputation among the related factions, opening further quest lines, or even changing your ending.
Even the main quest is subject to this treatment. After getting through the somewhat linear beginning, it branches off and allows you to pursue several paths among the major players in the Mojave, namely the NCR, Legion, and House. You can trail them along if you want, but eventually an allegiance will have to be declared. While each of the main storyline paths overlap a fair amount, there’s enough unique questing and narrative content to help make them feel more distinct.
In this way, New Vegas has an immense amount of replay value, not only in its flexible character development system, but also in how it gives you some nicely different ways to advance and end the plot. As it is, it’s already a large enough game; the main quest can be completed in 30 hours, but doing all the various side quests can easily make things last for over 60 hours.
Not Bugged in Your Favor
If New Vegas is known for any major issues, it’s that it can be a tad buggy. When it was first released; freezes and crashes were notoriously frequent, as were countless number of small bugs that, while hardly game-breaking, could add up. Patches have thankfully ironed them out to the point where the game is generally no better or worse than the standard Bethesda game. They’re still present, but it’s perfectly playable now.
In the end, despite its initially buggy nature, Fallout: New Vegas is a strong entry to the Fallout franchise. It may feel a little too similar to Fallout 3, but with its stronger and more open-ended narrative, deeper mechanics, and branching quests, it’s in many ways a better product and a worthy addition to any RPG fan’s library.