Fallout: New Vegas – Staff Review

Taking place in the ruins and area surrounding Las Vegas this time, the aptly named Fallout: New Vegas gives players a bit of a different experience from Fallout 3 while still keeping the same Fallout charm. Naturally, the Vegas area has its share of gambling and crime, but the fact that it’s a glowing modern city in a wasteland with close proximity to the Hoover Dam and all that entails makes in a prime target for various factions that don’t exactly see eye-to-eye. The player’s actions and decisions regarding which faction to support will play a significant role in how the story plays out, far more so than in Fallout 3. Gameplay-wise, the biggest difference that this change in setting makes is that there are far fewer irradiated areas thanks to Vegas being largely spared nuclear devastation. Thanks to the proximity of a major dam and a clean lake, electricity and fresh water are easier to come by. There certainly are hotspots warped by radiation for adventures to find and explore, as well as all the story and political turmoil caused by a nuclear apocalypse, but some portions can feel a bit more like a western than the severely ravaged post-nuclear wastelands of Fallout 3.

Battles play out very smoothly and much like they did in Fallout 3. For those unfamiliar, gameplay is similar to a shooter, but with a system, called VATS, which pauses combat and lets you take specific shots at a target’s head, arms, legs, or other vitals. The shots are calculated and fired in turn, feeling closer to an RPG system than the base shooter mechanics. The system allows players to fight in whatever method they feel most comfortable: RPG fans can play it like an RPG and shooter fans can play it like a shooter. There’s a vast quantity of equipment to choose from, each with associated skills, and characters are open to a great deal of customization in the form of stat distribution and miscellaneous bonuses known as perks. Unlike Fallout 3, perks are only earned every other level. To compensate for this, bonus perks can be obtained by fulfilling certain conditions such as defeating a certain number of an enemy type. Any party members accompanying the player will also bestow temporary perks as long as they are in the active party. This is one area where vast improvements have been made over Fallout 3. Not only do allies grant bonus perks, they’re also significantly less suicidal this time around for the most part. There are also several ways to customize the AI based on the situation, and allies can even help carry extra equipment. Speaking of equipment, another upgrade since Fallout 3 is the ability to install weapon modifications. These include such options as decreasing a sniper rifle’s weight to splitting the output of a laser weapon in order to increase damage per second at the cost of making it harder to puncture armor.

Difficulty is variable, but many portions have been re-balanced since Fallout 3. A number of perks have been made stronger, weaker, or removed altogether, and a new special difficulty has been added as well. Hardcore mode can be played alongside any difficulty the player chooses, and although it doesn’t directly make things more difficult, selecting it will alter gameplay to make things more realistic and to the player’s disadvantage. With hardcore mode selected, it is necessary to eat, drink, and sleep in order to remain healthy, and a few other tweaks have been made such as one that gives all ammo weight. Since food and water are needed, and wandering too far without supplies is dangerous, it’s easy to find one’s inventory far heavier than in a normal game, so extra cautious and resourcefulness is necessary. Ammo for big guns is especially heavy, and thus it’s harder to carry enough ammo to be ready for the worst. It’s very difficult to actually die of lack of supplies for anyone who isn’t flat out negligent, but numerous stat penalties from thirst, hunger, and fatigue can make fighting much more difficult. New crafting recipes and the survival skill complement this mode very well, allowing the player to cook food in order to make it healthier and, in some cases, lighter. Hardcore mode is very well balanced in order to make it more of a realistic and enjoyable challenge without making it too easy or too annoying.

For the most part, battle controls are spot on, but a minor issue can cause a delay in VATS activating, which can put the player in harm’s way unless the enemy is perfectly lined up. VATS may also report an accuracy or damage estimate that is simply horribly inaccurate from time to time as well, though this is rare. The 360’s D-pad isn’t ideal for hotkeys either, but that’s more the fault of the 360 than the game. The way the menus are laid out may take a bit of getting used to, but they are very effective once the player has. Unfortunately, one of the biggest problems Fallout 3 had returns here: horrible local maps. All of an area’s floors are jammed together into the same map making most buildings that are more than one floor high difficult to navigate and anything maze-like or more than two stories an incomprehensible mess. Though really more of an inconvenience than anything else, it can nonetheless slow down gameplay unnecessarily.

These map issues are annoying, certainly, but they’re not the only thing slowing down the game. Unfortunately, Fallout: New Vegas has quite a few bugs in it. Enemies can fall through the ground, areas can appear completely dark or without a map, and party members can briefly vanish entirely, to name a few. Thankfully, the majority of these are either extremely rare or rather minor, and they’ll likely be patched out shortly. There are, however, a few larger issues as well. The most common issue is loading times for areas that normally take a few seconds suddenly ballooning to nearly a minute, which can really cripple the pace of the game. Along the same lines, extended play is likely to result in eventually choppy gameplay and considerable slowdown or even crashing. The good news is that exiting and re-loading the game solves these most of the time, but they can still be fairly annoying.

Visual bugs exist as well, but they are much the same as they were in Fallout 3, though they seem more rare this time around. Aside from that, the visuals are top-notch and do an amazing job of illustrating the vast area of the New Vegas region. Despite the broad scope of the game, there’s a fair bit of attention to detail as well. Even some custom equipment, such as a particular suit of Legion armor, seen perhaps once or twice in a playthrough can really stand out. It seems as though some returning visuals have received a minor upgrade since Fallout 3. Of course, being a Fallout game, there are a lot of early 20th century style magazines, artwork, and promotional posters to be found.

In the same vein, New Vegas features a fair deal of music straight out of that era too. Although the selection seems a bit more limited this time around, it is nonetheless a nice touch that helps immerse the player in the setting. When not listening to the radio, the background music kicks in, and it does an excellent job of matching the mood whether the player is wandering the wasteland, exploring an eerie vault that has experienced an unknown tragedy, or anything in between. Sound effects are also quite good, particularly the cries of mutated creatures such as feral ghouls. All of this backed up by an outstanding cast that work hard to make the world’s many characters believable.

Complementing the voice acting is a fair deal of writing that ranges from informative to witty. There is a tremendous amount of dialogue in the game for the inquisitive explorer to find, and all of it serves to help the play better understand the character they’re talking to, the New Vegas area, or the complicated political situation within. There seem to be far more questlines this time around, though many aren’t quite of the same caliber as some of Fallout 3’s most famous quests. Still, they’re quite good overall, and serve to fully immerse the player while earning a fair bit of experience points and resources on the side. Though the game’s main storyline is good, the story’s real strength lies in the quests and inner and interworkings of the various factions. While the game can be completed comfortably in about thirty hours, the sheer number of quests and branching storyline choices offer a fair bit of replay value and can keep players busy for over one hundred. On that note, the ending is handled much better than it was in Fallout 3. It still isn’t handled perfectly, but it is significantly less abrupt and the closing is much more inclusive of all of the player’s decisions and actions. The opening, however, is significantly less immersive, but this is largely made up for with the numerous quests dealing with various factions and characters.

Fallout: New Vegas is a very impressive game. The sheer scope and level of detail are backed up by a well-written immersive and interesting world, clever dialogue delivered by a top-notch cast, and excellent gameplay that will appeal to both RPG and shooter fans. Though they have the occasional hiccup, the visuals and interface — with the exception of the horrible map system — are also at the top of their game. On the downside, there are numerous bugs, but they are mostly rare or minor and likely to receive a patch in the near future. Even with these problems taken into account, bugs included, Fallout: New Vegas is still an excellent game that offers dozens if not hundreds of hours of entertainment. Hardcore mode is quite well-done and will likely add quite a bit of interest to those who are into that sort of thing. Both newcomers and fans of Fallout 3 will surely get a great deal of enjoyment out of it, though despite the improvements made in New Vegas, personal preference of setting is more likely to effect which they will enjoy more.

This game was played to completion and reviewed using a publisher-provided review copy.

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