Fallout: New Vegas – Staff Review #3

With the release of Fallout: New Vegas, it seems Bethseda is trying answer what fans wanted when Fallout 3 was released: a setting familiar to long-time fans featuring established factions and dozens of callbacks to Fallout 1 and 2. On a more fundamental level, Fallout: New Vegas builds on its predecessor in a number of ways, from basic improvements to game mechanics to a far more twisty, open-ended plotline, but it also has a number of unique issues. Even this far from release, New Vegas has bugs that range from the annoying (frequent freezing) to the catastrophic (quest failure), and has a few issues in setting and art direction left over from earlier Fallout games. Taken as a whole, New Vegas is an extremely enjoyable experience, but as so many have said so frequently of this series, it could really have used better bug testing.

Fallout: New Vegas casts the player in the role of the Courier, employed by the Mojave Express to deliver a single poker chip to the Las Vegas strip. This simple task goes awry right from the beginning, as the Courier is kidnapped, shot in the head, and left for dead in a ditch before the opening sequence is even finished. Fortunately, the Courier is saved from this early grave by an unusual robot and a kindly wasteland doctor. One short patching-up later, the player is released into the Mojave where the pursuit of revenge begins in earnest. Of course, the story of New Vegas becomes much more complicated the further in one gets, eventually leading to a multi-sided conflict for control over the entire Mojave Wasteland.

Lots of ammo, plenty of food and water, free and plentiful energy... I can't wait for the apocalypse!
Lots of ammo, plenty of food and water, free and plentiful energy… I can’t wait for the apocalypse!

The story of New Vegas is far more complicated than that of Fallout 3, giving the player the option of picking one of four major sides, as well as deciding for themselves how to deal with the numerous factions and gangs of the Mojave. The central conflict over Hoover Dam has a more flexible, three-dimensional feel, and the game can end on any number of positive or negative outcomes for a whole slew of factions and individuals. This does give New Vegas a very deep and engrossing plot, thought not a perfect one. The basic premise presupposes a character driven by revenge, which limits the angles for roleplaying and doesn’t always work in a wide-open world that encourages exploration.

Perhaps the one thing that truly feels lacking in New Vegas is the tiny reminders of the pre-war world. Fallout 3 was littered with little events that painted a picture of the days before the bombs fell. For example; a robot that still reads a pre-programmed bedtime story to a child that died 200 years ago; the personal log of a doctor treating radiation poisoning days after the bombs fell; and the desperate last note of a cubicle worker moments before the end came, asking whoever found the note to tell her family what happened to her. The Mojave just doesn’t offer much of this kind of storytelling, and the end result is that it’s fairly easy to forget that Fallout: New Vegas is set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Compared to the Capitol Wasteland, the Mojave, with its verdant farms and widely-available clean food and water, is a veritable paradise. The game does go out of its way to explain why things in the Mojave Wasteland are the way they are, but for a game that bills itself as a post-apocalyptic adventure, New Vegas really feels less like the remains of the United States and more like an entirely new society. I would say that, on the whole, this entry’s story is indeed a step up from that of Fallout 3, but that players who are looking for the same feel of isolation and destruction may be disappointed.

As with its predecessor, Fallout: New Vegas is essentially a first person shooter with heavy use of role playing game conventions, such as EXP and Hit Points.Since Fallout 3, the series has taken the middle ground as an FPS/RPG hybrid, mixing series conventions with updated mechanics. Perks, for instance, grant unique passive abilities that can be selected from a list every two levels, while VATS (the Vault Assisted Targeting System) allows the player to pause combat and select specific targets in a pseudo-turn based system. New Vegas does feature significant refinements to the system, such as weapon mods, which allow the player to customize a weapon more to their liking and different kinds of ammo, which give the player some control over some particulars of how their gun deals damage. It also reintroduces Traits, which balance themselves out with benefits and drawbacks, and have more to do with pure role playing than with strategizing. For instance, players may develop a character with a slight build, which in gameplay terms translates as a boost to Agility in exchange for more easily damaged limbs.

Outside of combat, New Vegas offers a widely expanded crafting system, allowing the player to create everything from clean drinking water to, in grand Fallout style, a high-powered healing item made of mutated fruit and radioactive soda. New Vegas also changes up the way dialogue checks work, offering a wide variety of ways to use skills like Explosives or Repair in conversation, on top of the normal Charisma and Speech skill checks. The practical upshot of these changes is that the number of different ways a conversation can be resolved is vastly increased, which helps bolster the role playing part of this RPG.

Perhaps the biggest change to the Fallout combat system in this outing is the much more prominent role that companions play. In Fallout 3, it was fairly typical to go through most of the game with no allies at all, only gaining the exceptionally overpowered Super Mutant companion Fawkes near the end of the game, when it was more or less shoved in the player’s face. In New Vegas, the player is given ample opportunity to build an actual party, with companions littered across the Wasteland. Thankfully, the system for dealing with these allies is vastly improved. Rather than having to go through a dialogue tree every time you need to give an order, commands are issued through the Companion Wheel, which pops up whenever you start chatting with an ally. This vastly streamlines the process, and allows players to have much more direct control over the way battles play out.

In the end, all of these little changes add up to a significant refinement on the combat system of Fallout 3. The systems of New Vegas are more open, more customizable, and more balanced than that of the previous title, and offer a great deal of variety to any player willing to dig into them.

As is traditional for the Fallout series, New Vegas mixes the rust and detritus of a post-nuclear world with the 1950s-inspired design that can be seen in pre-war food, buildings, and entertainment. In terms of visual design, Fallout: New Vegas has much the same problem that Fallout 3 did, in that the lack of a varied color palette and strong silhouettes can often lead to a lack of drama in areas without a major landmark to tie it all together. If anything, this problem is even more pronounced in New Vegas, as it lacks the wide variety of highly recognizable monuments and history-drenched locations that the Capitol Wasteland was positively sick with.On the whole, the visual-design-inside-a-visual-design combination of post-apocalyptic society with the remnants of an insane, inbred 1950s still makes for an intriguing look, but the lack of variety in areas contributes to a somewhat flat style.

The streamlined companion controls are probably the single most appreciated bit of interface streamlining present in New Vegas.
The streamlined companion controls are probably the single most appreciated bit of interface streamlining present in New Vegas.

As with Fallout 3, the soundtrack of New Vegas is provided largely by the local radio station, which in this case plays mostly country and western, in keeping with the cowboy feel of the game. They’ve put together a pretty solid selection of tunes for the game, but for players that don’t care much for country music, the constant twanging is going to be more than just slightly off-putting. The normal ambient music of the game is a fair replacement, though largely forgettable when compared to the bold music played on the radio. The voice cast, on the other hand, is extremely varied and surprisingly star-studded. With actors as varied and experienced as Felicia Day, Michael Dorn, and Matthew Perry, the voice acting of New Vegas is, for the most part, exceptional.

Various gameplay adjustments allow Fallout: New Vegas to offer a wide variety of viable character builds, from traditional guns and explosives to high-powered energy weapons, or even bare-knuckle unarmed fighters. New Vegas isn’t particularly more difficult than Fallout 3 was, but the wider selection of useable weapons means that some players may find this entry easier than the previous one, depending on their weapon of choice. In any case, the difficulty level is still selectable, and coupled with a unique Hardcore mode that forces players to take notice of their sleep, hunger, and dehydration levels, the level of challenge that New Vegas presents is highly customizable. As with its predecessor, the amount of time it takes to complete New Vegas is going to rely entirely on how focused the player is on the mainline plot, which should last around 25 to 30 hours if you really focus on it. Exploring the Mojave Wasteland as a whole, however, is a task that will easily last 100+ hours.

In the end, Fallout: New Vegas represents a definite step up from Fallout 3 in almost every regard, and is a solid choice for anyone looking for a solid RPG with a lot of options. It does lack some of the style that Fallout 3 brought to the table, and has the same problem with occasionally bland visuals and unstable code, but it presents a unique and engaging setting, with a wonderfully open and twisty storyline and some excellent gameplay, all of which makes Fallout: New Vegas easy to recommend.

This game was played to completion, and reviewed using a retail copy purchased by the reviewer.

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.