Fallout: New Vegas review
Scouring the Mojave
Since Bethesda first purchased the rights to Fallout 3 back in 2004, there were a lot of concerns regarding how they were going to handle the series, especially given the dedicated fan base which had procured in the years proceeding thanks to Fallout 1 and 2, and to a lesser extent, Fallout Tactics. Following its release in 2008 (and expansion re-releasing 2008), it was critically acclaimed, albeit with a lot of mixed responses.
Since then, Bethesda has handed over the reins to Obsidian Entertainment for the production of their succeeding game, Fallout: New Vegas. While intended as a spiritual successor to Fallout 3 than a direct sequel, New Vegas is in its rights, very much its own game. There’s minimal connection to the Capital Wasteland, story wise. To put it straightforwardly, it is abundantly clear that Obsidian were considerably more confident crafting this game compared to Fallout 3. Understandably, Bethesda’s [Fallout 3] was made very carefully, as it was the revival of a very well respected, old series. During that time, the developers hoped to capture the interests of new fans, whilst holding onto the critical loyalties of older ones, and thus there is a considerable amount of content which payed respects to the previous base games and attempted to emulate the themes of Fallout 1 and 2.
With New Vegas, the production team consisted of a number of veteran Fallout developers from Interplay, whom of which worked directly on both Fallout 1 and 2, including Project Director Josh Eric Sawyer, and Senior Designer Chris Avellone. Their invaluable experience with the past games has made their contribution towards NV critical to its success. Rightly so, New Vegas happens to be much truer to the series than Fallout 3 ever was; tying into the first two games considerably and again, brimming with confidence in its direction. To veteran fans, Fallout 3 has and always will be; the black sheep of the family, but that is not to say it was ever a stain on the series to begin with.
The game starts off within the setting of Nevada, more specifically the Mojave Wasteland, in the year 2281, 4 years after the events of Fallout 3, and 204 years after the great war of 2077. As such, it revolves around a post-apocalyptic Las Vegas, and focuses on many central themes to the series such as greed and war. The player controls a character known as “The Courier”, who themselves are developed directly by how the player chooses to proceed throughout the game. Everything from their gender, personality, skills and general socialisation is controlled by the player.
The story starts off with attempted assassination of The Courier, and the theft of an important package he was carrying which was meant to be delivered. The game begins with being buried alive after being ambushed by a gang, accompanied by a particularly dressed man. Afterwards, The Courier is dug up by a friendly robot called Victor, and nursed back to health by a small-town Doctor. From then on, they are left to set out into the wide world of the Mojave, and given the freedom to make critical story moral choices which will affect how the game and world develops.
The main game initially focuses not only on finding out who tried to kill you and why, but soon falls on a larger concern regarding factional differences between a variety of forces competing for both the control and expansion throughout Vegas and the Mojave. These three factions consist of the western state government known as the New California Republic, the invading eastern slavers called “Caesar's Legion”, and an independent overseer of city of Vegas itself, Mr. Robert House. The Hoover Dam acts as the central location of which the story revolves around, as it able to both generate electricity and provide clean drinking water; a valuable asset in a post-apocalyptic world worth fighting to the death for.
It is the player’s involvement which determines what faction will succeed in maintaining control over the dam, and by extension, gain political control over the greater Mojave area. Fortunately, Fallout also gives the freedom for the player to approach this independently, avoiding the allegiance with any of the main factions and deciding to take matters into their own hands.
The story is a sound improvement over the dull-roar of Fallout 3’s. While it relies heavily on factional allegiance, you will find it generally more concerning than you did with a runaway father and a large water purifier. The themes of war, greed and revenge do transition well within the plot as it develops and do help to strengthen the final moments of the game, and is credit to the series. Writing for the game is commendable and a vast improvement, with characters and their dialogue being far more memorable and distinct than previously. There’s a both a personality and gripping back story behind almost every character, which is actually quite inviting to uncover. Characters fit seamlessly within the setting, rather than feeling like ‘forced additions’. They all have their own problems to deal with, regardless of interaction, and this eliminates that awkward feeling that their sole purpose revolves around only the player.
Quests are over-abundant throughout the entire game, and it is guaranteed that you will never find yourself without a task to do. Relating back to quality, each quest is again, considered a vast improvement over the previous game in terms of writing style. There’s been a particular amount of attention paid towards each and every one. None of them feel rushed, and they all feel important in their own right; whether they contribute towards the grander scheme of Vegas or not, and you will find most of them captivating to a point where you actually wish to investigate them. There’s a lot more originality behind them this time around too; plot lines are not quite as predictable.
With that said however, it can be incredibly overwhelming given the amount of quests you can have one time, with excess of 20 at once; even with consistent dedication towards completing quests as they arrive. In an attempt to balance the benefit to both combatants and pacifists alike, the quest structures however are fairly basic. Ironically, just how your character is identified as, quests seem to rely on a ‘courier’ structure, which mainly involve travelling from A to B, retrieving information, and then travelling from B to C. However, to clarify, there are still numerous opportunities for combat, albeit less emphasised and therefore less apparent. It can be considered that the game even encourages avoiding bloodshed – unthinkable on a Fallout game.
With the main quest, being so expansive, there is literally too much to even begin to scratch the surface of here. There are four main ways the story can end, but absolutely dozens or directions it can branch out from. Again, it’s all down to how the player chooses to play the game, and they are not shackled by a linear mission system. The game does tend to force the player to take a set path, at least during the early stages of the game, where the road ahead conveniently littered with hotspots’ of incredibly overpowering foes; cutting off direct routes to the main city. This can be at times both confusing and annoying, for those especially used to Fallout 3’s vast landscape that is almost completely open to begin with. That is not to say that Vegas isn't; but the game does tend to discourage venturing within certain areas prematurely.
Besides factions, another emphasis within the game falls upon the companions. While left virtually unchanged from Fallout 3 in terms of mechanics; companions do play a larger and slightly more beneficial role towards the player. They’re far more unique and twice as memorable to previous companions of the Lone Wanderer; honourable mentions being Boone the NCR Sniper, Veronica a Brotherhood Member, and Raul a Mexican ghoul mechanic. They each have their own stories, unique persona and surprisingly riveting quest lines to involve you with. One of the great aspects about these however is not their variety, but because of how intrusive they aren't. Not once does the game actually force you to deal with your companion’s struggles; as if to say that it respects your business but at the same time is willing to give you the information you want, when you want it.
What’s more, it needs to be said that sexual content within Fallout has been treated with far more respect, considering the noticeable lack of, from Fallout 3. Vegas isn’t called Sin City for nothing, and during your time within the Strip, you'll find an abundance of strippers, prostitution; even sex machines to pleasure any and all players. What’s even more admirable is the fact that sexuality within the game is also treated with a significant amount of respect that it deserves. Believe it or not, there are some characters you encounter who are homosexual or bisexual; but again, none of that is forced on you to begin with. Realistically, not all homosexual males talk with gay lisp, exhibit an effeminate image and having trouble maintaining committed relationships. More to the point, Fallout doesn't emphasise this behaviour either; sexuality is more an addition to the character rather than the focal point, just like in real life. It’s rather refreshing that a game happens to approach it this way.
When Obsidian set out to expand upon the success of Fallout 3, a lot of their ideas came from the PC modding community. Certain mods paved the way for a few ideas which made their debut within the final version of Vegas. These include Hardcore difficulty, Weapon Ironsights, Weapon Modding, Crafting and the Companion Wheel. These are most of the main additions to the series, whereas there are more or less various tweaks here and there, such as an improved camera angle for third person, skill magazines, implants and more.
To those wishing to have added an extra challenge to the game, a new difficulty setting known as “Hardcore” has been added to series, allowing an extra set of responsibilities stacked upon the game’s base difficulty setting. Several mechanics of the game function differently within this mode, such as your character’s tendency to suffer from Dehydration, Starvation and Sleep Deprivation. The process of healing your character has slightly more complexities and takes longer to do and ammo now has weight in your inventory. These are just some of the differences in gameplay that the setting brings to the table. It certainly does add an extra challenge to the game and as a result, causes you to play the game with considerable concern for strategy; avoiding the mindset of ‘running and gunning’ and making you a lot more vulnerable to large groups of enemies.
The elements of deprivation to your characters hydration, stomach and sleep however do provide more of a slight annoyance than challenge. Whether or not they were actually meant to be a concern to the player or just added flavour remains to be seen, but the fact of the matter is that they seem to ‘increase’ (They work off a meter, just like Radiation) at an incredible slow and unimportant rate. Coupled with the mass amounts of food, water and beds littered across the Wasteland, you'll almost never be going hungry/thirsty/sleepy.
Weapon Ironsights are perhaps one of the most praised additions to the series. Shooting in first person, which was usually awkward within 3, is a lot smoother and easier to handle with because of the Ironsights. This helps with enhancing the intensity of battle, and encourages the varied use of weaponry. It isn't quite as forgiving however to those who wish to hone their sniping skills, partially because of the game’s tendency to autoaim. Especially with shots at long range distances, the game will automatically curve the bullet for you towards an enemy. This may be helpful at times, but otherwise it can be a little ‘too helpful’, and the game tends to lose a lot of its challenge as a result.
Weapon modding is also a delightful new addition to the series, with the ability to both statistically and cosmetically affect your weapon sets with a range of features, such as added scopes, extended magazines, extended barrels and so forth. There’s a handful of gadgets to fix to your wide range of weapons within the game, but after a while the variety does tend to lack. They do happen to offer a well-deserved combat advantage, and each has their own pros and cons to accommodate the situation. They are a welcome addition however, strengthening combat experience for the player.
Crafting, is very much an hugely expanded version of Fallout 3’s very own crafting. Instead however, you can use Campfire for misc wasteland supplies, Repair Benches for mechanical items, and Reloading Benches for Ammunition crafting. Campfire compliment the player’s Survival skill, allowing the crafting of various survival items made from local florae and fauna. Repair Benches let the player create various small weapons and other gadgets which compliment science skill. Reloading benches; perhaps the most momentous of all, compliment the player’s repair skill and help the player craft various types of ammo.
Ammo types give every weapon an extra flavour of variety and strategy to every combat situation. The player can craft their own ammo types, ranging from Hollow Points, Armour Piercing and even Poison Tipped. These all suit an assortment of enemies and situations, such as Hollow Point bullets being used most effectively on an un-armoured enemy, or body part. This also happens to compliment the new damage system within the game; Damage Threshold, which is a return to the style of the older Fallout games. Instead of armour proportionally decreasing the overall damage taken, it has the ability to almost negate an attack if it is thick enough (via DT) to outclass the damage of the attack. Obviously, attacking armoured targets, you will need a weapon with little extra punch, though at the same time you can exploit various parts of the adversary which are un-armoured. It does encourage you to play the game a little tactically and for once leads to a lesser emphasis on aiming at the head all the time.
Companions are also able to be easily managed through a new “Companion Wheel”, which is a 360 degree compass of directions. The AI that controls companions however can be at times both a blessing and a curse. Mobility remains difficult for them; lacking the ability to jump or walk off edges or make their way around awkward paths. This has been carefully offset now with an added speed boost to companions whenever they need to take the long way around to regroup back with you. While the companion wheel allows for a greater variety of control over your partner, almost all of the time you'll consider it having been made in vain. Companions seem to not be able stay pacifistic in any situation no matter how many times them to sheath their weapon; no matter how many times you tell them to ‘wait here’, they seem to be off in their own world. While this is understandable for certain characters (such as Boone) that have legitimate problems with factions such as Caesar's Legion, it isn't quite as forgivable when it affects every companion available. A lot of the time, your friend ends up getting themselves stuck in the middle of an impossible fire fight; thanks to their incredible ego that tells them to shoot on sight (regardless of your orders). This is incredibly frustrating and extremely inconvenient unless you have the patience to command them while completely isolated. Truth be told, this is usually impractical.
The gameplay at its core is honestly, no different to that of Fallout 3. It focuses a lot on exploration, story development and shooting up bad guys. A lot of the time, you will find yourself distracted by the nearest landmark, and most of the time, you'll encounter a bunch of hostile opponents to which you can practice your weapons on. Difficulty settings don’t really change much besides the toughness of enemies, the toughness of yourself and the amount of XP you gain. Then again, there’s not much else to extend on this which isn't already part of ‘Hardcore’ mode. Because of this however, a lot of the gameplay does feel repetitive; especially if you’re a long-time fan of Fallout 3. The new flavour of quests and new Mojave areas is perhaps the one of the few redeeming features about this.
A minor mention to game animations, both walking and running animations have had visual improvements comparatively, but still look slightly wooden. Having a glance back at Fallout 3 however, these are definitely a welcome change. Talking to people however is still exactly the same. The camera will move in to focus on their face, and facial animations are rather stiff and unexciting. Most of the time, they do not tend to enforce any emotions that the voice-actor hoped to bring to the dialogue.
The game at its heart is a true RPG. Your character customisation, weapon customisation, item gathering and many other aspects of gameplay, do help to mould one beautifully expansive game. It would be true to say that whatever you loved about Fallout 3 in terms of gameplay, you’ll surely be fall back in love with, with New Vegas. It can be said however that almost all of this admiration is furiously tested by the plethora of glitches and bugs you will definitely encounter during your experience.
The game is definitely prone to debilitating system crashes on any system. It’s just a fact with most Bethesda games. A lot of the blame falls squarely on the instability of the game’s Gamebryo system; ironic given the name. You'll also encounter enemies falling through walls and floors, getting stuck yourself, invisible enemies and even more. This can test the patience of any gamer, and the unfortunate truth is that not all the time does it end well. People end up selling their game, trading it in, or simply vowing to never by another Bethesda game again.
Bugs; not to be confused with glitches; is perhaps one of the most unforgivable parts of this game. To first gather the understanding of the perspective, the game, undeniably, is huge. There’s surely going to be some loose ends here and there. Though, nothing prepares you for the amount incomplete content of which this game has. Some quests are broken to the point of impossibility to complete; some sections miss the proper coding to function as intended, characters are missing dialogue, radio stations are even coded to play songs incorrectly. There are so many problems with loose ends with this game, that the entire fanbase has come to the realisation that they are Obsidian’s (and Bethesda's) Beta Testers. To even grasp this concept thoroughly, there are hundreds of unofficial bug-patch mods for the PC version of the game; which address thousands of loose-ends (usually involving simple coding). As easy as it is to correct these kinds of mistakes within the PC version, consoles will find it infinitely difficult to live with. This is truly, one of the most disappointing aspects of the game. Period.
To put it bluntly, the game is exactly the same to Fallout 3 in terms of graphics. It is basically a re-textured version of the game. That is not to say that it can be considered merely an expansion. The setting is slightly better; with a warm desert glow to the Mojave, blue skies and some nice aesthetic weather effects such as small sandstorms. This is somewhat of a far cry from Fallout 3’s green hues and bleak settings. Half of the time, due to the amount of experience with Fallout 3, the canonicity of the game can sometimes come into question, but it is easily acceptable nonetheless. The windy sandstorms that you can experience within areas of the game are actually quite entertaining to watch, and do happen to add an extra bit of flavour to that desert feeling.
Characters thankfully happen to have had their faces made with more consideration this time around. The developers have made sure that every character has their own distinctive look, and this does help to drastically strengthen the visual of the game. Whereas previously, character design looked rushed, basic and downright ugly, people in the Mojave have distinctive features and well-defied faces to accommodate their characters. However, it is important to note that customisation of the face, for both the character and NPCs is still completely unchanged. Facial animations and expressions, as explained previously, still look stiff and unattractive.
To conclude, those hoping to sequel-sized jump in graphics, will be disappointed. The developers made sure to emphasise the fact that little would be done to improving graphics, and that the game is a spin-off and not a sequel. So it helps to know what you’re getting into first, before making judgement.
Inon Zurr, the artist for the game’s entire game soundtrack, works almost seamlessly with the game’s atmosphere. Coupled with Mark Morgan’s remastered original Fallout soundtrack, the sounds that will fill your ears are considerably enjoyable, and work harmoniously with the game. Back alley streets or dungeons have that low-ominous hum, keeping you on your toes; while opened up landscapes amidst the hot desert s will ring a soothing and relaxed cultured tune to ease your travels. Combat works extremely well with this too; the music blending in almost perfectly to match the situation, whether you’re face to face with a bullet, or running for dear life, the ambience and beat manage to match the intensity of the moment.
The radio soundtrack, happens to uniquely capture the atmosphere of 50’s New Vegas, with timely classics such as Blue Moon, Ain’t that a Kick in the Head, or Jingle, Jangle, Jingle. It can be a joy to listen to all of these songs via the Radio, but at the same time, they will eventually get repetitive. The same can be said for the radio featuring more western music. Again, songs such as Big Iron, Johnny Guitar or Star on the Midnight Range, are very enjoyable to listen to the first time around, but come the third time, you’ll know the lyrics to Robbin’s entire track and be tearing your hair out at every shrill scream from Peggy.
One of the most surprising parts of the game’s audio was the complete overhaul of sound effects. This could not please this reviewer any more than it has. Weapons actually sound like they have a actual ‘kick’ to them. The 10mm Pistol when fired, actually sounds good for once. Walking across the arid wastes of the Mojave, you can distinctly hear the crackle of gravel and sand beneath your feet, the chime of cans being kicked over, the whistle of the wind in the distance. It all works. This is a sound improvement (mind the pun) over Fallout 3’s audio, in a lot of respects.
Dialogue is unquestionably a step up from the preceding game. There’s a significant decrease in voice-actor recycling, though not eliminated altogether. Still happens to far more acceptable than Fallout 3, where almost every NPC had one of 3 voice actors as per gender. A lot of ‘named’ voice actors have also contributed towards many of the unique NPC voices; notably Ron Perlman as the Director once more, Matthew Perry as Benny and even Wayne Newton as Mr New Vegas. The amount of commitment most of the actors have made, the level of emotion and effort, recording their voices does help to bring an amount of flavour to the dialogue. Those characters such as Chief Hanlon with Kris Kristofferson sound like incoherent drooling half the time. Generally though, it is another ‘sound’ improvement to the overall feel of the game.
It needs to be said, that contrary to popular belief, New Vegas stands as its own. Despite the numerous connections and comparisons made between both Fallout 3 and New Vegas, the game has been specifically defined as a Spin-Off and NOT a sequel. While there are tons of new additions here and there, which can be considered an expansion upon the base game of FO3, opinions of the game are hugely varied. Some prefer Fallout 3, and some prefer New Vegas. It’s understandable too. These games are both amazing projects in their own rights, and half the time shouldn’t be simply matched side-by-side. To put things into perspective, the two releases would be perfectly acceptable to be sold together, much like Pokemon games are today. Once again, to reiterate, New Vegas is not a sequel, so it shouldn't be treated like one either.
It may seem like a lot of the game's downfall is aimed squarely at it's instability, but just as Fallout 3 was, a lot of this can be and usually is overlooked and still be enjoyed quite thoroughly.
What Obsidian got right:
- Massive replayability thanks to a huge, immersive world which captures the true spirit of RPGs
- Improvements to gameplay mechanics which help strengthen the game’s combat style
- Story is comparatively improved, as well as writing quality of the game
- Soundtrack is heavenly upon the ears
- Unforgiveable union of bugs and glitches sends this game to the graveyard
- Animations and graphics will disappoint those hoping for improvements
- Gamebryo engine is amazingly unstable, and causes a lot of problems for all systems
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